Posts Tagged With: Gibb River Road

Ten of the Fifty Toes gives a 5 minute trip summary (#5) – Photographer and fisherman’s view

OK so this is a bit out of order but number 4 will follow next week when I get the youngest to provide input

What were your three favourite places and why?”

  1. “Cape York has to be on the list. Six weeks on the Cape was enough to have a good look around but we still didn’t see everything. The rugged tracks, and river crossings especially along the Old Telegraph Track were a fun challenge. The National Parks were beautiful and uncrowded and full of beautiful wildlife, especially the birds. For me the fishing here was highlight of the whole trip, partly because it was where the barramundi finally started getting caught but there were plenty of fish even in the dry season. The variety of habitat throughout the Cape continued right until the very tip at Pajinka. Beautiful beaches and a place where you can escape the crowds without too much difficulty”
  2. “Arnhemland impressed me from several angles. Firstly the sheer rugged and raw natural feel to it. On both our sorties into the region it was heartening to see rich aboriginal culture still thriving here and whilst we only had limited contact with people from the communities, those brief encounters were rich and very positive experiences. Watching my daughter being led to dance the Emu dance on the main arena by a local indigenous girl at the Garma festival was gorgeous. Even better was the fact that she was the first up and participated with quite a few dances. The camping was controlled by a permit system that works well despite the paperwork required to obtain permits.”
  3. “The Kimberley region in WA again provided a huge diversity of experience. Challenging driving on extremely corrugated dirt roads, particularly north of the Gibb River road, cultural glimpses into the past through some magnificent rock art sites, and uniquely refreshing waterfalls and gorges scattered through the region. The flora and fauna too is very different, the boab trees being the most obvious residents with their massively bloated trunks and relatively short spindly, outstretched branches. This was where we first encountered crocodiles in numbers, both fresh and saltwater ones.”
  4. Tasmania and Cape Levique would be very close behind these, places where we didn’t spend long enough and could easily revisit
“What was the best thing you took on the trip?”
“Probably my camera to allow me to capture glimpses that will forever remind us of the trip. Things like the air compressor and recovery tracks were essentials that we couldn’t have done without, given some of the places we visited. It was really important to make sure we could cope with any scenario as we were often travelling on our own”
“What did you miss most, or just couldn’t take with you?”
“I missed my Scuba gear the most. Given we spent a large part of the trip close to the ocean it was hard to go past places and not be able to dive. Unfortunately with the amount of gear I take diving it would have meant leaving all of the kids behind! A kayak or canoe would have served us well especially in the croc free areas. We had racks for them but just shied away from buying them. Perhaps next time I will do a lap dedicated to fishing and diving.
We didn’t physically have space to take a chainsaw, and in the end I left our axe behind to reduce weight. We coped fine without even with trees across roads – there are always other options available to you.”
“Would you do it again?”
“Yes. Probably in a different approach. I’d like to spend 1-2 months in a specific area to dig deeper and explore areas in more detail. Being on a strict budget we couldn’t do everything we wanted this time and a shorter trip would be easier to budget and plan for. Our trip was what I have christened “the reconnaissance trip” getting an idea of what is out there. With so much to see we’d have to spend years to see it all”
“How did schooling on the road go?”
“We used Sydney Distance Education Primary School. We chose not to use iPads as a large proportion of the time we had no, or limited, access to wifi or even telephone coverage. Packages of work were sent to our choice of destination (usually a post office) regularly then we would post back every fortnight. Teachers were always available for chats with the kids for those rare occasions we did have coverage. A daily routine was not possible due to the ad-hoc nature of our travelling, with days of cramming often engaged when a suitable location was found. That said we did focus on teaching times tables whilst driving along. The main challenge was keeping the kids motivated to complete assignments, particularly when other kids could be seen running around a camp, or there was a new place to explore”
Categories: australia, Big Lap, Explore, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Road trip, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gibb River Road – Part 8 (El Questro)

With the end of the Gibb River Road adventure in sight (100km to Kununurra) we had one last planned stop at El Questro station. We were all excited about crossing the Pentecost river too so we packed up camp early and jumped in the car …… the engine wouldn’t even turn.
Our neighbours obliged and after a long charge on the battery finally got us going.
The river crossing was easier than expected, actually being quite shallow. We secured a private camp down by the river, one of the nicest campsites we’ve had with not a soul in sight.

