Poised at Kununurra or Derby, ready to plunge into Western Australia’s Kimberley region along the Gibb? Just pop back to Woolies or Coles and make sure you’ve got these indispensable items on hand first
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So you’ve consulted just about every guide known to the Internet and have gleaned that travelling along that remote and beautiful dirt highway, the Gibb River Road, without a fully-functioning 4WD, a minimum of two spare tyres and a well-stocked first aid kit is almost as stupid as driving around blindfolded. The only thing left to pack in your high-clearance off-roader is a sense of adventure, right? WRONG! Don’t get caught out entering the Gibb without these items… at the peril of your rig, your body and your sanity.
Cabbage and Oranges
There’s little chance you’ll get scurvy on a three-week trip along the GRR, but the odds of finding some fresh baby spinach to go with your smoked salmon salad or plump strawberries for the morning muesli will be close to non-existent. Stocking your rig up with hardy fruit and vegetables with a long shelf life will save not only your digestion but your hip pocket. We arrived at Barnett River Station on the same day as the fruit and veg truck and spent a small fortune on some fresh pears and a couple of carrots. Upon returning the next day to stock up properly, our choices included onions and some bruised bananas. Back to the Cabbage with Everything diet.
No, not because of the prevalence of babies on the Gibb; because RED DUST. And more red dust. Maybe some charcoal mixed with dust. Or walking track dust. There’s also toilet dust, dusty trees, and rocks which look like great seats that are also covered with dust. Yes, the abundance of fabulous gorges and waterholes means you can wash that dust off; but the track you walked in on will undoubtedly still be dusty on the way back out. Once back at camp, unless you have an ensuite in your off-road rig, you’ll be getting dusty the moment you step out of the shower. Don’t even get me started on the road dust. Invest in baby wipes: It’s dusty. Oh, and if it rains, just replace all that dust with mud.
Zip Ties and Packaging Tape
Aah… the bread and butter of bush mechanics and Aussie wanderers! It’s amazing what small (and potentially large) repairs can be managed with a couple of zip ties and some well-placed packaging tape. Travelling up the notoriously rough Kalumburu Road, the screws holding our wheel arch covers in place rattled out. Attempts at replacing the screws failed and within a few kilometres those trusty zip ties were doing the job just nicely (which they did for the rest of our Kimberley trip). Losing parts of your car and camper-trailer seems to be a Gibb River Road rite of passage, and having something as simple as clear packaging tape to protect (for example) an external light bulb whose plastic cover has rattled off means the light is still functional, not as dusty, and you’ve saved yourself some money and further repair heartache.
The thing about the Kimberley is that it is remote. No, it’s not a crazy frontier, but things like ‘barriers’ and ‘safety fences’ are in reasonably short supply, replaced instead with ‘common sense’ and ‘self-preservation’. Depending on your travelling companions (for example small children or immature husbands) your safety gear may be limited to prophylactic brown underpants. Most walks into the gorges involve rock hopping and climbing and once you find yourself in that wondrous watercourse, negotiating slippery rock faces and sheer cliffs dropping into the waterhole below. Even at the heavily-trafficked Mitchell Falls Walk at the Mitchell River National Park, the track takes you right past the unfenced cliffs of Merten Gorge; while at the top of the falls, a good deal of the track involves walking through the water and along slippery rocks. It is safe, but with just enough danger thrown in to get your adrenal glands working to Code Level Light Beige in the undies department. This is increased depending on your fear of heights, the level of idiocy of your travelling partner or the youth of your children who are notoriously good at walking off in any old direction.
Being remote, there are few places along the Gibb River Road hooked up to town sewerage. The best you can hope for in a camping area is a working flush toilet on a septic system; a lot of places use composting or simple drop toilets. The ‘Great Dirt Highway’ also sees a lot of traffic which means these toilets are also seeing a lot of traffic and unless you’ve ignored the advice in #1 about hard-wearing fruit and vegetables, you might find yourself in the latter kind for a lot longer than you can hold your breath. What am I getting at? Eat some vegetables or invest in a gas mask if the not-so-delicate smells of other people offend you.
Detailed Hard Copy or Offline Map
Even digital monopolisers like Telstra have large blackspots in the Kimberley – so relying on Google Maps to get you into, for example, Grevillea Gorge on the Charnley River Station, will result in one of those tried and true front seat fights about who can read a map and who needs to shove said map somewhere unpleasant. Even your trusty Camps9 will give you a tantalisingly inadequate version of the major roads and sights with distances between, but little more information than that. Download your maps before leaving Kununurra or Derby and invest in a detailed hard copy map of the area in case your technology powers down. Telling someone of the direction you’re headed is also, always, a great idea.
The Instruction Manual
If you still haven’t conjured up the picture that this is an isolated and untamed area of Australia, then the following should help: There are no 4WD or camper trailer/caravanning reps combing the Gibb to fix whatever has rattled apart on your rig or put a spare tyre on. You will need to know how your gear works and, guess what: This is outlined in the instruction manual! Our pop-top camper-trailer failed us one beautiful evening in the middle of the Gibb River Road when a cable became dislodged and we couldn’t get the roof up via the crank handle. We were the only campers for the night at the free camp of Russ Creek, we had no signal for a phone call and (since it was coming into evening) no cars passing by. Getting our camper-trailer fixed without having to sleep bolt upright in the car for the night or take a lengthy detour back to Kununurra became imperative. Being a woman and therefore highly intelligent, I consulted our instruction manual. Instead of my husband’s very enthusiastic yet not particularly successful method of unscrewing random internal panels, we worked out where the problem had most likely occurred and started investigating from there. After a few hours of tinkering and consulting the manual on cables and weight distribution, we were fully functioning again.
The Kimberley and Gibb River Road are only accessible by 4WD. There are very limited facilities in this area. Please use caution when planning your trip and consult Main Roads WA for current conditions and travel advice.