Driving the Gibb River Road at the end of the season – The East side
We have split the Gibb River Road up into three sections. This first section covers the east side, the second section the west and the third a planning tool. We will link to these as they become available. We also have a highlights video which you can view below…
Kununurra: Lake Argyle
We woke to another beautiful morning in the Kimberley , excited to start our Gibb River Road adventure with a sunset tour on Lake Argyle. Starting in Kununurra on the 9th September, we were right at the end of the season, but with a good wet earlier in the year, and not as many tourists around we were excited to set off! We stayed at the Hidden Valley campsite in town which was okay. We had a nice site with views of the small local hills, but it was very noisy at night with backpackers. If we stayed again we might look at the campsite by the lake. Here we met another Drifta DOT owner Jamie and his family who are also traveling Aus. We were chatting to him, when bang!!!! Our back windscreen spontaneously broke and cracked into a million little glass pieces! Devastated we just stared at it, not believing our bad luck!!!! With nothing open until Monday including our insurance company we felt so deflated and unsure what this would mean for our trip!!! Jamie kindly came to our rescue, bringing cardboard and we started tearing out the glass and making a makeshift screen! We ran out of duck tape and with no shops open, we decided to head off and enjoy our tour and finish the job off in the morning.
The tour was amazing: checkout the trip report here.
TOP TIP: Check the alcohol restrictions in Kununurra. You need to show your driving licence which is scanned, so you can only buy limited amounts per person, per day.
Other Attractions en-route to the GRR we missed: Wyndham and the 5-rivers lookout and the Grotto.
Kunanarra to El Questro
After finishing the back windscreen, (Which Rich made a great job of and it got us all the way to Broome where we had it replaced) we set off, with our friend Ashley who did an amazing job reading about the locations we were visiting from the Destination Kimberley Guide.
Today was a short 96km along mainly bitumen roads, with an easy nicely graded unsealed 6km into EL Questro station. Enroute we visited Emma Gorge which is also owned by El Questro and here we had a beautiful lunch on the deck. The menu has an Asian flare, with steak and Barramundi options too. We walked some of this off as we did the 3.2km return hike to Emma Gorge, walking through grassland, rainforest and crossing a few boulders, some of which have rippled patterns formed by sediment deposited in flowing water millions of years ago. The waterfall was still running and the pool looked so inviting on a hot day. With water bouncing off the side of the cliffs, and making beautiful ripples, it’s such a pretty place. As we dived in the icy cold water hit us and we quickly started hunting for the hot spring which we had heard about. To the right-hand side there was a hot small pool and as we climbed further up we entered what can only be described as a 5-star rock shower. We wedged ourselves between the two slabs of highly polished rock and stood under the hot water which trickles down it!
We arrived into El Questro late afternoon after easily crossing the Pentecost river and set up camp. The facilities here are amazing and we loved this place. We weren’t sure what to expect, as lots of people had said it was very touristy. But it’s done beautifully with station camping along the river and private bush camps further stretching 15km. These private campsites are a little more expensive and only have basic facilities. If it was busier, we would defiantly have booked one. But with only 100 campers on site, we opted for the fancy shower block and being just a few meters away from the bar, shop and restaurant.
INFO: You pay a weekly pass per person which covers Emma Gorge and El Questro or you can buy a daily pass.
El Questro: Zebedee Hot Springs and Moonshine Gorge.
We picked up all the information and walking maps when we checked in at reception and made an early start to Zebedee hot springs. It’s open from 7am-12 o’clock and then after that for tours only. We arrived at 7.45am and were surprised at how quiet it was, having heard horror stories! There were lots of gorgeous natural little hot pools that we sat and relaxed in, all slightly different temperatures.
After a leisurely morning, it was time to put on the hiking shoes and do the 5km circular Moonshine Gorge. The start of the walk is along the river, where there is a sandy beach and swimming hole. The walk criss-crosses across the river and although it’s well marked in places, we did get a little off the track which resulted with Ashley having a tussle with the spiral Pandanas. The Pandanas won, leaving a nasty collection of spikes in her hand. We stopped for a dip at the pool and some first aid. The pool was still lovely to swim in, but looking at pictures not as big as it can be. The rest of the hike took us away from the river with a short accent over a saddle with stunning views of the wilderness.
