The Gibb River Road crosses the Kimberley east-west, connecting Derby and Kununurra to various pastoral stations, national parks and aboriginal communities. It's 660km of mostly unpaved road, but with side trips up to 3000km.
First stop after Birdwood Downs is Windjana gorge. There seem to be lots of caravans, here. Maybe we will see less later as the road worsens. The gorge is huge, with many freshwater crocs basking on the sandbanks. The first side trip is to Tunnel Creek, which has an amazing walk through a network of huge caves, with occasional openings to the sky. We wade through the deeper sections, spotting a couple freshwater crocs on the other side of the cave with our torches. The creek at the far end has some interesting aboriginal rock paintings. A highlight!
More gorges as we drive eastward over the next few days: Bell gorge, Adcock gorge, Galvans gorge; each with different feeling, more or less water to swim in, and varying wildlife.
Mt Barnett roadhouse is well stocked, and busy after a short closure for a COVID outbreak. Their campsite is super handy for accessing Manning Gorge. However, it's way too busy. Chock full of tour groups and huge rigs (boats & buggies loaded on top of caravans!). It seems that fire safety and sanitation rules may not apply here. It's a great location, but they are spoiling it by packing too many people in. The station is huge, why are they not expanding? Still, the gorge is huge, with a river crossing and a hike to get there, a huge pool to swim across and multiple waterfalls.
The best spot so far is Drysdale station. The side road north is of varying condition, but our car handled it well. We decide not to drive any further north. Instead we plan a scenic flight up to Mitchell plateau. A sort panic because our booked flight is not available, but then the young pilot rushes out to saw we can get on an earlier one. Seeing this remote and lush countryside from the air is amazing. T sights saltwater crocs as we fly up the Prince Regent River, then we turn to fly over the coast and Mitchell falls. Back at the station, we stay for a couple more days, swimming in the creek and taking advantage of the beer garden!
Ellenbrae Station is friendly & we feast on their justifiably famous scones. Their sales figures show the number of travellers is increasing year on year, as the region becomes more accessible and popular. T is somewhat phased by the general business; when she travelled this road 20 years ago it was mostly empty. I don't think we should complain too much. It's wrong to criticise others for wanting the same experience as us. I wish they would leave some of their huge caravans at home though.
The road east of Ellenbrae is in the worst shape. I think this depends on how recently it has been graded, not anything particular about this bit of road. “Bad road” is very subjective anyway. Our 4WD and camper handle it just fine. We pass a few breakdowns and broken cars, so others were less prepared or didn't respect the conditions.
East of the Pentecost river we hit roadworks. This will all be tarmacked eventually. This is good for the business and aboriginal communities along the road. But it will change its character.