With last minute shopping and refuelling done and dusted at Derby, we headed out of town a short distance and turned onto the Gibb River Road. While it’s a road we’ve been travelling for many years, the excitement as we start an adventure is something that never wanes.
Leaving Derby, it’s a little over 100km of bitumen before finally reaching the dirt. After pulling over to let some air out of the tyres, we hit the dirt and happily watched a cloud of dust kick up behind us. We visited four stations this trip, taking in two on the Gibb’s western end and two on the east.
MOUNT HART WILDERNESS LODGE
One thing about the stations along the Gibb is they’re each that bit different, including Mount Hart. Its location alone — on the Gibb’s western end in the rugged King Leopold Ranges within a conservation park — sees this station stay unique. With such spectacular and distinctive scenery, including black dolerite outcrops towering over the station’s entrance track in parts, it’s often hard to know which direction to look.
Upon reaching the homestead, it felt like we’ve reached an oasis. Lush grass, paved paths, and a combination of plants provide a resort-style feel. After checking in, we made our way to the campground that sits alongside the pretty Barker River. Plenty of trees provide ample shade for vehicles and campers, while the green grass is welcomed as it keeps the dust down.
Setting up in next to no time, we were off to explore some attractions. Annie’s Creek waterhole is a top spot for a bit of relaxation, while a bit further away from camp, Dolerite Gorge is one of our favourites. Throwing on some sneakers and with water and swimming gear thrown into our backpacks, we followed the gorge upstream for about a kilometre. True to its name, large outcrops of Dolerite boulders line the gorge which opens up to a large pool where we took a refreshing dip. Yellowman Gorge, Barker Pool and the Secret Fishing Hole are other station attractions, so there were plenty of places to explore away from camp.
Back at the homestead, we swung by Settlers Bar which had our food and drink needs covered. We’ve never had reservations that good food is hard to come by in the Kimberley, and the three-course dinner here was sublime thanks to chef, Brad. On the last night of our stay, we made our way to Sunset Hill with nibbles, drinks and camera in hand. Kimberley sunsets never disappoint and this one well and truly lived up to expectations.
MORNINGTON WILDERNESS PARK
As we left the Gibb River Road to visit Mornington, it’s only a short distance to the booth to call ahead. It might sound strange, but a radio is provided in a shelter so visitors can let staff know they’re on their way — not a bad idea since the track into Mornington is nearly 90km off the Gibb. That aside, we like to visit here for a few reasons. Besides the Australian Wildlife Conservancy managing Mornington and sister property, Charnley River Station (also along the Gibb), they run some excellent programs relating to endangered wildlife and land conservation.
The campsites at Mornington are alongside the picturesque Annie Creek. Nearby taps provide water when we needed it and free gas barbeques are a welcome inclusion when fires aren’t permitted. Visitor numbers are limited in the campground, so it’s not a bad idea to book ahead.
A considerable amount of Mornington is dominated by the rugged King Leopold Ranges and the mammoth Fitzroy River, which cuts through the property, so there’s plenty of opportunities to go exploring with much of it being water based. The views at Dimond Gorge and Sir John Gorge are breathtaking and best experienced by hiring a canoe from reception. When visiting Mornington, these gorges are always high on our list to see, so we happily spent two days on the water.
Early morning is also a good time to head off on one of the park’s walking trails where you might be lucky to see the endangered Purple Crowned Fairy Wren or the rare Gouldian Finch. Swimming is possible at a few of the waterholes as well.
We’ve found a highlight of a Mornington visit is the talks provided by rangers who share the types of programs the wilderness park is working on. To get up to date with what the current program is, we booked in for dinner one night. Afterwards, one of the rangers put on a presentation where visitors learnt about their cat management program and the significant effect they have on local wildlife.
HEADING FURTHER EAST
After retracing back to the Gibb, we headed east to our next station visit, but there’s plenty to see along the way. We took a quick stop at Adcock Gorge and Galvans Gorge which are both located a short distance off the Gibb. We find these two stops perfect places for cooling off, even on a winter’s day where the mercury is nudging 33 degrees.
Back on the road, we travelled further to Mt Barnett Roadhouse. Although we didn’t need fuel, the roadhouse is generally always well-stocked. Anyway, who needs an excuse to grab an ice cream or two! It’s also the place to drop off any rubbish you’re carrying. We didn’t plan on staying at Manning Gorge this time around, but this is where camp fees are paid if you visit the gorge.
