One of Australia’s most iconic 4WD tracks is the Gibb River Road. For many Four-Wheel-Drivers, it is considered a ‘must-do’ when travelling Australia. The Gibb, as its affectionately known, is a 680km stretch of gravel road that lies between Derby and Kununurra, in Western Australia. The landscape is made up of towering gorges, grassy plains, wetlands, plenty of river and creek crossings, and many rocky outcrops.
In years gone by, the Gibb would have been considered particularly tough, as it is basically in the middle of nowhere, and with not too many people around if things go wrong. Today, though, it is a completely different story. The Gibb is considered a ‘dry-weather only’ road, and is generally open from mid-May, until mid-late October, of course depending on the rainfall for the season. We travelled the Gibb in the first week of June, about 3 weeks after it had opened for the season, and we were amazed at just how many people were travelling, and how busy the road and campgrounds were. I really hope that with so many people out on the road, the fragile environment is able to be preserved, with little human damage, for our future generations to enjoy.
Dotted all along the Gibb are many stations, campgrounds, rivers, creeks and gorges, so when travelling the entire length, you are pretty spoilt for choice in terms of things to do and see. With limited amounts of fuel, water, and supplies, it is difficult to do everything, so as you travel, you need to decide on the ‘must-do’ places, and the ‘will leave til next time’ places – if you are lucky enough to do it all again!!!
Keep reading on for a breakdown of our own journey along the Gibb…. 🙂
As we were travelling the Gibb from west to east, Derby is the start of the road, and the last place to restock those all-important supplies. The town is only small, but does have a Woolworths and IGA, and one fuel station, as well as a couple of other specialty stores. Just out of town, we stopped in at the Prison Boab Tree – a dark piece of Australian history. Back in the 1800s, this tree used to house Aboriginal prisoners, taken captive by kidnappers, and also as a stopover for the chain gangs who were marched into Derby Gaol.
After topping up the car with fuel, groceries and water, it was late in the afternoon, so we thought it best to stay overnight, and start the Gibb the following morning. We managed to find a fantastic little place to stay, just 10 or 15kms out of town, called the Savannah Retreat (read more about it here!). It is owned by a lovely couple, Mike & Apples, who are the most genuine, down-to-earth people you will ever meet. They offer affordable accommodation, and are always up for a drink and a yarn, so if you are ever in the area, drop in and say hi!!
After a good nights sleep, we were ready to hit the road, full of excitement and anticipation! The road was hot and dusty, just as we expected, and about 150km in, our first stop was Windjana Gorge. We were pretty keen to stop and have a look, as this was our first real opportunity to see crocodiles living in their natural habitat. The gorge itself runs for a fair distance, but you only need to walk in about 500m from the carpark, before you find a creek, and huge sandbar, and if you are lucky enough hundreds of crocs sunning themselves. When we arrived, there were a few around, but chatting to someone on the way in, apparently, there were heaps more sun baking only 20mins earlier….. Always the way!!
After a quick bite to eat, we kept tracking on, to an intriguing spot called Tunnel Creek. We had read a fair bit about it early on, and were in two minds as to whether we should attempt it. It is basically a long (750m or so) very dark, cave with a creek running through it, and apparently quite a few bats, fish and the odd croc aswell! When we arrived, the carpark was a hive of activity, and there were heaps of people venturing into the Tunnel, so we thought it’d be fine. Whilst it’s a little daunting, it’s an easy walk in, with water at varying heights (the deepest was about chest high on Madi). It was actually quite cool, and welcome relief from the soaring temps outside. About halfway through, there’s a little opening, where you can see daylight again, and then at the end, it’s as if you have entered an amazing mystical garden, with rainforest like trees, and even some Aboriginal Rock Art. We were so glad that we were all brave enough to go in, it was definitely one of the highlights!!! After Tunnel Creek, we ventured further along, and landed at Silent Grove Campground, a nice little spot, and a great place to see the spectacular Bell Gorge.
Bell Gorge was the only thing on the cards for today, so a nice hearty brekkie and a slow morning was certainly welcomed! The track into Bell Gorge was a little tricky, and rated Moderately Difficult. From the carpark to the base of the Falls, it was a 1.5km walk, with lots of rocky areas to negotiate., so with the kids it was about 45mins. The Falls themselves were pretty awesome once you arrived, and the waterhole was again refreshing and cool, and offered great relief from the sun. This was the spot that the kids became a little braver, and discovered cliff jumping. Once they got the bug, that was it…. Each spot thereafter was rated on its cliff jumping capabilities!!! Back at camp for the afternoon, the kids hung out with their new friends, riding bikes and playing, and we chilled with a couple of coldies, before camp baths and bed!
The sun rises pretty early in WA, so we were up and about pretty early, and packed up ready to hit the road by 8am – which is pretty standard on moving days. We weren’t travelling too far, but it was good to arrive and set up at the next campground before it got too hot, and busy! Mt Barnett Roadhouse was our next desination, and only about 100km down the road. The campground is behind the Roadhouse itself, 10km down a little track, and is home to the Manning River and the picturesque Manning Gorge and Falls. The waterhole and swimming spot was super kid-friendly, with a sandy beach, a very gentle current, and lots of shade. It was a really nice spot to hang out in, so we decided to stay for a few days (there aren’t too many croc-friendly swimming spots, so when you find one, you make the most of it!!)
