Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Gibb River Road

The much anticipated event of the tour was upon us. 650 kms of dirt, dust, stoney & corrugated infamous Gibb River Road ( GRR ) was about to be tackled. This road is the only way to access the many gorges of the West Kimberley. The alternate bitumen road of Kununurra to Derby has only 1 gorge along it. To see any of the great gorges of the Kimberley, drivers need 4WD vehicle & to get onto the dirt. Many drivers leave their vans parked safely somewhere & venture along this road with a tent for accommodation.

 A few sections of bitumen were along the way in flood prone areas & through the ranges, but scenes like after a car passes you were frequent. This section of the road was probably of a handful of sections that was considered 2WD.

This is 1 of the reasons  why we also bought a sturdy Kedron off road van. To tour places like this in comfort for 7 - 10 days.
El Questro is the 1st cattle station along the GRR. This 1 million acre cattle station has tourism as 1 of it's income sources during the dry season. A township has been set up just for the rich & us mere mortals, in separate areas of course, to enjoy their piece of the Kimberley. The 'town' has a shop, bar, restaurant, eating area outside beside a fire, souvenirs, forgotten camp necessities like tooth brushes, milk, bread etc. This 1 building also does the checking in for campers & takes bookings for the scenic flights over their magnificent gorges.

The wealthy are accommodated near the main house, overlooking the beautiful Chamberlain Gorge. We didn't visit this gorge, as it required an expensive cruise up the river, so I've done the next best thing, take a pic of a post card :) the views look magical.

Our camp ground was along the upper reaches of the still flowing Pentecost River.
To save doubling back, we visited the pretty Emma Gorge up the road,on our way into El Questro. The walk down a rocky creek took 45 mins each way, but Rod enjoyed the swim near the falls.
 The high cliffs 100mts apart at the beginning, surrounded us as we went into the gorge.
 Many rock pools were passed or walked around to get into the gorge
 The falls were flowing well. Even water was flowing from the other side of the cliffs just above our heads where we sat to soak up the atmosphere.

Old Boab trees are every where in the Kimberley & were used by early explorers for drinking water, so this old 1 at Emma gorge has been tapped for our tasting pleasure. Slightly strange taste, but fresh none the less.

 We came upon this 'uni mog' several times during our tour down the GRR. It had been shipped over from Alaska, for it's owners to use for their lengthy tour of Oz. It was massive next to our little vans in comparison.

 We had to give these springs a try. The area was pretty & the water was certainly warm as described.

Problem, we all had to vacate the area by 1200hrs, to allow the higher paying guests up at the station house to have the area to themselves for the afternoon...............discrimination we all said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

El Questro gorge was given a tick to visit by the navigator. Walking in for 1 hr over this stoney creek bed was becoming the norm. At least the views held some distraction, when we could safely look up from our rocky path. Or take a break now & then just to soak up the views!

 The rocky path changes to bigger boulders to negotiate over.
This larger boulder is the 1/2 way pt of the gorge. But unless you were superman / woman, you didn't go any further. Seriously, some people are able to go further, but only the more fit & adventurous rock climbers.

The Pentecost River is usually the 1 obstacle to stop drivers going any further on the GRR, unless you had flippers on your car. The water runs deep & fast at the end of the 'wet' season. So it may be several wks after the wet season has finished before any one gets through. fortunately for us it is now late July when we crossed after a very heavy & late wet season. The water should normally be much lower than this in late July.

This is another Kedron van (by co incidence) after he had crossed the river.

 Our turn, in the middle of the river - water up past the foot rails, fingers crossed we don't stall the motor.

 The other side with the scenic Cockburn Range in the background. These ranges are what the El Questro gorges are in & the GRR runs past. Was a glorious drive thus far.
 The Pentecost river in the distance from a lookout, heading towards 'The Gut' @ Wyndham,as described in previous blog. Here the Durack River also joins up with the Pentecost River that we will be crossing shortly.

More views of the Cockburn Range with the sun in front of us.

 The Durack River, not so deep, but still looks like trouble!!

Our next night after ElQuestro, was Ellenbrae, a 1 million acre cattle station. They make em big this way!!
They have small gorges, but they offer somewhere to stop for the night & server nice scones for something different - a novelty really.
 The cream was out of a tetra pack - Devondale , but folks around here don't get to town that often -
maybe every 3 months or so :)

The amenities house was different as well - a boab tree incorporated in the building. The front door just a little different................
 Inside was very basic.................... but a blue bath tub if you wished to take a bath................
 & the only way to get hot water was via 1 of these little babies............a Donkey, shove a lump of wood under the drum & 15mins laater we had hot water & plenty of it too.............. really refreshing after another dusty few hrs driving.

