The Gibb River Road, is not just any country road, it is one of the last big Aussie adventures and isn’t for the fainthearted… but it is one trip that is an absolute must for anyone up for a driving challenge!
Initially built as a cattle route, this legendary outback track was used to transport cattle from farm to market and was named after Andrew Gibb Maitland, an English-born Australian geologist, and explorer.
It starts or finishes, depending on which way you are travelling, at the town of Derby, or the bitumen of the Great Northern Highway, between the towns of Wyndham and Kununurra and runs for nearly 660 kilometres across an unsealed, corrugated track, that crosses numerous waterways and is surrounded by kilometre after kilometre of amazing Kimberley country.
If you haven’t been before, come spend some time with us as we drive the dusty tracks of this very isolated, corrugated, rough road… we will visit some famous stations, see some spectacular gorges and waterfalls, tackle the rugged track to Mitchell Falls, cross numerous river crossings and soak up every ounce of what this magic place has to offer!
Now Emma Gorge wasn’t really our scene, just a little too crowded for us, but this resort is a series of tented cabins located within the El Questro wilderness area with an onsite swimming pool and restaurant and a 1.6-kilometre creek walk leading to a 65-metre high gorge and a waterhole and just the spot for those who want to tuck themselves away in a little bit of luxury!
Just along the road was El Questro. Almost everyone knows of El Questro, the amazing ‘5 Star Resort’ for the rich and famous that regularly features on the travel shows for anything up to $2000 a night… but few realise that it is a lot more than just a millionaires retreat and is actually a complete wilderness destination with cabins and tents, powered and unpowered caravan sites and camping sites along the Pentecost River offering holiday accommodation for all budgets. There are also hot springs and some wonderful gorges and lookouts that apparently can be reached over some pretty rugged tracks by either guided tours or self-drive in your own 4WD. But be aware, if you are planning on visiting, you are required to purchase a ‘day pass’ to access the sites on this property!
This part of the road to the famous El Questro was tour bus and tourist heaven as it can be accessed easily via a bitumen road from Kununurra… but the bitumen didn’t last long for us and fore-going the 16-kilometre drive into El Questro we pulled over just past the turnoff to lower our tyre pressures before hitting the dirt and continuing 30- kilometres along the corrugated gravel to the well-known Pentacost River.
As with all corrugated, sandy roads and river crossings, dropping tyre pressure is very important and for us the magic number was 24 PSI on the front and the rear… and to date we had had no tyre problems at all, fingers crossed!
The Pentecost River was named after John Pentecost, who surveyed the river in 1882 while on an expedition led by Michael Durack.
It rises below the Durack Range and flows north through El Questro Station where it meets with the Chamberlain River. Crossing the Gibb River Road near Home Valley Station it then skirts the eastern edge of Drysdale River National Park and flows into West Arm and eventually flows into Cambridge Gulf.
With the Cockurn Ranges standing tall behind the river it was certainly a picture as we approached the crossing, and we could easily understand why this was one of the most photographed shots in Australia that features in most of the tourist brochures… and our timing couldn’t have been better as we pulled in on the eastern bank to take a short break and watch as a 4WD negotiated the wide, rocky riverbed.
This is a major crossing, around 60-metres wide, and one that needs to be shown a certain amount of respect. It is the biggest river crossing on the Gibb River Road and known for its crocodiles and, depending on the tide, the amount of water flowing down this river can present some real challenges. If the water level is high and it is flowing quickly it can make all the difference on the success of arriving safely at the other side.
This was also our last Telstra connection on the Gibb River Road so after sending a couple of messages home to let people know where we were heading and that we were safe we enjoyed a cuppa as the 2 guys pulled in beside us. After a chat and a quick check of their broken UHF aerial they were on their way again and then it was our turn… with just enough water flowing to keep us on our toes, but I should imagine it would be a very different story in the ‘Wet’ season!
We had also come to realise on our travels, that most good outback adventures start when mobile phone coverage ends so we were really looking forward to our journey ahead.
Continuing on we stopped at the Cockburn Range Lookout where spectacular uninterrupted views of the Cockburn Range unfolded in front of us. The sheer size and splendour of this range was impossible to catch on camera as we looked out over the Durack and Pentecost Rivers and along the western side of Cambridge Gulf – and below, Home Valley Station.
The world-renowned Home Valley Station runs along the banks of the Pentecost River and was just 9-kilometres from the Pentecost crossing. Located at the foot of the Cockburn Range it covers 3.5 million acres, and this working cattle station, engulfed by more breathtaking landscape, is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, purchased on behalf of the Balanggarra people of the East Kimberley for an indigenous training facility. It is also an amazing tourist destination with a great campground that is set on a property just brimming with natural sites.
