Region: Western Australia
Outdoor activities: Hiking, 4×4
Sustainable tourism rating :
The Kimberley is the last frontier for the adventurous spirits in search of thrills in a majestic scenery. In this region the nature is so harsh and lush that most of the year it remains a mystery for travellers, especially during the rainy season. Few roads run through this vast land almost as large as France’s territory. To connect the main cities of the region: Derby (famous for the Horizontal Falls) on the west side and Kununurra in the east you have two options: The Great Northern Highway or the legendary Gibb River Road.The 2 roads offer magnificent landscapes so it’s only a matter of comfort.
The Gibb River Road is one of the most famous 4WD routes in Australia. This route is only open from May to October and to venture you must be the lucky owner of a good 4WD vehicle. In addition to the gear, you must be an experience 4WD driver. Bring water supplies, petrol and food because you won’t come across any city on this road and the prices at the truck stops on the road are at least twice the price. The 670 km of this route is 230 km shorter than the highway but it is by no means a shortcut. With a very bumpy road and broken tires you will not go as fast as on the highway. The Gibb will reward you with spectacular scenery: many waterfalls, gorges and rivers along the route : Bell Gorge, Widjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, El Questro and the area of the Pentecost River. The most motivated can also make a detour on the Kalumburu Road which leads to the famous but even more isolated Mitchell Plateau. If you go for it, allow time to fully enjoy the various stops, to hike and swimming in natural wonderful pools. Ten days is a minimum!
The Gibb river road
If you start your journey in Derby, the first stop is Windjana, which is about twenty kilometres on the Gibb. The Sportrotters can go for a short hike (allow two hours) in the gorge and take a picture with one of the many crocodiles basking in the sun. 30 km further on this very bumpy and corrugated road you can take a detour to Tunnel Creek River. The rivers makes its way under the mountain and you can make a one-hour walk following the river and arrive the other side of the tunnel (bring a lantern and comfortable shoes that can go in the water).
Back on the road the next stop, often recommended as the most beautiful stop on the road,is Bell Gorge. To get there, you must have to hang on as the Gibb itself is in fairly good condition but the bifurcation of 30 km that leads to the gorge is very hard even with a good 4WD.
You will also cross three rivers that can give you a cold sweat if it’s your first river crossing and even more if your vehicle is not equipped with a snorkel.
Once there, a hike of about twenty minutes takes you to a waterfall lookout and in 15 minutes you’re already in the gorge swimming in this natural pool.
Tips for the Sportrotters
You can follow the river for ten minutes mixing swimming and climbing to reach another waterfall where you will have the scenery just for yourself.
We have chosen to turn back onto the Highway via the very bumpy 4WD road which arrives at Fritzroy Crossing.
Even if the Gibb is appealing to those in search of adrenaline at the end of several hundred kilometres, you won’t even admire the landscape and only try to escape the red dust that goes everywhere, the corrugations and the fear that your car will break down in the middle of nowhere. (No network available so you can’t really call your insurance or the road assistance).Also what convinced us to switch to the highway was the feeling of having seen better when we were in Karinjini (see article). Also the stories told around the fire at night by the other Gibb-trotters who told us that there was nothing extraordinary before reaching El Questro, one of the last stops on the Gibb before landing in Kununurra.
This mythical road will demand from you a lot of will and patience but for those who are found about 4WD, it remains one of the most scenic and wild ones. Do not expect to see more wildlife than elsewhere, with some kangaroos, cows and birds there is nothing that will amaze you.
The Great Northern Highway (GNH)
From Derby to Kununurra on the GNH you will enjoy 1044k of beautiful landscapes and free rest areas more scenic that most of Australia’s national parks campsites.
If you choose to go this way do not miss to stop Geikie Gorge directly accessible by a paved road just a few kilometres from Fitzroy Crossing. It is BEAUTIFUL!
The Surfonaleaf team coup de coeur was Ngumban Cliff rest area and you can see in the photo above why :).
The two main reasons for choosing this second option are a visit to the Bungle Bungles Area (see article) and the fact that it is paved and therefore accessible to any type of vehicle.
Throughout the highway there are many views and mountain landscapes that plunge us in a real atmosphere Australian road trip.
In Kununurra you will enjoy two other attractions before leaving Western Australia: the “mini bungles” in the Mirima Park (Hidden Valley) and Lake Argyle.
If you have time do both if not stop at least at Mirima. This park situated in the city of Kununurra give an overview of what you can see in the Bungle Bungles. You cannot camp inside the park but you can go for a picnic on the shaded tables and it will take you no more than two hours to travel the proposed hikes in the park.
If you go to Lake Argyle bear in mind that the road is really beautiful and in the late afternoon the colours of the rocky walls are magical. On site, there is a Caravan Park with a beautiful pool and many opportunities to discover the lake: scenic flights, boat cruises, kayak rental etc. You can also swim in the lake if you are not repelled by the other green swimmers who inhabit the area. To encourage us to go for a swim we were told that the local freshwater crocodiles in these waters are not dangerous for humans.
Up to you to try it 😉