We originally planned to spend about a week on the Gibb but ended up spending nearly two weeks travelling along it and could easily have done more. The Kimberley is definitely a highlight of the trip and an absolutely beautiful part of the world. The Gibb River Road takes in some spectacular views through some pretty big farming stations and beautiful gorges that we’re lucky enough that private and traditional owners are happy to share.
The Gibb itself was in pretty good condition when we drove along it – especially considering only a couple of weeks before we got there they’d had unseasonal rains that closed the roads. The road would change from grey to yellow to white, black and more often red dirt. With corrugations that sit tightly together where you could easily drive 80km/h over and then others that were spread so far apart it looked like waves on the ocean and even with your core braced to impress even the toughest PT, all your parts shook with the bumps.
You soon figure out however, that the colour of the road only matters in determining how bad the corrugations are, when it comes to the dirt – everything in or on the van is red dirt and it’s all brown when you blow it out your nose or scrape it out from under your finger nails! Each stop you make is another reminder that no matter what you do, the dust will always win and can get into anything.
Your definition of clean also changes the further you drive along the Gibb – the further we went, the more legitimate the Miss6 ‘seven second minute’ rule sounded. I think I even have my own ten commandments of clean after making it to the end:
- Has it been driven through a water crossing? Yes – it’s clean.
- Do you have clean underwear on? Yes – You’re clean.
- Has it been swept down with the broom and shovel (this includes benches)? Yes, it’s clean.
- Did you wipe it with a nappy wipe? Yes – it’s clean
- Have you worn it less than three times? Yes – it’s clean.
- Have you swum in a gorge? Yes – you’re clean.
- Can you still see it clearly under the dust? Yes – it’s clean (enough).
- Have you brushed it? (teeth or hair) Yes – it’s clean.
- Has it been shaken out vigorously or bashed against something hard? Yes – it’s clean.
- Does it smell ok? Yes – it’s clean.
The further we drove along the Gibb, the more things broke or needed repair and the more fun we had. You’re reminded that stressing about the little things doesn’t help and that it’s always better to just be grateful for all the good things in the world – I reckon there’s a few people back home that could do with a trip along the Gibb.
I think the thing it forced me to do was to slow down – life at home is always rush, rush, rush and that’s something you just can’t do on the Gibb – a lesson that many others I came across learnt the hard way. There were plenty of travellers also taking on the Gibb and many of these were more cautious than us, while many others showed no caution at all (funnily enough most of these were driving hire cars). As we made our way along we saw a few trucks towing out fully rigged 4WD vehicles, off road and high-end caravans and campers – a few others that we’d seen speed past us on the road we also saw pulled over on the side of the ride further along with broken parts or tyres that needed changing. One guy we spoke to reckons he went through six tyres along the Gibb while some other old guy told us that his tyres were on their last legs and that his spare tyres weren’t much better and wouldn’t last five minutes if he needed to use them (why he was risking the drive is beyond me). We always stopped or slowed down to check on any vehicles pulled over though, you never know when you’re going to be the one on the side of the road needing some assistance.
After leaving Home Valley we stopped on the side of the road at ‘Telecom Hill’ where all of us desperate for some digital connection were standing on a rock with our phones in the air calling loved ones, or in our case, calling ahead to accommodation in Broome to avoid missing out for the school holiday rush. With our bookings all sorted and a quick text to Dad to tell him when we expect to be in Fitzroy Crossing we were officially on our way for a week or so of disconnection with the rest of the world while we explored this most spectacular part of the world.
The drive from Home Valley to Ellenbrae felt almost like a freeway – the dirt was largely grey and smooth until the driveway to Ellenbrae. A few dips and corrugations welcomed us to Ellenbrae though these were easily forgiven with the yummy taste of their home made scones with jam and cream. As we were camping there, our friendly hosts Larissa and Logan, told us of a secret swimming hole that we could make use of. We set up our camp and headed off for a short but fun drive along a sandy, windy 4WD track to a secluded sandy beach with breathtaking views.
