Driving the Gibb River Road (East), Australia

Places to see around El Questro+Home Valley in the Kimberleys, North-West Australia

The Gibb River Road in Western Australia has a reputation for eating 4x4s for breakfast & it really likes tyres! But that shouldn’t put visitors off – even a 4WD newbie can negotiate it safely.

The Gibb River Road is accessible to anyone with a sturdy and reliable 4×4. Even the complete beginner who’s never sat in one before can do it; as long as they take it slowly and steadily, they shouldn’t have any problems with the driving in peak season (June to August). The requirement for a 4×4 is really for its greater durability to cope with the serious shaking from the corrugations, and high ground clearance for the creek crossings.

But travellers really must avoid the “toy” 4x4s such as the common Rav4 – they ain’t up to it and travellers that don’t heed the hire companies warnings on these can encounter serious expense and difficulty if they eg seize the engine (usually petrol) by driving too fast through a creek crossing.

The eastern section is reputed to be harder driving than the west – but that depends on both time of year and when the grader last went through. Earlier in the season, the creek crossings may present a serious challenge, but in peak season they shouldn’t present any obstacle to a careful (ie slow!) driver.

Boab Trees

[singlepic id=328 w=320 h=240 float=left]These cartoon-like trees are unique to the region, and each one seems to be a crazier shape than the last. Stories vary as to their occasional use as prison trees – some say the guards had the inside of the tree to keep cool during the midday heat!

El Questro (Including Emma Gorge)

[singlepic id=72 w=320 h=240 float=right]Sometimes unfairly dismissed as “an over-touristy resort”, the only real downside to staying at El Questro is that the Black Cockatoo camping area gets pretty busy in peak season. That aside, camping is a very affordable way to stay here, the scenery is awesome (featuring in the forthcoming “Australia” movie by Baz Luhrmann) and it would easily be possible to spend a whole week doing all the different walks and trails here.

Popular walks include Zebedee Thermal Pools and Emma Gorge. Like several Australian National Parks, the guide walking times are overstated for fit and able walkers – unless the walker is very slow, it is common to halve the estimated times and still have time to take photos at a moderate pace.

Alternatively, to get away from the crowds, walkers should try the more challenging trails such as Champagne Springs, and quite likely see no-one else on the walk. Take plenty of water – this is a long and hot one!

Pentecost River Crossing

The barrier to many an early crossing of the Gibb River Road, this is possibly the largest creek crossing of the road, and travellers will have already met it upstream if they called into El Questro Station! Crossing slow, steady and keeping going (and only in peak season) is advisable to avoid problems.

Home Valley

[singlepic id=327 w=320 h=240 float=left]Only 35km up the road from El Questro is the Home Valley Station – an oasis of green luxury in the arid red outback. Owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, it’s also a training ground for young aboriginals interested in learning the ropes of station life. The usual gorge walking options of the region exist, but for something a bit different, travellers should listen to Jack’s fascinating talk about the horses, watch him show a small part of the process of breaking-in an unbroken horse and then head out for a couple of hours ride on the station. Alternatively travellers should ask about the mini-muster – a small scale cattle muster which is suitable even for the youngest of kids – which can be run any time sufficient guests show an interest.

For further information on the Kimberley region, especially the Gibb River Road view the informative online guide by Birgit Bradtke – a German lass who liked the area so much she emigrated there.

First published on Suite 101, Nov 2008