You know when you make plans with friends that sound so great. A night out without the kids, family BBQ’s, grand holidays… but they rarely come to fruition… well somehow we have a way of making the grand holidays happen…
Pete had spoken about doing this trip many times before (in the Troopy!) and at breakfast one morning the boys got talking about driving the Gibb River Road which goes from Derby to Kunnunara in WA’s northwest. The more they spoke, the more excited they got. I didn’t actually think we would get it off the ground – especially considering the number of hours each of them worked and the fact that moving an army of small people isn’t an easy task. However, here we were, a year later and about to head off.
Pete flew through the night from Jakarta and arrived in Perth at 5am. We flew mid-morning to Broome. It was the first day of the June/July school holidays in WA so I was surprised we had a really small plane. Not surprised though that there was not one spare seat. ..the longest 2 hours with Lachie!
When we landed we headed straight to pick up the car. Lachie still hadn’t slept and there was no shade so he was running around like a mad man in the heat. I was busy chasing him around so I didn’t really get to listen to the instructions on how to assemble and disassemble the camper trailer. Pete said he was all over it… :O
Once we had done the handover of the vehicle (nearly an hour later) we headed for the caravan park to meet up with our friends that had driven from Perth. We arrived at Cable Beach Caravan Park and lined up behind about 5 others cars. I ran inside to sign in and get the gate code. Our friends had already paid to make it easier for our arrival. When I got to the front desk and told them my name they couldn’t find any details. I asked them to look under our friends’ name as they had already stayed the night. Nope. Nothing. The lady mentioned there were 3 other caravan parks surrounding them so maybe we had the wrong one. I called our friends and they confirmed that yes, we had the wrong park! So I got the details and we headed to the right one… I thought. We pulled up and again I ran in to do the administration. Same problem. No booking under either of our names. When I glanced back at the street name my friends had told me and checked where we were I realised I’d put in the wrong address (both started with F!) – there just happened to be a caravan park on both! So we eventually pulled into the correct park, found our friends and put up camp. We were only staying the one night.
Pete assured me he could assemble the camper and so I took off to get the food shopping done. I was a tad excited about this… I love grocery shopping. I really love grocery shopping on my own! Luckily I had my shopping list, and pretty much stuck to it. We were going to be on the road for 16 days. That’s 3 meals a day for almost 2.5 weeks. That is a lot of food. I didn’t realise just how much…
2 absolutely full trolleys – one of which I just dumped in the corner while I filled the other and I was done. $997 later… I wonder if we will have leftovers??
I headed back to camp where Pete had successfully erected the camper (albeit a few poles which he assured me ‘we didn’t really need’ :O) and found Lachie about 150m off down the beach at low tide. He and the other kids were having a ball in the sand and puddles.
We had some dinner and got Lachie into bed (finally) and headed 50m down to the beach to witness the full moon rising. When there is a full moon in Broome (from March to November) they have what is called the staircase to the moon. The full moon is reflected off the mudflats during an extremely low tide (and full moon) and looks like you could just climb up to sit on the moon. It was magical. I didn’t get a great photo but it was worth seeing firsthand. A moment where the memory is better than any photo.
We had a reasonably early night and slept quite well. Lachie slept all night until almost 7am (at this point I thought to myself, if this is going to happen every night, I will start living in a camper!)
Pete got up early to finish some last-minute work and came to wake me to see the sunrise down at the beach. I was a little late for any great photos but the sunrise was spectacular!
We packed up the camper and headed off to Bunnings to get a few supplies before hitting the road.
First stop for the trip is Windjana Gorge.
We were on the road by 9.30am. There are 2 final service stations on the road to Derby before the Gibb River Road turn off. We stopped at the last one to do a last check of everything. Tyres, fuel etc. This roadhouse did have most supplies you would need and although I’d spent almost $1000 the day before, I managed to spend another $50 here! 2 drinks, 2 icecreams and some lollies!
Back on the road and we arrived at the turn off to the GRR. We jumped out for a few photos and we had officially started our roadtrip!
2 hours later, a lot of red dirt, some roadworks and plenty of other cars and we arrived at Windjana Gorge. It’s a large open campground with flushing toilets and hot showers. We arrived just after lunchtime and it was extremely hot. There wasn’t a great deal of shade at this campsite so setting up was not pleasant. Once we were set up we set off on the 2km return walk to the gorge and back. We were hoping for a swim but ‘salties’ have been spotted in the gorge and the water was actually quite stagnate so I wouldn’t have been keen anyway. The rock formations are amazing. All we had seen all day was flat landscape and out of nowhere these gorgeous black rocks pop up. There are nautilus shell fossils on the way into the gorge which are really interesting and well signed so you can’t miss them. There were also plenty of freshwater crocodiles. It was fun trying to keep an inquisitive 18 month old away from them. The sand is really soft and a little hard to walk on especially with 4 kids under 8 years old. We made it back to camp just in time to feed the kiddies then we were all in bed early. The campground was nice and quiet which was great.
