King Leopold Ranges, Gibb River Road, WA
Bell Gorge is the most famous gorge along the Gibb River Road. It is also supposed to be the most beautiful, and most people agree with that assessment.
(I certainly don't. There are too many beautiful gorges in the Kimberleys, only most tourists don't bother to go and see them...)
What is not usually mentioned is that because of that reputation, Bell Gorge is by far the busiest gorge along the Gibb River Road.
So much so that during the main season you may have to wait in line to access it! I'm not kidding and I'm not exaggerating. But more on that below.
Visiting Bell Gorge
Bell Gorge is part of the King Leopold Range Conservation Park. The turn off to access the gorge and the camping area is about 250 km from Derby. Many people access the Gibb River Road from the west and go only as far as Bell Gorge (after visiting Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek) and leave it at that.
Bell Gorge is about 30 km off the Gibb River Road. A short walk along the pretty Bell Creek leads from the car park down to the gorge. It's easy until you get to the last bit, where you first have to cross the creek on slippery rocks, and then scramble down the steep rock wall leading to the water edge.
But once you get there everything is just perfect:
The waterfall is cascading down the perfectly U-shaped cliffs, into a deep pool perfect for swimming, with large flat rocks along the side, perfect to sit down, sun bathe, have a picnic or whatever else you can think of.
No wonder Bell Gorge is so popular.
You can also explore the creek and gorge further, both upstream and downstream. Float down the pools, small falls and shallow rapids to discover some great views back into the gorge.
© Photo by Harry Morris
Or, if it gets too busy at the main fall and pool, stay above and follow the creek upstream. There are no spectacular cliffs and falls here, but there are more rapids and pools, flat rocks and little beaches, and there is solitude and privacy.
Laze in the shade on the rocks...
© Photo by Ian Luxon
...or stretch out in the rapids...
© Photo by Ian Luxon
Just hang out here until the masses have vanished.
Talking about masses: as mentioned above, during peak season Bell Gorge gets far too busy. And once the parking area at the gorge is full, the rangers close access. You then have to wait in line until people leave before more people can enter.
Isn't that ridiculous? Here we have a massive big wilderness area, with a huge choice of spectacular gorges, yet everyone prefers to pile into this one place...
Anyway, if you want to see Bell Gorge to experience wilderness, remoteness, solitude and adventure, avoid the main tourist season (i.e. school holidays). And if you can't, be here early.
Camping at Bell Gorge
There are two campgrounds here. (They are both managed by the DEC, the Department of Environment and Conservation, which manages all national and conservation parks in WA.)
Silent Grove Campground is a pretty standard national park campground with all the usual facilities. You pass it on the way, about 10 km before you get to Bell Gorge.
People often write to me to ask how to book a site. Well, at this stage you can't book a remote bit of dirt in the bush. You just rock up and squeeze in with everyone else. (During peak season that means with over 200 other people!)
The Bell Creek Campground is a bit further on and consists of ten individual bush campsites along the Bell Creek. And it's not easy to get one of them. This is how the reservation system works:
At Silent Grove entrance you find a board with 10 tags, one tag for each site. The ranger puts them there at 7am each day.
The only way to get a site is to be there early and grab one of the tags. First come, first served. The ranger collects the tags again in the afternoon, together with your camping fee.
Update 2009: the Bell Creek Campground is currently closed and will remain closed for the 2009 season. The decision will be reviewed in the off season. Bummer...
Update 2010: the decision has been reviewed and Bell Creek Campground remains closed. It will never re-open. Bummer indeed!