Days 15 – 21
Day 15 – Packing up at Mount Elizabeth this morning we, realise our pack ups are starting to get quicker (thank goodness…it’s only taken two weeks of practice)! We started to joke saying we’ll get this packing down pat just as we pick up the van again. On the road, we headed back to Mt Barnett Roadhouse – they had no diesel (thankfully we didn’t need it). What we did find were a few unhappy customers…as the story goes the diesel they had purchased the day before from the Roadhouse had water in it. Eight vehicles in total had broken down somewhere along the Gibb River Road.
Paying our camping fees, we headed on into Manning Gorge. As we arrived first thing in the morning, we were lucky enough to be able to choose a fairly secluded site surrounded by bush. By late afternoon, however, it was a different story with latecomers trying to squeeze in between vans, camper trailers, and tents. Manning Gorge is rather unique – the walk in takes about 1.5 hours each way, but to start with, you need to cross Manning Creek. To do this, there’s a small tinny that’s been provided that you use to pull yourself across the river. My original visit years ago was vastly different, as there were polystyrene boxes left by the creek which you used to place all your gear, and then swim across the river while pushing the box. It was 2kms into the gorge and the walk was well worth it. The falls were spectacular, so we had a lovely swim before the long walk back.
Day 16 & 17 – Ok another pack up (3 to go) and we call back into the Roadhouse to see if Bells Gorge has opened. There’s a sign out the front saying it was still closed. Well unfortunately we can’t wait any longer, so we drive to Galvans Gorge before turning around. This gorge is only a couple of hundred metres off the road, but is probably one of THE BEST settings along the Gibb. The falls are so pretty as they cascade into a pool, and surrounded by high walls, rocks and greenery. At the top of the falls is a gorgeous boab and the whole setting looks like postcard material.
Leaving Galvans Gorge and turning around, we head east looking for a free camp for a couple of nights. With the extremely large wet season this year, all of the campsites we had planned to stay at no longer existed and had washed away. Before long, we arrived at the Kalumburu Road turnoff and headed up the 6kms to Gibb River. Crossing the river we found it to be the deepest we’d experienced so far especially as it had a hole that the vehicle dipped into at the northern end. We chose a camp right next to the river – it was pretty clear just how much water had come through the river during the wet as huge gum trees had been bowled over, the river was littered with debris, and many trees had a severe lean from the force of water. But what a magic camp spot it made. We watched others cross the river, but it was amazing to see just how many people don’t know how to cross rivers at a safe speed and think they need to go full throttle.
We loved having this camp to ourselves – Grant set up the 12v shower and got the fire going, we cooked muffins in the camp oven (until the silicone mould melted), and had another roast. We even seemed to attract the wildlife – a bull came to investigate and decided to hang around for a while. Grant even tried his hand at fishing, until he snagged his line on a palm. I killed myself laughing for the next 20 minutes as he tried to get himself untangled, but unfortunately he had to cut the line. Needless to say we had another bbq that night
On the second day of our stay, we had a visit from Drysdale Station’s grader – apparently travellers had been arriving at the station with radiator damage as a result of speeding through the river which was no surprise. Once we explained the speed they were going it was understandable. Later in the day we noticed a bushfire across the river in the distance. We had seen plenty of burning all through the Kimberley on our trips – we were told some were deliberately lit for regeneration, and some were a result of arson. Not thinking much of it, it wasn’t until some German tourists stopped and asked us why we were so calm when a bushfire was coming. We explained that it was ages away (not realising that there were flames just on the other side of the river)!
By the time it was dark, the red glow of the fire showed how close and large this fire actually was. The smoke was choking, but here’s me thinking… “I don’t want to have to pack up NOW”!!! So out with the camera, I tried to take some pics while Grant was packing non essentials away in case we needed to do a runner. With the river in between us and the fire, I was fairly confident that we were ok (brave or stupid), however to be on the safe side, Grant stayed up for a couple of hours as fire warden to ensure that if it reached the water, it burnt itself out and embers wouldn’t fly across to our side as we had many large trees close by. Well it all turned out ok….we woke in the morning to see that the fire had come close to the river and all but died out. The tent was covered in ash and in hindsight we probably should have moved on before it got that close.
Day 18 – Lucky for us today, we only had a short trip of 60kms into Drysdale River Station. So no need to pack up early and off we head arriving to find a lovely campground with not too many other travellers. They had the best amenities block we’d come across on our GRR travels and really enjoyed our stay. Having also a great reputation for their hamburgers, Grant and I went over for lunch and tried their Kimberley Beef Burgers. Not cheap, but delicious! It’s a “must have” if you come this way. Talk about being a cold night – we’ve both rugged up, although I’m in two thermals, a jumper and a jacket, beanie and gloves…we heard it got down to 1 degree.
Day 19 – Today we drove out to Miner’s Pool, Drysdale’s second camping ground and fishing spot. After seeing this area, we wished we had camped here and just come back to the main campground to use the amenities…oh well, maybe next time. We’re not sure what’s happened to the temperature – the days are still nice around 28 degrees, but the night again is extremely cold. Hope this cold snap doesn’t last long!
Day 20 – 2 pack ups left after today – what a shocking night sleep we both had. There’s nothing worse than when you can’t get comfortable on a wafer thin mattress. Crossing back over the Gibb River, we called in to see some Aboriginal Art which we knew of. Using the GPS, we located the art, took some photos, and drove on. Arriving back at the Gibb River Road turnoff, we turned and drove towards Ellenbrae Homestead. The road had somewhat deteriorated with many corrugations, but this didn’t seem to slow down other drivers. They would still speed past kicking up buckets of dust as they went – it was difficult not to say something to them on the UHF radio!
Arriving at Ellenbrae, we found a rustic homestead with absolutely gorgeous gardens. Stopping for their infamous tea and scones, we listened and watched many double barred finches and crimson finches coming in for a feed – it was a great sight. Looking around the gardens after finishing our scones, we decided to stay the night at their Ringers Camp. We found the donkey heating system for hot water very effective (and unique). Walking down to the river in the afternoon, there was heaps of debris in trees and around the place indicating how much water had come through. The highlight of the walk was coming across a flock of red tailed black cockatoos and a sulphur crested cockatoo snacking on pandanus seeds. These birds are great to see in the sky, but when they’re only a few metres from you, it’s a huge thrill. The camp was pretty well packed here by nightfall, but surprisingly quiet after dark. The night wasn’t so cold so we slept better.
Day 21 – Off we go again – only 1 more pack up to go after today (I’m soooo excited)!! Next stop, El Questro. Arriving at the park, we soon realised how big this place really was. Others had told us it was overrated, but it was something that we needed to find out for ourselves. It’s not a cheap stay, but we really enjoyed it.. As friends we’d met in Broome were arriving the following day, we ensured we found a campsite large enough for the two tents and to have a fire. After setting up, the rest of the day wasn’t spent doing much. Amenities were a bit average this visit, with almost no hot water in the showers.
Our Gibb River Road adventure isn’t quite over just yet. After leaving El Questro we’re actually double backing to Home Valley to live it up for the last 4 days of our trip (and finally get to sleep in a real bed).
Grant & Linda.