We loved our stay in Broome and wished that we could have stayed longer. From Windjana Gorge, the Gibb River Road is mainly bitumen so it only took us a few hours to reach Broome. We did stop for lunch in Derby but had plenty of time to find our Airbnb, Bridges on Jigal, and settle in for the next three nights. Our hosts, Franky and Jon were super helpful and while their home was beautifully styled and full of wonderful artworks, it was still super comfortable and most importantly situated in a central position with easy access to both Cable Beach and Roebuck Bay.
Following up on Frankie’s recommendation, we found ourselves in Chinatown that evening, enjoying a wonderful dinner at Mr Saigon. It was a far cry from what I had served up on the Gibb!
Next morning, saw us do several loads of washing, choose a new camping stove which the man in the camping store assured us would not blow up and purchase some pillows. Essentials sorted, we headed to Cable Beach to laze the afternoon away.
The water was lovely, not too cold but still refreshing and there were virtually no waves to speak of. Ideal for swimming. We hired an umbrella as well so that I could a laze around in some shade while Kenn sun baked.
Is there anything nicer than being on a beautiful beach, totally relaxed just listening to the sounds of the ocean and the seagulls? A couple of swims and a nap or two later, it was time for a beach walk.
But the sand is so fine that we found walking a reasonable distance a tad frustrating. Our feet kept sinking even into the hard sand so progress was slow.
The camel rides along the northern part of the beach at sunset are famous but while we watched we didn’t take one. We had had a very memorable camel ride at Uluru in 2015 and didn’t feel the need to repeat the experience.
The afternoon was drawing in and it was time to pack up and make our way to the Sunset Bar and Grill. It had come highly recommended by Kenn’s brother and partner, Wayne and Liz who had spent many an enjoyable evening here, watching the sun set over the Indian ocean on their trip around Australia. We found ourselves a great table, ordered some drinks and snacks and settled in to watch the show.
Morning found us enjoying a delicious breakfast at the Town Beach cafe which has a wonderful view over Roebuck Bay.
Of course, after breakfast, we had to explore Chinatown. It has a lovely ambiance and is very easy to walk around. I love pearls and had been looking forward to wandering through the myriad of pearl shops which showcase Australia’s wonderful South Sea Pearls. And they were wonderful. While I didn’t go crazy at Paspaley, Willie Creek or Cygnet Bay Pearls, I did manage to find something that was beautiful yet in my price bracket: a pair of mother of pearl bangles and a polished pearl shell to display them on.
There were also a few good souvenir shops and interesting alleyways to explore. Kenn was very patient as I browsed here and traipsed there and sometimes retraced my steps to buy that special little something for one of the grand kids.
After a quick lunch, we wanted to visit the museum to learn a little more about Broome’s history. We were driving round in circles, struggling to find it when we spied two teenage girls in school uniform walking along munching hot chips. Perhaps they could shed some light on our dilemma. We slowed down beside them, unwound the window and Kenn stuck his head out.
‘Excuse me, could you show us which street leads to the Museum?” he asked them.
The girls stared at us as if we were aliens. ‘What’s a museum?” one of the girls asked the other. Her friend replied, .””You know, a place where they keep dinosaurs and stuff, “giving us a hard look! Ah we teach them so well don’t we? The knowledgeable one then turned to us, pointed vaguely and instructed, ” I think it’s two streets down to the right,” and conversation ended, the girls strolled away.
We followed her instructions and there was a semblance of truth to her directions. The museum was two streets away but to the left not right. And it is really worth a visit. There is a significant collection of artefacts from Broome’s colourful pearling past as well as the restored sailmaker’s shed. There are very good video presentations as well. How exciting were the old Pearling days. Opening times vary according to the seasons so it’s useful to check their website.
Even though we had spent a couple of hours at the museum, we still had time to go driving on Cable Beach. You need a 4WD and they’ve make it very easy to access. There is even a designated place where you can deflate and inflate your tyres. We only drove about 10 kilometres or so as the tide was not perfect but it was still a great experience. There is something special about driving on a beach with all the windows down: the smell of the sea, the sounds of the waves and the feel of the wind in your hair.
Our craving for a bit of adventure satisfied, it was time to go back to the town beach to view The Staircase to the Moon. This is a natural phenomenon which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. The Staircase to the Moon only happens 2 – 3 days a month between March and October. Although we were in Broome one day early for a perfect viewing, we still got a taste of this natural wonder. Unfortunately, we missed the night markets, which are held at the same time.