Climbing over the ridges and down some relatively steep inclines we continued through the ranges and just when we thought we had crossed the last hill, there was that beautiful range again. Eventually, as we descended over our last rise, we caught our last glimpse of the majestic Cockburn Ranges as the hills gave way to savannah plains.
The road we followed was dusty, rocky and corrugated and being only our first day on the road we were surprised when we passed 2 vehicles with flat tyres heading in the same direction as us! Lucky for us, our BF Goodrich tyres had managed to survive the road conditions, and so far we had managed to keep all tyres intact but we still had a long way to go!
We passed some great free campsites here but the smell of hot scones and jam and cream with a nice cuppa at Ellenbrae enticed us on.
The Durack River rises below the Durack Range then flows north discharging into the west arm of Cambridge Gulf. This river was named by surveyor John Pentecost after explorer and Kimberley pioneer Michael Durack who was the first European to cross the river.
We knew when we were getting close to Ellenbrae when we came across roadside signs advertising the legendary Devonshire teas then turning onto a dusty driveway we crossed a small water crossing and passed the ‘Ringers’ and ‘Jilleroo’ campgrounds before entering the main homestead gates to be greeted with a homestead set amongst an amazing green oasis of grass and shady trees.
A chook pen stood to the side, a couple of free range cows shaded themselves under the trees and remnants of a huge boab tree (estimated at over 1000 years old) lay on the ground, apparently blown over in a bad storm.
We couldn’t resist trying the famous scones we had heard so much about, so we made ourselves comfortable and they materialised hot and delicious not long after our arrival. The kitchen and living area of the homestead were all that remained and the cafe area opened out onto the back of the garden overlooking the creek running through the back of the homestead.
It was a strangely beautiful place and we sat and enjoyed our scones at the table beneath the trees as dozens of double-barred finches and crimson finches fluttered about hanging bird feeders – it was a beautiful environment and truly a little oasis in the middle of the Gibb!
This working cattle property is around 1,000,000 acres and, like most of the stations on the Gibb, they supplement their earnings with tourism during the ‘Dry’ season and while many people simply stop in for the scones at this station, it was definitely worth an overnight stay for us weary travellers… not too crowded and they were certainly welcoming people!
After paying for our campsite we headed back down the road to set up camp at ‘Jillaroo’ campground. It appeared this area was an overflow for when ‘Ringers’ campground (down by the creek) was full but as it turned out, it wasn’t too bad, even though it was a bit dusty and a hike to the swimming hole at ‘Ringers’ campground.
Set back on the dusty land this bush camping area was surrounded by lots of station gear including a makeshift grader made from a large tyre and old chains that was obviously used to grade the road.
The amenities were probably one of the best we have encountered on our trip, a simple, rustic, bush bathroom that was very clean and well cared for with an old ‘Donkey’ hot water system that was fired up with a few logs and ‘long drops’, we just threw a ladle full of lime powder in! The shower and the toilet were side by side and unisex to boot, and to make it all the more cosy, the partitioning walls were separated by a curtain, resulting in one of us guarding the door while the other had a shower!
We setup our rooftop tent, lit a campfire with the few pieces of wood that we managed to find in the dark then had dinner as we sat under the beautiful Kimberley sky before climbing in to bed for a rather chilly night on the Gibb.
Like all good campers our days usually start at sunrise and this one was no exception as we had a long, hard drive ahead of us to get through our second day. On this part of the Gibb there wasn’t going to be a lot of hiking and swimming – just lots of driving!
Bumping over the corrugations and through sections of sand and bull dust we passed a few abandoned cars and as ‘The Gibb‘ is pretty notorious for eating tyres there was plenty of evidence of shredded ones strewn along the road.
Eventually pulling in at the Kulumburu Road intersection we boiled up the trangie and had just sat down to a cuppa as another couple pulled in; another casualty of the corrugations. Their brand new Iveco light off-road truck had developed a leaking water tank.
From the turn off, the drive to Drysdale Station was a further 60-kilometres on, and then another 188-kilometres to the Mitchell Falls. Our plan was to travel to Drysdale to fuel up then travel a further 100-kilometres to King Edward River Campground at the turn off to Mitchell Falls.
In reality this should have been a quick 1.5 hours on a sealed road, but it was more likely going to take us around 3-4 hours, possibly longer on this dirt road. We had been warned it was possibly the worst road in the Kimberley being heavily corrugated and having claimed many a vehicle… and apparently the road into the falls was even more difficult!
Just 6-kilometres up the road we crossed the relatively deep river and it was pretty obvious just how much water had come through this river during the ‘Wet’ as many trees had a severe lean in the direction of the flowing water, huge gum trees had been uprooted and the river was littered with debris.
