12 Days on the Gibb River Road
It was late June 2020 and the tail end of the covid19 restrictions were taking affect to Western Australia. We were very fortunate to have the freedom to still travel within our region – so we took to the bitumen (then dirt) to explore the Gibb River Road!
At the time there were a few common misconceptions that nothing was really open on the Gibb, however we spent a solid 12 days camping and exploring and definitely could have stayed longer.
As we live in Kununurra, we regularly spend weekends visiting the eastern side of the Gibb as it’s so close to home. With El Questro and Home Valley Station closed for the year, it was the perfect time to spend more time on the western end.
Usually on camping trips I’m up first thing, packing up camp to move on to the next location. However this trip we took a different approach with slow mornings then exploring in the afternoon. This worked out in our favour, as it meant that each day once all of the campers cleared out we had the campsites to ourselves, and more often than not, the swimming holes to ourselves in the afternoons.
I will be breaking this Gibb River Road blog into 3 parts... welcome to Part 1. Enjoy!
Woke up: Kununurra
Visited: Great Northern Highway
Overnight: Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park, Derby
Cost: $54 for 2 people
Day 1! After counting down the weeks, days, then hours… it was super exciting to be on the road. An early start had us leaving Kununurra to start the 900km drive to Derby on the bitumen via the Great Northern Highway.
The drive was quite easy going with not too many cars on the road. As we neared Derby we couldn't help but pull over to check out the magnificent boab trees.
There was one boab in particular that caught my eye and looked just like a Kimberley version of the whomping willow tree from Harry Potter. We snapped some pictures of this ragged looking tree which could easily be 500 - 1000 years old. The golden light from the setting sun was simply stunning.
After setting up camp at the Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park in Derby (only one of 5 other campers set up in the whole park) we headed to the Spinifex Hotel (the Spini) for a pub meal before departing the next day. For those who have visited Derby over the years and haven't been back for a while, the Spini has had a makeover and looks great!
Following dinner we went for a walk on the Derby jetty in the darkness of the night, only lit up by the jetty lighting. It was low tide and quite an eerie feeling not knowing what was lurking below and no one else around. No cameras out for this part, was great to soak up the moment.
Woke up: Derby
Visited: Explored Derby town, started the Gibb!
Overnight: Lennard Creek
Waking up in Derby was great as it meant we had truly started the trip and getting very close to the start of the western end of the Gibb!
The day was spent walking around the town of Derby and checking it out as I haven't spent much time here previously. I think that you really get a good feel for the town when walking as opposed to quickly driving through.
After a visit to the local second-hand book store (run by the Derby Animal Welfare Group) I was well and truly stocked up on reading material. No phone signal for the majority of the Gibb.
Thomas's family lived in Derby in the early 90s so we had a look at the houses they lived in for a trip down memory lane. We also popped in to the Shire of Derby West Kimberley office, as I had won the Kimberley Photographic Award a few years earlier for this image: Bastion Bolt photo. It was great to see it still being proudly displayed in the shire office.
As the afternoon neared, it was time to depart Derby for the Gibb!
Roughly 120km along the Gibb is the Lennard River crossing. We found a perfect campsite next to the riverbed with not a single soul around.
Although the riverbed was dry, it was lined with lots of trees and greenery. An absolute haven for the birdlife who definitely made themselves known, singing their songs loud and proud.
We enjoyed the afternoon sun, followed the flight paths of birds with the binoculars, set up camp and enjoyed our first campfire of the trip under the stars.
For anyone who has camped out in the Kimberley will understand that without the light pollution from any nearby towns or cities, the sky was absolutely abundant with stars. It almost appeared that you could see more stars than sky.
Woke up: Lennard Creek
Visited: Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge
Overnight: Windjana Gorge Campground
Cost: $17 per person (plus park pass)
Waking up to the sounds of the birds at our campsite brought a smile to my face, as cheesy as that sounds. However it's the truth, I was so happy to be out in the bush, no screens, no phone signal, no alarm, waking up when my body clock says it's ready.
A slow morning was on the cards, with a nice breakfast and laying down under a tree reading a book. Doesn't get much better than this.
We hit the road which was in great condition. During peak season from June - August the Gibb River Road gets an absolute thrashing with thousands of vehicles passing through each year. As some were still being affected by the covid19 restrictions in place, this meant there were an incredibly low number of people on the road. It was smooth with barely any corrugations.
The Kimberley Bauhinias were flowering like crazy everywhere on the side of the road. We pulled over and enjoyed some of the flower's nectar, which is like a natural honey and delicious!
Arriving into the Tunnel Creek carpark, it was hard to believe that ours was the only vehicle there. What is usually a packed out carpark with people everywhere, there was no one to be seen.
