This is the second entry covering my ten-day outback adventure around Western Australia’s Gibb River Road and the remote Kimberley region. Catch up with the first three days of our trip here!
DAY 4: MANNING & GALVANS GORGES, AMONG OTHER INCIDENTS
When I saw their faces, my heart sank.
We had just arrived at Manning Station at the end of our third day on the Gibb River Road, one of Australia’s most legendary outback tracks. As I rummaged through the back of the car getting ready to set up camp, I caught Jadine and Woody out of the corner of my eye. They were standing by the hood of the car, quietly staring toward the same point on the ground. Immediately, I knew: we had a flat tire.
The situation was practically inevitable. In comparison to all of the whole vehicles abandoned on the side of the dusty road, a single flat was a small and routine price to pay. Still, the damage stung. Looking back, I think that we all wanted to be those people, the kind who could take on 660 kilometers of four-wheel driving in a foreign country without suffering even so much as a punctured tire.
Three days in, the Gibb had already won.
Eating our pasta around the fold-out card table that night, we were, for the first time since we’d left Broome, completely discouraged. Changing the tire was easy enough. What worried us was whether we could get the tire fixed and how expensive it might be in the middle of the outback. Everyone we’d met so far warned us that the next half was the roughest stretch of the whole road; trying it without a spare was, we knew, a bad idea. Suddenly, every difficult thing we’d heard about the Gibb seemed very, very real.
We woke up early the next day, recharged and resolved to sorting out the car first thing. Unfortunately, we didn’t get off to a great start changing the tire. After a half-hour kneeling in the dirt trying to adjust the jack supplied by the car rental company, we realized that it was broken, impossible to fit under the car.
It could have been a small disaster. We were doing the Gibb at the end of the season and often drove hours without seeing even a single other vehicle. Had we encountered our flat on the road instead of at camp, the wait almost definitely would have forced us to depend on our extra water and food supplies until help came.
Luckily, we were at the station. When we asked another camper if we could borrow a jack, he not only supplied one but came over and helped Woody with the job. Jadine, meanwhile, had talked to a family staying the next campsite over who clued us in on the one and only tire center on the Gibb, which just so happened to be both highly reputable and very close.
With a little help from fellow travelers, we’d drawn some luck out of our setback. Finally, we were free to get back to what we’d came for: exploring.
Manning Gorge is one of the Gibb’s grandest stops. The hike there begins at a river just beyond the station campgrounds, which you can cross by either boat or swimming. As refreshing as a pre-walk swim sounded, we were carrying bags and cameras and opted for the boat. From there, the hike into the gorge took a little over an hour. Passing through rocky, scrub-specked hills, the walk was both one of the hottest and most beautiful of all the gorges we visited along the Gibb.
The flies were the only real hassle of the hike. They were incessant, swarming around our faces, buzzing into our ears and clinging to our sweat. They were, for all ten days of the trip, our greatest enemy. Nothing tried our patience more, not even that morning’s flat tire.
The gorge was worth the flies and then some. Manning was more than any of us had expected, a long stretch of orange and grey outcroppings surrounding the kind of bright, clear swimming hole that dreams are made of, particularly those dreams you have after hiking in hundred-degree heat for a couple of hours. We’d earned that glorious swim.
Just around the corner, we found another picture-perfect swimming hole. A large waterfall flows into the pool here, but this late into the dry, it had slowed to a slow, shimmering trickle. Besides the three of us, they were only two other people relaxing in the entire gorge. It astounds me again and again in Western Australia, the way you can find yourself in the most spectacular places with almost no one at all. It’s absolutely surreal.
Leaving the gorge meant a return to reality, flies and all. After the long walk back, we backtracked down the Gibb to the mechanic to have our tire patched up. I could hardly have been less excited to trade in our swimming hole from heaven for a couple of hours sitting at a dusty mechanic’s, but as it turned out, it wasn’t really worth dreading.
Neville is an absolute gem. He runs Over the Range Tyre & Mechanical Repairs with real hospitality, and as easily as he could overcharge people being the only such mechanic on the Gibb, he charges only what he needs. While he fixed up our tire, we checked out the photo albums of his travels around the Kimberley, had ourselves a PB & J lunch and signed the guestbook. The tire was fixed in no time, and we’d actually had fun. Who would have guessed?
Just like that, we were back on the road. We made a quick stop at Adcock Gorge on Neville’s recommendation, but its beauty hadn’t lasted through the dry quite like Manning’s. After a few minutes looking for critters around the lilypads, we left for Galvans Gorge.
Galvans was like a playground. We swam and scrambled across rocks, played on the rope swing and jumped from low ledges into the cool swimming hole. Eventually, a couple of the guys decided to shake things up by jumping off the top of the gorge instead, from a cliff at least twelve meters high. At first it looked crazy, but after they’d pulled it off, it was irresistible. I couldn’t leave without having a go.
We left Galvans feeling as high as we had low the night before and hit the road with our adrenaline pumping, a free campsite mapped out en route to the next day’s destination.
The campsite, unfortunately, turned out not to be a campsite. Neither was the next.
After a couple hours of driving, we found ourselves on the road with the sun setting and nowhere to stay. On the Gibb, driving at night isn’t exactly advisable: the road conditions are rough and unpredictable, and there are heaps of stray cattle and wallabies besides.
Still, we didn’t have a choice.
With Woody at the wheel, we drove on, looking for every camping option on our maps, craning our necks and straining to watch the road. Again and again, our choices didn’t pan out. Finally, after what felt like hours of driving, we found Ellenbrae Station. When we pulled in, Larissa greeted us warmly and directed us to the campground, not at all bothered by our late arrival. After a long, tense night, the warm vibes at Ellenbrae were exactly what we needed.
Outside of our tent, we laughed off the drive over dinner. A couple of shooting stars streaked through the bright sky, and not long after, we curled into our sleeping bags and passed out.
It had been a long day.