Although we were told that the water was safe to swim in – it was so secluded and we were the only ones there so you can’t help but feel an eery sense of precaution and fear that some giant salty is going to come flying out of the water at any moment. With that thought in the back of my mind, we swam in the water anyway while I admired the scenery and kept a vigilant eye on the water around us. We eventually went back to camp where we lit the fire and sat around it to eat dinner and enjoy the outback sunset.
While we had checked in at Ellenbrae, Larissa had let me use her phone to call ahead to Drysdale Station, about 59km north of the Gibb, to see if they had any spots available to take a scenic flight over Mitchell Falls. We’d missed out on this experience at El Questro and Kununnurra so Drysdale Station was one of our last options (though it was a detour off the Gibb that I wasn’t sure the RAV4 was up for).
They had saved a spot for us on an afternoon flight the next day so that when we left Ellenbrae Station we detoured off the Gibb up to Drysdale in anticipation of our scenic flight. Unlike the drive to Ellenbrae, the drive to Drysdale Station was rough and heavily corrugated. The ‘drive fast over the corrugations so you don’t feel them’ theory only worked in some spots, while others were so bad that they forced you to slow to around 20km/h – it was on these sections I wished I’d worn a sports bra!
It was along this part of the road that a few others seem to fly past us with one in particular that we saw further up on the side of the road fixing a broken axle. I stopped to check on him (not that I could do much to help), topped up the car from one of the jerry cans and got on my way. We eventually made it in one piece and arrived having to drive around a road train loaded with two broken 4WD and a camper on the back to fill up with fuel and give our details to Will the pilot for our scenic flight either that afternoon or the following morning.
Two others booked a flight also so we managed to take our flight that afternoon up to Mitchell Falls. It was a two hour flight that took in some of the ever-changing views of the Kimberley. One minute you were flying over great mountain ranges, the next it was vast plains with meandering fresh water systems flowing into the larger salt water rivers and out to the ocean. The kids both spotted a saltwater croc in the waters below before we detoured over to the views of Mitchell Falls – although I was feeling quite queasy by this stage, the view was amazing – what a gorgeous part of the world. Seeing it by air really made us appreciate just how big and remote this area really is.
Back at the station we enjoyed some dinner at the bar/restaurant onsite and some time around the campfire with fellow campers. First we chatted to a couple of young girls who’d been out to Mitchell Falls that day and reckoned the road there wasn’t too bad and that we should just give it a go. The manager later joined us around the fire and also reckoned the road from here to Mitchell Falls was better than the road we took to get to Drysdale – if we left our camper at King Edward campground, about half way from here to Mitchell Falls, we’d be right.
Well, as the heading suggests, we decided we were already so close we may as well go all the way. We headed north the next day to King Edward campground and though the road there was better than the road to Drysdale there were still a few rough spots that slowed us down a bit and eventually took their toll on the camper with our overflow tap on the water tank breaking off as we turned off to the campground. Some frantic taping with gaffa tape (one of my regular saviours on this trip) stopped the water leaking from our tank and we were able to make it to the campground relatively unscathed.
We set up camp and were greeted by our friendly volunteer host who offered me some electrical tape to help me patch the hole in our pipe (the gaffa was useful but only a temporary measure). I needed to let the tank empty in order to repair it but with a promise of freshwater to refill, I took off the broken tap, turned the pipe upside down so that the hole was now facing upward, placed some plastic from an old drink bottle over the hole and taped it up with the thinner electrical tape serveral times.
We headed to the day use area for a swim in the clear and calm waters among a stunning backdrop and nearby waterfall – King Edward campground is quite possibly my favourite campsite. The next morning we were up early to make the two hour drive to Mitchell Plateau and National Park through some tropical roadside views along the way. We had been told that we couldn’t swim at Mitchell Falls so hadn’t taken bathers or towels with us and only packed food and water for the day. When we got to the gate we found out that there were in fact several swimming holes along the way and that it’s only the falls themselves that you couldn’t swim in!
We started on our walk stopping first at Little Mertins Falls to take in some Aboriginal rock art over 35,000 years old and right on the path where you could touch it (though we didn’t as you’re asked not to) it’s pretty amazing that these images have been here so long and still look so vivid and clear. We stood beneath the waterfall and watched the water trickle down in front of us while the lush green foliage grew proudly from the rocks behind us.
