We survived the Gibb and made it to Derby but not without battle scars. The grinding noise has gotten worse and is now quite a chunky creak that I can really feel vibrating through the floor of the car. We creaked our way into the Derby caravan park and promptly started to look around to see what the problem was. It felt like the problem was at the front, given the strength of the vibration I can feel at my feet and the fact that I need to turn the steering wheel off centre to drive straight. Its’s like something in the steering is damaged. I asked a neighbour at the caravan park to walk along side the vehicle as I drove it around, listening for the noise. He immediately identified it as coming from the rear. I’ve been looking at the wrong end.
A look under the rear end had the problem quickly identified – a broken leaf spring.
The main leaf spring is broken. That can be pretty serious, since the rear axle isn’t really attached to the vehicle any more once the main leaf breaks. Luckily these leaf springs have “military wrap” where the secondary leaf wraps around the mount. Many leaf springs have this design. If the main leaf breaks it collapses onto the secondary leaf and the vehicle is still perfectly drivable. The handling goes off a bit because the leaf spring is no longer positively held captive onto the mount, it’s just resting on the second wrap. When the main leaf broke the rear axle shifted which then needed to be corrected with steering input to continue to drive straight. The technical term for this arrangement is “crabbing”. The off centre axle pulled the secondary leaf to one side and the big creaking noise was the secondary leaf grinding against the side of the mount housing.
Broome would be a good spot to replace the leaf spring. It’s a much bigger town than Derby and I’ve got a mate living there so have a spot I can park up and undertake repairs. We can make it to Broome with a broken leaf spring, can’t we? What about via some offroading to a fishing spot called Telegraph Pool? Fishing is pretty important. I think we can do it. To be sure, I sprayed some oil (also known as “tool box in a can”) onto the problem area.
It was relieving to get the problem identified and mitigated with spray oil. Now we could go out and enjoy Derby. First thing was a food shop. After around 4 weeks on the Gibb River Road we were running pretty low on supplies. We walked around town doing the heritage trail checking out all the old buildings and stuff. During our travels we went to two pubs. First the fancy but character lacking Spinifex Hotel. Then the complete opposite – the Boab Inn. We had some coffee and cakes whilst interpreting fine art at the Jila Cafe and walked the Derby Jetty.
The hilux has a problem that appeared on the way out of Bell Gorge. There’s an intermittent grinding noise and I have to turn the steering wheel off centre to drive straight. It feels like the issue lies in the front end and, not wanting it to develop into something serious that would have us stranded, I jacked her up at the Windjana Gorge camping area and took the front wheels off to make a diagnosis. I couldn’t find anything wrong so I put it all back together hoping the problem will reveal itself later in a gentle way. We still had maybe around 100km of bad corrugations to endure before we’d reach the bitumen then a further 75km to Derby where we can get a diagnosis and repair. We’ll take a punt and see if we make it.
Windjana Gorge is notable for all the fresh water crocs that reside there. It’s one of the best spots to see them. The gorge itself and the walk through is also pretty good.
Tunnel Creek is great. Walking through the tunnel from one side of the Napier Ranges to the other is a unique experience. It’s completely dark in the tunnel and you get to wade through water and negotiate obstacles via torch light. At the far end of the tunnel there’s some aboriginal rock art and a huge fig tree.
The Gibb River Road gorge action ramps up heading west from the Kalumburu turnoff. We visited Barnett Gorge, Manning Gorge, Adcock Gorge, Galvin Gorge and Bell Gorge. They’re all unique and the walks in and out all have their own interesting features. Visiting all of them is worth it if you got the time, otherwise visit any of them, they’re all great.
We struck it rich with a nice haulage of a few different bush tuckers. We got gubinge (terminalia ferdinandiana), the worlds richest source of vitamin C. We found some other similar looking terminalia, I’m not 100% sure of the species, but I suffered no ill effects from eating it. I reckon it might be terminalia carpentariae.
Gubinge (left) tastes acidic, slightly sweet, with a hint of fruit flavour like plum or something. The other ones tasted similar but less juicy, more fibrous.
On the walk into Adcock Gorge there’s heaps of dogs nut. Also called dysentery bush, technical name grewia retusifolia. Fortunately the common name is due to the appearance and not the taste. It tastes a bit like cooked apple.
Kapok trees were in bloom during our cross of the Gibb River Road. The petals are edible. They don’t have much flavour but have an interesting crispy texture.
Driving out of Bell Gorge I noticed a funny knocking / grinding sensation coming from the hilux. And I had to keep the steering wheel slightly off centre to drive straight. What could it be? Are we about to become yet another victim of the Gibb River Road?
King Edward River camping area is close to the intersection of Kalumburu Road and Mitchell Falls Road. There’s some well preserved aboriginal rock art in the area which we checked out. It’s a top spot for swimming, with a long, clear, sandy bottomed pool with nice easy entry / exit. The water temp is pretty good too. We stopped by for a swim when we passed on our way back from Mitchell Falls / Port Warrender. Then we stayed again on our return from Kalumburu. We couldn’t resist more bone jarring corrugations so we trekked all the way up to northernmost community in Western Australia.
