The Gibb River Road experience is an incredible adventure that takes you through the heart of the Kimberley. The road runs from Derby to Wyndham in WA and is approx. 660kms long. It is rough, rocky and corrugated with water crossings and supplies few and far between. The epic waterholes, stunning waterfalls and the sheer beauty and remoteness it offers is well worth the journey if you have a 4WD and a sense of adventure.
Travelling in a caravan
We decided to do this trip with our 25ft Leader semi off-road caravan. We just have the standard roller rocker suspension and low clearance. We had so much confidence in our van that it was a no brainer for us to give it a crack with it in tow. This, for us, made the trip so much more comfortable, especially with kids and having everything with us in our home, as well as having our own toilet and shower on board. We had planned to take about 2 weeks to cross and we also then didn’t have to worry about back tracking to pick the van up after, which was a plus for us.
We travelled with our friends Jo and Ollie, along with their 2 kids and also a dog and cat. This also meant that all our camp spots had to be dog friendly. Keep in mind:
- We did not book any accommodation for the whole 2 weeks and mainly free camped* our way along, with a few station stays on the west end of the Gibb.
- There are also only 2 places that stocked supplies while we were on the Gibb, so you will need to make sure you are fully stocked for the amount of time you plan to travel. The stores are also unpredictable with stock due to the high demand this year.
*Editor’s note in relation to free camping in rest areas: While the writers of this blog post did camp in rest areas, please note that rest areas are provided by W.A’s Main Road department for short breaks to avoid driver fatigue, not for camping. Using rest areas for multiple overnight stays as part of a planned itinerary is not in keeping with their intended purpose and fines may apply.
14 Day Itinerary – Broome to Kununurra via the Gibb River Road and Mitchell Plateau
Days 1 and 2: Lennard River, Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek. Camping at Lennard River Rest Area. See note at the start of this blog about free camping in rest areas.
Our first two nights we camped at Lennard River Rest Area. This is a free campsite on the banks of Lennard River, approx. 100 metres off the main road and 129kms from Derby. Keep a look out for the resident fresh water crocodile that lives here. We heard him splashing around at night but didn’t see him until we were leaving on the last morning.
From here we explored Windjana Gorge (which was about a 27km) and Tunnel creek, another 30kms south east of Windjana. Both spots are well worth a visit and a great start to the Gibb River Road adventures.
We visited Tunnel Creek first; this is one of western Australia’s oldest cave systems. The trek runs through the pitch-black cave for about 750 metres. Make sure you have a head torch with you for this one and we would suggest wearing water/rock shoes and clothes that are good for getting wet, as you have to wade through serval pools and return the same way. This year (2021) the water is higher than we had seen it back in 2018. This meant we actually had to swim through one section in the tunnel.
We headed out to Windjana Gorge in the late afternoon and the reflection and colours along the cliffs and water were incredible. This is your best spot also for spotting Fresh Water Crocodiles.
Days 3 and 4: Lennard Gorge, Bell Gorge. Camping at Apex Creek Rest Area. See note at the start of this blog about free camping in rest areas.
Our next camp spot was called Apex Creek Rest Area; another free camp just off the road, which was next to a nice little creek. From here we explored Lennard Gorge. This 3km (return) walk from the car park takes you along the creek and then up onto the Wunaamin Milwundi ranges before heading down into a lookout platform where the falls can be viewed from. This was just a view of the falls and unfortunately not a swimming spot. There were, however, a few spots along the creek that the kids loved splashing about in to cool off.
The following day we did the 45 minute drive to Bell Gorge. It’s a good 30kms off the Gibb River Road and we are glad we didn’t take the van, as there were some deeper water crossings with a steep entry that may have been difficult for a van of our size. However, if you’re travelling with a camper trailer or smaller off-road van then there is a campground here, if you wanted to camp closer.
