Day 27: Mornington Wilderness Camp – Sir John Gorge

Distance: 28km return

Total drive time: 2 hours

Author: Mrs A

Apparently today was Sunday, though we have totally lost track of days of the week, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter! We had a slower start to the day and headed off around 10am to Sir John Gorge, one of the major attractions on the Fitzroy River. Each of the drives throughout the Mornington Wilderness is accompanied by an information book, full of facts and details of the environment we are travelling through. 

Today we learned about the importance of the termites, and how they are responsible for aerating the soils and the breaking down of plant matter, and the damage that feral animals do – particularly donkeys and cattle which trample the soil solid, meaning the delicate ecosystem can no longer maintain roots and plant life, thereby impacting all animals and birds as a result. It’s certainly a harsh environment here – 7 months of ‘dry’ when there is no rainfall, followed by 5 months of extremely hot temperatures and heavy rains (accompanied by high humidity and lots of mosquitoes) and the flora and fauna are well adapted to cope with it, assuming things are not interfered with.

Sir John Gorge was certainly peaceful and very picturesque. We rock hopped along the shore, spotting bird life and admiring the views, but the water didn’t look that inviting to swim in, despite the hot day. There is a plastic canoe you can  paddle here for the princely sum of $185! It is not a big gorge – this seems a bit of a poor deal, and definitely not worth the money, no matter the good cause it goes to! We pretty much had the place to ourselves the whole time, rare for The Kimberley!

We stayed a couple of hours before driving back towards camp, detouring at a waterhole called Bluebush. This was much prettier (as opposed to majestic), sandy beaches surrounded by paper bark trees and pandanus palms and teeming in bird life. It is about 6km down the Fitzroy River from the previous gorge. We lay in the shade beside the water watching the rainbow bee-eaters swooping and diving and trying the photograph the crimson finches which nested in the palms, and I scared a crocodile into jumping into the water on one of my explorations.

We returned to camp to make a hot chilli accompanied by a baked garlic damper on the BBQ, before an earlyish night.

Day 29: And it’s the final day on the Gibb!

Location: Silent Grove to Windjama Gorge

Distance: 136km

Time: 3 hrs 15 mins

Author: Mrs A

We left our crowded camp at 7am, eager to put the crowds behind us and get back on the road. It had been a sticky hot night and we hadn’t slept that well, despite retiring early.

Soon we were back on the Gibb, heading west towards our final destination, Windjama Gorge. There we found a great camp spot and unhitched. After some brunch, we jumped back in the car and drove to Tunnel Creek, about another 33km further along the road.

Tunnel Creek sees a 1km stretch of limestone hollowed out by the creek over thousands of years, making for an interesting underground walk, through water and surrounded by bats by torch light. It was certainly a novelty and an interesting hike, but rather busy with tour groups and families enjoying the ‘adventure’. 

We headed back to Windjama and headed off on a walk from camp. Much more spectacular. The gorge surrounding our campsite is spectacular – huge black pillars, quite unlike the red sandstone we have seen along the Gibb, and bringing forth thoughts of Mordor and Game of Thrones.

We hiked for about 6km in total, enjoying a real walk along real paths, rather than rock hopping. The Lennard River which flows through the gorge only during the wet season, is now a series of waterholes, teeming with fish and many freshwater crocodiles. It was not hard to see these crocs, they were everywhere!

The sun dropped low in the sky as we completed our walk, making for some great views and photographic opportunities, and then we headed back to the mobile apartment for hot showers and cocktails as the sun set. A lovely evening, fitting for the end of this leg of our trip – tomorrow we head back into civilisation and mobile reception – finally we can Google our burning questions and do some research for the next stage! We are also looking forward to getting things fixed (a few things that have rattled loose along the way) and removing the red dust from our possessions!

Day 28: 26 June: A perfect setting for a swim, and creativity in the kitchen…

Distance driven: 147km

Time:  3.5 hours

Author: Mr A

We packed up this morning and tackled the 2 hour drive out of the Mornington Wilderness, reflecting on what a great experience it had been to stay there. A quick top up of diesel at the Imintji Road House, $2’s a litre (ouch – but cheaper than they last fill! Two apples and a pallett of strawberries were procured, as our first fresh veg we’ve seen for weeks), and we were soon pullling up at the Slient Grove campground. This was where we left the van and headed up the short track to Bell Gorge, a short walk/rock hop (Kimberley classic walking track) and a climb down to an amazing swimming hole complete with a perfect waterfall framing the view.

