What was our favourite place in all of Australia? The Kimberley region of north WA! If you dream of hiking through gorges, swimming in waterfalls and driving across rivers; then Kimberley is your gal! If you want a snapshot of how to see it then keep reading!
The unsealed Gibb River Road runs through the heart of this rugged region. The former stock route traverses ranges and rivers 660km from Derby in the West, to Kununurra in the East. The Gibb can be known for heavy corrugation and small stones that puncture tyres. We drove the Gibb River Road from May 6th to May 17th 2016. We were aiming to beat the crowds and be the first on the road after the graders had smoothed it out. We took the risk and got stuck in a 125ml down pour after which all roads in and out of our Windjana Gorge camping ground were closed. Road closures are common, especially early in the season, so make sure you pack some extra long-life food!
Only very small areas of the 423,517km2 Kimberley region is National Park. Therefore there is minimal formal information available. A Gibb River Road pocket guide can be purchased for $5 from visitor info centres. The Wikicamps app (with downloaded offline maps) and the $15 Kimberley Hema Map were our trusty companions. There is no mobile reception or internet connection along the Gibb, so book camping if required, and plan your trip before leaving civilisation!
How do I get there?
You can fly into Broome, hire a 4WD and drive the Gibb River Road to Kununurra (Kununurra has an airport) or vice versa. However be aware that vehicle hire for unsealed roads, and drivers under 25 years incurs added fees.
Prestigious cruise liners can take you along the Kimberley coast from Broome to Wyndham and give a completely different perspective from the water. Montgomery exposed reef, King George falls and the Horizontal falls are a few of the incredible sites accessible by boat.
Tour companies also offer itineraries in off-road buses. We bumped into Intrepid and APT at a couple of the waterfalls. Some people also opt for tag-along tours. Tag-alongs enable you to drive your own vehicle and follow an experienced guide.
Self-drive holidays seem to be the most popular and cost effective way to do the Gibb. We drove our own 2006 Toyota Hilux from Melbourne, across the Nullabor, up the West Coast and across the top. We began our Kimberley adventure from Broome, through to Kununurra. This leg of the journey; from Melbourne to Kununurra via the Gibb River Road, took us 3 months.
How do I drive it?
- We had minimal 4WD experience before driving the Gibb. River crossings are 50cm or less. Corrugation was minimal as the graders had just finished work after the rain.
- Check the road conditions and closures: most reliable updates available over the phone and online. Be aware that the Gibb River Road and its status belongs to 2 different shires: Derby for the West and Wyndham for the East Kimberley. The Gibb maybe open but also check the roads leading off the Gibb to all the gorges.
- Lower the PSI on your tyres. We had our tyres at 28PSI for the entire Gibb and did not get a flat.
- Towing camper trailers and caravans is not recommended on the Gibb. High clearance 4WD is. Tents are the way to go for a light weight load and flexibility in finding camp locations.
When can I drive it?
- The Gibb River Road is closed during the wet season (Nov-April) and usually opens at the beginning of May, depending on weather conditions.
- Temperature average mid 20s – low 30s for the dry season (May-Oct).
- The Gibb River Road is usually graded at start of the tourist season (early May) but becomes corrugated quickly.
What do I need?
- 1-3 weeks of holiday time for the Gibb alone
- A reliable 4WD
- 2 spare tyres
- $20 approx per day for fuel (fill up tank and jerries beforehand to get best prices)
- Enough food for the trip + 5 days of extra long-life food (in case of road closures)
- 60L of water for 2 people (approx 3 days’ worth, can refill at service stops)
- Tool kit & spare parts
- Haynes 4WD service and repair manual for your vehicle type
- First aid kit
Can I see the Kimberley in a 2 wheel drive?
No. High clearance 4 wheel drives are recommended for the Gibb River Road.
You can drive through the Kimberley along the sealed Great Northern Highway to get to Kununurra. But even the attractions on this road (Bungle Bungles) require a 4WD to enter.
To see the Kimberley you need a 4WD.
What are the best places to see in the Kimberley?
From Derby (West) to Kununurra (East)
1. Windjana Gorge National Park: The remnants of the ancient Devonian reef forms the backdrop to Windjana Gorge campground. You can spot fresh water crocs in the Lennard River on a walk through the 30m high, 3.5km gorge forming part of the Napier range.2. Tunnel Creek: home to the story of aboriginal bushranger Jandamarra, the 750m long tunnel is home to small fresh water crocs. Take a torch and walk through the shallow water, Jandamaara’s hideout for 2 years!
3. Bell Gorge: One of the most famous and busiest destinations along the Gibb. Part of the King Leopold Range Conservation Park, 250km from Derby.
4. Adcock Gorge: Our favourite waterfall on the Gibb, we had the place to ourselves! There was a rocky creek crossing on the drive in, we walked from the first clearing instead of driving across it. The turnoff for Adcock is signposted from the Gibb, then take the first left at the barrel (don’t get lost like we did and drive all the way to the end of the track).
5. Galvans Gorge: A secluded swimming pool with multi-tiered falls. Rope swing for the Tarzan enthusiasts. Signposted from the Gibb and a short walk from the carpark.
6. Manning Gorge: James’ favourite and one of the most impressive falls. Access is via the Mount Barnett roadhouse, a great place to camp for the night.
7. Barnett River Gorge: Another spot not many visit and it’s difficult to find! From the parking area look for rocks in arrow formations on the ground and follow creek bed to the left. Then see pink tags tied to trees that will take you to a wide lily pond with small cascades. Always worth the adventure to a secluded spot!
8. Mitchel Plateau: The Kalumburu road, north of The Gibb takes you 220km north to the Mitchell falls road which is heavily corrugated. It took us 3hours to do the 80km from Kalumburu road to Mitchell Falls camping ground (NP camping). Mitchell Falls is a 600km detour from The Gibb to see the spectacular 4 tiered giant falls. From the campground we walked 9km return to see the falls and aboriginal rock art along the trail. You have to be at Mitchell Falls before 7am to beat the choppers that buzz around every 30mins. There is a helipad inside the campground.
9. Pentecost river crossing & Cockburn Ranges: about 45km from the Kununurra end of the Gibb you will get to drive across the iconic Pentecost River and see the postcard views of surrounding Cockburn ranges. We recommend free camping on the banks of the Pentecost.
10. ElQuestro: ElQuestro station charges $12pp to look at the gorges, falls and springs within their land lease area. We paid entry for 1 adult. The deep plunge pool of Emma Gorge, the Zebedee hot springs and ElQuestro gorge hike were highlights of our day at the station.11. Bungle Bungles: After the Gibb south of Kununurra along the Great Northern Highway the alien like domes of the Bungle Bungles are found in Purnululu National Park. You can camp here and do a range of walks within the NP.
Where can I camp?
Wikicamps has many free sites listed in the Kimberley. A couple of nights we camped roadside in small clearings amongst the trees or gravel pits created by graders. You need to be fully self-sufficient for free camping with water, rubbish bags, shovel and TP. There are a range of paid camping spots listed on the Hema Kimberley map, some of which can be booked in advance including Mornington Wilderness lodge and Mount Barnett Roadhouse. National Park camping is available at Mitchell Falls, Windjana gorge and the Bungle Bungles, no booking required and payment made upon arrival.
How much does it cost?
Our Kimberley trip cost $1200, from Willare Roadhouse to Kununurra (20 days @ $60 per day for 2 people).
What are you waiting for?
Every Aussie should have the opportunity to appreciate our amazing country! So get packing and start driving nomads, Kimberley eagerly awaits you!