Everyone was up early (there goes my plan to live in a camper) so we had breakfast and headed off to Tunnel Creek which is 40km further south on the same road as Windjana Gorge.
We had a great time here. It was a relatively easy walk, even for the kids (the two toddlers were in backpacks). The entire walk was in the tunnel so it wasn’t hot. There is some aboriginal rock art and it was fun to have to use the torch to see where we were going. The rock formations again were amazing. There were sections where we had to wade through the river, at one stage the depth reached my hips! We took our time and walked all the way in which took about 30 minutes, had a snack at the end and wandered back.
We headed back to Windjana Gorge and packed up the camp and set off for our next stop – Silent Grove.
The trip was only about 2 hours and the road wasn’t too bad – a little worse than the first day but not as bad as we were expecting. Still not very much to see on this leg. Much of the same landscape and a few lookouts, but a very uneventful few hours.
We arrived at Silent Grove again just after lunch. There were already quite a few people at this campground. We found our spot and set up (getting speedier at this) then headed of for a look around the campsite. There is fresh drinking water and the water source is right by the campground so we wandered up to have a look. It wasn’t far and gave us something to do.
We had another early night and the next morning headed to Bell’s Gorge for a swim. It’s only a 10km drive from the campsite to the carpark, then a 1.5km walk into the gorge. For the most part the walk is quite easy. The last part to get into the swimming area however is difficult. Straight up one side of the gorge and then straight down the other side. There is a small swimming area at the top however if you can’t get down into the gorge.
This is one of my favourite places on the GRR. It is absolutely beautiful. There is a large open swimming area with a big waterfall at one end. The water is freezing but refreshing after the walk in. We had a swim around, swam up to the waterfall and the kids slid off the rocks into the water. We then blew up our air mattress we carried in and the kids floated around on that for a while. The dads then took the big kids downstream on the mattress. They found some more waterfalls and pools they could wade around in.
We spent about 2 hours at the gorge and after some lunch headed back to the car. The walk back wasn’t as pleasant as the way in. It was much hotter and there was no waterhole at the other end. Lachie fell asleep in the backpack on the way.
The next morning we were up early (is there any other option in my life??) packing up. We heading to Imintji which is only 8kms from Silent Grove. This is one of the major restocks on the GRR. We refuelled and made a plan for the next few nights. We wanted to go to Charnley River but the last time we had reception they were closed due to power issues. We had reception in Imintji (Optus not Telstra) so we called to find out if they had reopened. Unfortunately, they were still a few days off being open again. We decided to head to Manning Gorge Camping Area which is 89kms away.
Pete, Lachie and I stayed at the roadhouse for a little longer so Pete could catch up on some work stuff before we lost reception again, but once we were on the road we were still happy with the driving conditions. A bit more to see on this leg. There are a few lookouts and other gorges on this leg.
At the entrance to the Manning Gorge Campsite is the Mt Barnett Roadhouse. This is the biggest restock stop on the GRR. You can pick up most things you would need here, but at a cost!
We got some more (frozen) bread and some matches as ours had been drenched on a drive through some water that day. You pay for your stay at the gorge here also. We planned to stay for 2 nights.
We pulled in and found a nice shady spot to set up. Once we were unpacked we headed about 800m to the other end of the campsite to the waterhole for a swim. This waterhole is fantastic. So close to the campsite, shallow enough for the big kids to frolic around and shady, sandy banks so you can spend as long down there as you like.
This waterhole is also the start of the walk to Manning Gorge so there is also an old boat on a pulley system for people to cross without swimming. This can provide hours of fun for the kids too.
We did some washing that afternoon and had a shower (clean but cold unless you get in early) and settled in for the night.
The next morning Pete, Lachie and I headed off on the trek to the gorge. The walk is just over 3kms each way. It is hot and there are some challenging climbing spots. We were fine with Lachie in the carrier but it would be a hard to do with young kids. It took us about 45 minutes to walk in.
It is well worth it though. The large waterfalls are surrounded by a swimming hole. I really loved it here. I managed to swim up to the waterfall but chickened out from ducking in behind them. I climbed up to the top to get some photos but unlike many others that were there, I climbed back down instead of jumping the 15 or so metres!
