The Gibb River Road was one of the key places we wanted to travel on our trip. So many people had spoken of it before we left and many more stories had been shared with us by other travellers while on the road. Just like people’s opinions of road conditions, the thoughts of the GRR varied greatly. From overpriced and overcrowded to amazing and ‘the highlight of our trip’. So we went in with an open mind.
Unfortunately our time on the Gibb was condensed due to the events of the last month and commitments catching up with family to explore some of Western Australia together. We set off with a rather ambitious itinerary and an attitude of we’ll see how we go.
The Kurunjie Track was a stunning drive and great way to head to the Gibb. We were quite fortunate as Emma Gorge was closed due to the fires and the main road was shrouded in cloud. But as the Kurunjie Track cuts in just shy of the Pentecost River we missed the smoke and got a stunning view of the escarpment and fire front. We had decided to miss the famous El Questro Station due to time restrictions and price. Given the fire was around that area I think it was a wise choice.
Out first night on the Gibb was at Home Valley Station and it was not really what we expected the Gibb to be like. This part of the station seemed purpose build for tourists. It had a massive bar/restaurant, lovely swimming pool and huge playground, not to mention green grass. Not sure what the feel would be like in peak season but for us we had space to spread out and make the most of the luxurious camping. We also had a really impressive view of the fire front that night.
A quick stop at Bindoola Falls on the Home Valley Station property was a wonderful start to the day. We explored this with another family also travelling Oz.
The GRR itself is not really a scenic drive, not the middle section anyway. It is the many gorges and features that are accessed from it on side tracks that are the gems. However, many of the side trips are quite long (some are around 60km) and because most of the attractions are on private land there are often fees to access them.
We had decided our biggest side trip would be up to Mitchell Falls as it is meant to be stunning. We found a free camp on the Gibb River itself that night and Andrew and I reflected that it was more like what we thought the Gibb would be like.
Unfortunately the next day we ran into car issues again. At around Drysdale Station our car went into limp mode and, as the station had no mechanic, we decide to abandon the falls and limp back to the main GRR again. But we did not make it. About 20kms short of the last nights’ camp the car would no longer move. The issue was beyond us and another passer by had an diagnostic tool that interpreted the codes on the dash as ‘injector circuit open’. This did not sound good so it was time to call RACV and request a tow. Unfortunately we were 100kms short of half way along the Gibb so this meant being towed back to Kununurra. A wonderful family who had been travelling Oz but decided to stay in the Kimberley to experience a wet gave us a tow back to last night’s camp again.
We are eternally grateful for this as it meant we could wait the 2 days for the tow in the shade. But the greatest stroke of luck in this turn of events was that it also meant that we bumped into Chris the Cruisin Oz Mechanic we had meet at Boodjamalla. He looked at the car and with his awesome process of deduction found the problem and with a quick solder, we were on our way again and cancelling the tow!!
So after mentally preparing to head east we were now continuing to head west again. On a down side we also realised we had busted all four shockers so visions of doing the Munja track, anther side trip off the main Gibb road, were shot. It was bouncy enough on the main drag.
One of the consistent tales of the Gibb were the scones at Ellenbrae Station. Again not something we had expected to be doing on the Gibb. We decided to give them a try and were not disappointed. This station have baked over 12,000 scones in the last season.
It was then on to Mt Barnett Station, the site of Manning Gorge. We had heard great things about this spot as it is one of the few camps where a swimming hole is found at the campsite. It was a lovely spot but again I would not like to be here when the camp is full – it apparently fits 800 people!
We stayed here for two nights to make the most of the swimming and complete the gorge walk. This is best done in the morning, especially at this time of year when it is heating up. The walk starts by crossing the swimming hole and then walking across an escarpment before dropping into the gorge. The wade was quite deep – up to my shoulders. Such a great way to start and end a rather hot walk.
We have been so lucky on this stretch of the trip to time our walks well and have many gorges to ourselves, at least for part of our time there. Manning Gorge was stunning with deep pools to swim in and it still had a slight trickle over the waterfall.
Mt Barnett Station is also home to Calvans Gorge which we visited. This was a short stroll to a small bell shaped gorge that was lush with vegetation and fauna. We saw a water monitor that swam straight up to Andrew and loads of birds. This gorge also had water flowing and an amazing rope swing that got loads of use from Izzy.
There was also some lovely rock art in this more cosy gorge. It may have been smaller but gee it was stunning.
On the drive to Silent Grove we came across a broken down car. As we were close to the only mechanic on the Gibb, Over the Range, we gave them a tow to where they could hopefully get the car fixed or if not, at least be in contact with someone who after 16 years in the area would know how to arrange a tow.
Once over this range the views on the main Gibb Road become more impressive again.
We then headed on to Silent Grove, one of the few campsites in a conservation area on the Gibb. We were told that in peak season the rangers police the road from Silent Grove to Bell Gorge due to the immense popularity of the place. They don’t let cars in if the carpark is full until a car leaves. Lucky for us we are here post peak.
Bell Gorge is stunning gorge with its large bell shape and deep plunge pool. It is also a shorter, more shaded walk making it more accessible than some other gorges on the Gibb.
We then headed to the other conservation park on the Gibb, Windjana Gorge. The walk here was longer and the most spectacular part was really on the first kilometre. In fact the path just ends with an anticlimax as the track suddenly ends, for no obvious reason, with a sign that simply says ‘End of walk’.
The first section though is stunning with some white cliff formations, some with fossils and great views of the river that are teaming with fresh water crocs. We counted 22 at one point.
The other must do on this side track off the Gibb is Tunnel Creek. We thought the kids would love this walk as you basically wade through a river that has formed a tunnel from one side of a hill to another. Needless to say a torch is a must on this walk and with it you can see the red eyes of the crocs as you walk. We were told six crocs live around here and we think we saw all of them. The cave is also home to loads of bats and other creatures.
The kids loved this walk and the light in the late afternoon was stunning when we reached the other end. We also spotted some rock art before heading back.
It was late in the day so we were the only ones around on the walk back through the tunnel. The crocs must have thought everyone had left so they had started to come out of their hiding places. Izzy spotted some red eyes reflecting in her torch light and decided to see if she get a closer look. She got more than she bargained for when the croc suddenly jumped right out of the water as she approached and we all watched in our torch lights as it swam along the creek next to us. That was such an amazing experience and the sound of the bats afterwards was incredible!
From there we made our way into Derby and the end of the GRR.
We all loved our time in the Gibb and could easily spend another 3 weeks or more on the Gibb, doing some of the side trips we missed. We missed many of the side trips and stations but the taste we had gave us a good insight into the diversity of the stunning gorges and a taste of the tourism trade that supports stations up here.
In many ways, though, it wasn’t what we expected. Basically it didn’t feel anywhere near as remote or adventurous as we expected. The road itself was much better than we had heard. Plenty of people were towing massive caravans and we saw a few soft-roaders (Toyota Klugers, Subaru Outbacks) doing the road no problem. The campgrounds were all reasonably busy and are basically caravan parks. We certainly wouldn’t want to come back during peak season (June/July) and although it is starting to get hot, September seemed like a great time to do the Gibb with less people.