Derby to Kununurra via the GRR

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June 9th 2007
Published: June 9th 2007
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Derby - what a gem, a real frontier town! Angus refused to come grocery shopping with us, so after setting up the van in the park, we left him with a book and headed into town without him. After collecting most of the items on the afore mentioned list (paid $75.00 for 3 very basic and faded long sleeved mens shirts to fit the 3 of us), a cast net and a bit of food we headed back to the park. It was unbelievably hot and humid - multiple cold shower weather. The locals were having a high old time up and down the main street nearby and this continued until quite late, moving inside to a couple of houses so that loud music could be added to the general a-hootin' and a-hollerin'. Around 10pm, as a cool breeze finally came up, a cruising police car wound it's way through the caravan park and not long after this the noise level dropped significantly. The following day was peaceful and we did touristy things like visit the Derby Jetty to check the action (nil, apart from the massive tidal movement), the Prison Boab Tree and spent hours weighing our options for
Tunnel Creek BatsTunnel Creek BatsTunnel Creek Bats

Very cute...zoom in and count them
generators and more spare tyres for the next leg of the trip up the GRR - in the end we decided to go without both. Saturday morning as we headed out, we hit paydirt by finding the only red umbrella available in town.
We entered the Gibb River Road - 600+ kms of notorious dirt, stopping for an hour at the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art Gallery which was an impressive enterprise. By lunch time we were set up at the Windjana Gorge camp area and off to Tunnel Creek in the afternoon to explore the caves and walk along the underground water course. Angus enjoyed wading chest deep through the water in the pitch dark and spotting the bats hiding in the rock ceiling with his torch. Our camp back at Windjana was lit all night by a huge(not so) distant grass fire, but as the Ranger didn't appear bothered we figured all was well. We admired the courage(?) of a young Japanese couple who had travelled up this far in an old Camry - but then again, the road had not been that bad. In the morning we walked through Windjana Gorge, which was spectacular, counting 10 freshwater crocs swimming
Waist Deep at Tunnel Creek Waist Deep at Tunnel Creek Waist Deep at Tunnel Creek

Angus prefers the low road where possible
in the large pool. Apparently German backpackers happily swam there the day before. This area is full of Bunuba and white history which makes fascinating reading.
We traveled on to Bell Gorge, via the "Snack Stop" caravan near Napier Downs for coffee and icecream(luxury!). Camping at Silent Grove near the gorge was lovely. Just like Windjana it featured flushing toilets and cold showers. Our campfire was shared each night with interesting travellers. Bell Gorge itself is a short drive and a longer hike away. Most folk seemed to stop at the upper pool for a swim but we continued across the water, over the hill and down to the lower pool where the waterfall crashes down. The walk was reasonably difficult so we only had one other couple to share the area with for an hour or so while we swam and picnicked. Returning to the upper pool we encountered a bunch of oldies on a tag-a-long tour, psyching themselves up for the plunge and eventually getting in the water with much squealing. Groundhog +20 years.
Shortly after leaving here, and thinking that this was probably the end of the easy part of the road, we spotted our first 4WD casualty(broken front axle) which reminded us that we could easily be lulled into a false sense of security.
Stopped at Imintji Store, a real oasis, and paid a measly $1.80/ltr to fill the tanks and buy some fresh (frozen) bread. Our plan was to go down to Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary but on arriving at the turn off and reading all the information posted, we wondered if this was really what we were looking for. We decided to press on to Mt Barnett Roadhouse. Obeying the first rule of outback travel we topped up the tanks - a paltry $1.96/ltr and the most expensive fuel we have purchased to date in our travels. As we drove on we weighed our options for our next stop and later in the day found ourselves a long way from anywhere, so we pulled over for a bush camp by one of the rivers, took a chill pill and did some battery juggling work on the car, hoping that this would give us enough power to stay on the road for a couple more days at our chosen spot. We had decided to stay at Home Valley Station but had heard from others that they were in the middle of a big construction project which was running a bit late due to the extended Wet, and had limited facilities including no powered sites.
Up early the next morning, we headed straight to Home Valley. After a long drive and quick lunch at beautiful Ellenbrae, we arrived very weary and set up camp at their Bush Camp site by the Pentecost River.
Too tired to cook, we drove up to the homestead and had a hot shower, clean clothes and then went into the Dusty Bar for dinner - and how cool was this! Home Valley is a working cattle station which is also being developed as a tourist facility by the Indigenous Land Council. They are working on a five year project to get the place fully operational and training local aboriginal people in all aspects of the industries so that they can run it themselves as a sustainable business. Students can complete multiple TAFE accreditations oniste at the station. Several cold beers, an excellent dinner, a bit of snake wrangling and great company from the staff, dogs and other visitors, Mike soon got talking to the fishing guide and we booked onto a tour
Bell GorgeBell GorgeBell Gorge

Lower pool waterfall
the next day.
Mark, our guide, picked us up at 8:30 and took us on a bone jarring 4WD run to a stretch of water where we could start our hunt for the Barra. The morning produced one hook up for Steph and a small Barra for Mike. Angus scored a good size catfish 😞 After lunch we got back on the boat to try again and this time Mike scored a beauty - too big to keep! Happy that he had achieved his objective, he dropped the lure back in the water. Within minutes it was on again and he landed a HUGE fish over a metre long! Again too big to keep, back it went. All seemed quiet again until we passed the spot where Steph had lost her first fish. Suddenly - bang - and this time she brought the fish into the boat. A legal 70cm fish to keep for dinner. The Dusty Bar saw a celebration dinner that night. We were hugely impressed with this place and are sure that it is going to be a success for all concerned. We would love to come back in the Wet.
Rumour has it the GRR will
Bell GorgeBell GorgeBell Gorge

The top pool was an easier walk.
be sealed end to end in 15 yrs time, so another great outback trek will be lost to progress. The road is sealed in sections, mainly around the "jump-ups". It was significantly drier as we travelled north, less churned up road, more newly graded sections. Some of the river crossings were a bit hairy - Steph did the Durack (oops - forgot to engage 4WD) and Mike took on the Pentecost, but compared to the stories told around the campfires and the Dusty Bar, this was pretty tame stuff. We did get above the sidesteps on the truck on our last major crossing, a little bit of water snuck into the van around the step - but really, the road was in excellent condition provided you took your time. No punctures, no breakages.
Although we would have liked to stay longer, we pulled the pin and headed to Kununurra. We passed "ELQ" (the sign at the turnoff read "El Questro, Australia" - der, where the bloody hell are ya?) on the way out. As we were savouring our "rough" trip, we decided not to stop. No doubt people will tell us we are mad, but we figure we can do
Swapping out the BatteriesSwapping out the BatteriesSwapping out the Batteries

Should have bought a generator.....
this bit when we are 60, on a day trip from Kununurra, bitumen all the way and probably still the same number of tourists.
Kununurra is a beaut town with lots to keep the tourists happy, including the first decent book shop we have found in WA. There are at least 5-6 caravan parks and they are all chockers. We have cleaned our car, ourselves and inside our van, but not the outside - which has drawn some sideways looks from the owners of neighbouring elegant caravans that have never been off road. We have some great adventures planned for NT on the way south-will keep you posted. Catchya later!

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