Is self driving the Gibb River Road for you?

  • Posted by on 7 January 2019

Whilst touring the Gibb River Road recently, we met a couple who did not appear to fit in with the scenery or (to quote that fabulous Australian movie “The Castle”) ‘the vibe’ of the experience, but we realise that everyone is different and not to make a hasty judgement.  

Our journey included accommodation each night and at one remote location we met “Mr & Mrs City”.   Dinner on our second night's stay was our first encounter with these particular travellers, and of course included the usual chat of where everyone had come from.  Mrs City was keen to impart their up market suburban location and weekend beach house location – no problem – everyone comes from somewhere, but the turning up of the nose to our more ordinary residential locations provided the first hint. 

Mrs City was also rather demanding of the accommodation staff, requesting they recharge her iPad – despite power points in each of our rooms, and that they refill her water bottles, despite water freely available.  Staff willingly obliged but were a bit surprised that she was incapable of doing these things for herself.  Next morning Mrs City was ‘shocked’ that there were no complimentary amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash etc provided.  At this remote location there was a shared bathroom between 4 rooms.  She certainly bit not take into consideration the use of the bathroom by other guests.  She took so long in the morning that some guests decided to forgo their morning shower to get started on their day’s journey.  And Mrs City just could not face the day without full make-up - despite the expected 38 degree day!   

The Gibb River Road near King Leopold Ranges

Hasty departure

Upon departure the next morning, Mr & Mrs City sped down a very corrugated, 12km section of road in their rented 4WD vehicle – overtaking our travelling companions at high speed on a section of road we all negotiated at an appropriate (to suit the conditions) 40kms per hour. Instead of turning towards their next stated destination, they proceeded to travel in the opposite direction – the same direction from which they had arrived the previous day.  At first we thought they must have taken the wrong turn and we would see them whizzing past us again later when they realised their error; but when they did not reappear at all, we thought they obviously just wanted to get back to ‘civilisation’ as quickly as possible - and it was a shorter distance going back than going forward! 

Phone booth ay Drysdale River Station - Gibb River Road

Ticking off the travel bucket list

This encounter got me thinking about the type of people who are attracted to travelling and truly experiencing much of what the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley region of Western Australia has to offer – or whether ‘doing the Gibb’ is just ticking off a travel bucket list without relishing the actual experience of doing so?

That the Kimberley is picturesque goes without saying, but much of the well-loved scenery is not seen without effort and sacrificing some of life’s little luxuries for a few days.

When we first travelled the Gibb River Road nearly 30 years ago, there were very few services at all. Tracks and trails into gorges and scenic locations were ill-defined and we relied upon mud maps and we had to carry everything with us for our 3 week journey.  Today the accommodation provides a welcome respite at the end of a busy day’s travel and exploring with fresh sheets on our beds, hearty meals, showers and flushing toilets in most locations, but you should not expect 5 star accommodation levels in such a remote region. 

Here is my check list for you to determine if you are ready to travel the Gibb River Road.  For a week or two can you live without:

  • Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, text messages and the internet?
  • Mobile phone reception
  • Flush toilets
  • Daily newspapers
  • Starting the day with a take-away latte, flat white or cappuccino
  • Fresh clothes every day – guest laundries are not so readily available and you should never wash clothing in creeks and streams!
  • Perfectly coiffed hair
  • Hairdryer
  • Make-up

Kimberley Travel Bucket List - Gibb River Road

Comfort Check List

If you are prepared to undertake the following:

  • Use the occasional long drop, eco-friendly toilets (as favoured by the WA Department of Parks & Wildlife in many locations).
  • Trek into gorges over varying trek lengths and terrains, wearing sturdy footwear and thick socks.
  • Cope with heat, flies and dust.
  • Slow down to drive according to the conditions - even if this means travelling at less than 50kms per hour.
  • Carry your rubbish with you – for some days until you reach a rubbish dump point or town.
  • Spend time chatting with strangers – perhaps making new acquaintances.
  • Have consideration for others – whether it is sharing a bathroom or the road.
  • Going without when you run out as supplies are not readily available.
  • Understand the Gibb River Road is a shared experience – and that speeding past and showering others with dust and stones is not the thing to do.
  • Fresh water provided in your accommodation is a precious resource and you should not spend your usual 15 minutes (or longer) in the shower.
  • Turn off lights in accommodation when not in use as power could be generated - and costly.
  • When you are asked to observe closing station gates, that you do so.
  • Respect ‘do not enter’ signage – there are good reasons for such advice, which may not seem obvious.
  • Not destroying vegetation by 'bush bashing' so that you can get to a remote location where there are no roads.
  • Delight in the hearty meals provided – some special dietary needs can be catered for but this needs to be communicated well ahead of time.  Accommodation providers cannot whiz down to the shops to get something special for you.
  • Relish in the fact that you are not ‘connected’ to the outside world.  Take the time to watch the birds, animals, scenery and skies.   Soak up the atmosphere; you will be back in the ‘real world’ soon enough.
  • Keep noise to a minimum.  Consider others.

Please take your rubbish with you - Gibb River Road

These days a few corporate tourism organisations operate excellent, remote accommodation in the Kimberley that do cater for “Mr & Mrs City”, particularly on guided tours.  They do it well, but if you want to travel the Kimberley on a self-drive holiday, you just have to experience the corrugated roads and dusty tracks, trekking into rugged gorges but without the coiffed hair and make-up, and even dealing with the occasional shared bathroom – but at least there is a bathroom –which was not necessarily the case many years ago. 

If the above seems more personal sacrifice than you are prepared to make, then perhaps self driving the Gibb River Road is not for you.  But if you still want to experience some what the Kimberley has to offer, we would recommend basing yourself in Broome and take some guided day tours and return to the comfort of a resort at the end of each day.   Or for some real luxury how about a Kimberley cruise or a stay at a remote Wilderness Lodge?

Facilities Ocean Pool - Gibb River Road