Gibb River Road (GRR) – Broome to Windjana Gorge
Rising pretty early for me (I’m getting better) my 1st job was to acquire a container for extra fuel for the Gibb River Road (GRR), a 660km long unsurfaced former cattle route through The Kimberley Region of Western Australia. Walking into the BP Garage across the road from the YHA in Broome they sold 10 & 20 litre jerry cans, so I decided to plum for the 20 litre so I wouldn’t have to worry about fuel at all and would be foot loose & fancy free to do all the off-road exploring I so desired. The only problem would be fitting it on the old girl….
In the end the extra fuel perched pretty nicely on the back of the bike, leaving just enough room for me to squeeze into the saddle. It was actually pretty comfortable as it provided a more rigid & substantial backrest.
With my extra fuel I was all set for the GRR adventure and wasted no time setting off. Well, after a quick stop at Subway that is for breakfast and a take-out lunch. Derby was 2.5 hrs from Broome and near the start of the GRR, so I stopped there to top-up my fuel, buy a map of the GRR (thought that may be a good idea!) and look at the infamous Boab Prison Tree used as a rest point for police and chained Aboriginal prisoners en-route to Derby for sentencing – poor buggers.
The start of the GRR is surfaced, which came as a pleasant surprise, but soon turns into corrugated red iron oxide rich dirt interspersed with creek crossings, kangaroos, cattle and occasional grey nomad throwing gravel in my face by not slowing down – thanks!
Actually, in a moment of good fortune after riding with my visor up for a while in the hot northern WA sun, I closed it for no particular reason, and a few seconds later a bird flew directly into the visor; a bird shaped scar across my face would have hurt us both quite a lot. That now brings my unfortunate wildlife count to 3: 1 wild fowl and 2 birds (another bird flew into my leg a few days earlier, for some crazy reason).
The first diversion of interest was called Windjana Gorge, a 3.5 km gorge carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. Here an ancient coral reef over 300 million years old stands proud of the surrounding plains up to 2km deep. Shortly after turning off into the excess road (which is 20km long) I came across a car that had recently turned over onto its roof. Luckily the 2 passengers were not hurt and a bus load of people had stopped to help. With nothing for me to help with, I rode on, somewhat slower than the 80kmph I had been doing. After another couple of miles I came across another incident, this time it was a BMW R1200GS rider with a flat tyre.
Goeff was a pilot for Quantas who had decided to take 4 years off – nice job if you can get it! – and was riding around Australia on his Beemer. His brand new TKC 80 tyre (only just bought in Broome) had a long split in the sidewall which his tubeless repair plugs were too small to seal. Luckily I had a spare inner tube for him, and he had some homebrew bourbon, so it all worked out well in the end.
Once Geoff was fixed we rode down to Windjana Gorge and set up camp against one of the most beautiful backdrops I have ever had the fortune to camp at.
Then we heard the gorge calling and I needed a swim, so we set off on the short walk through a gap in the ancient reef and into Windjana Gorge herself.
I had heard there were lots of fresh water crocodiles in the gorge, or ‘Freshies’, but had also heard it was OK to swim with them, so long as there weren’t too many (it’s the much larger ‘Salties’ you need to worry about). Having only seen a couple, I took the plunge, and hallelujah! was it nice!
After a couple of warm up drinks back at camp we were just contemplating starting the camp stove for some classic camp beans when 3 lovely people camped across from us, Gwen, Ian and Carmel, invited us both round for a sophisticated dinner of wine and sausages, which was just what the doctor had ordered.
Gibb River Road (GRR) – Windjana to Mt Barnett Roadhouse
After rising early around 6am I walked down to Windjana Gorge again with Geoff to see the sunrise – how romantic! – but it turned out you couldn’t see it from the gorge (duff info from my tour guide contact), so I walked back to start the long process of packing up and squeezing everything back onto the bike. Despite carrying too much stuff, I am pleased the way the extra 20 litres of fuel has perched nicely on the stern, and I don’t really notice the extra weight too much.
Geoff, professional camper that he is, was packed up well before me, and could have done so twice again before I was ready. Then we said our farewells as he set off to rejoin the surfaced Great Northern Highway to the south after deciding not to risk his damaged front tyre on the GRR. I of course, had other work to attend to – completing the GRR on the old girl.
After a nourishing breakfast of my soggy Subway sandwich (that was supposed to be yesterday’s lunch) I set off towards the next target, Bells Gorge, one that I’d heard was one of the best.
Close to the Windjana Gorge turn-off I came across an old friend of mine, Queen Victoria’s Head silhouetted against the morning sun.
The access road to Bells Gorge off the GRR was 39km long and passed through Silent Grove Camp Ground, which also looked a very nice spot to camp. The access road had lots of sharp looking small rocks in the latter stages so I slowed down so as not to risk any disasters. Previously the road had been relatively good and I often cruised at speeds between 80 – 100kmph.
Then came the first of 3 dodgy looking creek crossings. I must admit I hate creek crossings as I know if the worst happened and the bike slipped and fell it could suck water into the engine and ruin the engine. This is why all bikes have an engine ‘kill switch’ on the handlebars so you can avoid such a disaster if you’re falling…
The trouble with creek crossings is that you can’t see what’s under the muddy water, and even if you can it worries you more as you see the uneven, rutted bottom you’re about to try and ride over! Usually I wade through suspicious looking crossings first to check the depth, but this time I didn’t need to as soon a car came through and I saw it wasn’t as deep as it looked.
