Gibb River Road, WA

Our 18 days on the Gibb River Road were wonderful.

The Gibb River Road is 665km long, only open in the dry season and there is a lot to see.  We left our caravan at the Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park in Derby and took our tent and camping equipment.

Derby Council is responsible for the Gibb River Road from Derby to just past the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. From there to Wyndham it is the responsibility of the Wyndham Council. When we travelled, the Derby council had graded their part of the road and it was great, a few patches of corrugation but nothing much. On the Wyndham side the road was horrendous, so many people had punctured not just one, but two tyres. We lost count of how many people were changing tyres on the side of the road. The corrugations were wide and continuous for all except a 10km stretch that was being graded at the time. Due to the width of the corrugations it was impossible to go more than 20km/h even with the tyre pressures down. The Wyndham Council had also put shale down to resurface some long stretches of the road; it was not crushed enough and many travellers ended up puncturing the side walls of their tyres from the sharp edges of the shale. The advice was to pump tyres up when you reach the shale, which makes for a more uncomfortable ride (it was also corrugated) but stops the side walls of your tyres getting punctured. Many people, including us, abandoned thoughts of going to Drysdale Station as two cars had to be retrieved on the back of trucks having broken suspensions. The road from Drysdale to Mitchell Falls was even worse, almost impassable. We spoke to people with off road vans and almost all of them said they would never take a van on the Gibb again. We met two different couples who had just done the Tanimi Track and both said the Wyndham side of the Gibb was worse. Another traveller told of someone who’s off road van had to be carried out on a tray truck because the chassis had cracked and the wall of the van had split: they had travelled the Wyndham side of the Gibb. At Home Valley Station several travellers with off road vans who had travelled from Kununurra were turning around and returning to Kununurra. The camper trailers seemed to fair better, but even those weren’t immune to flat tyres. We were very glad not to be towing anything, and we didn’t get a flat tyre.

The crows are both entertaining and irritating. As soon as you leave your camp site they invade in flocks of 10 or more birds. Any black rubbish bag will be shredded and the contents distributed far and wide: even our dirty washing bag was pulled apart. Like us, several people had boxes of matches shredded, and they must have had a joyful time with our roll of paper towel because it was spread like snow flakes. Someone else had their pack of playing cards torn up. They took Tim’s crossword book out of his chair pocket and peeled the black rubber off the arms of his chair. Once we left the lid of our camp box ajar and they took out the utensils and spread them about in the dirt. Our bucket of wash up water was regularly tipped over. We got into the habit of leaving, then hiding and circling back to check what they had gotten into and our entire camp area would be covered in crows checking everything out. 

Boab Trees are only found in Madagascar, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Kimberly district of Australia.

At the bottom of this blog we have added some tips for anyone wanting to do this trip.

These are the places we visited in chronological order from Derby on 31st July until Emma Gorge on 16th August.

Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre was our first stop on the Gibb River Road. An excellent place to learn about the Wandjina spirit, which is common to several indigenous groups in the Kimberley.

Windjana Gorge camp ground (2 nights). As with most national parks and forests in WA, it has a host to take your money if you didn’t book online, although in theory you are supposed to book ahead. It also has flush toilets, hot showers and drinkable water (although being bore water it come out warm from the tap and is a little salty).  

The gorge is about 300 metres from the camp ground. Lots of fresh water crocodiles: 30 to 100 in residence at any one time. 

Windjana Gorge is part of a 375 million year old Devonian reef system. Fossilised fish,  crustaceans and coral can be found in the 300 metre high walls of the gorge. This one was difficult to spot.

A special meal with rosemary in memory of our son Daniel  (25/9/1985 – 1/8/2011).

Tunnel Creek is an interesting place. Take a very good torch: ours were adequate but not great and it’s pitch black inside. There are fresh water crocodiles there too, but not very many, about six. Having to walk across the creek four times in the dark, twice above knee deep, we were very intent on looking for red eyes in the water, only to almost trip over a freshie that was on the sand as we came out of the water.  .

At the other end of the tunnel we came to a water hole with monitor lizards, bats in the trees and brilliant little birds called Rainbow Bee Eaters swooping onto the water to pick out the bugs. There was also some aboriginal rock art.


Queen Victoria’s Head in the Napier Ranges. Takes a little imagination.

Mount Hart Homestead, great coffee, pizzas, camping and cabin accommodation and they sell diesel, the cheapest on Gibb RIver Road at only $2.10/L. Places of interest here are Sunset Hill, Annie Creek, Barker’s Pool and the one we visited, Dolerite Gorge. 

Dolerite is the name of the black rock that is scatted through out the landscape. The gorge is only 850 metres each way but the going is very slow going because the rocks are round and often move under foot. There are two swimming areas with beautiful crystal clear water.

