Western Australia’s greatest 4×4 experience through the Kimberley bushland
The Gibb River Road was once a top-end Western Australia track only available to the most hardcore explorers and cattle ranchers but is fast becoming a more grated leisurely 4×4 experience. The entire 660km trip could take upwards of 13 days to accomplish if you were to drive it straight through via the tracks.
Preparation is key when enduring a journey of this magnitude, we’re here to help you with the before, during, and after. Preparation before the wheels start rolling will allow you to enjoy the expedition even more.
What to Expect on Gibb River Road?
This storied and legendary trip is roughly 660 kilometres and one of Western Australia’s most epic Northern road trips. The trip from Derby through to Kununurra is 12 days if you were to drive straight through, adding in the fun and exploration, we recommend setting aside 3 weeks for the entire duration.
The Gibb River Road has much to desire, including gorges, swimming into clear waterholes, exploring the immense landscape, hiking trails, water crossings, and of course great self-contained camping and offroading.
Taking nothing but photos and leaving nothing but footprints is the goal while on Gibb River Road. To achieve this, it’s all found in the preparation. Although the G.R.R. has grown in popularity, the stores and stations along the track are not always stocked with the items you might be looking for. This is one remote destination.
The scarcity of goods and the distance from the track is enough reason for you to pack what you need at your home base before beginning this Western Australia trip. Remember to keep your GVM in mind when packing. It can be easy to overload your ute in the name of supplies. Know your Gross Vehicle Mass and understand the true weight of your payload once you add food, 4WD accessories, luggage, gear, and passengers. Check out our guide on GVM upgrades to learn more.
Be forewarned that much, if not all of the Gibb River Road is very limited when concerning dogs. No dogs are allowed in any of the National Parks, except for gazetted roads. But even then your dog must stay in the vehicle and you cannot stop at any day-use areas, lookouts, or other sites. Frequent aerial baiting is carried out over the owned and/or leased land to either side of the G.R.R. and poses a high risk to your pets.
There are areas where you can take your pet, but it means missing out on some of the famous scenery. You would have to plan your trip accordingly.
Camp Trailers and Caravans on the Gibb River Road
If you plan to be travelling within Purnululu National Park be forewarned, the last stretch of road only allows for four-wheel drive and single axle off-road trailers and caravans. This Bungles access track is a narrow road with many creek crossings, tight corners, and steep climbs.
Expect to spend around two hours on this track even with a well-built, dedicated off-road ute ready for the challenges of the outback. There is a caravan park at the highway turn off should you need to store a standard or dual axle trailer.
The Preferred Way to Travel the Gibb River Road
Our preferred way to travel is with a lightweight slide on camper on the back of our ute. Many touring adventurers choose to take their Trayon Camper on Gibb River Road adventure.
With this type of camper, you’ll be able to enjoy all of your normal comforts while driving across the G.R.R., since you won’t need to fill your interior with the necessities that come with ground camping.
After long stretches of track, it is much easier to set up quickly and move on to explore, instead of spending time assembling your camp. It also provides a much better ride than that of a camper trailer and less strain on your vehicle due to the Trayon camper’s lightest-in-class weight distribution.
Best Gibb River Road Utes
Off-road camp trailers and slide in/on campers are fine for the journey but keep the emphasis on the sturdiness of the build. Fully inspect your rig before, during, and after the journey because this trip will test your build. The corrugated roads alone will rattle your teeth out, so slow and steady finishes best.
Cash Is King in the Outback
Obviously, there are no banks along the G.R.R. but several of the roadhouses and stations do offer EFT Point of sale and will take credit card purchases. All in all, you should bring cash because the Outback is unforgiving and when you need something it’s always best to have some cash on hand, just in case.
When you are making preparations for this holiday, budget accordingly. The Top End is one of the most expensive areas in Australia due to the scarcity of goods, the transport time it takes to get the goods on the shelves, and simply the supply and demand of the area.
Approximate Camping Cost
Check online at your preferred destinations for current pricing. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 for unpowered sites to $40 for full-power sites.
National Parks will be roughly $13 per person per night and bush camping is almost always free.
Food for the Journey
There will be restaurants along the way that rams in prices from around $20-$40 per person, per meal. Supermarket pricing will be shocking. Ideally, you should buy and store most of your goods if you want to save money.
Remember, scarcity is the theme when it comes to food. Shops are available, but available items and their quantities will vary. You should pack anything you consider to be a must-have item.
Drinking-Water Along the Gibb River Road
Water is in abundance along the route. Have no fear there’s plenty to go around, and it’s usually free. Bring plenty of containers and be sure to fill them up, especially during the dry months.
