Planning to go camping on the Gibb River Road? This legendary, unsealed road in the Kimberley will take you to some of the most spectacular gorges and watering holes Australia has on offer.
To travel between Broome and Kununurra you don’t have to do this route. There is another smooth, more comfortable sealed road to take you from A to B. But if adventure is calling, then this guide is for you.
There’s not a lot of signal along the route so it pays to plan out a rough itinerary. Both where you want to camp and what you want to see before setting off.
Read on for my guide to camping on the Gibb River Road.
Where: The Kimberley, Western Australia (WA)
Getting there: The main starting points are either Derby or Kununurra. Derby is 2.5 hours drive from Broome Airport and Kununurra has its own airport. Driving from Perth Derby is 25 hours (2,198 km) and Kununurra is a 34-hour (3,197) drive.
Camping on the Gibb River Road 7-day itinerary
This is the itinerary I did when driving the Gibb River Road in July 2022. I thought it worked well so I’m sharing it here to help you plan your camping trip.
927 km. This is what this itinerary covers from Derby to Kununurra. The Gibb River Road itself is 660km long, much of which is unsealed.
This itinerary focuses on where to camp and which attractions to visit just off the Gibb River Road.
There are additional spur tracks to even more gorges and attractions, the main one being Mitchell Falls. This is an extra 300km on unsealed roads so I decided not to explore there which is not covered in this guide. If you’re willing to put in the extra distance then I’ve only ever heard good things about the whole Mitchell Plateau and for many, it is a bucket list item.
If you are travelling from Kununurra towards Derby instead, you can do this itinerary in reverse.
Day 1: Derby to Birdwood Downs Station – 17km
Travel to and stock up in Derby although avoid staying in the town if you can. Instead, you can opt to stay 17kms away at Birdwood Downs Station, which is just off the Gibb River Road. There are plenty of unmarked sites so you can just turn up on the day.
It costs $35/night (unpowered) and whilst amenities are few and dated, it’s a good place to start the Gibb River Road.
Day 2: Birdwood Downs Station to Windjana Gorge via Tunnel Creek – 201km
Drive straight to Tunnel Creek (Dimalurru) and complete the walk through the cave and back, before driving to Windjana Gorge.
Windjana Gorge is the first of two gorges you can visit walking from the campsite. So you can get set up for the night and complete the Windjana Gorge Walk in the afternoon. It’s a 7km return walk and takes around 2 hours to complete.
Road condition: The worst section of the road when I travelled in July 2022 was between Windjana Gorge Campground and Tunnel Creek car park.
Camping on the Gibb River Road: Windjana Gorge Campground is $16 per adult per night. Book online or turn up and pay via self-registration.
Day 3: Windjana Gorge to Manning Gorge Campground via Bell Gorge – 268km
Get up early and drive to Bell Gorge before making your way to Manning Gorge Campground.
This is the furthest stretch to travel in one day in this itinerary but I suggest pushing on to Manning Gorge Campground. This is so you can stay two nights to give yourself a day off from driving and more time to explore the beautiful Manning Gorge. Which is worth taking a whole day over.
Road condition: When I travelled in July 2022 the spur track to Bell Gorge was not great. It took longer than Google Maps estimated but otherwise the stretch of the Gibb River Road between Windjana to Manning Gorges was not too bad.
Camping on the Gibb River Road: Manning Gorge Campground is run by Mount Barnett Station and is located just beyond the Roadhouse. It costs $25 per adult for the first night and then $15 per adult per night after (the higher cost on the first night includes the entrance fee to Manning Gorge). Turn up and pay at the Roadhouse or the caretaker will be at the entrance to take payment after opening hours.
Day 4: Manning Gorge & River – 0km
Take the day off from driving and explore Manning Gorge on foot – see the Best Things to Do section below for more details on all these attractions.
Day 5: Manning Gorge to Ellenbrae Station – 180km
It’s time to push through what was for me one of the roughest sections of the Gibb River Road. Hopefully, a grader has just passed through for you.
If it hasn’t and your body and car get rattled for over four hours depending on how slow you drive (I set a maximum speed of 60km when the road was bad to reduce the risk of a puncture); then at least there are freshly baked scones waiting for you at Ellenbrae Station.
The scones with jam and cream are seriously good. Probably made more delicious after four days of driving the Gibb River Road.
