The Gibb River Road is approximately 700kms from Kununurra to Derby. It is mostly gravel road and is reknown for being harsh on vehicles and towed trailers. It is only suitable for 4WD and offroad caravans and camper trailers.
El Questro Station – Thursday 30/7 to Saturday 1/8
The first leg of the Gibb River was only to be the short run to El Questro Station, about 120kms from Kununurra and only about half dirt. The turn off onto the Gibb off the Northern Highway, saw us pull up to adjust tyres pressures to suit the conditions and prevent the van from being shaken to pieces. A lot of vehicles passed in the few minutes were were stopped and the road resembled a highway with the only difference bing the thick clouds of dust that followed each vehicle.
The dirt to the El Questro turn off was reasonably good but more corrugated that I thought it would be from reports I had heard but no concerns. The turn off to El Questro onto the 16km dirt road into the station saw the road smooth a bit and there was some grader work closer to the station. A couple of river crossings made the final leg a little more interesting and scenic but the crossings were shallow with a large smooth river gravel base.
El Qestro is very commercialised with helicopters flying in and out of the “township” most of the day and was a fairly busy place. The campground in the township is well shaded but no powered sites are available. We were lucky to be allocated a “private river site” that was large enough for both vans. The site was about 3kms from the township and well off the road along a narrow but smooth track through the scrub. The sites are all on the Pentecost River and are the same price as the township sites at $16pp/pn.
To enter El Questro, you must also purchase a wilderness pass that is $17pp for 7 days.
El Questro is owned by Voyager Hotels but we heard from a staff member that it had just been sold to an unknown buyer. There are a number of gorges, some hots springs, 4WD tracks and lookouts, as well as helicopter and plane flights and heli-fishing trips. Most are quite pricy at $200 pp for a 20min chopper ride.
On Friday we visited the ZebeDee Hot Springs which are 28-32C all year around and we soaked in the pools for over an hour. The pools were very busy as they are closed at 12pm each day to allow organised tours to visit in the afternoons. The springs are a short 10-15min stroll along an easy track from the carpark.
Friday afternoon, we visited Emma Gorge, where we picnicked on the green lawns in the shade of the trees at the resort. There is no camping at Emma Gorge but there is accommodation in the cabins and permanent tents located there. The walk up the gorge to the plunge pool is listed as a one hour walk and it took us 50-55 minutes so it is pretty accurate (we have found most NP walks only take about 1/3 of the listed time as they seem to cater for the frail and elderly). The walk up the gorge allows viewing of the high rock faces and water in the creek all the way with a few small pools. The “torquoise pool” is just before the plunge pool at the end of the gorge. The final access to the plunge pool is via some large boulders that were easy to climb over. Jane and I quickly stripped to a swimmers and waded into the warm waters – NOT! The water was freezing, so000 cold that after a few minutes you could feel your body numb! Nevertheless, we swam across the pool and under the falling water before exiting to warm up. There is no sun in the pool area and the whole area is cool – it would be a fantastic place in the middle of summer and also provided relief from the day temp (about 30C) that we had forgotten about. Clive and Shirley decided to keep warm on this occasion. The pool was busy with people after a group of 15 turned up behind us. The walk out of the gorge saw a number of helicopters fly up the gorge on the afternoon flights buzzing around like dragon flies.
Saturday, we decided to do some 4WDing, visiting Pigeon Hole which is a large area of lagoon in the river reached after crossing a couple of mountain peaks and lookouts. Some of the climbs were steep and the track a little rough but taking our time there were no issues. The access around the water is very soft sand but no issue at the tyre pressues we were running already (30psi). The track is rated moderate. The next track we drove leads to Explosion Gorge but we were told you can’t see the gorge without a tour but Branko’s lookout and Branko’s Hole were both worth visiting with extensive views from the lookout over the country side and back to the Homestead.
The El Questro Homestead is out of bounds to campers, being reserved for exclusive guests willing to pay around $2500pp/pn and we heard there is no shortage of tenants as it is booked out for the rest of this season and well into next. The homestead is built right on the edge of the river on the rock face and is quite lavish.
Clive and Shirley decided to splash out on a helicopter flight and were pleased to get an extra 10 minutes for free as the pilot was leading a group of trainees (there seemed to be a lot of trainee pilots here). They reported it was well worth it and visted all of the gorges including El Questro which is a 5 hour return walk.
We were pleased to hear Shirley’s comments that evening that she did many things she had never done before – the helicopter flight and the 4WDing up and down the steep inclines that she doesn’t enjoy, but said she was glad she experienced it all.
