Driving the Gibb River Road at the end of the season. The West side
We have split the Gibb River Road up into three sections. The first section covers the east side, the second section the west (this one) and the third a planning tool. We will link to these as they become available. We also have a video of the highlights which is included below…
Home Valley Station to Mt Elizabeth: Wild Flower Walk 3.6km, Mount Baldy Lookout, Bindoola falls 1km, Ellenbrae Station
This morning we did the easy wild flower walk and Mount Baldy Lookout (approx. 1km return from White Gum Rest) We picked up trail maps from reception which provided information on the area at different numbered markers. The lookout was lovely with views again of the Cockburn Ranges. We spotted a Dingo running across the savannah woodland and lots of Lally’s Two-lined dragons bobbing their heads. As we entered meteorite valley we were treated to lots of Wallaroo’s jumping past. I imagine this walk is very spectacular in the wildflower season (April-June) but it was still a nice walk in September. Home Valley offers horse rides, fishing, station history and sunset tours as well as scenic helicopter flights. From here we drove to Mt Elizabeth stopping off quickly at Bindoola falls, 16km west of the station. It’s a nice pool, but not a GRR highlight. You can walk down and swim there with the big freshwater croc.
As we continued along the GRR we saw a couple of cars being recovered from the side of the road. Once arriving at Ellenbrae Station for their famous scones, a fellow DISCO owner was changing a tyre and assessing the damage to the water tanks of his caravan. The scones were good and it’s a beautiful little rustic station that also offers camping. We ate our scones on the deck watching the tiny little banded finches on the bird feeder. They could do with a coffee machine, but hey we are on the GRR.
Today we passed the turn off for Drysdale River and Mitchell Falls. Due to the time of year we were travelling we decided not to do this on our trip. We knew the falls wouldn’t be as impressive and we had been told lots of stories about how horrific road conditions were. As we travelled across the GRR we heard so many stories of damage that had occurred to people’s cars and trailers. Maybe one day we will come back and do it, or alternatively take a flight from Drysdale River. (Nb// Permit changes starting in 2018)
Elizabeth station was 29km off the GRR on a good road and was the one place where we felt we were camping on a rustic working station. We loved the view from our tent watching 100s of walloroo’s chasing each other through the bush, young dingoes, cattle wandering around and a visit from the owner’s 5 adorable small puppies.
The campsite is priced the same as those across the GRR and the facilities are very old and basic, but has a nice charm.
Mt Elizabeth: Warla and Wunnumurra Gorges
We picked up a tattered little laminated map from reception and headed out for the day. First heading down an easy 4WD track to Warla Gorge on the Hann river. It’s a nice spot with a beautiful sandy beach, but the highlight of the area is Wunnumurra Gorge on the Barnett River.
It was rough 4WD track down and the station suggested walking the final 1km of the road. We enjoy a hike and so parked up earlier than this and walked down the track and then onto the clearly marked walking path to the gorge (about 3km). When we arrived at the top we have a couple of ladders to climb down where we could jump in the big beautiful pool. There was a tiny bit of water still running, but I imagine its more impressive earlier in the season. The place was beautiful and we didn’t see anyone else here all day. There is some rock art to explore and we spotted a few Merten’s Water Monitors hiding in the rocks.
Dinner is available at the station if you book, but we enjoyed our campsite view and a BBQ. On the campsite, we met some people heading off to do the Munja track. We saw them again in Derby and their trip sounded amazing, with the falls being more impressive than Mitchell. At night the wildlife is suppose to be incredible with bandicoots and quolls running around the campsite. We had bought the trip notes for this more challenging 4WD, but time didn’t allow for it. Just another excuse to do the GRR again. If you want to do this trip you need to pick up the key from the station and pay for your permit.
Mt Elizabeth to Charnley River Wilderness Camp: Manning Gorge
If we did this trip again we would stay a night at Manning Gorge allowing us to visit Barnett River Gorge, Mt Elizabeth and both Galvans and Adcok Gorge the next morning, which are easily accessed from the carparks.
We, however, decided to spend the morning at Manning Gorge and then head to Charnley River. Manning Gorge is beautiful. It’s a 3km hike into the gorge with the option to either swim through the first pool or walk around it. This takes about 45 minutes. Once across the river there was an exposed track to huge pools. We spent about 90 minutes swimming in them and could have easily spent longer. There was only one other family there with us, but we did pass a few people heading out of the gorge as we walked in. Earlier in the season the water fall would be in full flow which would be impressive, but there was so much water here it was a perfect place to chill out and relax.
