Recce report – TransTerra 2016 Kimberley

In late September I jumped on a plane and made the trek west to Perth and then Broome to complete a recce for our TransTerra 2016 ride through the Kimberley. This was the last opportunity to travel this area before the wet season starts to close roads off and the heat really kicked in. I hired a mine spec Toyota Hilux as my transport and do the reconnaissance work. We had a couple of options as to which way to go and how long we will spend travelling but as always until you go somewhere and see it for yourself you can never take anything for granted.

Our TransTerra 2016 ride will begin in Alice Springs but for now the focus was on exploring the Kimberley region. After arriving in Broome I quickly headed east to begin the recce proper at the top end of the Tanami Track.

Tanami Track
From Halls Creek I travelled south down the road a couple of hundred kilometres to Wolfe Creek Crater. The Tanami Road is a major road link and is considered a “short cut” from Alice Springs to the Kimberley. Think of it as 2 lane dirt super highway! I found it to be very similar to the Savannah Way across the top of Australia. Mostly wide open with a good gravel surface and great visibility. It can get a little rocky as you go over some jump ups and some loose sandy sections but the sand typically doesn’t get too deep. The corrugations can get pretty savage but that it very much dependant on how long ago the grader passed through. The good thing is on a motorcycle you can often avoid the rougher or looser patches and just ride around them.
In the past, this road has had a reputation as a vehicle breaker but it see’s more traffic frequent it now. Several working gold mines along the Tanami has meant the road is greatly improved. There is an action group that has been put together to try and gain funding to seal the Tanami Road. It has been costed at $500 – $750k per km to seal the Tamani’s 753km of unsealed road. That’s $376,500,000 to $564,750,000!!!!
All we can say is ride the Tanami before it becomes black top!
Wolfe Creek
Wolfe Creek is well worth visiting even if the road in and out can be a corrugated son of a bitch!
For such a remote spot Wolfe Creek has gained quite a bit of notoriety in recent years as a result of the horror films starring John Jarratt. If you have seen the films you are likely to think twice about opening the gates that lead into the park but if you pluck up the courage to continue you are rewarded with a spectacular vista.
What Wolfe Creek is really famous for is the massive crater that remains after a meteorite struck the earth some 300,000 years ago. Being as remote as it is, the crater was discovered and surveyed only as recently as 1947. The meteorite crater is well defined once you are on the rim and gives you a fantastic appreciation of just how flat the surrounding landscape is. It prompts the thought of how the earth must have shook when that sucker touched down!
Halls Creek
The final section of the Tanami coming into Halls Creek includes a couple of rocky jump ups that we climb over. These give an elevated view of the otherwise flat terrain. Halls Creek is a reasonable sized town and includes all the facilities an adventure rider is looking for; a pub, a servo, a supermarket, a couple of motels & a caravan park. The sight of the pool at the motel is pretty damn inviting too after travelling the dusty Tanami!
After spending a night in a bed at Halls Creek I took the road heading east out of town and checked out China Wall, Palm Springs and Saw Tooth Gorge which are all worth a look. If we kept following this road east it the next stop would be Katherine or Daly Waters. But on the ride we will take the back road past Caroline Pool and Sophie Downs for a more interesting way out back to the Great Northern Highway. The highway makes for an easy bitumen transport north before peeling off and heading into Purnululu National Park.
Bungle Bungle
Purnululu National Park is more commonly known by most Aussie’s as Bungle Bungle. The iconic image of the Bungle Bungle is that of the dome shaped rock formations that resemble bee hives. They are so very distinct in appearance and awe inspiring in person. The park has many features to explore so we will be scheduling in two days here during TT16.
The road in can be a bastard. Corrugated, quite tight in sections and 5 rough creek crossings to get the boots wet. As with many roads up here though it depends on the time of year whether it’s been graded or not but apparently it doesn’t get graded much! The road in is only about 50km in length but you need to allow well over an hour to make the journey in. National Parks say to allow 2 hours in a 4WD.
Once inside the park there are a couple of campsites to base ourselves from to explore the park. The sunsets are amazing! I spent a good hour sitting atop a ridge line watching the sun drop over the horizon and marvelling at how the colours changed as twilight approached. It was simply stunning. Fortunately we will have two nights here to enjoy.
It is a good idea to plan your day here as certain sights are at their best Need to time things so they can see Echidna Chasm at 11am. Apparently the walls look like molten lava with the sun streaming in on them!
Cathedral Gorge was great.
Wouldn’t want to do all the walks in MX boots though. Hiking boots more comfy.
A helicopter flight would definitely add a whole another dimension to the landscape. this is one place I strongly suggest everyone allows room in their budget for a scenic flight! It gives a whole perspective from the air.
Town is surprisingly neat and tidy. I wasn’t expecting much but it really did surprise me. Grass was nice and green and you can see they are working hard to keep it clean. Town is larger than expected.
View from lookout was great. Lake Argyle could be worth seeing.
Ivanhoe crossing was blocked off with massive boulders on either side so need to check what the situation is. Maybe they were releasing water from dam and this is not typical?
Boab trees are prolific around Kunnunarra and the nuts come out on the trees around May to September.
Back road to Wyndham was pretty good. Some corrugations and a little sand in the last 10km to Wyndham but pretty fast otherwise.
Middle Springs waterfall road is very sandy twin track. Not for feint of heart!
Black Falls road is better with a rocky base. Both falls are dry though at the moment. Supposedly the wet season this year was pretty poor with just a little rain in Nov and Dec. If they get a normal wet season these falls should still be running in June.