The walk to Bell Gorge is an easy 4km (return) hike from the car park to the section of the creek just above the falls, with spectacular views from the top of the falls and out to the gorge. Bell creek drops a stunning 15 metres into the gorge, forming a beautiful cascading waterfall over the layered sandstone rocks. If you continue another 200 or so metres down to the bottom of the falls there is a deep pool greeting you and a perfect spot for a swim. This time last year we had seen photos of Bell Gorge with just a trickle of water, so to be greeted with so much water flowing was breathtaking.
Days 5, 6 and 7: Adcock, Galvans and Manning Gorges. Camping at Apex Creek Rest Area. See note at the start of this blog about free camping in rest areas.
Our next free camp was called Frogs Campground; a beautiful setting which had its own orchestra at night of frogs and owls. It was just amazing to sit and listen to once the sun set, nature at its best! We stayed here for 3 nights and explored 3 more beautiful gorges Adcock, Galvins and Manning Gorge.
Adcock Gorge is an easy 500m walk from the carpark and a lesser-known gorge along the Gibb, which means it’s not as busy as some of the popular spots. You’ll be greeted here by this clear, deep green pool with a multi-tiered waterfall to shower under and surrounded by these stunning orange rock formations.
Galvans is one of the most accessible gorges along the Gibb River, located only 1km off the road. This walk was an easy 2km (return) from the carpark with a deep green pool with a rope swing and stunning falls you can sit underneath. We spent hours here and the kids had so much fun, jumping off the rope swing.
Our last day at this campsite we drove out to Manning Gorge, which is located in the grounds of Mt Barnett Station and one of the best swimming spots. This is also a spot to get any supplies at Mt Barnett Roadhouse, as this is where you pay your entry fees before you head to the gorge. This roadhouse was also one of only two places along the Gibb to buy supplies, e.g., frozen bread, milk, butter, perishables and some fruit and vegetables. You can also purchase hot food, cold drinks and coffees here. Fill up with diesel/petrol, gas refills and water tap to fill your tanks. There is also a paid campground here, but it does get really busy. The walk to Manning Gorge was one of our favourites as it started with having to swim across the river. The station here supplies blue containers to put your things into while pulling them across which are located on both sides of the river for coming and going.
It’s an adventurous 3km walk with views over the ranges along the way with some rock scrambling towards the end before being greeted by the stunning cascading waterfall.
Days 8 and 9: Barnett River Gorge. Camping at Jigngarrin. See note at the start of this blog about free camping in rest areas.
Our last 2 nights of free camping was at a beautiful spot called Jigngarrin. This was our favourite of the free camps. It was such a quiet, picturesque camp spot with its own creek steps away from the caravan, which was perfect for swimming in. Our first day was spent relaxing by the water in hammocks, swimming, and our evenings spent by the campfire with other travelling families, cooking damper on sticks. The next day we explored about a 1km drive from the campground to Barnett River Gorge. This walk is only short, but can be difficult if you don’t follow the markers properly. It takes you to an enjoyable swimming hole, or you can walk a bit further to a cliff top view of the gorge.
Day 10: Gibb River Road Station. Camping at Gibb River Station.
Today we ventured to the Gibb River Road Station to camp for the night. It was our first time with reception for the trip, so we managed to be able to catch up and chat with family and friends. It costs $30 to stay the night here (2021) but there are toilets/showers and water available. There are also some power points around the toilets, if you needed to charge up anything as well. A store is available to stock up on supplies, if you need them. Unfortunately, it’s closed on a weekend so we couldn’t get any supplies here, so do keep in mind its only open Monday – Friday, 8am – 2pm. They also usually have fuel but they had no fuel available at the time we were there.
Day 11: Drysdale River Station. Camping at Drysdale River Station.
