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Journey Through the Kimberley on Gibb River Road

driving the gibb river road

A 4WD is essential for travelling the red dirt roads of the Kimberley.

All images © Genevieve Hathaway

Stretching nearly 423,000 kilometers across northwestern Australia, the Kimberley is a dramatic landscape of massive gorges, rugged escarpments and horizontal waterfalls.

One of the last great wildernesses, driving through the Kimberley is the ultimate eco-adventure. It’s the iconic Australian Outback – vast cattle stations, red hardpack roads that seem to disappear in the distance as if a mirage, fearsome saltwater crocodiles, kangaroos and all their cousins, a strong Aboriginal culture, and friendly locals who are shaped by the land.

Due to its remote location, the Kimberley takes some effort to reach, but once there it’s easy fall in love with the land and its people.

 Bell Gorge

Boab tree at Bell Gorge.

Driving the Gibb River Road is a 9-day adventure that takes travellers through the diverse landscape of the Kimberley. It’s a 660 km journey along unsealed, red hardpack between Kununurra and Derby.

Developed in the 1960s as a cattle route, the road still serves much of its original purpose, today connecting remote cattle stations that are larger than many small European countries. Along the road, travelers can swim in gorges and billabongs, hike slot canyons, camp under the stars, and see plenty of wildlife.

Echidna Chasm kimberley

Echidna Chasm at sunrise.

Driving “the Gibb” takes some planning and preparation, as parts of the drive are remote and the road hard on vehicles, but it’s worth the investment and time. It can be done on your own (make sure to bring a 4WD vehicle that can handle the rough terrain and have the expertise to maintain it) or with a guiding company.

Whether traveling on your own or with a guided tour, experiencing the Kimberley is one of Australia’s best eco-adventures, and comes with memories of a lifetime. Below are a few helpful hints and tips to get you started planning your own trip.

Driving through the Bungle Bungles.

Driving through the Bungle Bungles.

Helpful Hints:

~ Start in Darwin and end in Broome. Finishing your trip in Broome and the southern Indian Ocean is a magical way to end your adventure traveling through the Kimberley.

~ Stock up on supplies and prepare for your trip in Darwin. It is the easiest city to fly into, and a good place to start your journey across the Kimberley. Kununurra has the last large grocery store before the coast, but many of the items are pricier. Buy the bulk of your supplies in Darwin.

gibb river road

Sunrise over King Leopold Range.

~ Check with locals before swimming in billabongs. Some are ok and some… well may have Salties (Saltwater Crocodiles).

~ Don’t camp near the banks of the Pentecost River. There are definitely Salties there. These massive crocodiles have been known to drag a tent or two into the water.

~ If navigating The Gibb River Road yourself, be sure your vehicle is stocked with plenty of food and water in case you are stranded overnight due to vehicle breaking down. Also, carry extra gas and medical supplies.

Catherine Gorge Kimberley

Catherine Gorge, the Kimberley.

~ Greet other travelers with a smile and a “how are you doing?” There is a bond amongst travelers in the Kimberley. Embrace the experience of meeting other adventurous travelers along the way.

~ Leave The Kimberley better than you found it. Make sure your garbage and left-over food (as well as any you see) ends up in trash bins and not in the Outback. This is a “pack-in-pack-out”, “leave no trace”, and “be kind to animals and the land” type of trip.

~ Be vigilant for animals at dawn, dusk and during the night. Drive slower than recommended speed limits and watch for animals. Wildlife, from cattle to wallabies, will be particularly active at this time.

gibb river road

You never know who or what you’ll meet on the Gibb River Road.

~ Stay at a cattle station. It’s a great way to have a local experience.

~ Rise with the sun and stay up till it sets. Sunrises and sunsets, like everything in the Kimberley, are big, bold and beautiful. Don’t miss them.

sunset kimberley

Sunset on the Gibb River Road.

Recommendations:

Best camping eco-experience
Mt. Barnett station campsites. Camp under an ancient Boab tree with a thick, blanket of stars overhead. In the morning, rise with the Black Cockatoos’ calling each other at sunrise and spot a wallaby or wallaroo hopping through the tall brush near your tent.

Best eco-lodge
Bungle Bungles Wilderness Lodge. Comfy beds in large canvas tent style huts. Great views of the Outback from your hut and excellent location for exploring the Bungle Bungles.

Camping under a large Boab tree.

Camping under a large Boab tree.

Best cattle station stay
Ellenbrae. Friendly owners and you must try the scones – trust me!

Best waterfall or gorge hike and swim
Manning Gorge – upper and lower pools, a mellow river to swim through and Aboriginal art if you know where to look.

Best fly over
Sunset or sunrise flight over the Bungle Bungles.

Best food
Anything cooked out in the Bush. Food always tastes better when camping in the Outback.

Cooking in the bush.

Cooking in the bush.

gibb river bungle bungles

The Bungle Bungles at sunrise.

Genevieve travelled with KimberleyAdventures.com.au. A 9-day Darwin to Broome 4WD Trip costs $1,995 per person.

Resources:

~ Kimberley Australia Travel Guide
~ Driving the Gibb River Road
~ Bush Walking Holidays
~ Tourism Western Australia’s guide to the Kimberley
~ Kimberley Australia Guide

If you enjoyed this article, you may like to read:

Broome to Gnylmarung on the Cape Leveque Road
Watching a Stairway to the Moon Appear in Broome

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