There’s two ways you can do the Broome to Darwin drive. One’s via the highway, which has some nice stops but is a little bit bland. Or, you can say yes to adventure, stock up the 4WD with spare tyres and a puncture repair kit, and brave the Gibb River Road.
The best part of the Broome to Darwin road trip traverses the astonishingly beautiful Kimberley region, which is known as ‘Australia’s Last Frontier’. It’s one of the biggest portions of untouched wilderness left on this earth, and its natural beauty is one like no other. With dramatic gorges that drop off into oblivion, secluded swimming holes flanked by exotic trees, and roaring waterfalls plummeting into depths below, the Kimberley is a place like no other, and without a doubt is the very best part of a Broome to Darwin drive itinerary.
And of course, you’ve got some other gems around the Gibb River Road area too. The endlessly blue Lake Argyle, the tiny settlements of Derby, Wyndham and Kunanurra, and over the border Katherine Gorge and the stunning Litchfield National Park are all worthy stops on this Broome to Darwin drive itinerary.
So what are you waiting for? Jump in that high clearance 4WD (well not quite, we did it in a Subaru Forester and the worst thing that happened was a flat tyre!) and buckle up for one hell of a Western Australia road trip.
Broome 2+ days
The starting and finishing point for two road trips; the Western Australia road trip and of course, this Broome to Darwin drive, in the dry season Broome is full of travelers either stopping over for a day or two or some, staying even longer and working. There’s plenty to do in Broome, so even if you’re not planning on spending long in the town, it’s worth enjoying a few days there.
Things to do in Broome include:
- Watch the sunset at Cable Beach
- Drive along Cable Beach (in that high clearance 4WD you have for your Broome to Darwin road trip, right? JK I did this in my Subaru too!)
- Admire the cliffs, blue waters and dinosaur footprints of Gantheaume Point – and go cliff jumping if you’re braver than me!
- Explore some of the more remote coastal areas; like Coconut Wells, James Price Point and Cape Leveque.
- Walk around Chinatown
- Visit one of the many Aboriginal Art Galleries
- Go to the Japanese Cemetery and learn about the pearling industry in Broome
Derby – 1 day
It’s a short hop from Broome to Derby on sealed roads – just 2 hours, which, if you’re used to driving in Western Australia, will feel like nothing at all! Derby is mainly used by travelers as a pit stop destination before they tackle the Gibb River Road, and if you are not already stocked up with food, do so here – there’s no shops on the Gibb River Road (apart from a horrendously overpriced gas station at midway point). Don’t forget to get fuel, even if you already bought some in Broome the day before – you definitely want to be joining the GRR with a full tank!
Make sure you go to the Visitor’s Centre to learn about the current conditions of the road. They’ll give you any specific advice and answer any questions needed. There’s also a $5 booklet about the road that is well worth buying – it details all of the road’s camp site locations and attractions and the distances between them. (I mean, I’m aiming for this Broome to Darwin drive itinerary to be so useful that you’ll already know it all, but we’ll see!)
Before you reach Derby, the Boab Prison Tree is just off the main road. It’s a sad place; Aboriginal people were kept within the tree during the massacre of their people when their country was invaded (I’m not cushioning any of that deliberately – people need to stop tiptoeing around what happened and realise the enormity of the tragedy). But these things are worth visiting to understand the scale of the tragedy. The fact that an Australian mother and daughter walked up next to me and the mother said ‘that’s where they put the naughty people’ showed me that perceptions still need to be altered so much.
Wharfingers House Museum showcases the history of Derby’s communication links, including an aviation section – a flight from Geraldton to Derby in 1922 was Australia’s first scheduled aviation service.
Windjana Gorge – half a day/ one day
And onto the road! Windjana Gorge is the first area to explore and it’s a very picturesque spot. It’s one of the most popular places in Australia to find freshwater crocodiles – whether that makes it a more or less appealing place to visit, I don’t know! Freshwater crocodiles can give nasty bites, but only attack if they’re provoked. I still wouldn’t want to go swimming with one though, and there’s no swimming available at Wdjana Gorge.
There’s a few different walks which can be had along the sandy banks along the dramatic cliffs.
Tunnel Creek – half a day
Tunnel Creek is a network of underground caves that are very dark – bring a strong torch! To explore the creek, you need to wade through water and navigate the diverse rock formations. Bats swoop over you and various cave critters live on the floor – so mind your step! We also spotted a freshwater crocodile at the side of the cave – ooerr! Follow the path where everyone has already stepped and you’ll be fine.
