The Gibb River Road takes you through the heart of one of Australia's last wilderness frontiers - The Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Or so at least, says one of the many websites describing the GRR. It’s definitely not the remote wilderness that it used to be, and the amount of traffic on it is quite surprising.
It’s worth the detour to the Five Rivers Lookout at Wyndham, the town which proudly boasts the largest Boab tree in captivity and a giant 8m concrete crocodile on the main street.
The road has been upgraded to a formed gravel two-lane road including a few short bitumenised sections and we could have driven it in (someone else's!) regular 2WD sedan. To be fair, even the humble postie bikes are doing the Gibb River Road, albeit en masse and with about three support vehicles. This group were raising money for 'Bright Blue' a charity which supports brain cancer research, funds the treatment and prevention of FASD and creates brighter futures for victims of burns. What a great excuse for appreciators of the mighty postie bike. 4WD is still the go if you value your car, as the corrugations and water crossings can be enough to shake your fillings out at times.
Despite the well-formed road and plentiful traffic, it’s a beautiful part of the world and the week we had on it wasn’t nearly long enough. The GRR is a former cattle route that stretches in a east-west direction almost 660 kilometres through the Kimberley between the towns of Derby and the Kununurra/Wyndham junction.
The GRR is often closed due to flooding during the wet season, which is typically November through March. We plan to come back here at some point in the near future and spend at least a month just exploring the region. Actually, we plan to buy a secondhand helicopter and fly ourselves across the top of Australia from waterhole to gorge to beach to waterhole etc. But that’s for when the kids are grown up, and we’ve actually learned how to fly a helicopter. Stay tuned.
For the moment, the short taste of the Gibb River Road has whet our appetite for this beautiful region and we loved it. We had hoped to get up to Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls which would have involved another three days of more challenging roads but sadly that was one of the many places we didn’t have time for. It’s actually pretty staggering just how many amazing gorges, waterholes, farm stays and bush camps are available to choose from in this part of the world.
In case you’re thinking of travelling up this way, we will write an article later on with some thoughts on how to enjoy it properly but our initial suggestions would be:
leave yourself about four times as long as you think you’ll need. A month would be about right for a quick introduction and a year would be better.
Avoid the busy places such as El Questro and go find the places that are miles off the track. You know, the sort of family-run camping spots that are what El Questro used to be 30 years ago. EQ is great but the quieter spots are just as beautiful and much more laid back.
Travel within your own capabilities. There are plenty of rolled vehicles on this stretch of road and the plethora of hire vehicles attests to how popular GRR is but driving a top-heavy high-clearance 4WD isn’t even slightly similar to driving your compact sedan on city streets, so take it slow.
Tyre pressures need to go low. As a rule of thumb, drop your tyre pressures down by about 20% from what you’d normally use on bitumen. You’ll get better traction, a smoother ride and will be much less likely to have punctures. We put our cold tyre pressures down to 29 psi in front and 33 psi in the rear. They quickly warmed up to add another 4 psi to those numbers (we are using TyreDogs to monitor our tyre pressures so that we could pick up a potential slow leak before it damaged the tyre). So far, so good and we’ve had no flats or leaks on the whole trip.
Windjana Gorge is one of our highlights. We’d love to pepper the blog with photos of every gorge and mountain range that we saw but suffice to say we have taken many more photos than you probably want to spend looking through. Best advice is just to come visit the Kimberley.
These fellas are ‘just’ Freshwater Crocodiles (Freshies) so apparently they only tear you to shreds (rather than actually eat you) if you come near them or threaten them. This is in comparison to the ubiquitous (at least in Northern Australia) Saltwater Crocodiles (Salties) which like to lay in ambush and make a meal (or several meals) of unwitting people. In the 1980s they were declared a protected species and they’ve been taking over in plague proportions and moving steadily south ever since. Is there a process for taking animals OFF the endangered list? If so, let us know and we’ll sign the petition to take salties off the no-hunt list. They’re not as abundant as Cane Toads but we’re still not seeing the need to protect them.
Travelling through the Kimberley landscape is truly an awe-inspiring experience. Ancient rock formations, spectacular ranges, croc-infested rivers, savannah country and stunning gorges abound. It’s a prehistoric, mystical landscape that speaks to the soul. And it’s warm. Check out this screenshot from our iPhone.