Next up was a walk along a flat and exposed grassy area that the Ranger had told us the kids would likely get bored and whinge through. Miss6 soon turned our walk into a 4WD game where she would radio me to warn me of rocky sections that might require me to put my vehicle into 4WD or take a water crossing.
It wasn’t long before we were at Big Mertins Falls (or fall as it was at this time of the season) and stopped to take some photos and admire the view down into the falls and across a pretty little pond dotted with loads of waterlilys. We were nearly at the end of our long walk to the falls and the smells surrounding us reminded me of my childhood and hayfever on the farm – that familiar fresh grassy smell was warm and pleasant (unlike when I was younger and would’ve meant me needing copious amounts of antihisthamine drugs, cold compresses and an immediate evacuation).
It wasn’t long before we were making our way down to the swimming hole near the top of the falls. We’d been advised to wear only our socks when walking across the shallow water section to the shaded swimming hole and, after seeing an older woman fall flat on her bottom trying to cross the water, we were glad we’d heeded that advice. As we didn’t have our bathers with us, Miss6 and I whipped off our shorts and swam in our undies while Master14 was already in board shorts for the walk so simply swam in those.
After enjoying our almost secluded swim we dried off in the sun and walked to the lookout to get our close up glimpse of Mitchell Falls. The view of the falls was breathtaking and pretty exciting to us to be so close. I did think of the two girls we’d chatted to at Drysdale Station who’d encouraged us to come here and felt grateful for their encouragement though I did wonder what they may have been smoking when they’d told us of the rainbow you could see in the water at the middle water fall – how you could see anything reflecting in that water from this distance was beyond even my vivid imagination.
There were loads of oldies at the falls that had taken the six minute helicopter ride in from the carpark and were taking it back out plus a few others who walked one way and took the helicopter back – we did the budget version and walked both ways but we were able to take a quick dip to cool down again just before we hit the carpark and made the two hour drive back to King Edward campground. The next morning it was back to Drysdale Station for a refuel and early lunch before we were off again to our next stop along the Gibb.
We arrived at Mt Barnett in the afternoon and refuelled before finding ourselves a carmpsite and setting up the solar panels to try and get some charge into the ArkPak. The kids and I collected some firewood and had camped next to a lovely family with four kids who helped my two to light the fire while I went and enjoyed a nice hot shower on my own. After toasting marshmallow by the fire Miss6 was still exhausted and fell asleep on the campchair so I carried her to bed, grateful to not be turning the alarm on in the morning.
After a slight sleep in we headed to Emma Gorge via the little boat crossing and a lovely walk meandering over rocks and got there in an hour. Miss6 and I took some time to warm up before jumping in the water for a swim but Master14 was straight in there and jumping off the rocks at the waterfall soon enough. There were plenty of fish in the water and our camp neighbours had told us to bring bread to feed them so Miss6 was happy to do this while I had a little swim across to the falls.
The water was deep and we had forgotten to bring a noodle or Miss6’s floaty jacket so when she wanted to swim across to the falls with me I had to be her floatation device when she got tired (which was about half way across). She put her hands on my shoulders and almost pushed me under – I’m a strong swimmer but this was the first time I looked at my swimming destination and thought ‘I may drown before I get there’. With the extra 20kg on my back my arms were burning when I got to the other side so we stayed there for a while enjoying the rocks and the close up view of the falls.
We stayed at Emma Gorge for a few hours swimming and ate our lunch there before heading back to camp in the early afternoon. On the way back we stopped for a swim at the river spot with the boat ferry and Master14 spent time pullying others across the river until a rather large family hopped into the leaky boat, too lazy to do the trip in two shifts (there were about six large adults in the tiny little boat), they got about a third of the way across the river when one of them tried to stand up and the boat very quickly sank to the bottom of the river. There were screams of ‘my camera!’ ‘my phone!” from some of the occupants while the rest of us swimming and sunning by the river had a laugh and applauded them when they managed to get to shore and rescue the boat off the bottom. Master14 will have sore muscles in the morning after that effort I think.
