There are not very many National Parks in Western Australia that have substantial amounts of bitumen roads.
When we visited the Northern Territory, I was shocked to see Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks almost completely bitumen roads, and I really couldn’t get comfortable with it. I mean, it is more comfortable, but it was so left field to what I’m used to that it just seemed wrong.
You see, Kakadu National Park is massive. It’s nearly 200km long, by 50km wide, and that’s a LOT of bitumen.
You can quite literally access a lot of camp sites right off the bitumen, and that feels totally unusual to me. I’m used to driving tens of kilometres on gravel roads to get to a camp site, not to seeing Toyota Corolla’s parked in the middle of the bush!
As things progress, more and more of our gravel roads are being replaced with bitumen, and its no wonder; the cost to maintain the gravel roads in Australia would be truly phenomenal. However, I really think it detracts from the adventure, and feel a bit sad to see it happening.
The Gibb River Road is slowly becoming a bitumen highway. Today, people refer to it as a very tame 4WD track, whereas once it was an adventure of a lifetime; a real achievement to make it from one end to another without any damage.
Of course, there are some benefits of having bitumen roads; you can travel faster and safer, help is easier to get and it opens it up to a lot more people so they too, can enjoy it. However, often this brings its own problems in.
I saw it happen at Wedge Island, which was once an amazing little shack community accessible purely by 4WD’s and motorbikes along the beach, or sandy tracks from Lancelin.
Once the Indian Ocean Drive went in, they ran a nice little bitumen road right into the settlement, and it caused havoc. Police were called out regularly, ranger activity had to increase and you got a whole heap of the wrong kind of people entering where they previously couldn’t.
Driving through Kakadu National Park, I really felt the urge for gravel roads (which we did get on the way to Maguk, Gunlom and Koolpin Gorge) but I got the feeling that the Gibb River Road would soon be like this.
No more 4WD adventure; just hop in the family car and cruise around from water hole to water hole.
Is it an improvement, and are we heading in the right direction, or should it be left alone? I’m in two minds, and think it will take a while before I’m used to rolling into camp sites on a perfectly flat bitumen road! After all, I prefer to take the road less travelled; that’s why I own a 4WD!