Rough as Guts!
When I was a kid I travelled the Gibb River Road with my family and we had a blast, however, we never went up to Mitchell Falls. I was on map duties as a kid and looking at the map and hearing the stories about what was up that road fuelled my thirst for adventure. Off course in the 90s when I was a kid, travelling up to the Drysdale River Station, out to Mitchell Falls, and up to Kalumburu was a bit more off the beaten track than it is now. Don’t get me wrong it’s still proper remote and harsh country, most 4x4s or trailers that break down end up being towed out to Kununurra, which is over 500km away and one hell of a bill! But these days even the road up to Kalumburu is well travelled in tourist season, big caravans and all.
WE ARE HERE
The road up from the Gibb to Drysdale Station was pretty easy going, a few corrugations, but no problem at all in July. It still felt like an adventure heading into this large northern Kimberley section where only a few roads exist and there’s hundreds of km in between anything. Put it this way, we didn’t see many little Jeep Wranglers. Drysdale has everything needed and is the gateway for most travellers northern Kimberley experience, with unleaded and diesel just over two bucks a litre. We topped up and were carrying our full capacity of 185L and we were gonna need it!
About 100km north from Drysdale is the turnoff to Mitchell Falls. We had heard the 50km in was terribly corrugated and apparently hadn’t been graded in three years. Well it didn’t disappoint, anything that was going to break or fall off our Jeep and Tvan would have done so on this road. We stepped out at one point and the corrugations were over 30cm high and that’s not exaggerated. Some standard 4×4’s would be bottoming on these death corrugations, we had our tyres at 20psi and it was car punishment. The only way you could stop the madness was to slow under 10km/h but who’s gonna to do that for 50km? Actually, there was one person with a hire soft roader doing just that, we passed them early on, we passed them after lunch, and we watched them rock up to camp in the dark about 2 hours behind us. That car now has ruined suspension. We made it, but it was certainly a test for the gear. Back at Drysdale there is a section of caravans, campers, and 4wds that didn’t make it out to Mitchell Falls awaiting repair or tows back to Kununurra.
After we had finished our amazing Mitchell Falls experience we headed deeper into Ausventure territory by continuing past Mitchell Falls and out to Port Warrender or Walsh Point as it’s known. This is not on most peoples travel list as it’s still 50km further on, with the last 5km down to the ocean all low range, slow and rocky. It was great fun though and we didn’t see another sole out there apart from the Rangers on their way back from cleaning the dunnies (yep, there is actually a plop drop out here!). Walsh point is the only boat ramp for 100’s of km accessible by road and is used by some of the Kimberley fishing and getaway lodges which are boat access only, as well as fishing diehards who don’t mind 500km plus of dirt road all for a fish. There are some camping spots, heaps of boats on trailers locked up, a couple of 4wds and apparently some big crocs, but we didn’t see any here. We had a great night with a big fire, at one of the remotest locations we have been, with amazing skies, and great travel friends.
Next on the wish list was getting back to the Kalumburu Road and finishing our journey north. 100km later and we had survived the ‘death’ road in the opposite direction. A little bit of corrugation is ok, as long as there are smooth bits to have a break, but that damn road does not let up! There are no smooth bits and you end up weaving all over the road trying to find your sanity. Trees are right on the edge of the road and it’s a little windy so you can’t cure corrugations with speed as some others were attempting to do. To say I was over it was an understatement, and I can’t believe the Jeep survived, but with it’s life significantly shortened I’m sure. The poor Tvan held up great and I can’t stress enough to people, lower those pressures right down! It did develop a leaky shock absorber shortly after, which was not the end of the world, and Track Trailer were quick to send us out a replacement. Cheers!
After travelling north once again, we quickly came across someone who was not quite as fortunate, their camper, after being to Mitchell Falls and back, had broken a stub axle. This is not an easy roadside fix so we gave them a hand and had a chat before making sure they were ok and continuing on. This was only one of many trailers we passed broken in the Kimberley and we did chat about it was the caretakers from Drysdale River Station. There are many reasons, but again and again they see people with too much weight, going too fast, and running tyre pressures too high. Doesn’t matter what your towing, it will break if you aren’t mindful of these factors.
This late in the dry season the road up to Kalumburu had been well traversed and road trains get up here regularly so it was no drama. I found around 70km/h was about the sweet spot, giving you time to negotiate bumps and skinny sections, as well as brake for oncoming and washouts. We got our photo with the welcome sign and stayed a couple of nights out at McGowans camp in a great spot. We met some good people and celebrated our journey to the top of the Kimberley, one more tick on the bucket list. Camp oven pizza went down a treat, especially when you have fresh caught fish and oysters from the rocks on it!
We also drove around and checked out the tourist stuff, after all you’ve driven all this way! The supermarket is actually quite good and we grabbed some fresh food to get us to Kununurra. We didn’t plan on getting any fuel, which was good for two reasons; one, it’s pretty pricy up there and two, they didn’t have any, still waiting on the truck! Better to carry plenty and fill up back at Drysdale. Matt the camp manager at McGowans was great and gave us directions to a not so secret waterfall and swimming hole – a nice change because the beaches up here are crawling with snapping handbags.
On the way back we started planning our return trip to the Kimberley and get even further off the beaten track. Maybe a new rig! Maybe a boat!
Our next blog will be from: Gibb River Road
Until our next update - see you on / off the road 😉
Cassie and Micky