One of Australia’s most iconic scenic drives is the Gibb River Road – This Aussie outback experience through the Kimberley’s is on many families bucket list… Have you done it?
Matt, Sandy & Thomas from Davo’s Do Australia share with us their incredible adventure along the Gibb River Road…
This is the story of our 15 day, 1400km trip through the most famous of Aussie roads, The Gibb River road.
Broome – Derby – Windjana Gorge
With a huge day planned and genuine excitement for the upcoming next stage of our trip, an early start was on the agenda as we travelled the 2 hours North from Broome to Derby to visit the well-known prison boab tree, stock up on some groceries and fuel while the butcher also cryovaced our meat for us and we hit the Gibb River Rd towards our first camping stop 124k along at Windjana Gorge camping area. The first 90k is bitumen so it didn’t take us long to get here and this was the last decent bit of road we would see for 1400km’s.
We paid $13 per adult and $3 for our 10 yr old and with beaut showers, flushing toilets, potable water and heaps of room, it was good value!
Tip: have showers in the early arvo as they are solar and get cold later in the evening, even earlier when it’s busy!
Windjana Gorge – Tunnel Creek
With Windjana Gorge being a short walk from the camp spot, we decided to do this walk early in the morning due to the sun exposure. There’s a choice of 3 walks of various lengths but they all pretty much just extend off each other and we ended up walking the full 7k return trek all while viewing countless fresh water crocs, birds and even a small python.
After a short break back at camp, we drove the quick 35k South towards Fitzroy crossing and easily found the Tunnel Creek parking area on the right, we loaded up the drinks and cameras and with more lights than the city of Melbourne, we ventured in!
Tunnel creek was nothing short of amazing with waste high creek crossings, bats, beautiful aboriginal art at the end as well as a small but beautiful pool, there was even a few small freshies in the creeks over towards the walls in the deeper crossings!
Take a good torch so you can appreciate the walls and ceiling and check out the ghost bats as well as spotting where the aboriginal outlaw Jandamarrah may have lived.
Hint: The art is at the far end and up to the left when you exit the tunnel, you have to climb some rocks to find them and is about 20m up but well worth it.
Windjana Gorge – Silent Grove
We headed off early for the 130k trek to Silent Grove camping area (Bell Gorge) and was pleasantly surprised to see two graders on the Fairfield-Leopold downs rd as well as another grader on the Gibb rd as well!
After turning off the Gibb, the Rd In is about 20k with 3 pretty cool little creek crossings!
After setting up camp at Silent Grove (we paid $13 per adult and $3 for our 10 yr old again with showers, flushing toilets and heaps of room) we made the 10k drive out to Bell Gorge followed by the short 2k walk from the car park to the top of the falls and then the even trickier and steeper trip to the lower pools, we later heard of 3 people falling over during the day we were there!!
We swam in the main pool below the falls as well as following the river down and around the corner where there is another set of smaller falls.
Be very careful when walking on the rocks with wet feet as it’s very very slippery!
Silent Grove – Adcock Gorge – Galvan’s Gorge – Manning Gorge
With birds as our alarm clock at waaaaay to early o clock and a big day planned, we hit the road early, grabbed some fuel at Imintji Community Store 10k up the road from the turn off and headed into the not as popular Adcock Gorge which was a short but mildly corrugated 5k drive off the Gibb.
The Gorge itself was an easy 300m walk into the lower pools but we didn’t swim in this one or venture up to the upper pools
Hint: Park in the day park area and walk in as what we didn’t realise was that our map was wrong and looked like you could drive all the way through and up to the top from the bottom as well, you can’t!! the road was very nasty and rocky for about 100m and then we had to drive back out!!!!
Our next stop was Galvan’s Gorge and this was very easy to get into, the car park was right next to the rd on the left and the walk was barely 1k and an easy walk in!
Galvan’s has everything, water falls, clear water, a rope swing, rock ledges for jumping and even a small pool a few metres up for relaxing all while being surrounded by trees!
There’s even some aboriginal art on the walls when you walk around the pool to the right just near the rope swing.
After seeing quite a few gorges along the Gibb, I would say due to ease of access, art work and it’s beauty, this would be ours and 10yrd Thomas’s favorite!
Our last stop for the day and our overnight stay was Manning Gorge camp ground in which you have to pay at the Mt Barnett roadhouse and then drive the 7k out to the camp area.
After setting up camp, we walked the 5k return trail out to the gorge which was a mixture of rocks, sand, some medium ascents and descents and hot, there’s little shade or protection on the walk so it can get pretty warm and the path is marked by arrows, white dots, red ribbons, red traffics markers and even cans! The trail can get a bit tricky in some places and can require a little climbing at times too.
The gorge itself had heaps of areas for jumping, exploring or lazing around with a little waterfall that you can stand under! Just make sure you walk all the way around to the right of the pool as that’s the best area for setting up and the kids can jump in safely too.
