Distance: Roughly 660km
Time: We took one week, but could easily have taken a few!
There mere thought of Western Australia’s rugged Kimberley wilderness conjures up so many emotions. As you’ll see across the entire region, Mother Nature is at her absolute finest; silencing even the most discerning and well-travelled amongst us.
It’s a place to feel the true power of Mother Nature.
So before we even get onto one of the most adventurous road trips in the country, I want to give you a taste of what you’ll be treated to…
The Gibb River Road
The Gibb River Road is a 660 km track right through the wild heart of the Kimberley, stretching from east to west. A former cattle route, it’s one of the regions main attractions, and when you’re on it you can see why.
For starters, it encapsulates the vastness of the wild Australian landscape. The red dirt, the enormous rocky escarpments, the piercing blue sky with a relentless sun beating down; and not a soul in sight.
I will never forget navigating our way along the bumpy corrugated road. The vehicle was alive with conversation about how Aboriginals lived in these harsh conditions for 60 thousand years, let alone how on earth the pioneering settlers even survived.
Of course there are many options to explore the region; a 4WD of your own (make sure you have more than one spare tire and do your research about proper preparation!) or take a 4WD tour (such as an APT Kimberley Wilderness Adventure). We’ve done both, and I must admit it added another dimension when we had our tour guide, “Digger”, and could sit back, relax and enjoy his expertise and passion.
The Gibb River Road is filled with stories, stop and take the time to learn.
Digger was passionate about sharing the stories of the region. Our first stop after leaving Broome was the ‘Prison’ Boab Tree, where he explained the confronting reality of how it was used as a prison cell during the time of conflict with the local Aboriginals. The Kimberley is one of only a very few places in the world where this distinctive tree grows, and it’s somewhat of an icon for the region, as well as being intertwined with its history.
Back on the road, we travelled into the area where the infamous Jandamarra from the Bunuba tribe, led one of the few organized armed conflicts against European colonisation of Australia in the 1890’s. In the King Leopold ranges, we stopped to relive a little of the history, and waded our way through the shallow waters inside Tunnel creek, passing the ancient boulders he used as shelter before being captured.
The road leads you to countless highlights
Windjana Gorge National Park
It’s the prehistoric landscape that gets me. It’s majestic.
Windjana Gorge National Park is one of the Kimberley’s most stunning gorges. The 3.5km long gorge cuts through the Napier Range, which is part of the ancient Devonian limestone reef.
Sitting inside the gorge, it was like we were in a Cathedral. Surrounding by 100m water-streaked walls, we could hear the call of the corellas, and just metres away fresh water crocodiles were basking in the midday sun.
We’d only been away from civilisation for a few days, and already the surrounds had completely silenced my mind. A brilliant place to stop is Bell Gorge. It’s about 30km’s off the Gibb River Road, but well worth the effort. Make sure you prepare for the walk in, it can be a little slippery at times but you are rewarded at the end with a stunning tiered waterfall cascading into a tranquil gorge. Pack your bathers for a swim in the watering holes. The hardest part was leaving.
Further along the Gibb River Road (about 350km north-east of Derby) and taking a left up the Kalumburu Road, travel north towards what is in our minds, one of the absolute highlights.
The Mitchell Falls, on the Mitchell Plateau, are among the most photographed attractions in the region, and for good reason.
The Mitchell Falls are a place of cultural and spiritual significance to the Wunambal people and we were lucky enough to meet Joey, a local Aboriginal elder, and his girlfriend Erica. Joey spent the day sharing his backyard with us. Not only a place he spent running around as a child with his family, but a place where he comes to today to reconnect with his past and his culture.
The walk on the Mitchell Plateau to the Mitchell Falls is not arduous but takes the better part of half a day. Along the way however you are treated to incredible caves where Joey pointed out ancient and prolific Gwion-Bradshaw rock art galleries by his ancestors thousands of years ago.
He aptly described the area as ‘god’s country’. “If only I could be here for a day with them” he said. “I love that they have left their hand prints – whenever I am here I feel connected to them”.
No photo or video can ever do this place justice (but we try, so check out this video!)
Make sure you allow around 4 – 6 hours for the 6km walk in so that you have enough time to take in the beautiful four-tiered waterfall (the walk is moderate to difficult at times).
There are plenty of places to stop along the way and soak in the majestic scenery, with smaller and larger waterfalls whetting your appetite for the main event. I will never forget sitting on the edge of Merton Falls mesmerised by the power of the water, roaring like a thunder over a landscape that would not have changed for tens of thousands of years.
At Mitchell Falls itself, take in the grandeur of these enormous four-tiered falls and think about the stories of its traditional owners who believe the Rainbow Serpent itself carved the dramatic cliff walls.
And the best way out? By chopper of course. Get one of the best views from the sky as you hover over the falls and take in their scale. Helicopter tours operate here regularly through the day during the season.
El Questro Wilderness Park
There is one final place you absolutely must experience along the Gibb River Road before you reach civilisation again at the other end – the million-acre property of El Questro.
In the East Kimberley, this former cattle station turned its hand to tourism and has something for everyone. From camping under the stars, to glamping or you can even stay in the much revered and luxurious homestead.
There is so much to do here – from hiking through ancient gorges, to swimming in the natural watering holes or soaking in the natural hot springs, to fishing for Barramundi in locations only accessible by helicopter, or an early morning horse ride to watch the sun rise.
But for me the highlight was having a picnic with my family under a boab tree, basking in the warm Kimberley air, the smell of the outback surrounding us and watching that magnificent Kimberley sunset.
How can I ever describe what that sunset is like?
It takes up the whole sky, and silenced us all.
I miss this place, in my bones.
A lot of people ask us where to stay in such a remote part of the world – there are plenty of places that you will find online. But here are a few of the places we stayed, and absolutely loved.
So, have you taken the journey along the Gibb River Road, or are you thinking about it? Ask me as many questions about the trip as you would like in the comments, we have been a few times and I always love to talk travel.