The ultimate guide to the Kimberley and Gibb River Road
The Kimberley is one of the most amazing places on earth, and is frequented by those looking for adventure, unbelievable scenery, incredible wildlife and natural beauty.
At roughly 3 times the size of England and with a huge list of spectacular places to explore you could spend months (and many do) exploring the region. In 2014, the Kimberley was ranked 2nd best region to visit in the world!
If you aren’t sure why so many people head there every year, have a read of this; 12 reasons you should visit the Kimberley.
There is lots of information online about the Kimberley, and that’s good. The problem is its spread everywhere, and can be extremely hard to find everything you need.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled the ultimate and complete guide to the Kimberley, covering everything from where to go, what to take, where you can get fuel and supplies, costs, safety considerations, itinerary suggestions and more. Yes, this is a long post.
In order to cover all this, we’ve included a lot of links. These will take you to more detailed pages. They cover everything from things to do in the Kimberley to location information pages, details on tyre pressures and lots, lots more.
Before we go on, there’s one important thing we need to cover; its called the Kimberley, and not the Kimberleys as so many people call it!
Where is the Kimberley?
The Kimberley region is 423,000 square kilometres, or roughly twice the size of Victoria. It’s located in the northern part of WA, and includes well known places like Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra and the iconic Gibb River Road.
Around 50,000 people live in the Kimberley, and this makes it one of the least populated regions in the world per square kilometre.
About the Kimberley
Each year as the dry season rolls in, a steady stream of people head north to experience the warmth and wonder. Often referred to as the last frontier in Australia, it is home to pristine beaches, spectacular gorges and waterfalls along with an amazing history and a vast range of flora and fauna.
While its winter in the southern parts of Australia with the cold temperatures and rain, its warm and sunny in the north!
Camping in the Kimberley is by far and away the best method of exploring this great region, and there’s some of the best camp sites in the world to enjoy.
Is the Kimberley worth it?
I don’t think there’s really anything I can write here that will convey the true beauty, adventure and fun that can be had in the Kimberley, but I’ll do my best.
The Kimberley is a photographers paradise, and continues to draw thousands upon thousands of people to the area year after year. Whether you are after a luxurious holiday amongst some of the best scenery in the world, an incredible cruise or you want to hike, camp and fish for weeks on end the Kimberley will have you covered.
From the perfect red sandy beaches and aqua water with some of the best sunsets in Australia around Broome and Cape Leveque to the huge waterfalls and swimming holes that lay scattered along the Gibb River Road, you are guaranteed to enjoy the Kimberley.
Our photo series
Firstly, lets start off with some inspiration, from a 5 post photo series taken on our first visit to the Kimberley.
Lake Argyle and the Bungle Bungles
Costs and trip summaries
If you are chasing information on how much it costs, rough itineraries, fuel consumption, what we liked and didn’t then there are two summaries for you:
Our first trip was done solo, but kid free with an 80 Series Land Cruiser: 5 weeks in the Kimberley; the summary
Our second trip was also done solo, but covered the Pilbara, Kimberley, Northern Territory and Coral Coast with an 18 month old and a camper trailer: 3 months up north with a 4WD, toddler and camper trailer.
If you are chasing general information about travel in Australia and how you can reduce it, then we have a post for that too; What does it cost to travel Australia?
Useful apps and resources for the Kimberley
There is no better app for finding things to see and places to camp at, with up to date information, photos and pricing. The trial period is free, and then it costs about $8 when that runs out. It will pay for itself many, many times over. I promise.
Fuel Map Australia app
Whilst most states have their own fuel websites, they mean nothing when you head out into the sticks. Fuel Map Australia allows people to add pricing for fuel they’ve purchased from the more remote places, including One Arm Point, Imintji, Mount Barnett, Drysdale Station, Kalumburu and El Questro Station.
This is free, and will save you a bucket load by knowing where to fill up.
Gas Finder app
Most people run LPG bottles, and there are places in the Kimberley where a refill will cost you about $8 a kg, purely because of how remote they are. Gas finder allows you to see where you can fill gas bottles up, and how much it was by previous customers. This is free too, and worth getting
Visitor centres are often useful places to visit, even if its just to get up to date information on somewhere you are going.
Broome Visitor Centre – 1 Hamersley Street in Broome, 9195 2200
Derby Visitor Centre – 30 Loch Street in Derby, 9191 1426
Fitzroy Crossing Visitor Centre – Forest and Flyn Drive in Fitzroy Crossing, 9191 5355
Halls Creek Visitor Centre – 2 Hall Street in Halls Creek, 9168 6262
Kalumburu north Kimberley Tourism – online here
Kununurra Visitor Centre – 75 Coolibah Drive in Kununurra, 9168 1177
Wyndham Tourist Centre – 6 Great Northern Highway in Wyndham, 9161 1281
At the very least, buy the $15 fold out Hema map. Ideally though, The Kimberley Atlas and Guide ($50) is a fantastic book that has all the maps you need along with plenty of information.
It’s a great to plan your trip, and to read while you are sitting around camp relaxing, or driving to your next destination in the Kimberley.
Kimberley road condition reports
There are a variety of places to get updates on road conditions. Everyone wants to know about the Gibb River Road condition, and the best place to get feedback is from those who’ve come off it in the last week, on Facebook.
Both Wikicamps and Facebook are often great for regular feedback, but the official place to go is here – https://travelmap.mainroads.wa.gov.au/.
National Park and other passes
Parts of the Kimberley require you to have a National Parks Pass, which you can pay individual entry for at each park, or you can buy different options online.
If you are with RAC, you can get the annual parks pass for half price, which is a steal. Check it out here – RAC 50% off national parks pass. There are a couple of different passes, depending on how long you want it for.
You need this pass to visit Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Lennard Gorge, Bell Gorge, Mirima and the Bungle Bungles.
Please note this is on top of the usual camping fees in the National Parks. The camping fees in National Parks in the Kimberley range from $10 to $15 for adults, depending on which parks you visit.
Recently, a new pass was introduced for the Mitchell Plateau. The is known as the Uunguu Visitor Pass, and can be purchased online here. There are a number of different passes depending on how you are visiting, and how long you are in the area.
If you are visiting Kalumburu, there is a $50 per vehicle pass as well.
Ways to explore the Kimberley
There are a number of ways you can explore the Kimberley. For many, it involves a 2WD vehicle and sticking to bitumen and well maintained gravel roads. For a larger majority, a 4WD is the choice of travel, bringing with it a much greater range of accessibility.
Beyond that, there are some truly unbelievable Kimberley Cruises that take you around the coastline, or a vast range of plane flights and helicopter rides.
If you don’t want to organise any of this yourself, there are a range of Kimberley Tours (see further down) that will take care of everything for you.
Well known events in the Kimberley
Staircase to the Moon, Broome
The staircase to the moon is a great event that happens many times every year. As the full moon rises over Roebuck bay, the reflection on the water makes it look like stairs leading you to the moon. For exact dates, see here.
Gibb River Road Mountain Bike Challenge
The Gibb River Road can be a pretty harsh place, and that’s in a 4WD. Imagine doing it on a mountain bike! Every year, hundreds of bike riders ride from one end of the Gibb to the other. Each team of 2 – 6 riders must raise at least $1000 before joining the charity event, and all money goes to a good cause.
For 2019, its going to the Royal Flying Doctor. If you want to be apart, have a read here. If you are on the Gibb River Road between 19th and 23rd of May, there’s a good chance you’ll see them!
We ended up sharing the camp ground at Mt Elizabeth with about 700 others because of this. It pays to find out where they are staying, and travelling so you can decide how many neighbours you want. If you see them on the track, give them a wave, lots of distance and keep the dust down!
