I came to Australia in early February on my first (and only, since I’m an American) Work and Holiday Visa. My goal for the entirety of that twelve month visa was to work, work, work, save, save, save. After 5.5 months, I realized that maybe that attitude was just a little bit draconian. After all, we have to make time for some fun, as well, otherwise…what’s the point? So, after giving our boss a reasonable three-week notice, we packed up Jackie the Jackaroo- our trusted 4 wheel drive companion- and hit the road. We headed north, chasing the heat of the “winter” (I say this lightly) sunshine. The mining towns were bypassed, the barren desert roads continued on, and Karijini National Park was stunning. A three-day stop in Broome yielded dinosaur prints (and an appropriate film pairing), fruity cocktails on the beach, and camel riding. From there, we split ways with our English friends who were traveling in a tiny Hyundai (a.k.a. NOT a 4 wheel drive) and headed for the acclaimed Gibb River Road.
Let there be no mistake: I knew nothing about this road. I’d never heard of it, never wanted to go down it. But, J and I were encouraged, supposedly by multiple people, to not bypass this rocky unsealed road characterized by some of the most beautiful natural wonders of Oz. As I turned off the highway, a slightly daunting sign flashed WARNING!, a natural eye-catcher, instructing travelers to be equipped with plenty of water and multiple spare tires if they took on the feat that is this road. Comfortable with our powerful 4×4 and single spare tire, we continued on.
To cut to the chase, we had a blow-out. Not just any blow-out, either; we had the blow-out of all blow-outs. It happened in the dark, whilst J was driving at a speed of around 65 kph (lower than the marked speed limit). I had taken a repose from my kangaroo-spotting duties, as I was engrossed in “Yes, Please” by the great Amy Poehler. Suddenly, our car spun slightly to the left and came to a complete, albeit abrupt, stop. J got out briefly before returning to the car with a single sentiment: “I have never seen such a blow-out”. The lesson here is that no matter how careful you are and how perfect your tire pressure is, sometimes, your tire will explode. Sometimes, it will not only explode, but also engage in passionate sexual relations with any and all crucial steel elements of the underside of the car. For the next 3.5 hours, J lied on his back attempting to lift the multi-ton car with a pathetic and incomplete jack; I stood there with my LED light, protecting us from evil dingoes and trying not to cry.
The moral of this story, which I think you can gather even without the entirety of the gruesome details, is that this is no ordinary road. If you are traveling in Oz and care to take on the challenge, do not do so lightly. Make sure you are truly prepared- I guess this means nothing, except be as prepared as you can be. In the aftermath of this disaster, which has potentially left poor Jackie with over $1000 AUD in damage, I have concocted a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” for this super scenic devil road that traverses the Kimberly region.
Do: Enjoy the view. This this almost the entire point of taking the blasted road in the first place.
Don’t: Take your eyes off the road, even for a second. This is even more important at dusk and dawn, when the ever-adorable kangaroos and wallabies run amok across the road. Although cute, I am questioning their intelligence, as they seem to respond to high beam lights and horn-honking by freezing and/or running the same route as the speeding vehicle.
Do: Take a spare tire, possibly two to be on the safe side. Make sure to check the air pressure of your tires periodically, as well. You don’t want them to be too full, nor do you want them to be too low. Our maximum PSI is 41 pounds per square inch. We let out our tires to about 34 in the hopes that the lower pressure tires would be less likely to burst when running over sharp rocks. The elderly man that ended up giving us roadside assistance said that this method of thinking was more-than-likely faulty, as lower pressure tires actually spread out across the ground more, making it more plausible to get a blow-out. I’m not completely sure which is right, so probably talk to someone in Derby or Kununarra, the towns on either end of the Gibb River Road.
Don’t: Have a shitty jack. Even after our tire blew, it wouldn’t have been such a catastrophic experience if we had a well-functioning jack. Make sure that it is big enough and strong enough to lift your car, especially if the car is bogged in dirt and/or sand.
Do: Take loads (literally, loads) of water and enough food to last you a few days if you do get stranded. After our blow-out, we didn’t see another car for 14 hours. Thankfully, the first one that passed stopped and the guy knew a lot about cars. Also take an extra jerry can filled with fuel. Ours holds 20 extra liters. The two roadhouses on this road are an absolute mockery for prices.
Don’t: Take food and drink items that a) require loads of cooking and/or b) are sensitive to heat. This is the north of Australia, folks. It’s hot. Plus, they have enough natural fires as it is. They don’t need your help.
Do: Drive carefully. I wouldn’t recommend going over 75 kph. Actually, in retrospect, I wouldn’t recommend going over 50 in most places.
Don’t: Drive too fast OR too slow. You are highly likely to spin out, blow a tire (obviously), or hit an animal if you do. Take it slow, but remember that other vehicles behind you could be going quite fast and may not be able to slow down in time to avoid rear-ending you. Also, the corrugation (tiny “hills” every six inches) of this road is horrendous in parts. Going too slow will cause your vehicle to rattle uncontrollably, while going too fast will cause the sizable rocks to destroy the underside of your car. Our exhaust pipe was ripped in half. Poor Jackie.
Do: Drive in the daylight, but be aware of extreme sunglare in every direction.
Don’t: Drive at dusk or dawn. There are thousands of adorable kangaroos and wallabies that run out in the road at these times (see above). I had to execute my first full-on emergency stop and only just barely missed one of the cuties.
People from the area or travelers that have taken this road before are the best sources of information. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot me a message or ask around before you undertake the journey. Have fun and be careful. Oh yeah, and never drive drunk. It’s stupid and selfish.