The girls hit the sack early after dinner and a few wines while Clive & I went up to the township in the dark to have a look at the Saturday night entertainment. We had earlier decided to skip the $35pp BBQ (ouch) which turned out to be a good decision as the BBQ area was crowded with bus tour and we were told the food was cold. We watched the regular whip cracking show that is held every Saturday night and found it not very entertaining especially after the young female volunteer from the audience was whipped after the cracker missed the burning paper. She was crying and they bribed her with a bottle of wine to dilute the pain… The guitar player wasn’t as expected – no country music as you would expect out here and only rambled on with a long loud tune with no vocals that no one appeared to be listening to.
While at El Questro, we looked at the Steakhouse menu and thought it didn’t apear too badly priced considering where we were, but a few travellers that did eat there said the servings were small and the quality lacking.
In summary, El Questro is pricy and over rated for food and entertainment, but the gorges, 4WDing and helicopters are worth the visit.
Home Valley Station (HV8) – Sunday 2/8 to Monday 3/8
On Sunday, we left El Questro leaving Clive & Shirley to stay another 2 nights on their own while they waited for their mail. Exiting ELQ, we heard someone call on the radio that there was a Kedron in front of them in the middle of their group. A return call found us in a group of 8 Trakmaster caravans on a group turn – 6 in front of us and 2 behind. We offered to sit back but were welcomed to remain where were were and join their little tour. We chatted amongst the drivers for the hour long trip to Home Valley Station which was our next destination. On reaching the Pentecost River crossing which is about 100m wide, we were let ahead while the group gathered for their group photos. We were invited to join them for happy hour which we did over the next 2 evenings – what a great bunch of friendly people.
HV8 has just been renovated about 6 months ago at a cost of around $18M of tax payer dollars. The property is to be given back to the original owners in 5 years and there are a number of aborgines working there as trainees, which is great to see. It offers a nice green grassed campsite (which we took) at $15pp/pn and powered sites for an extra $15pn (which we declined). It was great to walk around on nice grass with no shoes for a couple of days! There is plenty of water which we used to replenish the shower tanks and a couple of loads of washing.
Sunday evening we decided to check out the dinner offerings and have a break from cooking and washing up. We had heard from a couple of the Trakkies that lunch was good. Some other travellers (Mark & Tammy) that we had met at ELQ were already eating and invited us to share their large table which we accepted. The food was outstanding – I had a rib on the bone ($36) that was huge and cooked to perfection, while Jane had lambshanks ($32). Mark had a porterhouse steak that was too big for him to complete and Tammy had the barra which was grilled and looked good too. The company was great over dinner and Mark & Tammy are heading the same way so we may run into them again before Broome.
Monday we took a drive down to the riverside campsites and also spent Happy Hour there with the Traky group. A couple of crocs were spotted on the opposite bank and the tide was low and the banks a sticky muddy goo not too dissimiliar to the Keep River. That evening a roast chicken dinner enjoyed with a couple from the traky group that was camped next to us – Lindsay and Ann – who were great company.
Tomorrow the Tracky group heads for Durack River or Ellenbrae Station if Durack does not have enough room for their 8 van convoy, which is similar to our plans. They welcomed us to join them at the next camp but declined my offer to lead the convoy with the Kedron No doubt we will see them further down the track…
Ellenbrae Station – Tuesday 4/8
Leaving HV8, the road was a little corrugated but no issue doing 50-60kph. The road rises 200m to view the surrounding landscape and it’s quite a pleasant drive.
Approaching Durack River Homestead (which has been abandoned since 2002 in preference for HV8) we took the turn in to find locked gates, so no entry or camping here. We moved further west to find a grader at work but after the grader the road was terrible with heavy corrugations. I saw something out of the corner of my eye hit the windscreen and fly off thinking it was a small tree branch only to discover it was the UHF aerial stick – it had been dancing backing and forth in the corrugations and finally decided to give in. To my surprise it still worked but the range is limited. I’ll have to wait until Broome to get another.
We stopped for a short lunch break just after the Durack River Crossing (which was dry on the road) then moved on to Ellenbrae Station to camp for the night @ $10pp/pn. The managers (who live on the road in a Trakmaster van) were quite talkative and helpful, and talked their scones up somewhat but we declined.
There’s not much at Ellenbrae as it’s not commercialised like ELQ & HV8, but the campground was tidy (but dirt), and a sheltered area provided an old donkey boiler for hot showers and there was one flushing loo.
