The Gibb River Road (aka GRR)

Link to a few pictures here:

The Gibb River Road is an absolute Icon of Australian Outback travel, famed for it’s amazing landscapes and natural beauty, plus an ability to beat even the best prepared 4WD and travellers into submission with a combination of corrugations and rocky roads.

Just for fun, the really adventurous, or slightly mad, travellers can throw in a side trip to the Mitchell Falls National Park and Kalumbaru to subject yourself and your vehicle to even more [and worse] punishment in the form of really chopped up corrugated, rocky bastard tracks. The rewards though are immense.

The Mitchell Falls are famous for their beauty, a 4-tiered waterfall in an ancient landscape draining the Mitchell Plateau, truly truly awesome.

Mitchell Falls

And Kalumbaru, a remote Aboriginal community at the end of a bastard road that breaks cars and spirits for 100 kms, but continue on for a further 20 and find a spot on the beach and breathe a sigh of relief and a deep sense of achievement and satisfaction for completing the journey.

McGowan's Beach Campsite

Note: no swimming at the beach due to the crocodiles who enjoy feasting on unwary tourists😊

There is also a faint dread at the back of your mind as you realise you need to retrace your steps and tackle the Kalumbaru Road one more time to return to the more moderate corrugations of the Gibb River Road.

We have been fortunate [and reasonably well prepared] so we don’t have many breakages from our traversal of the Gibb River Road [also known as the GRR], we lost a number plate from the trailer somewhere along the way, the water pump on the trailer decided to pack it in after being rattled un-mercilessly, the battery clamp holding the trailer battery destroyed itself and left the battery to bounce around [not a good thing] and then all sorts of food items changed shape. Eggs scrambled themselves, a new bottle of Chili and Lime sauce was evenly distributed over everything in its storage box, the Chinese Five Spice spread itself around and joined the Turmeric as victims of spice abuse 😊 [our kitchen drawer smells of a heady mixture and is coloured delightful yellow hue after the spices escaped captivity].

Compared to the people who broke axles, lost wheels, had their brakes fail completely or their ball joints disappear in a puff of Kimberley dirt we were treated lightly by the roads, I believe it was my driving ability but most others say we were just lucky 😊

Our Rig @ Drysdale

This will be a long long blog, as almost everywhere you look along the GRR is a visual treat. The landscapes, gorges, waterholes are all simply stunning, and there are plenty of them as designated points of interest or National Parks along the way.

Our travel this time round included these stops, listed below, I have taken a lazy way out and included a link to some of them.

· Windjana Gorge

· Tunnel Creek

· Bell Gorge and Silent Grove Campground

· Adcock Gorge

· Manning Gorge

· Mitchell Falls

· McGowan’s Sunset Beach Campground, Kalumbaru

· Gibb River camping on the Kalumbaru Road

· Ellenbrae Station

· Home Valley Station

· And on to Kununurra

Windjana Gorge

The first place encountered along the GRR is Windjana Gorge National Park, famous for it’s freshwater crocodiles lazing along the receding water’s edge of a magnificent ancient limestone gorge, once a part of the sea bed just before the dawn of time.

One thing that struck me this time round was the amazing light reflecting off the gorge walls at sunset, creating an almost un-natural lighting (reminiscent of a movie set) along the creek, through the Pandanus palms and red gums. Delightful. We walked down and into the gorge a couple of times, trying to get “the picture” of the freshies and some of the bird life but settling for the remarkable calm and ambience under the forest canopy towards sunset. Perfect way to start our second tour of the GRR.

Tunnel Creek

A short drive up a corrugated road from Windjana Gorge brings you to Tunnel Creek, apart from being a place of natural beauty it has some interesting recent history, check the website below.\

No such dramas for us though as we enjoyed a walk through the tunnel system and spotted a few fish and frogs in the cave along the way. The water is knee to waist deep in places, it’s cold as you might expect and there is a delightful aroma of Bat poo along the way, but the tunnel, the formations, the creek, and the play of sunlight as you enter and exit the systems are fantastic.