Silent Grove Campground near Bell Gorge (2 nights). We camped next to one of the many boab trees. There are toilets, hot showers, fire pits and drinking water that must be boiled first as a natural spring supplies the water for the camp ground via a creek. It’s a very pretty camp ground.

There were lots of Bower Birds around. They like collecting shiny things like our teaspoons.

Bell Gorge, gorgeous swimming hole but the rocks were so slippery the only way in was to slide in. Getting out was another matter altogether and as each person tried to climb out, anyone watching would end up in fits of laughter. 

At the lower pool at Bell Gorge, several people were jumping from the water fall into the pool.

Imintji has a Camp Ground, Community Store and Art Centre. Nearby is a rubbish disposal area.

Charnley River wilderness camp (2 nights) on the Artesian Range. The camp ground has flush toilets, gas boost hot showers, a communal fire pit with wood supplied, mosquitoes and the bore water is drinkable if boiled first. We hiked to all their gorges and I dare say they are quite beautiful and interesting when there is water around, but the river and all the swimming holes were just green stagnant puddles such that even the fresh water crocodiles had abandoned them. We attended a talk by the AWC (Australian Wildlife Conservancy) who run the camp which was really interesting. Lots of birds brolgas, Australian Bustards, Red finch which were too quick for me to photograph. And lots and lots of gates to open. Some of their roads were a little challenging too.

Adcock Gorge – short walk, lily pads on lower pond, larger swimming area below water fall. Water wasn’t  flowing.

Qodesh – Over The Range Tyre and Mechanical Repairs. Tim bought some nuts and bolts to replace those shaken loose from an aerial bracket.

Galvans Gorge – easy 500 metre walk to swimming area with waterfall, also Wogamin Aboriginal Art. Quite green water, no water in waterfall. 

Mt Barnett Roadhouse – fresh and frozen fruit and veggies, frozen meat, lots of groceries, diesel, takes rubbish, pay phone, fantastic home made beef and beer pies plus other takeaway food, a tap to top up drinking water, gas bottle refills (in fact, top-ups by the kg!), pay camping fees for Manning Gorge Bush Camp.

Manning Gorge Bush Camp (3 nights), By far the nicest camp we have stayed at because the Barnett River and swimming area is right beside the camp. There are hot showers solar heated, flush toilets, no drinking water (at the camp but is available from the roadhouse), washing machine, you can have fires but need to collect the wood from along the Gibb River Road before coming in. Two big tour group camping areas are set up permanently here, so there’s a rush on showers and washing machines if/when they arrive in the afternoons. The Barnett River was a wonderful place to swim, we swam every day at least 2 or 3 times just to cool off, or spent the hottest part of the day beside the river under the trees.

We saw a tour of motor bikes: about 20 bikes with two support vehicles. As soon as they arrived they jumped into the river and stayed there all afternoon. We got chatting with a few of them, it’s organised through their workplace IVECO (a national truck sales and repairs company) as incentive for meeting their targets. Looked more like a punishment to us.

The hike to Manning Gorge is about 90 minutes each way; there are three wonderful swimming areas in the gorge. You can chose to leave the camp area by walking around to a narrow crossing in the river, which takes an extra 40 minutes walk, or by swimming across with your gear in a blue tub and pulling it across. It was great fun.

Gibb River Station – diesel, groceries, can collection,

Ellenbrae Station (2 nights) – toilets, hot showers heated by a donkey heater, communal camp kitchen with bbq, fire wood can be collected or bought, drinking water available from near the homestead. 

The swimming area next to the camp was all but dried up but further along, on Campbell Creek is a beautiful, deep swimming area with a sandy beach.  There are fresh water crocodiles but no salt water/estuarine crocs. 

The Ellenbrae  homestead offers shady seating, freshly backed scones, tea and coffee, light lunches, mango smoothies made from the fruit of their abundant mango trees. 

Home Valley Station – (2 nights) hot showers, toilets, washing machines, powered and non powered sites, gift shop which sells snacks (but no groceries, not even bread and milk), bar and restaurant, resort style swimming pool, large under cover eating area, a covered playground, very expensive. . We caught up with people we had met at Manning Gorge which was nice. 

There is camping available near the Pentecost River but without being able to go down to the river due to saltwater/estuary crocodiles, there were limited things to do down there. But the views of the Cockburn Range is wonderful from there.

Home Valley Station has one gorge, Bindoola Gorge, 15km back along Gibb River Road with swimming hole, fresh water crocodiles.

The Cockburn Range is spectacular. You may recognise it if you saw the movie “Australia”. It is also the background to many photos of the Pentecost River Crossing, an iconic and eagerly anticipated part of the Gibb River Road experience. It was the back drop that Tim recognised as we navigated over some pretty awful road surface which turned out to be the bed of the Pentecost River. Not a drop of water on the crossing, it was so very disappointing.

