A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out: Traveling Solo at 63 for Nine Months to New Zealand and Australia…on a Budget!
A True Outback Adventure On One of the Greatest Roads in Australia: The Gibb River Road.
Since blowing up my life and walking off into the unknown eight months ago, I can say I have, miraculously, been on a trajectory of synchronicity.
Before leaving for my Auvergne Station adventure, my new Kununurra friend Jude( who also loaned me a car for two months) asked if I wanted to go camping for six days on the Gibb River Road when I returned. Months earlier, I had looked into the possibility of a tour of this region only to find out that the cheapest package was over $2,500.00 and all tours originated in Broome eleven hours away. I figured you can’t do everything, and then…BOOM! …out of the blue ( “The blue” is a synonym for God, higher power, the Divine etc….) this invitation appeared.
The Gibb River road was created in 1950 to make way for “road trains” or semi trailers carrying live cattle to abattoirs. The Gibb is famous for its two lane, corrugated, dirt road that cuts a 440 mile (660km) line across the Kimberley from Derby to Kununurra.
Jude and her husband Ian came to the Kimberley region, specifically, Halls Creek, as young teachers, eventually moving to Kununurra, and settling there. Twenty-six years ago, they made this iconic journey with their young daughter. This is a woman who knows camping in the wilderness, 4-wheeling over deep, rutted roads, crossing harrowing creeks, and packing a vehicle with such precision it takes your breath away. Armed with her Toyota Land Cruiser, two spare tires, camping gear, and plenty to eat, we drove three and a half hours our first day to Halls Creek for a visit and then proceeded west another hour to Mary Pool, a beautiful, free campsite for the night.
I’ve never done much camping, but I now consider it one of life’s great pleasures, especially in this remote and wild part of the world. The Milky way is visible here. The night sky is magic to behold… a super dome of stars that fire to the horizon.
The next morning we headed out to Fitzroy Crossing, got on the Gibb River Road, and made our way to Tunnel Creek National Park with its stunning, natural cave, and later continued to Windjana Gorge, the bottom of what was a tropical sea millions of years ago and is now a gorge of black and orange rock.
A walk in this valley is a little Jurassic Park-like. Plenty of fresh water crocodiles sun themselves by water, and it is hard to resist running your hands over the coiled remains of ancient, fossilized sea creatures etched into the gorge walls.
It was soon time to think about where to camp our second night as we headed to our next destination, Bell Gorge, when Jude pulled out an APT Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge brochure. APT Luxury Touring and Cruising started back in 1927 in Melbourne, Australia, and is still a family-owned business today. Their Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge, located on Indigenous-owned land, provides luxury accommodations for their group tours and to people like ourselves traveling in our own car. We figured we deserved this unique experience with all the comforts including fine dining, and ended up spending TWO nights(my treat). It was Amazing.
Bell Gorge, a short drive from the wilderness lodge, is a major and must-see attraction. After lounging (my favorite thing to do) and a late morning breakfast, we spent the better part of the day hiking, relaxing, and chatting it up with fellow travelers at Bell Gorge. One adventurous soul we met was a seventy-year-young woman touring with a 20- something backpacker group! The Gibb River Road hosts a myriad of travelers and traveling styles.
After two relaxing days, we were back on the road stopping at Galvan’s Gorge before making our way to the Mt. Barnett Road House and Manning Gorge campground for the night.
This Kimberley region truly is one of the last, real wilderness areas on earth, and part of what makes this trip so special is driving the dusty, red, rutted, two- lane road accessible only to 4WD vehicles. AUSTRALIA, NEVER NEVER PAVE THIS ROAD!
But I say this after I learned a couple of things from Jude, who traveled a lot with her engineer father. Faster is not better on these deeply grooved roads. A speed no more than 80km is recommended, and tire pressure should be at about 28-30PSI. If heading down a steep section of road and the caravan or trailer you’re hauling starts to sway back and forth, you step on the gas, which seems counter intuitive. You do not hit the brakes. Jude has come upon, more than once in this part of the world, accident scenes involving flipped caravans and the scattered remains of a retirement dream gone terribly wrong.
Road houses along the way are a place to refuel, fill water containers, buy snacks, and get local news about road and travel conditions. Since cell phone coverage isn’t available, it it also common to see notices tacked up on the wall, like the one I saw at the Mt. Barnett Road House, from worried family members back home who have not heard from their grey nomad parents for days. Uttered in any language it’s essential to: Be prepared!
On the fifth day we headed to Home Valley Station for a quick lunch on our loop back to El Questro Wilderness Park to camp for our last night. The now familiar Cockburn Range loomed again in the distance like some ancient fortress built by the Ancestor Beings of Dreamtime. It is just one of many vistas in this wildly remote part of the world that leaves an imprint of wonder on all who visit.
I’d been to the El Questro park on a day trip to Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge when I first arrived in Kununurra two months ago, and I was happy to visit a second time and camp. Since our needs were simple and required no plug-ins for electricity, we set up by a quiet creek under the stars.
The grande finale on the sixth and final day of our trip was a stop at Emma Gorge Resort down the road and part of the El Questro Wilderness Park for a hike to Emma Gorge followed by a relaxing lunch on the verandah at the Emma Gorge restaurant. How incredibly lucky I am! Or is it simply luck???
Remarkable opportunities like this just keep popping up all over the place like bright blue forget-me-not wildflowers after a spring rain. Because of my good fortune, I’ve been making a point each day to note all the things I’m grateful for in my life. It seems when you get on this joy and gratitude frequency, you radiate a positive energy that draws more positive things into your life, which in turn, make this Oh- so- fleeting life more fun.
To quote actor Jamie Foxx: “You better have fun. Because you’re going to be gone in a minute.”