This is the Gibb River. It's on the Kalumbaru Rd to the Mitchell Plateau.
We had every intention of getting to the Mitchell falls, but after 37kms, we sadly turned around. The road was far too corrugated & we had already passed 1 tow truck recovering a 4WD. (we have heard on good authority, that the road is worse after Drysdale River station & that many vans were parked @ Drysdale waiting for spare parts etc to be repaired. (we were going to leave ours @ Drysdale as well)

We are almost past the 1/2 way pt of the GRR :))................... but the best is yet to come & most gorges are on the 2nd 1/2 of the GRR.

This beautiful lagoon is next to the Manning Gorge camp ground. The lagoon is along the track to visit the gorge. Hence styrofoam boxes being used to stash our camera gear etc when we crossed the deeper section near the other side of the lagoon. There's also a dingy there for those who don't want to get wet. Or the choice is to take a longer walk around the lagoon.

 We decided to go to the Manning gorge early the next day, as the 1hr walk is in the hot sun along an open stoney track.  I chickened out @ 0900 in getting my self wet in the chilly water. Roddy at the helm, pulled me across in the dingy :)) He's a great hubby that boy. Always looking after me.

You can't touch the bottom of the lagoon in this section. I lived up to my promise of getting wet when we returned from the gorge.
 The views in the middle of the lagoon were pretty & happy snapper Sue took many pics like this 1.

The track is well sign posted.........................

Some one had some fun here...................... Just follow the white markers or the many drink / beer cans left in bushes along the hot track.

After 50 min walk, we climbed down into the gorge & were greeted with ................. you'd have thought we were at the beach - a beautiful white sand beach to lie on & soak up the area.

But there were even better views around the corner, as we could hear a water fall.
Getting closer now
 Looking back towards that sandy beach area....................

& just  around the corner, down some steep rocks, we found this magical view

The gorge is carving out the rock, leaving water pools ever where.

Rod, of course, doesn't take long to get himself wet.

I, on the other hand, had to wait to get hot before braving the cold water in a smaller rock pool. Chicken is me.

Walking back after 2 hrs sitting around there, soaking up the perfect scenery, we decided to see if we could find a view of the top of the falls away from the main track. Rod almost twisted his ankle, but we found the spot where we wanted to take our desired pic.
There were many plants like this fig, that just struggles to stay alive some how. Bonsai lovers would do any thing to get their hands on this 1.  It's a wonder it also doesn't drown in the wet season, as water would be constantly flowing over for months on end.

Galvin's Gorge is on some one cattle station as well. It is close to the road & just a short 15 min walk gets you to it. Rod must have tried every gorge water hole we visited, & this 1 was no exception, even at 0830 in the morning.
 There's a Boab tree at the top too!!!

Bell Gorge
440 kms along the GRR & we visit the most popular gorge along this road. Bell Gorge is in the very large King Leopold Conservation National Park covering an area of over 400,000 hectares. The camp ground is 20 kms off the GRR & the gorge another rocky 10 kms further along . The camp ground was 1 very busy place for the 2 nights we stayed there.
These 3 pics are the top area as you go into the gorge. A pretty area. The water here flows over the falls we can hear, but yet to see.................

The views looking into the gorge from above was amazing

This pic is from the other side looking down, can't wait to get down there.

Finally after climbing down some really steep rocks / boulders, we had this spectacular view

I took this pic when I got myself wet on the rather large & deep water hole
The blob on this pic is water - I used the water proof video camera & swam down to the far end of the water hole
& found another smaller water fall

swimming back, the reflections of water onto the rock were worth taking a pic of.
Bell Gorge certainly lived up to it's name of being the most visited gorge along GRR - we soaked up 2 hrs of it's delightful views here as well.

After we left Bell Gorge, we drove for what seemed like  ages through the beautiful King Leopold Range. The escarpments are very near the road & just for a while you forget you're on a rough road as you soak up the spectacular views.
Here's just a sample of what we saw.

Over the range & on the southern side seemed very different

 Queen Victoria's profile is in the King Leopold ranges group. She's right next to the road & you didn't need to bow & curtsy to get her pic.

Further down the road is the turn off to Winjana gorge & Tunnel Creek.

The Napier Range is made up of  limestone - an ancient reef of some 370 million yrs old. You can see fossilized creatures imbedded in the limestone.
This view is also what you have in the campground - magnificent. This is a sunset pic of just part of the very long 100mtr high escarpment - it runs for km's.