We are privileged to be in these wonderful places. I can’t help but always wonder for how long humans have been swimming here and feeling the same simple pleasure. The latest estimate would say from the last Ice Age, around 50,000 years. Have we changed that much over those years in how we feel about taking a plunge in such a beautiful place? 

Back at the van its a lovely shower in the en suite and a vodka, soda and fresh lime al fresco, with the left over garlic damper from last night. Dinner followed…how about this…a chicken jalfrezi with a “Kimberley Aloo”. Now you might not find that on your local curry house menu, but after 3 weeks down the Gibb and no access to fresh supplies one needs to improvise. So the only fresh veg left at this point was kumera, and the freezer had some frozen peas, so in a unusually inspired moment I suggested a variant on Bombay aloo (peas and potato in a curry sauce). Mrs A being the wonder cook that she is, excited on this grand design and there it was on the plate…awesome. A Chocksotne Shiraz from the Grampians stood up nicely to the power of the spices. Dessert will be the strawberries bought today and some dairy free ice cream from the freezer. Who could want for more?

Interjection from Mrs A: 

Kimberley Aloo Recipe (serves 2-3)

Kumera (sweet potatoes) x 2

1 tsp turmeric 

1 tsp garam masala

1tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp chilli powder (more to taste)

1 tsp cornflour

2 bay leaves (fresh, dried or frozen ok – we had frozen)

250 ml/1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

  • Boil a pan of water and add potatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes
  • Meanwhile mix up spices, stock and cornflour in a separate bowl
  • Drain potatoes
  • Add spice mix and peas
  • Cook up, stirring regularly
  • Once sauce thickened, serve.

Day 26: 24 June – Mornington Wilderness Camp – Twitching and Packrafting…

Distance driven: 28km

Total drive time: 2 hours

Author: Mr A

What a cracker of a day!! Up before dawn and out on a birdwatching trip, guided by the lovely Sally, an Australian Wildlife Conservation  (AWC) twitcher. She and 20 other staff live here on the property for 7 month sat a time. Most of the staff won’t leave the property for the whole time, given its a 2 hour rough drive just to get back to the rough “main road” then another 3 hours to the closest “town”. Quite a few backpackers among the staff I talked to are looking for a different experience from the usual booze tours down the coast. 

We saw an amazing selection of birds as the sun climbed its way up over endless plains of spinifex, with boab trees standing sentinel and providing great avian lookouts. We learnt about how the AWC is engaged across millions of hectares of NW Australia in a fire management program that ensures there are burns early in the season when the spinifex roots can resist and recover. Basically taking over from what the traditional aboriginal custodians of the land were doing for thousands of years, very successfully. 

Next on the agenda was an hour’s drive out down a rough track with numerous water crossings to reach Dimond Gorge on the Fitzroy River, where we inflated our packrafts and headed off down a fun little rapid and out into this stunning landscape where we were dwarfed by towering cliffs on either side of us. It was truly awe inspiring, to feel so insignificant on the water next to these sheer cliffs rising up 70 metres vertically over our heads. We drifted down the river – when there’s not much current a packraft is not the fastest thing on the water, but we weren’t in a rush, just spinning round admiring the scenery. 

It was soon time for our picnic lunch, up on a rock platform, what a spot. There was nowhere else I’d rather have been, no fancy restaurant could have lured me away from that spot, with a delicious smoked salmon and pasta salad, and a cuppa of course. 

All too quickly we we’re back at our little rapid and had some fun trying to see if we could get back up it. I love these little boats. If we had had our big plastic kayak with with us we would not have been able to get in and out of the water. A big tick for these lightweight boats. At the end of last year an Australian company started up designing their own boats to compete with the much more expensive US market leaders, Alpacka Rafts. Check out We have been very happy with them so far, and Geoff the owner has been super helpful.  They are a little heavier than the US boats, becuase they are double skin to their single skin, but for less than a kilo more, I choose robustness. 

