The GIBB – 10-25 June, 2016
For the uninitiated the Gibb River Road is a notoriously rough 600 odd km track between Kununurra and Derby through the Kimberleys. It was another from Sean’s bucket list and I will admit there were a few hairy moments, which were actually off the Gibb, where I’d wondered if it was actually worth it. Short answer now that it’s done is HELL YES!
We spent the first couple of nights at El Questro, a million acre station with some pretty magnificent gorges and scenery. It’s renown for its $1000 plus a night 6 star accommodation, but lucky for us and the hundreds of others passing through there is also a campground. We were here for a couple of days and did some spectacular hikes through Emma Gorge and El Questro Gorge where we were rewarded with stunning croc free swimming holes at the end. We spent time unsuccessfully fishing in the Chamberlain gorge and a beautiful swim in the lovely Zebedee Springs.
Next stop was the Home Valley Station where we had been recommended the riverside camps and we weren’t disappointed. We were camped right on the Pentecost River and had the most stunning uninterrupted view of quintessential Kimberly escarpment. Sean tried again for the elusive Barra, resulting in lamb for dinner once again…He and the kids did have a pretty amazing experience while they were fishing though. As the tide was rushing out they witnessed a salt water croc lining a couple of fish on the bank and then devouring it, right in front of them. Another great nature in action moment that the kids won’t forget in a hurry.
We’d already seen several shredded tyres and abandoned trailers that had been claimed by the GRR, and even a satellite dish that some poor granny is going to miss, but nothing prepared us for turning off the GRR and heading up to Mitchell Falls. This was our new “Worse Road Ever”. We had heard that the road had been graded but things we’d learned since being on the Gibb:
- “The road isn’t too bad” is open to enormous variation and interpretation.
- “Just been graded” is a variable phrase and unless you are following the mythical grader, this could mean anything including just yesterday, just last week, just last month or just that it was graded once upon a time.
- Apollo and Britz rental vehicles are to be avoided at all costs. They are rented out to life threatening maniacs hell bent on “doing the Gibb” in land speed records.
- Everyone seems to think we are interested in their unsolicited opinions on the Jeep and the Jayco. The thing is, we really don’t care what you think.
- I would rather poke my eyes out than have another conversation about tyre pressure and PSI. Again, I don’t care!
We made it up the corrugated road from hell with the van to the King Edward River camp, via Drysdale Station, where we set up a base for a couple of days. Fortunately we had a beautiful croc free swimming hole in the river where we could cool off as the temps were still in the mid-high 30s. I think we are kind of acclimatised now as we’ve had consistent temps over 30 degrees every day since we hit the Birdsville Track back in April but a swim is always welcome, particularly when it’s on our doorstep and there won’t be showers for a few days.
From the King Edward River we packed up our tent and set off for an overnight adventure up too Mitchell Falls. This was another 80 kms of rough corrugations. The Jeep pulled through and we were a lot luckier than others. Along the way we passed a Land Cruiser with a broken axel, a Rangie with busted air suspension compression system, another couple of rounds of shredded tyres and a guy who had lost all his tools out the back of his car at some point. At $4000 for a tow out, we’d already decided that next time we do this (Next time?!?) we’ll fly in and fly out like rock stars!
Mitchell Falls themselves was worth the trip. We tented the night which was a novelty for the kids (and tempting for us to do it more often – for the kids, not us) We woke early to a couple of sugar gliders jumping across the trees right above us. The walk wasn’t as tough as we thought and we made it to the top in about 90 minutes. On the way up there we passed some Aboriginal Rock art, which was a great reminder of just how remote we were and that we were very much in traditional lands.
Further north from Mitchell Falls is Kalumburu and Honeymoon Bay which were also on our wish list, but at another 500kms return on the road from hell, we thought we’d count ourselves lucky and make our way back to the Gibb. After a long day of rough driving the Jeep pulled us through and by the time we were back on the Gibb, it was like driving on carpet!
We pulled into a river side camp for the night and had a great time with a campfire underneath the eucalypts and feeling like we were the only people on earth.
Next morning we headed off to Manning Gorge and were really happy to see David and Ros pull in 10 minutes after us. This was another favourite camp spot right on the croc free Barnett River. The walk up to the gorge is about an hour and is one of the prettiest gorges we have been in so far. We were happy to spend a couple of hours jumping off the rocks and swimming in the fresh water under the falls.
Fresh water swimming in falls and gorges is one thing we’ve loved about the top end. As much as we all miss the ocean, this is certainly a really special experience and so very different from what we know. Every fall and gorge is so unique, which makes it all the more interesting. You never know what the reward will be at the end and we’ve never been disappointed.
Looking forward to returning to the GRR again soon…..