Gibb River road, days 1 & 2, Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek

The road from Derby to Windjana Gorge campground was good, much of it was bitumen, and the dirt sections of the road weren’t too corrugated. We arrived at 9.15am, and clearly our advisers from the night before hadn’t been exaggeration – the place was massed with prickles and burrs.

We quickly set up the camp with the gorgeous rock walls as our backdrop, and made a cuppa before heading down to check out the gorge.

Gorgeous backdrop to our campsite.

Windjana Gorge is famous for it’s population of freshwater (or Johnstone) crocs. Freshies as they’re colloquially known, are not normally dangerous to man, although if cornered or feeling threatened they have been known to inflict some nasty wounds. They’re far more likely to do themselves severe damage in the process though as their snout is thin and relatively fragile compared to their more dangerous counterparts, the dreaded ‘Saltie’.

Nothing to fear from being reasonably close to ‘freshies’.

Lots of crocs around the billabongs.

Distinctive narrow snout indicating a ‘freshie’.

It’s okay to swim in Freshie territory, providing one keeps a respectable distance from any crocs. They’re usually timid anyway, and will more than likely slink off if humans are swimming nearby. However, Windjana Gorge has murky water with muddy banks, so it’s not inviting for a swim.

Firstly, a walk though an amazing rock crevice to get there.

Rock crevice to walk through.

Sunlight peeping through at the other end of the crevice.

Then an hour or two marvelling at the rock walls, crevices, and crocs.


Gorgeous natural rock sculptures – a Kookaburra!

How on earth does a tree grow through the rocks….

Back to camp for a quick bite of lunch before heading off to discover Tunnel Creek – only we took a wrong turn and ended up back at the highway. We quickly backtracked and headed to where we thought Tunnel Creek should be. The road had no signage, and it was getting towards mid-afternoon. After driving for what felt like way to long, we decided we’d better head back to camp, check our directions and start again the next day.

Although it’s warm during the day up here in the Kimberleys, it is still winter, with winter hours of daylight, and often, cold nights. By 5.30pm it’s well on the way to being dark, so we tried to cook while there’s still enough light to see what we were doing, and what we were eating. However, that made for long nights when camping with a tent. On our first night we hadn’t gathered any wood for a fire, so after two hours of sitting in the cold and dark, admiring the stars we decided to call it a night – it was around 7.30pm……

Daylight broke around 5.30am, so it was a long, and very cold night. We were grateful we were under warm canvas rather than in a cold nylon tent, grateful for our feather sleeping bags, and very pleased we had bought the super duper Black Wolf bonded air mattresses. They didn’t let the cold air come through thankfully, so it turned out we didn’t need a wool blanket underneath us, thankfully. However, we should have paid more heed to other advice given, Paul’s air mattress went down in the night. He thought perhaps he hadn’t sealed the bung properly, and with fingers crossed, he adjusted that for the next night – more on that later.

As it turned out we had only been a few kilometres short of tunnel creek, so we had needlessly turned back. All the information on Tunnel Creek advises the need for a powerful flashlight. I had read this to Paul several times, and he had seemingly taken it on board, stating I could use the powerful blue flashlight kept in the car, and he’d use his headlamp. Upon leaving the car, I verbally confirmed that Paul had picked up the required torches, but neglected to visually confirm. We arrived at the entrance to Tunnel Creek where Paul donned his headlamp and passed me my flashlight, not the powerful blue flashlight from the car, but a tiny thing, the likes of which one would expect to find in a Christmas cracker.

Never mind, we ventured forth with what we had. Paul’s headlamp was adequate, my Christmas Cracker flashlight left a lot to be desired. It barely lit the area of my immediate foot fall, but didn’t have the power to light up the way ahead. More importantly, it didn’t light up the gorgeous, grand, cavernous surrounds that Tunnel Creek is famous for, and what we’d come to see.

After a bit of rock scramble to get passed the entrance of the tunnel the walking was relatively easy, although we did have to wade through several areas of almost knee deep water.

A fellow visitor wading though the creek.

It took around an hour to get to the other end where we sat with several other people enjoying the tranquility of the creek gently flowing back the way we’d come.

A peaceful place to rest before retracing our footsteps.

Wildlife to admire.