Pentecost river crossing

Pentecost river crossing

The station, like Home Valley has much to offer the visitor, with the usual helicopter and plane rides, horse riding, 4WD tracks, hot springs, fishing, gorge cruises, exclusive accommodation and quite a few bush walks in stunning gorges.
Our first morning saw us up early to enjoy the hot springs before the hordes arrived. Even at 7am there were a handful of others already there at Zebedee Springs. Basically you pick a pool, the warmest being at the top of the cascades, getting cooler as the water descends. We hit the top two pools where a comfortable 32 degrees meant we could relax for what turned out to be three hours.

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Moonshine creek gorge was a little bit harder, but there was a fun deep water crossing getting there, water coming over the bonnet for the first time! Maybe I should have slowed down just a little. Our enthusiasm to conquer gorges was tempered by ill preparation in the footwear department and Amanda had to turn back halfway with a broken thong (flip flop to those reading in the UK) and took Hannah with her. The boys trudged on very carefully finally negotiating the rocky gorge.
Emma Gorge was just off the bitumen road on the other side of the station entrance. Another resort lies at the entrance to the gorge. A boab tree near to the carpark had a water tap poking out of the trunk, with an out of order sign hanging above it. I couldn’t resist, turned it on and there was water! Gimmick or maybe the trunk had engulfed an old water pipe?

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El Questro gorge was a challenging walk, requiring climbing up rockfaces, across waterfalls and wading up to waist deep water. Many people turn around at the half way mark but the reward for continuing is a secluded deep pool and falls at the head of the gorge. In the last 100m we encountered half a dozen golden tree snakes. Hannah nearly trod on one giving her quite a scare.

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With the kids exhausted after a number of walks it was time to test the 4WD tracks out on the station. The first involved very rocky crossing of the Chamberlain river to access Explosion gorge, and Brancos lookout. The lookout commands spectacular views from a precipitous cliff-edge along the river. It does require a steep climb to get to, making the drive more interesting. With a pair of binoculars we spotted a large saltwater crocodile downstream sunning itself with jaws wide open on a rock ledge by the river’s edge. On the opposite side upstream, a much smaller freshwater crocodile doing the same. Explosion gorge was another beautiful gorge, supposedly a good barramundi fishing spot where you can hire small boats.
Another 4WD track takes you out to another fishing spot called Pigeon Hole. We only went as far as the lookout, as by all reports it was a very rough track beyond this. A warning sign by the lookout confirmed what we had been told so we left this for next time. Finally we switch-backed our way up to Saddleback lookout which gives the visitor excellent views over the station and down the river beyond the river camps. Whilst not hugely demanding, the three tracks we drove allowed you to escape the crowds for a while and enjoy the outback expanse in peace.
One evening we teamed up with the “Grismacks”, Marty and Crystal, and “JKSJ”, a family from Newcastle that we had met at Emma gorge, in the Trivia night, coming in a close second place behind, believe or not, to two couples from the Northern Beaches in Sydney. One drives my local bus to the city, while his wife works at the kid’s school. Small world!
Oscar and I tried a little fishing, hooking several barramundi, but only landing a small one that was swiftly returned after a photo. Oscar nearly landed a legal size one but it snapped his line only two metres from the bank, then proceeded to jump clear of the water several times trying to shake the lure.
Having found out that we had lost a number plate I was concerned as to how we were going to replace it as the prospect of getting a single replacement plate sent to WA was highly unlikely. After a bit of driving around I deduced we must have lost it in the deep river crossing and decided to go in search. I drove out early to get there before any cars had gone through, when the water would be clearer but at 7.30am a single car track on the far bank meant I would be “bog snorkelling” in the murky waist-deep water. Running my hands through the sandy river bed with only swimmers on I was hoping no-one would witness the event. I felt a flat metallic object and quickly retrieved it with excitement. A South Australian plate! My heart sank a little. A few steps further and another plate emerged from the murky depths. Victorian this time. Another step and a Northern Territory plate emerged. The sixth plate retrieved was ours and this was from the first wheel rut. Had I checked the other rut I probably would have found more but I decided to get out before I needed to explain what I was doing to anyone. Chuckling in elation I headed back to camp, dropping off the spare plates at reception to the lady whose eyes nearly popped out when presented with five number plates from four different states.


El Questro left a very good impression with us, particularly as we came with high expectations and left with those expectations having been exceeded. This is a place we would happily return to, but with school holidays commencing we needed to move on to roads less travelled again.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Travel, Travel Adventure, Walks, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Gibb River Road – Part 4 (King Edward River and Mitchell Falls)

Beyond Mt Barnet we turned off the Gibb River Road, heading up the Kalumburu Road, stopping briefly at Drysdale Station for fuel. We bumped into Simon and Hilary (110 Around Oz) there for a quick catch-up as they were heading back down and soon enough we were into the worst corrugation we have encountered yet. It took over two hours of bone-juddering driving to the turn off to the Mitchell Plateau, and this section of road overtook the Steep Point road as worst road ever. One forlorn figure, about an hour north from Drysdale sat next to a trailer with a broken chassis waiting for a recovery truck. We couldn’t help and pressed on with the dashboard shaking so much the windscreen wipers and indicator lights were randomly coming on.

