Conquering the Gibb River Road and Mitchell Plateau with two young kids
by Adam Royle
Enjoying the mud puddles on the Mitchell Plateau
My wife, our two girls (aged four and one) and I set out on the trip of our lifetime in April this year. Destination? Kimberley!
Coming from Brisbane we had a *basic* timetable - leave on April 1, visit Alice Springs and Uluru on the way and make it to the Kimberley by the start of May. Spend a month in WA and then head home through Darwin and North QLD (we had 3 months total).
With no absolute plans, we relied on Destination Kimberley, our Camps 5 map book and advice from other travellers to form our itinerary, usually only a few days in advance, if that.
We were however, planned for any conditions, with a decent touring 4WD towing a off road camper trailer.
We travelled up the Tanami Track, staying on the side of the road one night, and stayed 2 nights at Wolfe Creek, and later found out there was a crazy violent guy threatening tourists there only a few days earlier. Not to mention, we had a flat battery when we were about to leave. Thank jeebus we had a generator!
Once we got to Kununurra we discovered the Mitchell Plateau had just opened, so we headed off the next day to El Questro to start our Gibb River Road journey.
El Questro was amazing! We were going to spend only 2 nights there, however we made some good friends and ended up spending 3 more nights there! Until it started to rain...
It was a coin-flip decision the next morning whether we continue up to Mitchell Plateau or hit the bitumen towards Broome.
Luckily we decided to go to Broome, as we would have been stuck up Mitchell Plateau if we didn't!
After a few days we were in Broome, enjoying the lovely weather and sunshine. After a few nights living it up with hot showers, cold beer at Matzo's Brewery (well worth it) and a swim in the pool, the Cape Leveque road opened and up we tore!
Opting to stay at Bully's Bush Camp, we spent 3 nights relaxing and talking to Jeff about anything and everything (my 4yr old daughter is a chatterbox) before heading back down to Quondong Pt for another 3 nights bush camping.
What an amazing place Quondong is, especially for the money ($0)! A secluded campsite overlooking the beach with our own path down to the sand, and lots of hermit crabs that would travel through our campsite at low and high tide (late one night my wife and I held hermit crab races - don't ask!).
After heading back to Broome for a few days we stocked up on supplies, saw the Staircase to the Moon, and then headed back up towards Derby as we heard the gorges were opening again.
Luck was on our side - beautiful weather, and everything had opened just in time for us to visit. The only thing that hadn't re-opened was the Mitchell Falls and Kalumburu roads, which I had heard would be at least another week until they were open.
After passing Manning Gorge we decided to head straight through to Ellenbrae, which upon arrival we were told that the Mitchell Falls road was due to open the next day!
So excitedly we changed our plans (again) and shot up straight through to Mitchell Falls campsite (with trailer) the next morning. We were one of the first people to enter the park, as the road wasn't officially open (they only let a handful of people up to test the condition of the road).
Although the last 5km was like a crazy 4WD track, we made it without incident. I wish I could have said the same for the gravel truck we saw, bogged right up to the axel on one side, with the ranger and other staff left scratching their heads on how they would get it out.
The Mitchell Falls was one of the highlights of our trip. Walking through ancient and untouched Aboriginal art in a place so remote was an incredible feeling. The helicopter ride was excellent too (although our 1 yr old girl wasn't so sure).
Overall our trip was amazing - something that we will remember and cherish for the rest of our lives! Thanks Birgit for putting together Destination Kimberley, we constantly referred to it while on our trip and would have missed many awesome places if we hadn't had it with us.
The only downside was we carried 4 spare tyres (3 for the car, 1 for the camper) and we didn't have a flat in the whole 18,000km we traveled. Maybe that was an upside too.
Some advice I would give to everyone attempting a trip through the Kimberley:
1. If you rely on extra battery power for a fridge, carry a generator in case something goes wrong. We had some issues with our 2nd battery and if it wasn't for the generator we would have been stuffed on a few occasions! One family we saw on the trip had their solar panels stuff up, but luckily they had a generator too.
2. Even if you don't have a generator (or don't intend to use it), consider camping in the generators campsite. Generally it was less crowded than the quiet campsite, and most people run their generators during the day when you're all out exploring the gorges!
3. Make sure you have plenty of time! If we didn't have the flexibility to head to Broome/Cape Leveque and wait a few weeks, we might have had to miss the Gibb River Road altogether, which is something that happened to some people we met on our journey.
4. If you're travelling with young kids, give yourself even more time than most people suggest for everything. Our rough estimate was 1.5-2x the duration of all the bush walks.
5. Socialise and talk to people heading the other way. You might discover some important information that can help with your trip.
6. Take all advice with a grain of salt. If we had listened to everyone's advice we wouldn't have seen most of the awesome things we saw. If in doubt, do it anyway :) A lot of times the advice we found was very subjective to what each person likes.
7. Drive to the conditions. Just because someone flies past you doesn't mean you should speed up too. And lowering the tyre pressure does actually help.
8. Don't complain about the prices! We met some people who had driven up from Perth to do the Kimberley and drove straight back out of El Questro when they discovered there was a $17/head park entry fee. Sad thing was they thought they did the right thing!!
9. Don't leave it until you're retired before you set out to explore the Kimberley. There are lots of places to explore and you'll need a great sense of adventure and adequate physical fitness to enjoy the best of it. Unfortunately, we saw some elderly people hobbling in with walking sticks, struggling on the easiest of terrain.
10. Have an awesome trip! (That's the easy part)
Best of luck,
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