Our perfect day in Broome came to a close with an incredible fish and chips at the Wharf restaurant which is located at the very tip of the port of Broome. There at their picnic tables overlooking the moon reflecting on the bay, we feasted.
Even though we had had a wonderful couple of days, we knew that we would like to return as there was still so much more to do and see in this wonderful town beside the Indian Ocean.
But Broome had one special experience waiting for us that I will share with you in my next post. A visit to the Ramada Eco Resort which lies about 100 kms south of the town on the southern most tip of Roebuck Bay. This visit was a real highlight. Hope you will join me.
Let the fun begin. Finally, we would be roughing it: an unforgiving dirt road, an untried tent and campfire meals under the stars. What could be better?
Leaving beautiful El Questro, we turned onto the Gibb and headed for Broome about 800 kms away. Almost immediately, the bitumen gave way to the rough stony surface that the Eastern Gibb is known for and as we bounced our way towards the famous Pentecost River crossing, I wondered what the road held in store for us.
I knew we couldn’t stop at every landmark or experience everything the Gibb had to offer. For example, it was such a poor wet season that the iconic Mitchell Falls were reduced to almost a trickle, so we decided very early on not to tackle the Kalumburu Rd which intersects with the Gibb and which is the only way to the falls. But like everyone else, we had to cross the Pentecost River.
Our first stop was ‘Ellenbrae’ Station which was only a few kilometres off the Gibb and just over 200 kms from El Questro. We had been on the road for only about three hours, but the Gibb had been so rough in patches, that one of the bolts which hold the driving lights on had broken off. Kenn needed a little time to make repairs. Staying here would also give us heaps of time to explore and set up our new tent for the very first time in a great spot in the campground.
We were keen to sample their famous scones and they were delicious. Like many places on the Gibb, you can’t book in advance: it’s first in, first serve unless there are special circumstances. . We had hoped to stay at Ringer’s campground which has its own billabong but unfortunately that was taken by a group of bike riders on a charity ride. So we ended up in the Jackaroo’s Campground. This was still a great option. Campsites came with a fire pit and we were allowed to collect wood from the bush. There were hot showers with the water heated by a donkey heater ( I had never seen one of these in action before) and flush toilets. And everything was clean! Soon our tent was up, bed made ( with jumpers as pillows) table and chairs arranged and wood for the evening fire collected. The driving light was safely disconnected and now it was time for fun.
But our mishaps didn’t end with the loss of a driving light and our pillows. Back at camp, we started preparing dinner. I was planning a tasty Tuna Pasta dish and went to put the water on to boil for the pasta when … our gas stove nearly blew up! We hadn’t realised that when Kenn exchanged our near empty gas bottle for a full one back in Byron, they had given him a bottle with an incompatible fitting. What to do? A friendly couple offered to boil some water for us so I busily chopped shallots and capsicum and grated some cheese. When the water was boiling, I bought the pot over to the table, put in my egg noodle nests and put a lid on. Hardly the orthodox method for cooking pasta but it worked. I drained the water, added the tuna in oil and the vegies, stirred and put the lid on again to heat through. Surprisingly, it was quite tasty. Our new friends from Western Australia invited us to join them for a cuppa around the campfire. Ah, a coffee to soothe the jangled nerves!
So after a healthy breakfast of weetbix and fruit, we packed up and headed for Mt Barnett,Manning Gorge and Imintji Campground. Now we had checked, double checked and triple checked that we had left nothing behind at the campsite at Ellenbrae. But we had scarcely gone any distance when Kenn realised that his iphone was not in his pocket. We knew that it had to be in the vehicle but where? The car was so jam packed with stuff that it would be a serious mission to stop and search for it. Kenn made an executive decision that the search could wait until we set up camp at Imintji later that day.
And so we continued along the Gibb. We passed the Kalumburu turnoff and the road conditions changed. Instead of a rough stony surface the Gibb now presented us with some of the worst corrugations that we have driven over. And the wonderful escarpment scenery that we had driven through to that point had given way to relatively flat savannah as we bumped, bounced and shook our way to the Mt Barnett Roadhouse about halfway along the Gibb. . It was approaching lunchtime and given our cooking situation, we treated ourselves to takeaway. Kenn also topped up our fuel, as we thought that this was the only place on the Gibb where fuel could be purchased.
It is here that you buy the permit to visit Manning Gorge. But the iphone issue hung over our heads and we wanted to press on to Imintji as we had been told there were limited campsites and we didn’t want to miss out. As it turned out there were heaps to choose from which a phone call from the Roadhouse to the Imintji store would have confirmed. Ah you live and learn! As a consequence, we missed our opportunity to visit this beautiful gorge. Our loss!
