Aug 9, 2010

The Gibb River Road

Another trip along the Gibb River Road has been completed, this is the 5th time in 10 years we have traveled this iconic road in the magnificent Kimberley. Our trip started with an overnight stay at Derby Caravan Park, there was quite a queue up as we waited in line to be attended to, and Ian the Park Owner oozed efficiency and it was pleasant to see his unflappable attitude as he processed the many travelers’ details and sorted out sites for them. We had a nice site for the night, no grass but the lovely shade trees were welcomed, we did have a 240v power problem with the main circuit board tripping out but after resetting it a few times it then behaved itself.

We refueled, drove down to the Jetty, bought an ice cream and watched some people fishing off the Jetty. The tide around here can be 11 metre’s high and it was high and ripping through when we saw it, unfortunately I had left my camera back in the van so it was for our eyes only. Not much else to report about Derby, we have been here before and seen all we wanted to.

Actually that could describe the GRR for us, having driven the road previously we knew what we had seen and wanted to see again and also there were a few stations that had opened up since our last visit. Places like Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Leonard Gorge, and Galvan’s Gorge are all lovely places to visit but we didn't bother stopping, instead we headed to Mt Hart Station where we heard that they were looking for some volunteer Camp Hosts. Even though we haven't done this type of work before we have house & farm 'sat' and thought this could be interesting and suit our style of travels, we know the pride we take in looking after other people's property and the chance to stop and really check out an area would be a good opportunity.

Unfortunately we arrived two days late as the position had just been filled, there was a chance that should we hang around for nine days until the current hosts left we could then have our chance but we decided to stay two nights, get a feel of the place and perhaps in the future look at staying for a month or two next season.

Mt Hart is a 50klm drive in to the Homestead, the road is dirt but in excellent condition when we visited, the camp ground area is large and has basic amenities that were clean. Sprinklers were operating for most of the day light hours trying to get the grass established and there were many large shade trees, a lovely creek abounds the camp ground and a rough jetty and ladder enabled a relatively easy access for a swim. Freshwater Crocs are around but no Salty's at all, there is a Canoe available to paddle the short distance up the creek.

The Homestead and gardens are lush & green, it caters for travelers wanting accommodation and has a restaurant and bar, we went across for an evening meal on our 2nd night and enjoyed a lovely 3 course meal for $35 each. They have some pet dingo's and one came and paid us a visit in the bar. The day was spent driving around some of the million acre property, checking out some of the water holes and small gorges; it would be interesting to see the Station after a decent wet season.

The GRR was in excellent condition, the best we have seen in the times we have traveled it, we were thinking about stopping for a coffee and came upon March Fly Glen, we remembered this place from one of our first trips and we were literally attacked by March Fly's, we thought it was still worth another visit to boil the kettle. We were pleasantly surprised to see the area was March Fly free and the area had spread a bit with some lovely flat clean grassy area's to park the van. It was only around 9.30am but we decided to stay the night here. I set about finding some firewood which wasn't that easy as most had been scavenged by previous travelers, I just walked further into the bush and eventually came across a large fallen branch that I was able to roll end over end and get it back to the camp, there is used the chain saw and cut it into good sized pieces in preparation for our camp oven roast that night.

The day was spent going for a few walks, but mainly we just relaxed and read, a mate had given me a lot of books to take with us and it was nice to do nothing and just relax in the bush and read a good book. A few travelers drove in for their smoko stops during the day but it wasn't until late arvo our peaceful little camp was overtaken by others, majority of them stayed down around the main area but late in the day we had another Car & Camper arrive and I waved them down to a spot past us, they actually had one of the better area's if only the other's had known.

Matt & Kylie and their 3 kids were from Newcastle, they were traveling quickly and apart from a visit into El Questro they hadn't stopped anywhere else on the GRR. After our delicious roast lamb dinner we had an evening around the campfire with Matt giving me some harmonica lessons, I need many more to get to his level ... like 20 years worth!

Next day everyone vacated and we called into Imiji Store, diesel was $1.95 per litre. We had heard that Mt Barnett's fuel was dearer and they were empty and waiting on a delivery so we topped up a tank and I bought myself a Kangaroo Pie which was nice and meaty.

Our next stop was Mt Barnett and Manning Gorge, fuel price on the pumps were $2.05 a litre so we did save a few dollars; we spent that saving plus some for the $12.50pp per night camp fee. Another place we have been before but enjoyed the river so worth another stay, we paid for two nights and headed down the track to set up camp. No grass here, just fine red dust, not many other campers when we arrived so we found a nice spot to camp up and got the Kayak off the Ute, we decided to share the one Kayak as the swimming area wasn't that large to warrant the effort getting the inflatable set up. I must add that so far we haven’t met many other friendly travelers other than Matt & Kylie, we have only seen 3 other caravans and we got the distinct feeling that most camper trailer people wouldn't be seen dead taking to a caravaner even if it is an Off Roader and in the 'outback', certainly different to other trips we have been on where we have met many wonderful people.