Sophie @ Tunnel Creek

Oh yes, the corrugations along the road give you a taste of things to come 😊

Bell Gorge

Bell Gorge has been one of my favourite places in Australia for almost 30 years, and fortunately nothing much has changed during this time. The place is almost unbelievably photogenic, the weather at this time of year wonderful and the water in the gorge cool and refreshing as you swim underneath the falls.

Top of Bell Gorge

The creek and rock formations at the top of the waterfall are as pretty as anything you might see in this part of the world, hopefully the picture below conveys something of the charm and beauty of Bell Gorge. Although this was just a quick visit for us this time, it felt like coming home and for me reminded me again of my first trip to Bell Gorge in 1990.

Adcock Gorge

Just a quick lunch stop and then a short walk into one of the smaller water holes and gorges along the GRR, the light reflecting off the rocks into the water is a delight and the water super refreshing [cold] for a quick swim in the midday sun.

It was coming out of Adcock Gorge we noticed the trailer number plate was missing, I walked back to see if it had fallen off along the last 500metres of rough track but sadly not, our first GRR casualty.

Manning Gorge

I have very distinct memories of driving past Manning Gorge in 2016, we had been on the road for about 8 weeks and had been to a number of gorges and waterfalls and decided not to visit Manning Gorge at that time. Only now have we discovered that was a mistake.

Manning Gorge is quite simply one of the prettiest places along the Gibb River Road, a bit of a hike to get to but astonishingly beautiful when you arrive and a wonderful place to swim and jump off rocks into the cool waters below.

Even the walk [5km return, scrambling over some rocks] is quite an event, starting with a little boat ride across a water hole inhabited by freshwater crocodiles. You pull yourself across the water with the rope and then send the boat back for the next people in-line. And absolutely delightful to swim across on the way back from the Gorge when you are hot and sweaty, even the crocs give you enough swimming space and it is wonderfully refreshing.

The girls managed to find a rope swing and Zoe was brave enough to join a few other kids swinging out and splashing into the water hole with peels of laughter and encouragement all round. There were a couple of baby freshwater crocs about 50 meters away, way too small to be anything other than mildly interested spectators.

On to Mitchell Falls

After leaving Manning Gorge we ventured along the GRR for about 100 kms, almost enjoying the ride as the corrugations were not too bad in some places. However, our smiles firmed a little into grimaces as we tackled the Kalumbaru road into Drysdake Station and then north to the King Edward River turnoff for Mitchell Falls.

Then the road becomes a tougher proposition and starts beating the car and the occupants to a pulp, the trailer just gets bashed around. There is no respite for 80kms out to the Mitchell Falls campground. Once you arrive the sense of relief is palpable, and the sense of mild dread knowing you have to tackle the road again to get out of there.

Amazingly the Adventure Tour Buses bring in a steady stream of tourists arriving for the walk to the Falls and then most of them opting for a helicopter ride on the way back to get a better view of the escarpment, plateau, gorges, and water falls. (I need to set up some crowd funding so we can take some of these rides in the future, I am sure it would be amazing.)

The downside though is a pretty continual stream of helicopters flying from the campgrounds to the falls each day, up to 4 choppers operating at the same time.

We walked both ways because $600 for helicopter rides was not going to fly [pun intended] for 6 minutes of air time.

The walk is only 4.5kms each way but can get a little hot and uncomfortable as the heat bounces off the rocks in places. Fortunately, you have to walk past Little Mertens Falls, Mertens Falls and the top of Mitchell Falls, all of them presenting great photo opportunities and places to jump in for a swim or to sit in the rock pools with the water gently massaging your back or legs.

There is some interesting rock art along the way, evidence of the inhabitation of the area for up to 20,000 years by the local aboriginal groups.