This allowed a rare moment of having the entirety of Tunnel Creek to ourselves. Turning off our head torches, laying down in the cool sand and closing our eyes was a highlight. As you let your ears adjust to the new silent cave, it starts to take on a whole new feel. It was a great experience aside from the little thoughts every now and then that a croc or snake might move in close and join us!
Walking through Tunnel Creek meant wading through freeeezing water, however this in no way took away from the beauty of this place. The reflections in the still water and the sunlight seeping in through the gaps in the rock was simply magic.
Next it was on to Windjana Gorge National Park, which is part of a 375 million-year-old Devonian reef system. Windjana Gorge is 3.5km long, carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. It's hard to believe that in the Devonian period over 300 million years ago, the whole area was under the ocean!
As we pulled into the campground as chose a spot, the sun was getting very close to setting. I knew I wanted to see the after glow on the huge gorge walls, but we didn't have much time. We ran from the car down to the start of the walk and on to the soft sand where we were met by over a dozen freshwater crocs (definitely lots more there, most likely hiding under the water until the sun came out again).
Talk about cutting it fine, we only just caught the last bit of the sun hitting the gorge wall. As the sun disappeared a stunning glow began to create a deep rich red on the rock... it was simply stunning.
In the pictures below you will see some of the captures. If you have fond memories of this spot yourself, you can also have these images as your very own print for your wall. Check it out: Gibb River Road Landscape Prints
We were early into the trip and definitely preparing to rough it, however were pleasantly surprised with a shower block! With beautiful hot showers, the perfect way to finish the day. I could count the number of other campers in the campground on both hands, which meant no lines and plenty of hot water.
After only a few hours sleep in the roof top tent - might I add this was one of the coldest nights, sleeping with jumpers, trackies, beanies, 2 blankets! - we woke to some rustling down below. We quickly awoke and shone our torches at the table and chairs. A roo had decided to help himself/herself to the sweet potato that was left on the table after dinner. Its body was in full view, with it's eyes just slightly hidden behind the top of the table. It thought we couldn't see it which was hilarious! The roos here must be used to finding midnight snacks from campers as it proceeded to stand there demolishing the sweet potato, not in any hurry whatsoever, with some very loud crunching until it was all gone.
Woke up: Windjana Gorge Campground
Visited: Windjana Gorge, Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge
Overnight: Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge (camping)
Cost: $18 per person
As we woke in the Windjana Gorge Campground and unzipped the roof top tent, we were greeted by the enormous gorge walls of Windjana. A slow and steady morning followed, doing some clothes washing at the camp and enjoying breakfast. As the clothes hung out to dry we went for a morning explore down the gorge walk.
Further up the gorge, this was the perfect time to bring the binoculars out. The growth gets quite thick as you get further along the walk, which means the birds could definitely always be heard but sometimes not seen. The noccies came in handy and I found that most of the time the willy wagtails were sneakily hiding not to far from where we were sitting, jumping from branch to branch.
On the drive out of Windjana Gorge National Park, there were lots of beautiful Sticky Kurrajong aka Kimberley Rose trees. For those who have seen these in bloom in the dry season know that the rich red colour stands out amongst the environment around them. It was certainly a slow moving drive as I wanted to stop and have a closer look every time we drove past one!
Our drive was also held up again (not that we were in any rush, quite the opposite actually) by a road block, Kimberley style. Cattle getting moved along through a narrow gap in between the ranges took over the entire road, possibly from Napier Downs Station. There was even a tiny dog helping move the cattle - have a look in the photo gallery below.
The sun began to lower and once again bringing out the most irresistible light. As we took a detour from the main Gibb River Road to drive into Mt Hart, we pulled over to soak up the landscape. I was standing on the sidestep of the car to get a bit more height for a photo when we both heard the grass moving just near the car. After realising it wasn't just the breeze causing this movement, we saw an Eastern Brown Snake on the hunt. (Google tells me that they are the second most venomous land snake in the world). It was a pretty scary moment, although a good wake up call and maybe a sign to not be so complacent. We weren't near it in any way at that moment luckily, and sat back and watched it through the noccies to get a better look. They sure are deadly looking close up.
We arrived to Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge just on dark and set up camp for the night. There were a handful of other campers, drastically lower numbers than this time of year usually we were told.
After collecting some fire wood from the pile of cuttings at the back of the camping area, we enjoyed dinner by the fire and relaxed into another amazing night's sleep. My body clock was almost now fully in the rhythm of sleeping and waking by the sun, and resetting with no screens or demands of every day life. Perfect.
I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of the three part Gibb River Road blog. If you have any questions about the trip please contact me, always happy to chat. 🙂
Landscape prints from this blog post can be found here: Print Store
For all planning and current information regarding access, please visit:
- Derby Visitor Centre website
- Derby Visitor Centre Facebook page
- Kununurra Visitor Centre website
- Kununurra Visitor Centre Facebook page
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