After passing the Kalumburu Road turnoff, a brief stop at Ellenbrae Station broke the trip up nicely. Here the station has a couple of campgrounds to choose from, but their scones are what we came for. When they pump out an average of 15,000–18,000 scones each season — that’s a serious effort!
HOME VALLEY STATION
Early season roadworks were still in progress as we continued east. These guys have their work cut out year on year when wet season rains can wreak havoc with the roads. Reaching the Home Valley turnoff, the station has one of the most spectacular views of the Cockburn Ranges as its backdrop. We’ve always loved our stays here, as it has a laid-back country-style feel that makes us want to linger.
The camping here is good, and we set up in the main campground on this occasion. We based ourselves here as it’s located close to the amenities, reception and a swimming pool (one of the few along the Gibb).
A station tour was something we finally ticked off our list, and which we found extremely interesting. Besides learning more about the Indigenous and European history of the area, we visited a few different sites and learnt about the local bush tucker.
There’s also plenty of walks around the station to spot local flora and fauna. We found water lilies were in abundance in a lagoon while a flock of beautiful red-tailed cockatoos took respite from the heat in the shade of the trees above. The station’s restaurant dishes up top notch meals, so we jumped at the chance to have a night off from cooking and listen to the live entertainment during dinner.
EL QUESTRO WILDERNESS PARK
For our last station visit, we swung by El Questro, but not before taking the usual iconic shot crossing the Pentecost River. Even after all our visits, we still take that picture every time as the stunning view is something we never tire of.
El Questro isn’t one of the cheaper station stays if you only plan an overnighter, but allowing a few days or longer, we’ve found it’s worth the expense — you could say El Questro is a holiday destination in itself, as it includes Emma Gorge as well.
At El Questro, there’s a bunch of activities for visitors covering a range of interests. Numerous 4WD tracks cater for all levels of experience while the scenery from the station lookouts is amazing. There’s plenty of gorges to visit with the drive into El Questro Gorge having one of the deeper water crossings in the park. When it comes to lookouts, tracks to a few of these can be a bit steep and rocky. During our four day stay, we mixed things up between visiting gorges and lookouts, swimming, and joining a guided station tour.
With a packed picnic lunch thrown into the fourby, a day was spent at Explosion Gorge. Another day, we took an early morning swim at Zebedee Springs. The environment here and the springs themselves are simply an oasis and not something you generally expect to find in the Kimberley.
Besides these, we packed some snacks and hiked into El Questro Gorge and Amalia Gorge. While there is some shade with both walks, it’s recommended to get an early morning start to hike in the cool of the day.
For this trip, we stayed a few days at the main campground where there are good amenities. If you’re keen to soak up a bit more seclusion, there’s private campsites along the Pentecost River which are best booked in advance. Drinks, meals and snacks are well covered and available close to the main campground by reception if you’re looking to curb those hunger pangs.
A REGION TO EXPLORE
The call of the Kimberley can be a strong one, and station stays are an excellent way to experience what this amazing region has to offer. If these Gibb River Road station stays whet your appetite to start planning a visit, there’s plenty of others to experience as well. For now, we’ll leave them until next time.
The Gibb River Road is 660km long and located in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. Wet season rains have a large impact on when the Gibb River Road is open, so station opening times can vary. Generally, they’re open from April/May until late September, but it’s advisable to contact the individual stations to confirm their opening and closing times.
It would be beneficial to have a high clearance 4WD to help negotiate some of the deeper water crossings and rocky jump ups located on a few station tracks.
The Gibb River Road is graded during the dry season, directly after the wet and again during the main tourist season. Tracks off the Gibb can vary as individual station tracks are the responsibility of their owners. These generally don’t pose any problem for those towing.
FUEL & SUPPLIES
Fuel is available at Imintji (diesel only), Mount Barnett Roadhouse, El Questro, and further north at Drysdale River Station and Kalumburu. Basic groceries are available at Imintji, Mount Barnett Roadhouse and Drysdale River Station. Minor mechanical and tyre repairs can be handled at Over the Range Tyres, Ellenbrae Station and Drysdale River Station. Limited mobile phone coverage is available — Imintji and a lookout a couple of kilometres west of Home Valley are two of the best options.
Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge: mounthart.com.au
Mornington Wilderness Camp: australianwildlife.org
Home Valley Station: hvstation.com.au
El Questro: elquestro.com.au
Kununurra Visitor Centre: visitkununurra.com
Derby Visitor Centre: derbytourism.com.au