A track adjacent the campground leads down to a watehole that we were told was safe to swim in, so we ventured down there and waded in the shallows for a short moment and sat and chatted with some other travellers.
The van is still intact after the corrugations but all of the knobs on the pot lids decided to unscrew themselves, to our entertainment…
Mt Elizabeth Station – Wednesday 5/8
This morning at Ellenbrae it was 10C inside the van – hey, it’s supposed to be the top end and warm! The diesel heater was kicked into motion to warm the van before Jane would venture out of bed (She is being spoilt with her milk coffee in bed every morning – something she never got at home!).
The road from Ellenbrae Station to the Kalumburu Road turn off was pretty good in parts but corrugated in others. We managed an average speed of about 55kph.
There was a free camp marked in the book a few kms up the Kalumburu Rd that we visited for our morning tea break (CAW5 – W754) which was a great area right on the river bank. Too bad it was so early in the day otherwise we would have made a night of it. We had already decided not to go up the Kalumburu Road as the road is bad past Drysdale Station and the falls were reported to only be at a trickle anyway.
We turned back along the highway to head for Mt Elizabeth Station (CAW5 – W761). The road was heavily corrugated in many sections despite reports the road got better after the Kalumburu turnoff.
The 30kms from the turnoff into Mt Elizabeth was even worse and we wondered why we were going in!
We found the girl at Mt Elizabeth unaccommodating and had to squeeze information out of her. They have 2 gorges, reportedly worth a visit up a pretty rough track but it was too late in the day to visit (they won’t allow leaving after 1:30pm) and we’d seen enough corrugations for one day anyway.
Fees were $14pp/pn (advertised as $12pp/pn). The offering is pretty bare for $28pn – no power, dirt camp ground (although the homestead lawn was green), but they did have toilets and hot showers, which we didn’t use anyway. In hindsite, we should have free camped as there were many spots and gravel pits on the roadside that would have done us just fine.
We were offered an A5 size handdrawn photocopy map of a walk around the station with about 4 points on it as long as we promised to return it when we were finished with it – we’re not sure what is with that 10C copy out of $28…
Manning Gorge – Thursday 6/8 & Friday 7/8
The temp inside the van this morning at Mt Elizabeth was 9C – it’s getting colder! Diesel heater again…
The road out of Mt Elizabeth was corrugated back to the property boundary (about 15kms) but improved once out of the property and we managed to make the 30kms in about 50 minutes.
It was a pleasure to rejoin the Gibb River Road as it was better and we made our way to Mt Barnett Roadhouse where we filled with fuel at 195c/litre and booked into the Manning Gorge campground @ $12.50pp/pn.
The road from the roadhouse to the campground is a 7.5km run through private property over a well maintained road.
Looking around the campground we found Thorstin & Henriette in a quiet back corner and setup camp a respectable distance from them and between each other before strolling down to the entrance to the gorge walk where a refreshing pool invited us in for a cool swim – the water was cool and was great to feel after a dusty few days.
The pool is the start of the walk and visitors have the option of wading and swimming the final part to commence their walk (and also on return) or there is a 10 minute loop that skips the swim – we recommend doing the swim to cool off before and after your walk.
Not long after T & H returned from their walk and confirmed it was all worth it. That night we shared a campfire with the 6 of us discussing what we had been doing since we left Kununurra and T & H keen to share the Kalumburu and Honeymoon Bay experience.
We also met another KOGGER – Mick & Lynne from WA (although Lynne didn’t join us for happy hour).
On Friday morning, T & H headed off for Bell Gorge while Clive & Shirley, Jane and I headed off on the trek to the gorge about 10am. It was already quite warm so Jane and I went with the swim but Clive & Shirley declined, however, a bus load had already headed off earlier and the all of the foam boxes that are provided to float your gear across were on the otherside so an initial swim to retrieve some then swim back and dry off and put the walking shoes on was actually longer than Clive & Shirley took to come around and we met them a few hundred metres down the track. The track is well marked with painted arrows on rocks and reflectors hanging on shrubs. The first part was a gradual incline to the first peak then a descent over a small creek before another climb before reaching the gorge about 45 mins later (others took 1.25hrs). There wasn’t much to see on the walk except the landscape. Quite a number of people were already making their return trip and we even passed 2 busloads of people.
