Finally, after spending the morning doing all the last minute jobs like collecting meat from the butcher, filling the gas bottle, checking the post office one last time for mail, filling up with diesel and most importantly grabbing a decent coffee we headed out of Broome for the last time. Our jobs had taken that long that the girls were too engrossed in their movies to bat an eyelid, so just like that we cruised on out, heading east towards the Gibb.
We had decided before our last GRR trip that when we headed north again we would travel via the GRR instead of the highway and visit the few places we didn’t get to see on our first trip across with the Leeds. We stopped for lunch at Willare Roadhouse, in between Broome and Derby, managing to find a free car park next to yet another tour bus. Being back in Broome we had forgotten all about the countless tour buses and their passengers and have since decided that we have a love hate relationship with the tour buses. On the one hand we hate the masses of people they bring into the not so large gorges when we are there, making them noisy and overcrowded, however we also realise that with these tourists comes tourist’s dollars, something that is very welcomed up here in the seasonal Kimberley. We also hate the way the tourists bitch and moan about the lack of facilities and their run down qualities out here in the remotest part of Australia, however we love it when, like today, we end up parking next to them and scoring 3 huge containers of 5 star cuisine consisting of a bean, pecan and pepitas salad with a delicious soy sesame dressing, a tuna and corn salad with crunchy noodles and lastly a chicken Caesar salad complete with anchovies, croutons and real chunks of chicken!!!!!!! Bingo, lunch, dinner and tomorrows lunch sorted!!!! After we bade farewell to the tour bus like we were long lost friends we finished our gourmet lunch and headed to our next destination, a free camp on the Lennard River, just near the Windjana Rd turnoff.
The next day we headed 20kms down the heavily corrugated Windjana Rd to explore Windjana Gorge and see the hundreds of freshwater crocodiles we had been hearing about. We had arrived early and set off on the walk by about 9, the morning for once was overcast, making it good hiking weather. We kept our eye out for the crocs, but on our way in only managed to spot 2 right at the beginning, so we kept walking and looking, assuming they would be at the end, until finally we arrived at a sign that told us that the last 1km of the walk was closed due to track damage from the previous wet season and ongoing weed control…. Disappointed we turned and headed back the same 3km we had come. The walk we all thought was a pretty cool walk, taking us on the dry river bed and then through the forest sides of the river, with the girls saying it felt like we were in a rainforest, as usual there was some rock hopping and lots of ups and downs. It wasn’t until we got about 500 metres before the end of the walk that we saw the freshies, sunbaking on the opposite side of the riverbank, all up we counted about 39 of them, big and small. We were pleased that we had finally spotted them, not in the mass numbers that we had been told about, but nonetheless we saw them in their natural environment.
From Windjana Gorge we headed east a further 35km to Tunnel Creek, along the very corrugated road, spotting quite a few up turned, looted and burnt out vehicles. We got a good look at them as we cruised on past doing our usual speed of about 50-60kmph, wondering just how fast they had been travelling to crash and roll like they had. Arriving at Tunnel Creek we headed in prepared with torches and prepared to get our feet and shorts wet. The tunnel was pretty cool, after some rock scrambling we entered a huge cavernous area and proceeded into the dark huge space beyond. The walk in was not too bad, yes we got our feet wet but the wade through the water was only knee deep at its worst, so we managed to stay dry. We saw and heard lots of bats, but unfortunately (or not) we didn’t spot any creepy red eyes peering out at us from the dark depths of the cave.
That afternoon we headed back to camp for a lazy afternoon sitting in front of the fire and having fun spotting more freshwater crocs in the river about 50 metres away from camp. The next day we were on the road by about 9:30, with today’s drive being a long one for us, about 200kms along the GRR, back to one of our favourite spots, Manning Gorge campground. We arrived right on lunchtime and were expecting to see the campground chock a block, however we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that it was in fact quieter than when we were there last, only 4 weeks ago. After a very busy past few weeks, we spent the next 2 nights at Manning Gorge campground chilling out, swimming and catching up on schoolwork.
From Manning Gorge our next stop was about 70km up the road, Mt Elizabeth Station. Mt Elizabeth Station is predominantly a cattle station that dabbles on the tourism side of things during the dry season. The campground is pretty basic, however it is a large open space that we enjoyed after the busyness of Manning Gorge and the facilities, whilst, dated offered clean flushing toilets and awesomely hot showers, bliss!!! We found a bit of grass away from the main campground and enjoyed the peace and quiet in front of the fire.
