The Kimberley - The Gibb River Road (Bell & Galvans Gorges) to Drysdale River Station

Thursday, Jul 22, 2010 at 00:00


July 22nd, 2010
Drysdale Station Camp Ground

The day began with breakfast by the fire before quickly stowing the gear and heading off along the Gibb through some of the more picturesque stretches of the King Leopold Ranges and the many “jump-ups”. We pulled into one viewing area at Mac’s Jump-up that overlooked the Leopold Range to the north and discovered gold! Yes someone had left a tin of Kraft Braised Steak and Onions together with about 5 other tins of goodies stacked near the remains of an old fire. The cans looked to be in good condition so it appears that someone may have had a cleanout. I wasn’t shy and despite the use by date, will check out the contents at a later date.

The view was both spectacular and pertinent as the King Leopold Ranges were to provide much of the days action for us. The Ranges extend for some 300 kilometres from Walcott Inlet, in the west to about 100 kilometres from Halls Creek in the east. The ranges consist of long, rugged, spinifex-covered ridges and escarpments. Mount Ord at 947 metres above sea level and Mount Broome at 935 metres are the highest peaks in the range. Following wet season rains, great volumes of water cascading from the range drain to the west through a series of creek systems such as the Lennard River and Bell Creek. This water ultimately flows into the sea at King Sound and Walcott Inlet.

Some More Recent History

In 1897 Alexander Forrest’s survey party travelling from the De Grey River to Port Darwin named the Ranges "After King Leopold of Belgium, in recognition of the great interest taken by His Majesty in exploration". However they were unable to find a way through the rugged ranges. In 1898 the explorer and stockman Frank Hann managed to cross the ranges via the pass which bears his name. Hann named Bell Creek after Mr Bell of Derby.

The Mount Hart pastoral lease, which encompasses Bell Gorge and Silent Grove, was first taken up around 1919 and since then there have been a succession of pastoralists who went broke, and walked off the lease because the land was too rugged and unsuitable for pasture. In 1991 the Department of Conservation and Land Management acquired the land to create the proposed King Leopold Conservation Park. The park, which covers over 392,000 hectares, is situated approximately 200 kilometres from Derby and 450 kilometres from Kununurra via the Gibb River Road.

Our first stop of the day was to be the spectacular Bell Gorge, arguably the most famous gorge along the Gibb River Road. It is also reckoned to be the most beautiful (a matter of personal opinion). Access is via a 30 kilometre track that runs north-west off the Gibb River Road. What is not usually mentioned in the brochures is that because of that reputation and popularity, Bell Gorge is by far the busiest gorge along the Gibb River Road. It is also a major attraction visited by the many tour groups that service the area. Some of the larger companies maintain eco-lodges and accommodation facilities nearby. As a result it gets pretty crowded during peak travel periods.

A short walk along the Bell Creek leads from the car park down to the gorge. It's a relatively easy walk. Access to the lower sections of the gorge adds a little bit of difficulty. The large, main pool atop the falls is surrounded by impressive ranges. On the eastern side of the creek, we climbed the sloping slab of rock on the other side for an impressive view along the canyon. It’s a lovely placer to sit for a while despite the crowds. When we got back to the car park, we found the old 60 series that had passed us last night. It was heavily loaded and who-ever was driving it was not keeping an eye on the condition of the vehicle as two tyres were extremely low and were being fast chewed out.

Reaching the Gibb once again, our next stop was Galvans Gorge, a place I’d always found very pleasant to visit, particularly on a hot day. I must confess to a mixture of shock and disappointment at the condition of the place now. It was very crowded a fact that was made evident by the lack of available parking by the road. The place seemed very run down since my last visit in 2006. Scotty was pretty tired so opted for a snooze in the back of the Guppy while we wandered in. Galvan’s gorge. It was like bloody Bourke Street with cars and people everywhere and a rather large representative group of the back packing fraternity. The BBQ and picnic facilities were overgrown and in disrepair and the whole area including the gorge looked worn, suffering the obvious impacts of over use. I know many people harp about over-regulation and places falling under management but the sad reality is, places like Galvan cannot sustain ever increasing numbers of visitors without damage to the delicate environment. Disappointed, we spent a short time locating the wanjana overlooking the pool before heading off.

Mount Barnet Store was only a few kilometers down the road and we arrived to find it out of diesel and awaiting the arrival of the fuel truck from Derby. As a consequence there were a line of vehicles waiting, their occupants milling about aimlessly uttering the phrase “hopefully tomorrow” to each other. Thankfully we had topped right off at Derby so while it would have been handy, had no real need of fuel at this point. There was a lot of roadwork being undertaken around Barnet. The road is having major improvements made with the new surface being elevated a good 600mm or more. Slow going for us, but a good result for those who come later.

Heading back along the track, we had a quick spot of lunch before heading up the Kalumburu Road. The initial stretches of the Kalumburu Road were very corrugated and a far cry from our visit of 2006 when we were just behind the graders. It was late afternoon when we reached Drysdale River Station. We were just in time to catch the store so we quickly filled up with diesel and got a few bits and bobs at the store.John managed to get a hold of Jock on the satphone to find he was still well down the track to our south. Given the time of day and the fact that Jock was well behind where we expected him to be, we decided to stay at Drysdale and use the amenities. We set up camp on the far side of the toilet block, did a load of washing and then washed ourselves while the opportunity presented itself. A lovely dinner was had before retiring.

''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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