We decided to have dinner in the AWC restaurant as we were pretty bushed, and locally caught barramundi was on the menu. We invited over the couple we had been birdwatching with that morning, they run a sheep farm outside of Bathurst, and all learnt something about the other couples very different lives. That’s one of the things we are really enjoying about this trip – mixing with people who otherwise our lifestyles would not put us at the same table. 

Another sound sleep coming up with the stars shining though our roof hatch…

Day 25: Manning Gorge to Mornington Wilderness Camp

Distance: 149km

Time: 3.5 hours

Author: Mrs A

We departed from Manning Gorge early and filled up the Landcruiser with $2.05 a litre diesel at the Mount Barnett Roadhouse as soon as they opened at 8am, plus topped up with water. Our intention for the day was to try to get into Mornington Wilderness Camp, but failing that, head to Silent Grove, near Bell Gorge. 

We had low hopes for Mornington, given we had originally booked for three nights and then changed our minds – the new dates being already fully booked. Everyone we spoke to along the Gibb told us it was constantly full and they had given up hope of getting in. Ironically, our punctured tyre and flight over Mitchell Falls rather than driving up had gained us a few days, and we called in to Mornington on the radio at the top of the road just one day past our original arrival. They looked up our records and it seems an error in communications on their part meant they still had our booking – we were in, and they were willing to shift our dates by one day to allow us the three nights we origianally paid for – great! 

We drove the 80km down to the camp elated, and enjoying the fabulous scenery, quite different from our standard Gibb-Kimberley views. Two hours and three or so river crossings later and we were checking in. The Mornington Wilderness Camp is owned and operated by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. They only allow 25 vehicles/50 people to stay here in total, meaning it is a pretty exclusive location.

We immediately signed up to a birdwatching walk tomorrow morning (meet at the office at 5.45am!) as they have several threatened species here, including the Gouldian Finch (which we failed to see at El Questro) and the Purple-Crowned Fairy Wren. The research they do here is groundbreaking – a few years ago they discovered a frog completely new to science.

A short walk along the creek close to our camp allowed us to see our first Buff Robin (also endangered), Crimson Finches and a Pheasant Coucal. We truly feel we are in the Kimberley now. After birdwatching in the morning, we plan to take our pack rafts onto the Fitzroy River down into Diamond Gorge, one of the key stunning attractions here. We’re really looking forward to that.

A couple of mobile apartment casualties today – we opened up the van to find one of our speakers had fallen off the wall – the screws which held it up having rattled undone – fortunately no damage and easily fixed. Less easily fixed is one of the rear caravan legs which seems to have cracked and will not come down – possibly a rock flying out of the rear wheels (other caravanners tell us it’s a fairly common occurrence) – makes for a squeaky caravan when moving around now.

Cooking roast chicken and sweet potatoes on the Weber BabyQ tonight accompanied by peas and broccoli. Should set us up for a good sleep and prepare us for the alarm clock in the morning!

Day 24: Thursday 22nd June: Another day another great gorge 

From: Barnett River Gorge

To: Manning Gorge

Author: Mr A

All gorged out? No not yet. This was a cracker again today. After navigating out of last night’s camp without causing damage to the mobile apartment…phew…we turned our nose westwards again on the Gibb. The road is in better shape on this section. Some corrugations but nothing like what we experienced from El Questro to the Drysdale Sation turn off. No sharp “cut your tyres as soon as look as you” rocks…corrugations still but sandier. We think the grader might have come through as well. 

We pulled into Mount Barnett Road House and got our day pass for Manning gorge (’tis privately owned), thinking we wouldn’t camp here given it was a mere 3.4 on WikiCamps (our cut off point usually 3.5), but after a longish walk into the gorge and then a swim and a bake, we found our fresh water tap was not spewing forth the good stuff. We decided to try changing the filter, and got so far, then stuck. A kindly neighbouring van man helped us get it off (I can do it next time!) and still the fresh tap wasn’t working. Ah he said “that will be a fuse then”. Sure enough one of our fuses had been dislodged. So all sorted. People are so friendly and helpful on these camps. It’s a great atmosphere. So after a few beers together we ended up staying here the night (or long term parking as our neighbours termed it). 

