Gibb River Road
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||For comprehensive information on the Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads, purchase a Gibb River and Kalumburu Roads Travellers Guide to the Inland Kimberley and Mitchell Plateau from the Derby Visitor Centre.
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The Gibb River road travels some 700 kms through the central Kimberley Plateau from King Sound at Derby to the Cambridge Gulf at Wyndham. The whole road is now the responsibility of Main Roads WA and improvements to creek crossings and jump ups are being made every year. The majority of the road surface is of dirt and gravel construction with only some floodways paved.
The Derby Visitor Centre recommends use of high clearance robust vehicles, preferably 4WD, for DRY season (May to October) travel. Towing of any type is not recommended. However, well constructed off road trailers may survive the often corrugated conditions in the DRY. Caravans are definitely NOT recommended.
Wet season (November to April) travel can be severely restricted by flooding and road closures as the countryside can become very waterlogged. Access to the gorges is very often not possible and, if travel occurs, is restricted to the Gibb River Road itself and not to the sidetracks into the gorges. A 4WD vehicle equipped with a snorkel is essential once the rains have started. Travellers in breach of official Road Closure and Road Restrictions are subject to fines.
Travelling northeast from Derby you pass from the flat plain country of the Meda, May and Lennard rivers and through the impressive wall like structure of the ancient Devonian limestone reef at the Napier Range. The granite tors of the foothills of the King Leopold Ranges soon give way to the rugged and convoluted Ranges themselves. Amongst the Ranges clefts and streams provide cool shady retreats for a variety of plant and animal life. The Central Kimberley Plateau is an area of more open country. Towards the headwaters of the Hann - Fitzroy river systems to the east of the Gibb River road, and heading for Mornington Station there are wide plains dotted with mesa formations. The western side, towards the coast, is much more rugged and inaccessible. As you approach Wyndham the spectacular Pentecost Ranges come into view with massive ramparts and scree slopes.
All of the land along the Gibb River Road is owned, leased and managed by someone. Much is subject to pastoral lease and some belongs to Aboriginal Communities. The Department of Conservation and Land Management manage the national parks, conservation parks and nature reserves. If travellers wish to travel on any roads bar the Gibb River Road, Mornington Road, the Kalumburu Road, or gorge access roads as listed in the Gibb River Road Guide, then they should seek permission of the landholder. All roads other than those listed above are constructed and maintained by the landowner and are not public roads.
The country of the central Kimberley to the coast was an area rich in food sources and abundant fresh water. This enabled the original inhabitants and their descendants to develop a rich cultural life. They knew the country of their tribe and horde intimately and adorned rock outcrops and caves with their art. Both the Bradshaw tradition and the Wandjina are features of the rock paintings in the area.
Many Aboriginal people today have returned to their traditional homelands. Six different Aboriginal languages are spoken along the road and the Communities maintain many of their traditional spiritual customs.
Coastal contact with Aboriginal people occurred from the 1830s onwards. However, it was not until 1898 that non-Aboriginal people penetrated the King Leopold Ranges and opened up the area for pastoralism. Frank Hann, gold prospector and explorer, was the first to describe the southern area of the Kimberley plateau. Many of the features of the area bear the names he gave them in 1898. These include Mt Elizabeth, named after his mother, Bell Creek, after Dr Bell of Derby and Adcock Creek, after a Derby storekeeper . The Blythe family were early pastoralists who took up Mt House Station and built their homestead on the banks of Adcock Creek a tributary of the Fitzroy River.
Provisioning of the pastoral leases in the early years of the 20th century was by bullock and donkey team and followed a route via Carpenter’s Gap in the Napier Range between Windjana and Tunnel Creek. Road transport required a better route.
After the Second World War the pastoralists, investigated the slaughter of cattle at the Glenroy Meat Works, on the Mt House lease, and flying the frozen carcasses to market. This was the famous Air Beef Scheme. In the 1960s construction began on the southern section a road as a Beef Road to transport cattle to Derby. This was the original Gibb River Road, so named as it was constructed from Gibb River Station to Derby. The northern section of the road remained in the hands of the local authority of Wyndham- East Kimberley. The lack of major pastoral leases and funding meant that the northern section was not as well constructed and maintained as the southern section. In 1996 Main Roads W.A. took over responsibility for the whole length of the road. This has lead to an upgrade in road conditions in the northern section to equal the southern section.
Travelling with Dogs:
There are very limited places along the Gibb River Road that will allow dogs. No dogs are allowed in any of the National Parks along the Gibb River & Kalumburu roads. It is not advisable to be travelling with your dog, land on both sides of the Gibb River Road is owned, leased or managed by someone. Frequent aerial baiting is carried out posing a high risk of danger to your domestic pet.
The first gorge turnoff you will come to along the Gibb River Road will take you to the Devonian Reef Gorge of Windjana Gorge some 145kms from Derby. 350 million years ago much of the southern Kimberley lay beneath the ocean. In this ocean a reef of ancient corals, stromatoporoids and calcareous algae grew. Fossils of shells and the creatures that lived in Devonian times can be seen preserved in the 100 metre high limestone walls. Fresh water crocodiles are plentiful as is their diet of archer fish, cherabin and bream. The cool forest is favoured by a variety of bird and butterfly species and colonies of flying foxes (fruit bats).
Another 30 odd kms down the road you will find Tunnel Creek where you are able to penetrate right into the core of the ancient reef. A small creek has carved a tunnel through the limestone and the resultant cave is 750 metres in length. It features limestone cave formations of pillars, shawls, a roof drop letting in the light half way through the cave and stalagtites.
Both Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek are National Parks managed by the Western Australian Department of Environment & Conservation(DEC). Rangers are present at Windjana Gorge from April to mid October. Tunnel Creek is a day use site only and camping is not permitted. A toilet is available. Windjana Gorge has a camp site area with toilets, cold showers and water available when Rangers are in residence. A camping fee is charged., as well as an entry fee.
Local tours operate to these Parks on regular basis both during the Dry and Wet. Details can be obtained from the Derby Visitor Centre.
LENNARD GORGE (190kms from Derby and 8kms off the Gibb River Road). This features a spectacular waterfall late in the wet season while the narrow, deep canyons are features all the year round. It can be a hazardous gorge and extreme care must be taken when exploring. No camping.
Bell Gorge (214kms from Derby and 29kms off the Gibb River Road).,is one of the most attractive in the West Kimberley. Boab trees line Bell Creek which cascades through a series of falls through deep gorges.
Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge are next on the list. Turning off at Mt House Station, you travel 92km through to Mornington Wilderness Camp. You can canoe, bushwalk or just swim and have fun in the upper reaches of the Fitzroy River.
Back on the Gibb River Road your next stopping point is the picturesque Galvans Gorge. A tranquil waterlily covered pool charms the visitor but a short walk further on brings you to a large plunge pool at the base of the waterfall. A delightful spot for a refreshing swim.
306kms from Derby is Manning Gorge and Manning Falls. The Aboriginal Community at Mt Barnett welcomes visitors and maintains the camping area there. Allow all the morning to walk to the falls from the camp site. There is time to explore, view Aboriginal rock art and swim in the pools. The falls are at their best early in the season (May-July). There is a fully equipped store and road house at Mt. Barnett with some accommodation. Camp fees are paid at the store.
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