Western Australia: Gibb River Road

The most beautiful places are the hardest ones to access. That is always true. In Western Australia there is a famous road that leads from Broome to Darwin that is hundreds of kilometers long of unsealed road. It takes you through the Kimberley’s, an incredibly beautiful area of the outback. It is remote with no service, no petrol, no food. It houses the most incredible geological features and is probably the top tourist attraction for backpackers like me. Considering I am traveling alone without a vehicle I had to take a tour to experience this area. The tour would consist of an 8 hour drive and 3 attractions along the way.

From where I came on the right to where I was going on the left

We set out at 6am from Broome heading northeast. Eventually the road beneath us changed to orange corrugated dirt. Considering the number of cars that take this road the corrugation is horrible. Apparently some roads become so bad the parks department have to come and smooth it down with trucks. Here people destroy cars and can easily get stranded with no resources. Again this is where the tour comes into play because I am not trying to take that on alone.

Boab Tree

Our first stop was to a large boab tree. We learned here about the history of slave trafficking of Aboriginals. The pearling industry in Broome was kicking off in the 1800s and after forcing all the locals in that region to work, which lead to most of their deaths, they started “recruiting” read kidnapping people from the inner regions. They would walk them across the desert to the water and force these people to dive meters deep for pearls. This tree has been carved out enough to offer some relief from the harsh sun. Boab trees liter the landscape with their unique shapes and odd expanded trunks. These beautiful trees look dead and void of life but actually capture an incredible amount of water while also being able to regenerate growth and continue to live when carved out like this one above.

From there we drove onward to Windjana Gorge. Ridiculously this name is actually not even the correct name, the white British man misunderstood what people were saying, and instead of correcting it we just keep on pronouncing it this way. The local Bunuba people call this area Wandjina and it is a spiritual place where creation spirits reside. This 100m tall gorge is unaccessible during the wet season as the river rises from the sanding ground we walk on to the tops of the trees.

This landmass used to be a reef at the bottom of the ocean. Standing there looking up at the scaling rocks with eagles flying high above our heads it is impossible to envision. Considering the number of reefs I have swam in this year looking at something from the below angle instead of the above angle is wild. Nature can make you feel so small it is beautiful.

After a quick lunch we head further into the park to Tunnel Creek. This Devonian reef continues along the entire drive and the red dirt leads us past the scattered boab trees and bushes. We get to the entrance hidden between massive boulders and scale them towards the entrance. We were told to wear our hiking boots, bathing suits and torches. Truly the oddest outfit combination you can imagine. The first crossing normally has water up until your ankles but it has been a particularly wet dry season and the water is above your head. We brace ourselves for the cold and dark water that silently drifts in front of us.

Entrance to Tunnel Creek

Our tour guide tries to hype us up by saying “how is the water??” our response is supposed to be “refreshing! invigorating! revitalizing!” not bloody cold. Such a stark change from the sweltering heat outside. We swim across and climb the bank on the other side excited to continue through this dark underground cavern through a former ocean reef. The crossings vary from knee height water to little streams. In the distance we see red dots glittering along the walls. Our guide informs us that those are the fresh water crocodiles or freshies as the Aussies call them. They will keep to themselves if we stay to the path and don’t trap them in any streams. I am happy with that plan.

Underground hiking gear: head lamp, swim suit, boots

As we cross she calls out a stream of water falling down the wall over a stalagmite forming. These take literal millennia to form but she says we can swim over and touch the falling water. We plunge back into the dark unknown water and tread over to the wall. The water is warm! We enjoy the water and laugh at the underground waterfall we are swimming in. Australia truly has it all.

Underground waterfalls

We continue onward and see a large gap in the rock where the sun gushes through. As we approach we see there is a lake just beyond. We climb over some more rocks and slowly lower ourselves into the water always a little fearful of what may be waiting underneath. The serenity and peace of this area is stunning.

The return trip goes quickly as we squish our way through the streams, rivers, sandy paths, and eventually climb back over the rocks to the hot sun reminding us that the cool underneath temperatures are not the reality out here.

Swimming in hiking boots

The bus ride back goes quickly as the boab trees pass us and we bump along the red dirt road. The sun sets in the distance and leaves the sky a purple orange hue and eventually we find the highway again. What I got was only a taste of this region and it was more wild, unique, and incredible than I could have imagined. I absolutely see why people brave the Gibb River road to explore the mysteries waiting.

Red Dirt Roads of WA

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