At the end, the tunnel gives way to light and it looks a little bit like paradise. There’s also some Aboriginal rock art and some interesting animals calling this area home! You’ll need to go back on yourself to get back to the car park.
Bell Gorge – half a day
It’s of the most famous waterfalls on the Gibb River Road, and it’s easy to see why; Bell Gorge is absolutely spectacular. A short detour off the Gibb River Road, Bell Gorge was where we had our first creek crossings. None are too deep and Nulla (my Subaru) had no problems whatsoever.
It’s a short walk to reach the gorge where the gushing waterfall interrupts the red rock to plummet into the swimming hole below. The climb into the gorge is moderately difficult, but people of all ages were making their way down and back up.
Once you get to the bottom of the gorge, cool off in the fantastic swimming hole and then venture on a little bit – the river continues to eventually descend in another colossal waterfall, this time with nobody there. It’s an amazingly photogenic place and the perfect chance to enjoy nature!
Galvans Gorge – half a day
Down a dusty road is Galvan’s Gorge, which at first looks like just a small clearing with beautiful Boab trees. But if you walk down the secluded path, you’ll find a fairytale-like setting, complete with bubbling creek, chirping birds and butterflies flying around you (I’m not making this up, I swear!). Eventually you’ll reach a swimming hole and waterfall, and it’s just spectacular. We got there at 7:30am and we were the only ones there!
If you fancy plummeting yourself into the swimming hole, there’s a Tarzan swing which is great fun. Other than that, it’s a fantastic place for a morning dip – and our friend even managed to climb right to the top of the waterfall, although he said it was a bit dodgy.
Mount Barnett Roadhouse – enough time to fuel up and to satisfy those soy cappuccino (or equivalent) cravings
You’ve reached the halfway point of the Gibb River Road! Mount Barnett is the only place on the 661 kilometre stretch where you can fuel up, so make sure you do so: they also serve half decent cappuccinos here (and even stock soy milk!) which make it a very worthy pit stop.
Manning Gorge – 1 day
Manning Gorge is just 7 kilometers from Mount Barnett, but there’s a couple of river crossings in that space. Again, nothing to sweat about, little Nulla pulled through no problem so they’ll be like puddles to any bigger 4WD cars.
It’s a longish walk to reach Manning Gorge from the campsite, which is difficult in the heat. You have to get in a small, rickety boat at first and pull yourself over on a rope – when we were there some kids were pulling us over – and one was still doing it on the way back! Be sure to take plenty of water on the Manning Gorge walk – it’s quite arduous to reach the end, but it’s so worth it.
There’s a secluded ‘beach’ part of the gorge and just over the rocks, a large swimming hole with a powerful waterfall. I don’t mean to scare anyone (I’ve already petrified myself), but we did see a freshwater crocodile on a rock when we were getting the small boat across. This wasn’t in the area we were swimming in, and as I already mentioned, freshwater crocodiles are not a huge threat to humans, but it’s something worth considering.
El Questro Wilderness Park – 2-4 days
It’s a long drive from Manning Gorge to El Questro, your next destination; brace yourself for a very long day! It’s also the worst part of road on the whole Gibb River Road; we burst a tyre on the sharp rocks and then had to take great care to not do another one! It took us a whole day to drive between gorges – it might be less for you, depending on how quickly you want to drive and how badass your car is.
The Pentecost River is part of this stretch of road, and it was somewhere we were kind of dreading in little Nulla. Some people had advised we wait to be towed over – we also knew that there were saltwater crocodiles in the river, so it was probably (definitely, on my part – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m completely petrified by crocodiles) the very last place we wanted to get stuck. But it was absolutely fine – people who had just gone across said that we’d have no problems, so we swallowed some courage and just went for it – and once again, the gal had no problems. It’s also one of the most beautiful places on the Gibb River Road, which made the victory of crossing it even sweeter!
El Questro Wilderness Park is an area worthy of a few day’s exploration. Now, even though Nulla is one tough bitch she’s not quite ready for some of the crazy 4WD tracks in El Questro. Luckily our friend had a very well equipped 4WD capable of anything! If you’re doing the Broome to Darwin road trip in a similar car to ours, try and make a few Gibb River Road pals (it won’t be hard, everyone’s super lovely) and sweet talk them into taking you to some of the best spots!
Areas accessible by an AWD not-so-high clearance like Nulla are the main camp spot (a fairly wide river crossing to get there though, but Nulla had no problems), Zebedee Springs (which are amazing hot springs, perfect to go to in the morning as they’re typically quite cold!) and a few other springs and water holes, depending on road conditions.
