Travelling in the Kimberley – road conditions

The Kimberley is one of Australia’s great destinations for a holiday. From spectacular beaches, beautiful gorges, wonderful waterfalls and stunning scenery of mountains, grassy plains and boab trees, the Kimberley offers something for everyone. Travellers, tourists, families, campers and caravanners and backpackers are all catered for with a choice of activities to indulge in and accommodation options to suit all budgets.

As well as all these choices, the Kimberley also has ideal weather over the dry season months between May and October with warm daytime temperatures to entice travellers away from the cold weather of southern Australia.

Travelling in the Kimberley is an adventure as few roads are sealed. You need to be prepared for all types of road conditions across the gravel and sometimes sandy roads. Of course you could always stick to the bitumen between Kununurra, Wyndham, Derby and Broome, but you would miss out on all the top highlights that the Kimberley has to offer.

John and I have just completed another Kimberley adventure, which we thoroughly enjoyed. What we didn’t enjoy was the state of some of the unmade roads due to the amount of traffic that is using these roads. At times this fact turned our adventure into something that was more like a battle. 

Roads in poor condition

The Gibb River Road is the main access to all the top highlights of the Kimberley. In the east from the Great Northern Highway near Kununurra, 665 kilometres to Derby in the west, it is unsealed over most of its length. Sealed sections are growing at each end and there are small bitumen strips where the road gradient is steep across the mountain ranges along the way. 

Puncture on the Gibb River Road, Kimberley

Puncture on the Gibb River Road

Although the road is graded regularly, the road can be in poor condition. On our recent trip we found it was heavily corrugated and deteriorating, particularly between Ellenbrae and Home Valley, due to the popularity of this road with 4 wheel drivers, caravanners and 4 wheel drive tour buses.

As was the Kalumburu Road and the Mitchell Falls road, so, as we were travelling with a couple with caravan in tow, we stopped at Drysdale River Station and opted not to travel north. Unfortunately, this meant we didn’t get to one of the most outstanding highlights of the Kimberley – Mitchell Falls. This was a huge disappointment, so John and I took a flight from Drysdale Station, that included Mitchell Falls, the Prince Regent River and the coastline between. Superb!

Bungle Bungle Beehive Formations

Beehive formations of Purnululu National Park

Unfortunately, the condition of the access road to World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park was very poor. This has always been a slow drive, the road is narrow with tight corners on hilly terrain, but add to that serious corrugations and large holes in the surface, plus heavy traffic and it was a very uncomfortable drive.

Once inside the national park, the road conditions improved and driving between the spectacular highlights of Echidna Chasm in the north of the park and Cathedral Gorge and the beehives of the south was much easier and more comfortable.

Roads in good condition

Cape Leveque Road - reducing tyre pressures

Letting air out of the tyres on the Cape Leveque Road

In contrast, the Cape Leveque road was in very good condition. I remembered this road from our previous trip as the worst set of corrugations for around 100 kilometres that we had ever driven on. Not so this time – there were some rough patches of course – but a much more comfortable drive overall.

The Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek road was another that was a comfortable drive. Due to unexpected circumstances, John and I were on this road returning to Windjana camp ground from Tunnel Creek as the sun was setting. While we are always careful on unmade roads, the only concern that we had to watch out for were the wallabies as they came out to forage. The road was very good.

 

Tunnel Creek is an unusual experience and requires a torch and shoes for walking across rocks and through the permanent pools of the creek. The tunnel is 750 metres long and pitch dark, hence the need for a torch. Approximately half way along, the roof has collapsed, allowing daylight into the dark interior. At one stage the tunnel was the hideout of the Aboriginal freedom fighter, Jandamarra.

It is surprising what can be found in Tunnel Creek after an adventurous rock scramble to find the entrance. Stalactites can be found in alcoves and adorning some walls, bats might be spotted and we spotted the red eye shine of freshwater crocodiles under one of the small waterfalls.

At the end, the creek flows out of the tunnel to be fringed by trees as it meanders through the range. From here the adventurous have to walk back through the tunnel, re-emerging into the daylight to scramble over the rocks once more to return to the car park. It was at this spot that John and I disturbed a snake, which moved too quickly for a positive sighting to get out of our way!

Cadjeput Waterhole, Mornington Station

Cadjeput Waterhole on Mornington Station

Another road that was very pleasant to drive on was the access road to Mornington Wilderness Camp. The road follows the eastern edge of the King Leopold Ranges, with peaks lining the landscape, with dry creek beds and boab trees amongst the grassy plains. A long drive of over 80 kilometres, it was a pleasurable and easy drive.

Finally …

Be prepared for road conditions to change with each season, what was good in one year might suffer serious damage over the next wet season. It is wise to have your vehicle in tip top condition, lower tyre pressures when driving on unmade roads, find out road conditions from local sources and visitor information centres, talk to other travellers who have used the roads and drive carefully. You can see the Kimberley beauty highlights in our DVD Lure of the Kimberley.

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