January 2014 saw the birth of our second son Jordan, and with a trip to the Kimberley organised with a group of friends planned to begin the end of May that year, we decided that we would take the challenge and go along. We knew our boys travelled well as we had got them use to the car through many weekend drives and short local camping trips but this was going to be the ultimate test. Many thought we were crazy taking a baby into the outback, and to some degree we had our reservations but as soon as we were on the road any doubts or fears soon disappeared.
We had a few long days of driving from Adelaide to Alice Springs where we would then set off to cross the Tanami dessert by way of the Tanami track.
The road itself was actually quite reasonable with the only issue being a couple of spots being quite bad with bulldust and the patches of lovely (ha-ha) corrugations.
But honestly for a road that is rated to be one of the worst in the country we didn’t find it all too bad, we may have just been lucky enough to venture along it shortly after it was graded. Also being the dry season (winter in the northern half of Australia ) there was constant traffic with trucks and other travellers so if you were unlucky enough to break down there would be help passing by sooner than later. In saying that you still must be prepared with spare water and food and even better would be to have a sat phone for absolute emergencies. We actually did come across a German family who had blown their tyre on their rent a camper on the Tanami (I wonder if these rental companies realise where there vehicles go?) and we stopped to make sure they were ok. Another couple had already come to their rescue and were helping change their blown tyre which had blown more than likely due to the fact they were driving with full tyre pressure which is only asking for trouble. When traveling on these roads, vehicle knowledge and off-road driving experience is a must. Now we did handle this road quite easily as mentioned before but we have a fair bit of off-road driving experience under our belt and always drive to road conditions.
We had two amazing bush camps on this track, one which we found due to having a great book with an off the track campsites listed and the other that we just happened to come across. We stopped in at Billaluna, an aboriginal community that is situated at the intersection of the Tanami track and the canning stock route, and bought a couple of things from the well-stocked general store that is there.
It is actually quite amazing how well stocked these stores are and even though the prices may be a bit higher than what you’d find at your local Coles or Woollies, they are great stores that will provide you with necessity’s that you may need. (You could even buy a brand new washing machine and dryer or football boots if needed! Obviously for the local community but hey there if you want!)
Wolf creek crater was our next stop, and what an amazing place that is! To see how enormous the crater is and to read about the history on the information stand, it was just incredible to be seeing it first-hand. Now to be honest the track into the crater was probably the most corrugated part of the Tanami track we had encountered. We had planned to camp at the crater in the bush camp there but as it was incredibly windy we decided to push on and head into Halls Creek.
From Halls Creek we headed on to Fitzroy Crossing where we had a couple of days to explore the region, and we were really happy that we did.
We went fishing in the mighty Fitzroy River, visited the historical Fitzroy Inn, took a day trip to Derby and visited the Boab prison tree, went to the Fitzroy Crossing rodeo, watched a local game of footy and took a tour at the spectacular Geikie Gorge. It was from Fitzroy crossing that our Gibb River Road adventure begun. We weren’t doing this trip alone though, we had met up along the way with friends in five other vehicles to share this experience with us.
Our first stop along the Gibb was Tunnel Creek, where we ventured into the dark abyss armed with head torches through knee deep icy water. Charlie loved wading through the water and was super excited when we got to the end and he realised we had to go back through it again!
Tunnel Creek truly was incredible but then again almost everything in the Kimberley region is absolutely breathtakingly amazing!
From there we ventured onto Windjana Gorge where we camped for two nights in the campgrounds, exploring the gorge and admiring the stunning colours displayed at sunset on the rock face walls. We even had an outback fondue night, white table cloths and all , on our second night there .
Next stop along the way was Galvans Gorge where we all ventured down the track to find one of the many beautiful gorges in the Kimberley. It was something out of a movie set, picturesque and serene, and an amazing place to spend a few hours swimming and sitting under the water fall. Jordan (our youngest) who had only just turned five months old actually had his first two teeth cut through while we were here.
We continued on to Silent Grove campground where we also spent two nights, heading out for a day trip to spectacular Bells Gorge. It’s a fair hike from the car park to the gorge but it is well worth it with a rewarding swim once you are there! Back on the track we stopped at Imintji store, another store which services the local aboriginal community and travellers, which also stocked a few essentials, fuel and even homemade pies!
Now we actually had a problem with our adjustable panhard rod on the Patrol on the way up to Fitzroy Crossing, which we replaced once there with a new one, but it had failed also and the car was beginning to shake and shudder all over the place . One of our fellow travellers James, who lives in Fitzroy crossing, suggested we stop at Mount Barnet Roadhouse and ask if they had any wrecked Patrols in the nearby Aboriginal community from which we could buy a part from. As luck would have it there was a 1992 Patrol there which we were able to take the panhard rod off of and use it on ours (it was already strategically placed over a pit in a workshop full of tools just waiting for us). So Peter Patrol got a replacement part from an older relative!
It was late into camp that night but it was only an overnight stop at Drysdale, so it was up early, pack up, fill up with fuel and onto our next stop, Mitchel Falls. We enjoyed three nights at the campgrounds here, taking advantage of the helicopter flights on offer. We chose to fly in and over the falls, get dropped off at the top then walk the 6 km back to camp. It was a long hot walk, but only as poor Charlie walked most of the way himself (being the stubborn little guy he is sometimes he didn’t want to get carried, he wanted to walk it himself!). We were rewarded with a lovely swim at one of the fresh water streams a couple of hundred meters short of camp.