But the best attractions in El Questro are the badass 4WD tracks, and they include El Questro Gorge (inventive), Moonshine Gorge and any of the 4WD tracks – we went to Explosion Gorge which was probably one of the most spectacular views (and hair-raising rides) of my lifetime. To reach the lookout, you have to cross a river with boulders, not rocks, at the bottom, and climb up steep rocky pathways, knowing that if the brakes fail you could plunge to imminent doom. Fun, eh?
El Questro campsite is a little community, and there’s amazing showers, a restaurant, a bar (which does pizza night three times a week!) and a small shop. It feels very ‘holiday’ – you’re going to want to spend a couple of nights here after the wilderness of the Gibb River Road!
Emma Gorge – 3-4 hours
Once you’ve left El Questro, you’ll be greeted by a feeling you thought you’d forgotten… the car driving on tarmac roads! The turn off for Emma Gorge is once again down gravel roads and has a creek crossing, but you should be well versed in them by now!
It’s a moderate hike to get to Emma Gorge – with very little shade – take a hat and plenty of water! There’s one swimming hole before the main gorge and then Emma herself. We stripped off and waded into the water, to be greeted by absolute horror – the water was freezing.
Not wanting to be defeated, we swam all the way to the waterfall. I started to think the temperature wasn’t that bad – until I wasn’t warm, my skin was burning, and I knew it was time to get out. It was definitely an interesting experience, especially after being so warm on the walk! If you’re not good with cold water, maybe just stand at the edge and take some photos.
Half an hour later, and you’ve left the Gibb River Road. Make sure to snap a photo with the ‘Gibb River Road’ sign to let everyone know your trip was victorious!
Wyndham – half a day
Wyndham’s a sleepy little town an hour off the Gibb River Road. There’s two attractions – one is the huge crocodile in the town centre (if you can call it that, there’s nothing else there!), which, if you like taking photos of big things in Australia, (you may laugh but they’re everywhere. I’ve seen at least one ‘big thing’ on every Australian road trip I’ve done so far so I figured I may as well add to the collection!) is a must-see.
There’s also a beautiful lookout called five rivers lookout featured above. You can see for miles from this viewpoint – across the vast expanse of the Kimberley and the desolate surroundings. It’s well worth the steep climb to the summit!
Kunanurra – half a day/ one day
You’re finally in a town of size! Use Kunanurra to get supplies, put some air back in your tyres if you don’t have the right equipment and of course, go shopping for some tacky Gibb River Road memorabilia. My car now has an ‘I survived the Gibb River Road’ bumper sticker next to its ‘we crossed the Nullarbor’ one – a memento of driving across the Nullarbor – which I think is a fantastic marketing strategy when I want to sell her, right?
There’s a few fun things to do in Kunanurra, if you’re sticking around for a day:
Lake Kunanurra – this beautiful spot is a fantastic place to enjoy a sunset!
The Grotto – this natural amphitheater boasts impressive red colours of the Kimberley region and contains a big waterfall, with steps reaching the swimming hole
Zebra Rock Gallery – an art gallery dedicated to Aboriginal art
Kelly’s Knob – an intense climb up to a fantastic viewpoint, with views across the red sandy outback
Lake Argyle – 1 – 3 days
An hour away from Kunanurra is the famous Lake Argyle. To experience Australia’s second largest lake in all its glory, it’s a great idea to stay at the Lake Argyle campground with a marvellous infinity pool. It’s a fantastic bit of luxury after the roughage of the Gibb River Road and a great spot to reflect on your journey so far!
Things to do…
- There’s lots of bushwalking trails around Lake Argyle
- If you have your mountain bike with you; there’s a five kilometer Rotary Lake Argyle Mountain Bike Track, which is meant to be a great adventure!
- Boat trips of the lake are available, which will take you to some of the best spots in the vast abyss of Argyle.
- Canoeing, swimming and watersports are also possible at Lake Argyle. There’s a lot of freshwater crocodiles in the lake, which are not normally a risk to humans. Locals deem the lake safe for swimming, but I’m very unsure whether I would myself!
Cross the Western Australia/ Northern Territory border – not far from Lake Argyle. Remember to change your clocks – you’re now an hour and a half ahead and officially NTing it!
Katherine – 1 – 2 days
Image via Flickr by Vaka0627
Katherine’s a pretty sizable town; if you need any new tyres or want something on your car checked that can’t wait until Darwin, here’s the place.
There’s a few attractions within Katherine that are worth checking out. They include:
- Katherine Gorge – within Nitmiluk National Park are 13 gorges, that consist of an intertwining web of beautiful hikes and helicopter ride opportunities.