Kalumburu is a nice town. It’s neat and clean, the locals are friendly and lots of nice kids abound in the afternoons playing sport and stuff. The camping area at the mission is pretty good too – shady, clean and grassy. We stayed there for a couple of nights and then headed up towards Honeymoon Bay, exploring a few of the fishing spots and side tracks along the way. We stayed one night by some old shack where I caught another cod and also found some nice bush tucker. It’s a terminalia species, I think terminalia cunninghamii, common name pindan walnut. Tastes like almond.
We passed through McGowan Island camping area then proceeded to Honeymoon Bay for a couple of nights stay. I caught another cod! That’s 4 cod in 3 fishing sessions, prior to which I had never caught cod. My speciality species used to be catfish but now I’m specialising in much more delicious cod. We got to share in some oysters too thanks to our friendly neighbours.
Honeymoon Bay is a good fishing spot. There’s a lot of activity at the right time of day, with fish feeding everywhere. I got several strikes and a couple of hookups that failed to land and would have loved to try another afternoon fishing session. However the powerhouse performance by the midges meant that Sharni ordered a prompt departure.
Kalumburu Road and Mitchell Falls Road I think have the biggest and best corrugations we’ve ever seen. There’s something about the type of material and size distribution of the gravel surface that makes it perfect for forming huge vehicle destroying corrugations. Whilst camped at Gibb River on the side of Kalumburu Road we witnessed the tow truck cross the causeway and come back with a vehicle on board quite a few times. On route we passed several broken down vehicles – 2 different vehicles with broken rear axles, another with probable cracked fuel line and another with a blown up engine. Towing to Derby or Kununurra costs many thousands of dollars and usually takes several days to get organised. Then the repairs are usually slow and expensive. Best bet if driving out here is let down your tyres to around 20psi and drive slowly.
The walk to Mitchell Falls is fun, passing a couple of smaller waterfalls, rock pools, a few water crossings and some rock scrambling and is not too long or arduous. The falls themselves are impressive but can only be viewed from a distant vantage point. I would have loved to get closer and maybe taken a dip in some of the intermediate pools.
Further up the Mitchell Falls Road is another nice rock pool called surveyors pool. That’s where the main tourist route finishes but the road continues north towards the coast to Port Warrender. A chap we talked to at Kununurra reckons Port Warrender has exceptional fishing so we thought we’d give it a go. It took us a good few hours to travel the 30km from Surveyors Pool to Port Warrender along the very rocky and hilly track. The couple we met on the side of the road a few nights before joined us. They left their caravan at Drysdale Station.
Port Warrender produced 2 x Cod and 1 Javelin Fish. Not bad but could have been better considering the hours we put in. The cod were fat and delicious and fed the whole party. Fishing around the water’s edge means enduring a few billion midges but the camp sites are elevated with only a few midges passing through. The landscape is vast, rugged and largely untouched. Combine this with such remote isolation and the place gives you the feeling of being a bit of an explorer or something.
Having visited El Questro, we’d already started the Gibb River Road on the previous post. But that bit was all bitumen. Now the ass pounding corrugations start. For years we’d heard of stories of broken vehicles and bruised asses on the Gibb River Road. Time for us to have a turn.
First stop was Home Valley Station, just a day visit to have a beer with a chap we met at El Questro and a walk up the lookout for sunset views of the Cockburn Ranges.
That night we stayed at a rest stop on the side of the road where we met a friendly couple in a caravan. They are travelling the same way as us so there’s a good chance we’ll meet them again further down the track. Next morning we didn’t need a coffee to give us a good kick, we just started driving on the teeth chattering corrugations. A quick stop at Ellenbrae Station for a round of their famous scones then more corrugations up to the Kalumburu Road turnoff, where we camped for a couple of nights along the Gibb River. It’s a nice spot with plenty of firewood and clear cool flowing water of the Gibb River. The water is shallow and suitable for swimming. You’d see a big croc from miles away in the clear shallow water. We found some edible rosella, a member of the hibiscus family, on the banks of the river. Some of the other campers had already collected some and made rosella jam.
I always thought El Questro was just some fancy accommodation that people with a serious cases of status anxiety squandered thousands of dollars a night on. I was only partly correct. It’s also laden with tremendous natural scenery, gorges, waterfalls and waterholes.
We stayed a few nights at the camp grounds, paying the most we’d ever paid for unpowered camping, but it was worth it. The walking trails and waterholes and stuff are awesome. The bar at the camp is good too. One night some dude was playing his original electronic music coupled with lots of percussion and didgeridoo. He was good entertainment but I forget his name.
The closest us mundane common-folk can get to the fancy luxury is when crossing the Chamberlain River in our non-luxury 4WD. From this point views of the homestead can be seen further up the Chamberlain Gorge.