After lunch, back at the campsite we went on the Chamberlin Gorge tour, heading down the river in this stunning gorge and seeing Rock wallabies and crocodiles. We had bubbles and fruit platters once we reached the bottom pool. Here we fed the spitting seven spotted fish again as well as huge barramundi. I won a bottle of bubbles for spotting the first rock wallaby and there was more handed out later with some quiz questions.
El Questro Gorge: McMicking Pool 6.8km return and Branko’s Lookout
This was defiantly the highlight of this wilderness park. El Questro gorge is spring fed and worth the hike to the very end of the gorge. We set off early at 6am due to the heat with a shady start to the hike through the rainforest, which is dominated by Livistonia palms. From here the gorge covered in bracken ferns continued to provide us shade, as we scrambled over the rocks and boulders making it through the soggy squeeze and to the halfway pool 2.6km up. We then had to wade across the deep crystal clear pool and then scale the boulder. The water was up to our chests so we carried our rucksacks high above our heads. Earlier in the year, you have to swim across. The boulder is a little tricky to get up and does put a lot of people off. But with a little upper body strength it’s an easy climb. We saw a few people struggling and taking a few attempts to get up as we came down, but also saw young family’s up there too. We arrived at the pool and there was nobody there, swimming through the first to a larger and more beautiful second with a water fall cascading down. (we didn’t have a GoPro at this stage, so sorry no pictures) The sun was just above the narrow gorge which spilled in, lighting the whole area up. The way back down the big boulder has two options a climb and jump down the waterfall or back the way we came up. We opted for the second option which was fine, just having to help Ashley a little as she’s a little shorter than Rich and I.
In the afternoon, we drove Branko’s Lookout. It’s a good fun 4WD track with a long dry river bed crossing and a few steep hill sections. It took about 40 minutes to drive with stunning views of the river greeting you at the top. We spent a while here soaking up the vista and chatting to another couple.
That evening we had dinner in the gorgeous restaurant which overlooks the river and sandy swimming area. There steaks were amazing and their deserts to die for. The perfect way to round off a perfect day.
EL Questro to Home Valley Station: Champagne Springs
As there was so much to do at EL Questro and feeling we could have stayed much longer we spent the morning exploring more of the area. We did the 10km return Champagne Springs hike, setting off early again as the temperature this time of year gets pretty hot. It’s a lovely hike along the Pentecost river, passing a huge Boab tree that is over a thousand years old. After the half way point we crossed the river and traversed the spinifex covered rocks. As we reached the Gem pool and thermal springs everything became much greener with sundew flowers nestled in the rocks. It was very dramatic against the backdrop of the red escarpment. We had great fun splashing around under the waterfall and then jumped in the large thermal pool further down.
We finished the hike early and headed the short distance down the road to Home Valley. We were now truly on the Gibb River Road, hitting the dirt roads for the first time. With the tyre pressures, down we had a good run to Home Valley. The roads were in much better condition than we expected, but we still had a long way to go, as it was only 50km to Home Valley. We arrived at Home Valley at lunch time, set up and jumped in their pool. Many of the hikes here were closed which was disappointing, however, their facilities are great, with a bar, restaurant and lovely swimming pool. It’s the best bar on the Gibb and the guy playing both evenings was brilliant. What was even better was that just by chance our friends from Belgium, Dave and Gilberta were travelling the Gibb in the opposite direction and we spent the afternoon with them and then dinner. They were staying in the Grass Castle rooms overlooking the river. They are stunning and we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks here, collecting our hugs and enjoying the comfy sofas. They also offer helicopter tours to the more remote waterholes and gorges as well as horse riding.
Home Valley Station: Cockburn Lookout Trail 1.1km
After saying goodbye to our friends and helping them with their tyre pressures, (They had had a blow out on the Gibb) we had a chill out day. Enjoying the stations welcoming swimming pool and facilitates. Although their coffee isn’t as good as El Questro, they also have a cold water tap for you to fill your bottles up. In the late afternoon, we did the short Cockburn Lookout Trail and drove down to the river so see the bush campsites by the river. That evening we did the short drive to the lookout (Where there is also 3G signal) and watched the sunset on the Cockburn Range sitting on a big rock with drinks and nibbles. There was a lot of smoke around which made for an impressive hazy sunset.
After dinner, it was back to the Dusty Bar and Grill as there was live music again and had a great night, putting in requests. The song of the Kimberley has been Sweet Home Alabama.
Read on for the West side