Dam to Dam Dinghy Race
Every year, a 55km Dinghy race is held along Lake Kununurra. If you’ve never seen much of Dinghy racing, check it out. The race is fast, fun and full of spills!
Ord Valley Muster
The Ord Valley Muster is a 10 day event boasting rodeo’s, comedy, music, dinner under the stars and lots more. It’s held in East Kimberley.
Apex Barra Bash
If fishing is your thing, every year a Barramundi fishing competition is held by Apex Barra, and you can fish anywhere in the East Kimberley.
The Climate, and when to visit
If you’ve never been to the northern parts of Australia, you probably wouldn’t know that the climate is vastly different to what we’d experience further south. The Kimberley has two distinct weather seasons; the dry and the wet.
The wet season is when a huge amount of rain falls, and its usually in between November and April. The weather is warm, wet, sticky and often cyclones come through.
Once May rolls around, the rain usually goes away (although the exact time can be anywhere from March to June!), and the sun comes out for months on end. Ever wondered why so many people head north come winter time? Now you know!
A large portion of the Kimberley is off limits during the wet season, as its impassable, or you’ll damage the tracks. Beyond this, hefty fines are in place for travelling where you aren’t supposed to be.
The best time to visit the Kimberley is in the dry season, and as early as possible. This is when the water levels are highest, everything is nice and green and the visitor numbers are less. Once school holidays roll in, things get very busy, and if you leave it too late in the wet season the water holes dry up and the weather gets hotter.
That said, the Kimberley is mighty impressive in the wet season, and it is an option for enjoying a few locations.
If you are going during the normal dry season (May to August, the normal maximum temperature during the day is somewhere around 28 – 33 degrees. It can get very cold at night time, with a few places clocking 2 degrees or even lower, but evenings normally get down to around 14 – 18 degrees.
Take some warmer sleeping gear, in case it does get cold.
It’s rare to see a cloud in the sky for months, and that means no rain, but stranger things have happened. The longer you delay the trip, the warmer it gets during the day, with September and October being substantially warmer than May and June.
Safety in the Kimberley
There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll get close to a crocodile or two in the Kimberley. They are a serious risk, and will severely hurt or kill you if a few simple precautions aren’t followed. We are dinner to them, so give them the respect they deserve.
In Australia, there are two types of crocodiles; the fresh water, and the Estuarine (or salt water). Providing you leave the fresh water ones alone, they will do the same.
The salt water crocodiles on the other hand will actively hunt you, and when they grow to 6 metres long its not a beast you want to reckon with. Contrary to their name, salt water crocodiles can exist in any water, including fresh water bodies.
Obey the signs, don’t swim if you don’t feel comfortable, speak to the rangers and locals, and know that signs don’t guarantee a crocodile free water source. If you are near water that is known to have salt water crocodiles in it, stay at least 10 metres away.
If you want to know more, have a read of this; Crocodile safety in the Kimberley and Northern Territory.
Safe, crocodile free swimming spots in the Kimberley
Please don’t take this as gospel. Salt water crocodiles can, and do move around (especially during the wet season) and a place that I say is safe, or that the signs say are safe may not be on the day you choose to jump in.
With that covered, it all comes down to a judgement call on the day. A lot of people swim at Middle Lagoon and Kooljaman, but they do occasionally get big salt water crocodiles coming onto the beaches!
Even in Broome, where thousands of people swim, salt water crocodiles are removed from Cable Beach every few years. It’s rare, but they can be anywhere.
On the Gibb River Road, the following places are considered safe to swim:
Top and bottom of Bell Gorge
Manning Gorge and the River in front of camp
Ellenbrae station creek
Wunamurra gorge, Mt Elizabeth
Warra gorge, Mt Elizabeth,
Zebedee springs, El Questro
Emma Gorge, El Questro
El Questro Gorge, El Questro
The first 5 private camp sites at El Questro, and leading back up to the restaurant
The flat area above the Mitchell Falls
Little Mertins on the way to Mitchell Falls
King Edward River Camp
Unfortunately, amongst the beautiful beaches in the north can be some very nasty stingers that you want to be aware of. There are two jellyfish that inhabit these waters which are dangerous.
The normal, large Box Jellyfish can be up to 30cm long, and have tentacles that leave a whip like mark with severe stinging sensation. These are extremely dangerous.
Even worse, is the small Irukandji jellyfish which is only around 1 – 2cm in size. These have a tentacle in each corner, but also stinging cells throughout their body.
If you get stung by one of these, sweating around the site is common, as is back pain, muscle pain and difficulty breathing. These can kill you, and there have been a few cases in Australia where people have died.
If you want to be safe, don’t swim where the stingers are found. If you do get stung, seek urgent medical attention.
Like most places in Australia, mosquito’s can be bad depending on many factors. In general we’ve found it pretty good in the Kimberley over the dry season, but do everything you can to avoid getting bitten by these pesky creatures. That includes repellent, wearing long clothing and going indoors if they are around.
Snakes and Cane Toads
If you are vigilant, you will see some snakes in the Kimberley. Most of the time they are gone before you get a chance to look at them twice, but this is their home. Wear enclosed shoes in the bush, watch where you are walking and you’ll be just fine. They are much more concerned of you than you are of them.
Cane toads are not something you need to be worried about either, but if you’ve come from the southern parts of Australia there’s a chance you won’t have seen them before.
They are nasty animals that have done a lot of damage to the northern parts of Australia. They have dry skin, big glands on their shoulder and a bony M shaped ridge over their nose.
Don’t touch these with your bare skin, as they can release a milky substance that is poisonous. Chances are if you go out at night time with a spot light you’ll see heaps of them hopping around. You may come across toad collection baskets, where they are caught and placed, then disposed of on a regular basis.
The Kimberley is a beautiful place. It can also be incredibly harsh, hot and hard on your body. There’s a lot of walking to be done in the Kimberley, and you need to take plenty of water, and drink it often. For many of the walks in the Kimberley, we will take 2 litres of drinking water each. Yes, its heavy, but its critical.
Walks should be done early in the morning, with plenty of water with you.
Security from people and animals
Unfortunately, there are people out there who steal, so be sensible with your equipment. Don’t leave valuables where you can see them in cars, lock your vehicles, put expensive camping gear out of sight when you leave and don’t attract unwanted attention.
Humans aren’t the only things that will take your gear though; some of the Dingo’s have a love for shoes, and if you leave them around you might come out to one shoe, not two! Don’t leave food out, or rubbish bags, or you’ll get visitors in the middle of the night. They are even known to get into food tubs, so put them away.
Medicine and food
The major hubs (Broome, Derby and Kununurra) have a good range of food and medicine at a reasonable price. However, they may not have everything you need, and if you have specific dietary or medical requirements make sure you stock up prior to arriving in the region.
Fuel and water
You should always carry more fuel than you need. When you are driving off road you will use more fuel than normal. Have a read of how to accurately work out your 4WD’s fuel economy. From there, you can plan your fuel stops accordingly, based off the size of your tank.
Water is fairly easy to get in the Kimberley, but again, take more than you will need for drinking, washing, cooking, cleaning and if you need any for your vehicle (think damaged radiator!).
A large majority of the Kimberley is well travelled in the dry season. In the major hubs there are thousands of people. Even on the big gravel roads, you’ll normally see at least a handful of cars each day early on, and when it gets busier you’ll see a lot more.
It’s only the more remote places like the Munja and Carson track that you want to be completely self sufficient in terms of communication.
For most people, a UHF radio is a great start, so you can communicate with other vehicles (especially trucks!).