We had a decent swim and something to eat and then began to head back before it got too hot. It was hot, but not unbearable. The breeze was up so it really took the edge off.
Once we made it back to the starting spot we jumped back in the waterhole to cool off.
We had some lunch at camp then headed off to the roadhouse to see if we could get some internet. Lachie fell asleep in the car which was perfect as it’s too hot to sleep in the camper during the day.
We didn’t have reception but you can pay for wifi. Unless you absolutely need to access the internet, I wouldn’t bother. The wifi is painfully slow (we are in the middle of the bush) and after a few frustrating hours, we called it quits.
When we headed back, I decided I was going to go for an early shower and hopefully get some hot water. Pete took Lachie down to the river near our camp to dangle a line.
I didn’t have hot water but decided I really needed to shave my legs. I had done half of one leg when I heard Pete’s voice yell out my name. When I answered (along with the other Jodie in the shower – how crazy!) he said he need the car keys. I assumed Lachie needed an immediate nappy change. I wrapped the towel around me and waddled out to the door to throw them to him. As soon as I saw Pete’s face, I knew it wasn’t a nappy change. Something was wrong. He had Lachie sitting up on the bench and facing away from me. When Lachie looked at me I could see he had been crying (not something he does easily). I asked Pete if something had happened and he simply said ‘yes’. I replied ‘bad’. Again, he said ‘yes’.
I hurried back and turned off the shower and got dressed and went outside. I could see immediately that we had a problem. Pete was completely covered in blood and was visibly shaken. He had Lachie’s hand wrapped in his shirt.
Turns out that Pete was casting the fishing line and my very inquisitive little boy thought he’d like to pick up the knife that was on the ground with the bait. Unfortunately, the knife was so sharp that it instantly cut into his finger.
Because there was so much blood, it just looked awful. Every time we tried to unwrap it to take a look, Lachie would cry and the blood would start pouring out. The other Jodie in the shower just happened to be a nurse, as did another lady at the campsite that must have seen the commotion. They both took a look and said it was so deep that it would need stitches.
At this point we were preparing to drive 500kms to Kununurra at 5pm… not ideal but possibly a necessity. We rang the roadhouse on the satellite phone and explained the situation in the hopes they would have access to a doctor. They called the nurses at a nearby clinic and by the time we got to the roadhouse, they were there waiting. We followed them back to the clinic which luckily for us was only about 500m from the roadhouse at an Aboriginal Community.
The 2 nurses (I can’t believe I didn’t get their names!) took us inside and had a look at Lachie’s finger. It was still bleeding like crazy so the nurse (Julie?) covered it back up while she decided what to do. She said to us ‘I’m just going to call Royal Flying Doctors (RFDS)’. You can imagine what I thought when she said that! But then went on to explain that she needed some clarification on whether to issue antibiotics as the knife had meat on it.
The RFDS confirmed he wouldn’t need antibiotics and also confirmed that very rarely do they stitch or glue children’s fingers or toes as they heal very well.
They cleaned it up and it instantly looked better. We could see then that it was just a bad cut. Julie popped on some steri-strips and wrapped it up to give it the best chance to stay clean and not become infected. This entire service was free! Both nurses were unbelievable. Calm, knowledgeable and friendly. The RFDS and regional nursing stations rely heavily on donations so we made ours (and will now continue to do so) and headed back to camp.
Lachie was so brave and there were only a few tears. When we got back our friends had already made us dinner. Legends.
We cleaned Lachie up and popped him in bed hoping he would sleep ok. He needed a few cuddles but we got through.
We were on the road by 8am the next day and were heading to Mitchell Falls. A big day on the road travelling about 370kms. The road on the first half of the day was noticeably rougher than the road already travelled.
We stopped at Drysdale River for lunch. We lashed out and got a burger form the licensed bar! We will be staying here on our way back for a few nights. We said goodbye to our friends for now as they weren’t travelling to Mitchell Falls. We will meet them back at Drysdale River in 2 days.
The road to Mitchell Falls was absolutely shocking. We were expecting it to be bad after reading all the forums, but it was much worse than we thought. It took us 2 hours to drive about 80kms.
At the entrance to the campground we had a briefing by the ranger. She was fantastic. Very enthusiastic and witty, all while delivering important information about the area. We wouldn’t have got as much out of our trip if it wasn’t for her.
We pulled up and set up and by 3.30pm the campground was already busy. We then wandered over to the helipad to organise our ride for the following day.
There are a number of options for the helicopter rides. The most popular is to walk into the falls and get choppered out. Next is to chopper in and walk out. This isn’t a wise option as there is nowhere to swim once you’re out. The last is a 48 minute coastal flight. We lashed out and went with the coastal.