We then swapped lights and retraced our footsteps. On the return walk, with the use of a brighter light I managed to see the intricate rocks and stalactite formations that makes this place famous. It was truly gorgeous.


Stalagtites (to help remember which is which – the mights go up, and the tights come down!)

On return to our camp we set about gathering some firewood and enjoyed the delights of flickering flames to watch as well as the stars after the sun went down. There’s only so many hours though that flames and stars can keep one occupied. We were again in bed not much after 8pm, so another long night, and one that showed Paul’s air mattress clearly was punctured!

So – with days one and two completed, what we would do differently if we were doing it again:

1. We’d take heed of advice given, and postpone leaving Derby by a few hours in order to purchase a tarp for under the tent to prevent puncturing the air mattresses, (and a broom and dustpan).

2. We could have comfortably done both the Gorge and Tunnel Creek in one day. There’s not a lot to do at the days end when sleeping in a tent in the outback, so the days need to be full and tiring so as early nights are appreciated, rather than something to endure. If we had delayed leaving Derby for a few hours and purchased the advised supplies we would have saved ourselves some minor grief later. We could have set up camp, had an early lunch, then set off for Tunnel Creek (with a better sense of direction), and we would have still had time to explore the gorge in the late afternoon. Saying that though, we still enjoyed it all.

Boabs and anthills

When the landscape is dominated by Anthills and Boab Trees, you know you’ve reached the stunning Kimberleys.

Boabs framing an anthill.

These bottle shaped trees are green and leafy in the wet season, and drop their leaves once the dry arrives. This year they didn’t seem to be sure what season it was.

This one with a split trunk seems to still think it’s in the wet season.

A well watered area lacking wind protection has created this leaning tree with full green canopy.

The ancient, and infamous, Derby Prison Tree.

One of many anthills that dwarf me.

Before commencing the Gibb we drove to Derby and set up our tent for a trial run in a caravan park. We had this marvellous idea that a test run in a town before we actually commenced the Gibb would give us a chance to recognise any obvious gaps in our equipment allowing us a chance to shop for any items obviously missing.

Meeting a couple of fellow travellers completing the Gibb having started at the Eastern Kununurra end assisted with us identifying the gaps. These were as follows:

1. We’d need a tarp for under the tent, particularly at Windjana, and possible at Manning campground. Both were apparently massed with burrs and prickles, and we’d be sure to puncture our air beds without some added underfloor protection.

2. Make sure we carried a small broom and dustpan with us for brushing out the inside of the tent, and for brushing the debris off the outside when packing up.

3. Make sure we have a warm wool blanket for under our mattresses as the nights are freezing, and the cold air comes up through the mattresses.

4. Mornington Wilderness Camp was the highlight of this couples trip. As limited numbers are allowed in at Mornington, we should phone and try to arrange at least a couple of nights there, and prioritise this in our schedule above all else – these sentiments were reflected in the comments of other travellers the whole length of the Gibb.

So, what did we do – we woke up around 6am on the day of commencement on the Gibb river, eager to get started, and three hours before the shops opened. Nah!! we decided we’d manage without the tarp, without the small broom, without the wool blanket, and without phoning to book into Mornington……… A decision we later regretted!

By 7.10am we were on our way.

Quick update on the Gibb

Thought I’d post a quick update to let everyone know we finished the Gibb River Road today. We now have a couple of days to re-group, do some washing, and a grocery re-stock before we head off on the next leg with the tent, which is up to Cape Leveque.

We’ll try and get started with downloading photos and getting some posted before we head back into the dark ages again (no internet or phone cover up at the Cape).

We’ve had an amazing time, and seen some amazing scenery – awesome!!!!! We’ve been shaken about on roads with deeper corragations than I’ve ever seen. Someone measured the depth in one place at 15cms (6 inches). They were like speed humps. We’ve breathed in more than our fair share of dust, and it’s likely going to take at least a week to scrub that same dust out of our pores.

We’ve seen broken down cars, caravans and camper trailers being recovered and transported out on the back of flat bed trucks, and we’ve seen cars taped together with duct tape, or strapped up with luggage straps. We’ve seen people with their arms in slings, or hobbling with broken toes or twisted knees or ankles. I’m happy to say though that both Paul and I, and our car seem to have survived relatively in tact – not even a puncture. We’ve yet to clean the dust from the car – with the dust off a few dents or scratchers could possibly be revealed.

