A muddy Gibb River Road adventure - May 2010

by Alan

Start of Gibb River Road

Start of Gibb River Road

We had planned our trip since last November (2009) and had been anxiously watching the weather for the month prior to going to Broome. It looked great late April, early May. However, the week prior to our arrival 15 May, unseasonal rain hit the Kimberley, and sites began to close rapidly.

Reports on our arrival in Broome were Gibb River Road "closed", Tunnel Creek "closed", Bungle Bungle "closed", and all gorges "closed".

We decided to head up to Derby and see for ourselves. We had hired 2 Britz 4wd Bushcampers for 2 couples.
Our original plan was to spend 2 days in Broome, travel the Gibb River road via Tunnel Creek to El Questro, spend 2 days there, then head to Kununurra for 3 days, do a flight down to the Bungle Bungle, helicopter over them before flying back to Kununurra via a tour of the Argyle Diamond Mine.

We then intended to drive back to Broome via Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. After a few more days in Broome, we would fly up to the Horizontal Falls, ride Camels on Cable Beach and see the Stairway to the Moon.

Our holiday was for 2 weeks, so we had packed in as much as possible.
We would determine whether to go via the highway to Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, or attempt the Gibb. When we passed the turnoff to the Gibb, the signs showed "Closed to all traffic over 3tonne". We called in at the tourist bureau at Derby, and they told us everything was closed, and it was not worthwhile travelling on the Gibb, or purchasing a National Parks pass. They suggested we travel to Kununurra via the highway and return the same way.

We were, as you would expect upset that our plans had come to an end, and there was little to do than drive along the highway to Kununurra, and fly over the Bungle Bungle range and return to Broome the same route.

We decided to look at our options over a coffee, so took out "Destination Kimberley" and saw that Birgit recommended the Wharf Restaurant, so 5mins later we were sitting down to a very nice plate of fish and chips and cold drinks.

Talking to the staff there picked up our spirits. They told us that we should attempt the Gibb, and we would regret it if we didn't. Afterall, we had travelled from Sydney, so when would we be back?
A quick discussion amongst ourselves, and we agreed to go for broke. The Gibb River road was facing us some 15mins later, where we took the photo above.

The first 90klms was sealed road, so that was consumed easily, and was a breeze to drive. However, just before the turnoff to Windjana Gorge, found us on a muddy corregated gravel road. It was better than expected, and we didn't even need to engage 4wd.

At the Windjana turnoff, we were confronted (as expected) with the "Road Closed" sign, so continued onwards towards Mt Barnett.
As it was getting late, we decided to find somewhere to camp for the night. We decided on the Lennard River, so pulled into a clearing in front of the now closed Snack Stop for the night.

We spoke to the owner, who told us that if it rained during the night, to get out as quickly as possible, or else we may be floating down the river. Naturally, we slept very lightly, and the rain we did have was light, and not enough to raise the river levels significantly.

Next morning saw us heading out for Mt Barnett Roadhouse. We would see how far we could go before evening. The Gibb River road got worse the more we headed east. By the time we reached Queen Victoria's Head, we were in 4WD mode, and in deep soft mud, with the occasional corregated ruts underneath.

Basically, we were having a ball. The weather was hot and humid, about 80%, with occasional light showers. All the gorges were closed.
We reached Imintji Store mid morning, so decided to refuel and grab coffee. Must say that the coffee was better than expected, so headed East once more.

About lunchtime, we came across the Galvans Gorge sign. It was so close to the road, there was no need for a "Closed" sign, and 15mins later we came across this really great pool. So lush and so fresh. A quick 5min swim in the wonderful waters found us refreshed, so we heaed off again towards Mt Barnett.

A very short time later, we pulled into the very muddy Mt Barnett roadhouse for lunch. A very liberal plate of potato wedges saw our internal tanks full. As it was only about 1pm, we thought we could make much progress if we continued onwards. We looked at making El Questro if all was well and if the roads improved.