A satellite phone is not a requirement, but it is very useful depending on where you are travelling. The SPOT trackers are fantastic tools, and your mobile phone will work, from time to time away from the major centres.
Phone reception varies wildly, and along the Gibb River Road you will get very sporadic service. Ironically, Optus seems to have better reception along the Gibb than Telstra does.
Extra tips for travelling the Kimberley:
Coming from the NT; Quarantine at the border
A lot of people come down to the Kimberley from the Northern Territory. You will get stopped at the WA/NT border, and they will go through your vehicle and trailer.
Any fresh produce must be disposed of, or they will take it off you. This includes everything from fruit to vegetables, honey and seeds. For more information, check this out – https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/exporting-western-australia/quarantine-information-private-travellers.
Please note if you are leaving WA and heading into the NT you won’t even get stopped; there are zero restrictions.
Get to the Kimberley early if possible
There’s a lot of incentive to get to the Kimberley as early as possible. The water levels are higher, everything is greener from the wet season and there’s less people around.
The longer in the year you leave it the less water is around, the less picturesque everything is and you may have to deal with lots of others.
Unfortunately, when the Gibb River Road opens is an unknown every year, but its usually around May before everything is open. Late April/early May is the normal opening period but it can takes many weeks after for every attraction to open their gates.
It is up to you to do your own research before heading up, especially when we have a year like we did in 2023!
Travelling the Kimberley; distance vs time
A lot of the driving in the Kimberley is slow, and you need to factor this into your itinerary. The bitumen roads are as you’d expect, and are no issue at all. However, a large majority of the good gravel roads are in between 60 and 100km/h, with the rougher sections much slower than that.
For example, the last part of the track to Mitchell Falls is 88km long. This travel time is publicised as 3 – 5 hours. If you had factored in driving at an average of 100km/h, you’d be in trouble.
When you plan your trip to the Kimberley, be sure to find out how long it takes to get from one place to another. Don’t rely on the distance, because the time vs distance is not always predictable.
Get up early
For a large chunk of the Kimberley, the best time to see it is early in the morning. This is especially the case if you need to walk, like many of the attractions on the Gibb River Road.
There’s less people about, the weather is cooler and you’ll see a lot more bird and animal life. Walking some of the gorges in the middle of the day is totally unpleasant, and not overly safe either.
Best places for young kids
If you’ve got young kids, the Kimberley is an interesting place. We prefer to steer clear of locations where salt water crocodiles are common, as its just too hard to keep them away from the water. With that in mind, here’s a few magic spots for young kids in the Kimberley
80 mile beach caravan park
Cable Beach (especially at sunset!)
Brian Lee tag along tour at Kooljaman (fishing and mud crabbing)
Windjana Gorge (fresh water crocodiles; you can’t swim, but its a great place to let them run around)
Tunnel Creek (who doesn’t like shining a torch around a dark cave?)
Mornington Wilderness Camp (lots of great little walks, educational bits and bobs and water holes)
Manning Gorge river (a great place to swim and play in the sand without a worry of crocodiles!
Mt Elizabeth (great camp ground, and both gorges are fantastic for kids. One has a ladder you may need to carry them down)
El Questro Station – Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge are great for young kids.
Closures for 2023
With the saga going on at the moment, there are a number of places that are not opening for 2022:
- Kooljaman on Cape Leveque
- Windjana Gorge
- Geiki Gorge
- Mornington Wilderness Sanctuary
Amazing places in the Kimberley
There’s a lot to love about Broome, but it is a huge tourist mecca and the population triples when the dry season rolls in. For this reason, some people do find it a bit overwhelming and expensive.
That said, you’ll find incredible beaches, history, shopping and in general one of the most laid back atmospheres around. We usually stay at the Cable Beach Caravan Park, and love it.
Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park is certainly worth a look, as are the court house markets, Gantheaume point, the outdoor cinema, museum, cable beach, dinosaur footprints, town beach, bird observatory, war plane wrecks, staircase to the moon, pearling industry and China town.
South of Broome
If you are looking for laid back beach side accommodation, Barn Hill is for you. Located 140km south of Broome on Thangoo Station, Barn hill has a shady and grassy area for powered sites, and an unpowered area. Camping is very close to the beach, with a variety of facilities and basic essentials from the shop.
You’ll find Port Smith 167km south west of Broome, with the last 23km a well maintained all weather dirt road. This is a formal caravan park with a big lagoon that is a sight for sore eyes.
You can launch your boat here (but only at certain times – the tide is huge!), and relax the days away. The Caravan Park is a small drive away from the beach but has your usual amenities and shops.
80 Mile Beach
A little further down than Port Smith is 80 Mile Beach. This is even more ‘developed’ than Barn Hill and Port Smith, which some people may prefer, and others won’t. It’s 376km south west of Broome, with the last 10km a gravel road that is maintained, but can be corrugated.
80 Mile beach is extremely well maintained, and is full of green, grassy camp sites with some shade and excellent amenities. Beach access is available during normal daylight hours. The shells on 80 Mile Beach are nothing short of amazing, and the facilities are good. Fishing for threadfin salmon is popular here.
Cape Leveque/Dampier Peninsula
In terms of picturesque coastal adventure, Cape Leveque is up there with the best. From the pristine red cliffs at Kooljaman to the amazing pearls at Willie Creek, there’s a lot to love about Cape Leveque.
Located on the peninsula north of Broome, you’ll find a variety of places to stay at. Some are basic, unpowered camp sites and others are luxurious cabins. There’s something for everyone, and a whole lot of fun to be had.
Cape Leveque/Dampier Peninsula Road Conditions
A large portion of the road out to the tip of Cape Leveque is bitumen. EDIT – it’s now entirely bitumen, with exception of the driveways to each location.
176km from Broome, 95km from Kooljaman
Middle Lagoon is located mid way up the Dampier Peninsula, and is relatively small and undeveloped. If you love camping, this place is absolutely magic with two incredible beaches, great sites to set your camp up at along with fantastic fishing and scenery.
There’s nice flushing toilets and hot showers, and its the perfect place to lounge around for a few days.
7km to Middle Lagoon, 288km to Broome
Possibly our favourite camp site in the whole of Australia so far is Pender Bay. Camp on the pristine red cliffs, and you get your own little private beaches to yourselves. The fishing, views and area is nothing short of mind blowing.
95km to Middle Lagoon, 209km to Broome
EDIT – Kooljaman is currently closed until further notice, citing impending upgrades.
Further north lies Cape Leveque, or Kooljaman, which is much more developed. They have a number of different accommodation options, along with a small store, restaurant, tours operating in the area and some incredible red cliffs. We thoroughly enjoyed Kooljaman, and had some fantastic days there.
Please note Caravans are not permitted here. If you are comparing Middle Lagoon and Cape Leveque, have a read of this – Middle Lagoon vs Cape Leveque.
Other places on the Dampier Peninsula:
There are a number of places you can call in at, and even stay on the Cape Leveque Peninsula. Willie Creek Pearl Farm is worth a stop, and you can camp there too, and do a few different tours. James Price and Quandong Point are a popular free camping location, with some nice views.
Beagle Bay is a small community with some interesting history and a well known church
Gnylmarung Retreat is just off the Middle Lagoon road, and is hugely popular for fishing and camping, as is Banana Well Getaway.
Lombadina is located on Thomas Bay, and has some fantastic tours operating in the area. Accommodation ranges from cabins and lodges to single quarters and camping. Like the rest of the Dampier Peninsula, the fishing is spectacular.
Chile Creek is another small bush camping location only 2km from the Indian Ocean Drive.
Cygnet Bay Pearl farm is not far from Kooljaman, and also offers some great tours, camping and other accommodation options.