After making all 3 creek crossing without incident I eventually arrived at Bells Gorge; and what an amazingly beautiful sight it was! Well, take a look for yourself:
I think Bells Gorge is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and I enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing 2 hours there, swimming, eating lunch and soaking up the peace & tranquillity.
On the way back to the GRR I decided to film one of the creek crossings on my GoPro. And yes, Sod’s Law had it that my bike stalled in half way across. Luckily she started again straight away and I rode to safety with only soaking wet boots as casualties, as it was deep enough for water to flow in over their tops. I’ve noticed lately that my bike does not idle properly and keeps cutting out as I slow down. Maybe something has affected the idle control; I hope she makes it to Darwin!
My next stop was Galvins Gorge where I ran out of fuel and had to top-up with some of my extra 20 litres. I’d actually gone just over 300km on a full tank, which was better than I expected.
Galvins Gorge was a short walk that led to a nice clearing with a waterfall and aboriginal artwork painted on the gorge walls. Some people were admiring them, but I thought it looked as though a primary school kid had drawn them yesterday with a piece of chalk. Take a look:
Back at the car park a kindly couple in a caravan noticed I was in need of a nice cup of tea and perched me down for a brew and a chat – lovely!
I rolled into Mt Barnett Roadhouse, the only unleaded fuel stop on the GRR, at 16:30 after a fantastic day riding and gorge exploring. After filling up (and buying some chips I couldn’t resist when I saw them next to the cash register in a hot cabinet – good sales technique!) I threw up the tent and set off to see Manning Gorge whose trail begun in the campground.
I saw a sign saying the trail was 5km return long and to allow at least 3.5hrs for the hike there & back. It was already 17:00 (30 mins to sunset) but I thought, like at Karijini, the hiking times were over inflated and aimed towards the hordes of elderly visitors that descend upon the area every day, and I thought I would be able to make it before sunset. Also, the trail was well marked and there was a full moon. So, I set off jogging in my flip flops well prepared with my board shorts and camera.
The start of the trail is actually pretty cool because you have to pull yourself across a lake in a boat fixed to a rope spanning the lake.
After a while it became apparent the trail was rockier and longer than I thought, but I’d come this far so I pressed on the catch a glimpse of the gorge in twilight.
When I eventually arrived, the gorge looked magical in the rapidly fading light, with lots of soft sand for kids to play in, and beautifully clear water to swim in under a waterfall. However, I thought if you only had to do one, Bells Gorge was the nicer of the two.
After a quick stay I again set off flip-flop jogging on my way back, hoping I wouldn’t get lost and have to sleep amongst the venomous snakes and spiders I’d heard so much about; but at least it was warm!
With the sun dropped like a stone, as it does towards the equator, it was soon dark but the sky was clear and the full moon lit my way, to a point, but didn’t stop me frequently stubbing my flip-flopped toes on rock and boulders I didn’t see. I certainly don’t recommend anyone attempting this at home, as on a couple of occasions I thought I’d gone the wrong way out into the wilderness and even experienced a teaspoon of mild (controlled) panic.
After what seemed like forever I made it back to the campsite alive and headed straight for the shower with my wet and dirty clothes for a good washing, including my motorcycle boots which were still soaked in Bell Creek muddy water. My bike then assumed its night-time work as a clothes horse.
After my shower I fired up the old camp stove and set about cooking dinner, a delicious pot mess stew, and relaxed by the fire.
Mt Barnett RH to Kununurra
Having seen apparently the best of the GRR gorges I decided to put some distance under my belt and spend most of the day riding to Kununurra. However, first I had 3 more river crossings to attend to.
After my bike conked out in the middle of Bells Creek yesterday (and I escaped with only wet feet) I would be lying if I said the 3 river crossing today weren’t the cause of some nervousness. My bike is so heavy loaded up it would be a huge pain to pick it up if it slipped over on some underwater rut or boulder. Car drivers don’t normally understand that 2 wheels are a lot more unsteady than 4 when you can’t see what you’re riding over.
The last and longest of these crossings was the Pentecost River, and is the one feared most by all motorcyclists that attempt to cross it. Luckily, with a handful of constant revs to counter my worsening idle problem, I made the crossing in one go, but fortunately the river was not too deep.
With the bulk of the GRR now completed, I stopped for lunch overlooking a wonderful panoramic view of the eastern Kimberley. I’ve decided fajitas are one of the best camping/travelling foods you can have, and cheese and baked bean fajitas make for a very tasty lunch. Perhaps I should patent them?
Battle damaged but still functioning, I rolled into Kununara late afternoon and treated myself to a proper bed in a single room in the town backpackers. Sleeping in a proper bed after a few days camping is always like heaven to me!
However, before bed I had some research to do on my idle problem. It had now become so bad the bike always cut out whenever I slowed down.
After a good old Google Search I discovered my problem was more than likely an Idle Stepper Motor clogged up with dirt and dust from all the dirt roads I’ve been riding. WA is renowned for its ‘bull dust’, or very fine red dust that gets everywhere, and added to the Tiger’s well known propensity to clog, this was the likely cause.
I decided to have a look at it in the morning.