A cool addition is the small ‘tinnie’ you can pull yourself over the Manning river if you wish at the start or finish of the trail or even just out to the rock island in the middle to relax, the river is a welcome site and a chance to cool down at the end of the walk or just relax in with the kids all day.
Cost here was $45 for two adults with kids free and this includes an $8 permit!!!
Clean toilets, showers and washing machines here were a real bonus to.
Manning Gorge – Drysdale Station
Another early start, we topped up the water at the roadhouse and we headed off for our next stop, Drysdale Station.
In hindsight, after getting here so early, we could have kept going the extra 100k to King Edward river but we instead decided to have a refreshing swim at miners pool 2k up the rd, do some washing and have a decent feed in the beer garden.
There were two options for tea here, a buffet that started at 6:30 or a normal menu starting at 5:00, just make sure to pre-book when you check in during the day.
Cost per night here was $16 ea and $5 for 5-15 yrs old and also provided clean showers, toilets and washing machines.
Drysdale Station- King Edward River (munurru) camp spot
Another early start and we decided to leave the camper at Drysdale and swag it for the next 3 nights!
We headed the 100k up the rd to the turn off then 6k into the King Edward River Campground!
We set up camp and headed out to to check out both sets of aboriginal art and burial sites 2k before the camp and a further 5k after the camp turnoff
If I can give you any advice, after parking in each car park and heading off down the walking tracks, it’s turn right at both sites and walk around to the right as this is where the actual burial ground and bones are found and also the main of the art work!
The afternoon was just spent relaxing in the river at the camp site and the falls 400m down stream and getting ready for tomorrow.
The water is beautiful and clear and wasn’t busy at all.
Cost here was $11ea and $3 for a child using the honesty system but be aware, there is now a cost of $20pp to enter the Ngauwudu Road Zone which the camp and Mitchell Falls Park is situated that has to be paid either at Drysdale Station, the camp ground at King Edward or online. From 2019, it is $45 pp!!
King Edward river – Mitchell Falls
We set off early (again) and drove the 75k to the day parking area for the Mitchell Falls, this drive took us about 1.5 hours as the road wasn’t in great condition but there wasn’t any traffic which was a bonus.
The 7km return trail is sign posted all the way to the top of the Mitchell Falls from the carpark as well as signs and info regarding where you are and relevant info scattered along the way.
We made it to the top easily in around an hour, had some lunch and spent a few more hours swimming in the Mitchell Falls top swimming area before making the trek back down, the trek down seemed longer and we stopped at Little Mertens for a dip to cool down and relax for a bit!
10yr old Thomas wasn’t keen on the return chopper ride back down when we put it to him in the morning but he was by the time we got about half way back, it was hot and very tiring for his little legs.
Hint: When you pass Little Mertens (its sign posted) falls on the way in and climb down the small set of rock ledges just after, turn left at the trail intersection and keep turning left and you’ll find a huge amount of aboriginal art in behind the Falls! It’s only about a 20m walk from the main trail.
King Edward – Wongalala Falls – Kalumburu – McGowans Sunset Beach Camp
We had a small sleep in and headed off for the 100k trip to McGowans beach via a small set of falls that we had heard about called Wongalala Falls which ended up being a great spot for swimming, exploring and relaxing.
The falls were a private area for Aboriginal women to go to only and we have since found out that fewer than 200 white people have ever been in at the time we visited.
Keep in mind that while they were great for exploring and relaxing, they were fairly difficult to get into, it’s for 4wd drives only and definitely not towing as the track in is 7k of one lane, harsh rocks with deep washouts!
We headed off towards Kalumburu and the road for the last 30k into town was pretty corrugated and rough with some deepish sand sections and sneaky washouts that pop up, some are signposted but some aren’t!
We intended to top up the fuel in Kalumburu but missed out due to the mission shop being closed (lunch 11 – 2.30) so take that into account and check your fuel level and arrival time.
While here, we checked out the community, the mission and grabbed a drink and a few supplies from the second store and kept going the 15k out to the camp spot, caught up with the caretaker, got the warnings about the 5m salty that lurks in the water, grabbed a spot and went collecting oysters for tea!
The camp was small but with a beautiful sunset, shade and even wifi, it was a great place to visit but I believe more suited to those interested in fishing charters and boys trips but there were a few families still camping here!
Hint: take a jerry can as Diesel here was 2.68 and there is also a $50 per car permit required to enter Kalamburu and its surrounds that can be paid at both main caravan parks and the information centre as well as another permit that is free and can be found online.
Cost at McGowans camp was $20 ea and kids are free and they also have wifi for $5 ea for the day. Matt is the host and s ripper bloke too.
McGowans – Ellenbrae Station
Surprise surprise, another early start for the 340k trip to grab the camper and some diesel from Drysdale, re-enter the Gibb and hit Ellenbrae Station.
The station is only 5k from the main Rd and has beaut scones for 4.50 and a fantastic old shed that has been converted into a rustic old cafe for smoothies, toasted sangas and coffee and they even repair tyres here as we found out, we popped a camper tyre on the driveway in!!!!