However, that pipedream soon was washed away when the road got even worse. We were travelling as slow as 5klms in sections, fighting deep mud. Definitely 4wd country. By 4pm we had only progressed as far as the Mitchell Plateau turnoff, so we began to seek out alternatives for the night stop.

Ellenbrae Station looked possible, so with a quick call on the Satphone, we confirmed it was open, accessible, and had made a booking for our 2 vans. We thought we were only about 15mins away, however, the road got worse, with wet mud and water upto our axles, making any progress both slow and slippery.

We arrived just on dusk, so after our all day slog in the mud, we decided to opt for their eco-bungalow's instead of camping. I would not say this was a mistake, however, I think we would have enjoyed the campsite a lot better, as we were secluded from other company, and these cabins are very basic for the price asked.

Following morning, and after some heavy overnight rain, we headed off again, to face the mud and rivers.
The Durack River crossing appeared daunting when we saw it, but in 4wd, and a steady slow speed, we crossed easlily without a hint of alarm. Most river crossings were flooded, but produced no drama during crossing. In fact, we looked forward to them. It gave us a chance to wash mud from the wheels while at the same time washed the roof with the splashings. Not to say the boy's revelled in showing off the water driving skills.

By luchtime we made it to Home Valley Station. A true oasis afer the 100's of kilometres we had travelled. We refreshed with coffee, before heading over to El Questro where we spent 2 nights. A tour of the Chamberlain Gorge, with their local guide "Chilli" had as not only rolling in laughter, but seeing spectacular scenery, and knowledgable insight into the workings of the area.

We also got to visit Zebedee Springs, best thing since a home spa, and Amalia Gorge, which although challenging to get to, is rewarding in the final waterfall and swimming hole. We were later told that someone saw a freshwater crock, basking in the sunshine near where we were swimming.

The campground at El Questro is great, and the shower facilities very good. Great restaurant and waterhole swimming pool.

From El Questro, we headed off to Emma Gorge. Only a short dive, but a little tricky on the muddy roads at the time. On arrival, we headed off to the gorge, which is a very challenging walk. Rocks and more rocks to climb over and negotiate around. After close to 45mins later, we came across this magnificent waterfall and lagoon. At the time it was very humid, so within seconds, we were in the lagoon swimming in the cool water. While there it began to rain, first lightly, then consistently heavy. By the time we had returned to the carpark, we were saturated, however, it was no longer uncomfortably humid, so we no longer needed a swim to cool off.

After a clothing change, we had a cappucchino, and headed off to Kununurra, via the anticipated Pentecost river. This crossing was great. Close to 100mtrs across, and about 500mm deep on river pebbles. It is wide, and lined with rocks on both sides to presumably help keep the saltwater crocks out.

Mid afternoon found us reaching the Victoria highway, which took us to Kununurra, where we stayed at the really nice Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort.

All in all, we managed to do nearly all we had planned on our tight schedule. We missed Tunnel Creek and a walk around the Bungle Bungle range, as well as a few gorges. We also missed a tour of the Argyle Diamond mine as weather stopped flying the day we were scheduled.

Was the Gibb River road worth it?
Yessssssssssssssssss! Absolutely.

Comments for A muddy Gibb River Road adventure - May 2010

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Glad you had a ball!
by: Birgit

Hi Alan,
Thank you so much for your great trip report! It's so good to read that at least some people did not find their plans totally ruined by the weather.

Glad you talked to the people in Derby, and glad you made the decision to give it a go :-).

by: Dave

Isn't that a bit irresponsible? If the roads were closed I would have thought that meant that they didn't want people chopping them up or putting themselves in the position where they may have to be rescued. It sounds like you had a ball in the rented vehicles but I wonder what the outcome would have been if you had come to grief? Would the insurance pay up? Would the rental company be justified in keeping your bond? Would you be charged for the towing?
Glad to hear you arrived back in one piece though ...

