Kimberley for Pensionable Road Trippers

by Susan Hockey
(North Yorkshire, UK)

Cathedral Gorge: spot the person

Cathedral Gorge: spot the person

We had our first taste of the outback in 2001 when we drove from Darwin to Alice Springs and rented a camper van from there. But 15 years later and now definitely pensioners we really wanted to drive the Gibb River Road and see the Kimberley. Age had caught up on us and so, after looking at tour groups or renting a camper van, we decided to do this once in a lifetime trip in relative luxury by driving ourselves and staying in lodges.

We arrived in Darwin in early September 2016 on a cruise ship from Singapore. As we’d been there before we didn’t stay too long in Darwin except to visit the excellent Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. We picked up a Pajero from Thrifty, spent one night at the Katherine Gorge which we had also seen before, then headed off towards Kununurra with our first sight of the spectacular vast emptiness, and our first attempt to overtake a four tanker road train.

Our first real stop in the Kimberley was at the Bungle Bungles. The hike to Cathedral Gorge was fairly easy and well worth it, but the absolute highlight was the helicopter trip. It’s quite scary to begin with as the helicopter is open-sided. You have to leave all your belongings in your car and just take a camera (no case) which I hung on to for dear life. At the lodge there we had great conversations with other travellers from several countries, although the only Brits we met were working there.

Next stop was 2 nights at El Questro. It was a surprise to meet a deep river crossing just before the camp, but we just waited for another vehicle to drive through to check the depth and found that the Pajero was absolutely fine. We did the Chamberlain Gorge boat trip - wonderful reflections – and had fun feeding the archer fish which were spitting water at us. One of us went on a sweaty hike into El Questro Gorge and came back saying he had been spooked by a big snake – we Brits don’t have to worry about these things at home.

The legendary Pentecost River Crossing was up next, but we didn’t know whether to be disappointed or pleased when we found there was no water in it, something many of the locals had never seen before. The Gibb turned out to be a much better road than we were expecting and we were soon at Mt Elizabeth Station where we enjoyed hearing about the station’s heyday from Pat Lacy.

Bell Gorge was a nice stop on the way to Mt Hart, although the walk there was a little tough in 39C. The 50kms to Mt Hart from the Gibb had recently been graded and took much less time than we had expected. We stayed 2 days there in another safari tent and had some wonderful food. It’s well worth the drive up to the sunset viewpoint. The wet season caretaker had just arrived and we quizzed him at some length about how he spends 6 months marooned there on his own.

It’s well worth taking the detour to Windjana Gorge on the way to Derby (for Brits: this is pronounced to rhyme with ‘herby’), and a very short walk brings you to a pool with lots of freshwater crocodiles. We saw flying foxes there as well. We had time to go on to Tunnel Creek as the road was fine. One of us did the 45 minute walk through the tunnel and back. Take good hiking boots and a torch – there’s a bit of scrambling over rocks involved.

When we got back on to the Gibb we were soon off the gravel and into flatter scenery, with lots of termite mounds, looking like huge spread-out cemeteries. We had a night of luxury with wifi and a washing machine in Derby before tackling what somebody called the ‘concave road’ to Cape Leveque. We were in a sandy dip most of the time, but the Pajero coped fine. Another safari tent at Kooljaman looked out towards the ocean. In the restaurant we ate what can best be described as Michelin-style bushtucker.

Our last visit was to the Pearl Farm at Cygnet Bay then it was back along the concave road to a welcome rest in a B&B in Broome.

You certainly need to be well prepared for the Kimberley. We thought that a key to a stress-free trip was to have a vehicle we could rely on. We met several people with rental 4x4s – even cars rented from the major rental companies - which were not up to the job. It was a real shame that some people had to miss taking side trips because of worries about tyre problems.

There’s a lot more about our Kimberley journey on my blog at
The Kimberley I: Darwin to Mount Elizabeth
The Kimberley II: Mount Elizabeth to Broome

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