The Gibb River Road is an iconic destination, but getting off it and visiting its stations will uncover the best in the west
Words & Images by Grant Hanan and Linda Bloffwitch
When first visiting the Gibb River Road nearly 30 years ago, the cattle industry is what the region was all about. Only a handful of cattle stations had opened their doors back then to tourism. Fast forward to today, and things are vastly different. While the cattle industry remains, many more stations have diversified and opened their gates to visitors. Today, bush hospitality awaits with some of the best Kimberley accommodation options offered. Plus, there’s a range of adventure-based activities you simply won’t get to experience by only remaining on the Gibb River Road. Let’s take a look at what awaits you when you hop off the Gibb and drive through those station gates.
When there are many stations along the entire length of the Gibb, there’s no shortage of accommodation options. Some stations offer scenic campsites along river edges, whereas others provide a typical campground layout with some powered sites available. But if you’re looking for onsite accommodation, count on a range of tents or full ensuite-style cabins being offered. Hey, you can even lap up a super luxury lodge stay. For camping folk, station campgrounds are generally large and shady with water available. Some stations provide a second campground which caters for those looking for a more secluded bush-style camping option. While generators are permitted at some stations, some rules around times apply. The stations allowing campfires provide individual fire rings or have an area for a communal fire. You just need to BYO firewood. While amenities vary between the stations, flushing toilets are the norm. You’ll also find showers can be separate from the toilet, or more stations are now opting for an ensuite style. Coin-operated washing machines are also pretty common these days. So keep some gold coins handy while travelling through here.
Visiting the isolated stations along the Gibb River Road doesn’t mean you’ll be drawing the short straw when it comes to their facilities. Here, some of the food offerings rival many eastern states’ multiple-star restaurants. Plus, a station has a huge advantage when they can seat you under a million-star sky while you’re all relaxed and listening to their free entertainment. But don’t let me mislead you and think it’s all about gourmet eating when there are stations who have home favourites such as fluffy scones and mouth-watering burgers as their signature dishes. Many stations also provide small stores that keep some basic supplies to help you whip up a storm. Or perhaps for you to grab a sweet treat for the kids (or adult kids) between meals. If your Kimberley visit is later in the dry season when waterfalls no longer flow, having the luxury of a swimming pool which a couple of stations offer, can be very welcomed on a hot Kimberley day. Besides these facilities, there are services to help out if things go pear-shaped with your vehicle or trailer. Facilities vary between the stations but include tyre and mechanical repairs, vehicle recovery and fuel supplies.
If there’s one thing the Gibb River Road stations aren’t short of, it’s the choice of ground, air and water-based tours. With barramundi fishing a significant drawcard, expect to find numerous boat tours of varying durations. Plus, there’s heli-fishing for any die-hard fishos looking to maximise their chances. Small plane and helicopter tours are an excellent way to see the region from the air and provide a completely different perspective of the ancient landscape below. Or perhaps experience the romance of joining a horse-riding tour, to experience how the old stockmen drove cattle through the Kimberley over 100 years ago. But if you prefer to have your feet firmly on Terra Firma, jump on a station tour, indigenous experience, bird watching or sunset tour, which are excellent opportunities to learn about the local history, flora, fauna and landscape.
PERMITS & PASSES
Entry into some stations requires purchasing a pass which allows access to their facilities and attractions. You’ll find this cost is in addition to camping. We suggest staying multiple nights at these stations to maximise the bang you get for your buck. You’ll find camping fees vary and payable at all stations along the Gibb, and you’ll need to allow more for powered sites as they’re an extra cost. Keep in mind that not all stations have power available, so consider this and look for other alternatives if you require power regularly.
One of the best things about station hopping along the Gibb is exploring the amazing attractions each has to offer. There’s little doubt the diversity of the landscape provides endless opportunities for all sorts of activities, as long as you can pull yourself out of that comfy camp chair! Grab a map from the station’s reception to find out where their attractions are located. Some can be close by, whereas others require driving distances anywhere from a few kilometres upwards. Upon arrival, be prepared to stretch your legs to walk to some breathtaking gorges and waterfalls, as it’s a perfect opportunity to cool off. You can also have fun on top of the water as canoeing through a gorge with towering red cliffs either side is an experience not to be missed. Other water-based activities like fishing is an extremely popular past-time all over the Kimberley, but it’s not something that you can do at all stations. But if your interest lies with wildlife, nature lovers will be in their element here. The stations are home to a range of birds and animals, including rare and endangered species. Station ranger talks are an excellent way to learn more about what the stations are currently working on, and the programs they have in place.
Having visited all the stations along the Gibb River Road on numerous occasions now, it’s difficult to choose a favourite when each station experience is unique. It’s a big call, but we think it would be hard to find another Australian region that offers as many and diverse experiences within a 700 kilometre stretch of road like the Gibb. That’s not a bad effort.
The Gibb River Road is located in Western Australia’s Kimberley region and is just over 650 kilometres in length. Its early beginnings were as a cattle transport road from surrounding stations to the ports at Wyndham and Derby, but now many of these stations include tourism in their businesses.
Station opening times can vary from year to year and are dependent on the Gibb River Road opening after wet seasons rains. As a guide, they generally open from early May until late September. Contact the individual stations to confirm opening/closing times. All the stations’ entrance tracks plus their tracks around the property are unsealed of variable quality and length. A high clearance 4WD can help negotiate some of the rocky crossings and jump-ups located on station tracks.
For further information on all the stations including contact details, head to www.australiasnorthwest.com