Further up the road we passed the Drysdale grader pulled over to the side of the road, so hopefully we were in for a good ride, and in the distance we could see a bushfire burning. We had seen plenty of fires on our travels up north; many deliberately lit for regeneration, and some the result of carelessness or deliberate acts of arson.
This road was everything it was cracked up to be with some parts just ok but most very rough where we couldn’t get over 50-60- kilometres, only on the odd occasion reaching 70-80. In some places we were down to a crawl, which felt like our car was going to shake apart and we were continually checking the shadows to make sure our bikes were still attached!
Strangely enough though, the corrugations didn’t seem to deter some people with big caravans as we passed 2-3 rolling along… as well as a couple on the back of a tow truck! It was a mystery why anyone would take such an expensive caravan over such a rough road.
There are 4 cattle stations along this road, all approximately 1 million acres in size but only one equipped to cater for the needs of travellers – Drysdale River Station, and this isolated station was mechanics heaven… there were vans, trailers and 4WDs pulled in for repair when we arrived, and it was soon clear to us that some vans just shouldn’t be taken off the bitumen… even if they are 4WD.
Aside from the fact it is rough, isolated, rugged country, good mechanics are few and far between up here, so it is really important to be well equipped with a good vehicle… and we were really thankful we weren’t towing and we had had all the extras fitted to Harry before we left home, especially the long-range fuel tank.
We were in 2 minds whether to keep going or stay put when we first arrived at Drysdale, but in the end we figured we could at least make it to the Mitchell Falls turnoff so we refuelled at $2.05 a litre, and headed for the King Edward River Crossing campground.
After another long trek along a shocker of a road, we finally turned off on to the Mitchell Plateau road then travelling a further 8-kilometres down the track we arrived at our next destination.
North past the Mitchell Plateau turn off the road deteriorates as it continues on to Kalumburu so we were thrilled we had put a visit to this remote Community on our bucket list.
Situated in the far north of the Kimberley region on the banks of the King Edward River and 15-kilometres from where the river empties into Napier Broome Bay, is Western Australia’s most remote and isolated Aboriginal Community at the historic Kalumburu Mission.
We were keen to visit Kalumbura, but we had already decided against this trip as we were unaware we required 2 permits to enter- the first needs to be applied for from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs before you go; and the second from Kalumburu Community online or at the community on arrival!
Entry Permits are required for transit through Aboriginal Reserves, including Kalumburu, and can be obtained from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Permits can be applied for online under the Entry Permits section.
This camping area had basic facilities in an isolated shady bush setting near the King Edward River and we welcomed the chance to wash the dust off with a refreshing swim in the pandanus lined pool then spent the afternoon resting ‘after a hard day at the wheel’.
The next day was going to be a long day! From what we were told it was a very rough track and apparently the state of the track depended largely on the amount of traffic using it and when the grader last went through… and going by the number of campers limping into the campground and the number of car casualties, I’d say it sees quite a bit of traffic, the grader never goes through… and we were very glad we weren’t towing!
After 5½ months on the road we were pretty good at packing up quickly and we hit the road around 7.30 the next morning in an attempt to drive the 75-kilometre drive to the Mitchell Falls.
This remote part of the Kimberley was really quite spectacular as we drove along the narrow road with the first part of the track taking us through a eucalyptus forest before transforming into an amazing mass of tall imposing livistona palms, palms that are only found in the Kimberley’s.
This narrow, windy 75-kilometre track is a well-documented vehicle breaker with the odd river crossing, potholes, rocky patches, dips and brutal corrugations and it made the Kalumburu Road corrugations look like a super highway.
At last we arrived at the Mitchell Falls Campground and set up camp. The sites here had plenty of room and thankfully every site had its own fireplace. There were toilets but no showers and we could get water from Mertens Creek, complete with steps to get to the water and a bucket on a chain… and there was no need to worry about showering because at the other end of the camping area we could swim in the creek.
That night as we cooked our meal over the campfire then sat gazing at the many millions of stars in the sky we considered the bone shaking and destructive track we had just travelled. We had heard so much about these falls and we were excited about what the next day would bring and hoped they were worth tackling the horrific corrugations for such a lengthy distance at the risk of damaging poor Harry!
Up early the next morning to beat the crowds we left on an enjoyable trek along flat sandy tracks, through creek beds and over many rocks… and our destination, the beautiful Aussie outback at one of its best waterfalls in Australia!
Our hike took us past Little Mertens Falls then across plains to the top of Mertens Gorge. These impressive falls, also known as Big Mertens Falls were a spectacular spot where water tumbled over the top into the gorge below… in the “Wet’ a force that has helped create this beautiful landscape!
