Backpacking suggests a certain kind of independence, a lifestyle that’s all one-way tickets and wide-open spaces and solitary ephiphanies in paradisal places. Sometimes, backpacking lives up to exactly that kind of life-changing ideal — but just as often, like any other mode of travel, it’s reduced to following the crowd.
The truth is that while we’re all on our own journeys, backpacking can get repetitive. Hit happy hour in any hostel in Australia and you’re bound to hear the same stories. From flying into Melbourne or Sydney to work and save up money (or, you know, spend it all!), to laboring at a farm for that ever-popular second-year visa, to partying up and down the East Coast in places like the Whitsundays and Byron Bay and Cairns, Australia’s backpacking scene definitely skews toward checking off a particular set of boxes.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, destinations don’t earn must-visit reputations without good reason. I’m of the camp that started off in Melbourne and remain steadfast in my love for the city; and while I may be one of those rare types who didn’t road trip the East Coast, I have some pretty serious intentions to return in the not-too-distant future and see for myself what Queensland and New South Wales are all about.
Still, there are roads less traveled — and for me, they’re usually the ones that hit the hardest. When I think back on my year in Australia, few experiences rival the Gibb. Need convincing? Read on! Already planning your trip? Check out my guide here for everything you need to know about the Gibb, including what to pack and what to see.
1. It’s a road trip through Australia’s iconic Outback.
This is the stuff that Aussie travel dreams are made of. The Gibb River Road cuts a dusty, unsealed track nearly 700 kilometers long through the heart of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region. An old cattle-driving route, the Gibb remains, on the one hand, one of Australia’s most legendary outback road trips. On the other, it’s more accessible than ever — a perfect opportunity to get away from the backpacker mainstays and into the bush!
2. …but the landscape will challenge everything you think you know about the Outback.
Think sublime waterfalls, icy swimming holes, and lush, fern-filled gorges. Not quite how you pictured the Outback? Yeah, me neither. In between stretches of the flat, red, brush-swept landscape you’re more likely to imagine, we encountered true oases on the roads branching off the Gibb — and that was during the driest time of year!
3. It’s a truly off-the-grid adventure.
I relish the chance to disconnect when I travel — to slow down, pay attention and really, sincerely embrace the here and now. Road tripping the Gibb, we had no phone service, no internet, and no distractions — and while I suppose that some of the fancier stations along the Gibb might offer some internet access for a cost, anyone planning on camping or doing the Gibb on a backpacker budget is sure to have the same experience. Getting off the grid makes why we travel the priority — and really, could you want anything more out of a trip?
4. Explore the great outdoors.
Cheesy, yes, but I mean it — if the outdoors is your thing, this is your trip! Everyday on the Gibb is a new opportunity to hike to your heart’s content, scramble across rocks in sweeping gorges and cool off in the prettiest swimming holes you’ve ever seen. Even when you’re sitting in the car or relaxing at your campsite, the landscapes never cease to inspire.
5. The stars will blow your mind.
Speaking of relaxing at your campsite, we have to talk about the stars for a second here. The thing about road tripping in a place this remote is that there’s absolutely no light pollution. The stargazing, as you would guess, is incredible! Even only half-watching the sky one night, we caught several shooting stars outside our tent.
6. See Aussie wildlife — in the wild!
Few countries’ reputations are so synonymous with their wildlife as Australia’s. During our week on the Gibb, we saw wallabies, freshwater crocodiles and (my favorite!) flying foxes. Of course, that doesn’t include the saltwater crocs and snakes we didn’t see — not that I’m complaining!
7. It’s not all nature and wildlife — get to know the people, too!
From backpackers to Aussie families to grey nomads, the Gibb River Road draws a diverse set of travelers. It’s not just travelers you’ll meet, though — for me, some of the most interesting exchanges I had were with the Aussies who live in this remote region. Talking to the young couple running Ellenbrae Station and Neville, the tire god who saved our trip, really drove home for me both the tough realities and daily magic that living here means.
8. Celebrate Australia’s Aboriginal heritage.
Of course, we can’t mention the people who live in the Kimberley without talking about the first people to call this region home. Australia still has a long way to go in its attitude toward its indigenous citizens, who make up forty percent of the population here in the Kimberley region. While it would be easy to miss entirely the country’s Aboriginal heritage traveling in many parts of Australia, here, it is more often celebrated. The Boab prison tree outside Derby, for example, symbolizes a long history of injustice against Australia’s indigenous peoples, while Jandamarra, one of the country’s greatest Aboriginal heroes, made his last stand at Windjana Gorge. From historic sites like these to indigenous-run wilderness resorts like Cape Leveque to a number of arts and culture centers, the Kimberley offers myriad opportunities to celebrate Australia’s Aboriginal heritage.
9. The Kimberley is one of Australia’s least visited regions — and the Gibb is the perfect excuse to see more.
Is it cheating to count places not on the Gibb River Road as reasons to visit the Gibb River Road? I’m going to say no. The Kimberley is, hands down, one of the most magical places I’ve ever traveled, and I think the Gibb provides the perfect base trip for exploring the region. The road trip’s natural starting and ending points in Broome and Kununurra are very much worth visits in their own right, while more remote destinations like the UNESCO Heritage-listed Bungle Bungles and Kimberley coastline are natural extensions of any itinerary along the Gibb River Road.
10. Road trip like you’ve never road tripped before.
Well, you probably haven’t done it quite like this before. The Gibb is an unsealed road that requires four-wheel drive. The corrugations will rattle your teeth, and if you don’t get a flat tire, you can consider yourself lucky. Trust me — you’ll feel like you’re in the Outback! With limited stops for food, fuel, and water, it’s the kind of trip you really need to prepare for…but I’ll save those details for another post. If you’re keen to plan your own trip, here’s my guide with all the nitty gritty details – what you need to know, what to pack and what to see!