On the way back to the car, I gave my rucksack to Richard and swam back over the river which was fun. We had our picnic on the river bank under the shade of the huge paperbark trees and chatted to some of the locals about what the area is like in the middle of the wet season. Another 49km down the GRR is the turn off to Charnley River Wilderness Camp and it’s a 42km drive North to the campsite which is run by The Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC). Just after the turn off we stopped to see the huge Boab tree which has the initials of an explorer carved into the bark. We arrived after 4pm and so set-up camp and cooked dinner.
TOP TIP: At Manning Gorge there is a road house to refuel. They had a great selection of frozen meats at a really good price and a few fresh salads and veggies too.
Charnley River: Donkey pools, Mt Glemont Lookout, Dillie Gorge, Lily Pools, Grevillea Gorge
We had heard amazing things about Charnley River from friends, who did the Gibb River Road in May at the beginning of the dry season. However this was probably the only place on the Gibb which we felt wasn’t worth coming to see as the season ends. The pools had very little water in them and it was a reasonable drive to explore the whole park, taking us a few hours. We started the day by driving 25km on the 4WD track to the top end of the park and headed into Grevillea Gorge, which was the best of the gorges here. It was just a short 200m walk to the edge and lookout following the white Wallaroo footprints and then a climb down a ladder to the first drop.
From here the bottom pool wasn’t accessible for safety reasons but we got a great view. We then headed upstream and rock scrambled across the pools. We believe you may be able to get all the way to Lilly pools, but we turned around and drove the 2km to them. They were glowing bright green which was impressive, but we didn’t want to swim in them. There were lots of Water Monitors scuttling about and swimming in the pools.
17km back down the track we drove the 15km into Dillie Gorge. Here the water levels were good and we could still swim. We had lunch and chilled out under the shade of a big rock slab.
We finished our day exploring Donkey pools which is a nice walk along three pools, but again we didn’t fancy a swim in them. I bet they are fun earlier on in the season and they are only 9km from the campsite. They did have beautiful water lilies in them and we saw brolgas again too.
There are short walks from the office that you can also do, but in the late afternoon we just headed up to the bamboo stand which was covered in Fruit bats. The highlight of the park for us was Mt Glemont lookout for sunset. We took up drinks and nibbles and did the short walk to the top for amazing views and one of the best sunsets of the trip. Definitely take a torch as it’s a rough track in the dark.
What’s amazing about this area is that its managed by AWC , who control feral herbivore and have fire management programs which protects the vegetation for native animals, providing safe habitats from feral cats and foxes. The results are a beautiful landscape and chances to spot more threatened wildlife.
There is a small visitor’s interpretation centre with comfy sofas on site and AWC on selected nights do slideshows on the work that they do at Charnley River. There was no presentation the nights we stayed, but we did see one later at Mornington and they are well worth going to see.
Note: As well as camp fees, you also pay a one-off vehicle sanctuary pass.
Charnley River to Mornington Wilderness Camp: Annies Creek
Visiting this area was a highlight for us. From Charnley River, it was only a 4km drive before we turned off and drove the 88km South into the 312ha property with lots more gates to open and shut. We had booked in advance as there are only 25 vehicles allowed in at any one time or 50 campers. As with the rest of our Gibb adventure, there were only a couple of groups camping. At the road junction to the Mornington Wilderness Camp, there is a little tin shed with a two-way radio, where we checked in and were told it was a two-hour trip and to be careful of the river crossings.
The road in took bang on 2 hours and is a gorgeous scenic drive with the 1.8-billion-year-old Sandstone King Leopold ranges dominating the landscape and a few impressive gnarly old boab trees. At check-in we sat down with a beer and were given so much information about the area, which was brilliant. After setting up we waited for the temperature to drop a little and headed off to do the 1.9km Annie Creek which runs from the campground. It’s a shady short walk along this Riparian environment and is a great place for bird and wildlife. The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and the Gouldian Finch can be spotted along here, but sadly they didn’t appear for us. We did however see an abundance of crimson finches and lots of noisy cockatoos.