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The campsite on the King Edward river was just beyond a shallow rocky water crossing an it was an oasis at the end of an arduous day’s driving. The kids were straight in the river, a stone’s throw from a very spacious lightly wooded campsite.
We spent the next day exploring two fabulous cultural sites with some spectacular artwork at Munurru. The two sites are approx. 5km apart and known as the Warnmarri and Wandjina complexes. Both have extensive examples of rock art, easily accessible on rock faces on overhangs, under ledges or in caves. Both sites are rocky outcrops sitting in lightly wooded but very grassy landscape and following the paths around the rock makes it all easy to find. There are eight different styles of rock art in the Kimberley region but I was particularly looking forward to seeing the Tasselled figures, which as well as being one of the oldest styles also is very rich in detail.
At the Wandjina complex we found echidnas, possums, turtles, and even thylacine peering out from their hiding places on the walls. There were human figures too and an interesting hand stencil with only four fingers. The highlights of the Wandjina site though were a relief of the owl-Wandjina, figures wearing headdresses, and the water-bringing deities peering out from a whitewashed wall, mouthless heads clustered together with large dark eyes.
The Warnmarri complex had a huge relief in one cave of two colourful brolgas, positioned head to head. Many tasselled figures danced around on a number of the rocks and a secondary burial site here added further interest. The caves that the people used to inhabit were low but would have been cool and dry, and nowadays are only occupied by kangaroos and wallabies hiding from the midday heat.
The trip to Mitchell Falls was slow due to the road conditions, which incidentally were much better than expected due to the fact the grader had been through a week prior. It still meant a 2 hour drive to cover the 80km safely up the Mitchell Plateau through the recently burnt palm forests.
We all walked out to the Mitchell Falls, declining the opportunity to return by helicopter. Little Merten and Big Merten Falls provide convenient stopping points to jump into the water and cool off on what was a 32 degree day. Both also offer further opportunities to see more rock art. At Little Merten there were a couple of sites, including a wall frieze of ancient animals and objects, sitting behind the waterfall in the shade. Just before Big Merten Falls another wall above the river appears to depict a battle, amongst other things, in incredible detail, again thousands of years old. It is quite astounding to think how the artwork has been produced that can endure such long periods of time when exposed to the ravages of nature that are particularly harsh in this area between torrential downfall in the wet season, to draining relentless heat of the dry season.
Big Merten Falls are a precipitous drop next to the footpath, plunging almost 100m into the gorge below and getting close to peer over the edge demands control of any wobbly knees.
Due to the fact the “Wet” was not so wet, we found we could cross the Mitchell Falls at the top, wading through the feeder pools, reducing the overall distance we needed to walk. The best views were offered from a vantage point on the cliffs on the other side, where the falls into each pool could be marvelled at.
The second pool is a sacred site where no-one is allowed to swim, but without ropes it would be a challenge to get there anyway and below that the waters are infested with saltwater crocodiles, so we were content to stick to the easily accessible water holes without crocs.

Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gibb River Road – Part 3 (Galvans Gorge, Mt Barnet, and Manning Gorge)

Our first fuel stop was Mount Barnet and we chose to stay a few nights here. Shortly before we arrived there though there was a small detour to take to visit Galvans Gorge. More like an oasis, water was pouring, rather than cascading, down a boab-crested cliff face into a grass-lined swimming hole. To one side a tree trunk leaned out invitingly for the kids and a couple of ropes dangling from the branches lured anyone with any sense of adventure. The pool was over 4m deep, possibly more, and though it was early, it was irresistible. In we plunged. First we jumped off the rocks then we graduated to the rope swings but we all had a blast. To one side of the cliff we found an interesting piece of Gwion art, an owl-like figure looking very feathery, with a couple of serpents to the right of its shoulder. Already we were recognising a few people travelling the same way and we shared a campfire with Marty and Crystal (travelling in an unmistakeable red and white Landcruiser troop carrier). Marty had been on the same boat watching whalesharks in Exmouth!

