The Gibb River Road
Driving along the Gibb River Road is an adventure in itself. At 660km long, some of it is paved, but a lot of it is delightfully corrugated (bumpy as hell). If you like massive open spaces and feeling like you are the only vehicle on Earth, this is a trip for you. Toss in a few water crossings, depending on the time of year, and a 4 wheel-drive vehicle and you’re all set. Our massive amphibious bus was more than up to the challenge.
We made a special stop at the Pentecost River Crossing. Everyone got out of the bus except our tour guide. He turned around and drove away until we couldn’t see the bus anymore. For a while we weren’t sure if he was coming back, it was a little bit concerning. I’m sure it was an odd sight, 20 people milling around a big creek in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere, wondering where our driver went.
Turns out, our guide wanted the bus to pick up some more speed so the crossing would look more impressive. We all cleverly squatted down in the bus’ path as it barreled down the road and into what was left of the Pentecost River. This was the ‘magazine cover’ shot, we were told. Well, sort of.
Being the end of the dry season, there wasn’t much of a river left to cross. While I thought this icon of the Gibb River Road was pretty impressive, for a better impression of what it can be like, I direct you here.
Just after the crossing we stopped for a lookout view of the Cockburn Ranges. If you ever need to feel small, or humbled by the world around you, The Kimberley is the place to go. Everything around you is so big, and there are so few humans to distract you from the scale of it all.
And of course to play with the lizards.
Somewhere a little further on the Gibb River Road our guide stopped an told us all to get off the bus for a surprise. There wasn’t much around but scrub and a few rocky hills, nothing to really catch your eye. It was behind one of these hills that our surprise lay, a beautiful collection of Aboriginal carvings and paintings, perfectly preserved on the rocks.
To be in the presence of cultural symbols that could be some 40 thousand years old, not in a museum, gave me chills. I have so much respect for a who could thrive in such a harsh climate like The Kimberley. To be honest, I’m not sure I would last a day under that baking Australian sun.
I genuinely have no idea where we were to look at these carvings and paintings. To be honest, I wouldn’t say it on here if I did. Part of their magic and preservation is that so few people know where they are. According to our tour guide, only a handful of people know about it, and I hope it stays that way.
We stopped and camped that night in the absolute middle of nowhere. I mean it was off a long track on some stretch of the Gibb River Road, but that is about all I can tell you.
A short walk from our camp there was a small river to swim in, an oasis in this baked landscape. It was probably full of crocodiles. I’m 90% sure I touched a human hand in the water while I was swimming, but that is a story for another day.
There were no facilities and no extra water except what we brought in on the bus, but the stars were the best I’ve ever seen. Once again I fell asleep beside a fire, counting shooting stars until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
On our way to Windjana Gorge the next day we stopped at Mt. Barnett Roadhouse. A beacon of civilization in the middle of nowhere.
To this day I still do not understand this sign. Anyone care to illuminate me?
Just before we made it to Windjana Gorge, we stopped at another beautiful little pond to cool off.
I was going to go for a swim, but thought better of it because a) I was still thinking about that hand in the water, and b) I noticed these guys before I got in:
Nope nope nope nope nope.
I did, however, make a new friend:
Late in the afternoon we made it to Windjana Gorge for our last walks and camping spot. First, we walked through Tunnel Creek, which was both fantastic and terrifying at the same time.
- Fantastic, because we walked along the riverbed, essentially underground, where the water had pushed its way into a cliff. During the wet season, the water totally floods out the tunnel, and it is rather impressive to see how drastic the level can change over the span of a few months. A lot of the walk is on dry ground, but there are a few parts where you cross through thigh-deep water, almost entirely in the dark.
- Terrifying, because Tunnel Creek is full of freshwater crocodiles. These aren’t the monster-sized, man-eating terrors you usually associate with Australia, apparently they’re “harmless” because the freshies wont go after people. Our tour guide said we’re too big for them, but they were still 1-2 metres long, and they are still crocodiles. Still a bit terrifying.
I didn’t take any photos inside Tunnel Creek, because I was afraid of stepping on a crocodile and dropping my camera.
As the sun was about to set we walked a bit into Windjana Gorge and just relaxed for a bit, enjoying the cliffs and the crocs.
There was no one else around but our group. We may have been the only people in the park. The wildlife around us was so relaxed and happy to let us stare at them.
We had to leave before the sun totally went down to set up our final campsite of the tour, but I could have stayed in that peaceful gorge for hours.
Fortunately, the campsites in Windjana Gorge National Park are equally as beautiful.
As a special treat for our last evening camping along the Gibb River Road, and a send off back to society, the dingoes of Windjana Gorge National Park sang us to sleep.
Everyone was a bit reluctant to get on the bus the next morning and leave Windjana Gorge, as it was our last day before we got to Broome and ended our tour.
We made it safely to the end of the Gibb River Road one we made it to Derby, and all had a little celebration that we survived it.
It really concerns me that ‘catastrophic’ is even an option for fire danger ratings.
We had one last stop along the way, the Boab Prison Tree in Derby.
I love Boab trees, they all have so much personality and character. This one has a dark patch of history during its 1500 years of life. The Prison Tree was used as a lockup for Aboriginal Prisoners who were being sent into Derby for sentencing. It is a registered Aboriginal Site now, and should you visit I encourage you to look at it as more than another tourist stop, but read and learn about what happened here and why.
I was excited for the trip be over, to see my friends in Broome again and spend some more time in the town that stole my heart.
I couldn’t believe how fast those 9 days went, camping in the wilderness. How many amazing things we had seen, the adventures we had, and all the fantastic hiking and swimming and stargazing we had done.
The Kimberley still calls to me. It has gotten under my skin in a way no other place has. I still think about its never-ending red landscapes and skies, and the surprising lush oases to be found.
The Kimberley may be a massive, empty place, but it will fill your soul up to the brim. Go and explore it, and lose a part of yourself there.