El Questro – (3 nights) hot showers, toilets, washing machines, groceries, fire pits, wood can be bought, powered and unpowered sites. We got a spot down by the Pentecost River and again met up with people we had met along the way which was lovely. There is a restaurant and bar with prices more reasonable than Home Valley. Each night they put on entertainment: pizza night, quiz night, movie night, live music, etc. They also have helicopter flights and horse riding. Apart from the 16 km driveway, it is possible to get to El Questro from Kununurra on bitumen, so a lot of people go there with large vans and stay a week or more but don’t go any further on the Gibb RIver Road.

Our ONLY water crossing on the Gibb River Road was on the driveway of El Questro, and it was the Pentecost River – YAY!

Our camp site on the Pentecost River. We made jaffles and damper for dinner.

This little donkey would stand in the middle of the drive and wouldn’t budge for anyone, so even caravans had to drive off the road to get around him.

We went for a boat trip down the Chamberlain River and learnt lots about the river, rock formations, crocodiles, fish, native flora. We fed Archer Fish, which actually spat at us and were very accurate.

During a particularly bad thunder storm and heavy rain a few years ago, the staff at the homestead had heard a thunderous noise and ‘felt the earth move’. The next day they went along the river to check the gorge and found this pile of rocks in the water, obviously what had caused the earth to shudder when they fell.

El Questro has several gorges and swimming holes on their 700,000 acre property. 

Zebedee Springs is a thermal spring with various water holes up the hillside, the top one warmer than the bottom one. 

El Questro Gorge – is another spring fed creek. The track in crosses a deep water crossing requiring a car snorkel, we decided not to attempt it even though we saw a car without snorkel had crossed (with its doors and exhaust pipe underwater).

Amalia Gorge – the water holes were quite green and stagnant, not good for swimming but the walk was lovely.

Emma Gorge Resort is part of El Questro. After walking to the gorge, we had lunch there: fantastic food and more reasonably priced than we had become used to. Emma Gorge is the jewel in the El Questro crown, it is stunning. It’s quite a difficult 2 hour hike over boulders and up steep tracks in some parts, but is worth every bit of effort. 

The first pool is called Turquoise Pool,

 Then a bit further up is Emma Gorge. The water is icy cold but glorious to swim in, crystal clear. On the right hand side, one of the many waterfalls is from a thermal spring and just under it the water is ‘warmish’. There is a resident fresh water crocodile but we didn’t see him. 

This is our last stop on the Gibb River Road. We will definitely be back to do it again, but next time just after the wet season when there is more water around. They had a very dry wet season this year, which didn’t help.

This family had left Tasmania at the start of the year and are cycling around Australia. (check out “Swag Family“).

We were so happy to see bitumen. 

Heading to Kununurra where we will restock before heading to Purnululu/Bungle Bungles.

Cheers for now, Helen and Tim.

Our tips for Gibb RIver Road Traveller’s.

Rubbish disposal (public) – Mt Hart Station, Imintji on the Derby side of the store, Mt Barnett Roadhouse,

Rubbish Disposal (if you are camping there) – Ellenbrae Station, Home Valley, El Questro

Aluminium can collection – Gibb River Station, Ellenbrae Station,  El Questro

Groceries – Imintji Community Store, Mt Barnett Roadhouse, Gibb River Station, El Questro

Drinking water to fill jerry cans – Mt Barnett Roadhouse, Ellenbrae Station, Home Valley, El Questro (we took cordial to make it more palatable)

Fresh scones with jam and cream – Ellenbrae Station

Public Telephones – Charnley River Wilderness, Mt Barnett Roadhouse, El Questro

Optus reception – Ellenbrae Station, Home Valley Station, El Questro (not sure where else)

Telstra reception – the lookout near Home Valley Station and El Questro (for a few hours until it failed)

Internet – El Questro (Telstra 4G Small Cell, which worked really well for a short time then not at all for most of our stay)

Washing machines – Mt Hart, Manning Gorge Camp, Home Valley Station, El Questro

Diesel – Mt Hart, Imintji, Mt Barnett Roadhouse, Gibb River Station, El Questro

Unleaded – Mt Barnett Roadhouse and El Questro are the ONLY places.

Tyre repairs – Quodesh Over The Range tyre and mechanical repairs, Ellenbrae Station, Home Valley Station.

Bookings – at the time we travelled, if you had a tent or camper and didn’t need power there were only two camp areas on the Gibb River Road you needed to book into, Windjana Gorge and Silent Grove, which are DPAW locations. Everywhere else you just turn up. Unpowered sites are not allocated, you just find a spot and set up camp. The trick was to get in early afternoon or sooner so you get a nice spot because by 4pm all the best spots were taken.

Next time I will take all our linen (sheets, towels etc) in military camouflage colours of green and brown, because no matter what colour they start out as, that’s the colour they end up.