The conservation and scientific research that happens here by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy is amazing and although we didn’t spot those two rare birds, we certainly noticed a dramatic change in the number of animals and the different types of vegetation. This is achieved through having no cattle and a successful eco-fire management program. There is also a 3.2km return savannah woodland walk, which we didn’t do, that joins onto the Annie Creek walk.
Mornington Wilderness Camp: termite Trail, The bird hide, Sir John Gorge, Blue Bush
On our second day at the camp, we headed for Sir John Gorge armed with the self-guide book reception provide for a small deposit. We had the whole area to ourselves seeing nobody else all day. There is an exclusive Canoe trip which you can book at reception. They have only 1, 2-person canoe at the start of each gorge, allowing you to paddle all the way up to Tin Can Gully and provide a yummy picnic hamper for lunch. On the way up the 14km track we did the Termite Trail, with its information boards on these amazing animals and impressive structures as well as the bird hide. We spotted a couple of Jabiru and 3 Brolgas and saw a few Bustards too.
As we were now a team of three, we couldn’t do the canoe trip and so instead traversed the low gorge side all the way to the start of the third pool (approx. 4km return) There are no marked paths except at the start and between the pools for the canoe trip, where you follow the white wallaby tracks. It was another super-hot day and so we were glad to jump in the water at pool 2 on the way back and played echo with the gorge wall opposite, not surprising we didn’t spot any short–eared rock wallabies.
We had planned to stay out here for sunset which we were told was good, but with no shade we instead headed to Bluebush swimming hole on the river for a late lunch on its sandy banks. We sat and watched a cheeky Honey Bee-eater fishing, before heading back to camp.
That night we had a sunset cheese board in the beautiful bar and restaurant, with a pink sky as the back drop and the oil lamps blazing. We rounded off the day by attending a presentation on the work that’s done by AWC which was excellent.
Mornington Wilderness Camp: Dimond Gorge
Our third and final day was definately the highlight of Mornington. We hired a 3-person canoe and after picking up the paddles and life jackets at reception we drove the 24km to Dimond Gorge. Again, we had the whole gorge to ourselves seeing nobody and being the only people that had hired a canoe. This gorge is stunning and paddling up the Fitzroy River with its amazing reflections was so tranquil. We landed on a small bank and scrambled over the rocks to a waterfall. You hear the waterfall before you see it and was still running in mid-September. At the end of the 2km stretch of water we reached a massive lump of volcanic dolerite which was the turnaround spot. On the water we saw cormorants, white-quilled Rock Pigeons and Fairy Martins. As you get to the end of the pool, there is a huge slab of black volcanic dolerite, which is impressive against the red rocks of the king Leopold sandstone.
There was a lovely area to swim after we pulled up the canoe and from Dimond Gorge we headed back down the road to a swimming hole along the river. Here we saw a tour group, the guides gave us some of their picnic lunches that were left over and so we enjoyed home cooked frittata and salad. It was so nice having fresh food as by day 13 we were now mainly onto tinned vegetables. Begrudgingly Richard and Ashley went bird hunting with me along Annies creek again, seeing if we could spot the elusive purple crested finch and Gould finch. Sadly we were out of luck. That evening we booked into the 2-course meal which is served in the restaurant. Each night it’s a different set menu and tonight the barramundi was fabulous. I really like this bar and restaurant it’s got a great feel to it and the huge wooden carved bar is beautiful.
Note: As well as camp fees, you also pay a one-off vehicle sanctuary pass.
Mornington Wilderness Camp to Mt Hart: Bell Gorge
From Mornington Wilderness Camp, we headed back onto the Gibb, stopping for coffee and fuel at the Imintji roadhouse. The guys that run this place are super friendly and its stocked with a few fresh salad and vegetable options as well as tinned and jar staples. There is a small little garden with shaded tables where we had coffee with their dog. On the drive across we had seen the skyline getting hazier with smoke and sadly we found our plans needed to change. Keopold Downs road which links the Gibb to Fitzroy Crossing was closed due to fires spreading and becoming fiercer. Along this road are both Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek National Parks. We were gutted as Tunnel Creek was somewhere we really wanted to explore. We decided therefore to head to Mt Hart Homestead for two nights and checkout how this place has changed since the infamous Taffy owned it. On the way, we stopped as planned at Bell Gorge. This gorge is one of the iconic spots along the Gibb and it was any easy stroll to the lookout, where the water was still tumbling down rocks into a large pool.
