The Hunter River is one of the two main rivers feeding into Prince Frederik Harbour, the other being the Roe River. In its turn, Prince Frederik Harbour feeds into York Sound and the Indian Ocean. This huge area was first surveyed in 1820 by Philip Parker King aboard the Mermaid, and he named the river in honour of his ship's surgeon James Hunter. This is an extremely remote region visited only by sport fishermen, wilderness cruises and scientists, apart from the aboriginal people who live in the area.
A compositive map of Prince Frederik Harbour, Kimberley region, Western Australia,
showing the main rivers feeding the harbour, Hunter River in the northeast and Roe River in the southeast Mouse over to see a satellite view of the map and click on the map for an enlarged version
There are several channels to the Hunter River, the lower reaches of most being heavily fringed with mangrove swamps hosting large populations of Saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and Barramundi (Lates calcarifer).
A compositive map of the lower reaches of the Hunter River, Kimberley region, Western Australia Mouse over to see a satellite view of the map and click on the map for an enlarged version
The gorge where we planned to base ourselves was not on the main Hunter River channel but a side-channel where John Weigel and others had found Rough-scaled pythons (Morelia carinata). The search area would extend from the lower, flooded reaches of the gorge, up to the Donkin Falls where this tributary of the Hunter River plunged into the gorge from the heavily-scored plateau above. Above the falls it was felt the habitat was unsuitable for the pythons, since it lacked the rainforest and huge fissured cliff-faces of the gorge. Below the gorge the habitat was too open, swampy and subjected to saltwater inundation.
It was our intention to set up camp at John Weigel's usual camping spot, a location he affectionately called "Shangri-La", located around the first major bend of the gorge, and work the area between the campsite and the Donkin Falls.
A Google Earth satellite image of the Hunter River gorge looking due east click to enlarge and view labels for main site of interest
note this image is more recent than our visit in 2001
Downstream from the Hunter River gorge is Prince Frederik Harbour, York Sound and the Indian Ocean
John and I were in the first helicopter, flying with cameraman Des who took the opportunity to shoot some aerials of the gorge and surrounding plateau, two completely different worlds, with a potential third world further down in the estuarine mangrove swamps. There were smaller gorges and smaller waterfalls further up the Hunter River tributary but we decided to concentrate on the main deep gorge above "Shangri-La" although as we flew in we realised everything was not as John had left it the previous year.
Aerial views of the Hunter River above the gorge
Aerial views of the Donkin Falls at the head of the Hunter River gorge
Aerial view of the bottom of the gorge near the confluence with the main Hunter River
Jet Ranger helicopter flying down the gorge click to enlarge and spot the helicopter
Jet Ranger helicopter landing in the gorge
The helicopter inserted John, Des, director David and myself, on a flat area down-stream of "Shangri-La" and then flew back to the Mitchell Plateau for a second shuttle. We could also hear the second helicopter coming in to the gorge to drop off some of the expedition and equipment/supplies on a sandy beach at the entry to the gorge.
While this was going on we went to recce "Shangri-La". In the year since John's last visit it was clear that the entire gorge had suffered a massive flood, all the trees in the lower gorge was flattened and broken like matches, "Shangri-La" was destroyed and inhospitable and the stash of supplies, tenting and other equipment John has established under some boulders was long gone. It was obvious that the area where John has told us we could establish a comfortable campsite resembled more an untidy lumberyard. We needed a new campsite so we settled on a flat area not far from where the helicopters were putting down personnel and stores near the gorge entrance, a longer walk to the waterfall and herping grounds but at least somewhere which did not need to be cleared with a bulldozer before living accomodation could be established. The film had already received its title "After the Flood".