Ultimate guide to driving Gibb River Road
Posted on 27/04/2018 by Spaceships Crew
A real journey for real travellers. The Gibb River Road is known to many as the “last real adventure in Australia” so if you love going off the beaten path, if you get a kick out of doing things differently, or you just enjoy discovering the undiscovered, The Gibb River Road is the right Aussie driving route for you and your road trip buddies.
Taking you through some of the most remote areas of Western Australia, The Gibb River Road is famed as one of the most awesome journeys for a 4x4 adventure but truth be told, this route is nowhere near as difficult as it used to be! And these days, anyone with the right attitude can give it a go.
Whether you drive the entire route or just tackle some of the most scenic parts in your trusty Spaceships campervan, we promise there’s much to see along the way and you won’t regret choosing this path for your next driving holiday Down Under. Here is everything you need to know before you set off!
- Details of the journey: facts & figures
- Before you start: what to pack and more tips to prepare
- Rough driving itinerary for your Gibb River road trip
- Things not to miss: must-sees on your road trip
The Gibb River Road is a challenging 660-kilometre long route in Australia’s sparsely settled northern region of Kimberly, starting in the west in Derby and taking you to the Windjana Gorge, Mount Hart Homestead, El Questro Wilderness Park all the way to Wyndham or Kununurra where you will end your journey.
How long to go for?
The route itself can be driven in one full day without stopping but there’s so much to see here so we recommend spending up to 8 days (more if you have time) so you can make the most of this incredible part of the world.
Best time of the year to go?
In the Kimberly region, May to October is the dry season and November to April is the wet season. June, July and August are very popular times to visit because the temperature is very warm to hot (29/30°C) but still manageable.
By October, expect average temperatures to reach 38 or 39°C and by November, the heat will be unforgiving if you can’t handle the extremes. If you want something more moderate, the buffer months such as April (end of wet season) or May (beginning of the dry season) will give you the benefit of great weather and lush greenery without the crowds. During the heavy rain periods of November and December, some roads will also be closed off – although the highway will remain open to the public.
Remember also that January and February are the cyclone months with the highest risk of floods so always visit The Gibb River Road outside of these months.
What about the road conditions on Gibb River Road?
During the wet season, there may be some periods where the roads are too dangerous to drive on and as a result, these roads will be closed off. Please also be aware that there are some areas of the road that are heavily corrugated so you may need to take extra care when driving.
If in doubt, please drive slowly and carefully or try and find an alternative route. Much of this area is also best explored on foot so if you can find a place to park up, give yourself enough time for a good hike.
And as with every road trip in Australia, check the official road works and road conditions website before you hit the road. Also, download the free travel & camping smartphone app so you always have the latest info (road conditions, where to camp, and much more) with you.
Packing for The Gibb River Road drive is about packing for the seasons. Depending on which month you decide to travel will determine which extremes you need to pack for. Some areas of the route may be hard to tackle without a 4X4 vehicle but there are many alternate routes for those in campers and RVs.
Our sturdy Spaceships are great for most driving terrain. And because all fold out beds, bedding and linen, butane gas canisters, cooking equipment and utensils are all provided inside your own Spaceship camper, you won’t have to bring a whole load of extras.
What should I pack?
If you are travelling in the dry season (May to October), be sure to pack clothing for warm/hot weather as well some warmer garments for the evenings. The day to night temperatures can vary greatly and places like Bungle Bungles or Wolfe Creek can get frosty at night time!
In the wet season (November to April), you need to be prepared for all extremes. November weather is scorching with some rainfall so humidity is at its highest. Specialist outdoor clothing with mesh or moisture wicking properties (the type that people take on safari) will be necessary to keep you cool and dry. Bug repellent is also an important precaution, especially for those who are prone to get bitten.
Fuel and supplies
Whilst in the past, it was pretty risky driving along The Gibb because so few people drove it; today it really is a different story. There are now several points along the road where you can get fuel and supplies, plus there are also a number of garages which can offer tyre replacement and mechanical repairs should you need them. With our Spaceship campers, though, you will get 24-hour roadside assistance so you won’t have to worry about a thing.
Safety & travel tips for Gibb River Road
1. Stock up on food and water
If you take the highway, you will find many places to stock up on supplies, food, clean water etc. But there are a few places, such as Windjana Gorge and the Bungle Bungles, where there won’t be any shops or grocery points. If you are spending time in those areas, stock up enough food and water to last a few days.
2. Carry enough water at all times
To be on the safe side, we would recommend carrying up to 5 litres of water per person, per day. So if you anticipate that you won’t find any shops for 48 hours for a family of 4, you will need around 50 litres. Maybe even carry more if you are spending a lot of time trekking in large open areas such as the Bungles as it can get extremely hot!
3. Map out the supermarkets
Before you travel, make sure you map out the nearest supermarkets in each area so you can plan your grocery shopping and campervan stock-ups for the 8-day journey. Groceries are generally available everywhere apart from Windjana and the Bungles. Lombadina, on the way to Cape Leveque, has a small supermarket and a small bakery; Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek have everything you could need in terms of supermarkets; Kununurra offers a huge choice of shops within the town centre; and El Questro also has a small township where you can find shops and places to refuel.
