Gibb River Road

Western Australia is huge. With its surface area of 2.5 million square kilometers it is by far the largest state in Australia. The state alone is already larger than Western Europe and Scandinavia together. If Western Australia would be a country, it would be in the 8th largest country in the world, and also the emptiest. Only 1.8 million people live here.

The Gibb River Road is an infamous track from Derby to Kununurra through the Kimberley in Western Australia. This is a road trip for the die-hard fans of the outback! You drive through one of the wildest and most beautiful areas in all of Australia. The Gibb River Road is a dirt road of nearly 650 km. You'll see deep canyons, colored rocks, waterfalls and rivers where you can enjoy a swim. You can drive most of the road with an ordinary car but for the most rugged areas, you need a 4WD. From December to April the road is blocked because of the rainy season and the route will be swept away.

Gibb River Road Map
Map of the Gibb River Road (click here to show bigger map)

Day 1 - From Derby to Windjana Gorge National Park

We start our your journey in Derby. With its population of 3.093, Derby is one of only three towns in the Kimberley to have a population over 2,000. The town also has the highest tides in Australia, with the peak differential between low and high tide reaching 11.8 meters.

Derby is also known for its Baobab trees. These trees are easily recognized by the swollen base of its trunk, which gives the tree a bottle-like appearance. Boababs grow only in Africa, Madagascar and Australia. One of the trees near Derby was used as a prison in the 1890’s and can still be visited.

Prison Boab
Baobab prison tree

We start following the Gibb River Road. The first part near Derby is paved, but after a while the road becomes a large dirt track, corrugated and sprinkled with sharp rocks that can shred an all-terrain tire in a moment. Every now and then, wallabies dart out from the bushes, while some cattle meander onto the road. More impressive, however are the occasional triple-trailer road trains that come at us head-on.

It’s best to slow down and veer to the side as these giant trucks whiz by. The road trains release dust bombs as they go and the dust's fusion with the sun creates an eerie haze that hangs for kilometers afterwards.

Road train
Road train

After about 125km we turn right onto the Fairfld-Leopold Downs Road and drive to Tunnel Creek National park. On our way we pass Windjana Gorge, but we’ll visit this park later on the day. At Tunnel Creek, a short path over and between large boulders takes you to the impressive entrance of the cave.
The opening is like a big hall in the rock, and at the back of it the dark tunnel starts. Large parts of the tunnel are filled with pools of water on the ground that you will have to wade through, so take a pair of water sandals with you.

Tunnel Creek
Tunnel Creek cave entrance

Also don’t forget to pack a good torch with fresh batteries. The tunnel is about 750m long but is darker then the night. Shine your torch around the walls and the ceiling to see little waterfalls coming over the ledges on the sides. The cave is high and wide and has sandy beaches and permanent pools with catfish. Bats and stalactites hang from the limestone ceiling.

After this underground adventure we drive back to Windjana Gorge in the Napier Range, home to the world’s biggest freshwater crocodile population. The huge, 100-metre limestone cliffs provide some shade against the hot sun as freshwater crocodiles are sunbathing on the sand and float like logs in the water. Unlike saltwater crocs they're more timid and not so aggressive but, if provoked, they can inflict deep wounds requiring much stitching. So keep your distance and don’t try to pet them. The crocs are, together with the 3,5km walking path trough the gorge, the biggest attraction of the park.

Freshwater crocodile
Freshwater crocodiles at Windjana Gorge

In the 1890s, the legendary Aboriginal freedom fighter Jandamarra roamed here as he led a bloody resistance to white men's authority. He fled through this gorge when he escaped a posse of 30 men. After his getaway, he continued a guerilla-like war for three years, during which he gained mythical status among his people for his ability to outfox his pursuers.

Windjana Gorge
Windjana Gorge

Windjana Gorge National Park also features a campground to spend the night. To see the Napier Range glowing in the evening sun is a fantastic moment. The campground is well maintained, with good facilities including showers. There is also a separate campground for noisy generators. One of the park rangers will come around in the evening and collect the camping fee, which is $10 pp and $2 for children under 16.

Day 2 - Windjana Gorge National Park to Mount Hart Homestead

We leave the Windjana Gorge National Park and drive to the beautiful Lennard Gorge. This gorge is one of the little known and less visited Kimberley gorges. The 8 km long access trail starts a few kilometers further on the Gibb River Road. Due to the rough terrain, it is strictly four wheel drive only.

Lennard Gorge access trail
Lennard Gorge access trail

Once you get to the end of the dirt track you’re on your own. There are no markings or signs whatsoever. If you head towards the right you will eventually reach a lookout point and see some fantastic views of the gorge and the falls. A path on the left leads you to the top of the falls where you can go for a swim.

Lennard Gorge
Lennard Gorge

At the crossing with Gibb River Road we drive back towards Derby for about 6km. There we head North, towards Mount Hart. After a 1h15mins drive on a 4WD track we reach the heart of the King Leopold Range Conservation Park. The landscape is very different from the rest of the Gibb River Road, with its sheltered green valleys and many unusual geological features. The access track makes for a very scenic drive, winding and climbing through the ranges.

Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge itself is a spacious 4 acre oasis of beautiful, lush tropical gardens along the Barker River. The Lodge offers comfortable accommodation in the middle of the outback and also some camping facilities. If you want to go for a swim the best place is Barker Pool, a long and deep section of the Barker River where you can do olympic length laps if you like. Nearby there is a hill called “Sunset Hill” which, as it says, offers some spectacular sunset views.

