Gibb River Road, Canning Stock Route and out to the coast, WA

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September 5th 2011
Published: September 5th 2011
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Gibb River RoadGibb River RoadGibb River Road

Awesome views
24 photos here
On 5 August we started driving the Gibb River Road, an iconic 4WD road that has been upgraded over the years to accommodate the tourists wanting a real 4WD outback experience and it’s good for puncturing tyres. The road is 588km long down to the Napier Downs turnoff towards Windjana Gorge. We spoke to one couple who had had five punctures! We both got through without any punctures. However Murray had to replace one set of trailer wheel bearings which involved a 300km round trip from Mt Elizabeth Station to Imintji and return, which took about 5 hours. The bloke at Imintji, about two thirds of the way through, has a business basically just repairing and fitting new tyres and repairing trailers.

Camping is on stations that have basic camping to Homestay type accommodation and various on-farm attractions in some cases, to supplement their income. We visited Emma Gorge and walked the gorge up to a waterfall for a swim, then stayed at Ellenbrae Station, with the hot water system being another donkey. Here we met some lovely people from Perth, Joanne, Geoff and Neville who joined us for a post-dinner red wine.

Mt Elizabeth Station
Lake ArgyleLake ArgyleLake Argyle

Largest body of fresh water in Oz
was of interest because last year, whilst camping at Lake Tennyson, north of Hanmer Springs in the SI, we had met a couple, Rob and Heather, who go to help their brother set up a camp every year after the wet season at the very remote Walcott Inlet. Dave had just finished reading a fascinating book (“Last Horse Standing”) about that area and so we passed the book on to them. Access to this wilderness camp is through Mt Elizabeth Station. After chatting to the station owner we were able to make the connection and they were all related.

Two nights at Windjana Gorge camp allowed us to walk the Gorge and view freshwater crocs up close. One croc was dozing in the sun on the river sandbank. We were able to walk within about 5m of him/or her. There were many corellas, and plenty of fruit bats, which the Aussies call rats with wings, and obviously dislike them. Mind you, we had some in the trees above us in the evening and experienced bat pee showers!

Dave checked our trailer wheels, found them a bit noisy, so shot into Derby to buy a new set. Doing any

Enticement to the camping ground at Ellenbrae Station
mechanical stuff like that in a camping ground always brings the blokes looking, some with helpful advice.

On 9th August we arrived in Fitzroy Crossing, checked out the Info centre to confirm map directions to get to Millijidee, We pulled up at the Crossing Inn for a lunchtime beer and thought it was deserted and closed, as there was no-one and no cars to be seen. However we heard music so walked around the back to the garden bar and found it was chokka (spot the honkie). We’d never been in a pub that sprays a mist of water through jets in the ceiling at regular intervals, to keep everyone cool. There was a band playing, and the only non-indigenous people there were the bar staff and bouncers, and us. They appeared to only sell beer. The bouncers had breath testers with them and people showing signs of intoxication were breath tested and could be told to leave.
The atmosphere was fine – no attitudes, and was very busy for 12.30pm.

Upon leaving here we headed the long way around to Millijidee, a trip of 205km which took 3 ½ hours. The more direct route was closed because

The lovely girls at Sandra's school
the Fitzroy River was too high at Noonkanbah. On arrival there was a very warm welcome from Sandra, Wiki and Nemo (all ex-Keri/Kaeo), and also the film crew of 3 that were staying with them, plus Jo and Lauren, two other teachers.

We set up camp on Sandra’s lawn, and enjoyed a bbq and a good catchup. Sandra was my next door neighbour when we were teenagers, and I used to play adult netball with Wiki.
Sandra is, for this year, the Principal of the Wulungarra Aboriginal Indepent Community School, Wiki and Jo teach there and Nemo is part-time caretaker. There are 20 pupils, one administration assistant and two language/cultural support staff. The school is built on Millijidee Cattle Station and both the school and the cattle station are owned and run by Kadjina Community

In the morning we wondered over to the school, met the children and some of the parents, and Sandra gave us a great tour explaining what progress they had made, and their plans for the immediate future. The people in the community speak three languages, with their first language being Kriol. The other two languages are their indigenous language, Walmajarri, and English.