One Arm Point is a small community on the eastern side of the Peninsula which has some interesting beaches and a hatchery known as Ardyaloon.
The Gibb River Road (or GRR)
There are a number of iconic 4WD tracks in Australia, and the Gibb River Road probably tops the list in terms of adventure, amazing scenery and fishing.
The actual road is only around 660km long and can be done in a few days, but most of the attractions are off the side of the track on stations or national park land. The normal travel distance for a trip on the GRR is 1000 – 2000km.
The Gibb River Road is incredibly picturesque; passing through numerous ranges,and valleys with incredible scenery and lots of beautiful boab trees.
Gibb River Road corrugations and road conditions
Most of the Gibb River Road is gravel, and it is regularly graded. That said, after a lot of traffic (particularly the school holidays!) it can be very corrugated. This road causes a lot of trouble for many people, and it doesn’t need to.
If you haven’t done a lot of corrugations before, you may find this road very unpleasant if its not recently been graded. In 2015, the Gibb River Road in early May was like a highway.
95% of the track was better than driving on bitumen, and we cruised along at 80 – 100km/h for the large majority of it. That said, we still heard some people complaining about the road condition, and saying it was the worst road they’d driven on. It’s all about perspective.
In 2018, we did the track at the end of the school holidays, and the corrugations were pretty nasty. We saw numerous blow outs, broken suspension and cars that had been given a very hard time. A lot of this comes down to a lack of knowledge.
There are 2WD vehicles that do the track, and with a bit of clearance it can be done. However, I wouldn’t recommend it, as it can be extremely punishing and you are likely to do expensive damage.
The trick for driving on nasty corrugations is tyre pressure, and speed. I suggest removing 30% of the normal highway pressures in both your vehicle and your trailer.
We normally run around 40 – 45 PSI in the Dmax, and take the pressures down to around 30. For the camper trailer, 35 is normal, and so they are let down to 25 PSI. This absorbs a lot more of the bumps, and reduces your chance of getting a Puncture on the Gibb River Road tyre through the tread.
Set your speed based on what is safe, and comfortable. Yes, you can drive very quickly and it will be comfortable, but its not safe, and when there is a lot of traffic around (which there often is) you will end up causing an accident.
Unfortunately, this does happen on the Gibb River Road, and when help is a long distance away, its not a position you want to be in.
You will meet others on the Gibb River Road. You should always slow down for oncoming traffic to reduce rocks being flicked up, and only overtake when its completely safe. Often, its not and you are better off sitting back.
When I say back, I mean way back, out of the dust cloud. Sucking dust in from behind another vehicle is not great for your air filter, and ultimately your vehicles motor.
Be prepared to have a puncture, and possibly more than one. If you have to purchase replacement tyres, it will cost a lot more than in the major cities, and your particular tyre model may not be available. Such is life.
There are a lot of sharp rocks on the Gibb River Road, and sometimes regardless of how you drive, you’ll still get a puncture.
Keep your eye on the road, and avoid any rocks that look nasty where possible. Remember that its better to drive over a sharp rock, than clip it with the edge of your tyres trying to avoid it as your tyres are much weaker on the sidewalls.
A small portion of the Gibb is bitumen, with most of the creek crossings also bitumen or concrete bottoms.
The drive ways going to different attractions may or may not be maintained. The last part of the track to the Mitchell Falls is only graded very rarely, and as such is slow, corrugated and hard on your vehicle.
With the right tyre pressures, speed and quality tyres your chances of a puncture are greatly reduced. There are thousands of vehicles that do it every year and never get a puncture, but be prepared for it.
Daily checks and preventative maintenance
On the Gibb River road, make sure you have a quick look around your vehicle and trailers before departing each day. Look for leaks, shiny sections that show wear, bolts missing, loose cables and worn or damaged belts. Listen for noises when the corrugations aren’t bad, and you’ll find early detection will be a life saver
Another great tip is to touch your vehicle and trailer hubs at least once a day, when you’ve been driving for some time. If you have a bearing on its way out, it will generate a lot of heat. If you are forced to take your hand off the hubs quickly, then there’s a good chance your bearings need attention. This is most obvious on trailers.
Towing trailers on the Gibb River Road
Caravans, boats and camper trailers are suitable for this road providing they are designed to go off road, you let your tyres down and drive sensibly. That said, do your research and be comfortable with it; broken trailers are very common and cost a lot of money to be recovered.
Some caravans in particular are classed as ‘off road’ but are not. You can have your trailer trucked from Kununurra to Derby, if you want peace of mind that there will be no damage.
It’s worth covering your rear window with cardboard and duct tape, as rocks often bounce from your trailer and smash the back windows. I’ve seen it plenty of times. Also make sure your stone guards are quality, and you have no exposed wiring or plumbing under your trailer.
Mechanical assistance on the Gibb River Road
If you do have issues with your vehicle or trailer on the Gibb River Road, there are a few places you can go to get assistance.
Over the range tyre and mechanical repairs (280km from Derby, 50km east of Imintji and 30km west of Mt Barnett)
Charnley River Station, Mount Barnett, Drysdale Station and Kalumburu Mission will help with tyre repairs
Home Valley Station and El Questro Station can assist with tyres and basic mechanical repairs.
Attractions on the Gibb River Road
In terms of locations, we’ll start from the western side and work our way towards Kununurra:
Birdwood Downs Station
16km to Derby, 690km to Kununurra, 1km from the GRR
With 2500 ha of pastoral lease, Birdwood Downs is a working station that offers guided tours, horsemanship training, trail rides and hut accommodation.
Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
144km to Derby, 603km to Kununurra, 36km between Windjana and Tunnel Creek, 22km from the GRR
Minimum visiting time of 2 hours at each location
The first taste of the Gibb River Road is found at Windjana Gorge, and its a spectacular start. Home to hundreds of fresh water crocodiles, you’ll have a short walk into an amazing gorge where you can explore, hike or sit around and watch the crocodiles.
A short drive down the road and you come to Tunnel Creek, which is an 800 metre long Tunnel with a few resident fresh water crocodiles in the cave. It’s truly amazing, but you do need to be a little nimble and prepared to get your feet wet.
Make sure you bring a torch, and shoes that you are happy to get wet. Booties or reef walkers work very well!
For more information, check out Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek.
Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge
237km to Derby, 566km to Kununurra, 49km from the GRR
Whilst I’ve never been to Mount Hart, I’ve heard amazing things about it and it will be on the itinerary for next time. It has some fantastic water holes and scenery, and is well and truly worth the longer drive in.
200km to Derby, 515km to Kununurra, 8km from the GRR
The Lennard Gorge is a 2km hike from the car park, and is not too far off the Gibb River Road either. This is purely an attraction, and not meant for camping near.
246km to Derby, 516km to Kununurra, 10km between Bell Gorge and Silent grove, 29km from the GRR
A little further along the Gibb River Road lies Bell Gorge, and its camp ground – Silent Grove. Both are amazing places, and the camp ground has solar showers and nice toilets. The walk into Bell Gorge is longer, and the last part requires a short walk down some steeper rocks, but the reward is well and truly worth it.
If you don’t want to go all the way to the bottom you can still enjoy the spectacular scenery up the top. Check it out here – Bell Gorge and Silent Grove.
Mornington Wilderness Park
341km from Derby, 543km to Kununurra, 90km from the GRR
One of the lesser visited locations along the Gibb River Road is Mornington Wilderness Park. This is partly due to it being less known, but also because it is a substantial detour off the main road and consumes a fair bit of extra fuel.
That said, it was one of our favourite places and we’d highly recommend it.