With our boots off we crossed the Mitchell River, the water source of Mitchell Falls, then ventured across the top of the falls, passing the heli pad and crossing a few more rocks to face a spectacular view of the cascading falls where we sat and enjoyed yet another great Aussie wonder.
There were three main levels with numerous falls and at this time of year a bit less water than during the ‘Wet’ season but still spectacular nevertheless. I imagine it would be breathtaking after the ‘Wet’ season, especially from the air!!
After a cool dip at the top to re-energised, taking care not to fall off the edge, we then started our trek back down. Some people walk into the falls then take the 5-minute helicopter flight back to the camp site, but for us, we enjoyed the return walk.
Little Mertens Falls, only 500-metres from the campground was by far the best swimming opportunity of the day – a lovely pool to swim in and sun-soak on the rocks and the special attraction, apart from the swimming hole, was the ancient aboriginal rock art hidden in the rocks behind the waterfall.
We had camped under the starriest skies and swam in the richest waters in some of Australia’s most remote and beautiful country and just getting there along the rugged, narrow track was an adventure on its own… but well worth it.
Back at Munurru/King Edward River campground we set up camp once again and settled in early for the night after a long day on a hard track.
Next morning we were up with the birds and headed straight for the river for a swim. We wandered along a path and clambered over rocks to reach a gorgeous waterfall where we relaxed in the shallows and enjoyed the ambience.
Further along the riverbank by we found a more secluded spot following a track that took us through bush (a bit nervous in the long grass though as we had seen a snake the day before), and over sandy patches and rocky ledges that brought us to some small rapids.
Then further on again we came to some lovely falls and with no other footprints in the sand and only a couple of fresh water crocs watching from the opposite bank, it was a beautiful place for an early morning skinny dip! At this point we can hear our children saying: “EEEWHH – too much information!”
Pandanas swayed in the breeze and even the rocks themselves had character, all colours, shapes and sizes and some with great holes gouged out over thousands of years by flowing water.
All packed up and ready to head on we decided to backtrack over the crossing a short distance to check out an Aboriginal site we had missed the day before.
This cultural art site was not far from King Edward River and from afar it looked very much like just a rocky outcrop sitting in the lightly wooded landscape… and it wasn’t until we ventured closer and wandered around, that we found extensive rock art.
Wandjinas (ghost-like heads) and Gwion art (stick people) could easily be seen on the rock faces and under the overhangs, and under one ledge we even found an eerie burial site complete with skulls and bones. Having recently seen a fire, this barren, rocky and burnt country had a really odd feel about it, and feeling we were intruding we quickly left… this was one place I was very pleased to leave.
After another quick swim off the rock slab close to the campground we headed back out onto the very corrugated Kalumburu Road and made our way back past Drysdale Station to the intersection of Kalumburu Road and the Gibb River Road... and the corrugations didn’t seem to slow down many drivers as they continued to pass us at high speeds kicking up buckets of dust as they went by!
We had quickly come to realised on these roads that many 4WDs, 4WD tour buses, huge cattle-trucks using this old stock route for its original purpose, caravans and campers automatically thought it was their right to take up the whole road when approaching and would move over for absolutely nobody… not to mention the dust and rocks they showered us with as they flew by… and I felt really sorry for the poor cyclists we passed that ate the dust as vehicles sped past.
One person’s highway can be the next persons horror stretch and it is all in the lap of the weather gods and graders up here. We had people overtaking us and coming towards us easily doing 100-kilometres and here we were chugging along at a maximum of 80-kilometres… obviously many had forgotten that it was all about the journey and not the destination!
Before long, we arrived back at the Gibb River crossing where we watched others cross the river, some not even slowing for the crossings! The river crossings up here have some pretty unforgiving holes hidden in them but it was amazing to see just how many people don’t know how to cross rivers at a safe speed, then just 6-kilometres down the road we came to the Gibb River Road intersection!
It had been another long bumpy day of travelling when we finally pulled into the off-road parking area where we contemplated setting up for the night at the free camp, but instead we continued on our westward journey and by mid afternoon we arrived at Mount Elizabeth Station.
Passing Gibb River Station along the way, we decided to poke our noses in just to have a look and after travelling a short 3-kilometres up the track we were surprised when we came to a closed gate with a sign that read ‘enter at your own risk’… so we turned around and drove out again!
Established in the 1920s by the pioneer Russ family, this station has now reverted to Aboriginal ownership and the station includes the homestead, community store and fuel outlet and an Aboriginal Art Centre and visitors are welcome to camp at Goondalee Camping Ground... although the sign on the gate didn’t feel very welcoming to us!