But back to the gorge walk. It was a hot one – no, not the ‘backpackers-walking-in-their-bikinis-and-boots’ hot, the temperature, of course. A fantastic swimming hole awaited us, framed by a picture-perfect waterfall. It was simply wonderful. A feta cheese and beetroot wrap (sheep cheese of course, given madam’s dietary needs), and a lovely cup of herbal lemongrass and ginger tea and we were set. 

So dinner was another magnificent concoction from Mrs A, a gnocchi based dish with a chicken and chorizo in a tomato, ginger and garlic sauce. A Barossa Shiraz just kept it company nicely. Now we will take the rest of the bottle down to our neighbour’s campfire and exchange travel stories, and tips of how to live and love life on the road. 

Day 21: From Durak River to Drysdale Station

Author: Mrs A

Distance: 92km

We left camp by 7.30am and almost immediately were crossing the Durak River – absolutely still and stunning in the early morning light. Apparently it is inhabited by crocodiles but unfortunately we didn’t spot any on our drive across. On the other side of the river, we were following the grader, a large truck smoothing the road. Such a shame he hadn’t done the piece of road that tore up our tyre yesterday afternoon, but that’s fate. Our first destination for the morning was Ellensbrae Station, a large cattle station which also offers camping, accomodation, scones with jam and cream (!!) and most importantly for us, a tyre repair service.

As we drove off the dusty Gibb River Road, it was like seeing an oasis. A building shrouded in borganvillia flowers among green grass and leafy, shady trees, and flocks of birds everywhere. We chatted to the tyre repairer who took a look at the tear in our Mickey Thompson Tyre (we thought were invincible!) and told us firstly, he had no spares to sell us that were the same size, and secondly, that he thought it was too big a tear to repair – his usual size being about 1cm wide, and this being about 4cm!

We retired to the veranda for scones, cream and jam (Mr A) and a ham and tomato toastie (me) while he took a closer look. Unfortunately he confirmed that the tear was unrepairable, and called ahead to the next cattle station, Drysdale, to see whether they had a tyre they could sell us. Fortunately they had, and put it aside for us. We farewelled Ellensbrae and set off for another 3.5 hours drive to the next station, their closest neighbour! 

It’s so interesting chatting to people in these parts. During the wet season (October to April) most of these cattle stations are completely cut off from the rest of the world, the Gibb River Road being completely impassable by multiple floods. Often the only person they would see would be the Australia Post delivery man who flies in via light aircraft and lands on their property once a week to deliver the mail and parcels – it sounds like they do a lot of online ordering to ensure he arrives regularly!

We drove on relatively sandy roads to Drysdale Station, but they were hard going, being extremely corrugated. Everyone gives you different advice – one couple we met suggested we should dive no faster than 55km/hr on these roads and we are sure to come to no grief…meanwhile the folks who tried to repair our tyre yesterday (and perhaps inadvertently made the tear worse…) told us they drive at 110km/hr! We took the slower option, which is perhaps bumpier, but ensured we arrived in one piece.

Arriving at Drysdale we again met up with a couple of other campers we had met before at El Questro, and had lunch at the bar – Mr A opting for the ‘biggest burger in the Kimberley’ – beef, tomato, egg, bacon, cheese, pineapple, beetroot and iceberg lettuce in a bun. And he managed it too!

We purchased our new spare tyre, not the same brand, but the right size at least, and should see us through if we had another issue, and also decided to book on a flight out to the Kimberley coast and over Mitchell Falls tomorrow morning. It’s expensive, but around a 2 hour flight with only two other passengers, we feel that $450 a head is worth it, and much less stressful than another 160km drive each way on corrugated roads to see the falls on foot. 

We are now showered (temporarily clean and not covered in orange dust!) and settled in for another early night – the sun sets early in these parts (by 5pm) and the dust makes your eyes sting – it’s not too hard to turn in by 9pm!