Teaching staff at Sandra's school, Wiki, Jo and Sandra

Check it out at

After a quick tour out to the airstrip to look at the view across the Great Sandy Desert, we packed up and left to head back to Fitzroy Crossing and Broome. The guys couldn’t resist checking out the Fitzroy to see if they could get across. Dave and I tried to follow some locals, but quickly became bogged in the sandy gravel . These guys will do anything to play with their winches!

Broome was our next port of call, and that is a nice place, with beaches you can safely swim at, interesting history and nice shops.

Our first evening was spent down at Port Beach where we enjoyed a glass of bubbly to celebrate a year of owning a lovely Chicky Troopy! (“Chicky” because the rego is 1 CHK).

Another evening was spent down on Cable Beach to watch the camels in the sunset. There were lots of families and vehicles on the beach, everyone just enjoying the beautiful view and chilling out with picnics and the odd person swimming and fishing.

On another evening we joined the throngs of locals and visitors at Mangrove Hotel to watch
Testing the watersTesting the watersTesting the waters

Murray testing the crossing at Fitzroy River
the “Staircase to the Moon”.
This natural phenomenon occurs when the full moon rises over the exposed mudflats of Roebuck Bay at extremely low tide creating the optical illusion of a staircase reaching for the moon. The staircase occurs three nights each month from March to October.

We left here on 16 Aug after seriously stocking up on food for our 12 day trip through part of the Kidson Track and the southern half of the Canning Stock Route. A night at 80 Mile Beach camp saw up filling up to the brim with water and fuel.

The Kidson Track (Wapet Road) was used for oil exploration in the 1960s and is unmaintained. Wapet means West Australian Petroleum Exploration Track.
The Canning Stock Route was first surveyed in 1906 by Alfred Canning to provide a route for stock from East Kimberley down to Perth and the goldfields. Canning’s task was to find a route through 1850 kilometres of desert, from Wiluna in the mid west to the Kimberley in the north. He needed to find significant water sources – enough for up to 800 head of cattle, a day’s walk apart – where wells could be dug, and

Sunset at Cable Bay
enough good grazing land to sustain this number of cattle during the journey south. The history of this task and the subsequent building of the wells is fascinating. If you are interested, take a look at

This was one of the highlights of our year. and as there is so much to say about it, and that could bore you to tears, I will summarise my diary.

Weather everyday – clear skies, temp around 30, cooler at night. We collect firewood during the day and always light a campfire at night, sometimes for warmth, usually for cooking but always for warm fuzzies, and makes the red wine taste better.

17/8/11 – 8.30am to 4pm – 205km. Left 80 mile beach to start Kidson Track (this runs east into an aboriginal community called Kunawarritji (670km). 1st part of road good as goes to Drill Rig. Met Frenchies in Britz bushcamper. .
Camel hoof prints around – roast chicken and veg for dinner.

18/8/11 – 8.30 to 5pm – 120km. In Great Sandy Desert .
Met 5 vehicles heading west who had come from Alice Springs. They had pulled the Frenchies out of a washout the day before. The Frenchies had sat for over 24 hrs for someone to come along and must have slept in their camper on a good slope and on an angle – probably uncomfortable!
Squire trailer broke leaf on right springs. , 2 hrs to make temp repair. Found message jar on an abandoned vehicle fuel tank and left a message in it. Some care needed on washouts.

19/8/11 – 8.30 to 5pm – 130k
Saw Bustard birds, 100s of lovely bright green budgies, sanddunes and wildflowers. Fresh bore water on tap – all had a cold shower. Murray did more repairs to spring. Campsite amidst white and pink wildflowers. Did not see ANYBODY today! Lots of overgrowth on the track – scratch-scratch and corrugations

20/8 – First sight of camels – close to water holes. Found abandoned trailer on side of road and took springs off it – a gift from heaven! Kunuwarritji for fuel at $3.20 per litre. No option as we have about 900km to drive down the Canning.
Graham at the fuel stop allowed us to use the workshop, and the guys modified the found springs to fit the trailer. Dave tried to help some local guys in the workshop insert a new slave cylinder into their Landcruiser but they were trying to put square pegs into round holes – well you know what I mean. Graham let us have a hot shower, then we camped at Well 33 (half way through the CSR).
$1m a year is given to this community by Govt. Graham gave us interesting stats re Govt funding here and what they do with it. Ask us about it.