The next leg of the trip saw us head through Kulumbaru to McGowan’s Beach camp ground. Now we chose McGowan’s over Honeymoon Bay, one of the two choices of campgrounds up there, in the promise that we would get to have a hot shower. Well there was a lovely decorative hot water system hanging on the wall of the bathroom block but it wasn’t connected to anything (so by decorative we mean it was just filling a space on the outside wall). Still that didn’t really bother us, as finally reaching the top of Western Australia was an amazing feeling, our camp was right on the beach and we had uninterrupted views of some of the most incredible sunsets. So cold shower, which we were actually use to, and all it was defiantly worth the drive.
Another surprise was watching the beach come alive in the evening, all of a sudden every shell got up and started walking around, so it was only inevitable that we would make our own entertainment and have a hermit crab race with these little guys. The children absolutely loved watching the hermit crabs, and so did us adults, as there was literally thousands of them!
Our last night up at McGowan’s saw an incredible rain system roll in, and we can tell you it rained!!!! And rained and rained and rained! Talking to some locals the next day, they hadn’t seen rain like that up in that area in the dry season in the past 12 years. As we passed back through Kulumbaru we decided to get some supplies and fresh fruit from the well-stocked local store, where we found more interesting things for sale such as hammocks, shade umbrellas and high heels. We also stopped in at the old mission site situated there which was incredible, perfectly manicured lawns, beautiful garden beds, well maintained buildings , all in such a remote location.
We took a tour of the museum that is located on the site as well and there were some very interesting artifacts and info available about how and why the mission site was founded and about the local aboriginal community.
Well you can imagine with all that rain the night before it made for a very interesting, muddy drive back to Drysdale, turning all of our cars a very lovely reddish brown colour.
We enjoyed one of the famous Drysdale burgers for dinner that night, and we’ll tell you they didn’t disappoint, absolutely delicious!
The next day it was back on the main stretch of the Gibb River Road where we stopped in at Elenbrae Station for a hot cuppa and a couple of their famous scones. Next stop on the track was the lookout over the Pentecost Ranges, an amazing view that has to be seen to believe, it was breathtaking.
Our camp for the next few days was at Home Valley Station where we certainly didn’t expect what they had to offer. It was like a mirage in the middle of the desert, a beautiful station campground with a swimming pool, grassy camp spots, tours and activities, and the amazing Dusty Bar and Grill, an outside dining and entertainment area decorated in true outback memorabilia. Needless to say we didn’t want to leave and after three days enjoying the pool, bar and grill and exploring the surrounds, we could have definitely spent a good couple of weeks here.
Saying goodbye to Home Valley Station we pressed on and crossed over the infamous Pentecost River, and continued onto ElQuestro. Now for anyone who has been there you’ll understand what we mean when we say WOW. What we had planned to be just a day stop to look at the station and visit the Zebedee hot springs turned into three nights. Waterfalls, four wheel drive tracks, helicopter flights, horse riding, boat hire and barramundi fishing, restaurants, boat tours, walking trails and so much more, make this place as amazing as it sounds. Oh and did we mention that we caught our first and second barramundi here!
Maybe it was the fact that we expected to be roughing it the whole way on this trip that these station stays were so incredible. Whatever the case we would definitely recommend them to anyone and everyone.
Coming off the Gibb river road we stopped in at Kununurra to stock up on groceries before visiting Lake Argyle for an overnight stop then heading onto the Bungle Bungles.
Now Charlie gets car sick on really windy roads, and luckily we hadn’t come across any the whole trip, until now. The road into the Bungle Bungles was WWWIIINNNDDDYYY and up and down and side to side, not fun for the poor little guy. On the plus side he absolutely loved the big ‘beehives’ and seeing the elephant rock! This is place is truly spectacular, and a walk into Cathedral Gorge is a must.
Well a few days at the Bungle Bungles and a quick trip back to Fitzroy crossing saw us say goodbye to our fellow travellers and head our separate way home, back up through Kununurra and across to Katherine.
Now although our trip home was straight down the centre along the Stuart highway we did stop and explore. We spent a few days at Katherine visiting the hot springs (more than once), Katherine gorge and the museum. We also had a great experience on our first night there when we went along to one of Marksys Bush Tucker nights. The food was great, all cooked in the camp ovens over the open fire and followed with fresh scones and billy tea. But it wasn’t just the food, Marksy himself is a true outback character and his stories and sense of humour made the night one to remember.
Leaving Katherine and heading south we stopped in at the beautiful Mataranka Hot springs for a dip in the mineral rich thermal spring’s waters. Although we had only a hand full of days to get home we stopped off quite regularly, visiting many of the outback oddities you will find down this central highway.
We ended up stopping for a few days in Alice Springs as the car was beginning to shake and shudder again. The old adjustable panhard rod just wasn’t going to last us the trip home but although there are many 4×4 shops and mechanics in Alice springs, no one had the part we needed. We resorted to stopping into a local workshop where we found a very generous fella to make us up a solid steel bush, which we fitted to the car and it worked a treat. A few more days on the road and we were home, instantly homesick for the open road and the adventures that it brings. What this trip had embedded in us though was that we can travel to some of the most remote areas in our country with our two young boys, making some truly incredible memories along the way.