We made our way to Drysdale Station, 59km north of the Gibb River Road and, in our opinion, the worst road of the entire trip. It was not for the faint hearted, with huge corrugations and stones for most of the way. We were greeted at the end to our fridge leaking ammonia and stinking out the whole van. Thankfully, that was the only damage we did along this stretch and luckily our friends had some tents we were able to borrow to sleep in until our van was fully aired out. Thank goodness for our car fridge, Jo and Ollie and the fact we didn’t have a lot of days left ‘tll we were arriving at El Questro.
Drysdale station is a family owned and operated, million acre working cattle station with a campground and a variety of rooms to offer. It also has a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; a bar and beer garden; and very small basic supplies (like bread), diesel and unleaded fuel and tyre repairs. This was our base for exploring Mitchell Falls. They also do a number of tours and scenic flights out of here.
Day 12: Day trip to Mitchell Falls and Merten Falls. Helicopter over the falls. Camping back at Drysdale (left the van there).
After a very uncomfortable night’s sleep in the tents, we woke at 5am to head up to the incredible Mitchell Falls; one of the most iconic landmarks of the Kimberley and a place of significance for the Wunambal people. This one really needs to be seen to be believed.
The drive was 3 hrs of non-stop huge corrugations each way and, although there is a camp ground up here, we are very glad we decided to base ourselves at Drysdale and just day trip without the van. Even if it was a 6 hr round trip! We had made the decision prior to arriving that we would splash out on one of those once in a lifetime experiences and fly on a doorless helicopter with Helispirit for a bird’s eye view over the four-tiered 80m high Mitchell Falls. It’s one of Western Australia’s most spectacular waterfalls and you get dropped off at the very top ready to then do the class 5 4.3km walk back to the campground. Stopping at little Merten Falls for a swim on our way down was also a big highlight.
Unfortunately, swimming is not permitted at the bottom of Mitchell Falls due to saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the area. The drive back to the caravan took us a bit longer, after hitting a huge rock on the side of the road. This rock destroyed the tyre and damaged the rim. Luckily, nothing else was damaged and we arrived back at the van at 7:30 pm, just in time for dinner and a well-deserved drink at the bar.
Day 13: Ellenbrae Station. Camping at Ellenbrae Station.
We left Drysdale and made our way to Ellenbrae Station, our last stop before crossing the Pentecost River and hitting El Questro. We were greeted by the greenest grass and the best fresh scones with jam and cream. They were that good, we even went back the next morning and had them for breakfast before we hit the road. Along with their famous fresh baked scones, the smell of their delicious homemade quiche and toasted sandwiches were definitely a welcome sight after living in dust and dirt for almost 2 weeks on staples. They also made the best mango smoothies we have ever tasted! The campgrounds here had showers, toilets and even a bath and communal kitchen. The whole place had a real rustic charm, which we loved. Definitely one we would love to re visit again in the future.
Day 13: Pentecost River crossing and El Questro Station. Camping at El Questro.
Today was our last official day on “The Gibb”. We made our way to the Pentecost River crossing, “The end of the Road”. This iconic crossing is the final stretch on the eastern end of the Gibb River Road. You can camp here along the sandbanks and watch the dozens of cars/caravans and trucks that cross over here every day, but we decided to push on the extra 30kms through to El Questro as we were getting low on food by this point.
In summary the Gibb was just an incredible adventure. Full of highlights, lost of laughs, beautiful camp spots, and breath-taking scenery.
How did the van hold up? Extremely well, considering. Sure, the van was full of red dust, our fridge was broken and we ended the Gibb with no brakes working on the van (by the time we got to El Questro), but it’s all part of the adventure and we would 100% take the van again. Just maybe not up to Drysdale station haha.
We fixed the brakes in El Questro with a trip to Kununurra for a food shop and to pick up some new Alko backing plates. This must be a regular thing, as the man in town had a huge stock range of these. The magnets just don’t like to be bounced up and down a lot, which is understandable. All in all everything else held up amazingly.
If you have any questions about our Gibb adventure please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Happy and safe travels guys.
Cheers Tom & Aimee