After saying good morning to the Kimberley form of the Grey Butcherbird, an isolated subspecies Cracticus torquatus latens, we headed for the Mt Barnet Roadhouse.
The previous day we had set up the satellite phone and taken advice from our home mechanic regarding the steering. It was suggested that we get the car towed. That’s a 1200km round trip tow. What about the trailer? Or that we pour oil into the empty reservoir and try our luck. The appropriate oil is ATF if that wasn’t available try anything light. I was considering cooking oil as a field expedient, it would have made an interesting story for the blog but Mt Barnet was well stocked with all sorts of oils including ATF. We filled the reservoir and hit the road.
At intervals we refilled the reservoir. Fortunately we had bought quite a lot of ATF because the system had a bloody great hole in it somewhere inaccessible. Driving in a straight line was easy, anything else was not.
Some of the Gibb River Road’s best scenery is in that stretch.
It wasn’t our intention to stay in Derby but we broke the drive to Broome into two stages. It gave me the chance to photograph a sculpture that is carefully arranged to be at its best against the setting sun.
Next morning we did the sights of Derby and headed for Broome.
Dragging ourselves away from Parrys Creek it was time for the Gibb River Road. It’s sealed as far as the entrance to El Questro, the famous dude ranch. I understand that the drive in from there comes as a bit of a shock to the dude caravaners but I haven’t tried it. In any case the Gibb will rattle their crockery if they are driving the full length of it.
On this occasion our destination was Mount Barnet and Manning Gorge, about 390km for the day. Once we reached Mt Barnet turning right off the main road the steering felt rather heavy. It’s a popular camp site and dog friendly. We tucked ourselves way down the back where we could enjoy the illusion of bush camping.
We set up camp, had a swim in the waterhole, drank a beer and plucked up the courage to look under the hood. Searching amongst the tightly packed mysteries we located the reservoir for the power steering fluid. It was empty. Bugger.
Early next morning I abandoned Gayle and the dog and hiked the waterfall trail. First you pull yourself across the creek in a tin boat by a rope and pulley arrangement. Then it’s about a 40 minute walk, some of it uphill and rocky underfoot. Your reward is an amphitheatre into which pours a cascade that thrills the onlooker. Well it would when it’s more than the current trickle. It’s pretty and a nice place for a swim. Most visitors content themselves with that but for the intrepid a scramble down stream leads to a truly beautiful gorge.
It’s a spot where you may see one of the Kimberley’s special birds, the White-quilled Rock Pigeon. Look for them in the shadows and ovehangs.
The waterhole back at the camp is also very charming.
The moon is a few days past full now so it rises more than an hour after sunset. This means a good look at the milky way is now available.
From Miner’s Pool we headed east again to Home Valley. This is one of two stations near the Wyndham end of the Gibb River Road, the other one being El Questro which is perhaps a bit more famous. Both have developed the tourist side of their operations.
On the way the road crosses a ridge and the impressive Cockburn Range is laid out in front of you. The Pentecost River runs at its foot and discharges into the West Arm of Cambridge Gulf.
Sadly, this is where Joseph Schwab, the Kimberley Killer, shot three of his five victims in 1987.
Once again we had an easy choice of camp site, the fully featured site at the homestead, with kids playground, pool, restaurant, shop and bar or bush camp on the river bank, please camp away from the water’s edge to reduce the risk of crocodile attack. We chose the crocs over the kids. And this was our reward …
We had watched a large Estuarine Crocodile slide into the water just before the photo was taken. We survived the night. The following morning we hiked one of the trails near the homestead and enjoyed a further reward in the form of a flock of Gouldian Finch.
A fabulous and fabulously remote part of Australia.
It is the northernmost portion of WA, it is entirely north of the tropic of Capricorn. It has a wet season, the southern hemisphere summer and a dry, the winter. It is scenically splendid, and among many other wonderful creatures it is the home of the Black Grasswren. The McGee Australian birdlist hadn’t had an addition for a couple of years, an expedition was in order. Enquiry revealed that the only “accessible” places where it might be sought with a reasonable chance of success are Bachsten Gorge and the Mitchell Plateau. Early in the dry was tipped as the best time, swollen rivers close many of the roads in the wet. Access to both sites is from the infamous Gibb River Road.
The western half of the Gibb River Road provided access from Derby to cattle stations as far as, you guessed, the Gibb River. It was completed in 1956. Subsequently it was pushed further east and is now the scenic route from Derby to Kununurra. It is a reasonably well graded dirt road, 4WD is recommended. Almost all the car hire companies prohibit using the Gibb River Road. Broome is a very civilised place to begin and end, a circular tour can be completed via the Great Northern Highway, which is sealed and has the added advantage of taking you past the Purnulu National Park, better known as the Bungle Bungles.
This year has seen very late and heavy rainfall, as the time to go approached none of the roads were open. Two hundred millimetres of rain fell on Broome just before we arrived, but the outlook further west was encouraging. McGee and two intrepid companions left Broome on the 7th of June. The Gibb River Road was open, but for access to the Mitchell Plateau the King Edward River needed to drop a fair bit. It had a few days to do it.
In Derby we visited the wetlands and sewage works, a fair test of the 4WD capability of our Toyota Prado. The covering of red mud that it acquired made us look especially authentic. We headed for Windjana Gorge for our first camp site … <NEXT>.