The Gibb River Road
KLMS TRAVELLED 6,500
After Alice we scooted up the Stuart Highway to Tilmouth Wells RoadHouse ready to hit the notorious Tanami the next day. We’d checked the road conditions and had been told that the track was ok at the moment, but in the back of our minds we still had a niggling feeling as we’d been told by many people how rough it could be. But as a 1,000klm short cut, it was worth a crack. Up at 5am the next day, we set out and almost as soon as our wheels hit the gravel, the corrugations began.Not just the gentle type that go brrrrr on the tyres, but bone shaking corrugations that make every inch of you wobble! We were both worried that the car would shake itself to pieces and with such a long way to go we didn’t want to put the old girl under more strain than she needed to be at this stage, so made the quick decision to abandon the Tanami and hit the highway.
Frustrating at the time, we’d done a 300klm round trip to a dump of a roadhouse and were now looking at adding a further 1500klms to go round the top. But we soon found our silver lining – the realisation that we could now do the Gibb River Road! So we continued up the long old highway for what seemed like an eternity– thank god for good tunes and Trivial Pursuit on the Ipad!!! We turned off as soon as we could, taking another back road shortcut across the Buchanan Highway, an unpaved section that cuts out going all the way up to Katherine. It was a beautiful drive through ‘Big Sky country’ and we set up camp in Jasper Gorge towards the end of the track. Just us, in the middle of nowhere! The remoteness has definitely taken some getting used to, but now really enjoying setting up camp away from everyone else – and of course an even bigger bonus to find a gem of free camp spot!
Heading into Kununurra we stocked up on supplies and prepared the car for the Gibb River Road (GRR). We were exhausted and the pace we’re moving was starting to get to us, so we stayed an extra day. When planning a trip like this on a map, the theory of driving so many KLMS a day sounds fine, but in reality it’s full on. Australia is a BIG place, so with it come the long drives especially if you only have limited time and budget.
So the GRR! We’d travelled through the NT the previous year, but had hired a campervan so hadn’t been able to go down it and had always regretted not having a 4WD to be able to do it. But here we were, in Kylie! The GRR is an old beef route for driving cattle the 700kms between Wydham and Derby cutting across the Kimberleys. The seasons are extreme out here, with the dry, arid landscapes quickly becoming unpassable during the wet season. This year the NT hasn’t had it’s typical monsoon season and so although we hit the track at the beginning of the open season, the water levels were very low. In some ways a blessing as the drive was much easier, but disappointing that we wouldn’t get to experience the real challenge of crossing the Pentecost and Durack River. Both are legendary for being long deep, croc infested river crossings, but as we passed through, the water barely covered the wheels!
We skipped past the ‘big wilderness resorts’ of El Questro and Home Valley – both great if you’ve got the cash and are looking for a little luxury in the outback – but only needing something simple we headed to smaller station – Ellenbrae. A quirky little place with an amazing outdoor shower, toilet and tub! For the first time on the trip, the moon wasn’t up meaning that the stars were just immense. We cracked up the vino and spent the night staring up at the millions of stars in the sky – have never seen so many stars!
There was only one other couple at the camp and on their good advice we headed onto Mount Barnett and the Manning Gorge. We spent the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear waterhole by the camp – perfect way to cool down on such a hot day. Despite the heat, we still decided to have a campfire to cook on that night, but after lighting the fire within seconds the flames had leapt over the rock fireplace and onto surrounding grass. Shit!!!! The flames were racing off through the grass and despite throwing water onto it, it wasn’t enough to stop it. The shovel was still bolted onto the back door and we were running out of ideas fast. Fortunately the caretaker onsite came rushing over with his wife and 2 spades and began shovelling dirt over the spreading fire. Thank god they’d seen it as we would have been in big trouble!! The fire was put out in a matter of minutes, but not before burning out a huge patch of grass, not to mention coming within feet of the car!!! The speed at which it all happened was frightening and we were kicking ourselves that we’d let it happen – easily avoided if 1) We’d cleared the area properly 2) Had the shovel to hand – both of which we’ll ensure we always do in the future! Lesson learned!
Feeling rather sheepish after the incident we were up early and out of the camp not long after sunrise, walking the track up to Manning Gorge waterfall. It took about an hour, but after the hot and sweaty walk we were rewarded with the most amazing waterfall. We spent the morning swimming and Rich regressed to schoolboy age, daring himself to jump off higher and higher rocks into the waterfall – each time surfacing with bigger and bigger grins – haha such a kid!
The gorges and the waterfalls are what make this area so worth a visit and we were lucky enough to arrive the day after Bell Gorge had just opened. Again, another short hike to be rewarded with yet another stunning waterfall for swimming in! Bliss. We camped up by the gorge that night in ‘Silent Grove’, but don’t be fooled by the name! The morning light bought with it a cacophony of birds – Corellas, Black Cockatoos, White Cockatoos, Crows – you name it, it was squawking!!