- Katherine Hot Springs – the thermal springs are some of the best in Australia, with an array of pools and opportunities for walks and picnics alongside.
Litchfield National Park – 2 days
A couple of hours away from Katherine, through remote NT roads, is Litchfield National Park. The park is full of swimming holes and beautiful walks amongst the unique Northern Territory natural surroundings. Highlights of Litchfield are:
Florence Falls – beautiful waterfalls that can be seen from above and below; visitors can also enjoy a swim in the plunge pool
Wangi Falls – Waterfalls with a large swimming hole and lots of facilities
Bluey Rockhole – a fantastic place to cool off, cascades where you can sit half in and half out
Magnetic Termite Mounts – there’s hundreds of them and they stand at over two meters high, such a bizarre attraction!
The Lost City – a 4WD track takes visitors to these rock formations that have been discarded as the sandstone cap of a mountain has been eroded away
Darwin – 4 days
Image via Flickr by Sarah Stewart
Once you’ve left Litchfield, it’s not far at all to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, the end of your Broome to Darwin drive itinerary and the closest thing you’ll see to a city since Perth. Darwin’s got a bit of a reputation for being Australia’s tacky party capital, and it does somewhat live up to that, but there’s another side to Darwin too.
Things to do in Darwin include:
- Mindil Beach Markets – these are an icon of Darwin and offer a variety of local products, entertainment and tropical fruit. They operate on Thursday and Sunday evenings throughout the dry season.
- Watch the Sunset – although Darwin is at Australia’s top, its geographical position means that it is actually facing the west – so if you’re already missing the Cable Beach sunsets, don’t worry – there’s one to rival it at Mindil Beach!
- Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory – the museum and art gallery tells the story of the state and city of Darwin – the state capital of a not-official state; visit the museum to learn all about its Aboriginal history, see some amazing artwork and even visit Darwin’s most famous croc – a five meter beast called ‘sweetheart’!
- Tiwi Islands – a 2 and a half hour ferry ride away from Darwin, the Tiwi Islands are a somewhat forgotten paradise. They are renowned for Aboriginal art which can be enjoyed on a walking tour.
- Lagoon – there’s no swimming in Darwin’s seas due to jellyfish and crocs, but there is a huge, free to use lagoon which is guaranteed to be free of any critters! There’s also a wave pool and recreational area.
- George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens – these gardens will show you the best of Northern Australia’s flora and are a fantastic place for a day’s walk around
- Military Museum – this establishment will teach you all about the city during WWI and WWII; it was Australia’s most affected region by both wars, and the museum houses some interesting artifacts and lots of information about both conflicts.
- Do a guided tour of Darwin and the surrounding areas
How much does the Broome to Darwin Drive Cost?
This is very subjective, depending on exactly what you want to do and how long you take for the road trip. It took us just over a week to drive from Broome to Darwin, but I could have easily spent a month exploring the vast Kimberley region – an area that’s bigger than most countries.
We filled my (60 liter) car up six times; and the price of fuel ranged from around $75 to $110 in the middle of the Gibb River Road. We also bought a $20 fuel can and filled that up with around $28 worth of Petrol. We only ended up using this once.
I’d say allow $600 for fuel (if you are sticking to this route and not taking any of the other GRR detours). This will obviously be split between however many there are of you in the car.
We spent about $200 on food for three of us for a week; but obviously this largely depends on your food preferences (note that a lot of food will very quickly go bad in the heat of the Kimberley – meat without a fridge is not a good idea!)
There’s not many free campsites on the Gibb River Road, although we found two by following people’s recommendations. Camp sites cost around $12 per person – because we spent 5 nights on the GRR and free camped twice, that meant we spent $36 each.
The Lake Argyle campsite was an additional $17 per person.
Most of the attractions are free or require a parks pass (which start at $40 for a 4 week visitors’ pass).
So I estimate that I spent between $300 – $350 on the road trip. Of course, there’s lots of places where you can spend more money – like in the restaurants of El Questro, or on tours at Lake Argyle – but if you’re travelling in Western Australia on a budget and are splitting fuel, this road trip can be done very cheaply.
Gibb River Road Driving Tips
I’ve got a lot to say about this road. It’s my favourite road in Australia and was without a doubt one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done. I absolutely loved every second of my time on the Gibb River Road, and I’ve got so much to share with you all about it!
BUUUT… not quite yet. I’ll be publishing my ‘How to Drive the Gibb River Road’ post very soon – so stay tuned on my Facebook to know when!
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