There are so many side trips along the Gibb River Road; gorges, waterfalls and stations where you can camp, often with their own wonderful gorges, waterfalls and scenery… and Mount Elizabeth is one of them! The Lacy family, who have held the pastoral lease since 1945, run this 200,000-hectare station.
Some of the stations on this track are quite a distance off the beaten track but this rough track was only 30-kilometres and we were glad to finally reached the homestead after our long drive from King Edward River.
The friendly owners who checked us in, handed us a rough map, and pointed us to the campground where there was plenty of quiet and secluded camp sites to choose from.
Horses and cattle roamed around, there were wallabies everywhere, dingoes howled during the night and with all of the farm machinery behind the homestead alongside the campground it made us feel we were really bush camping… but on a working station. We even seemed to attract a stray bull who came to investigate and decided to hang around for a while.
There are also 2 really lovely gorges on this station. Wunnumurra Gorge was a bit of a trek to get to along a 10-kilometre 4WD track, which took around an hour to drive, whereas Warla Gorge was a lot easier to access.
Wunnumurra Gorge track leaves from the campground with the first 7-kilometres a bit rocky and rutted and very slow going, and the last 3-kilometres quite steep with a couple of interesting sections that were very rocky with deep wash aways.
Once again we were greeted with a spectacular gorge where a beautiful waterfall cascaded into a big open pool… but not before trekking 1.5-kilometres to the gorge then scrambling over a couple of ledges and down 2 ladders to the waterhole.
The gorge was wide with lots of water to swim in where we could wash away the perspiration and dust from yet another long trek in a 38+ temperature, then walking further down into the gorge, we spotted more Aboriginal art (Wandjinas). This was a beautiful spot and in hindsight, we should have packed lunch and made a day of it.
Warla Gorge was only a small easy drive from the campground where we could basically park right at the water’s edge, which suited us after our earlier walk!
In case you haven’t already guessed, gorges are a serious drawcard for tourists on the Gibb River Road and we were trying to check out as many as we could… and it wasn’t far from Mount Elizabeth Station to Mount Barnett Roadhouse to check out yet another!
Mount Barnett is also the gateway to Manning River Gorge (which is actually privately owned and run by the roadhouse), so after a stop at the roadhouse to pay our entry fee to the gorge camping area we headed along a 7-kilometre track… crossing one rather precarious, muddy crossing where the track had deteriorated and turned into a bog as a result of people taking different routes so as to not get bogged.
The beautiful Manning Gorge campground featured lots of big boab trees with plenty of shade and we found a lovely site and squeezed in amongst lots of other campers.
Just in front of the campground was a great place for a swim and it was also the river we had to cross to get to Manning Gorge.
The short hike through the bush to Manning Gorge and the stunning rock pool and waterfall was definitely worth the walk… but it also had its challenges, and the first was getting across the river without getting wet, which we could do in a leaky tinny on an endless rope or… if we didn’t mind getting wet, putting our gear into a polystyrene box and swim!
This ingenious pulley system allowed us (and another couple) to pull ourselves across the river then once on the other side it was a slow climb and challenging 2.4-kilometres walk following rock carns and other assorted track markers through fairly open country with some great views and some attractive boabs, grevilleas and hakeas along the path.
However, the last kilometre was just a tad harder though, as we wound our way through 2 gullies… then came the cliffs – where rock sliding seemed the only way to get to the swimming area!
Finally, rock scrambling accomplished, we swam and lazed around under the beautiful waterfall for quite a while before making the climb back up the cliff face then trekking back along the long, hot track to the river crossing. This time we opted for the cooler option and instead of the tinny we put our backpacks and boots in the boat for someone else to pull across… and we swam. It was 36+ degrees and we just wanted to be in the water!
From Mount Barnett, the road took us past a number of other wonderful spots, including Galvans Gorge and Adcock Gorge. We passed the Imintji community store, which had recently closed and between Mount Barnett and Imintji we also passed the turn off to the most isolated ‘tyre business’ in Western Australia. ‘Over the Range Tyre Repairs‘ is a great little tyre and mechanical repairs setup that offers a little bit of relief for distressed travellers with car problems on this notorious road!
Galvans Gorge was about 50-kilometres down the road and only a couple of hundred metres off the road, but it was a beautiful setting with falls that cascaded into a pool surrounded by high walls, rocks and greenery and a gorgeous boab right at the top of the falls! The whole setting looked like it was off a postcard.
Next stop was Adcock Gorge that we had all to ourselves. This very scenic gorge on station land was a bit of a rough trek to access with lots of rocks to negotiate but Harry did his job and got us through the muddy creek crossing that had been chewed out by previous vehicles, then we walked the last leg into the gorge to another beautiful waterfall.
