We survived the Gibb River Highway
We drove out of Broome late in the morning, kind of sad to be leaving behind a place with such great memories. Farewell Broome.
We were well aware that from this point onwards we were slowly but surely heading back home. The car definitely had her nose pointed in an Easterly direction. A mere 5000 kilometres lay between us and Byron Bay. We’d unanimously decided to try the Gibb River Road from go to woe, half a million corrugations per kilometre and we figured we had at least 800km to go, no worries mate! Described to us by friends as “a treacherous track through the most isolated part of Australia”, we followed the AAT tour coach past the sign, and onto the recently graded friendly gravel road.
Averaging 100 kilometres per hour we held our breath in anticipation of some sort of road deterioration around each bend…..it never came! We ploughed on, rocks flying everywhere. Overtaking only conventional vehicles, massive tour buses, and the odd road train, we began to realise that this was not the same road that it had been a few years ago.
Having only a couple of days for the road, we used the elimination method and selected three gorges to check out, of the several on offer.
Our first stop was at Adcock Gorge. Quite a pleasant spot to camp, yet it was not the “idyllic swimming hole” we had been lead to believe. Guess it’s just too late in the dry… Not much water around at all. Although hot and sweaty from the long drive, we declined a dip. The waterhole was stagnant, shallow full of algae, and had some rather foul odours about it. It also seemed to be the favourite haunt of all the nearby cattle. There was a bushfire bearing down on us from the north– all in all, thing were telling us that this was not supposed to be our “spot” for the night. We jumped back into the car and headed for Manning Gorge.
Manning Gorge fared better in the water department. The Gorge did have moving water (albeit at a snail’s pace), but it lost big brownie points for being occupied by two coach loads of tourists, with the usual generators running at full bore. They slightly detracted from the aura of solitude and tranquillity we had so been looking forward to at this time of year in this part of the country. Nevertheless, the sun was quickly slipping away, so we pulled out the mattresses, and cooked up a few snags. Before crashing out for the night we decided to have a quick moonlight dip in the hole. In the pitch black the water takes on an aura of mystery. Strange inexplicable sounds and shadows moving in the corner of your eye whilst algae wraps itself around your ankles and things splash mischievously just out of sight. The inhabitants are restless……Oh well…..you never see the croc that eats you!
We awoke at 5am to the most brazen screeches of hundreds of Sulfur-Crested cockatoos. (one of the disadvantages of camping so near to a popular water source this late in the dry). After a leisurely tea and damper by the Gorge, we decided to head on up the road to El Questro Station. Following yet another coach tour bus “Contiki”, we drove the 16-kilometre dirt track down to the homestead and parked alongside the “Australian Explorer Coach”. This cattle station of 400,000 hectares has opened its cedar ranch doors, gates, cattle grids, and anything else they could think of to tourism(as is indicated by the heavy flow of coaches). Albeit a beautiful part of the country, to call it remote would be to mislead. A mere 30km to the bitumen and only 75km to the nearest major airport. It would seem that there is only one way for this area to go. It seems that there is precious little left of Australia that can truly be called remote wilderness!
Without a doubt the most beautiful part of El Questro is Zebeedee Thermal Springs- Friends had enlightened us to this idyllic place consisting of a series of waterfalls and pools that gushed warm water surrounded by luxuriant palms and green ferns. Bubbling, frothing, crystal clear water flowed over pink sand and granite rock. We frolicked naked for a few hours- luckily undisturbed by anything bar the red dragonflies and chirping birds. With the temperature soaring to the mid-’40s, this enchanted shaded oasis was a magical interlude in an otherwise dry and dusty, stretch of road. With soothed limbs, tempers, and souls, we traipsed back to our chariot and on to Kununurra……overall decision to not do Gibb in dry…..
We did make one mistake we stopped at Emma Gorge. Touted as the most beautiful gorge in the KimberleysEmma Gorge is, in fact, an adjunct to the El Questro station. The staff were straight from the New York school of rudeness complete with smarmy attitudes and arrogant off-handedness. Unless your really hard up to see a gorge, give it a miss there’s much better around!!!
We found ourselves magnetically drawn back to Kununurra for the night- a place we’d thoroughly enjoyed on the way over to Broome. Going to push on down to the centre…we’re craving the dry, dusty, red earth, and Josh is keen to climb Uluru. CIAO…….