Adventures on the Gibb River Road

As we said goodbye to the laidback oasis that was Broome and headed for the remoteness of the Kimberley, we were still undecided about whether or not to tackle the Gibb River Road.  A big part of us wanted to throw caution to the wind and just commit to it, whilst the more conservative part (that didn’t want to ruin our gear) warned us to stick to the tar.  In the end, the conservative part won out, however we did compromise and did about 400km of the Gibb, albeit not all of it with the van.

After a night in Derby to stock up, we got an early start and did a quick tour of the town of Derby to see what we could see.  The old Jetty was under renovation when we arrived so it was a quick squiz before we headed off again.

We stopped in at the old Boab Prison Tree which was an incredible example of an ancient tree but also, an interesting insight into the culture and the relationship between white European settlers and the local indigenous tribes of the area.

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And then we hit the Gibb.  We stopped for the obligatory photo at the start.

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And then continued until we hit the dirt road.  Although we were planning to go as far as Windjana Gorge, we still had a hundred or so kms to travel on the dirt until we arrived at one of the best Parks and Wildlife campsites we’ve been to.  With flushing toilets and hot (ish) showers, Windjana was only $12 per person, per night and proved to be an awesome base to explore the main attractions of the area – Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek Caves.

We decided to hit the caves first and made our way to Tunnel Creek the same day. Requiring torches and good climbing shoes to get to the end, we were guaranteed to get wet.  I had read that there were also crocodiles in the creek that ran through the tunnel, but we thankfully didn’t see any, although we found out later that apparently there was a little resident croc that lived underneath the waterfall that we’d stopped to look at.

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The girls had a great time exploring the cave with their torches and trying to find the path to the other side.  At the mid-point, we came across a section where the roof had fallen in before we were plunged back into darkness.  The view from the other end was gorgeous.  It was quite a fascinating walk and had me picturing the story of Jandamarra, an indigenous tracker of the Bunuba people who was caught between two cultures – shamed and abandoned by his own tribe, Jandamarra worked for the white settlers, but his heritage, and the mistreatment of his people spurred him into action and he ultimately became a freedom fighter of sorts for his people.  For many years he caused havoc, mostly non-violent (slaughtering of cattle etc) doing his best to make life difficult for the white settlers.  He hid out in Tunnel Creek with his posse and family and ultimately, another aboriginal tracker who was working for the police, shot and killed him at Tunnel Creek. Interestingly, we were in Cairns when a documentary called Jandamarra’s War featured on NITV – was so great to have been to the very country this story is based and you can see the trailer for the story here.

The legend of Jandamarra certainly gave a different perspective when exploring the cave and it was easy to see why it was used as a hideout.

The next morning, we headed into Windjana Gorge, looking forward to trying to spot some freshwater crocodiles.  We didn’t have to look too hard before we spotted the first one and by the time we made it down to the sandy beach, there were several crocs sunning themselves on the bank.

Despite the heat, we continued along the path until we stopped for a break.  The girls were getting a bit over it but Corey suggested that I continue on and he’d take the girls back.  I continued on for another 2km or so, heading further into the scrubby cliff side.  After the same scrubby terrain and low water, I decided to head back to camp.  I did spot a few more crocs along the way but I think by this stage, the sun was even too hot for them!

In the afternoon, we decided to check out the Lillimilura Police Station ruins. The historic story of note here centres around a mutiny lead by an Aboriginal tracker known as Pigeon who gained his outlaw status by beginning a resistance against the white settlers of his homeland. Pigeon killed a policeman at the Lillimilura Police Station, then set his people free and fled. It took three years for him to be captured and killed, and during that time he became a hero amongst his people.

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The next day, we decided that we really wanted to visit Bell Gorge, but weren’t going to drag the van out that far so using Windjana as a base again, we head off early for the two hour trip to the falls. But not before a very special milestone was celebrated!

Miss A turned three!  She was so excited to open all her presents and super excited that chocolate cake would be in her snackbox for morning tea.

And then we were off. An hour into the trip, we came across a couple (Bob and Julie) that had a flat tyre on their camper trailer and so we stopped to help.  Another couple (John and Vesna), pulled up afterwards to offer their help as well and so, the epic task of not just changing a tyre, but dealing with broken springs in the suspension began.

Luckily for Bob, he had in his trailer a generator and welder (as you do) and so between the three men, they worked on welding up the broken parts in an attempt to get the camper trailer back on the road and into Mount Barnett for mechanical assistance.

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Two hours later, the camper was looking good and the tools were all sorted and put away.  The girls were as happy as a pig in mud as they’d been watching DVDs before lunch time and so we head off, deciding to get to Imintji Roadhouse to fuel up and ring Nan and Pop (for Miss A’s birthday) before we headed to the falls.

At the store, we bumped into John and Vesna again who reported that poor Bob and Julie only made it another 5km up the road before their whole axle and wheels literally fell off!  I had told Corey we should have stayed to make sure they got away ok!!!

Anyway, all that was left was for John to call a tow truck from Derby and get them to come out and rescue them.  We said farewell once more and finally made it into Bell Gorge.  As we headed in, we saw a van and a camper trailer parked on the side of the road, with a 200 series landcruiser stopped in the middle of the road with the back tyre removed.  Turns out, the studs on the wheels had all been sheared off!

By the time we arrived at Bell Gorge, it was hot we were looking forward to getting down to the cooler part of the falls and we were halfway there when Miss B decided that she really really really needed to go do number twos.  I offered to walk back up the steep, rocky hill and take her back to the long drop at the top.  To say I was mildly annoyed when we got to the top and she said she didn’t need to go was an understatement.  And so we sat on the stinky bush loo until she went (coz, you know, she actually did need to go!).  Anyhoo, we made our way back down and to one of the best waterfalls we’d seen.

It would have been good to spend more time at the falls but it was getting late and we still had a two hour trip back home, so with the bribery of chocolate cake, we got the kids back into the car and head back towards Windjana.

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We wondered if the tow truck had picked up Bob and Julie, but unfortunately at 4.30pm they were still stranded on the side of the road (where they’d been since about 11.30am!)

We took some more of their details and promised to call the tow truck as soon as we got into some range.  Bob had given us the heads up that a few km down the road there had been a vehicle roll over and sure enough, we came across what looked like a hi-ace van that had rolled and was in a ditch on the side of the road.  Turned out there was a broken leg but thankfully no other serious injury and there were a few vehicles helping out and waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  For the next hour before we got to the Windjana turnoff, (around 5.30pm and going on dusk), we didn’t pass an ambulance or a tow truck, which meant that there were a few people who were in for a long night on the side of the Gibb.

It’s notorious for being a brutal and unforgiving trip. Whether the equipment is old or new, it seems that anyone can fall victim to the unexpected as we certainly discovered in the several hundred kms that we’d driven. And it definitely made us feel better about our decision not to take the van across the Gibb, as much as we had wanted to!

Is the Gibb River Road on your bucket list? Have you ever come across three breakdowns/accidents in one day?

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