The Kimberley WA - Down the Gibb River Road to Elquestro

Wednesday, Jun 28, 2006 at 00:00

Mick O

Wednesday 28th June
El Questro W.A.

I was up early getting the fire going and cooking bacon and eggs for a breakfast treat under a clear blue sky. We were packed, showered and on our way at about 8:30 a.m., buying a few grocery items and a souvenir tee shirt at the store before heading out onto the track and south towards the Gibb. The 60 km or so down to the junction passed eventlessly and on turning left to head towards Wyndham, the road conditions deteriorated rapidly. That was until we were blessed again by the grader gods and after 20 km passed a sole machine heading east. There were a hell of a lot of road works going on improving the unmade surface to such an extent that it would have been easy to add a quick lick of bitumen to it. I made this point to a couple of machinery operators who were having a smoko by the road but they indicated that the road would always remain unsealed due to the expense of getting road topping materials up there.

The Gibb River Road wound its way through ranges and across dry savannah country. We stopped for morning tea at a little camp spot beside Dawn Creek which would have been a nice place to stop for a camp had it been a bit later in the day. Only 50 or so km later we were entering the Cockburn Ranges travelling thorough scenery that was familiar to me from the first trip up here in 1985. I was surprised at the number of vehicles pulled over changing tyres. Of the three I saw and one trailer, all were BFG All terrains. I had a bit of a panic moment as a car passed me on a bend. The steering was feeling a bit sluggish and skittish and then the smell of burning rubber wafted into the cabin. I immediately pulled over thinking I’d blown and shredded a tyre somewhere on the vehicle but found nothing amiss. Tyres were all quite warm but intact. I’d say the bloke passing me towing the trailer had a nasty little shock awaiting him a few kilometres up the track.

You had to take it easy on many stretches with bulldust and exposed rocks creating hazards together with all the corrugations and creek crossings. Not bad though and certainly easier than I remember from years gone by. There were several great vantage points on the crests of the ranges approaching the Pentecost and Salmond Rivers. The vistas provided great views of the Cockburn Ranges to the east and the valley floor containing both the rivers and the west arm of the Cambridge Gulf. On reaching the Pentecost, I ambled across and then John and I supervised a couple of Irish lads in a van as they forded the stream. They made it through OK with only one mishap. Shamus decided it’d be a good idea to lift the middle seat of the old Mitsubishi van to see how deep the water was to cop a full spray throughout the cab as the fan picked up a bit of fluid. Talk about laugh, they were drenched but excited by their adventure. We made it across without mishap and then followed the ranges west for 26 km to the El Questro turnoff.

The 16 km trip in was quite scenic and we again crossed the Pentecost only 200 metres short of the station “Township” gate. On arrival the lush lawns, airstrip and facilities impressed us. We took the remaining two secluded bush campsites aptly named Finch and Galah. There is no difference in price being $15 per person per night. It’s just that they are 10 km from the township and have no facilities. On heading out through the dusty tracks and again crossing the river some km west, we found bulldust so deep I had to revert to 4 low just to make headway. At one point a huge white Brahman Bull stood half on the road staring at us as we approached. I stopped, beeped the horn a couple of times and he nonchalantly backed up two steps and watched us go past.

The campsites were crap to say the least. They’d just put a dozer over a site beside a small stream. Ours, the finch was to thin to get the camper set up and was 4 inches deep in dusty sand. John and Jules site we were led to believe was 100 metres away. It was over a kilometre, which made it quite a stroll to use their toilet and shower facilities. Their campsite was all huge river rocks that made it impossible to set up a tent. Back we went not to happy about the bull. We’ve set up in the general campsite with the rest of the crowd and there’s plenty of them!. Starting to wish we hadn’t paid for three nights. Oh well.

I spoke to a bloke who’d broken both springs on his trailer within 15 minutes of each other today on the Gibb, just after the Kalumbaru turnoff. He'd had to chain the axle forward, wedging the broken spring ends in under the eye. A good thing to have a look at.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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