Mt Elizabeth Station has 2 main attractions, Warla Gorge and Wunnumurra Gorge, both only being a short drive from the homestead. After we set up we had lunch and then headed out to Warla Gorge only 30 minutes away, where we spent the afternoon having a quick dip, lazing in the sun and trying our luck at fishing (of which we only caught a few little ones.) The next day we had yet another sleep in and then headed off to Wunnumurra Gorge, only 10kms away, however it took us over 45 minutes to get there due to the rocky slow going drive. The Wunnumurra Gorge is actually on the Barnett river, where only a few days ago we were swimming in downstream at Manning Gorge campground. The gorge here was fantastic, complete with an awesome waterfall, chilly swimming water and a few little fish. We had the place to ourselves (something unusual this time of the year on the GRR) and spent most of the day here, ate lunch, swam, fished and then tackled the slow rocky drive back to camp, where we set about lighting the fire in anticipation of another fresh chilly night. The last couple of nights we have noticed the evenings getting a little chillier, but last night we were all literally freezing, layers of clothing and blankets were required in order to get a comfortable night sleep. This weather had us all thinking back 12 months ago to the freezing nights we had whilst staying in Alice Springs. After surviving yet another chilly 3 degree night we packed up early an headed off by 7:30 for a long day of slow GRR driving.
The road this morning was not too bad until we got to the Kulumburu Rd turnoff, from here on as well as corrugations we had to contend with sharp shale rocks as well. Travelling about 50-60kms an hour our drive took a few hours, we passed a few cars that had pulled over after shredding their tyres and after making sure they were OK we kept going and as per our plans we reached Ellenbrae Station about mid-morning, just in time to have scones for morning tea. After we enjoyed coffee and scones we then set off for our next destination, Home Valley Station, but not before we had to pull over and help a couple from Melbourne who had shredded a tyre and punctured their spare within an hour of each other. The couple were in a Thrifty rental car and had no more spare tyres so were just sitting on the side of the road waiting…….. One tyre was completely blown out on the side wall, whilst the spare they put on was not far behind, however Nik was able to locate the hole on the spare and managed to patch it back up after using 3 plugs. We advised the guy that he needed to drive a bit slower to Home Valley as the side walls of the spare tyre were still looking a bit iffy. Whilst he was putting the spare back on Nik checked the pressures of the other tyres and noticed they were all sitting at around 40psi, so after he lowered them to 28psi they headed off very wearily to get a replacement. It’s amazing the difference tyre pressure and speed make to the tyres, too much pressure and it’s like rolling a balloon over rocks, they are going to pop and shred. Too much speed on high pressure tyres and driving over corrugations then results in the side walls buckling and therefore blowing out. Whilst we do tend to harp on about tyre pressures, we religiously change our pressures both on the car and the van according to the conditions and have never had any issues whilst driving dirt and rough roads. After having travelled the Oodnadatta Track twice, the Birdsville Track, the Plenty Highway, Cape Leveque Rd and now the Gibb River Road twice we figure we are on to something and the only time we have had a blow-out was actually on the bitumened M1 highway….
After our little stop over we finally arrived at Home Valley Station around lunch time, where we set up and proceeded to the pool for a very refreshing dip (I opted to sit and watch and have a ‘real coffee’). We spent 2 nights at Home Valley Station, relaxing, swimming and doing laundry. We sat on the banks of the Pentecost River and watched the sunset over the Cockburn Ranges, the best view I think I have ever seen. Then the next morning Nik went back down to try his hand at fishing, unfortunately the fish were off the bite (again) as the water temperature was quite chilly, however he did spot 2 big salties on the other side of the river eating what looks like the barra that Nik was going to catch…… The next morning, he took the drone back down to the river in the hope that the salties were around again, but unfortunately they weren’t, so instead he got some awesome footage without them.
With the word around camp saying the road from Home Valley to El Questro was pretty rough, we took a deep breath and headed off to complete the last bit of the Gibb. After another awesome crossing of the Pentecost River, with even less water in it than last time, we arrived at El Questro by mid-morning. After setting up, we headed off to do the Saddleback Ridge track and Pidgeon Hole lookout, both offering awesome views of the valleys and Pentecost. We then spent the late afternoon swimming in the swimming hole and catching up with fellow travellers at happy hour, with Jess and Abby participating in the ranger’s activities at the stables, according to Jess they played awesome games and also found a cane toad which then wee’d on the rangers hand……. We also ventured out to Explosion Gorge for some sightseeing and fishing. Also on our very last day we were lucky enough to be doing a horse ride, the girls were very excited, so much so that I awoke at 5:50am with a start to open my eyes and find Jess sitting and staring at me with a big smile on her face. She was ready to go, however still had another 3 hours to wait…….
We really loved our time at El Questro and especially the Gibb River Road and the Kimberley as a whole, as we drove out and away from the Cockburn Ranges for our last time I think we made a silent promise to ourselves that we will be back sometime, but in the meantime we had our next adventure and destination to look forward to on our OZLAP……….