We were up just after dawn. We packed our bags ready to go and then packed up the camper as we decided to head to Kalumburu that night and knew we would be pushing it to get there before dark.
Just on 8am we headed to the helipad to get our safety briefing done. Lachie was absolutely beside himself with excitement with all the helicopters taking off and landing in front of us. They operate flat out between 8am-5pm so we saw a lot coming and going.
We then began our walk. We had a good map with handwritten notes from the ranger. We hit the first fork. Here you could take a 2km return walk to a lookout. Apparently amazing at sunrise and sunset. Pete thought he’d like to go and see it so off we went. I was time conscious so I was a bit antsy at the unexpected extra time. However, we got to the lookout, took a few photos and headed back. A tad underwhelming but most probably spectacular at sunset or sunrise.
Back on the main track and about 10 minutes further in we came to the first stop. There is a cave with some great rock art. If you follow the cave through and come out the other side, you come out under the Little Mertins Falls that we began at the top of. One of the prettiest places we have seen on the trip. You can swim here but we decided to push on. You could easily walk from the campground to swim here if you were staying a few days.
The next bit of the track had been burnt out by a fire earlier in the year so it was just an open area with very few trees and no shade but as it was so early in the day it didn’t really bother us.
We then followed the empty river bed to see some more rock art. It is amazing to think that the whole river is metres deep in the wet. The second lot of art wasn’t as good as the cave art so we continued walking without stopping here. The next stop was the top of Big Mertins Falls. This is awesome. There is no fence and nothing to stop you going off the edge – and the drop is about 80 metres! I precariously edged out to get as close as I could for a photo of the falls. There were some people swimming here at the top but again we decided to keep pushing on.
Next, we arrived at the top of Mitchell Falls. Again, the view here is spectacular. To the right was the huge, gushing waterfalls, and to the left was the calm rockpools. We did have a swim here. The water was fresh but not freezing like some of the other places we had been on the trip. It was a little hard to get in and out over the slippery rocks.
After our swim and something to eat we continued for only about 5 minutes when we came to the river crossing that signalled the end of the walk. We took our shoes off and walked across. Once on the other side we headed up to the access spot for arguably the best photo opportunity on the entire trip. The money shot of the Mitchell Falls. Again, there is nothing stopping you from going over the edge here, but I stayed well clear and there is a bit of boulder climbing required to get to the very edge. I got as good a shot as I could with the inconsiderately positioned tree in the way. ?
Once I got the shot we headed back to the helipad and waited in the shade for our ride.
About 30 minutes later our helicopter arrived. The pilot signalled for us to approach. Lachie was again super excited. We climbed into the door less big bird and it was about now that my ‘scared of heights’ husband began to regret his decision to go with the 48 minute flight rather than the 6 minute flight back to camp. He held onto Lachie so I could take photos. When the pilot handed Pete a seatbelt similar to that you’d get for an infant on a plane – he got a bit concerned. If Lachie wanted to he could have squirmed out. Lachie was surprisingly calm once we took off. Once we were in the air, Lachie gripped on tight but was taking it all in. About 10 minutes later he was asleep!
We saw so much in such a short time. Vast and changing landscape, turtles, school of large fish, Aboriginal burial sites and crocodiles. I really enjoyed it.
Once we landed back at the campsite we hurried to get on the road. We knew it would be tight to get to Kalumburu before dark. Kalumburu is the most isolated town in WA. The road was shocking to get in there also. There were plenty of horses, cattle, dingoes and wallabys.
We pulled into the township just as it got dark. Nothing was open to pay for accommodation so we just pulled in to the campsite to set up. As we were pulling Pete commented that we wouldn’t get much sleep as we felt very isolated and vulnerable. As we rounded the corner though, there was another couple already set up. By the time we had finished setting up another few people had also pulled in so we felt ok. The showers were hot, toilets clean and there was green grass. We actually really liked it here.
The next morning we took a drive further north of Kalumburu to explore the seaside camps. On the way out there are some plane ruins from WWII which are worth a look. The campsites are great. You can’t swim at the beach because of crocodiles but they are very picturesque and great for fishing. Some of the campsites had rockpools that are safe to swim in however.
We headed back to pick up the camper and pay for the site for the night. We paid $2.68/litre for fuel! We got back on the road and headed to Drysdale to meet up with our friends again.
The trip back was uneventful until we were almost back at Drysdale when we got a call on the satellite phone from our friends telling us they were bogged nearby and needed help.