21/8 – 9.30 to 5pm – 95 km. Our truck immobiliser unit played up as we went to leave. Found loose connection and taped up – very lucky Dave knew where to look. Started Canning SR heading south. Passed the 4 guys all heading north on postie motorbikes doing the CSR as a fundraiser. Had 4 support vehicles. They look very tired and sore. Well done, guys!
Also another 3 vehicles heading north to Well 31. Rocky and bad corrugations. Camped btwn 29 and 30.

22/8 – Day 6 – 8.50 to 4.50pm – 88kms – now in Gibson Desert. Did not see ANYBODY today! Lots of dunes and definitely easier going north to south. South sides rougher as dug up
Ready, set, .....goReady, set, .....goReady, set, .....go

Start of Kidson Track
more by heavier traffic.
Front tyres at 25psi, rears at 30psi and trailer at 25psi. To go other way tyre pressures need to be max. of 20 psi or less because of trailer.
Rocky outcrops. Two lots of camels. Climbed Thring Hill. Kathy drove sandhills, had to back down with trailer 3 times. When Dave finally let air out of the tyres we had success! Camped under rock cliffs between Wells 27 and 26.
Thai chicken in coconut cream with rice. The wild flowers, and the little lizards are just beautiful. Heaps of camel prints and you can see where the camels sleep.

23/8 – 7.50 to 5.15 – big day - 145km. Well 26 was done up in July 2011. In great order. Heated water and we showered. Met Tagalong group 11 vehicles heading NE from Perth to Hall Creek. They were on Day 9 of a 19 day trip. They paid $3000 per vehicle for guided trip – with a large portion of that being donated to Cystic Fibrosis. We met their leaders, Eric and Ronele Gard, who have travelled this route many times. They said this trip was one of the best they had done as
Kidson TrackKidson TrackKidson Track

I think this is the wrong way
far as wildflowers and lake water went. Also we came across a couple in an F250 truck on the Talawana Track ( which joins the CSR for a few kms), who were travelling on their own. They were bogged in soft sand. He was digging himself out with a spade. We noticed the front wheels weren’t driving and saw the auto hubs had not engaged. One flick of the lever and he was out.
Two more trucks. Camped between 21 and 20. Roast pork and veg for dinner.

24/8 - 8.45 to 5pm and 122 km
425 kms on Tank 1.
Well 20 to Kullawana Gorge at Durba Hills. The little gorge is beautiful but a sacred place, and has ancient rock art.
Lake Disappointment – a salt lake, looks like ice and seems funny to be standing on it in t shirt and jandals.
Lovely desert oak trees, sandhills. Only met two vehicles today, who were following us – one without radio comms – stupid twit…30 degrees in the shade.
Meatballs in tomato sauce, with rice salad and beetroot. Oh, we do eat well here.

25/8 – Day 9
9am to 4pm and 106km
Water in trailer
Oh dearOh dearOh dear

Mawee, what you doing? Fixing the *%?! spring.
tank now empty and worked out using 5 litres per day for two people for drinking, cooking and cleaning dishes.
Got 40 lt at Well 15 – but not to drink so used for washing a few clothes and showers. But short of shower water so I used washing rinse water which seems to be browny red no matter how many times you rinse the clothes– yuk.
Used last of fresh veges.
At Well 14 – Murray and Chris discovered trailer spring leaf broken. “McIvor” Murray repaired and so stayed night here.
I cooked the roast beef and sweet potato in camp oven, had with instant mashed spud and peas. (had a little mishap with the ash, but all good).

26/8 8.30 to 5pm - 150km
Calculated using approx. 30 lt per day of fuel = A$80 per day. Well 12 is fully restored and we got another 40 lt.
Last of sandhills.
Clicked over 600km on this track. Met 2 Kiwis from Christchurch. Recognised as Kiwis as he was wearing jandals and boardies. Travelling in Oz while the Council etc in Chch decide what to do with their damaged house.
Murray gets flattie RF tyre between Wells 8

Murray and Chris in the distance
& 9.
We had mince patties, pasta, peas and corn.

