Be prepared to take on one of Australia’s greatest adventure drives with our pre-trip guide to the Gibb River Road.
The direct route of the Gibb River Road from the Great Northern Highway to the Derby Highway is 654km and takes a couple of days, but the distance you can cover blows out to over 3000km if you drive all the detours along the way. These include the major return trips to and from Mitchell Falls and Kalumburu, and the challenging Munja Track between Mt Elizabeth and Walcott Inlet; along with numerous shorter side tracks.
This means getting the most out of the Gibb River Road is dependent on how well you organise your adventure around your overall expectations and any time constraints you may have. Decide how you will fit in the many attractions of the Gibb River Road and work around your preferences, which could include visiting gorges and waterholes, exploring ranges and rivers, and getting into some challenging four-wheel driving.
Speaking of timing, remember that the Gibb River Road peak season coincides with the southern winter, with July in particular a busy time. Consider going in May or September, which are generally regarded as the shoulder periods, with May wet and green as a result of the Wet (meaning there’s risk of some tracks still being closed), while in September temperatures are beginning to rise.
A 4WD Vehicle
A four-wheel drive is required to tackle the Gibb River Road, but for the majority of the time not for the reasons you’d expect. The trait that is vital for a vehicle driving the Gibb River Road is robustness, with a four-wheel drive’s sturdiness and build strength much greater than what a 2WD can generally provide. Tracks can become highly corrugated and testing of a vehicle’s basic faculties along the Gibb River Road, making a true four-wheel drive the logical choice. Additionally, high ground clearance is essential for the kinds of tracks, sidetracks and water crossings throughout the Kimberley. The above points mean that two spare tyres are recommended, preferably ones suitable for stony conditions, with tyres ideally at a pressure that correlates to road conditions and your overall load.
Relating indirectly to a safe trip and your vehicle, consider equipping your 4WD with communications tools like sat phone or HF radio to open up your modes of contact ingoing and outgoing in the event of anything unexpected.
Fuel & Supplies
Both diesel and unleaded petrol can be purchased at El Questro’s Station Township and the Mount Barnett Roadhouse. Ensure you have enough fuel for what’s on your itinerary with a long-range fuel tank or jerry cans, and allow for increased fuel consumption from slow and rough days of driving.
For food, the Mount Barnett Roadhouse usually have a good range of groceries, but don’t count on it. Because supplies are few and far between, and long side trips along the Gibb River Road are part of the appeal, be prepared for the trip in the main before you begin.
Places to stay are varied and well placed along the Gibb River Road, with numerous camping areas, stations and roadhouses with a mix of facilities.
The Gibb River Road and the Kimberley in general are perfect for a camping holiday, though ensure your tent is well ventilated to deal with the climate and screened to keep out mosquitos. A basic dome tent without adequate space and airflow might become unbearable on humid nights outside of the June to August peak season, so choose well. Additionally, keep tools like rope and plenty of tent pegs to secure your tent in the event of strong winds, which come often during the Dry.
A well-constructed off-road camper trailer will deal with the rigours of the Gibb River Road, but the road conditions of the region mean caravans are not generally suitable. However, caravanners can organise to have their home trucked to Derby or Kununurra via the highway.
Get there and back
From the major eastern cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, the most adventurous route to reach the Gibb River Road for self-drivers is via Port Augusta through to Alice Springs, then up the Tanami Road to Halls Creek. Those coming from Brisbane can drive the Matilda Highway (officially the Landsborough Highway) as the main connecting route. Otherwise, flights to Broome are available where you can hire various 4WDs and equipment necessary for your trip.