Sunset Hill
Sunset at Mount Hart

Day 3 - From Mt Heart to Manning Gorge

Today we will visit four gorges, meaning we should get up early. A short drive takes us from Mount Hart to Bell Gorge. Bell Gorge is about 30 km off the Gibb River Road. A short walk along Bell Creek leads from the car park down to the gorge. To get there you’ll have to cross the creek on slippery rocks, and then scramble down the steep rock wall leading to the water edge.

Bell Gorge is the most famous gorge along the Gibb River Road. Because of that reputation, Bell Gorge is unfortunately also by far the busiest gorge along the Gibb River Road. Sometimes there are even waiting lines during peak season. To avoid this, we recommend to plan your trip out of the school holidays and to get here early.
When entering the gorge, you ca see why it’s so popular. The waterfall is cascading down the cliffs, into a deep pool. The pool is perfect for swimming and has some large, flat rocks along the side, great for sun bathing or picnic.

Bell Gorge
Bell Gorge

As the tourists are flowing in, it’s time to get out of here and move on to the next highlight: Adcock Gorge. It is located about 5 km off the Gibb River Road, along a very rocky track (4WD only). When you get into the gorge you see a deep green pool with a small waterfall, ferns and grassy edges. Normally there are not many other people here.

 Adcock Gorge
Adcock Gorge

Our next stop is Galvans Gorge. The car park is right at the side of the main road. From there on we have to walk the last kilometer to the gorge. It's the most easily accessible of all gorges on River Road, meaning that we’ll encounter some tourists again.

Galvans Gorge is a horseshoe-shaped gorge with a nice pool covered with water lilies. Its one of the smaller Kimberley Gorges, similar in size to Adcock Gorge, but the pool is somewhat bigger and deep enough to swim.

Galvans Gorge
Galvans Gorge

We drive further to Manning Gorge, our last highlight for today. Manning Gorge is located at Mount Barnett Station, about half way along the Gibb River Road. Access is via the Mt. Barnett Roadhouse. Here we have to pay our entrance and camping fee for Manning Gorge.

The walk to Manning Gorge and the Manning Gorge Falls starts from the campground and is an experience on its own. First we have to swim across the river while our stuff is floating next to us in provided styrofoam boxes. After that we have to walk a few kilometers trough the open Australian Outback. The track is very well marked with several rock cairns and red disks so you won’t get lost.

Manning Gorge
Manning Gorge

The gorge itself is huge and you can easily spend hours exploring it. It has several swimmable pools and rocks to climb up and over. You can also climb to the top of the waterfall. If it is still there… If you want to see the waterfall cascading over the full width of the rocks, you need to come early in the season. It dries up fast.

Day 4 – From Manning Gorge to El Questro Wilderness Park

We leave Manning Gorge campground behind us and head for Mt Elisabeth station. This is a real working cattle station, not a tourist resort that runs some cattle in the background.

You can explore Mt. Elizabeth Station best by 4WD, there are several gorges that invite you to go hiking, swimming or fishing. Be warned that the tracks and gorges here require some more off-road driving skills then the rest of the Gibb River Road. You can choose to stay here for the night and enjoy a three course dinner at the homestead or drive further to El Questro.

On our way to the wilderness park we’ll encounter two river crossings. Be careful at the beginning of the season when the water levels are high. Also keep in mind that there are lot’s of crocodiles here.

Pentecost River crossing
Pentecost River crossing

Day 5 - El Questro Wilderness Park

With over 4 billion hectares of land, El Questro Wilderness Park offers an abundance of unique experiences. Experience a (touristic) cattle station, make a 4 × 4 ride, explore the outback by horse, swim in a huge turquoise water basin, or fly over remote areas by helicopter. So if you have time, give yourself a few nights in this beautiful place.

El Questro Wilderness Park
Waterfall in El Questro Wilderness Park

Day 6 - From El Questro Wilderness Park to Purnululu National Park

Today is the last day on the Gibb River Road. The road ends at a highway junction near Kununurra, but we drive further to the World Heritage Purnululu National Park, best known for its Bungle Bungle Range.

Bungle Bungle Range
Bungle Bungle Range

Outback road trip tips

1. If you rely on extra battery power for a fridge, carry a generator in case something goes wrong.
2. Even if you don't have a generator, consider camping in the generators campsite. Generally it’s less crowded than the quiet campsite, and most people run their generators during the day when everybody is exploring the gorges.
3. Socialise and talk to people heading the other way. You might discover some important information that can help with your trip.
4. Drive to the conditions. Just because someone flies past you doesn't mean you should speed up too. And lowering the tire pressure does actually help when you get stuck.
5. Don't leave it until you're retired before you set out to explore the Kimberley. There are lots of places to explore and you'll need a great sense of adventure and adequate physical fitness to enjoy the best of it.

Gibb River Road - Roadbook

km Comments (D: diesel available, U: unleaded fuel available)
0 Derby
79 The end of the paved part of the road.
124 Tunnel Creek Road turn-off. Turn right here to visit Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek.
189 Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge turn-off.
195 Lennard Gorge turn-off.
219 Bell Gorge
227
D
Imintji Store Service station. Diesel fuel only, general goods, gas bottle refills and ice. You can enjoy a hot meal here.
272 Adcock Gorge turn-off
291 Galvans Gorge
305
D U
Mt. Barnett Roadhouse. Offering drinking water, ice, showers, laundry and has a small store.
305 Manning Gorge turn-off.
344 Mt Elizabeth Station turn-off.
415 Kalumburu Road turn-off.
506 Durack River crossing.
593 Home Valley Station. Accommodation, camping and tours.
602 Pentecost River Crossing.
626
D U
El Questro turn-off.
659 End of Gibb River Rd.
tags: 
road trip, australia, australia

Comments

We've been along the GRR as well in July/August, it was our first trip to the Kimberleys and we want to go back again!