Days Four & Five
The track in to Manning Gorge isn’t easy – it’s 2.5km each way, and again very rocky. Given how difficult Bell Gorge was with Madi, we decided that it was probably best she stayed back, so Chris did the walk with the two boys, whilst us girls caught up on some much needed laundry! Due to the length of the walk, and the heat, it is best to set off first thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, which they did, so they were back by lunchtime. The arvo was spent doing schoolwork, and cooling off in our new favourite swimming hole!
The following day, it was my turn to do the Gorge, and luckily Jacko was keen to do it again, so I had some company! Like the boys, we left at about 7am, along with plenty of others! The first part of the walk involves crossing the river, which you can do either by swimming, or by using the little tinny that they’ve provided on a pulley system. Many chose to swim, but as we had our camera, and really didn’t fancy being wet for the whole 2.5km walk, we lined up in the queue to take the tinny! The walk itself wasn’t as difficult as Bell Gorge, but was much longer, with plenty of rock-hopping, and a few tricky little spots. It’s actually quite fun to complete – the bush walk isn’t signposted as such – so you have to follow the arrows and markers that have been painted on the rocks. Miss an arrow, and you could be in some trouble I imagine!
After completing the trek in, you are met with the most amazing sight… The falls are simply breathtaking! There is a large rocky area, where you leave your towel and belongings, and then you are greeted with a great deep waterhole, leading to the base of the falls. The jagged rock cliffs provide the perfect place to sit in the running water, and while away the morning. The sound of the water crashing over the rocks is deafening, but it is still peaceful nonetheless. Jacko had another go at cliff jumping, demonstrating what he, Lachie and Chrissy had done the day before, which totally freaked me out, but he was fine! The power of the water was pretty fierce, and as hard as I tried, it was quite tricky to swim right up to the falls. (I was also very conscious of the fact that I had a big hike back to camp, so conserving energy was probably smart!). After a swim and a snack, we were ready to head back. The return leg wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was still definitely a relief to see the waterhole as you round the last corner! Forget the tinny this time – we swum back, and kindly, someone who was going back in the tinny offered to take our bag for us!
That afternoon, the boys got some fishing in, aswell as a bit more swimming, before preparing for pack up day the following morning.
Pack up was again done and dusted by 8am, and we were back on the road, after a good few days. This section of the Gibb was definitely tougher than the earlier parts we’d travelled, very rocky and rough. We actually passed three cars that had come to grief with tyres over the course of the morning. Not quite sure where we’d stop next when we set off, the lure of a pool, a bar and a restaurant drew us to Home Valley Station. It had come highly recommended, and for good reason! After a hot, dusty drive, it was like finding an oasis in the middle of nowhere! Lovely manicured green grass surrounded the pool, which was set right alongside the ‘Dusty Bar’, open for drinks, snacks, and meals. The kids spent the afternoon at the pool, before settling in for a delicious meal of BBQ Ribs – which you must try when you visit!
Another very hot night meant not much sleep, and an early start. By 7.30am we were all packed up, and wringing wet from sweat!!!! Jacko and Chrissy had booked in to go on a Barra Fishing Charter, something they had both dreamt of doing for ages, so they took off at 8, leaving the two smaller kids and I to hang at the pool. I honestly believe that poor Chrissy is cursed when it comes to fish… After four long hours, a decent amount of cash, and a good dose of sunstroke, the boys unfortunately returned empty handed (a very sore point with everyone, so best not to mention it!) I guess the search for the elusive Barra continues….
After that very disappointing morning, everyone was hot, dusty and cranky, so we all decided we’d had enough of the Gibb. We were almost at the end anyway, but it meant that we’d miss one of the more famous Stations, El Questro, and Emma Gorge. As a family, we felt content with what we’d done though, and it just meant that we’d have some new places to visit on our next trip along the Gibb!!!! Upon returning to the bitumen, and civilisation, we stopped in at Kununurra to recharge and top up the depleting supplies. Kimberleyland Holiday Park was home for the night, which was lovely, with great amenities, lots of lush green grass, and even a local freshwater croc that came to visit!
All in all, the Gibb was a great experience, and something that you absolutely must do as part of a trip around Oz, or even as a holiday in itself. We honestly couldn’t get over how busy it was, even at the beginning of the season, so can only imagine that at the peak (July-August), it would be extremely busy. For that reason, we would recommend definitely taking the trip as early as possible in the season, just after the roads are re-opened. There is also more likelihood of seeing the waterfalls really flowing, before the dry season sets in.
As a side note, apparently when we visited the Gibb, it was unseasonally quite warm. Many of the locals we spoke to mentioned that it was quite a few degrees warmer for that time of year than it should be – which did make me feel a little better! Everyone was certainly feeling the heat, and hoping for some cool relief… Hopefully that was just a one off, and not a sign that this planet of ours is actually warming year on year!