We took the Winjana Gorge walk early in the morning as temps get quite high in the area during the day.
We had very similar views of high escarpments for much of the 3km walk into the gorge along the Lennard River. The escarpments were approx 100mtrs apart.

 Some exposed ancient limestone  had crustaceans embedded in the limestone for us to find in this section
 That's it there!!!!!!!!!!!! We couldn't find the much bigger fossil that was meant to be there.
 This pic is looking back towards the entry to the gorge - really pretty

 That large piece of ancient coral is featured in brochures showing off the area.

 More coloured limestsone apparently stained pink from an ancient algae

We found this olive python tucked away in front of a tree off the path, thankfully. 1 eye open making sure we don't come any closer.

There are also approx 2,000 freshies along the gorge / Lennard River

 Tunnel Creek is part of the Napier Range & was further along the road -  a much rougher & stonier road. The area is just that - a long tunnel / cave system, carved out by the Tunnel Ck. We needed swimming togs on for this walk, shoes that didn't matter getting soaked & a good torches to negotiate the under ground walk.

That's the entry pt.

 More pretty pink / marbled 'rock' of limestone
 It doesn't take long for darkness to set in as you tread over shark stones.
Then we start wading through water, in some parts up to my waist.
 There are a couple of areas where the roof has caved in & light filters down.

Unfortunately my camera struggled to take good pics of the formations in many areas.

 After 750 mtrs, the exit pt of the river. Amazing shapes.

That's looking back into the tunnel

 Plants are growing around this roof cave in.

The entry pt again

On our drive to Tunnel Creek, we noticed some white rock not far from the road. It's not described in the brochures, confirmed by a ranger at Geike Gorge to be a calcite flow.

Along the road also, the high cliffs change to lower formations that have eroded more from the weather.
 You can just imagine along here the beautiful colours of a coral reef.

More sunset pics from our camp ground.

The last 70 kms of the GRR was a 1 lane sealed road. More dangerous than the dirt road we had negotiated over during the past 10 days. The edges sloped downwards, so  moving over for on coming cars made me more nervous.

Parked in the Derby van pk next to lilly white &  clean vans just didn't look good

The reversing camera stopped working  after the 1st 16kms of the Gibb River Road, & we found a screw missing from a rear tail light on the car. To our knowledge, there's no other defects - apart from probably a very dirty air filter. Just dirt & dust to clean off.

 Geike Gorge, 1 of 2 gorges along the Great Northern Highway, is just north of Fitzroy Crossing township. 
 It is part of the Kimberley, so has been included here.
Geike Gorge is part of the limestone range of the Napier & Oscar range. Geike gorge is formed by the flooding gouging of the Fitzroy R.

During the wet season, Fitzroy R will drain 1 Sydney Harbour of water every 12 hrs.
DEC - WA govt equivalent of  Qld natural resources dept - have regular boat cruises up along the river to get great views of the gorge. $20 for concession holders (seniors - & over 50's qualify, so don't laugh please :)
What a bargain for 1 hr of commentary - NT cruises were much more expensive than this 1.

The views of the gorge were magnificent. The paler colours are the true colours of the Limestone - it is also the high water mark from 2011 floods. ( 2002 flood was another 1.5 mtrs higher !!)

This is the exposed limestone that is eroding away. The little bubble like markings are from sand & water blasting the surface.

 Thousands of Fairy martins migrate to this area from south to build mud nests & produce more babies.

This is the eastern wall of Geike.

 The western wall has lots of pink colourings through much of the wall. The pink apparently is an ancient algae.

 many fresh water crocs were seen sunning themselves along the river bank - though this bloke looks fake :)
might be the angle of the camera.

 Someone always finds a famous persons profile in the rock - this is supposed to be of former USA president Richard Nixon - water gate is changing his profile every year!!!

Back on dry land / sandy river bank,  we went for a difficult walk in sand - was also hot now as well  - I got a view of the eastern gorge wall - even with lovely reflections & the next boat cruise after ours :)

Another beautiful gorge of The Kimberley.

We missed many more gorges along the Gibb River Road. They were 40 - 90 kms each way to get to.
Mt Hart, Mornington Wildlife Conservancy, Mt Elizabeth Station, Charnley River Station & Lennard Gorge & the Mitchell Plateau were passed up. May be for next time.................................. Besides, 10 days of dusty rough roads was enough!!!!!!!!!!!!
We got to see the best though & we're satisfied with what we experienced of the rugged Kimberley.

We had an awesome time seeing the Kimberley. Great scenery & spectacular gorges. Hard to pick 1 area as the best.

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