The boys spent the next hour un-bogging and replacing a busted tyre while the two (one very unhappy as her protests to go further into the soft sand were ignored) wives and kids played on the sandy bank of the river.
We had planned to go to the restaurant at Drysdale for dinner that night but the chef has Monday’s off and the buffet started way to late for the kids, so we cooked at the camp instead. That night was freezing. Even our onesies didn’t keep us warm!
Tuesday morning we packed up. The boys changed 2 tyres on our car as they were looking worse for wear and then we were on our way to Home Valley Station.
About 15kms before Ellenbrae Station, we heard a noise on our car. We pulled over and saw one of the tyres the boys had replaced that morning was completely shredded! A quick roadside change and we were back on the road.
After the delay changing the tyre, we decided to stop at Ellenbrae. We had heard from other travellers about their scones so were keen to try them. They also had toasted sandwiches. Both were delicious. The station itself is also lovely. There is lots of green grass, a pond, chicken houses and a little dog named Evie who collected the ball over and over for Lachie. Definitely glad we stopped here.
We made it to Home Valley Station mid-afternoon and as we were checking in, the adults were just as excited as the kids! This place looked great! There is a huge shaded playground, a swimming pool and a full bar and restaurant which was showing the State of Origin the following night.
We found a spot right next to the playground which fit us both in and we were set up an hour later. We headed straight to the restaurant that night – after a HOT shower!
The next morning we headed for El Questro. We wanted to know whether to go there for a night after Home Valley. It was nice. Lots of activities for the kids but we felt it wasn’t any better than where we were and would save us packing the camper up again. So we purchased some day passes (which are required to swim in any of the waterholes within the El Questro area) and went back to the hot springs for a swim. They shut the hot springs at midday as the private tours come through in the afternoons, so we only had about an hour. It is only a very short walk from the carpark and the water is crystal clear and warm! Everyone had a ball here and we got some great photos.
We then headed back into El Questro for lunch. They didn’t have much, but a few sausage rolls and salad rolls filled us up.
We had a quiet afternoon around the campsite before heading to the pub for dinner and State of Origin. It was set up on the grass in a beer garden setting with a big screen – and great that QLD won also.
The next day was just spent around the campground. Catching up on washing and cleaning out the car.
Friday morning we were heading to Kununurra. This signals the official end of our GRR trip. Back to bitumen roads and phone signal.
We headed to Wyndham for a quick look around. Pete had a work call so we went up to the Five Rivers Lookout while he did that. Lachie and I took some photos and made friends with some other travellers while we waited.
We grabbed a pie from the Northern Most Bakery (I couldn’t bring myself to get the crocodile pie) and headed back to Kununurra.
Once we were in town we grabbed a few things from the supermarket (fresh bread and fruit!) and then headed to our destination for the night which is a mango farm owned by Pete’s cousin. Quentin’s place is absolutely stunning. I wish we had longer to stay. There is even a helicopter that he built that the kids can play in. We were treated to a night of music in Quentin’s music studio but unfortunately had to get going early the next morning.
We planned to get to Katherine which is about 500kms away, but by the time we got on the road after picking up some car repair supplies we didn’t get there until after dark. There was very little to see along this leg, the NT/WA border was the highlight.
Wikicamps helped me to pick a caravan park to stay at in Katherine and luckily there were 2 sites left . The staff were really helpful and friendly even though we interrupted his beer ?
Lachie had been sitting in his car seat for 7.5 hours so was completely stir crazy when we arrived. He had a little run around while we ate dinner and I was pleasantly surprised when he went to bed without too much protesting.
On the road for our last day of driving, we stopped in at Pine Creek to refuel. We are so glad we did as this is a funky little town. We refuelled at Lizard Lizzy’s. There is a pool, pub and cabinets with pythons in! There was also a market on in town but we didn’t have time to stop.
We toyed with the idea of going into Litchfield National Park for the day but we were ready to be finished. We had to clean the car and pack ready to fly out so we headed straight up to Darwin. We stayed in Howard Springs (just South of Darwin) at the Big4 Caravan Park. This place is great – particularly with kids. There are a few pools, an indoor kids’ room, a water park and a jumping bag. We went down to the Mindil Markets to see the sun set that night. We didn’t stay to have a look around but I have been few times before and definitely recommend going down for a look and some dinner. The next day I cleaned the car then we headed into town and the boys had a swim down at the waterfront before heading to the airport.
We had a great time and it’s is so great to be able to explore our amazing country like this.
FYI – We did have a little bit of food left over but not a great deal. We gave it to some other travelers at the Howard Springs Caravan Park.