Day 20: El Questro to Durak River – ‘The day of the puncture’

From: El Questro Station

To: Durack River Crossing

Distance: 135km

Author: Mr A

Forever to be known as “puncture Sunday” – yup – bound to happen to us – as it did to so many others we saw by the side of the road. More of that in a minute, first the positive things. Catherine spotted some Brolgas (large storks with red heads) and went to investiagate with camera, only to find a tree full of cockatiels as well! 
The bird life up here is stunning. Hardly any mammals though, which means limited road kill so we like that. 

After the first 50kms the alarm went off on the tyre pressure monitoring system (bought after the last puncture!) – this time it was a rear car tyre – our faithful Mickey Thomson’s had let us down – literally. 

The Gibb is a brutal road on tyres – full of corrugations and sharp stones – we had a massive rip in the tyre. So we set to work and got the spare off and the car jacked up and the dud tyre off. As I was trying to lift the new one on a couple of trucks pulled up and asked if we were OK. They helped lift on the new tyre and tried to repair the old one. Sadly it wouldn’t hold a bung – we tried 5. So we are going to try and get it repaired at a small cattle station tomorrow who have a specialist tyre repair guy. if we can’t…well lets face that when it comes. We now wish we had spent the extra money and got interchangeable tyres between the van and the car. Then we would have 3 spare tyres as we have 2 on the van. Never pays to scrimp in the tyre dept. 

So we pull up to camp and open the door of the van – its full of dust! Clouds of it everywhere. I then recall on the handover the guy from Zone RV saying something about vents that legally had to be put in for ventilation – but a lot of people block them off. Now I understand why. So we have taped them up now.  

After a clean up, a shower in the van, and a couple of beers the world seems a brighter place. 

We are seeing a few small issues in the van, like handles falling off and bedside lamps coming to bits, but it’s understandable given the punishment this road dishes out. We went round with a screwdriver and tightened all we could see. We both are sure we made the right decion to move up from a camper trailer though for this trip. We love the “pull up and pull open a beer” lifestyle that comes with minimum set up time. Then there’s more time for all the exploring type things. 

We are camped close to the Durack River, which looks so tempting to get the packrafts out and go for a paddle. However, reports say salties have been seen in the last few weeks, so we will give that a miss! It’s dark at 5.30, preceded by a beautiful sunset over the river (memory card not reinserted so use your imagination). 

Dinner tonight: a chicken madras with fresh veggies, accompied by a 2009 De Iuliis Shiraz from the Hunter. The wine cellar still looking strong despite concerted attempts at running it down. Will we make it last until the Margaret River? Such troubling questions haunt us…

Day 23: Kennedy Creek to Jigngarrin

Author: Mrs A

From: Kennedy Creek river crossing campsite

To: Barnett River Gorge (on the map) – locally known as Jigngarrin

Distance: 55km

Time to travel: 3.5 hours (including an hour’s stop at Gibb River Station)

Airline travel sick bags used: 0

Well, feet were firmly on the ground today as we continued our journey west along the Gibb River Road. Mr A was even in a vaguely positive frame of mind about our surroundings, given the road was slightly smoother than yesterday’s vibrating corrugations. After around 50 minutes of driving we pulled into the Gibb River Station, about 1km off the road. The station is also the hub of a lively aboriginal community, with a sparse store selling essentials, like cans of Coke and ice creams. They also sold fuel from a single tank and offered camping, fresh water, and when the right elder is around, tours up the creek to see the rock art.

We filled up with water, tried calling Mount Elizabeth Station (Mr A had read they have some ‘Bradshaw’ Aboriginal art on their land and do tours) but no answer, and went on our way.

When we arrived at the turn off to Barnett River Gorge there was no sign, not even a road name, just an orange single sandy track heading off on the right of the road. With no passing areas, we did wonder what would happen if someone came the other way, but fortunately didn’t have to find out. We drove 4km, the road steadily getting rougher, with the odd washout and large rocks to negotiate. I walked ahead of the car for the last bit with a walkie-talkie (essential caravanning kit!) to help guide Mr A safely down.

After seeing nobody on the track, or in fact the Gibb River Road for the past 45 minutes, it was a shock to see about 12 4-wheel drives all parked up at the end of the road! There was one turning circle, beside which was a large, level grassy camping area with our name on it. We negotiated our way in and were soon parked up and putting on our hiking gear.