27/8 9 to 5pm and 147km

Dave gave truck a grease. Yum – pancakes and maple syrup for brekky.
Oh no! - broken leaf on our trailer noticed at lunchtime, just 175km from the end of the track.. Reloaded trailer to take weight out.
Took rest of track very quietly. We drove through a grove of rear Red Mulga trees.
A great meal for our last dinner on the track – Sausages, Bacon, Mashed spud, beetroot and beans

28/8 – 8am to 4.30 – Day 12
Onto Wiluna Rd at 11.15 – 62km in 3.5 hours then 30km to Wiluna.
Refueled then onto Meekathara, another 180km.
Some stats quoted from a resident - Wiluna has 350 residents (100 of them whitefellas) there are 60 children in the school, the new school cost $4m, the new TAFE (Polytech) cost $2m and the new swimming pool $1m, PLUS the Mine pumps money in, ie, $400,000 not too long ago. $200,000 went out of town, $160000 was spent at the pub, $40000 was spent at the general store. There are 9 police officers stationed there. Three brand new Landcruisers provided to the town by the mine lasted three weeks, then were wrecked.

Two nights at Meekatharra were spent at the camping ground behind the Caltex Service Station. We were set up next to the fence and could sit and chat to people filling up with diesel. Met someone who knew John and Matt from Tom Price! – Yes, small world.

Murray and Chris then left here for their new job at Mt Vernon. Dave and I headed north to the mining town of Newman, and snuck behind a large metal dump off the roadside between Newman and Marble Bar (another mining town) for the night. We went to sleep with the sound or road trains in the distance.

31/8 - The name Marble Bar was derived from a nearby jasper bar mistaken for Marble and now known as Marble Bar, which runs across the bed of the Coongan River. Splash water on the rock and it comes up in beautiful shades of red, grey, white and black.
Possibly the most famous building in the town is the Ironclad hotel built in the 1890s, constructed of corrugated Iron, and given the name by American miners who were reminded of the Ironclad ships from the United States. In 2006, the Ironclad hotel was listed on the Western Australian register of heritage places. So with all that history, we felt the need to celebrate here with a couple of Emu bitters, and Coronas.
We then moved on to a camping spot 40 kms north which was recommended by Willie and Donna. It was lovely and we were all alone, wow who!! but unfortunately the lovely pool had very little water in it, and there was a very decayed cow on the river bank. Fortunately it was past the smelly stage.
From here to Port Hedland where we checked out the Port, or what little we could get to see from the jetty. Katherine and Jamie picked us up and took us to a sort of “Kiwi” club where us bros from the east island hang out. It was great to catch up with them as we had attended their wedding last year and were keen to hear about what they were up to.
Jamie rang us in the morning and asked us to come pick up a fresh crayfish and some fish fillets. We felt we had to oblige as he had worked really hard for 3 days catching them! Thanks you two for your great generosity. It was awesome to catch up with you guys.
From there we drove down the coast to Karratha. To get to Tom Price via the Rio Tinto Rail service Road (which is a shortcut) we had to attend a 20 minute video to receive our permits. The video taught us how to drive on a metal road????
Well, here we are with Jan and John and their boys at Tom Price having a good catchup and enjoying their hospitality. The tent is pitched on their front lawn and Dave and I sit out there under the tree where it’s cool. The neighbours must think we are a bit weird, with our table chairs and breakfast.
Both batteries in the truck have seen their last day, so we have replaced them this morning. Dave has gone off to Andrew’s work to give him a hand for the afternoon.
That’s right up to date. See ya or ka kite ano

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Bustard birdBustard bird
Bustard bird

No, not blasted bird!

Heaps of bright green budgies were around the water sources
Shower time - brrrrrShower time - brrrrr
Shower time - brrrrr

At least it's 30 degrees out here
Hey, manHey, man
Hey, man

stop following me!

Do you think they'll fit? We'll make em fit!
At Well 33At Well 33
At Well 33

Flags up and prepare for sand dunes

6th September 2011

We tracked you on that last journey and you really got around and covered some miles. When we were over that way it was really hot and unbearable. It pays to know how to fix things mechanically that\'s for sure. Thanks for those photos of Sandra and co. Keep travelling safely.

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