The camping area has open air hot showers and a great camp kitchen with a small swimming hole 100m walk away with plenty of room and shade, it was a great place to wind down for the evening after a long day on the road.
It was in this section the road started to get rockier and the road surface changed from red dirt to grey rock and sharp edged shale so be aware of that!
Cost per night was $17.50 ea and $5 for kids
Days 10 – 11
After a small sleep in, we headed off the 100k to Home Valley Station while also getting phone service for the first time since hitting the gibb at about the 95km mark along on top of a lookout and parking area.
We hadn’t really looked into HV8 and was pleasantly surprised when we drove through the gates with green camping areas, pool, kids playground, small shop and a massive restaurant!
We spent the arvo in the pool and and had a beaut barramundi dinner that friends had caught that day on the Heli-fishing charter.
The second day was much the same, swimming, and having some down time to recharge and relax.
Plus Thomas has some friends here so he spent the day playing, playing and more playing!
Cost was on the steep side at $21 ea and $10 for kids.
Day 12 – 14
Home Valley – El Questro
After another sleep in (funny how on the road, a 6am wake up is a sleep in) and knowing we only had a short 40km drive, we took our time to pack up, have brekky and eat chocolate (it was Father’s Day, don’t judge)
We headed off, crossed the well known Pentecost river and finally hit bitumen, but for only 100m as the turn to ELQ popped up quickly on the right!
We picked a fantastic non powered site on the river next to a rope swing that Thomas and quite a few of the kids and even adults thoroughly enjoyed and the day was finished off with a nice but small dinner in the steakhouse!
We also checked out the Zebedee hot springs and went 4wd driving up Brancos lookout that gave a ripper view of the Pentecost and surrounding gorges.
We didn’t do any of the other walls as we were in all honesty, gorged out, Plus we were hitting Emma Gorge on the way out.
If I’m being honest, I personally don’t think ELQ lives up to the hype and found Home Valley a better camp ground!
Cost was $64 for 2 per adults per night and that includes the $10 per day ‘permit’ which I thinks a bit rich!
El Questro – Emma Gorge – Kunnunara
A sleep in was planned but an opportunity popped up to fly over Lake Argle, the Bungle Bungles and the Argyle Diamond mine and after 1400k of gravel roads and not hearing great things about the road into the Bungle Bungles, this sounded like a great idea!
We flew out at 6am and seeing these from the air just after sunrise was an amazing experience and just shows how big our land is!
The different landscapes, colours and terrain was a huge eye opener and the sheer size of Lake Argyle was mind blowing!
We then went on the beautiful but slightly tricky 3.2km return walk to a stunning Emma Gorge that we had heard so much about and we weren’t disappointed, spent some time in the not to far away Turquoise pool and finally we hit the Gibb sign at the Kununarra turn off and some civilisation
That’s a wrap!!! We had an amazing 15 days on the Gibb and have met some amazing people, some who we will see down the road a little and as much as the corrugations were painful, I do miss being on the road!
Obviously all these comments and thoughts are of my own opinion so yours may be different!
Things we learnt…..
* Diesel is available at Drysdale Station, Imintji Roadhouse, Mt Barnett Station, Kalamburu, El Qestro.
* All stations can provide minor mechanical repairs as well as tyre repairs
* If you move over, no one else will so expect to have chips and marks from rocks
* No Alcohol can be taken to Kalamburu but can be drank within a 500m radius of McGowans Camp spot if you’re a tourist….but you have to drive through Kalamburu to get there…..huh?
* Every place we visited apart from the camping honesty box’s have eftpos
* Food and some alcohol is pretty expensive so stock up before hand
* There’s no dump points on the Gibb that we found
* All National Parks have showers, toilets and potable water
* The road surface changes from Ellenbrae through to ELQ from a red dirt to grey sharp shaley rock
* Check your tyre pressures half way, ours had gone up 8 psi
* In reality, the road is about 75% corrugations and 25% smooth, searching for and staying in a worn groove is key, as well as slowing down when required. As I said earlier, the road changes from Ellenbrae to the end of the gibb and is slightly worse with more chance of puncture here.
Thanks for reading
Matt, Sandy and Thomas
Hello Caravanners – we are Matt, Sandy and 10yr old Thomas and much like a lot of others, we have decided to sell up, pack up and head off to explore and work our way around our beautiful country for a period of 12 months in our Toyota Hilux and Forward folding camper.
We had talked about the trip for quite a long time but the idea was put on the back burner until earlier this year we were coming back from a long weekend camping, Sandy got the note pad out and said “so what do we need to do to go travelling” from then on it was full steam ahead
Where, when and how long we stay in places we don’t really know as we are going to see what the road brings us and how we feel at the time.
Along the way, we hope to learn from our mistakes and maybe teach others of what not to do but also what we loved and what shouldn’t be missed.
We don’t take ourselves to seriously and will give our honest and non-biased opinion on everything we do.
We can’t to meet as many families as possible and get to experience everything Australia has to offer.
Safe Travels – Davo’s Do Australia