An icon of Australia’s outback odysseys, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Gibb River Road track for an old stock route placed Broome and Kununurra. In fact, that’s exactly what the now-4WD trail was made for, cutting a jagged path through the heart of the Kimberleys from Derby to Wyndham. While the Gibb River Road itself is only 660km, it’s bursting at the seams with ancient gorges and vast cattle stations, meaning you’ll want to take your time picking your way through. While you can get from Broome to Kununurra via the National Highway, if you’re looking to go off-road on your next adventure, read on to find out where you should stop on the Gibb River Road.
Best places to stop on the Gibb River Road
With plenty of vast country to see, here are some of the big stops you should make on your journey along the Gibb River Road, starting from the Derby end:
- Boab Prison Tree
- Windjana Gorge National Park
- Mount Hart Homestead
- Bell Gorge
- Manning Gorge
- Drysdale River Station
- El Questro National Park
- Zebedee Thermal Springs
- The Grotto
Boab Prison Tree
The first stop on the trip from Broome, Derby is a great spot to get your bearings before you begin the Gibb River Road. Must-see landmarks in the area include the 1,500-year-old Boab Prison Tree, a large hollow tree that was reportedly used to hold prisoners in the 1890s.
- Location: Derby and the Boab Prison Tree is 216km (approximately 2-hour drive) from Broome.
Windjana Gorge National Park
Walk through the Windjana Gorge, carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River, and spot freshwater crocodiles and other native fauna basking in the sun around the waterholes. Tunnel Creek is another popular destination in the area, used as a hideout by Aboriginal leader Jandamarra in the late 1800s.
- Location: Windjana Gorge is 155km (approximately 3-hour drive) from Derby.
Mount Hart Homestead
If you’re looking for some rustic comfort and friendly faces along the way, the Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge prides itself on providing visitors with an ‘authentic homestead experience’. You can socialise with other travellers at the Settler’s Bar, treat yourself to the Homestead or Safari Tent facilities, or make the most of the campground on the banks of the Barker River with a spot of fishing. It’s location in the centre of the King Leopold Ranges makes the homestead a great base to explore the surrounding attractions.
- Location: Mount Hart Homestead is 136km (approximately 2 hours 45 minute) drive from Windjana Gorge.
Although the Bell Gorge is a bit of a mission to get to, the reward is well worth the 45-minute trek. The gorge is made up of soaring layered sandstone that features some multi-tiered waterfalls and multiple swimming holes, perfect for a dip to wash the dust off. It is also the most well-known gorge along the trip, so keep an eye out for fellow travellers!
- Location: Bell Gorge is 89km (approximately 45 minute) drive from Mt Hart Homestead.
Manning Gorge, which is accessible via the Mount Barnett Roadhouse, is the unofficial halfway mark of your Gibb River Road journey. The well-equipped roadhouse is where you pay your entry and camping fee for Manning Gorge, perfect for an overnight stopover so that you can make the most of exploring the gorge and the surrounding sights. The gorge itself is approximately an hour walk through the bush past the Manning Gorge campground, signposted by painted rocks, and even requires crossing a billabong in a little wooden boat!
- Location: Manning Gorge is 125km (approximately 1 hour 30 minute) drive from Bell Gorge.
Drysdale River Station
Drysdale River Station is central to the spectacular Mitchell Plateau and is the perfect spot to spend a few days exploring. Whether it’s a scenic flight over the Prince Regent River and Mitchell Falls or a drive up to the Mitchell Plateau for bushwalking and a bounty of Aboriginal art, there’s plenty to keep you occupied! The Drysdale River Station has accommodation available, as well as a licensed bar and beer garden, offering burgers and snacks for the travel weary, making it an ideal stop off after a long day on the road.
- Location: Drysdale River Station is 164km (approximately 3 hour) drive from Manning Gorge.
Speaking of travel snacks, the iconic homemade scones and cuppa at the Ellenbrae Station will soothe the aches and pains of the rough road and long walks. Still predominantly a working cattle station, the owners welcome visitors to the homestead to make the most of their accommodation and campground facilities, or to simply stretch their legs with a stroll through the garden.
- Location: Ellenbrae Station is 133km (approximately 2 hour) drive from Drysdale River Station.
El Questro Wilderness Park
This million-acre cattle station is known for both its luxury outback accommodation and unrivalled panoramas of Australia’s untouched west. Whether you prefer the luxury of canapes and cocktails at The Homestead or a lively BBQ with local entertainment on Saturday nights at The Station, El Questro offers so many glorious sights – including the Emma and Chamberlain Gorges – that you’ll want to stay a while.
- Location: El Questro is 158km (approximately 2 hour 20 minute) drive from Ellenbrae.
Zebedee Thermal Springs
Located in the El Questro Park, the thermal pools and waterfalls of Zebedee Springs, hidden amongst the pre-historic Livistona and Pandanus palms, are a must-see in the expansive wilderness park. The walk to the springs from the carpark is approximately one and a half kilometres return, open from 7am until noon, with a guided tour also available to showcase other El Questro wonders.
- Location: Zebedee Thermal Springs is a 6km (approximately 10 minute) drive from El Questro Station.
One of many small canyons close to Kununurra, The Grotto is a natural watering hole nestled at the foot of a small amphitheatre, perfect for swimming. During the wet season, water is likely to fall naturally over the amphitheatre into the pool below, however travelling during this time can be dangerous so it’s best to check in advance whether you can travel to this landmark.
- Location: The Grotto is 100km (approximately 55 minute) drive from Zebedee Thermal Springs.
How long does it take to drive from Broome to Kununurra?
If you stick to the Gibb River Road for the entire trip, the 938km drive from Broome to Kununurra should take approximately 13 hours. However, this trip is teeming with detours and beautiful scenery beyond the road, so you’ll likely want to take your time to explore the Kimberleys and all that the region has to offer.
It also pays to be mindful of the season and road conditions in advance, as the track is quite remote and best-suited to 4WD vehicles. Factors such as wet-weather might mean that you have to delay your trip or stretch it out across a few extra days to deal with unsteady terrain.
How can I travel between Broome and Kununurra?
You can travel from Broome to Kununurra (and vice versa) by car or plane, giving you a few options to choose from depending on your budget and how much time you want to spend travelling. Of course, if you want to visit the places above, a 4WD vehicle is the only option to see what the Gibb River Road has to offer.
It’s also worth noting that if the harsh terrain of the Gibb River Road isn’t for you, you can travel by car from Broome to Kununurra via the Highway 1, Australia’s network of highways that connect all of the mainland capital cities, giving you an option to see parts of the outback while sticking to the bitumen.
Is the Gibb River Road worth driving?
With plenty of adventures along the way, the trip along the Gibb River Road between Broome and Kununurra should be on everyone’s 4WD road trip to-do list, with the country’s sheer natural beauty and rich history enough to make it a trip of a lifetime. However, getting there in the first place is your first mission as flights from the east coast to the region can be expensive. So, plan ahead of schedule, book your flights as early as you can, and look around for a great deal on a hire car to make sure it’s a trip to remember.
Photo credits: simez78/shutterstock.com, alybaba/shutterstock.com, Philip Schubert/shutterstock.com, Mount Hart.com.au, david cowles/shutterstock.com, Adwo/shutterstock.com, Andrew Atkinson/shutterstock.com, Ellenbraestation.com.au, Glen Donovan/shutterstock.com, Jeremy Red/shutterstock.com
Original Author: Eliza Parry Okeden