This town was a real surprise. Yes it’s dry and desolate looking with some rough looking houses in the back streets but there is quite a bit to see:

– The massive croc in Main Street
– 5 Rivers lookout is amazing and a real surprise! I’ve never seen such an expanse of land before me with the changing force of nature so evident
– The old museum at the port is worth a look
Tried taking the back dirt road to the south west after Wyndham. The aboriginal rock art was well worth seeing but the Boab prison tree not so much. Just after the Boab tree the road south is private and road running north west is not gazetted and not maintained so it is a bit dodgy to take that. Could make for interesting riding though!
Gibb River Road
This is the famous stretch of road that many adventure riders have heard of but not many have ridden.
The first 30km of Gibb River Road from the northern t-junction is bitumen with a 90 kph limit. The scenery is great with lots of Boab trees and beautiful escarpments to draw your gaze. Just as you arrive at El Questro’s entrance the road turns to gravel and continues like that for the next 600 odd kilometres.
What I learnt from this recce is Gibb River Road is highly variable; in places you can do 120, in places you’ll be back to 20 because of corrugations. It really depends on how long ago a grader went through and how much traffic it has seen since. Be prepared for anything is probably the best approach.
El Questro Station
El Questro is amazing. It’s like an adventure park for adventure riders! It is very neat and organised and quality in every way.
The road in was very good condition with bitumen to the driveway and minimal corrugations. They did comment that it is in good condition at the moment being freshly graded and with minimal traffic. Just before arriving at base camp you must cross the Pentecost River which can be “interesting”.  Some of the river crossings from here may pose a problem for some riders to cross with lots of smooth round rocks the size of golf balls, soft balls and even footballs. No jokes! They said the water can get up to 400mm deep at the main Pentecost river crossing which should be OK but some riders may need assistance to get through. May we will have a spotter stationed there to assist?
Plenty of nice camping sites, swimming holes created in amongst rapids right near campsite, lovely green soft grass with beautiful white gum trees. Amenities blocks are modern, clean and tidy. All the staff I came across were very friendly. Even the workshop was really neat and well organised!
The property features many internal roads which lead off to sights around the property. The main roads were in excellent condition but the tracks leading off to some sights can get “interesting”. In fact these may be some of the most challenging roads we encounter on the whole trip so proceed with care!
Menu was great with just enough choices and everything sounded yum. Food was good; beer and bacon damper with herbs then porterhouse steak which was a little chewy but so very tasty.
Pentecost River Crossing
Not long after leaving El Questro Station we will come across the main Pentecost River crossing. Although nothing much to write home about when I went through as this season has been exceptionally dry but I am told this crossing can be a bit tricky. It’s wide at over 60 metres across and can flow up over knee deep or even balls deep as one of the local guys put it!
The bottom is firm but rocky with lots of smooth round rocks the size of golf balls, soft balls and even footballs. This will make it a challenge to ride across and if the river level is up high after a good wet then riding across may not be an option. Walking the bike through is the next option but crocodiles frequent this river so that is to be approached with a fair degree of caution. Ask a local before wading in! We have looked into alternatives to ferry bikes over if we have to…
The locals did say it’s not normally flowing too hard though which will make it easier to ride or walk through. The locals did mention the crossing into El Questro Station is likely to be deeper and I could believe that. It certainly was in September.
Mitchell Falls 
