If you want a true Australian experience, with hikes through rugged gorges, spectacular scenic views, fresh water swimming holes, ancient Aboriginal rock art and impressive geological formations, then visit the Kimberley. The Gibb River road stretches all the way from Derby to Kununurra, in this beautiful region of North Western Australia. Along the way, take your four wheel drive off track and explore the hundreds of walking tracks, caves, gorges and waterfalls nearby. The bush is your playground, so long as you are well-equipped for the adventure! Roll out a swag under the stars each night, drink billy tea by the camp fire and wake up with the sun every morning. There is no better way to feel in tune with nature.
If you are travelling solo, there are plenty of tour companies offering adventures across this wonderful landscape, from Broome to Darwin and vice versa. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to jump on a nine-day journey with Kimberley Adventure Tours. I was ready to leave Broome and, whilst I did not enjoy seeing my bank savings take a huge dip, it was well-worth the price. After travelling through the Kimberley, I have fallen more in love with my homeland than ever before. The diversity of Australia continues to astound me. Here’s what to expect when traversing this magical landscape:
Boab Prison Tree
This Boab tree, approximately 1,500 years old, sits just outside Derby. With a hollow interior and a 14 metre circumference, a door was cut into the tree and is said to have been used by police in the 1890’s to house Aboriginal prisoners on their way to Derby for sentencing. Whether or not this is true, it is an incredible tree and well-worth a visit.
This mysterious underground cave system is said to be the oldest in Western Australia. You can walk 750 metres through the cave, wading through the river in parts, exploring all the secret nooks and crannies. Tunnel Creek was used as a hideout by Aboriginal leader Jandamarra, in the 1890’s and he was shot outside the entrance in 1897. The cave is full of different bat species and plenty of stalactites. Make sure you bring a torch with you, as it is very dark!
You will be guaranteed to see some wild fresh water crocodiles in this gorge, basking on the edge of the water, soaking up the sun. Don’t get too close – they are quite safe if undisturbed, but can be dangerous if you get too close. Aside from the crocs, there’s an active bird life along the river and a beautiful walk to be done.
This is one of the most famous gorges on the Gibb River Road. There is a bit of a downhill climb on the way in, but once there, a spectacular waterfall crashes down into a giant swimming hole. People have been seen cliff-jumping into this pool, though I wouldn’t dare, as it is quite a long drop and getting an injury in this remote area would not be the smartest thing to do.
After pulling yourself and friends across the river in a small boat, you can begin the long walk up to Manning Gorge. A beautiful waterfall marked the start of our walking track, through which we swum in our clothes, down the river, stopping off at various Aboriginal Art Rock Galleries (all natural sites with both Wandjina and Bradshaw paintings). It is amazing to think these art works have been here for thousands of years.
Galvan’s Gorge rock art
Another pretty gorge and waterfall, with more rock art to be seen. Jump in the water hole for a dip, or simply admire from afar.
Driving into this extensive working cattle station and wilderness park of around 700,000 acres, the landscape is overwhelmingly beautiful and expansive. Nearby are the Zebedee Springs, which are like a hot bath in the middle of the forest! It is quite a surreal experience. These natural thermal springs can get busy, so be sure to arrive early to avoid crowds. Later, take a walk to Emma Falls, for a refreshing swim. At night, back at the homestead, you can camp, stay in cabins, dine at the restaurant or enjoy some beers at the pub whilst listening to live music. It really is a magical spot!
Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles)
I remember driving down a long, winding dirt road into this national park late one night. We slept in our swags as usual and awoke at 5am in icy temperatures to go and see the sunrise. It was a hard morning, but worth it, as we sipped on tea and watched the light dancing over these incredible sandstone rock formations. Later, we took the Cathedral Gorge Hike, which takes you through the giant bee-hive domes. It is sobering to be surrounded by such huge, majestic, natural formations and really makes you appreciate what an incredible planet we live on.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, I later took a helicopter ride over the Bungle Bungles. If you can manage to squeeze it into your budget, you won’t regret it. Viewing these bee-hive domes from above gives you a totally different perspective on the natural phenomena and, particularly, how many there are. They seem to stretch on as far as the eye can see – you can see why this place is on the World Heritage list.
There are many more walks you can do through the Bungle Bungles. We took a walk into Echidna Chasm, squeezing through narrow rock passageways and up into the ancient palms.
After driving through Kununurra, we made it to Lake Argyle, the largest man-made lake in Western Australia and part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. On our tour, we took a cruise on the lake, admiring a variety of wildlife, including freshwater crocodiles, kangaroos, wallabies and fish. We had the opportunity to do some cliff-jumping and later, camped on one of the many islands on the lake, staying up late and playing guitar around the camp fire.
Keep River National Park
This was the last National Park we visited before arriving in Darwin. We did the Gurrandalng Walk before camping up down by a creek, accessed via private property. This was the last night of camping and, whilst eating dinner round the campfire, a snake came to join us! We froze in horror as it explored the camp site, twisting itself in and around our legs! Finally, the tour guide identified it as a non-poisonous snake and transported it back into the bush, but I was very happy it did not make it to my chair. We all slept in tents, rather than swags, that evening. One of the Swiss guys put his swag up onto the four wheel drive just to be on the safe side!
Edith Falls to Darwin
On the last day, we dropped in for a quick dip at Edith Falls before arriving, battered and bedraggled but alive, in Darwin, Northern Territory. It was wonderful to have a proper shower again, wash all my dirty clothes and clean the red dirt out from between my toes. This trip had been a huge adventure and one that I would recommend to any friends travelling to Australia.
What are some other great road trips in Australia? Have you been across the Gibb River Road? What were your favourites stops?