Day 1: Derby to Windjana Gorge
Set off from Derby on the edge of King Sound and make tracks for Windjana Gorge National Park; this is a great place to kick off your 8-day journey because it’s the best place in Australia to see freshwater crocodiles! What a treat!
Spend the day exploring the Windjana Gorge and the Napier Range and discover the banks of the Lennard River for the best wildlife spotting. Spend the night at the campsite nearby. Check the free Spaceships app (Android & Apple) for all the info about campsites in the area.
'Windjana Gorge' by Andy Tyler
Day 2: Windjana Gorge to Mount Hart
From Windjana Gorge National Park, take the drive to Mount Hart but don’t forget to check out the waterfalls of Lennard Gorge and Bell Gorge.
Day 3: Mount Hart to Manning Gorge
The short distance from Mount Hart to Manning Gorge will give you plenty of time to explore the area; check out Galvans Gorge which is the most accessible gorge along the Gibb River Road, see the tranquil pools of Lower Manning Gorge, or take a guided tour up the river. Stay overnight at the fantastic Mt Barnett campground.
Day 4: Manning Gorge to Drysdale River Station
Say goodbye to the Gibb River to explore the amazing Mitchell Plateau for an off the beaten track adventure. Spend the day hiking around and exploring the Mitchell Falls and Surveyors Pool plus the Mitchell and King Edward Rivers – just don’t forget your bathing suit or swimming trunks so you can cool off and take a dip in the afternoon heat! At Drysdale River Station, you have the option to stay in the Spaceship overnight, camp out in a tent or book into one of their comfortable cabins.
Day 5: Drysdale River Station to Ellenbrae Station
Set off early and make your way to Ellenbrae Station Homestead, your next accommodation pit stop. Ellenbrae Station covers 1 million acres and is the perfect place to refuel – you must try their famous scones! There’s also swimming, fishing and bushwalk activities for all guests plus outdoor BBQ facilities so you can really get into the spirit of Aussie culture.
Day 6: Ellenbrae Station to El Questro
There’s plenty to so at Ellenbrae – including a refreshing morning dip at Durack River Crossing or all the fantastic strolls and viewpoints – but at some point, you’ll want to make tracks and get off to a good start to El Questro Wilderness Park. This is a working cattle station and a unique holiday park renowned for its amazing wildlife. So if you’ve packed a pair of wildlife binoculars, this is the time to get them out. With four major river systems, you’ll get the chance to spot various species of mammals, birds and fish life.
Day 7: El Questro Wilderness Park
El Questro definitely deserves another day so don’t worry if you didn’t leave Ellenbrae until late the day before. On day 7, make sure you don’t miss out on Chamberlain Gorge (you can take a boat down), the incredible Wandjina rock art and the relaxing thermal pools of Zebedee Springs. This is a superb place for wildlife lovers and you’ll get the opportunity to see species such as wild donkeys, brumbies, bustards, frilled neck lizards, goannas, sea eagles, brolgas, jabirus and technicoloured parrots.
It’s time to leave the beautiful and wild world of El Questro. If you still haven’t had enough time for exploring, squeeze in a few activities such as butterfly tracking at Emma Gorge followed by swimming and spa treatments at the fabulous Emma Gorge Resort. Then hit the Gibb River Road to your final destination of Wyndham or continue for another hour to Kununurra where you will find Kelly's Knob (great for a good old climb) and a number of different art galleries in the town.
This incredible tunnel is steeped in history and was once used as a hideout for the Aboriginal leader Jandamarra. Follow the creek through a 750-metre tunnel until you get to Napier Range on the other side. Make sure you pack a torchlight so you can spot the many species of bats and see limestone reefs that are more than 300 million years old.
Leopold Range Conservation Park
On day 2, don’t miss canoeing along the Pandanus tree-lined waterways of Leopold Range Conservation Park.
Cockburn Range Lookout
If you’re looking for an awesome spot to take panoramic photos, make sure you take a hike to the spectacular Cockburn Range Lookout in El Questro. From here, you’ll get mind-blowing views of the Cockburn Range, the Durack and Pentecost Rivers as well as the Cambridge Gulf.
For utter relaxation, make sure you make time for the Zebedee Springs. These untouched natural thermal springs can soothe all your aches and pains, and although it’s a popular hotspot for tourists now, there are still quiet times during the day (go at 7 in the morning) when it’s completely empty. The water is a balmy 28°C and with several secluded pool areas where palm trees filter out the hot sun, you’ll find it to be extremely relaxing.
Kelly’s Knob Lookout
Climb to the top of Kelly’s Knob near Kununurra to the lookout point and you will be rewarded with the most amazing views. This is the perfect place to come for sunset – just make sure you pack a good camera to capture those stunning colours.
'Kelly's Knob' by Michael Theis
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