All images © Monica Mcinnes
Gibb River Road guide for families
The Gibb River Road is the holy grail for adventurous travellers. Monica McInnes conquers this iconic Outback route with two young kids in tow – and you can, too.
Corrugated, dusty, rocky and dotted with
water crossings, Australia’s Gibb River
Road is about the journey as much as the
destination you’re heading to. Originally
built as a cattle-haul route, “the Gibb”,
as it’s affectionately called, is an isolated
660-odd-kilometre country dirt road,
with sections of bitumen. It’s best tackled
in a 4WD, the rugged journey presenting
myriad issues for travelling families.
In preparation for our 15-day Gibb
River Road adventure, we hire a satellite
phone, buy an emergency beacon
and install a two-way radio, winch and
snorkel. We also upgrade our 4WD’s
suspension, pack a second spare tyre,
recovery and tool kit, more spare parts,
and three well-stocked first-aid kits for the
camper, car and bushwalking daypack.
We carry cash for camping fees, extra
fuel and water, and plastic mattress bags
as dust protectors. Meals are planned
and the “beer fridge” is stocked.
Our adventure begins at El Questro, a
280,000-hectare cattle station in Western
Australia’s Kimberley region. Our two
boys, Declan (5) and Ronan (1), wade in
the shallow, warm waters of Zebedee
Springs. Declan carefully negotiates
slippery waterways and rocks, while Ronan
enjoys a piggy-back ride to conquer the
challenging hike to El Questro Gorge.
Later, the boys giggle as we tackle
the slow and rocky water crossing to
Branco’s Lookout and steep hairpin
turns on the climb to Saddleback Ridge,
both great sunset destinations. Using
pre-purchased roaming internet, we
share our exploits on social media and
check in with family to remind them
of our impending “radio silence”.
After crossing the Pentecost River, a
saltwater crocodile hideout, we stop
at the Cockburn Ranges lookout to
the dreaded “whoosh” of air escaping
a tyre that’s fallen victim to the Gibb.
Thankfully, the dirt entertains the kids
while we change tyres. Most stations have
a mechanic and workshop available for
minor repairs and we get our blow-out
patched at nearby Home Valley Station.
By late afternoon we’re relaxing with
scones at authentic Ellenbrae Station
while the boys search the walls for a
hidden “rock map” of Australia. Down
at Ellenbrae’s Ringers campground, we
collect wood for the campfire, before
the boys splash away the day’s red
dirt in creek water pumped through a
wood-fired donkey heater to a bath.
Back on the road, we cheer passing
charity-bike riders before arriving at Mount
Barnett Roadhouse to replenish basic
supplies, refuel and purchase a 30-minute
block (or 100MB) of internet data so we can
attempt some online banking. Remember
to do your banking before leaving home,
especially if you need an SMS security code. We purchase our permit for the
Manning Gorge campground, a further
seven kilometres away, and pay with
EFTPOS to conserve cash. The morning
hike to Manning Gorge and waterfall begins
by crossing Manning Creek by pulley-boat.
On the other side, we spy water monitors,
step past boabs, spinifex grass and
wildflowers, and scale steep rock steps and
ledges en route to the natural swimming
hole. Declan befriends other children
exploring sheltered rock pools and mini
waterfalls. After four hours of swimming
and sunning, we return to camp to watch
the boys expend more energy riding
their bikes and toasting marshmallows.
Further west we stop at two gorges.
The young at heart enjoy the rope swing
at Galvans Gorge, while Adcock Gorge’s rocky banks are a natural playground
for littlies. Onwards, we bounce towards
King Leopold Ranges before grabbing a
snack at Imintji Community Store and
Campground (prepaid internet, fuel
and basic supplies available). We view
the local arts and crafts at the nearby
art centre then push on to Silent Grove
Campground, leaving the national park
entry and camping fees in an honesty
box. Next morning we hike to Bell Gorge
and waterfall. To reach the waterfall
base and swimming hole we slip on
reef shoes and wade across knee-deep
water before scrambling up and down
the rocks. Although the spiky grass
almost defeats him, Declan makes it
across, surprising fellow adult hikers.
Following the Gibb’s last King Leopold
Range undulations, we turn south towards
Windjana Gorge National Park, which was
a Devonian-era reef 350 million years ago.
During our stroll through the gorge, our
budding palaeontologist finds remnants
of prehistoric shells and fish in the rocks,
and spies freshwater crocodiles. Evening
croc-spotting proves too scary as a pair
of luminous red eyes rush the riverbank.
On our last day, we explore Tunnel Creek,
another section of the ancient reef. With
torches in hand, we pad through cool water
across sandbanks, spotlighting darting fish
and bats amid stalactites and stalagmites.
A fortnight after rolling on to the Gibb’s
red dirt we hit bitumen. All is quiet. No
rattling, no rocks banging on the 4WD’s
under-body, just our memories bouncing
silently to the gentle hum of the engine.
Fuel can be purchased from El
Questro, Home Valley, Drysdale River
stations, Mount Barnett Roadhouse.
This article appeared in volume 10 of Caravan & Camping with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.