We crossed the river and climbed down the side onto the water polished smooth rocks. There was only one other couple down here who warned us that a few snakes had been spotted. This was a great place to hang-out with the huge overhanging rocks providing shade and the pool to jump into. We swam around and up to the waterfalls which were cascading warm water. It’s a beautiful place.
Getting into Bell Gorge was fun, a huge boggy mud hole had developed, which we had been warned was causing a bit of fun for travellers. Rich, the Car and Our trailer did a great job and we were not one of its victims, heading further west on a nice stretch of the Gibb. We passed Lennard River Gorge, which we planned to return to after Mt Hart, but it was still shut after a big wet season. The road into Mt Hart was in great condition and it didn’t take long before we were in the bar, with the owners on their last night of the season. We got to hear stories of the homestead and hear about their plans for the place.
King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park and Mt Hart: Annie Creek, Dolerite Gorge, Barkers Pool and Sunset Hill
This morning we headed out to explore, starting at Annie Creek (8.8km well graded road) A short 200m stroll by the water, took us to a huge Boab with a strangler fig growing through the centre. Back down the road 5km we took the left-hand turn to Dolerite Gorge. There are impressive dolerite outcrops and a fun 1.6km return walk along the narrow gorge which we rock hopped down crossing the Barker River a few times. There were a few nice swimming holes and we got chatting to another couple who were about to tackle the Munja track before it closed on the 26th September. Before lunch we headed 4km south of the homestead where the Barker River widened to create a lovely swimming hole and reflections.
The sunset platform at the campsite was a short drive up a steep hill, crossing the runway. We were treated to another Kimberley stunning sky.
We all agreed that the Dolerite Gorge is the best spot in this area and although it’s a beautiful spot, it’s doesn’t have the wow factor of other places on the Gibb.
It will be interesting to see how the current owners develop the place. Maybe one day we will pop back in and see.
Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. Devonian Region
As we were leaving Mt Hart, we thought we would pop in and ask about the road closures and bushfires. Both the road and the National park had now re-opened and we got to spend the day at both. Windjana Gorge is full of freshwater crocodiles that bask on the banks in the little remaining water of the Lennard river at this time of year. The whole area was once an ancient barrier reef system, which now forms the dramatic sides of the towering gorge. As we did the 7km return walk we spotted ancient marine fossils.
There is camping in the National park where we had planned to stay, but the Horse flies were so horrific nobody wanted to set up camp and be bitten by these pesky little menaces. Tunnel Creek was a further 30km down the road and we were glad of its cool environment as the mid-day sun hit. Armed with torches we climbed over the boulders at the entrance and into the tunnel. It soon became pitch black as we waded through ankle deep water, keeping our eyes out for crocodiles. The midpoint of the tunnel has caved in and from here the water get deeper and deeper. There is a bright white rock mass, which looked amazing lit up by Richards big torch. Just as we were about to do the deepest crossing which came up to our shorts, we spotted a 2-meter croc cruising by. He quickly disappeared being more frightened and we made it to the end of the tunnel, where the sunshine hits you.
We walked back through the tunnel and headed onto Derby. We did toy with the idea of going to Fitzgerald Crossing and doing a morning boat tour at Geikie Gorge. Arriving into Derby a day earlier than planned we couldn’t get into our camp site and so instead we stayed at The Kimberley Entrance. The site is huge and has amazing sunsets over the mudflats, but sadly one rude member of staff and they only had one amenities block open, which they shut for long periods of time to clean, leaving you high and dry. (I think this is the first campsite I have ever named and shamed on our years trip around Aus)
A few nights in Derby
As you come off the Gibb if you have time checkout the art centre and the Boab Prison tree. We came back to do these the following day. But sadly, as it was a public holiday the gallery was shut. In town, the Norval gallery was well worth a visit and don’t miss the 15-minute video about the artist Marc. The Jetty and mudflats with the Derby famous tides are a top attraction in this town. We met some fellow Drifta trailer owners Michelle, Rob and their son Matt, who we quickly became friends with a subsequently kept meeting up with on our travels. We had lovely fish and chips with them at the jetty and watched the sunset on our Gibb River Road adventure….
Our next adventure was Horizontal Falls an amazing and exhilarating trip.