Australia has many trails suitable for a four-wheel-drive adventure, but the one that captures the spirit of The Outback, and which should be top of your BUCKiTDREAM list, is the Gibb River Road. This former cattle route is a 410-mile stretch of road in the northern Kimberley region that stretches west to east between Derby, and the Kununurra and Wyndham junction.
Named after Andrew Gibb Maitland, an English-born Australian geologist, and explorer, the Gibb River Road isn’t for the fainthearted and Aussies and tourists alike can expect a driving challenge. But it’s not just about completing this lengthy eight-day trail with your 4WD and party intact, there are lots of unique activities and sightseeing to do along the way.
Swimming, bushwalking, and camping are the usual attractions enjoyed when tackling the Gibb River Road. But it’s also a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the region’s fauna and flora in their natural habitat. There are many other add-ons you can do depending on your time and your budget including scenic flights, horse trekking, boating and mountain biking.
Like any trip into the outback, you can’t just pack up the 4WD and head off with a group of mates. Since the Gibb River Road usually takes around eight days to complete, you’ll need to plan your accommodation ahead of time. The main places that will put you up for the night are camping grounds and cattle stations. There are several of these that offer accommodation dotted along the way including Mount Elizabeth Station, the El Questro Station, and Mount Barnett Station.
The most popular time to drive the Gibb River Road is in winter, with July being the peak month. The shoulder periods of May or September can also be suitable times to go; but some tracks may be closed in May due to flooding, while in September it’s starting to get hot. Really hot.
The Gibb River Road is not just any country road, there are a few tar-sealed sections but for the most part, it’s made up of a two-lane gravel road with numerous water crossings. For this reason, a 4WD is the recommended vehicle to travel in, as it is robust and provides high ground clearance.
Before we go into more detail about what to expect on each day of this epic 4WD tour, here’s rundown of the essential equipment you’ll need to get the most out of the Gibb River Road.
Get yourself a Holiday Pass which for a reasonable fee offers unlimited entry to Western Australia’s national parks and state forests for a month. If you’re planning on camping, you’ll also be required to pay camping fees. Crossing aboriginal land also may require a permit. Check with local tourist offices for advice.
Fuel For the 4WD & Food For You
Be prepared with fuel, food, and water but if you run out, the halfway point of Mount Barnett Roadhouse is where you can refuel with diesel or unleaded petrol, and pick up some groceries. There is also accommodation here. Closer to Wyndham there is El Questro’s Station.
For emergencies, consider renting a satellite phone as cell phone coverage varies from little to none. Mosquitoes can be a problem in certain areas of the road so bring repellent and coils that you can burn at night when camping. You’ll need to bring a tent that has mosquito netting and adequate space and airflow. Also take rope and plenty of tent pegs in the case of strong winds.
Now here’s what to expect on this epic eight-day 4WD tour:
Day One – Derby to Windjana Gorge National Park
From Derby, head east for Windjana Gorge National Park for abundant birdlife and hundreds of freshwater crocs in their natural environment. From here you can visit Tunnel Creek, which has a 750-meter tunnel harboring many species of bats and ancient limestone reefs. Set up your tent at Windjana Gorge National Park and camp out under the stars.
Day Two – Windjana Gorge National Park to Mt Hart Homestead
Depart Windjana Gorge and head for Lennard Gorge for a walking track with dramatic views over the gorge and waterfalls. Further along, you can swim at Bell Gorge and watch waterfalls cascade down the cliffs. There are a couple of camps in the vicinity; Bells Creek, around seven miles further on or Silent Grove, around 12 miles away. Mt Hart Homestead further north is also an option.
Day Three – Mount Hart to Manning Gorge
From Mount Hart, you can access Galvans Gorge, which has a popular swimming hole. The Mt Barnett campground is based at Lower Manning Gorge which has a walking track, Aboriginal rock art, and tranquil pools. You can also do a guided tour up the river.
Day Four – Manning Gorge to Drysdale River Station
From Manning Gorge, you can head off the Gibb River to stay at a comfortable cabin at Drysdale River Station in Mitchell River National Park. From here there are lots of activities, including bush, walks, wildlife spotting, scenic flights and learning about Aboriginal heritage.
Day Five – Drysdale River Station to Ellenbrae Station
The Ellenbrae Station Homestead has a campground between two billabongs or stays on the homestead. You can canoe down the river and go bushwalking and birdwatching.
Day Six – Ellenbrae Station to El Questro Wilderness Park
From Ellenbrae, the day’s goal is to reach the one million acres El Questro Wilderness Park. Here there’s a working cattle station and four major river systems, so you’ll see lots of animals, birds, and fish.
Day Seven – El Questro Wilderness Park
Spend the day exploring the El Questro, Wilderness Park. Take a horseback ride with an El Questro ranger, do a boat trip down Chamberlain Gorge or soak in a thermal pool at Zebedee Springs.
Day Eight – El Questro Wilderness Park To Wyndham or Kununurra
Emma Gorge is the final stop of your journey. Here you can stay in the resort and enjoy air-conditioned bungalows and local produce at the Steakhouse Restaurant. Emma Gorge itself is accessed by an hour’s walk where you can swim at a picturesque waterhole.
Whet your appetite for some off-road action? If you get some snaps of snapping crocodiles, selfies at stunning waterfalls or photos of fantastic sunsets then are sure to share them with BUCKiTDREAMERs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!