Gibb River Rd
“The Gibb” runs 660km from near Wyndham in the east to Derby in the west of WA. – It’s one of two major roads which dissect the Kimberley region. The other is the fully sealed Great Northern Highway which runs a bit further south. The Gibb is mostly unsealed but with sealed sections at either end and on some of the hilly areas.
Being a government gazetted road doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always in good condition though. It usually gets 2 gradings per year and it depends very much on how long after the grader you use the road. That should change in the future – we came across several sections of road being upgraded but for the time being, failure to give it some respect can be a costly and frustrating experience.
Despite all that, it continues to be an attractive proposition for the adventurous with it’s beautiful landscapes of coloured ranges, gorges, rock pools, waterfalls and ancient aboriginal rock paintings.
Up until WW2 beef cattle in the Kimberley’s had to be exported by droving the herds to markets overland or via Wyndham and shipped out. Provisioning of the stations was done by using bullock and/or donkey teams. It all started to change when in 1948 an Air Beef Scheme started between Glenroy Station and Wyndham.There was an abattoir, freezing works and airstrip built on the station and the meat airfreighted twice a day to the coast before being shipped to the southern cities.
Between 1949 and 1956 a road was built across the Kimberley from Derby under a Commonwealth Goverment “Beef Roads Scheme” and administered by two shire councils. It was pretty rough. Then in 1966 the WA Main Roads Department took over its control and upgraded it, but it was still a one lane road and continued to be pretty rough. Then from the mid 2000s it was upgraded further into a properly formed 2-lane road. And at times – it can still be pretty rough.
Load: Above all else watch the weight of your load. Pretty much all problems can potentially stem from your vehicle or trailer being overloaded. You could also negate your insurance if you’re exceeding your vehicles weight limit and it’s so easy to do. Bull bars, winch, hood rack and other off-road essentials eat heavily into your vehicle’s load carrying capacity. Look underneath your vehicle and trailer to see how much “travel”you have with your springs after you’ve loaded up. If in doubt go to a local weighbridge and get your rig weighed. Check with your local 4WD shop about getting fitted with a GVM Upgrade kit. Make sure the company you choose can get their upgrade approved by your State Main Roads Department.
Caravans: Saw a couple of caravans but generally they aren’t a good idea for this road. Even specially designed off-road vans might be okay but you’ll still need to be careful to look after it. A couple of people with caravans seemed to be doing okay, but then again the road had recently been mostly graded. Many so-called off-roads vans are NOT.
Campers: Off-road campers may be okay but with a couple of conditions. Not every camper trailer sold as an off-roader will be as tough as the sales literature suggests, or even tough enough for this trip especially if you start going out on the non-gazetted roads or tracks. We learned this first hand with our own supposedly upmarket off-road trailer which had breakages. One was a broken weld line that when exposed was found to be only 1mm thick.
Another breakage was where the round axle connected to the flat wheel plate holding the wheel without any supporting gussets in place.
N.B: Seriously consider welding supports onto the frame e.g. across weld lines on the wishbones of independant leaf springs both top and bottom, and maybe put four right angled gussets (brackets) where the plate holding the wheel is connected to a round axle, to prevent lateral movement.
Vehicles: You might be able to take a 2WD vehicle but you run the risk of badly damaging your vehicle. Plus you won’t be able to take most, if not any of the side tracks to access interesting places. Best to go with a 4WD vehicle with plenty of clearance underneath.
Fit good springs and shockies. Standard shockies and 5 leaf springs are not likely to be enough. Pay attention to hood racks. Even the well known brands can fail. We saw three of them – all Rhino’s, one of which resulted in the smashing of the back window of the vehicle. Be careful not to overload hood racks and upset the vehicles centre of gravity.
Regularly check holding mounts and bolts e.g hood racks, running boards, bull bars, towing gear – everything. They’ll definitely shake loose over time. A high-lift jack is essential to supplement a good bottle jack. Forget the piddly little “wind up” jack that sometimes supplied as standard. Their lift capacity is limited.
Tyres: Dropping typre pressure can be important. It helps to “sponge” the shocks to the car and trailer frame and help give you a smoother ride. There is no “one size fits all” with tyre pressures. It depends on the size of your tyres and the load you are carrying. Pressure too high and you’ll feel every bump and shock – too low and you’ll cut the tyre sidewall or damage the rim. Driving in sand or loose red dust needs an even lower pressure but you’ll normally only find this issue once you’re off the main road and onto some of the tracks or beaches.
Driving: While having sturdy gear is important, more depends on the driver. Finding the “magic speed” gives you a balance between a reasonably comfortable ride and hardship to your vehicle. Try to work it so your tyres are absorbing at least some of the shocks and at the same time your shockies aren’t “bottoming out” and the springs aren’t flattening.
Go too fast and you can lose traction. Your tyres won’t be able to get a grip on the tops of the corrugations and you’ll slide around corners – a common cause for fatalities and injury – and an overloaded hood rack can pull you over. Go too slow and your springs and shock absorbers will be pounding up and down to their limits and soon enough will fail. If you elect to go really, really slow then expect to be showered with stones by passing cars and broken windscreen/s by people who don’t slow down or pass by too close. Never take it for granted that other drivers know what they are doing or are even paying proper attention.
Spares: Its easier to get something fixed IF you’ve got the parts – otherwise expect additional expense and delay from getting parts air freighted in. Before you leave home consider asking your mechanic to replace all belts and filters, but keep the old ones as spares if they are still useable. Have emergency supplies i.e. water, food and fuel. You may need to put out a fire or stay unexpectedly longer somewhere or they may be used to help others. You’ll often find a lot of goodwill and co-operation among fellow travellers so be helpful if you can. Carry at least 2 spare tyres for the vehicle AND for the trailer. Some of the branching tracks literally have sharp rocks sitting up in the middle of the road. Carry a good air-compressor. Cigarette lighter types won’t cut it.