Where to Begin
You can begin in either Derby or Wyndham depending on which direction you would like to go through Western Australia. Navigating the Top End Territory while on the G.R.R. will be a trip to remember. But proper planning is crucial.
The key to a successful trip down the G.R.R. is to take your time. Speed equals breaks and if you don’t have copious amounts of spares or a support team then speed is not a sustainable option.
Speaking of spares, it’s always a good idea to prepare for the worst while planning for the best. Take time to review our article on What do I Need For Camping to help you get ready for the Gibb River Road.
Most importantly, taking your time across the West Kimberley region landscape is what this adventure is all about. Spend a day or two at each location to truly experience its beauty before you move on.
Every town along the route has a visitor centre with valuable area information. The visitor centre might be off track and away from your direction of travel, but they are always available online or by phone call to answer any questions you might have. Here are the contact details for the key visitor centers if you have any questions:
Derby Visitor Centre
Fitzroy Crossing Tourist Bureau
Halls Creek Visitor Centre
Kununurra Visitor Centre
Locations You’ll Find on Your Gibb River Road Journey
Let’s assume you’ll begin your Western Australia trek at or near the first settled Kimberly Town of Derby. Tracks will bring the dirt, gravel, and muddy river crossings over the 660-700 Km stretch. The tracks will range from moderate to easy now that the traffic across Gibb River Road has become more popular, but be cautious because some difficult sections still exist.
The best time of year to travel this journey will be May-October. December through March bring water hazards, flooding and road closures. The open-air gallery of Aboriginal rock art spans from the early Bradshaw works to the more recent Wandjina Paintings. From Derby to Purnululu National Park, with stops at spectacular gorges and key locations such as El Questro Wilderness Park – it’s time to get your ute rolling!
The Derby visitor centre has copies of the Gibb River Road and Kalumbura Road Guides for sale and a few great tips for the area. It is worth a pop in to speak with locals from the Western Australia area.
Physical maps are always a great planning tool for the journey. GPS solutions are a great integration to your outfit with tracking, route planning, waypoints and the like. A physical map never needs batteries and is updated almost as much as your digital version. A backup map is always a good idea to have tucked under the seat.
It can double as a fun activity with the kids as well, everyone should know how to conduct land navigation (LANDNAV). Scan your map and definitely plan a visit to Tunnel Creek National Park after you leave Derby for some memory-making hikes and scenery.
Derby will be your last legit point of supply. Any last-minute items or grocery stock you might need should be gathered here.
Fun Fact: The Kimberly Area is one of the least populated places on earth being the size of Germany and roughly 40,000 residents.
Windjana Gorge National Park
144 Km from Derby and only 35 Km from Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge National Park is easily reached from either Fitzroy Crossing or Derby. It can be accessed by 2WD via sealed roads. Camping is available but be sure to make reservations due to the high traffic, especially during the peak tourist season.
Exploring Windjana Gorge National Park by foot will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the landscape surrounding the area. Ancient fossils are embedded in the limestone walls that tower above you. You can visit the local watering holes populated by various wildlife to get some entertainment and some exercise. Bring water while hiking and a camera of course.
Leaving Windjana Gorge towards Bell Gorge will have your camera shuttering. This is by far the most famous gorge on the route due to its picturesque scenery. Not far off the beaten track across Bell Creek, you’ll find 100+ metre waterfalls cascading into beautiful pools across Bell Gorge that are perfect for swimming. Be sure to scan the area for local wildlife, and remember, we are visitors in their homes. Leave no trace and pack out what you pack in.
Bell Gorge was created by water flowing west from the King Leopold Ranges and has cut down through the ancient rock to form spectacular cliffs and cascading waterfalls. The falls at Bell Gorge can be reached by a short walk from the car park. Once you reach the top of the waterfall, you may wish to swim or relax in the top pool or cross further up the creek to the opposite side.
Down the track from Bell Gorge, Manning Gorge is one of the most beautiful swimming spots in all of the Gibb River Road Kimberley region. Located on Manning Creek, water will most definitely be in the pools year-round, even during the dry season. While swimming, be sure to take a look around to find Aboriginal rock art left of generations past.
A trail to the gorge follows the overland route. Wearing good footwear is a must on this uneven terrain en route to the swimming area.
Entrance fees can be paid at the Mount Barnett Roadhouse some 7 kilometres from the trailhead. If you plan on camping in the area the camping fees can be paid at the roadhouse as well.
Galvan’s Gorge is the most accessible gorge along Gibb River Road, a short walk or drive from the road. This is a popular swimming spot, with a spectacular waterfall flowing into a horseshoe-shaped pool.
Galvans Gorge is located 14 kilometres west of the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. Approximately 290 kilometres west of Derby.