Charnley River Station
320km to Derby, 515km to Kununurra, 65km from the GRR
Charnley River Station is another quiet, lesser known attraction along the Gibb River Road. It has a great reputation, with nice, grassy camp sites and some very nice water holes. The station is run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (the same organisation that runs Mornington Wilderness Camp.
273km to Derby, 435km to Kununurra, 2km from the GRR
Another fantastic gorge to stop at mid trip is Adcock. It’s not far from the Gibb River Road, and the walk in is short. We were going to visit, but the track in requires high clearance 4WD’s (which we have), but apparently taking trailers in is not a good idea, so it was crossed off the list. Next time!
290km to Derby, 415km to Kununurra, and just off the GRR
There’s a fair bit of driving to be done on the Gibb River Road, and places like Galvan’s Gorge make for the perfect place to stop for a break. It’s only a short walk into the gorge (although not very well marked; just follow the water!), and its a beautiful place for a swim and a picnic.
314km to Derby, 398km to Kununurra, 11km to Mount Barnett which is just off the GRR
Next up, is Manning Gorge. This is a short drive in from Mount Barnett; the major stop along the Gibb River Road for fuel, food and water. The camp ground is fantastic, next to an amazing river. Incidentally, to do the walk to Manning Gorge you have to hop in a little boat and pull yourself across. It’s brilliant.
To pay, just speak to the roadhouse operator at Mount Barnett – they organise it all, and have a caretaker at Manning Gorge camp ground.
Barnett River Gorge
Located 28km from Mt Barnett, this is a small, less well known gorge with a rough access track and super picturesque gorge.
Mount Elizabeth Station
371km to Derby, 392km to Kununurra, 30km to the GRR
One of our favourite gorges on the Gibb River Road is found at Mount Elizabeth. It’s a 30km drive in to the station, but both gorges are easily accessible and require little walking. Wunnamurra Gorge is a short, rough 4WD track that’s quite a bit of fun.
Beyond that, the atmosphere at Mt Elizabeth Station is fantastic. They have peacocks, lots of wallabies and plenty of green grass and shade to relax under. You can camp, or stay in a garden or out camp room, and even get food provided!
The Munja 4WD Track
If you are well prepared, and set up for remote and difficult 4WD tracks the Munja is the adventure of a lifetime. The track starts near Mount Elizabeth (off their driveway) and mostly disappears during the wet season, and needs to be ‘cut’ each year. It can take some time for this to open up.
The track is 220km long one way, and takes you to the Walcott Inlet. It’s $150 per vehicle, plus a $50 key deposit (which is refunded) from Mount Elizabeth Station.
This should not be attempted in anything with limited clearance, and you want to be very confident with 4WDing and basic repairs. There are numerous jump ups and water crossings to make it a challenge.
Trailers are not recommended, although some competent people do regularly take high quality camper trailers in. Anything long, large, tall or heavy is going to cause you problems. Caravan’s, big boats and super heavy trailers are asking for trouble on this track.
Bachsten Creek Bush Camp
503km to Derby, 524km to Kununurra, 142km from Mt Elizabeth and 162km from the GRR
Part way along the Munja Track is Bachsten Creek Bush Camp. This is a great destination, or stop along the Munja track. You can camp, or stay in various cabin arrangements. Bachsten Creek is near some spectacular water holes, and comes highly recommended.
Gibb River Camp site
Only a couple of km onto the Kalumbaru road lies the Gibb River Camp site, on the banks of the Gibb River. This is one of the few free camps along the Gibb River road, and being a great place to swim is very popular.
King Edward River (Munurru) Camp site
411km to Derby, 459km to Kununurra, 77km to Mitchell Falls, 167km off the GRR
A very popular camp site on the way to Mitchell Falls is the King Edward River camp. Just around the corner from the King Edward River Crossing, this camp site is run by the rangers, and has a number of toilets and river access for great swimming.
A lot of people camp here and day trip in to see Mitchell falls. Asides from it being a very long day, there’s no reason not to do it; this camp site is much nicer than the Mitchell Falls one.
In fact, its often rated as one of the best camp sites in the Kimberley. There’s fantastic aboriginal rock art nearby, and you can camp right on the river.
656km to Derby, 539km to Kununurra, 246km from the GRR
The Mitchell Falls are one of the better known attractions along the Gibb River Road, and they certainly live up to their reputation. That said, its a long, rough road out there and a good couple of hour walk to the falls themselves. You can catch helicopters to or from the falls, which is a fantastic experience.
The camp site is nothing special, and is located right next to the helicopter landing pads, which are used continuously between sun up and sun down, and to be honest, its rather annoying. There are some magic spots to swim along the way to the Mitchell Falls though, and the whole area is pretty incredible.
If you are time poor, I think there are other attractions on the Gibb River Road that are easier to get to and just as worth it. If your vehicle is well prepared for rough roads and you have the time, by all means make the trip.
Trailers are not recommended to be towed out, and those that take trailers out soon find out how well built they are. The rangers at Mitchell Falls are regularly flying parts in for 4WD’s and camper trailers (at a substantial cost). I would not even consider towing a caravan out there.
676km to Derby, 557km to Kununurra, 264km from the GRR
If you keep going past the turn off to Mitchell Falls, you’ll end up at Kalumburu. This is the northern most settlement in WA, and is home to around 500 people.
It has some of the best fishing in the world, along with beautiful scenery and lots of coastline to explore. Don’t be fooled though; this is remote country, and you want to come prepared.
The road in can be slow and muddy; please stick to the main track. Trying to detour will get you very badly stuck! You need a yellow vehicle permit to access Kalumburu, which can be purchased at the main store or tourist information centre.
If you arrive when these are closed, McGowan Sunset Beach or Honeymoon Bay can sort you out.
Kalumburu is a dry community, but so long as alcohol is not visible you’ll have no issues. There’s a main supermarket which receives fresh supplies from Darwin every fortnight, and the pricing is subsidised by the yellow vehicle permit sales.
Wongalala Falls is only 20km from Kalumburu, and has only recently been opened to tourists. The track out is not too difficult, and its been said by a number of people that this is their favourite gorge in the Kimberley.
There are some fantastic swimming holes in the area, and the Kalumburu fishing is some of the best in the country.
701km to Derby, 582km to Kununurra, 289km from the GRR and 25km from Kalumburu.
Run by a local family, Honeymoon bay is high on the list of best places to stay. There are basic facilities, but the remoteness and adventure is what its all about here. There are a few shacks that require bookings, but the rest of the area is setup for camping on grassy, beach front sites.
A number of fishing charters and sight seeing tours are run from Honeymoon Bay. I’ve met many people who absolutely rave about Honeymoon Bay.
McGowans Sunset Beach
697km to Derby, 578km to Kununurra, 285km from the GRR and 21km from Kalumburu
Not far south of Honeymoon Bay lies McGowans Sunset beach, a place that has received a lot of publicity over the last two years thanks to a new caretaker. This is a small camp site with only the basic amenities needed, and a great place to stay and fish at.
Carson River/Oombulgurri 4WD Track
One of the most remote, picturesque and gruelling 4WD tracks around is the Carson River Track. This starts near Home Valley Station, and emerges some 400km away near Kalumburu.
Some years ago this could be done on your own, but this has now been discontinued. If you want to do the Carson River 4WD Track, you need to do it with Just Over the Hills tag along tours.
This part of the world receives the highest level of praise from those who’ve done it. Explore WA 4WD Tours also work with Just Over the Hill to provide an amazing, joint experience.
The Carson River 4WD tour is full of difficult 4WDing, remote fishing opportunities, traditional culture and historical sites, amazing gorges and great photography/camping opportunities.
This tour is expensive, but comes highly recommended, and those who’ve done it all say its worth the money.