On arrival at the gorge we were met by a deep gorge that looked very inviting for a swim, but scrambling around the initial rockface, the plunge pool was even more inviting. There were only about 10 other people there but we were told it was very crowded while the busloads were there so the delayed start was a good idea. We ran into Mick who joined us for a swim across the plunge pool and under the waterfall. Clive and Shirley arrived after returning across the pool. We relaxed, had lunch, swam back across the pool and scrambled up the waterfall side to the top of the falls and a quick dip in the warmer pool at the top.
We stayed about 2 hrs before deciding the head back to camp. Heading off it was quite cool as we had cooled off but we soon realised the heat of the day once we moved away from the water. The initial walk back is a bit strenuous in the heat as it is all up hill to climb out of the gorge (about 20 minutes) but the remaining 25 minutes was easy and mostly a gradual decline and the thought of the cool swim at the end helped us along. The track is mostly rocky with some sandy patches and a lot of the time you’re watching your feet to make sure you don’t trip up. Make sure you wear good sturdy shoes and take at least 1 litre of drinking water each.
On return to camp it was time to plug one of the van tyres after finding a nail that was causing a slow leak.
Some people we met at Ellenbrae Station – Jack & Debbie with their 8 month old boy joined us for happy hour and a pleasant chat.
A roast lamb dinner cooked in the Webber finished off the day nicely.
Windjana Gorge NP - Saturday 8/8 and Sunday 9/8
We decided to skip Bell Gorge and head for the coast for some fishing as we were getting over the gorge thing a bit by now, so last stop was to be Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek before heading across the Derby.
On Saturday, we headed off about 11am after a cool off swim before departure and Clive welding a bracket on one of his van’s spares that had fractured. Heading out of Manning Gorge, we found 8 trakkies heading in… A quick hello to all of them and we left them to the gorge.
The road was not too bad over the first hour but improved around Imintji Store where a grader was operating. A bitumen section up over the Leopold Range saw us stop at the top and wait for Clive and Shirley who we could see coming for miles away. A white landcrusier filled with aborginals including the roof was an entertaining encounter while waiting. The drive through this area is quite relaxing and changes as the day progresses. The road wound through the Leopold Ranges and through Napier Station where an interesting rock formation named “Queen Victoria’s Head” grabbed our attention. Creek crossings like “March Fly Glen” and “Same Creek” also raised a few eyebrows…
There were some roadworks after Napier Station for quite a while but the side tracks were better than most of the Gibb River Road so not a problem. The final leg for the run into Winjana Gorge was also freshly graded. The 200m run from Mt Barnett to Windjana Gorge had taken us about 4 hours.
On arrival at the campground, we found the non-generator area which was starting to get busy and some waving arms saw us camped near T&H again, who we thought would have still been at Bell Gorge. They told us Bell Gorge no longer accepted camping and Silent Grove was the option but was not appealing to them – last night they camped at March Fly Glen (with no march flys!), with Henriette calling in the local dingos…
Damper and soup was the pre-agreed evening meal for the 4 of us and it was my turn again – one hour later it came out with the bottom as even as the top – beautiful. After dinner, some chatter around the fire with some other campers including some who were heading back to rejoin some others we had met. Bed at 9pm was a late night for us – we have to learn to get the fire going earlier to get the dinner coals ready earlier…
Today it was 34C and quite hot now we are back down off the ranges. Tomorrow, the plan is for an early start for the gorge walk then a drive down to Tunnel Creek for the afternoon before heading off to Derby on Monday morning.
Sunday morning we started off about 8:30 for the Windjana walk. It was already quite warm but the first part of the walk lead us to the shaded area that is sheltered from the morning sun. The limestone cliff faces have some interested washouts that have formed channels that keep you entertained for quite some time. A little further into the walk we heard many corellas crying and a little further on dozens of freshwater crocodiles basking in the sun. The final part of the walk was long and hot only to end at a sign that said “end of trail” to the amusement of many people. The walk back was very hot and with no chance of a swim, the only thing we looked forward to was a cold shower to cool off.
After lunch and a rest, we drove the 35kms down to Tunnel Creek for the 750m walk through the tunnel carved by the creek. It was very cool and a pleasant walk and best time seemed to be in the afternoon where the heat was soon forgotten about in the cool. Make sure you take a good torch as it is very dark. A roof collapse about half way in sheds some light in that area and the remainder of the walk leads into a calm pool. The water in the tunnel never went over knee height. A very nice walk not to be missed.
Tomorrow we are off to Derby. It’ll be good to get out of the dust onto some grass and see some blue water…
More photos here and here.