Roads Of Australia Series - Gibb River Road is a spectacular northern adventure

It may not be a fast, smooth glide down a ribbon of bitumen, but a 4WD trek down Western Australia’s Gibb River Road is a real motoring adventure offering a trip back into Australia’s history through some of the most spectacular scenery the country has to offer.

The road is a 660 kilometre journey through the heart of Kimberley cattle country passing through cattle stations that measure their size in thousands of square kilometres. It links Broome and Derby on the west coast to Kununurra in the east Kimberley.

Indigenous Australians have called the region home for at least 40,000 years, leaving vivid testimony to their occupation in painted images on rocks and caves that are thousands of years old. Even today six different Aboriginal languages are spoken along the length of the Gibb River Road.

Pioneering Fossil Downs Station

In 1886 the MacDonald family arrived in the area, establishing the Fossil Downs Station following the longest overland cattle drive in Australian history, some 5,600 kilometres from NSW.

The road was known as the Mt House Road until 1962. Building it was a gruelling effort with picks and shovels where men strained to create a path wide enough for a bullock wagon to pass.

In 1961 the Main Roads Department carried out a detailed survey and upgraded and extended it as part of the Beef Roads Scheme. It proved quite a challenge, with many watercourses and rugged sections traversing the Napier and King Leopold Ranges.

Tough conditions

Road builders had to blast a 15 metre cutting into the ranges at Urb Gorges while skirting a 30 metre deep gorge in others. Flooding and intense heat made conditions very tough for workers.

In 1963 the first freezer truck loaded with beef headed down the Gibb River Road. The opening of the road ended the “air beef scheme” that saw cattle slaughtered at Glenroy station then processed and chilled overnight before being flown to Wyndham and shipped overseas.

New pastoral areas

Extending the road through to Gibb River and Kurungie and eventually to Wyndham opened up new pastoral areas and boosted the beef cattle industry, as well as proving a boon for tourism.

While still an unsealed road for most of the way, driving the Gibb River Road today is generally a pretty relaxed affair in a 4WD, apart from some corrugated sections. Even the rugged eastern section has been “tamed” in recent years and the gravel is mostly smooth and wide.

It’s still one of Australia’s most remote roads, however, so adventurous types need to be well equipped with fuel, water and other necessities when preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

 
Length
Runs from
Year
completed
Interesting fact
Gibb River Road
660km
Broome and Derby to Kununurra
1963
Six Aboriginal languages are spoken along its length.
 
Gibb River Road
Length
660km
Runs from…
Broome and Derby to Kununurra
Year completed
1963
Interesting fact
Six Aboriginal languages are spoken along its length.

Check out our other blogs in the series, Roads of Australia series - Hume Highway's History Reaches Back To Governor MacquarieRoads of Australia series - Stuart Highway a journey through Australia and Roads of Australia series - Eyre Highway a long and not-so-winding road.

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Categories: Australia
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