Not Irresponsible.
by: Alan

Dave, I appreciate your comments, but perhaps you should take a look at the photo.
The road was in fact open to vehicles under 3 tonne.
If we had gotten into trouble, we were travelling with another 4wd, and we had recovery gear with us. We would expect anyone travelling in the outback to carry such equipment. I would also recommend carrying a satellite phone, which we also did, as there is absolutely no phone service on the road before El Questro.

Thank you
by: Bill Brisbane QLD

Thanks for the post, makes great reading. Sounds like you had a ball and made the most of what could have been a disapointing two weeks.
My Wife and I arrive Broome 8/6/10, 65 birthday treat. Pick up our Appolo 4 weel drive camper, then Gibb River Road here we come for 22days. Same route as you but hopfully more stops and no rain before arriving back in Broome.
Any advice would be welcome.
Bill & Jackie

What an adventure!
by: Annette

Hi Alleyne and Alan, great read and sounds like you maybe had more fun than you could ever have planned. I must say reading your adventure I was waiting with trepidation for something dreadful to happen, but at the same time telling myself not possible or I wouldn't be reading this tale.

What a way to start your new married life and what's next, how you going to beat that for a lifetime experience and rocking chair memories!?

All the best to you both x

by: Crackhead

Hey Alan, that was a great read and sounds like a pretty hairy ride in some spots. I'm heading up there the last week of July for 3 weeks doing the same route as you but like some of the other comments hopefully not as much rain and a few more stops. I would love to see some photos, if you have any could you post a link or something?? Keep on FOURBYING!!!
Perth WA

by: Marc Baudet

Hi Alan ,
last year we made the trip from Broome (staircase to the moon on 11 of May, camel ride on Cable Beach, horizontal waterfall in the Bucaneer Archipelago) to Kununurra (24/5) via Windjana, Tunnel Creek, Geikie Gorge, the Bungles and Emma Gorge.

We were lucky to see all that, as we are French with a lot more kilometers from Paris than from Sydney: the weather was fine.
It would have been terrible to see "CLOSED" on every roadsign!!!!

Your adventure was certainly memorable, and you were courageous to dare that!

As we say in France: " CHAPEAU ! "

A Sticky Day on the Gibb
by: Stretchlizard

We also travelled the Gibb River Road at that time and must have passed you going the other way. We were the two couples in the totally brown 4WDs (like everyone else that day). My diary notes for Friday 21 May show "scones, dingos, stock, tense, sideways, yawing, wet, slippery, muddy, flooded, corrugated, dusty, sunny, showers, nervous" but like you said it was also a fun experience.

Three incidents stick out: driving West then the vehicle slowly drifts 90 degrees to the right and stops up the graded bank of the road; trying to do the good thing by moving to the left edge of the road so the oncoming vehicle has plenty of room to pass but when I stopped, the vehicle just slipped down the side of the road and back out into the middle; the last was the deep water crossing of Dawn Creek with the water coming up to the bottom of the windscreen.

We had planned this trip for a couple of years and as we missed out on Mitchell Plateau, Tunnel Creek, Winjana Gorge and Bell Gorge. I guess another trip from Newcastle is on the horizon.


Your Gibb River Rd adventure
by: Denise, Tasmania

Great read. I strongly suggest that you do it again and visit all those lovely areas that you missed out on due to the wet weather. It sounds like you were well prepared for the adventure which is the most important thing though. I was also impressed with the positive attitude that you all seem to have during your trip. Us Tasmanians never let a bit of rain and mud get in the way, afterall if we did we certainly wouldn't get to see half the places we would like too. My husband and I did the Kimberley experience starting late May last year for six weeks and wished we had more time to enjoy it all. We will certainly be back for another adventure up there. We still look back on all our lovely photos.

Finally got photo's of my trip loaded
by: Alan

Hi again,

I have finally gotten around to posting a few photo's of my May Gibb River road trip.
Follow the below link. Enjoy.

(Edited to make it a live link. B.)

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