As we commenced the hike in, we saw the owners of the 4WDs hiking out – a whole bunch of backpackers on a tag-along tour. We had the remainder of the walk to ourselves. As seems to be the way up here in the Kimberley, it was more of a rock hop than a hike, requiring navigation via cairns left by previous hikers, and the odd arrow provided by the Aboriginal community. It was great to be out of the car and amongst nature again, and soon we arrived at a lookout on top of the escarpment. Funnily enough, the sign pointing to the lookout read ‘Look out’, and as we admired the incredible view of the gorge, we spotted a huge crocodile in the water beneath us! Argh! Look out! 

The hike continued on, climbing down the escarpment walls down to a rock platform with idyllic pools leading to waterfalls and more pools, surrounded by pandanus palms and white sand beaches – a landscape designer could not have done a better job. We avoided the big deep pool with the crocodile, and instead ate our lunch and enjoyed a swim in the shallower rock pools – heaven.

We returned to the car and mobile apartment for hot showers, and briefly had the whole spot to ourselves. Briefly. Three more campers have arrived for the night…should we warn them about the crocodile or not? That is the question…

Now chilling out as the sun goes down with a refreshing rose (me – bringing back memories of Provence and our time with Colin & Di last year) and a James Squire Pale Ale for Mr A (again, he says!)

Day 22: Tuesday 20th Jan: The Truth about the Gibb River Road

Author: Mr A

The road: hundreds of kilometres of corrugations with jagged rocks. Just under $500s this morning for a new tyre. If you’re towing a van there will be issues – cabinetry will rattle to pieces however well built. It’s punishing. The grader clearly hasn’t been around for a while and with this volume of vehicles that is a recipe for painful driving, and this morning on the Kalamburu Road from Drysdale was even worse!

The campsites: the air is constantly thick with choking dust from all the vehicles charging up and down oozing machismo.  Some of the campsites at the stations are OK, but don’t expect to find a quiet bush camp, everywhere we’ve pulled off there have been other campers. 

The scenery: so far hasn’t been very inspiring when driving, with days of low dusty scrub lining the road.

So why do so many people drive the Gibb? We are puzzling over that question, judging by our experience so far. There are so many more attractive parts of Australia with incredible wildlife and fewer visitors. The whole east coast Main Range from Brisbane to Eden for instance. Thousand of kilometres of trails where you will often find quiet camping and always awesome scenery. This is the Australia we know and love. Australians, I know, do like the idea of a vehicle based challenge. Driving tough tracks as an end in itself. There’s certainly plenty of that to be had up here. For us, we see the car and van as a means to get us somewhere beautiful and preferably with no one else around, where we can then get out amongst it on legs, bike or kayak. 

So why are we are doing it? Because we haven’t been here before is always our starting reason! Perhaps we got sucked in to the hype of the “Australia’s last great wilderness” tag line. It certainly hasn’t felt like that when you see a vehicle at least very 10 minutes. We can drive though National Parks 2 hours from Sydney and see less traffic. 

So what have been the highlights today? We decided not to drive up to the Michell Plateau to see the falls, but instead splashed out on a plane ride over them. The thought of spending another two days in a car top do a 4 k walk at the end to the Falls didn’t inspire us. The flight was brilliant (well better for me than Catherine who had to take advantage of the sick bags provided when we started circling over the falls). Seeing the country from the air gave us a whole new perspective on the sheer scale of the Kimberley. The pilot was a great guide as well and full of interesting facts on the landscape spread out beneath us. 

We then drove the excruciatingly corrugated 70km out of Drysdale and have found a quiet camp just off the road that we had to ourselves for around 15 minutes, before two camper trailers pulled up. Ah well, its a lovely spot by a water lillied river, surrounded by bird life and even a cow! We would have loved to get the packrafts out, but its still saltie country. Catherine whipped up some walnut damper and we stuck that on the Weber. Fabulous with jam and a Pale Ale! Followed by a pre-made meal from a couple of nights ago – chicken madras curry. 

Tonight’s dinner was accompanied by a smooth as….Leconfield Cab Sav. A couple of episodes of Good Wife on the iPad and then….WE HAVE WATCHED ALL 7 SERIES!!! OMG…what next to pass these dark evenings?