The scenery was constantly changing as we headed on and we had now started to climb through the King Leopold Ranges. On many of the steep climbs, bitumen had thankfully replaced dirt and we had a few minutes of relief but it wasn’t long and we were back on the corrugations. Our destination for tonight was Silent Grove Campground, the gateway to Bell Gorge.
29-kilometres and 2 water crossings after turning off the main road we arrived at a lovely campground – very well maintained with hot showers and surprise surprise… flushing toilets, the first on this road for us!!
After paying our camp fees and finding a quiet spot we set up camp then relaxed with a cold beer while we planned our trip to Bell Gorge. This is a self-registration campground where we paid at a little box on the way in… but it did have camp hosts who wandered around just to make sure we were comfortable.
It was a 10-kilometre drive to Bell Gorge car park from the campground, then a further kilometre walk each way to the gorge. It doesn’t sound very far but to get to these falls we negotiated a rocky, steep track that was as interesting and challenging as the roads we had just travelled… but a trek well worth the reward.
Bell Gorge is regarded as one of the most beautiful gorges along the Gibb River Road and its true beauty was certainly revealed as we peered over the edge of the gorge to the waterfall and plunge pool below… but then to get to the pool we had to clambered down a steep bank and rock face… again!
Surrounded by magnificent red cliffs cut out by raging flood waters this spot really was a heavenly relief from the heat of the day and was a magnificent setting we shared with only a few other people.
Back at camp, we headed straight for the showers before settling in to our camp chairs under a beautiful Kimberley night sky to reminisce about another wonderful day.
We found it hard to even imagine this place could get any better, but then we still had Windjana Gorge to look forward to!
Bell Gorge to Windjana Gorge was another 100-kilometres through the amazing King Leopold Ranges, which formed part of the dramatic backdrop in the movie ‘Australia’. At Inglis Gap we passed the Queen Victoria rock face, a rock formation that really did have a certain similarity, then finally we reached the turn off to Windjana.
By traversing the road from east to west, we have saved the best for last… the impressive Windjana Gorge National Park.
Here deep in the Australian outback, where a river cuts its way right through its centre, a 350 million year old Devonian Reef, with imposing black cliffs, rose out of the surrounding flatlands.
Windjana Gorge National Park is one of the more accessible and well-known gorges around and was quite different to what we had seen to date.
It was quite a wide gorge with sandy riverbanks and home to approximately 80 -100 freshwater crocodiles, many quite easy to see as the water in the Lennard River had receded quite a bit as the ‘Dry’ season had progressed… so definitely no swimming here!
We set up our rooftop tent in a great campground that was well laid out and separated into two areas: a ‘quiet camp’ where generators were not permitted and a separate area for campers with generators. The sites were large and flat, some with a shady tree, and we had plenty of spots to choose from. There were open fire pits, a shower and toilet block, with the odd toilet placed throughout the grounds… but what was most appealing about this campground was the beautiful backdrop of imposing black cliffs that looked their best first thing in the morning as the sun was rising and in the evening when the sun lit up the gorge walls… it truly was a spectacular sight!
It was late in the day when we pulled on our walking boots, donned our backpacks and set off for a short walk through the savannah grassland towards the cliffs. There was a magic about this place with the amazing lights on the cliffs and amongst the trees but there was also an eerie feel, and it wasn’t until later when its history was revealed that we realised there were some very sad happenings here for the local indigenous people, the Bunuba tribe. In the late 1890s some of the bloodiest conflicts in Western Australia’s history occurred as the Bunuba people were forced out of the area to make way for sheep and cattle pastoralists.
The walk to the gorge from the campground, which we walked a few times during our stay, was relatively short and although the gorge walk itself was a 7-kilometre walk, we found that the most inspiring places were actually within the first 1-2-kilometres.
We passed crocodiles, bats hanging upside down in the trees and fossilised Devonian era creatures in a cliff face. Trickles of water ran through what would be a good-sized river in the ‘Wet’ season with lovely trees, vines and grasses lining the edges and an abundance of birdlife and the bats and the large number of freshwater crocs basking on the sandbanks only added to its beauty! The 7-kilometre walk, had actually been shortened by a kilometre due to ‘Wet’ season damage and a weed management program, but it was a lovely walk never-the-less with the walls of the old Devonian Reef towering above us.
Travellers are a friendly lot and it was here at Windjana we met up with Monica and Neil from Gordon (near Ballarat)… welcome to our blog guys! We love this camping life, it’s a great way to make new friends as well as to gain some up to date tips and who knows, you may just end up sitting around a campfire, sharing a glass of wine and chatting.