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Camping next to the river, the gorge was accessible by a punt attached by rope to a pulley. With a sandy beach and clear water, and pandanus tree-lined riverbanks this was very attractive to the kids who spent hours swimming and ferrying walkers to and fro across the river. Once across the river the walk was approximately 2km of undulating terrain, with some rock hopping toward the gorge end. Some rock art greeted you as you entered the base of the gorge, though many walk past without noticing the faded shapes on the cliff walls. The falls were big here too, falling directly into a very deep pool that offers multiple rock entry points catering to all, from water level up to maybe10m or more in height. Under the waterfall, a couple of metres up the rock we found a brown tree snake curled up in a crevice that looked to have no exit other than down to the water. The second time we visited the gorge Oscar and I took inner tubes a pump, basic fishing gear and our lunch, with the intention of travelling the hard way down the gorge i.e via the water. We ate our lunch at the falls, inflated the tubes and once I convinced him there were no saltwater crocodiles we set off. With a considerable distance to go and not as much current as I had hoped we had to stop periodically to warm up in the sun, and we used this opportunity to fish in some of the deeper pools. Oscar was landing a few good sized black bream before I could even explore the cliffs behind. It took us half a day to get out but it was an excellent adventure for the both of us. On the second day the station were restricting fuel to 50 litres per customer due to a delayed fuel tanker, and this dropped to 25 litres by the time I arrived to get some. Despite assurance the tanker would arrive the next day we opted to stay another night and enjoyed the riverbank one more time.
As we left the next day we took the opportunity to visit Mt Barnet Gorge nearby, a much quieter spot to camp and another gorge to swim in.

Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Natural World, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Gibb River Road – Part 1 (Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek)

Finally, with supplies stocked to the gunnels, Gerry cans all full, we set forth from Broome to conquer the Gibb River Road. At least that’s what it felt like given we had prepared for 3-4 weeks away from shops and very few fuel and water stops.
The Gibb River road, heading north from Broome, commences just before you enter the town of Derby, and barely two hundred metres before the turnoff was our first scheduled stop to see the Boab Prison Tree.
At the same location is a historic cattle trough fed from artesian water sources, long enough to water several hundred cattle at once.

Turning into the Gibb River Road (GRR) the excitement levels increased, particularly as the road was primarily bitumen to our first camp at Windjana Gorge. My illusion of the GRR being a remote and isolated experience was shattered immediately as we drove around the camp looking for a site. It was busy and this was early in the season, and with a few exceptions the next few weeks didn’t change. From the Britz and Apollo hire cars and vans, through to the mainstream 4WD vehicles, everyone seemed to be coming through. There was even a Barina!

Windjana gorge is home to a population of approximately 150 freshwater crocodiles, so we were all keen to get our first croc sighting. A very easy walk takes you past cliffs of Devonian limestone encrusted with the fossilised remains of ancient animals, then through shaded forest for a couple of kilometres up the gorge. The crocs were there sitting on the beaches, not overly perturbed by our presence, and the sheer narrow gorge was breathtaking. Hannah even found what the ranger believed was a croc tooth on one of the pebbly river beaches there. A night excursion to the riverbank with a powerful torch revealed up to 100 pairs of eyes in one count on a short stretch of the Lennard River.

Tunnel Creek is a short drive from Windjana, a few hundred metres long, that can be traversed with the aid of a good torch, involves a little rock scrambling and a few shallow wades. It too has a population of about 6 freshwater crocodiles and we caught a couple of glimpses in the deep pools, but they sink into the murky depths as you approach. There is rock art at both ends if you know where to look and this was our first chance to see close up artwork, some of which has been there for thousands of years.

The story of Jandamarra is one that closely links the two sites together. As a youngster he was nicknamed “Pigeon” by his boss, and became a top horseman, shearer and a crack shot with a rifle. Working at Lillimooloora station he became good friends with a white man called Richardson. When the station later went bankrupt, Richardson joined the police force and took Jandamarra with him as a tracker. The two of them ended up tracking down Jandamarra’s own Bunuba tribesmen after they had resisted incursions by new settlers. Having captured most of the elders who had initiated him as a youngster Richardson chained them together for seven days, ready to collect a reward. After much pressure from the elders Jandamarra killed his partner, released the Bunuba elders and fled. Seriously injured in a battle in Windjana Gorge a week later he fled, taking refuge in Tunnel Creek for some years. On 1st April 1897 he was shot dead by another aboriginal tracker near the entrance to Tunnel Creek, by which time most of the Bunuba had been eradicated in the area by settlers. In Tunnel Creek there is an image of a pigeon etched into one of the cliff walls, for those who look close enough, a little reminder of the struggles that the indigenous people have suffered over the years.
What an interesting and fascinating start to our Gibb River Road adventure.

Categories: Adventure, Animal Action, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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