Conquering the Gibb River Road and Mitchell Plateau with two young kids

by Adam Royle

Enjoying the mud puddles on the Mitchell Plateau

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,

Comments for Conquering the Gibb River Road and Mitchell Plateau with two young kids

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Jul 17, 2010
by: Birgit

Fantastic report, Adam! With great photos.
Thanks so much for the time and effort you put into it.
(Perfectly formatted and all!)

Sounds like an awesome trip indeed.

I like your approach to making itineraries. It matches mine :-).

Excellent tips, too. Thanks!
Sorry you lugged all those spares around for nothing. Maybe you should have ignored all my waffling about speed and tyre pressures :-).

In any way, I'm glad your brave little family had such a fabulous time.
Thanks again for writing.

Jul 17, 2010
by: Birgit

The caption to your last photo said only "Having a". I added "shower" for now. If you let me know what it was meant to say I can edit it.

Jul 17, 2010
by: Adam

Ahh yep, sorry. That was meant to be "Having a shower at Galvan's Gorge." Also, I noticed a small typo above, "late one night my wife and *I* held hermit crab races" (missed the "I").

Jul 17, 2010

by: Birgit

All fixed :-)

Aug 06, 2010
Driving to the conditions
by: Anonymous

So true about driving to the conditions and we congratulate you on having no flats. We too had no flats. Taking 2 spares for the 4wd and 2 for the camper trailer which were interchangeable between the two anyway we were almost disappointed to have not had a spare. We'd learned how to repair and move tyres from rim to rim before the trip too.
We came across a couple who bragged that they were having a great run having had only 6 flats from Kununurra to King Edward River camp. When they asked how many we had they were shocked. We'd had NONE. And this is because we were driving to the road conditions. We'd lowered not only our tyre pressures but also our speed.
Alls well that ends well.
A four week trip in the Kimberley over already. Of course we left a few things to come back for on another trip naturally!!!!
Enjoy the outback, it's the only one we have!

Oct 12, 2010
loved the kimberley!!!
by: bec

Your trip report made all of us here very nostalgic! We did it all last year - took third term off and with our 5,7,and 9 year old toured the top end. The Kimberley / Gibb River Road was my favourite destination and we have left a few things to see next time around, including the Mitchell Plateau. We did do the Karunjie Track.

We had the extra spares and didn't need them (in all our 18,000 kms) and I think the fact that we had plenty of time and weren't rushing to each destination contributed to that.

I agree about not complaining about prices. Suck it up people, it is your choice to visit (you can stock up before you leave and I might add if you think it is dear for two people try adding in with the extra 3 kids.) I think all businesses up there earn every penny, considering how short their 'season' can be and the cost of making these beautiful destinations 'tourist' ready in time for the next season must be huge sometimes.

Of course the Kimberley Guide was our bible and I have been recommending it to everyone!
Can't wait until next time!

Oct 16, 2010
Thanks so much for the info
by: Barbara

Sounds like you and the family had a woder filled adventure. We were in the region in April though saving the Gibb for another time. We were travelling on our lovely BMW 1200GT motorbike and although we did 15,000km. the mighty Gibb could not be part of the journey. Thank you for sharing advice and your story, I am sure there are many more. I agree with the idea of getting out and about while you can. We are blessed to be fit and healhty at 65 & 61. Happy exploring!!

Nov 18, 2010
to Adam - prices and elderly people in Kimberley
by: Werner

No, Adam, I don't agree about your two remarks about prices in Kimberley.
I don't understand why e.g. in Mount Barnett Roadhouse I have to pay (in October 2010) AUD 2.05 per liter diesel. In Fitzroy Crossing AUD 1.48 two days before or in Kununurra AUD 1.67 three days after. These differences to M.B.R. are simply Unjustified.
The other thing are the elderly people. My wife and I are elderlies and made the Kimberleys last month (Oct.2010) and walked to many gorges by walks of 3 to 4 hours or more. That means that we are in a not so bad condition. On the other side we saw so called joung people who were not able to go e.g. to the upper pool of the Bell Gorge. That means that they were in not so good condition.
On the other hand, I congratulate Adam to his trip with three very young people. I didn't had such a condition to do that with three kids...

Nov 18, 2010
Prices on the Gibb River Road
by: Birgit

Werner, prices along the Gibb River Road are much higher because it costs a fortune to transport anything out there.

A small, private fuel outlet in the middle of nowhere, along a hundreds of kilometres of dirt road, that does only a comparatively small amount of business for only a few months of the year, is simply not able to offer even remotely similar prices to the mega BP or Shell roadhouses along the highway, which are easily supplied and do massive business.

Look into the transport business. Look at what freight charges you can negotiate if you have a huge amount of something and need it on a regular basis for years to come, on a regular route. Then compare it to freighting a small amount every now and then. And then ask them to freight it out into the middle of nowhere on a road that is as hard on truck suspension and tyres as it is on your car.

Now if you asked why Mr. Barnett is always more expensive than Imintji, that's a fair question. (We are talking a few cents here.)
But to compare Mr. Barnett to Kununurra or Fitzroy Crossing does not make sense.

Hope that clarifies things a bit.

(As an aside, prices for everything along the Gibb River Road vary because you have several big operations out there that are also funded externally, and small family enterprises that fend only for themselves. Larger businesses will always be able to operate at lower cost than smaller businesses.)

May 29, 2012
Imintji fuel vs Mt Barnett
by: Anonymous

I might be able to shed some light on that. When I worked at the Imintji roadhouse, it was our practice to check the fuel price at Barnett and drop ours 3 cents lower. Purely because the Imintji store is smaller and people tend to barrel straight through to Barnett without stopping. A bit of incentive to fill up and maybe shop at Imintji was worth a few cents a litre.

And Brigit is spot on about the costs to transport ANYTHING to those tiny communities in the middle of the Gibb. When we were travelling, we made a point of buying something at all of them on the grounds that, if people don't buy from those places, one day they just won't be able to afford to be there at all.

If you are going to agonise over higher fuel and food costs when you are essentially in the middle of nowhere, it might be best to stay in the city.

Mar 13, 2017
to Werner
by: Harry B

Hi Werner,
I hear what you're saying about the prices of most things on the road and in the tourist traps, I also hear the answers for this and they seem justified as well.
I myself drive a v8 petrol Landcruiser and tow a 21ft off road caravan, don't have to tell you I own shares in the fuel companies but the amount I use I should?
But that's my choice and my decision. My answer to the spending problem is to free camp as much as I can to offset the balance when payment is required.
Also free camping justifies the extra cost of the bar priced beer when visiting out back hotels.
And not to mention the useful information you can pick up from the locals. Well that's my excuse to tell the Wife for the visit. ( I think She believes me )
Any way Mate,
My point is try to offset the cost of one with another and remember the good things about your trip and brush aside the not so good.
And when you whinge about something remember it could have been a lot worse. If you're driving around Aus things can't be that bad.
Keep the shiny side up and Cheers from Harry B.

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