We had a pretty entertaining stay at this campground with French backpackers upsetting the Rangers… and a visiting bikie gang; a snake in the rim of a toilet, and you can imagine our surprise when an elderly couple rolled into the campground in a Subaru sedan, flat tyre and all. We had seen some pretty average vehicles during our travels… mostly driven by backpackers on a budget adventure, and even though this is one of the easiest gorges to get to on the Gibb, if you care about your car, unless it is a suitable 4WD, it really isn’t worth the risk!
We had been told by the Ranger the previous night to make sure we had good shoes and a head torch and wanting to beat the rush, we left early the next morning to find only one group of people ahead of us in the tunnel… and a motorcyclist parked outside.
Driving through a working cattle station we travelled along one long driveway of 42-kilometres passing cattle that must have been thinking… ‘not another tourist’! We soon learned at each gate not to get out of the car too quick but wait for our own dust to catch up and settle before even opening a door! Finally we arrived at Tunnel Creek!
Being fascinated by Australian history, I always try to research the areas we visit before arriving but with no internet coverage this wasn’t possible… but the WA National Parks do a great job and there was comprehensive information boards explaining all we needed to know when we arrived.
Tunnel Creek, as is Windjana Gorge, is in the Napier Range, and is the result of a reef system from the Devonian period. The tunnel is around 750 metres in length, with the centre of the tunnel having collapsed allowing some light to penetrate this section. Depending on the ‘Wet’ season, the water inside the tunnel can range anywhere from ankle-deep to above head height but for us the deepest section was only around waist height.
All of the Windjana Gorge/Tunnel Creek area was home to the Aboriginal Bunuba tribe before white settlement, but as mentioned before, it is sadly also famous for where some of the bloodiest conflicts in WA’s history occurred between the Bunuba people and sheep and cattle pastoralists.
This craggy expanse of rocks, trees and waterways was once the haunt of the indigenous leader and folk hero, Jandamarra... or ‘Pigeon as he was known to the settlers. It was outside the entrance to Tunnel Creek cave that this infamous ‘outlaw’ was killed in 1897.
Like many Aboriginal people at the time, he was forced to work from a young age as a slave for the settlers. During that time he became close friends with an English guy called Richardson. Jandamarra was an excellent horseman and marksman. So when his friend Richardson joined the police force in 1890, Jandamarra was employed as his native tracker. On one of their patrols in the Napier Range Police Constable Richardson and Jandamarra captured a large group of Bunuba, Jandamarra’s kinsmen and women. The group was held at Lillimooloora Police Post for a few days. One of the captives was Pigeon’s uncle, chief Ellemarra. He put pressure on Jandamarra and forced him to decide between his tribal roots and his new loyalties. If Jandamarra did not want to be outcast from the Bunuba tribe, he had to kill Richardson. So Pigeon shot Richardson, set the group free, stole some weapons and disappeared.
With our walking shoes and head torches on we headed into the limestone tunnel and followed the creek as we clambered over the rocks and along gravelly banks. Walking through knee-deep water for most of the way we made our way deep into the tunnel careful of the drop offs and debris, which we didn’t really fancy falling into. This tunnel was also home to lots of freshwater crocs!
Reaching the centre section we came to a few rays of light where we could stop to take a few photos. We could just make out stalactites descending from the roof of the tunnel and beautiful white flow stones on the side walls… and a few crocs floating around near the edge. Continuing on, the second half of the tunnel was noticeably deeper than the first and we needed to criss-cross the tunnel to find the shallowest route and avoid the crocs, which were only visible by their red eyes as we shone our torches on them. Just past half way, the roof had collapsed and a bat colony has set up camp in both the trees outside, and the roof of the tunnel.
As we made our way through the very cold water we could just see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ and then reaching the end we exited the tunnel into brilliant sunshine and a small flowing creek where we sat on some rocks just taking in the surrounds of this very special place!
Back at the entrance to the tunnel we exited to a very crowded car park of bikies who had taken over the bbq facilities and almost every parking spot.
Heading back to our Windjana Gorge campground, we stopped to look at the Lillimooloora Police Station ruins. Originally a station homestead for the first white pastoralists, these ruins later became a police station and as mentioned earlier this site played a key role in the violent invasion and takeover of the country from the Bunuba people and individuals like Jandamarra.
The police station had now fallen down and nature had reclaimed most of the surrounding landscape, hiding any evidence of those horrible events of days gone by.
After leaving Windjana, it was time to wave goodbye to the Gibb River Road. From here the road would either take us to Derby or we could turn south and travel back past Tunnel Creek and continue along the Fairfield-Leopold Road to Fitzroy Crossing.