Camping on the Gibb River Road: Ellenbrae Station camping costs $35/night. Just turn up and pay at the homestead, there is plenty of space with an extra overflow campground.
Day 6: Ellenbrae Station to Pentecost River Crossing or El Questro Station – 118km plus 40km
There’s the option to visit Sandy Gorge on Ellenbrae Station for a morning swim before driving on. Sandy Gorge is less spectacular than the other gorges in this itinerary but the water is covered with lily pads and is your best chance of getting in the water today.
You will reach the famous Pentecost River crossing today. Once there you can free camp by the river or just back from the river and further up the road.
Alternatively, press on to El Questro Station which is 16km off the Gibb River Road and involves two water crossings, the last being around 40cm deep just before you reach the homestead.
Road condition: The road was still really bad for me until about 30km away from the Pentecost River Crossing. However, I passed a grader after this and the road condition was a dream for the last 30km.
Camping on the Gibb River Road: Free camp on either side of the Pentecost River for free or at El Questro Station. I didn’t stay here but many who do enjoy their stay. There is a deep water crossing to reach the homestead and campground. It’s around 40cm deep but is tidal and can rise higher on a high tide so make sure you are comfortable with this before you book.
Day 7: El Questro Station to Kununurra – 103km
Take time today to relax in the natural hot springs at Zebedee Springs. As well as Emma Gorge which I thought was the most beautiful of all the gorges.
Finally, drive out along the sealed road to Kununurra or a lovely campground to relax in or base yourself for the last two nights if El Questro is full, is Parry’s Creek Farm.
Camping on the Gibb River Road: Parry’s Creek Farm is $30/night and includes a free tag-a-long tour of nearby Telegraph Station and Marlgu Billabong. The tour runs daily from 7.30 am except on Fridays and is exceptionally good.
Best things to do along the Gibb River Road
Here’s a rundown of all the gorges and swimming spots I visited in more detail to help plan which ones you’d like to visit.
Tunnel Creek (Dimalurru)
This is worth the slight detour to experience wading through croc-infested water (freshwater crocodiles, not saltwater) – in the dark! It’s an experience like no other. It’s really different and the cave itself is quite stunning. At the first big opening inside the cave, make sure you look up to spot rock art high up on one of the walls.
This walk takes you through the cave to the other side, with some sections of the path covered with water in the cave so you will need to wade through it in parts.
When I was there the deepest section came up to the top of my thigh so wear swimmers. The bottom is sandy, not rocky and I did see people walking it in thongs (flip flops). But reef shoes are recommended, or old trainers you don’t mind getting wet.
Bring a powerful torch or headtorch to navigate the pitch-black sections of the walk.
I didn’t see any freshies when I went but they are there. Mainly in the creek on the other side of the tunnel.
Windjana Gorge (Bandilngan)
The gorge walk, which is possible to take from the campground, is 7km return and takes about 2 hours. The walking path runs along the water’s edge flanked by the sheer cliff walls of the gorge. It’s really impressive and make sure to look out for numerous freshies in the water. Especially closer to the beginning of the walk.
Bring water, a hat and a camera for all the photos you’ll want to take. Even better, try and catch it in the afternoon light to see the rocks glow an orange-red colour.
Bell Gorge (Dalmanyi)
Around 40km off the Gibb River Road is the spectacular Bell Gorge. It’s an 8km return walk in total and an easy 15-minute walk from the car park before you hit the top of the falls.
Take your shoes off and wade (ankle-deep) over to the other side of the water. It’s then up and over the hill to descend to the bottom of the falls and swimming pool area. This takes a further 10-15 minutes.
The water is ice cold in this one but you can swim right up to the falls. If you walk downstream far enough you will be rewarded with a second large swimming hole away from the crowds.
This was a beautifully serene gorge and waterfall, only a short walk off the Gibb River Road. It’s a great little stop and break from what was (for me) a rough section of the road.
Allow at least 30 minutes to visit.
Manning Gorge and Falls
One of my favourite spots! Expect to spend at least 5 hours getting to and from Manning Gorge and spending time there. I could have spent longer but didn’t take any lunch with me so I recommend taking food for the day.
From the day use area (7km from Mount Barnett Roadhouse) you first need to cross Manning River. This can either be done by swimming (it’s too deep to wade the whole way), or by boat.
If swimming, the station has provided small plastic boats to put your stuff in and push whilst you’re swimming across. If you don’t fancy getting wet straight away then there is also a small boat (big enough for up to 4 adults) on a pulley that you use to pull yourself across.