We’ve driven down four wheel drive tracks, the likes of which make the ones chosen as extreme during our four wheel drive courses look like novice tracks. I’ve uttered more ‘Holey Moleys,’ inter-laced with expletives than I’ve ever uttered. But we’ve done it, and we’ve loved it.

Details and photos coming soon, so watch this space.

Final preparations for the Gibb River

This will most likely be my last blog post for a few weeks. We’re unlikely to have any cover for phone or for the net after we leave Derby tomorrow night, so won’t be able to make, or receive phone calls or emails from anyone. If anything occurs that’s urgent, we’re heading to Derby tomorrow to stay overnight, then heading in an Easterly direction across the Gibb River. I’m sure the police will locate us via the grapevine if the need arises, but I’m sure that’s not going to be necessary…

Our itenary has changed a little as the planning has progressed. As it stands at the moment we expect to be making our way towards Drysdale Station over the first few days, then we’ll be at Drysdale for 20th and 21st June, Parry Creek on 24th and 25th, Bungles, 26th and 27th, Cape Leveque 30th June – 4th July, then Banana Wells from 4th July – 8th. Then back into Cable Beach. We hope we’ve allowed enough time.

It’s going to be a bit of a trial to fit everything into the ute most likely, that’s this afternoons job. Then, tomorrow morning we have to move the food from the main caravan fridge to the portable Engel fridge, that’s going to be an even bigger trial.

We’ve decided eating out where possible is the way to go, and for the times we’re in a campsite relying on our devices, we’ve kept our meals simple. We’re only taking one little portable gas ring with disposable gas bottles, one large lidded frypan, and one small saucepan. The saucepan is for boiling water for hot drinks and washing dishes. The large frypan is for all dinners, which will be one pan affairs.

I’ve made and frozen bolognaise for four nights, which I’ll heat up with some fresh zucchini (courgettes for my European readers). Then when it’s heated through I’ll stir through some pasta which is also pre-cooked and frozen. I’ve chopped some chicken thighs for another four meals, which I’ll stir fry with some spices, carrots, cabbage and canned pineapple, then add a little bit of rice (also pre-cooked and frozen.) Hopefully it’ll be a reasonably edible sort of fried rice. I’ve previously tried freezing the bolognaise and pasta, or rice dishes as a whole. They re-heat very well in a microwave, but in a frypan they end up all mashed together, so now I freeze the pasta and rice separately to stir through at the last minute.

For the remaining two or three meals I’ll make a bechamel sauce in the large frypan, then add some defrosted, pre-cooked brown rice, some dried peas, a small can of corn, and a can of tuna. When it’s heated through sufficiently, I’ll turn off the gas and top with tomato slices and some more grated cheese, and leave it till the cheese melts. If I was making this at home there’d be fresh veges in it, and at the end I’d pop it under the grill to brown,  but this trip is going to require improvisation. In fact all the meals are very much improvised from what they’d be if I was cooking them either at home, or in the caravan. if there’s one thing I’ve realised over the years, it’s that cooking is more of art than an exact science – so having to improvise appeals to my artistic side!

For breakfast were taking a couple of tubs of Greek yogurt, which we’ll have with either some soaked prunes, or canned peaches, and topped with chopped nuts and seeds. Lunches and snacks will be either corn thins or vita wheats with cheddar cheese and chutney, or with canned fish and sliced tomatoes and cucumber. We’ll be taking some fresh apples and mandarins too. All very basic, but I’m sure we’ll get though, and will be looking forward to a proper home cooked meal, and a nice big fresh salad by the time we get back to Broome in almost a months time.

We’re only taking our alumium travel mugs for tea and coffee, and we’re not taking any glasses. I suspect the things I’ll miss most are China cups, our crystal wine glasses (yes, we travel with crystal wine glasses in the caravan), and a ready supply of ice for my water. Those little luxuries will be all the more appreciated when we return.

I’m going to keep an old fashioned travel diary to record the trip, so as I can post about it accurately when I return. Paul’s taking the camera, so we should have plenty of photos too. Yeh! Number one bucket list destination is about to be experienced. Sooooo excited! Watch this space, I suspect there’ll be plenty of the best photos yet coming very soon…..