The Gibb River road, heart of the Kimberley in Australia, used to be a route to get cattle to the ports of Wyndham and Derby. Now it is an adventurous road that leads tourists into the wilderness. You can attempt to do it in your own car, 4×4 required, or you can choose one of the many tour operators, from cruises to small group road tours. As I don’t own a car and couldn’t find travel mates that were up for the challenge, I decided on a tour. Kimberley adventure tours offers rugged tours with lots of camping and hiking. So I went back to basics.
After seeing the beauty of Edith Falls in Nitmiluk, camping on an island on the magnificent Lake Argyle and seeing Purnululu national park, we entered the Gibb. It started with an easy sealed road until the turnoff to El Questro. El Questro offered a luxurious camp ground to return to after your walks. I mean, the place had showers and grass! El Questro offers many walks, of which we chose two. The first one led us into El Questro gorge, a narrow gorge filled with rocks. The walk into the gorge is a challenging one as you have to quickly acquire some climbing skills and wade through water. To add a bit of excitement our group started a little late and ended up going back as night fell. The two torches we had paved the path for our return.
The next day we were treated with the Zebedee hot springs. It is a little paradise hidden between the trees, all natural, no pavement or tiles. Considering it was a bit hot that day we didn’t stay long and made our way to Emma gorge, apparently the place of many a heart attack. The walk was hot since it was only partly shaded. It wasn’t strenuous, but you had to look where you placed your feet since the path had many rocks on it. At the end waited the real treat, a big swimming hole with waterfall. Unfortunately the way back made us yet again sweaty and hot.
And then the big drive started. The road started changing all the time, red dirt, purple-red, grey, sometimes even sealed for a small distance. Along the way we saw rock art, a swimming hole and got a flat tire. The vistas for the lookouts were stunning. We didn’t see very many other cars, but were always greeted by cows, as our driver and guide Rick drove honking to get them off the road. There had been many bushfires during the dry and the landscape looked charred and black, but the new leaves and branches had already started growing.
An adventure awaited us in Manning Gorge. Everything was prepared for the wet, so instead of taking a little boat across the water to start our walk, we had to wade through it. It was hot enough anyway. The walk led us to a waterfall of which we only saw the grey it had left behind on the rocks. The water had totally dried up. Luckily there was still enough river to go through. The next part of our adventure was a swim and light canyoning, occasionally stopping for rock art and muesli bars. It was a team sport as not everyone was a strong swimmer. In the last part there was the option to walk instead of swim. One of the guys gave it a try. He didn’t make it very far. He pissed off a bull, which came running at us. I’ve never jumped into the water that quickly!
At our bush camp for the night we heard the kookaburra’s call, like a monkey in the night. From our camp we could walk to the beautiful Adcock gorge, where we rested in the shade and enjoyed looking at the wildlife. Well, some of it… The Kimberley is home to the nastiest ant I’ve ever encountered; the green tree ant. They live in certain trees and if you accidentally come too close to their nests they jump on you like you’re a delicacy they’d love to bite.
Bell gorge was also a treat to see. Of course we didn’t just see the gorge but extended the hike off the normal tracks and deeper into the gorge where we had a waterhole all to ourselves. Rain and thunder spoilt the fun, but walking in that was preferable to the heat we had on our way in. It was a difficult hike with some climbing, but in the end it was totally worth it. There was one more camp in the Kimberley. The wind was raging and kept me awake for a while. In the morning it had died down. From my swag I saw the sunrise. 5 o’clock, time to get up.
At the very end of the Gibb River road two more surprises awaited us. In Windjana gorge we could see dozens of freshwater crocodiles. The freshies were just chilling in the river while we were walking on the sand, only meters away. They’ll generally not harm you, unless you ask for it. Fruitbats were flying all around the red walls of the gorge from one tree to another. Part of the same area was Tunnel Creek, a cave you could walk through if you were prepared to get wet feet. This time we carried plenty of torches and wandered through the area where over a hundred years ago a freedom fighter hid himself for 4 years. There were traces of crocodiles, yet we didn’t see any. O well, who’s worrying about the crocs where there are bulls around?
It was a trip never to be forgotten. Sleeping underneath the stars, being outdoors, cooking on the campfire and good people all around. I’d go back anytime.