Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gibb River Road Running

It’s a while since the last blog. We have been a long way from any form of modern telecommunications since leaving Derby about eight days ago. We are currently at Home Valley Station, towards the eastern end of the Gibb River Road (GRR), nearly 600 km from Derby. This is classic Kimberley country, famous for its sweeping vistas, savannah vegetation, huge cattle stations (1 million acres being about the standard size) settled in the late 1800s, boab trees, and colourful rock. We’ve seen all these, plus several of the deep gorges for which the GRR is famous.

The GRR was built as a stock route originally, between Derby and Wyndham. It’s only in fairly recent time that it has become a mecca for tourists in the north. The road itself is about 600 km of gravel/mud/corrugations/creek and river crossings, deteriorating in condition as you go from west to east (which is the direction we are taking). But it is not too bad despite all the recent rain in these parts, which has meant that access roads from the GRR to several of the attractions along the way are still closed. We have missed out on Bells Gorge and Windjana Gorge / Tunnel Creek but will save those for another time.

Highlights have been:

- 2 nights at Birdwood Downs Station just out of Derby. This is a small (5000 acres) station carved off from Meda Station (which is now only 995,000 acres!) for purposes of developing more sustainable farming methods in the Kimberley. It is run by a loose alliance of indigenous groups and overseas institutes with various forms of funding. We spent about 3 hours with one of the pioneers of the project (a native New Yorker, who now spends most of his time in the Kimberley and other remote parts of the planet). Fascinating story, too long to cover here. Among other things, we stood alongside boab trees carbon-dated at 1500 years old! BTW, cattle carrying capacity in the Kimberley appears to range from 1 beast per 40 acres on the better country, to 1 per 100 acres and more on the rougher stuff.
- Mt Matthew (at Mt Hart Station – one of our camping stops along the GRR), Addocks, Galvans, Mannings and Barnett Gorges – all stunning in their own ways. We swam in most of these, in beautiful deep pools. Amazing to see such plentiful fresh water in a dry landscape, but important to note that places along the GRR can expect 650 mm annual rainfall, ranging from as low as 150 to as high as 1500. Both these extremes having been experienced in the last 10 years, and both very scary no doubt!
- Sitting outside in full moonlight, on a balmy 27o-ish evening at Manning Gorge campsite, just star-gazing.
- Second flat tyre, yesterday on the GRR when we covered 300 km from Manning Gorge to Home Valley. No less than 5 other passing vehicles all stopped to offer help and we ended up with a crowd of spectators at least as large as the crowd that turns out to watch the Melbourne Demons AFL side.
- The amazing Pentecost River with Cockburn Ranges in the background and salt water crocs lurking just below the surface …

Some of you may have heard of and/or read Mary Durack’s book ‘Kings in Grass Castles’. I haven’t, but am reading the sequel ‘Sons in the Saddle’ which tells the story of her father and his brothers developing their cattle business in the east Kimberley at Ivanhoe and Argyle from about 1890 onwards. (I think ‘Kings in Grass Castles’ may have been about her grandfather who took up cattle runs in south-west Queensland) Argyle Station is now mostly under the water of Lake Argyle created by the Ord River Dam, but the original homestead was relocated stone block by stone block and re-assembled and can now be visited as a museum – which we plan to visit while still in these parts. Anyway, Durack is a well-known name here, and the book is an excellent insight into what life and business was like in those days – if you’re interested in those sorts of things.

Tomorrow we will head for El Questro which is like a privately owned wilderness and tourist park with the statutory 1,000,000 acres, spend a few days there then push on to Kununarra, maybe Wyndham, definitely Lake Argyle, and then the Bungle Bungles – weather permitting.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Just shy of 6000 km so far

Boab carbon-dated at 1500 years old

Boab tree scene

Rock hopping at Mt Matthew Gorge

Adcock Gorge. Note the flock of cockatiels on the tree.

Galvan Gorge

Manning Gorge campsite ‘pool’

Barnett River Gorge lookout

GRR dodgems

Penetecost River and Cockburn Range. We cross the river tomorrow on the GRR – no bridge!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Intrepid Travellers, we are really enjoying following your adventures and wishing we were along for the ride. We have had over 8 inches of rain here during May and would desperately like to see some sun. Happy Travels.