Image Credit Jed Currey from Explore WA 4WD Adventures
Image Credit Jed Currey from Explore WA 4WD Adventures
485km to Derby, 229km to Kununurra, 5km from the GRR
Scones are what most people think of when they hear of Ellenbrae Station. Seriously, in the middle of the Gibb River Road, you can get hot scones with jam and cream amongst an amazing garden.
You can also camp there, with a nice little river to swim in, a donkey hot water system for showers and lots of interesting bits and pieces around the place.
Home Valley Station
588km to Derby, 121km to Kununurra, 2km from the GRR
Another station we’ve not made it to is Home Valley Station. Located near the Pentecost River, its well known for barramundi fishing, various tours, great camping and a fantastic bar and grill.
El Questro Station
634km to Derby, 103km to Kununurra and 17km from the GRR
If there was only one location you could visit in the Kimberley, it’d be El Questro for sure. Yes, its a massive money making machine, but its also got many beautiful places to see in a relatively small area.
El Questro is a mini town, with everything from a fancy restaurant to evening entertainment, a bar, shop and lots of accommodation options.
You can stay in a cabin, glamping setup, rent a private camp site along the river, use their tents or pay several grand a night for a six star accommodation option set away from everyone else.
El Questro is home to some incredible gorges, along with Zebedee hot springs and some fantastic Kimberley 4WD tracks. It’s highly recommended by us, but there are a few things you need to do if you want your stay to be really enjoyable.
There are a lot of people who complain about the prices, how busy it is and a variety of other things, but we highly recommend it. If you want to know how to enjoy it, read this: Is El Questro Station really worth it?
What are the main/normal attractions on the Gibb River road
If you are pushed for time, you’ll have to decide where to visit, and what to skip out. Please do your own research here, but the most common trip includes Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Bell Gorge, Manning Gorge and El Questro Station.
There are some truly amazing places not in the main/normal list above, so do your research and decide where to go! Remember, main and normal are not always best!
King George Falls
If you haven’t heard of this, don’t feel bad. A lot of others wouldn’t either. King George Falls are only accessible by cruise, or by flying. They are seen by a lot less people than those who travel the Kimberley!
Kununurra is only 100km away from El Questro Station, and is one of the most beautiful and scenic towns in WA. It is substantial size too, with everything you’d need there and easily available.
With amazing lookouts, water holes, local produce and a relaxed atmosphere its the perfect place to pull up and stay for a few days.
I’ve got a post covering everything to do in Kununurra too; The ultimate guide of things to do in Kununurra.
In the mean time, a list of some great attractions: Ivanhoe Crossing, Mirima National Park, Kelly’s Knob Lookout, Parry Road, Molly Springs, Lake Kununurra, the Grotto, The sandalwood factory, Marlgu Billabong (4WD only) and Middle Springs.
70km from Kununurra lies Lake Argyle; Australia’s second largest man made fresh water reservoir. It holds more than 10.7 million mega litres of water, or over 18 times the volume of water in the Sydney harbour.
The lake itself is absolutely stunning, and the size is literally too big to comprehend without going on a boat cruise. The Caravan Park at Lake Argyle is fantastic, with one of the best infinity pools in Australia.
Do a lake tour on the boat with Matt, and you’ll have a truly epic time. Find out more here – Lake Argyle; a truly magnificent place to visit.
Wyndham and Derby
Located either side of the Gibb River Road is Wyndham and Derby. They are both interesting places, with a select range of things to see.
The Bungle Bungles
There are times when words fail to accurately describe the beauty of something, and the Bungle Bungles does exactly this. With some of the most detailed formations you’ll see around, there’s lots to see in Purnululu National Park.
The bee hives are the most popular attraction, but you can also see the Echidna Chasm, Cathedral Gorge, Piccaninny Creek, whip snake gorge and a few other smaller attractions. If you want to know more about the camping opportunities, check out Bungle Bungles Camping.
The road into the Bungle Bungles
This is the third road in the Kimberley that people always want to know more about. It can be nice and smooth, or it can be rough and slow.
It has a number of windy sections and a couple of crossings. Caravans are not permitted into the park, and must be left at the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park (only 1km off the highway).
Again, tyre pressures are critical, and taking it nice and steady. The recommended travel time to do the 53km from the highway to the visitor centre is 2 – 3 hours. If its in good condition, you’ll do it in an hour and a half, but not much faster than that.
Hiking in the Bungles
If you are into hiking, the Bungle Bungles have some fantastic trails that are substantially longer than what you’d find on the Gibb River Road. Some are overnight, or even longer. We bumped into a couple that had been off grid for 3 days, and had left their vehicle at the Bee hives.
A lot of people drive up the Gibb River Road, and then back down the Great Northern Highway (or vice versa). It’s a decent drive between Broome and Kununurra, and Larrawa Station makes for the perfect place to stop for a break.
With some of the cleanest flushing toilets and hot showers we came across, its a great, cheap spot to rest a weary travellers head.
You can walk down to the river, or watch the sunset go down over the ranges.
Geikie gorge national park
Just off the Great Northern Highway, Geiki Gorge National Park is easily accessible, and a beautiful place to stop. The gorge itself is 30 metres deep, and can be seen by foot, or you can hop on a boat cruise.
Duncan road is a picturesque unsealed road that runs from Halls Creek, and comes out in the Northern Territory not far from the Zebra Rock mine. It can be rough, but the scenery is unreal and there are plenty of places to stop along the way. Duncan road runs behind the Bungle Bungles, and Lake Argyle.
Wolfe Creek crater national park
If you’ve seen the 2005 Australian movie Wolfe Creek, you might have some interesting thoughts entering right about now. Wolfe Creek Crater is a giant hole in the dirt, caused by a huge meteorite.
The ridge is 35 metres above the surrounding flat plain, and the walls inwards are extremely steep. The crater is found south of Halls creek along the Tanami Road.
What accommodation/camping needs booking?
Broome – pretty much everywhere gets extremely busy in the dry season
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm
Mornington Wilderness Camp
El Questro Private camp sites
Honeymoon Bay shacks
Windjana Gorge and Silent Grove
Manning Gorge and El Questro main camp sites cannot be booked ahead, and you don’t need to; just arrive and get a spot.
Silent Grove and Windjana Gorge can now be booked online, 180 days ahead.
Obviously, if you are travelling when its busy, get there as early as possible in the day. It’s rather sad seeing people arrive to a full camp ground as the sun is going down!
What should you take to the Kimberley?
- Tyre gauge and deflator
- 12V Compressor
- Puncture repair kit
- Recovery gear
- Spare fluids – engine oil, diff/gearbox oil, brake fluid
- An axe, tomahawk or saw
- Spare radiator hoses, drive belts, and a front and rear wheel bearing (if they can be changed roadside!)
- Ratchet straps and fencing tie wire
- Spare fuses and electrical cable
- MAF cleaner (for modern 4WD’s!)
- Mosquito repellent
- Warm clothes
- Quality hiking shoes or boots
- A decent first aid kit
- Torch/Head lamp (especially for Tunnel Creek!)
- Water bottles
- A wide brim hat and sunnies
Tours in the Kimberley
There are some absolutely incredible tours to be done in the Kimberley, and you can spend an absolute fortune if you please.
We did a 4WD tag along tour with Brian Lee at Cape Leveque and it was one of the best days on our trip. Amazing fishing at Hunter Creek, Mud Crabbing and some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen.
The Gibb River Road
Guided 1 day Windjana and Tunnel Creek Tours run from Broome to Broome
Mornington Wilderness Camp has a range of tours; we hired a gorge for the day, and did a bird watching tour. Both were pretty good.