Mitchell Falls

But the star of the show is the main waterfall. Our pictures hopefully capture some of the essence of the place but a quick search on the big fat Internet will provide you with much better images for these majestic falls.

Kalumbaru and McGowans Sunset Beach Campground

After surviving the drive in and out on the horribly corrugated, rocky, chopped up but very pretty track into Mitchell Falls we decided to extend the punishment on the car and trailer and continue north to Kalumbaru.

I had always wanted to visit, almost got here in 1990 but was running out of fuel, food, and time on that trip. The first 70 kms of road was in pretty good shape and we made good time, and were almost thinking, hoping / praying, the road would stay as good all the way to Kalumbaru. No such luck, but fortunately there were only about 30 kms of nasty road conditions to cover and with grit and determination (and slowing down), we made our way through to the remote community centre.

There are a couple of small stores here serving the community, supplied by a barge out of Darwin every couple of weeks and we were lucky to have arrived just a day after the barge so there was plenty of fresh fruit and veg in town, so a quick shop and then we were on the way to McGowans for a day or two camping.

The campgrounds are nestled on a beautiful stretch of beach and coastline, a fisherman’s paradise but no swimming because we were now truly in Saltwater Croc territory. Helen and the girls spotted the resident crocs swimming lazily by one morning while I was out on a fishing charter.

We stayed 4 days, could easily have stayed more as the children played in and around the camp site, almost living in the mango tree just behind our tent and playing in the shade and sprinkler systems watering the tortured grass around the place. We had a few Pandanus palms between us, the beach, and the crocs. Idyllic.

And we caught good fish off the beach, Helen especially happy after catching her first few fish on lures and snagging a GT [Giant Trevally] on light spinning gear, really exciting both for Helen and for me [watching and coaching] her as she struggled to land one of Australia’s best loved sports fish.

Sadly, we did have to leave, friends were driving up from Melbourne and we had arranged to meet in Kununurra on August 1st. We packed the tent and made our way slowly down the Kalumbaru road, stopping in at Drysdale to get a top up of fuel [not quite enough as it turned out but that’s another story] and then on to the Gibb River for an overnight camp.

As free camps go, the Gibb River campsite was another little slice of magic along our way. The girls playing down by the river while we sat under a shady tree and breathed a small sigh of relief at getting to the end of the Kalumbaru Road. It is not an absolutely terrible road but bad enough to be glad to have completed it and not broken any more bits in the trailer than we did.

Next morning, we were greeted by the loud shrieking calls of the Blue Wing Kookaburra, only found in the northern parts of Australia and the first we had seen clearly on our trip.

A few pictures and a quick easy pack up saw us happily on the way to Ellenbrae Station, famous for its scones with jam and cream set in a tranquil garden setting around the Homestead among the dirt and dust of the Gibb River Road.

The gardens are a haven for birds and they feed some of the finches, makes for an interesting coffee and scones and joy to watch these beautiful birds close up.

Another 120 kms further down the road is Home Valley Station, I believe it is 3.5 Million acres of cattle country with a small area for camping and some fishing. We stopped for the night, enjoyed a last night on the GRR and readied ourselves for a return to civilization [well supermarkets, post offices and phone services] in Kununurra.

And apart from running out of fuel 15kms short of Kununurra, we limped into town to get more fuel, wash the car, pick up the mail and slump tiredly in a small caravan park by the footie oval.

I had an afternoon of running around town buying small bits and pieces to do some maintenance and running repairs to the truck and trailer, part, and parcel of the routine of outback travel and was thrilled to finally get the water pump working again after a couple of hours doing manual labour underneath the trailer on a hot winters afternoon.

And the next morning our friends arrived from Melbourne, a plan hatched long ago over a glass of wine and a giggle, it still seems somewhat unbelievable that we made it happen and we will travel to the Bungle Bungles together in the coming days.

Regards Roy, Zoe, Sophie and Helen.

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