This beautiful oasis has been visited for thousands of years and the previous tenants were sure to leave their mark. Ancient Wandjina rock art can be found in almost any direction. A relaxing dip in the pool below the falls is the perfect massage before carrying on to your next location.
Drysdale River Station
What to expect at Drysdale River Station? If you’re into rainforests, open woodlands, hiking and fishing, a lengthy stay might be in order at this leg of the journey.
Before the Drysdale River Station, an early morning swim should be had at the Gibb River crossing to wake up for the day. A short detour off the Gibb River Road to Mitchell River National Park is a good idea, as well.
171 kilometres from Manning Gorge, Drysdale River Station has both dry and simplistic camping areas, as well as cabins for rent. Contact them ahead of time for booking if a cabin is what you want to do. Utes with slide-on campers are more than welcome along the route, with bush camping as an option. Still, call ahead to see what, if any, fees apply.
Home Valley Station
A 236-kilometre track that crosses the Durack River will lead you to the Home Valley Station area. Ranges on display, with their beautiful array of reds and deep purples, will welcome you as you enter the three-million-acre Outback oasis.
At the foot of the majestic Cockburn Range, Home Valley Station is still one of the few working cattle stations. With mazes of walking trails, seasonal flowing waterfalls, and spectacular gorges to explore, it’s definitely worth a few days of your time to take it all in.
As the season progresses, the river road at Home Valley Station becomes more manageable, but it’s worth mentioning that the Pentecost river crossing is tidal and rises and falls with the ocean flow. Well-equipped 4WD vehicles should have no issues year-round but be prepared regardless.
El Questro Wilderness Park
El Questro’s main draw is the former cattle station, although one could argue tourism has taken over as the main attraction for this location. To truly see El Questro in all its glory and history, you should spend more than a day here. The surroundings are spectacular and the history is rich.
El Questro Wilderness Park is in-and-of-itself a destination, with plenty of 4WD tracks to fill out your day. Contact four-wheel-drive clubs and locals for guidance on the local tracks. As one of the most equipped areas on Gibb River Road, you’ll be able to stock up on fuel, supplies, and fun all in this one locale.
Purchase a visitor permit and have a free range of the El Questro Wilderness Park area. Waterfalls, hikes and trails, swimming holes, unique fishing locations, tours and helicopter rides, and beautiful flora and fauna will keep you coming back for more while visiting El Questro.
Kununurra to the East
Leaving El Questro Wilderness Park takes a little divergence south to Purnululu National Park. Here you can start an epic 2-week journey or close it out at a World Heritage Site. It is a deeply dissected site that stretches through the Bungle Bungle Range. 240,000 remote hectares are managed as wilderness and kept in its raw format. It is the epitome of Outback nature.
Beehive sandstone rocks with orange and black rings build up the range and showcase some of the most unique landscapes within the range. Some of the Bungle Bungle formations are as high as 578 metres!
The park is not known for wildlife but does house over 140 different species of birds. Be forewarned that some of the country’s most venomous snakes can be found within the park, including the King Brown, Northern Death Adder, and Western Brown.
The park is primarily traversed through its 53 Km 4WD track, but also has plenty of hiking trails to punch your adventure ticket.
Nearby Lake Argyle was created by damming the Ord River. This spot is loaded with water activities, nature hikes, and the famed Zebra Stone.
A Brief History About the Gibb River Road
The famous Air Beef Scheme led to the 1960 construction of the Gibb River Road. This (Top End) southern road, known as The Beef Road, was created as a farm-to-market transport route to get the cattle from Gibb River Station to Derby.
Hence the name, the G.R.R. has a north section and a southern section. The northern section was far worse of a route due to the lack of pastoral leases and funding. Therefore the route was far less maintained over the southern route.
The Close Out of Your Gibb River Road Adventure
As you wind down to the end of this article we hope we’ve helped in planning your G.R.R. journey. Whether you began in Derby to the West or started in the East at Purnululu National Park, it’s sure to be an expedition you’ll not soon forget.
The history of the road and epic tracks will test your build while allowing you to see some of the rawest, unfiltered Outback scenery. This is a journey every tourer should take!
Remember to pack accordingly, plan for every scenario, and take time to enjoy each kilometre. This is not a race and shouldn’t be treated as such. It takes a few days at each locale to truly soak up all it has to offer.
What was your favourite location? Was it the epic swimming spots at Manning Gorge or the gigantic waterfalls at Bell Gorge, or the unique landscape of El Questro Wilderness Park Bungle Bungles? Send us some photos of your Gibb River Road journey, we’d love to see them! Now charge your camera batteries and fill up with fuel because Gibb River Road is calling!
Check out our other camping in WA guides.