You’re mad, you know that right? It takes a little bit of crazy to get you through the Gibb River Road (GRR) experience, so bottle it all up and pack it in your swag, you’re going on an adventure.
The Gibb River Road makes its 660km journey through the heart of the Kimberley in Western Australia. It gets about the same amount of hype as the Old Tele Track to Cape York, but I wouldn’t call it a 4×4 track as such – it’s just that only a hardy vehicle will make it through all the corrugations to see you out the other side.
There’s really only so much you can do to prepare for the Gibb River Road – corrugations have a way of destroying that one thing you would never think of. What we will suggest is this: carry two tyres. We didn’t even blow one, but we don’t regret taking them both. We saw about three different cars pulled over on the eastern side that had all blown a tyre within the first 30 minutes of their trip. If they didn’t have two on board then it would have been game over before they had even begun.
Secondly, fuel up
Fuel is dotted along the GRR and ranges from about $2 to $3 depending on how far away from the Great Northern Highway you are. The longest distance between fuel is El Questro for diesel or Kununurra for petrol, to Mt Barnett (if you are not going up to Drysdale), which works out to be about 407km for petrol cars and 337km for diesel.
And then there’s food
Stock up at Derby if you’re heading west to east or Kununurra if you’re doing it in reverse, as there really aren’t too many options for good food at a good price. Kalumburu has a small supermarket but fresh food is delivered by boat every two weeks and as to be expected, it’s expensive.
Phone coverage is something that is always asked about. Max is with Telstra and got no service. I, on the other hand, am with Optus and got service at most of the roadhouses.
No online bookings are required for national parks along the Gibb, but do remember to carry enough cash to pay on arrival. A WA parks pass is also essential.
West to East – Every stop we recommend
Windjana and Tunnel Creek
First up Windjana and Tunnel Creek. If you haven’t seen a crocodile yet you are about to be blown away. They are all freshies, the friendlier of the crocodile variety, but I can promise you they will not be friendly if you get too close. Our advice for these two spots is to visit at night as well as during the day. At night you’re more likely to see the crocs feeding and there is also something special about seeing the creek light up like the Milky Way with the eyes of a hundred croc eyes under torchlight. We camped at Windjana which gets you solar hot showers, flushing toilets and drinking water for $13 per person (children 5-15yrs: $3).
You’ll be craving a swim by now and what better way to satisfy your needs than by taking an icy dip at Bell Gorge. Even in the middle of the dry this waterfall is still pumping water. Sit up the top and enjoy the infinity pool or take a hike down to the bottom and venture further downstream to find your own spot. Just near Bell Gorge is the Silent Grove campsite and is the same set up as Windjana. Or you can stay at Imintji Camp just down the road which has a few more facilities like a camp kitchen and Optus phone coverage for $19 per person.
One of my favourite spots on the GRR was Galvans Gorge. It’s not a long walk from the car park, but it’s always wise to wear good shoes around these places, as the walk is rocky and slightly overgrown in parts. When we arrived there was one tiny freshie sunning itself in the middle of the pool but he quickly disappeared when we disrupted his peace. The water is an amazing blue and beautiful trees surround the swimming hole, with a rope swing if you’re here for a good time.
Manning Gorge is our next pick for camping, swimming and hiking. Located on Mount Barnett Station this campground holds a lot of people. The swimming hole just near camp is really lovely. And then there is a longer walk out to Manning Gorge, which we definitely suggest you tackle in the early hours of the day as you walk through some fairly exposed rocky outcrops to get there. But it is stunning and worth it for a few jumps of the rocks and a refreshing cool off.
I will admit we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with some of these stations though, because they are places you really should visit but it can feel like you are paying a bit too much for what you get. Entry in to Manning Gorge is $8 per person and then camping is $14.50 per person, so it’s worth staying a little longer to make the most of it.
There were literally hundreds of people camped here including three different tour groups, yet there was only one block of amenities, three toilets, three showers. So you can imagine the probability of scoring a hot shower. And no I have not forgotten how remote these places are, I get it.
Mt Barnett Station
Mt Barnett Station is a similar set up and price to Manning Gorge with the epic Wunnamurra Gorge for all your frolicking and sunbathing on the beach needs, and a swim fix to get you going for the next leg of the journey.
And now you’re at a crossroads. You’ve made it about halfway across the Gibb and maybe everything is just holding together, or maybe you’ve already broken something but you have to decide whether it’s worth it to make the journey up to Mitchell Falls and Kalumburu, adding another 520km of corrugations, or not. A little word of advice, if you’re not into fishing, which is Kalumburu’s main draw, fly to Mitchell Falls from Drysdale Station and you won’t miss too much at all.
Kalumburu is a pretty special fishing destination in the Kimberley and once you get hooked on a few good fish you won’t want to leave, so be prepared for that. The coastline is amazing and untouched, and it will be providing you with some solid meals. McGowan’s Sunset Beach would be our pick of campgrounds if you have a boat, but be sure to stay a couple of nights out at Honeymoon Bay amongst the boab trees.
After blasting out a few hundred more rattled kilometres, a mango smoothie and some fresh scones will be a high priority. And you can get them out here! In the middle of nowhere! Ellenbrae Station is an oasis in the dirt with lush green grass, blooming pink bougainvillea and tasty treats at the ready. You can soak it all up and stay here the night or you can travel further along to the Durack River. One of our favourite free camps on the GRR was on the eastern side of the Durack, perched high up on the banks with water views and a cracking outback sunset.
Pentecost River Crossing
Unfortunately for us the Pentecost River Crossing was a bit of a non-event. A poor wet season meant that the crossing was bone dry, but definitely not unspectacular when you look up at the Cockburn Ranges and the landscape opens up before you. The crossing also marks your almost-made-it moment, but there’s just one last stop and if you ask us you’ve saved the best till last. Hello ELQ!
El Questro Station
I could write a whole blog post on El Questro Station alone, but I’ll try to keep it succinct here. For epic views, take the 4WD track to Pigeon Hole Lookout. For a challenging hike, hit El Questro Gorge where the entirety of the walk, rock scramble and waterfall climb is draw droppingly beautiful. A hot tip for your hot dip in the springs at Zebedee: get there an hour before closing time just as the crowds thin out. The best waterfall can be found at Emma Gorge, reached via a moderate walk in. There are two clear blue swimming holes and a sneaky hot spring if you can find it to the far right of the waterfall. Enjoy!
What an epic journey, you made it! Well we hope you did. And hopefully no one got divorced or “accidentally” left a child back there along the way. The Gibb is a bit of a challenge in a number of different ways but it is so worth it. There is so much Kimberley magic hidden along the Gibb River Road, the only way to find it is to get out there!
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