Thursday, 18 July 2013

Gibb River Road

Around 11 June to 21 June or so

When we were planning our trip it was the Gibb River Road area of the Kimberley we were really keen to explore. We decided we wouldn’t put ourselves under any time pressures and take as long as we needed to explore it.  The Gibb River Road was made in the 60s for the cattle trains to carry the stock from the stations to market much quicker than by droving. It’s about 700km along the Gibb from Derby through to Kununurra – the first 80km are sealed near Derby and the rest is dirt.

Well it’s turned out to be the hardest part of the trip and possibly even the part we’ve least enjoyed.  Just a combination of travel fatigue, sickness going through every member of the family and the crowds of tourists everywhere we went!

So the Gibb River Road…

We pitched our tent by the light of the setting sun on the banks of the Lennard River on our first night.  Nice place to camp for a quick overnighter.  We set off the next morning through the Inglis Gap and into the King Leopold Ranges and some amazing country. We drove down much of the road to Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge and it was scenic – but it’s landscape we’re familiar with – it could’ve been in NSW somewhere. 

We then heeded the advice in our guidebook and other travellers who said the track into Lennard Gorge was really rough.  So we pitched our tent a few kilometres away on the banks of the picturesque Dog Chain Creek and went back to do the walk at Lennard Gorge. It just felt hot and long and hard and none of us enjoyed it – not even Simon or I.  Yes, it was beautiful, but you couldn’t really get a good view of the gorge, the waterfall was pretty but we were questioning whether we really needed to see it on such a hot day! We were comparing it with what we’d seen in Karijini and well…

What we didn’t realize was that this was probably the first symptom that Simon and I were getting sick! 

Fortunately we loved our little camp beside a crystal clear creek complete with water lilies and some paperbarks and river pandanus. Little did we realize that these gorgeous creeks punctuate the entire Kimberley landscape.  It’s one of our favourite campsites so far in the Kimberly.

We decided it was unfair to Hugo to be travelling on his birthday so we skipped Bell Gorge and drove onto Mornington Wilderness Camp which is owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. We knew it was going to be one of the most expensive places we were going to camp so we were disappointed with the choices of campsites.  Fortunately the 90km drive south of the Gibb River Road was spectacular, as were the two swimming holes on the Fitzroy River (less than 100km up river from Geike Gorge but it had taken us a good couple of days to travel via the roads to get here!).

Hugo’s birthday was a beautiful, sunny day. Simon made a chocolate cheesecake and then collapsed in bed feeling very unwell.  Hugo played all day long with his Lego Star Wars A-wing star fighter – he loved it. I took the kids swimming at Cajeput later in the afternoon and it was beautiful – a nice sandy bank, easy sandy entry, not very deep – ideal for Otto but he was asleep!

Next day I was sick!  But we still went canoeing down the Dimond Gorge which was pretty spectacular. We even saw a rare rock wallaby. We took the short walk to see a little waterfall, had lunch on the little beach and then canoed back.  We didn’t even take our camera we were both feeling so unwell! Simon got the hammock out at Cajeput swimming hole and I lay down on the grass and the kids entertained themselves.  It was perfect (other than feeling unwell). 

The drive to Silent Grove/Bell Gorge was quicker than we were expecting.  Bell Gorge was really beautiful. Simon took Hugo and Isobel to swim under the waterfall and I went down stream to another little waterfall. It was warmer downstream as the water wasn’t so deep!  We met a family from Perth, originally from the UK, who are on an 18 month trip around the world. They plan to spend a few months here in Australia, then head to North and South America and then to Europe. We are reasonably jealous and it’s got us thinking…

I was still feeling completely exhausted so we had another day at Silent Grove and just hung out.  We skipped Charnley River station as we were beginning to run short of time, skipped Manning Gorge because I was still feeling exhausted from the virus and couldn’t contemplate the walk, missed Adcock Gorge as a bunch of travellers we met on the track in convinced us that it was pointless – they couldn’t find the gorge, the track was terrible and they thought they’d just wasted 90 minutes.  Oh dear.  Your beginning to get the picture.

Fortunately we stopped at Galvans Gorge and it was simply beautiful. If only we knew it was going to be so beautiful and such a delightfully easy stroll to reach it, we would’ve taken our lunch and spent a few hours there. 

Simon and Hugo swam, Isobel didn’t as we were trying to get her infected mossie bites and scabs under control, and there was even some Aboriginal rock art beside the beautiful water hole. Magic.

At Mt Elizabeth Station the skies were overcast and it rained and the temperature dropped.  It’s here that Hugo began to get sick.  We’d taken our first proper 4WD track to reach Wanumurra Gorge and by the time we got there, Hugo had a temperature.  The poor boy. We gave him some panadol and then walked slowly to the gorge – but he’d perked up and didn’t mind the walk.  Plus we were walking with our new friends Mike and Cathy who we’d met on the station tour the day earlier. There’s one ladder to help you get up and down the layers of the gorge and it was pretty lovely.  Even had a little sandy beach!  Shame it was overcast and Hugo wasn’t very well as it was the perfect gorge for Otto to swim in. 

Mt Elizabeth Station has some rather amazing Aboriginal rock art – Gwion Gwion paintings aged at about 16-17,000 years old (!) and Wandjina art which can be up to 6000 years old to 100 years old.  We drove through forests of ironbark, forests of silky oaks, and forests of bloodwood.  It was a really beautiful place and the tour was worthwhile (and reasonably priced for the Kimberley!).  We all enjoyed the home-made cakes and slices! We also went to a lovely sacred waterfall and waterhole that was a burial site.  We could see the skull and bones in the crevice of the rock wall. 

We realised that the Munja Track was something we could tackle on our own, but didn’t want to do it with the trailer (you really need not to be towing anything), with a broken UHF aerial, and a child who wasn’t well.  Good decision.  We moved to Drysdale River Station on the Kalumburu Road and stayed 3 nights because Hugo didn’t get out of bed!  High temperatures, a bit of vomiting, then just when I thought he was getting better he got a roaring red, very sore throat. 

On the journey to Drysdale River We crossed the Hann River again, this time on the Gibb River Road, and it was still sandy-banked and beautiful. This would be a great place to spend a night or two. Beautiful river.

While here we got to see a grim reminder about the need to respect the roads we were on.  At Drysdale River Station we met some blokes whose long-range fuel tank (newly installed) just dropped out of their ute!  A woman rolled her ute and injured her mother-in-law slightly and the worst accident were two Swiss women we’d met completely wrote-off their hired Troopie.  They had minor injuries but were shocked and just coming to terms with facing an enormous bill as they’d signed a waiver to say if they caused the accident then the insurance wouldn’t cover them!!!! 

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