So we pressed onto Imintji. In the Ngarinyin language, Imintji means “a place to sit down”. The campground is located at the foot of the spectacular King Leopold range and you pay for your campsite at the store. The people at the store were lovely and very quickly we selected a campsite with a sunset view of the range, put up the tent and found the iphone! We were happy campers.
Imintji is relatively close to Bell Gorge and we had the whole afternoon with which to explore it. On the way, we passed Silent Grove, the National Parks campground. It too looked very pleasant. The track to the gorge is not very shaded and we were quite hot by the time we reached the upper gorge. It was beautiful, a series of shallow pools which trickle into each other and eventually form a waterfall which cascades to a pool in the lower gorge.
Back at Imintji, we reconnected with a young family who were travelling for a year around Australia. We had first met them at Emma Gorge back at El Questro where their three delightful little girls, (the youngest was just four and a half) had chatted to us, showing us their special discoveries: pet rocks and special pools and giving us helpful hints of where not to walk. The family was spending a couple of days at Imintji before travelling to the Mornington Wilderness Area. And the girls put the time to good use.
As we checked into the store next morning for cappuccinos , we also realised that we should have bought fuel here as well. We were unaware that the store sold fuel! It was over 30cents per litre cheaper than Mt Barnett! And when you’re filling a thirsty Prado, that can make a considerable difference.
We were now traveling from Imintji to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek. To get there we drove through the magnificent King Leopold Ranges. Sometimes the road cut through the ranges and at other times the road opened up to reveal incredible vistas of unspoilt wilderness.
We were surprised at how quickly, we got to Windjana Gorge. It only took a couple of hours from Imintji. One of the things that had determined our itinerary was the booking at Windjana Gorge. According to the WA National Parks website, sites must be pre-booked and paid for online. So of course we did, only to discover that we could have just rocked up and put our payment in a box. But maybe that was only the case for this early part of the season and being locked in to a particular date did enable us to maximise our exploration time..
Windjana Gorge is one of the most spectacular gorges in the Kimberley. The gorge cuts through the Napier Range which part of the ancient Devonian limestone reef which can also be seen at Geikie Gorge and Tunnel Creek. While the Lennard River runs through the gorge in the wet season, in the dry it forms large pools where the freshwater crocodiles lurk.
What to see first? Since we had a whole afternoon at our disposal, we decided to go to Tunnel Creek and then visit the Gorge for the evening spectacle of crocodile bat hunting.
Tunnel Creek is WA’s oldest cave system and it is here that you can walk through a tunnel following the creek as it flows through the Napier Range. We knew we had to wear old sneakers, carry a torch and be prepared to get wet as at certain points in the tunnel you have to wade or swim through pools. I was surprised by how eerie and thrilling I found the whole experience. I led the way, carrying the torch while Kenn took our photos.
Back at Windjana Gorge, we had time for a cuppa before our first walk into the Gorge. It was late afternoon and the reflections on the water were lovely.
Walking back to our campsite, we were surprised to see that the campground was full to bursting Surprisingly, we hadn’t felt crowded when exploring the gorge and hoped that the crowds would stay away when we walked the Gorge Trail next morning.
There was a lot to see on the trail which follows a track through beautiful bush which fringes the gorge.
And beside us and across the gorge, was the incredible Devonian reef, complete with fossils!
And of course there were Boab trees. But here the Boab was flowering and fruiting.
And so our time at Windjana Gorge came to a close. Even though we had booked an extra night at the gorge, we had experienced the main attractions and some extra time in Broome beckoned. After all, we had a lot ( and I mean a lot: everything was coated in bright red dust at this point) of washing to do, a camping store to visit and some pillows to buy before we continued our camping adventures on Cape Leveque.
This road trip along the Gibb had been amazing despite our minor hiccups. I wouldn’t mind doing it again, but after a really good Wet season and perhaps making it up to Mitchell Falls and down to the Mornington Wilderness Area just to mention a couple of places we didn’t visit.
But the road delivered what I had been hoping to experience: sweeping wilderness vistas full of deep, rich colours and the magical interplay between rock and water that is so symbolic of the Kimberley. And we had a real sense of being on an adventure, of living a little bit on the edge. After all you’re a long way from suburbia on the Gibb.
I hope you can join me as Kenn and I get a taste of Broome, the gateway to the Western Kimberley Coast.