Home valley has a range of fishing, helicopter and sunset tours
El Questro is king of the tours in the Kimberley. We did the Chamberlain gorge cruise, which was well worth it.
Beyond that, you can do horse riding, Barramundi fishing, bird watching, bush culture, self drive boats, sunset tours, guided gorge tours, 4WD tours, Helicopter tours, heli fishing and scenic aeroplane flights.
Honeymoon Bay runs some incredible fishing charters that are highly rated.
The Mitchell falls have helicopters flying back and forth all day long, and they are easy to get on.
Kununurra and Lake Argyle
Lake Argyle can only really be appreciated via a boat tour, which is 100% worth it. In my mind, you have two choices.
Head down the road from the Caravan park to Lake Argyle Cruises, or visit the Zebra Rock mine and do a cruise from there. We did the half day one with Matt, and had a truly unbelievable experience.
Like the rest of the Kimberley, you can do a lot of helicopter tours from Lake Argyle, or combine them into plane flights
In Kununurra, there are a lot of boat cruises up and down the Ord River, or in Lake Argyle itself.
The Bungle Bungles
We coughed up about $500 for a short helicopter tour over the Bungle Bungles. It was super expensive, but also absolutely unreal.
Other tours in the Kimberley
The horizontal falls tours are supposed to be one of the best you can do in Australia, and there’s a few different options including an overnight stay.
I can’t comment on this, as I’ve not done it, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t rave about it, or at least say it was worth their money. These leave from Broome, Derby and Kununurra.
The Geiki Gorge Boat Tour runs from May to October, and the standard tour is one hour.
Kimberley Package Tours
There are a number of companies that do package tours, exploring a large chunk of the Kimberley over many days. Usually they involve travelling in a truck/bus from place to place, camping overnight with a few extras thrown in here and there (different accommodation or tours etc). Some of these are
Cruises in the Kimberley
The Kimberley is home to some amazing aboriginal history, and a huge amount of aboriginal art, done many, many years ago. You can see it at Galvan’s Gorge, Mitchell Falls, Mitchell Plateau and many more.
You can get fuel at the following locations.
Sandfire Roadhouse, 322km south west of Broome, and 290km east of Port Hedland. Pricing is quite expensive (30 – 40 centre more than Perth prices), but its one of the only fuel stop between Port Hedland and Broome.
Broome – Fuel prices are good, and only marginally more than in Perth. The Roebuck BP outside of Broome is a great place to fill up!
One Arm Point, Cape Leveque (211km north east of Broome). Fuel is expensive.
Derby. Fuel Prices are pretty good, and its the last stop before you head to the GRR (or finish it)
Imintji (225km east of Derby). In terms of the GRR, this is cheap.
Mount Barnett (304km east of Derby, 331km west of El Questro or 401km west of Kununurra). Mount Barnett is a major stop, and carries a huge amount of fuel. It’s expensive, but totally reasonable.
Drysdale Station (167km north east of Mount Barnett, 283km west of El Questro or 353km west of Kununurra). Fuel here is expensive, but its also quite remote.
Kalumburu (206km north of Drysdale Station). Around $3 a litre for diesel. Yes, its expensive, and that’s because its in the middle of no where.
El Questro Station (103km west of Kununurra). This is expensive, especially being only 90km from Kununurra. That said, its still easier and cheaper to get fuel here than drive back to Kununurra!
Kununurra. Fuel prices are good, and you have a few options
Halls Creek (358km south of Kununurra, or 290km east of Fitzroy Crossing). Fuel prices are good.
Fitzroy Crossing (257km south east of Derby, or 290km west of Halls Creek). Fuel prices are good.
Where can you get drinking water in the Kimberley?
One of the things you soon learn about the Kimberley is there’s no shortage of water. You can get clean, tasty drinking water from every main town fairly easily, as well as Silent Grove (Bell Gorge camp ground), Imintji, Mornington, Mount Barnett and El Questro Station. For a more comprehensive post, check out Drinking water on the Gibb River Road.
Fishing in the Kimberley
The Kimberley has some magic freshwater and saltwater fishing. Barramundi are a prized catch up here, and mud crabs are common. There’s great fishing off the beaches (around high tide is the best time), along with the rocks up the Dampier Peninsula.
Fishing inland in the Kimberley can also land some monster Barramundi, along with silver cobbler, mangrove jack and plenty of other tasty fish.
Taking a boat to the Kimberley
Boats are common in the Kimberley, and with the fishing on offer its no wonder. Asides from the usual species caught elsewhere in the Kimberley, a boat allows you opportunities to get onto pelagics and plenty of trevally, queenfish and bluebone.
Kimberley Luxury Accommodation
El Questro Homestead
Is a 4WD necessary?
There’s a fair bit of the Kimberley that can be done without a 4WD. I’ve seen plenty of 2WD vehicles go to Cape Leveque and do the Gibb River Road. Would I recommend it? Absolutely not. You will punish your 2WD vehicle doing this, and it will suffer some damage.
A 4WD is at home in the Kimberley, and you’ll get to see a lot more. Clearance is important for some rocky sections, and for the water crossings. The main reason though, is simply the build quality. 2WD vehicles are not designed to be hammered across thousands of corrugations.
Hiring a 4WD
Due to how far away the Kimberley is, a lot of people opt to fly in, hire a 4WD and then fly out when they are finished. We actually compared pricing between our trip from Perth, and that of a couple who flew up, hired a car and then flew back down.
Dollar for dollar, it worked out very similar. That said, our 4WD was a lot less economical than theirs, and there are some restrictions with hire 4WD’s too.
Firstly, a lot of them won’t allow you to drive on the Gibb River Road after dark. This isn’t a major issue, as you try and avoid it anyway. Secondly, they won’t allow you on non gazetted roads (which the road to the Mitchell falls is classed as), so you’ll have to skip that.
Make sure that the hire company tells you about tyre pressures, and gives you a 12V tyre compressor. If they want you to leave your tyre pressures alone, find another company. They clearly don’t understand the requirements of driving a 4WD on corrugated roads.
If you have a set up 4WD already, its hard to hop into something else, but there are a lot of different options available for hiring.
Tyre pressures are critical
If there’s one thing that many people get wrong in the Kimberley, its not adjusting their tyre pressures for the terrain being driven on. This will result in a nasty, and expensive trip.
As I mentioned above, removing 30% of your normal highway pressure will soften the ride and make it more comfortable inside the vehicle, and reduce the wear and tear.
It also reduces the chances of punctures through your tyres tread. Remember that as you lower your tyre pressures you should also reduce your speed. High speed on low tyre pressures is a recipe for disaster, and for damaging your tyres.
Drive with your headlights on
Just a very simple, safe message. If you are driving on gravel, or dirt, keep your headlights on all the time regardless of the time of day.
It will cost you nothing, but allows others to see you much sooner and keeps everyone safe. If your aren’t sure why this is a good idea, check this out – Why you should turn your headlights on when driving on gravel roads.
Other 4WD Tracks in the area
Along with the Munja and Carson (Oombulgurri) track mentioned above, there are a number of 4WD tracks in the area. Some are very easy, and others can be not only difficult, but very dangerous if you get stuck.
The Karunjie track starts not far out of Wyndham at the end of the King River Road, and pops out on the eastern side of the Pentecost river, not far from Home Valley Station. This is a fantastic 4WD track, but needs to be done with extreme caution.
It is remote, and there is a very long section of soft flood plains. There are some rocky sections, drop offs and lots of varying scenes to admire. If you are going to do this track, go with a second vehicle (and don’t both go on the plains at once!), or let someone know of your plans.