Continuing on the Gibb River Road leads us to the turn off north to Mitchell Falls along Kalumburu Road. Along the way we pass Drysdale River Station which provides a fuel stop for us. The track into Mitchell Falls is rough as guts. Corrugations like you wouldn’t believe and with rocks jutting up out of the track. When it’s busier in the main tourist season there will be lot’s of tour buses to get stuck behind.
Facilities are good at the main campground though and will provide a base for us to go and check out Mertens and Mitchell Falls. You can take a helicopter ride out to the Falls and walk back as many people do.
Along the track on the way are several Aboriginal art sites which are great to view. A cache of human skulls and bones in one rock wall was a good reminder of how sacred these sites are for the aboriginals.
Mt Barnett Roadhouse
Our next stop for civilsation and restock of fuel & supplies will be Mount Barnett Roadhouse. This is the only roadhouse along the length of the Gibb River Road so it is a vital stop.  They offer a good stock of supplies with very friendly staff and proper coffee!
We will camp the night at Manning Gorge campground which is 7km from Mt Barnett roadhouse. The campground is well set up and sits right on the banks of a river. An aluminium punt is secured to ropes to take you over the river to the gorge walk. The river has a nice sandy bottom to it. An hour long walk takes you to the Gorge itself and a stunning set of waterfalls. Well worth making the time for the hike.
Bells Gorge
Between Mount Barnett Roadhouse and our next overnight stop we pass by several gorges and swimming holes including Bell Gorge. You could spend days exploring all the different stop off points.
Windjana Gorge
We will deviate off Gibb River Road for a night and head out to Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge. The road out to Windjana Gorge was a little sandy but not too deep and maybe better earlier in season?
Windjana Gorge is very special with spectacular rock faces enclosing a beautiful sand bank in the gorge. A sandy walking track leads you past stunning scenery, butterfly’s,bandicoots and crocs. In fact we can pretty much guarantee you will see some crocs out here because there is a resident population of about 70 “freshies” that lurk in this waterfall. The crocs are quite accustomed to people being around and they lay very still which makes it all too easy to get closer than you think is right! On the downside there was also March flys which bite so bring the Aeroguard!
It will be good to camp here overnight. Toilets and showers available.
We finish off our trip along the Gibb River Road as we approach Derby. Derby is most famous for the massive tidal action of the Indian Ocean. The Wharf at the end of town is a good spot to see the tidal effect but an even better place to witness it is at Horizontal Waterfalls. Unfortunately this is a little harder to get to and requires a plane ride to get there so we will have to schedule that in for one of the days after our ride is finished.
I did check out a road running north just after Derby which runs up towards Beagle Bay and Cape Leveque but frankly it was an absolute bastard. The first stretch running north from the highway was two cars wide and reasonably smooth at the start but a little sandy. Later on the sand becomes deeper and turns into twin track running tight between trees. There are a few sand ridges to crest along here that would be dangerous for bikes with the risk of approaching traffic. Best we give this track a miss.
Arrival in Broome signals the end of our planned TransTerra ride and the pure white sands of Cable Beach couldn’t provide a more stark contrast to the red dust of the outback. Cable Beach is about 100 meters wide and runs for 22km along the coast. They do permit 4WD’s on the beach here so it is a stunning way to cap off a trip from the Red Centre of Australia.
We will cap off the expedition with a farewell dinner and drinks at our hotel in Broome overlooking Roebuck Bay.
Of course for most of us Broome is a long way from home so even though the ride may have finished at Broome we can still write our own adventures on the way home.
If this sounds like the adventure ride you would like to be part of then click here and book now for TransTerra 2016.