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Gibb River Road guide for families

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.

Gibb River Road guide for families

Station stays

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.

Gibb River Road guide for families

Gorge ganders

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.

Gibb River Road guide for families

Park playtime

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.

Editors note: 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.


Kimberley Australia Guide

Getting there

If you don’t have a 4WD then you can hire one with a roof-top camper from Australian 4WD Hire, Apollo Camper or Britz


El Questro Station
Home Valley Station
Ellenbrae Station

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