We chose the road to Derby having visited Fitzroy Crossing and Geikie Gorge on a previous trip, so continuing along sections of gravel changing to sections of single lane bitumen we headed 144-kilometres to Derby... and we were actually surprised that there weren’t too many unidentifiable rattles or creaking noises coming from Harry and we could even listen to some music on the sealed sections of road.
It was an interesting little town worth exploring with its main attractions the highest tides in Australia, which can be viewed from the jetty, the Boab Prison Tree believed to be around 1500 years old, Frosty’s Swimming Pool and the Myall’s Bore... and we can’t forget its beautiful sunsets!
Stop here and spend the night, or glimpse it in an afternoon before motoring on to Broome and although it may seem like one of those far-off place to many, this town was certainly worth a visit. Our clothes needing soaking and we needed the supermarket, and Derby met all these needs… so we stayed the night!
A visit to Derby wouldn’t be complete without visiting the long curving jetty where the Fitzroy River meets King Sound to see the high and low tides. At up to 12 metres they’re the highest tides in the southern hemisphere with an enormous amount of water rushing in and out every six hours.
Intrigued by the history surrounding Derby we headed to the ‘The Boab Goal Tree’ that is believed to be about 1500-years old and was once used as a gathering point for Aboriginal prisoners. White settlers believed that by taking the young male aboriginals from their tribes it would reduce trouble with the aboriginals and pastoralists and the captives were then used as pearl divers and slaves.
For those of you who don’t know about boab trees they were originally thought to have come from Madagascar and they only grow in north-west of the Northern Territory and the Kimberley area. They are a truly remarkable tree and one of my favourites. Often having a girth between 7-11-metres, they are hollow in the middle and lose their leaves and large nuts in the dry season to assist conserving water and in past years the trees were used by the Aborigines for shelter, and later, the Europeans used them as temporary jails for prisoners. Today, they line the streets of Derby and look quite spectacular!
Myall’s Bore and Cattle Troughs were dug in 1911. The bore is 322-metres deep and originally supplied water to the cattle trough, which is 120-metres long and could handle up to 500 bullocks at one time before their final trek into Derby, 9-kilometres away. As the flow started to drop off at the bore a windmill was installed and now pumps the water to the trough.
Frosty’s Pool was built in 1944 during World War II as a bathing area for troops stationed here and was nicknamed ‘Frosty’s’ after a platoon officer who originally came up with the bright idea.
We have seen and photographed quite a few sunsets lately and every place seemed to think they had the most impressive… but I have to say the sunset from the jetty over King Sound was glorious!
We had just spent the past week travelling the Gibb and completed the 670+-kilometre journey (including side tracks)… with Harry intact and all 4 wheels still attached.
We explored magnificent gorges and waterfalls, travelled through Aboriginal communities, drove some great 4WD tracks, relived history, met lots of people and shook our wrinkles out on the corrugated roads… and we loved every minute!
If you haven’t been to the Gibb, add it to your bucket list, it certainly tops the list of places we’ve been visited.
AND THERE IS STILL MORE TO COME … come travel with us as we experience Ardi – the Dampier Peninsular and we lay on the beaches and play with turtles at beautiful Broome, Ningaloo and Coral Bay!
Our adventure is jam packed with great outback stories; beautiful beaches, magnificent scenery, mining towns, history, isolated Aboriginal communities and a flooded Great Central Road as we cross from WA back into the Northern Territory!
Stayed tuned to our adventures and receive all our updates… It’s time to take your wanderlust to new levels… just press FOLLOW and LIKE and SHARE with your friends. We would love to have them along for the ride too!
A few tips if travelling the Gibb River Road…
- 4WD only… very corrugated, a few water crossings and dusty!
- You need to be fairly self sufficient on this road. There are limited supplies and fuel is only available at Mount Barnett, Imintji Roadhouse and Drysdale Station and if you are travelling to the top… at Kalumburu.
- Don’t always rely on petrol and diesel being available and it is quite expensive – getting fuel to these remote locations isn’t cheap.
- The only store on the main road is at Mount Barnett.
- Recovery options are limited and very very expensive so drive carefully and make sure you have two spare tyres and recovery equipment.
- Free camping isn’t always easy to find, as much of the land is privately owned. There are some National Park campsites at –
- Otherwise there are privately owned sites and stations like
- You need a ‘permit’ to enter the Kalumburu Community
- If you don’t have a 4WD a tour is a good solution! Check out Kimberley Adventures, Kimberley Off Road Tours , Kimberly Outback Spirit Tours, Kimberley Travel and Adventure Wild.