From the other side of the river, it’s about an hour’s walk to Manning Gorge. Follow the painted white dots and arrows and expect it to be rocky underfoot with a few up and downhill sections (you ascend from the riverbed before descending into the gorge).
Top tip: Make your way to the other side and climb up above the falls to come across another pool to swim in. Take off your footwear to cross over to the sandy beach you will see on the other side. I had this place all to myself for a couple of hours and it was so peaceful.
Manning Gorge Falls
This is a fun stop to soak in little hot spring pools – like small rock pools – under Livistona palms. The water stays between 28 and 32 degrees year-round.
Make sure you visit during the morning because the gates to the car park close at noon every day for El Questro tour groups to enter exclusively.
This was the most beautiful of all the gorges and swimming holes. The ferns growing on the rock make it so picturesque and the deep teal colour of the water is incredible.
It’s a 30-40 minute walk depending on how fast you navigate the rocky path.
The area around the swimming hole is very rocky and not really a place to find your own space and relax for a few hours like Manning or Bell Gorges.
Both Zebedee Springs and Emma Gorge require a visitors pass ($12/adult) which you buy from either the Emma Gorge resort or El Questro homestead.
Planning your camping trip on the Gibb River Road
When to go
The Gibb River Road is only open and accessible from May to October. However, water crossings are at their lowest from around June, which is the peak time to visit.
The peak season is Winter in The Kimberley so expect temperatures to drop below 10 degrees at night. Be prepared for this! The water is also cold, even icy cold in some gorges. So consider this when planning your day. Getting out and warming up under the hot sun during the day is easier than in the early mornings.
If you want the place all to yourself, however, then early mornings and late afternoons are the quietest.
It’s extremely advisable to have a 4WD and you will need high clearance for the water crossing near Mount Barnett. Other water crossings are on the spur road to Bell Gorge, Emma Gorge and El Questro Station. In July, the high water level at these crossings was 30-40cm.
What to take with you
- Spare tire (two if possible), puncture repair kit and an air compressor. Tire repairs are based at ‘Over the Range’ near Mount Barnett and Ellenbrae Station. Towing is also available but is of course, expensive.
- Drinking water is available along the route at the station campgrounds. There is no drinking water at Windjana Gorge campground and only at Mount Barnett Roadhouse and not at the Manning Gorge Campground itself (on Mount Barnett station).
- Enough fuel. Fuel is available but at only a few places so make sure you are carrying enough to get between each place. Iminjinti [CHECK] has diesel only, Mount Barnett Roadhouse (also Manning Gorge campground) is the only place you can get petrol (diesel is also available).
- All your food and drink. There are very few supplies along the route so take all your food with you. Stock up at big chain supermarkets in Broome (Coles and Woolworths) or Kununurra (Coles).
- Your own coffee. Coffee is available at the roadhouses and stations but it’s nothing special so I would bring your own and have it at your camp.
The Gibb River Road has a range of conditions from bitumen to well-graded unsealed road and then awful, heavily corrugated sections.
The condition of the road will depend entirely on how long ago the road has been graded and how much traffic has passed over it since it was last graded. In other words, it’s going to be hit and miss.
The people I spoke to a couple of weeks beforehand who had recently driven the Gibb River Road talked of really good conditions. However, by the time I reached the start of the road, it was already a week into the Winter school holidays and the volume of cars driving up and down the road had created a lot of very heavily corrugated sections.
Therefore to get the best idea of the conditions, closer to setting off try speaking to people who have just come off the road coming the other way.
As well as checking the road condition make sure you look at the weather forecast, This is to ensure no rain is forecast or there hasn’t been any recent rain that will destroy the road. And make a note of the tide times for the Pentecost River crossing if driving earlier in the season when the water level can still be high.
I did the Gibb in July 2022 during the school holiday period and did not have to book any accommodation in advance. I had no trouble getting into all the campsites covered here. There is plenty of space at each of them to just turn up.
The only one you will need to book in advance (if you wish to go) is El Questro Station.
Gibb River Road, is it worth it?
Absolutely. I loved my time on the Gibb. Even though I was spending it was what felt like everyone else during the Winter school holidays, it was such an adventure!
Despite this, I had no problems rolling up and getting a camping site. And the big lesson I learnt was to always explore around the corner or further upstream to find your own little slice of peaceful paradise.