FRIDAY 14 JULY WYNDHAM TO JACKS WATERHOLE 193kms
We got up before dawn to drive back up The Bastion and look at the sun rise over the Gulf. It was alright, but not stunning.
We seemed to take ages to pack up and did not get away until 9.30. It was a very hot and sweaty job too.
Refuelled at Wyndham – diesel here was 2.8cpl cheaper than in Kununurra, at 98cpl.
I felt fine about leaving the van at the caravan park.
Drove back down the highway again, for 52kms, to the junction with the Gibb River Road, and turned west onto this.
The Gibb River Road evolved over some time. It has become one of the classic dirt road drives of Australia. It closes in the Wet season and for much of the Dry can have wet stream crossings. Depending on when it was graded, it can be quite rough. A number of the cattle properties along its length have set up camp areas for travellers.
The route of the road follows the explorer Frank Hann’s 1898 route from the west, as far as where Mt Elizabeth now is. In 1901, the Brockman expedition came from the Wyndham end as far as Mt Elizabeth, then went north. They named the Pentecost and Durack Rivers.
From 1914, on, the pastoral settlement occurred and leases were taken up. Until the Beef Roads scheme of the 1960’s, the road was a rough track between Derby and Mt House, then it was improved for cattle trucks, and named the Gibb River Road, because it reached as far as the Gibb River. In the 1970’s, it was pushed through to the Wyndham end and also a road was formed north to the Kalumburu Mission.
It felt great to be on the Gibb again – finally! We drove this in ’93, from the other direction, and without a great deal of time to linger at its attractions.
It was a pity that it was so hazy from all the dry season burning in the region – it would affect the quality of my photos.
There was quite a bit of traffic on the road, until we passed the turnoffs to Emma Gorge and El Questro – obviously, people go that far and no further, even day tripping from Kununurra.
We kept encountering a tour group in a 4WD – a nice group. We saw them at Wyndham yesterday, and at the Gibb River Road turnoff this morning. John had flagged him down, just out of Wyndham, to tell him that one of his back wheels was very wobbly – he said he’d had it checked and it was ok. The group members are paying $1600 each, for an 8 day trip from Darwin to Broome!
Almost 60kms along from the highway, we came to the main obstacle to travellers on the Gibb – the crossing of the Pentecost River. As one would expect, after a generous Wet season, it was quite wide. Our last time here, in ’93, it had been dry and there was a mustering camp in the river bed!
This is one river crossing one does not walk to check depths first. There are very large saltie crocs live in the Pentecost – lots of them. It is also a place where I would never camp on the banks downstream from the crossing – though some do. El Questro is some distance upstream from here, by the river; we were camped there in ’93, in late June, when a good sized saltie was caught in the river pool below the main guest house.
We sat and watched some other vehicles do it – the route is clearly marked by rocks at the sides. It looked straightforward, although obviously a bit rocky, as vehicles crossing jiggled around a bit. It only looked to be about 45cms deep. We ploughed on through – yes, it was a bit rocky, but nothing major.
We stopped on the far side, to photo the crossing and the view back the way we’d come. The outlook back to the Cockburn Range was superb.
There was water draining out of the underside of Truck as John sat waiting for me!
After the crossing, the road climbed up a ridge and we stopped at the Cockburn lookout at the top, to look at the way we’d come. There was a vast panorama across the wide Pentecost valley, to the Cockburn Range behind. This section of the Gibb is undoubtedly really scenic.
A little further along the road, on a gentle corner, an oncoming rental 4WD that was going too fast, startled an eagle by the road side. it did not fly clear in time and was hit. It was horrible – feathers and pieces of eagle went everywhere. The bird was killed. It must have given the people a real fright, as it plastered across their windscreen. We certainly hoped so – it might have made them slow down after that. This incident highlighted what is actually the greatest hazard of the Gibb – other travellers going too fast. Overseas hirers of 4WD vehicles are the worst offenders.
After the Pentecost, the few stream crossings that we encountered were really just puddles, although the Bindoola Creek crossing was maybe 30cms deep, and edged with rock – presumably to keep travellers on a safe track through it, as there was a bit of a downstream drop off. The name of Bluey O’Malley’s crossing commemorates one of the pioneering drovers of the area.
We stopped by the road side just after Bindoola Creek, for lunch.
Then we continued on, to Jacks Waterhole, or Durack River Station.
The Sinnamon family held the Karunjie and Home Valley pastoral leases, until last year, when they sold to the Indigenous Land Corporation. In the 1970’s, when the Gibb River Road was realigned to pass close to the Durack River in one section, Sinnamon set up a tourist operation at a large waterhole on the river, calling it Durack River Station.
Although the buildings at Jacks Waterhole look like they were once a station homestead complex, there was never one here.
At the office/store structure, we booked in. It had a cement floor and corrugated iron walls – these had marks on which recorded the levels reached in the ’97 and 2000 Wet season floods – about a metre up the walls! Apparently, the ’97 flood was a bit higher, but came up and went down fast, whereas this year’s lasted longer. The German lady – half of the couple managing the camp area – said that it had not been fun to come back after the floods to clean out all the mud. I bet! The location might be a great one from a tourist viewpoint, but it is very prone to flooding.
The waterhole was a lovely place – a long, tree fringed pool of the Durack River.
We paid $14 a night to camp here – no power or formal sites, of course, but a newish corrugated iron amenity block with flush toilets and hot showers – if one wanted hot, in this weather!
We cruised around the tracks in the camping area – all quite informal – and found ourselves a lovely spot to camp. There was no shade, but rocky outcrops and wet season erosion channels ensured no one else would be able to set up near to anti-social us! We had a brilliant view down over the waterhole, and it was not too far to walk up to the amenity block, on a bit of a terrace above us.
It was early afternoon when we’d reached Jacks Waterhole, so we were able to take our time, setting up camp with the big tent. Hoped that the occasional cow grazing nearby would not come too close to the tent!
Then we sat and relaxed, looking out over the view. It was really peaceful and pleasant.
The 4WD tour group we’d been encountering, were camped here too, and its members were swimming in the waterhole. I was not sure that I’d trust it to be saltie free! The camp manager had said there were barramundi in there – I’ve always believed that where there are barra, there can also be salties!
There were few other campers when we arrived, but there was a steady stream of arrivals through the afternoon. We were later surprised that three lots came in after dark, including one 4WD, towing a popup Jayco camper – at 9pm! Travelling the GRR in the dark seems rather silly to me – missing all of the wonderful scenery. That late lot had much difficulty finding somewhere to set up, in the dark, and in the end gave up and parked on a track. They then seemed to have much difficulty getting the top of the camper to wind up – not really built for these roads!
Later in the afternoon, John radphoned sister H. When he’d finished, I checked in with the VKS Base at Alice Springs, to let them know our location and intentions.
Tea was curried leftover sausages, rice, followed by melon.
The evening was pleasantly cool. We needed the doona.
During the night, there were lots of curlew calls in the distance – nice.