Speak to Diggers Rest Station, and they will be able to give you updated information about the tides. If there has been recent king tides, you want to avoid the track. Getting stuck on the flood plain would be a total disaster, with absolutely nothing to recover yourself off.
Parry Creek Road
Parry Creek Road is a scenic, gravel road that starts off in Kununurra and takes you through Ivanhoe crossing (or you can go around), and ends up on the Great Northern Highway near Wyndham. This road is stunning, with lots of great places to stop and enjoy (Marlgu Billabong is amazing!).
Lower your tyre pressures, and enjoy the ride. It’s not usually in too bad condition. Parry Creek Farm is worth a stop for a look, a bite to lunch or a few nights.
Old Halls Creek Road
The Old Halls Creek Road starts on the Great Northern Highway heading into Wyndham, and finishes on Parry Creek Road.
It’s a fairly easy and straightforward track that’s only around 13km long. Let your tyres down, enjoy the scenery (and a few bits of water that you drive past) and admire the old road construction!
The back way into Wyndham (Barytes Road)
On a bit of a whim, we decided to take the back way into Wyndham with the Dmax. It starts near where the Great Northern Highway meets Parry Creek Road. This track feels remote, although in the scheme of things its not really.
That said, if you broke down or had issues out there without a second vehicle you would be in trouble; UHF and phone reception are zilch. A large majority of the track is narrow and has bush fairly high up. Eventually, it clears out, and you find yourself driving over rocks on the edge of a salt flat.
A few ups and downs, and then you pop out at the back of Wyndham. If I’m honest, its not the most scenic track, but it certainly feels like the end of the earth and has its own way of being interesting.
The Kimberley is well known for its water crossings, and the earlier in the season you go the deeper they will be. The deepest crossing we found was going out to El Questro Gorge, which just about went over the bonnet of our Dmax, and that was later in the season.
Most water crossings have a very solid base, and are no more than about 500mm deep. Low range, slow and steady is the go, and don’t go through it without a snorkel. Being croc country, don’t walk through the water, especially the Pentecost River!
Speaking of which, the Pentecost is the one river crossing people tend to be concerned about, because its quite long and might look daunting. This crossing is actually very easy.
If your tyres are let down correctly, wait for the crossing to be clear, and approach in 2nd gear, low range, and just crawl your way across. The rocks are reasonable sized, and you’ll bounce around a lot if you go too fast.
I’d always advise having a snorkel, as its cheap insurance not only for water ingress, but for dust too (and there’s a lot of that in the Kimberley!).
That said, the only place most 4WD’s will really need a snorkel is getting to El Questro Gorge, at El Questro, which was about bonnet height on both occasions that we’ve visited, and more than high enough to do very expensive, permanent damage to your 4WD’s motor.
Fires in the Kimberley
There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll come across a fire somewhere in the Kimberley. During the dry season, a lot of the bush is intentionally burnt, to reduce the fuel. This is a natural occurrence anyway, but it is lit up all over.
Unlike the fires that you might be used to further south, these are slow moving, gentle and relatively cool. If you see a fire on the side of the road, don’t panic; its perfectly normal!
When you are camping, use the contained fire places if you are allowed, and make sure the fire is controlled. You wouldn’t be a popular person if you burnt a camp area down!
Bird life in the Kimberley
The Kimberley is home to some pretty amazing birds, and a number that are highly endangered. You’ll see the big Brolga’s and Jabiru’s, and occasionally a Bustard. From there, a huge number of birds of prey, finches, cockatoos and parrots call the Kimberley their home.
The rainbow bee eater is a truly beautiful bird, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see a blue winged kookaburra around the place too.
Mornington is a hugely popular bird watching location and is home to the elusive Gouldian Finch, Purple-crowned Fairy-wren and Red Goshawk.
Driving to the tip of Cape Leveque in one day is pushing it. Ideally, stay at least one night at Kooljaman, but two or more is better. We’ve stayed a few nights at Middle Lagoon, then a few at Kooljaman, then back to Broome for one night before heading to Derby and starting the Gibb River Road.
The Gibb River Road
I would suggest you spend at least a week on the Gibb River Road. Of course, this is not always possible. As a minimum suggestion of 8 nights, if you left Derby early one morning you could do Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek, before making it to Bell Gorge for the night.
From there, you can do Bell Gorge in the morning, and move to Manning Gorge in the afternoon, and stay the night.
Do Manning Gorge the following morning, and then head to Mt Elizabeth to do the two gorges there, and stay the night. From there, head to the Mitchell Falls, and spend two nights there. Return to Ellenbrae for a one night stay before El Questro Station for two nights.
This itinerary will be fairly fast paced, but not unreasonable. Chop and change as you’d like, but the longer you have on the Gibb the better, especially if you want to get to Kalumburu and Mornington Wilderness Camp.
If you want to take things a bit slower and more relaxed, here’s a great 15 night itinerary:
One night at Windjana Gorge
One night at Bell Gorge
Three nights at Mornington Wilderness
Two nights at Mt Elizabeth (or Manning Gorge)
Two nights at Mitchell Falls
One night at Ellenbrae
Five nights at El Questro
As you can see, its not hard to fill two weeks, and that’s still missing a huge number of amazing attractions. I won’t go further into it than this; you’ll have to decide what attractions are best worth your time!
The Bungle Bungles
Realistically, you want two nights at the Bungle Bungles. This may vary depending on what walks are open, but one night is pushing your luck. It’s a 1.5 – 3 hour drive in to the tourist centre, and then a good couple of hours drive to get from there to one campsite and then to the other.
Useful Facebook pages/groups
The Gibb River Road and Kimberley Region
The Gibb River Road – Kimberley, Western Australia
Kalumburu North Kimberley Tourism
Have I covered everything?
Hopefully, if you’ve made it to the bottom of this post you are feeling confident about travelling the Kimberley. If there’s something I have missed, or you disagree with, please let me know.
Other than that, lock the dates in, and have an amazing trip to the Kimberley. That, and please share this around.
See you out there!
Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad to hear you’ve got a Kimberley trip planned.
From memory, its about an hour’s drive from the visitor centre to each camp ground. If the road in is in good condition you’ll be at camp within 2.5 hours, but it can take longer.
All the best
Hi Aaron & Sarah
Thanks for your very detailed blog – my husband and I are travelling to Australia next week and are absolutely excited to visit the Kimberley!
Still, there is one question left. 🙂 On our way back, we planned to visit the Bungle Bungle Park (coming from El Questro or Lake Argyle – we will see). In your experience, with how much time should we calculate from the visitor centre to one of the campgrounds in the park? You wrote from the highway to the park around 1,5 – 3h and then still a few hours to the campgrounds?
Thanks for your response!
Thanks for that. You’ll be fine getting to plenty of the places in that article, and its truly another level of amazing
Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent article. It looks fantastic up there. I’m about to get a new VW Transporter van (a campervan conversion) with AWD and about 200mm of ground clearance. It’s very limited in where it can go I realise but I’ll be trying to get to some of those places you mention.
You are very welcome. Enjoy the planning stage, and you’ll have an amazing trip too.
All the best
Thank you so much for this info. Just starting to plan our self drive trip through the Kimberleys.
Fabulous and very comprehensive information. Really appreciate the effort you’ve gone to , to make this available.
You’ll have a ball
Great site. Lots of goodinformation. Planning to spend about 8 weeks up there this winter, starting next week!
Great to hear Luke
Before I read this blog I was planning to travel to kimberley. I know this is one of the beautiful place for visit and after read this helpful blog I will definitely try to visit Kimberley with my friends.
You are most welcome
wow these places are really amazing. would love to visit there.. thank you for sharing this information with us.