The Gibb River Road is not for the faint of heart.
A former cattle route, the 660km rammed earth road spans nearly the entire length of the Kimberley region and is one of the most remote and rugged roads in the world. Typically it’s open from March to November, and is best attempted by those with a four-wheel-drive and a strong sense of adventure.
My journey is beginning from Derby, the closest township to the Western end of ‘The Gibb’. We’re playing it safe and travelling in a convoy of two cars; my dog Jezza and I in one, and backpackers Morgan, Danny and Eyal in another.
There are two roadhouses on the Gibb, and owing to remoteness supplies will be limited and expensive. It’s important to stock up in town. A surplus of drinking water and fuel is imperative; fresh fruit and veg, and a colossal reserve stash of tinned food just as vital.
Jezza jumps into the car and assumes the position of World War I fighter ace, feeling the air on her face, the smell of adventure filling her finely tuned nostrils. Travelling with a dog is possible on the Gibb River Road but National Park restrictions means you can’t visit, camp or stay everywhere. Snakes, ticks, crocodiles, cattle and poison baits are common hazards.
Its 64km from Derby to the beginning of The Gibb; an infinitesimal distance considering the surrounding country. Driving hundreds of kilometres in one go is a fact of life up here and no matter how far you’ve come, or have to go, in the local vernacular it’s always ‘just up the road’.
A signpost marks the official beginning of the Gibb River Road. The landscape begins to change dramatically; flat plains are now dotted to the horizon with boab trees and termite mounds. The bitumen road dissipates into teeth-chattering corrugations, announcing our arrival in the outback.
It’s important to carry a good set of tyres, at least one spare, a puncture repair kit and basic tools on the Gibb. There is a tyre repair centre around the halfway point at Mt Barnett, but endless corrugations and notoriously sharp rocks have punctured plenty a tyre. Letting the tyres down to half their maximum PSI makes driving somewhat bearable and helps to prevent punctures.
It’s dark by the time we make it to a rest stop and set up a camp. A giant comet streaks a brilliant trail across the inky sky. For those who aren’t into roughing it there are a few alternative accommodation options, but camping allows you to immerse yourself in one of the world’s last true remaining wildernesses.
Officially, camping is restricted to designated areas; but there are plenty of rest stops for weary travellers. It’s paramount you abide by camping etiquette when travelling in the outback. Dispose of your waste properly; leave what you find; minimise campfire impacts; and respect wildlife, your hosts and other visitors. We’re sure to leave no trace in the morning.
Road conditions make travel slow going, and besides, what’s the rush? Life up here isn’t ruled by the inexorable calendar; even less so once you slip into the meandering rhythm of travel. Our destination is ‘just up the road’, but it takes us all day to reach Lennard River Gorge. Eager to get a glimpse at the first gorge on the Gibb, I sprint down the track in the encroaching darkness, following vague signs through the bush.
Within a few minutes I’m horribly lost. Frantic, I check my pockets, resigning myself to a cold night alone in the scrub. With a great deal of difficulty and cursing, I manage to navigate my way back to the car park. To stay safe when exploring; always travel with at least one other person, carry sufficient water, stick to well-marked tracks, and don’t go exploring in the dark…
An enormous chasm glimmers in the morning light. The sound of trickling water echoes between megalithic walls, and an arduous scramble brings us down to a cool swimming hole. Two freshwater crocodiles are basking on the sunny banks but they scamper off as we approach. There’s no-one else around. This is what the Gibb River Road is famous for.
Back on the road, and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a campsite. We settle on a lookout high up above a sprawling valley. The sun is setting behind us, the full moon rising over a distant mountain peak and the flickering campfire cooking our dinner. It is by far, the most incredible outdoor experience I’ve ever had.
Early morning, and by the turn-off to Bell Gorge a helicopter is parked by the side of the road. Three passengers are disembarking into an awaiting four wheel drive. If camping isn’t your cup of tea, there are myriad of ways to experience the Gibb River Road. Numerous companies offer guided adventure tours, and scenic flights offer an entirely different perspective.
At Galvans Gorge a small stream of water is trickling down a multi-tiered waterfall, a rope swing dangling over the pool beneath. Most waterfalls quickly disappear once the wet season is over and are best enjoyed early in the season, but it’s possible to swim in the pools and gorges year round.
We’re almost at the Mt Barnett roadhouse when I’m forced to turn around. Money and time are running thin and I need to make my way back. I know it won’t be my last time here though. The Gibb River Road is one of the world’s epic adventures, and next time I’ll be sure to pad my schedule with plenty of time to experience it in all its glory.
Comprehensive travel information on the Gibb River Road is available from the Broome Visitors Centre, or www.visitbroome.com.au