After enduring the shaky drive along the Kalumburu, what we needed was some peaceful driving and a nice place to swim. This section of the Gibb River Road from the Mount Elizabeth Station turnoff, to the Barnett River Roadhouse was AWESOME! We sailed along at 90kph (fast for us!) with no corrugations and very few river crossings. Once we had booked in, we drove the rough, but mercifully short, track to the campsite.
We had read that the walk to Manning Gorge from here would only take one hour return, so we set off immediately in search of the walking trail. We lost sight of it when we reached the edge of the river, but managed to locate the rest of it on the opposite bank. It seems that this walking trail begins with a short swim across a deep river. Some people resting on the bank told us it was too late to set off, as it might take longer than the anticipated one hour. So a swim was in order, everyone was delighted with the change of plan.
That night, we only set up part of the tent, making tomorrow mornings pack up quick and easy. We have discovered that if we pack up early and then explore, it becomes easier to keep moving when we return, rather than having to pack up in the heat.
At 7:30 the next morning we crossed the Barnett River, the early morning dip as refreshing as a cool drink on a hot day. It was at this point we learned there was another walking track AROUND the river. oh….. Never mind, the cool dip was already fading into memory, as we set off on the walk. It turns out yesterdays advice was good, as it took over an hour to walk to the gorge and waterfall. Its not the biggest or most impressive gorge we have seen, but thus far, it is the best swimming spot we have encountered.
The pool is, apparently, over nine metres deep and the water absorbs plenty of sunshine, so is slightly warmer than any other previous offering. The rocky sides climb away from the water almost vertically, so there are numerous places to safely jump into the water. Behind the waterfall, there is a small sandy beach, where we could stand and observe where the bigger fish hide. We stayed at Manning Gorge for several hours, taking in the serenity and putting off the long, hot walk home.
And that’s where the magic of Manning Gorge is. At the end of the return journey, we had to cross the Barnett River again, and cool down from the walk. This crossing took longer than this mornings speed bath, we languished in the cool, clear water for another hour before heading for the car and Bell Gorge.
Bell Gorge is reputed as one of the MUST-SEE destinations along the Gibb River Road, but be warned, the 22km road is quite rough. We crossed several creeks and the road surface was deeply corrugated with many exposed rocks and washouts. The campsite is relatively pleasant, as it is maintained by the WA National Parks Department. We did not expect flushing toilets and hot showers way out here! The gorge is another 10km further on from the campsite, so we chose to attempt it the following day and spent the afternoon wandering around the campsite meeting new people and lounging in the hammock.
After we packed up the next morning, we set off for Bell Gorge and were delighted to discover the walking track would only take about 1/2 hour to complete. This is good news, as we are all a bit weary. When the track arrives at the gorge, we appeared at the top of the waterfall, and then had to climb a hill and scramble over some rocks on the way back down to the waters edge. It was surprising how much water was flowing through Bell Gorge and the waterfall was very scenic. We enjoyed a quick swim and observed a water monitor warming up on the rocks. He must have been for a swim too, because the water was very cold!
The walk back to the car was becoming an endurance test, climbing back over the hill, and then hiking along in the warm sunshine.
Our Gibb River Road tour is coming to a close, but we still have a few things to finish it off with…..