The Kimberley, WA – all about the Gibb River Road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe’s in her bikini, thigh deep in the Pentecost River – not that far down from where it joins the Cambrian Gulf which is the domain of absolute monster estuarine crocodiles. Meanwhile Kevin and I, a bit further along the bank, tie a rope onto our bucket and chuck it into the river from high on the bank to scoop some water out for our dishes. There’s no way we are going near that water. Not after our episode at Douglas Hot Springs ( Aussies behaving badly: Our adventure at Douglas Hot Springs )

It’s a car load of adventurous European backpackers and we are all being ‘slippery gypsies’ free camping at the Pentecost River Crossing on the Gibb River Road. I say to her “you’re brave” and she replies with “it’s okay, I can’t see any crocodiles”. Oh dear. Their naivety is delightful but then she didn’t get munched so all good. We saw a croc the next day so they were definitely in there.

Our campsite on the Pentecost River

In the morning I say to Kevin, “this is priceless” and he agrees. We have just cooked bacon, eggs and naan bread toast on the BBQ plate over a small campfire and eat in the sunshine on the bank of the Pentecost River in the beautiful light of a cool Kimberley morning. This is good.

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Sunrise on the Pentecost River
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Ready to cook breakfast

I admit we were a little ‘jaded’ with the El Questro experience at the start of the Eastern end of the Gibb River Road. Its bitumen all the way to the turn off now and too easily accessible by the masses. I swam in icy cold Emma Gorge by myself, as we were the first early birds there, and it was just delightful, however, Zebedee Hot Springs and El Questro Gorge were just ridiculous with the volume of people. (although the scenery is worth it).

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The stunning Emma Gorge at El Questro. An icy cold swim ticked off the bucket list.

This is our third time across the Gibb River Road and we got to see it 28 years ago when it was totally ‘uncommercialised’. We had to pump diesel out of a 44-gallon drum at Mt Barnett to refuel and the road was little more than a rough track. It’s much busier now, the road is badly corrugated in places but a lot wider than back then. Initially we thought it was less of an adventure than our honeymoon trip in 1989 BUT THEN for the first time ever we turned onto the Kalumbaru Road and headed north to Mitchell Plateau. Crikey. The road was savage with corrugations as big as speed humps.  Now that’s definitely an adventure.

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Kalumbaru Road Corrugations (for 260km)

It took us a brutal bone shattering six hours to travel 230km from the Kalumbaru turn-off to the Mitchell Falls campground. So why do it you may ask. Is it really worth it? Well, yeah.  Mitchell Falls were the most awe- inspiring, magnificent, totally gob smackingly WOW. The sight of them in full glory while we perched on the edge of a steep cliff after walking for 2 hours was something to see.

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A photo just can’t do Mitchell Falls justice. An awe inspiring sight when you are there.
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After the grandeur of Mitchell Falls, the lovely Mertens Falls made a lovely lunch spot and a refreshing swim followed.

If you look where we are on a map, remote is an understatement.  We saviour this remoteness by spending a couple more nights camped beside the gorgeous King Edward River where we swim and have a canoe adventure where we try to get our inflatable to ride the rapids (Kevin fell in).

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Paddling on the King Edward River

Then we face the horrendous corrugations back down again. Kevin was exhausted from the serious concentration required skating over the road but it’s a small price to pay to experience such amazing scenery. No major issues with the car which was great: a few more rattles and the tray bolts were loose (despite nylock nuts) but no flat tyres. The car has been an absolute champion and performed admirably under very trying conditions.

The Western end of the Gibb River Road is in much better condition than the Eastern end with the bonus that there is more to see –  gorgeous gorges and swimming at regular intervals (Manning, Galvans, Adcock, Bell and Windjana: all different). We free camp at Barnett River Gorge which was an absolute gem and free camp (a little sneakily) along a creek near beautiful Bell Gorge.

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Gorgeous swimming and waterfall at Bell Gorge

Mornington Wilderness Camp, 90 km off the Gibb River Road, was a must see. Kevin made me to drive in and I went through a couple of water crossings (over the bonnet and up to the windscreen). Okay, I exaggerate – just a little…..

Dimond Gorge is really remote and so dramatic. We paddle down the tranquil Fitzroy River where it cuts through the King Leopold Ranges. The sandstone gorge walls are contorted from long ago earth movements and ancient (up to 1.8 – 2 billion years old – mind boggling). It really was so stunning and we both commented on how at that moment in time how we were the wealthiest people in the whole world.

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Pumping up our boat at Dimond Gorge. We refuse to pay $70 to hire one.
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Lovely Dimond Gorge which we had all to ourselves
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Just as beautiful Sir John Gorge at Mornington Wilderness Park
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Dimond Gorge paddle picnic lunch

The Gibb River Road is not about driving the road itself, it’s about the extraordinarily special scenery it leads you too. You need to travel the corrugations, do the hard yards, make like a mountain goat at times, swim under the waterfalls and see, hear, feel and touch the landscape. Soak it up. Touch the soul and feel the heartbeat of The Kimberley. I do love it so. We both do. We did it all.

So how do we feel after 7 weeks and 6800km on the road living in a 2m x 2m box on the back of a ute? Pretty good. Naturally we have days where we feel weary, worn out and dirty, however, then we have another ‘magic’ moment to remind us why we are out here. A night sky, a sunset, a magical piece of scenery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are so many magic ‘wow’ moments, every day is different with a sense of anticipation and most importantly we laugh a lot. After coming all the way across the top of the country we are definitely tired and gorged, waterfalled and rough roaded out a bit now though. Its ‘slip into Broome time’ mode coming up and we have every intention of chilling out for a decent break around Broome to recharge the depleted batteries (and possibly splurging just a little with the savings we made by free camping).

Fish’n’chips on Cable Beach. Bring it on……..

A few random photos below

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Good idea not to bring the van on the Gibb River Road. It just might not make it…………
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This is the Prestons avoiding camp fees and making free camping a fine art form. 
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Beautiful Barnett River Gorge. Another great camp and delicious swim.
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Crocodiles at Wandjina Gorge
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Ancient Devonian Coral Reef at Wandjina Gorge
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Free camping at the RAAF Quarry (its in the camps 9 book but we thought the sign suited us down to a tee)

4 thoughts on “The Kimberley, WA – all about the Gibb River Road.

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