Our next stop was to be Ellenbrae Station but 30klms before we came across Russ Creek and decided to stay there the night, it took us a while to work out where we would camp with Vickie making the decision easy by saying HERE, so that's where it was. A quick collection of firewood and a walk around the area and then it was relax and open the book, later in the afternoon we were joined by a cyclist, Alexander was from the Netherlands and was riding down the Gibb River Road, he had been in Australia two months and already had traveled 5000klm along the Great Central Road and Sturt Highway, he was averaging 60klm per day and absolutely loved what he was doing. Alex was a nice guy and we had him over for dinner that night, Vickie was a bit embarrassed to offer him Spaghetti Bog as Spaghetti noodles was his main energy food and he eats them nearly every day. BUT not like Vickie makes and he devoured two large bowls, he told us the next morning it was the best he had ever had but even with that amount of food in his 65kg frame he awoke at 2AM and ate some more food. Traveling on a mountain bike uses up a large amount of energy and his body needed all it could eat.

Another two couples also camped in the area and we had a chat with them in the morning, they were heading to Kulumburu with a 4.5mt Boat and older Jayco Camper, they were concerned about rough road conditions on the Drysdale road but were going to attempt it anyway. Alan was a Cop from Tennant Creek and made the offer to call in should we get that way.

Ellenbrae Station was an easy 3-5klm drive in, the Homestead was different to how we remembered it 10 years ago when we called in. Lush green grass and lovely maintained gardens, they have a small cafe offering Scone's Jam & Cream and toasted sandwiches, we paid our $12.50 pp and got directions to the camp area. We were disappointed in what we found, another dusty dead grass camp ground. Surely it cannot be that hard to water the grounds, there is no shortage of water in the area. If I hadn't of got the Kayak off the Ute and paddled up the river I would have given it the thumbs down but the river was lovely and I saw a half dozen freshwater crocodiles and plenty of bird life.

Once the GRR went past the Mitchell Plateau / Kulumburu Roads the road did become corrugated and rocky, compared the road near Mt Barnett which could only be described as a 4 lane highway with the amount of road works going on. We hope that the GRR is never bituminous completely but we do think it's just a matter of time before it is.

Home Valley Station is another of those places we previously tried to visit but was closed at the time, 6 years later it is an oasis in the bush, a true resort Aussie Bush Style. It is owned & managed by the Indigenous Land Council and is well worth the visit. Dusty Bar is the main eating and Bar area and is large and full of character with rustic use of materials. We had a couple of drinks at the bar whilst listening to the entertainers singing and playing the didgeridoo. HV8 has two camping areas, close to the main restaurant and pool and another 4klms out along the banks of the Pentecost River, we choose to stay the two nights on the green grass and drive out to the river a couple of times to watch the sunset which was beautiful.

We were camped next to a nice family, John & Bronwyn from NSW; they had a Windsor Rapid Caravan and well set up Land cruiser. They had some problems with the van with some welding work needing down at Drysdale Station, the welder must have been very inexperienced in welding as the job looked very amateurish. John was going to buy an Inverter welder and complete the job himself. As we chatted we realised that we were almost neighbours back at Ningaloo when they were camped in the same area as us, it's a small World.

The final drive crossing the Pentecost River and driving past El Questro was some of the roughest stony sections on the road, pleased to say we had no punctures though we spoke to many travelers that had multiple blow out's, I always lower the tyre pressures by 10psi on Car & Van when driving on dirt roads and has proven to work for us. Hitting the bitumen we decided to drive to Wyndham and refuel and have lunch at the Bakery, Fuel was $1.49 per litre but the Bakery had now changed to a Cafe and sourced all their pies from Perth of all places, The person serving told us they had a cook but not a baker, wha-tha ... how hard can it be ? A Cook cannot make Pie’s?? I just couldn't understand it.

We are now at Kununurra, staying at Kimberly Land Caravan Park; it's ok but not as lush as we remember it from previous stays. I have been to the local Toyota dealer to get our cracked tow bar looked at; this is a fairly common problem with many being reported on the forums of the internet. Of course the service person I dealt with had never heard of it and I had the feeling they were going to make my life hard in obtaining a new 'revised' tow bar under warranty. It wasn't until the man in charge came and looked and stated that he has seen 3 bars cracked and he would get it replaced. What is it with the front line staff? Do they have instructions to try and fob customers off if they can? Why it is thousands of owners can know about these problems but yet when you make an inquiry the Dealers service staff do not.

Yesterday afternoon we got both Kayaks out and spent a nice hour peddling around the dead tree's that make up a large area on Lake Kununurra, it was lovely and relaxing with many Cormorants on the branches. Today it's windy as hell and the water rough, not inviting at all, the Internet signal though high is dropping in and out and making it difficult to even catch up on our web site and answer emails.

Three nights here and its head to NT.


Rod said...

Mick, thanks for your reports and great photography! Can't wait to do the Gibb for the first time, let alone fve!! Good luck.

Lamb Chop said...

Hi All
I sit here and drool at your adventure - especially with a Bushtracker. How did it handle the GRR - should I ask. I spoke with Bushtracker and said I would need to win the lottery to buy one - one day. Otherwise we travel with our Roma - not suited for the GRR.
Doug and Jane

Mick said...

I love lamb chops :-)

No problems on the GRR for a van like a BT, it's just another dirt corrugated road, lower tyre pressure's and drive to the conditions.

If there is something you really want to do in your life - Do It! No 2nd Chances ;-)

On the Aussie Road said...

Thats a great motto Mick. One I try to adhere to as well. One of my first dreams was to learn to fly a plane. Too hard and too expensive people said. But I have achieved that goal. I am really enjoying reading about your travels and will one day get me a Bushtracker and hit the road.

Safe travels.

Mick said...

Thanks 'Aussie Road' Safe Travels to you also