After leaving Mount Barnett and grabbing a few grocery items we stopped off at Galvins Gorge for a bit of a look. We weren’t sure what to expect so walked the 1km walk with nothing but a drink bottle. When we got to the end we were greeted with a lovely little water hole complete with water fall and swing rope.
Master14 jumped straight from the swingrope without even checking how cold the water was (it was cold) while MIss6 and I sat on the edge and dangled our feet in the water. The kids eventually convinced me to have a go on the swing rope – I figured if anyone was going to complain about some mum swimming in her undies I’d be long gone before they could tell anyone who cared. The water was cold but gee that was fun – so much fun in fact that I had three turns of the swingrope and felt like a kid again.
On the walk back to the car my thongs broke again so I had to walk out with a soaking singlet, wet underwear and bare feet but it was worth it for that couple of hours. Miss6 even jumped off some rocks while we were there and sat on the waterfall with me. We found the most unusual and stunning spider while we were there – it was gold with an orange back and sparkled so brightly it almost didn’t look real.
When we left Mt Barnett I noticed the freezer wasn’t on and that two of the 12v outlets in the car weren’t working so we stopped off at ‘Over the Range’ after leaving Galvins Gorge. We were greeted by Neville, an incredibly friendly and genuine guy who let the kids look through some of his photos while he looked at my car. It was only a fuse which he replaced for me and sent me on my way with a big smile and warm wishes – i was so relieved it was only a fuse and that he’d been so helpful I had to give him a hug (it still seems odd to me that his name is Neville and he’s a mechanic). I got a free stubby holder from Neville and we were on our way again to Bell Gorge.
We got to Silent Grove and set up camp again and tried to make the most of the afternoon sun with the solar panels to charge the battery. I was also pretty happy to see there were some showers on site and looked forward to one of those in the morning. We hopped in the car and drove out to Bell Gorge – a pretty little gorge with a swimming hole right at the top of the falls that you could swim in. It was a bit cold for me and Miss6 so we found a nice rock to sit on and just get our legs wet while we enjoyed the sunshine.
We headed back to camp just before it got dark and lit the fire and sat around it for dinner. We were all pretty exhausted and Miss6 and I wanted to watch the sunrise so we were in bed asleep pretty early but not before some star gazing – the skies are so clear along here and you can see the stars in such vivid detail. The Milky Way almost looks like someone has just thrown a handful of glitter in the air it’s so bright and beautiful. We missed the actual sunrise the next morning (surprise surprise) but were up early enough to see the colours of the sunrise on the horizon.
The kids decided not to do a second walk to Bell Gorge after brekky so we headed to Windjana Gorge to set up camp. We walked to the gorge after lunch and saw quite a large number of freshwater crocodiles just floating in the water. As we kept walking along the gorge the walls were interesting and remnant of being under the ocean millions of years ago. The walk along the gorge got a bit repititious after a while as there was no real destination or ‘look out’ to get to at the end so we turned around and headed back along the sand where we could get a closer look at the crocs and admire some Brolga’s along the way.
We sat on the shore watching the crocs for a while before heading back to camp for dinner and an evening visit from our friends from Lake Argyle that had also been travelling the Gibb – they’re heading home to Perth soon so we’ve arranged to stop in and visit them once we get there.
This is our last official night on the Gibb and it’s been one hell of an adventure. I’ve lost count of the numnber of water and river crossings we’ve made (though I promised the kids we’d add them all up at the end), we’ve been lucky enough not to blow any tyres and I’ve almost forgotten what colour my car and camper really are under all this red dust.
While we’ve managed the odd hot shower along the way, there’s been lots of bush camping and the beauty routine of cleanse, tone and moisturise with a quick bronzer at the end could almost be replaced with cleanse, tone, moisturise and some Gibb River red dust to finish it off. There are days when you think ‘gee I’ve got myself quite a tan’ before you realise that it’s just the dust and dirt on your skin. Though we’ve had quite the adventure these last two weeks, there’s still so much more we could see and the kids and I have already decided we love the Kimberley and want to come back again.