Sample the Gorges of the Gibb River Road from Broome in a Day
The Gibb River Road stretches for 669kms from Derby in the west to almost Kununurra in the east, of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Although there are some stretches of bitumen enroute, the mostly gravel Gibb River Road is known to adventurous travellers as one of the great drives in Australia. The remoteness and lack of communication can be daunting for less experienced travellers, so a guided day tour from Broome provides a chance to visit two of the major natural attractions.
I had driven the Gibb River Road in 2016, but because of unusual rains in late August 2016, Windjana Gorge National Park and Tunnel Creek National Park roads were scoured and damaged, and closed by authorities for repairs, so we had to drive right past. This year I decided to join a day tour from Broome to visit these ancient landscapes on the – 1 Day Windjana Gorge & Tunnel Creek Tour.
With a pick up at our accommodation just after 6.30am, me and my 20 fellow travellers soon settled into the very comfortable, purpose-built, air-conditioned 4WD coach and travelling the 200kms along the Great Northern Highway towards Derby, and the commencement of the Gibb River Road – where our destinations are located.
A comfort and morning tea stop at Willare Bridge Roadhouse, 160kms from Broome was welcome. Later that evening we will revisit Roadhouse for dinner on our return to Broome, so this break gave each traveller the chance to select a dinner meal to be served promptly at that time.
The Boab Tree
Our next step off the coach was not too far down the road, where we visited the Boab ‘prison’ tree. The Kimberley is known for its amazing Boab trees which dot the landscape and have formed the subject matter of photographers. The well-known Boab ‘prison’ tree is thought to be around 1,500 years old, although our guide advised that due to the lack of rings in the trunks of these trees, it is hard to estimate its age. This Boab tree’s purported ‘history’ as a prison for Aboriginal prisoners is unclear but there is interpretative signage in the gazebo that makes interesting reading.
Just a few kilometres, further along, we turned onto the iconic Gibb River Road and a further 150kms to Windjana Gorge. The first 80+kms is a single lane bitumen road that made travel easy as our guide narrated the story of Jandamarra, who was an Aboriginal resistance fighter and whose story is embedded in the King Leopold Conservation Park, where the gorges are located. To learn more of the story of Jandamarra, we recommend reading “Jandamarra & The Bunuba Resistance” by Howard Pedersen & Banjo Woorunmurra and published by Broome’s Indigenous Publisher, Magabala Books.
Windjana Gorge National Park
21kms down the Fairfield-Leopold Downs Road we arrived at Windjana Gorge National Park. The day was starting to warm up considerably, so with hats on and water bottles in hand we embarked on the easy walk from the coach parking area along the short, sandy access track to the Gorge. We were soon on the banks alongside the dry season pools of Lennard River and looking for freshwater crocodiles.
Standing in the middle of the river beds and surrounded by the stunning 100m high cliffs of the gorge you cannot help but be in awe of the landscape. The 3.5km long gorge cuts through Napier Range which is part of the ancient Devonian limestone reef that can also be seen at Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek.
Our guide warned us not to approach the freshwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks or relaxing in the shallow waters. Although I have seen hundreds of fresh and saltwater crocodiles over many years, they still draw your attention and you cannot help but be fascinated. The gorge being 3.5kms long takes time to fully explore, but on a day tour, there is not enough time.
After exploring the gorge, we tucked into a delightful chicken and salad lunch surrounded by the bush and imposing faces of the gorge.
The surprising aspect of being in such a remote location is to find flushing toilet facilities in the car park….you have to love that!
Tunnel Creek National Park
Refreshed we were soon travelling 37kms to Tunnel Creek National Park and before alighting the coach, we were changing our shoes to those suitable for getting wet as we are to wade through some water in the in 750m long cave system. I opted for a pair of slip-on canvas shoes, whilst others had reef boots or water shoes.
Tunnel Creek Cave
Entering the Tunnel Creek cave requires negotiating some large boulders, but our guide helped everyone to get safely through. “Use your bum” (to sit on the boulders before sliding down to the next step) he repeatedly advised, “that’s what it’s for”. Upon entry we were amazed at the size of the cave as it disappeared into the darkness, we were grateful for the head torches provided by the tour guide; they are must and if you visit independently you just cannot visit the cave without some sort of torch.
As the cave narrowed and darkened, we deftly made our way carefully and occasionally wading through shallow water and over sandy and rocky surfaces with stops to view fascinating formations. At the end of the cave, we were greeted with a shady, rock pool oasis where other travellers were just soaking up the experience.
Back at the coach, we enjoyed a fresh fruit snack before reboarding the coach and travelling back to Broome. Soon the sun was lowering and cattle were wandering the unfenced rangelands; a real danger in the Kimberley at dusk and dawn.
Travel Tip: Hire car companies in the Kimberley do not permit their vehicles to be driven outside of townsites before dawn or after dusk.
As night descended some passengers drifted off to snooze whilst others quietly watched the nightfall and others were occupied with handheld games. As the coach does have cabin lighting you can easily read a book and I do recommend that you take something to occupy the few hours it takes to get back to Willare Bridge Roadhouse and the much-awaited dinner that we requested 12 hours earlier. The break at Willare is welcome along with the hearty meals!
Refreshed and reboarded, we were ready for the last 180kms journey back to Broome, arriving just before 10.00pm.
It is obviously a long day’s touring, but the anticipation of the gorges, the air-conditioning and comfortable coach and a driver/guide who seems to relish in the activity makes it a worthwhile endeavour. The total journey of over 800kms gives an insight into the enormity of the Kimberley region and the single day’s ‘taste of the Gibb’ may entice some travellers back to tackle the rest of the Gibb River Road and the wonders that await to be explored.
Day tours operate from Broome between May & October.
If you’re interested in sampling the gorges of the Gibb River Road on this 1 Day Windjana Gorge & Tunnel Creek day tour from Broome or you want to find out about other Broome and the Kimberley tours please contact us online today