Gibb River Road
Travelling through the Kimberley along The Gibb River Road
In recent years the volume of traffic and quality of the roads has opened up the Kimberley to tourists. The quality of roads has improved but care and preparation are still very important to ensuring a great trip.
To make a general statement about the condition of the Gibb River Road would be misleading because road conditions could vary from good condition after it has just been graded to very rough with scours, washouts and water over floodways and creek crossings if there has been recent rain. For the latest conditions call Main Roads Western Australia on 08 9158 4333 or visit their website at www.mainroads.wa.gov.au
When the Gibb River Road is in good condition high levels of vehicle preparation is not mandatory. Evidence of this is the thousands of tourists who travel safely through the Kimberley every year in standard 4WD hire vehicles. Please note all are hire 4WD’s in the Kimberley are Diesel and have snorkels fitted.
Driver Preparation – Driving To Suit The Conditions
Thousands of people travel along the Gibb River Road without incident every year, many of whom have never driven a 4WD on dirt before. Accidents do happen every year however, and the majority of those accidents can be attributed to bad attitude and lack of knowledge. Patience, planning and carefully driving to the conditions are very critical. Many of the driving hazards that can lead to a road accident can be avoided. Generally common sense is the most important factor in safely driving the Gibb River Road, more so than skill or experience.
Based on your plan to travel through the Kimberley we recommend you become familiar with the vehicle you will be driving in particular.
- How to engage 4WD including low range. Admittedly less common these days but some models have external hubs on the front wheel which also need to be engaged for 4WD
- Jack location and operation in the event that you need to change a tyre
- Fuel tank(s) capacity and typical distance to a fill
Driving along the Gibb River Road – Some Useful Tips and Techniques
We offer the following tips & techniques to help you make your trip a safe one. Please Note: This list is in no way complete and we recommend you increase your knowledge by reading any of excellent books available on driving a 4WD and consider participating in a short 4WD training course. – ** Remember knowledge and common sense are the most important factors in safe outback driving, more so than skill.
DO NOT Drive at Night, Sunrise or Sunset: – Please note there is the risk of hitting wildlife in the Kimberley. Driving at sunrise, sunset and during the night should be avoided. There is a high risk of hitting a Kangaroo, Cow or other animal thus causing damage to the vehicle.
Long Distance and Fatigue: – Driving long distances can cause fatigue and lead to accidents. Road safety experts recommend you STOP and REST at every two hours, change drivers, take a walk, drink some water. Stop and rest if you feel drowsy or tired. An open window can help avoid drowsiness by letting in fresh air but nothing beats a 15min power nap.
Alcohol: – Alcohol is a factor in a significant proportion of all road accidents. Even a small amount can hinder your judgement. The legal limit 0.05 Blood Alcohol Concentration. The safest level is zero. If you are drinking alcohol don’t drive.
There is a lot of debate and opinions regarding the right tyre pressure to run in your tyres along the Gibb and we can categorically say that the biggest influence on tyre problems is speed. More tyre punctures and blow outs happen because of excessive speed than any other reason. Refer to our recommendations regarding speed and we also recommend you listen for any slow leaks every time you stop your car. Tyre Blowouts usually happen when a slow leak deflates the tyre causing the sidewalls to overheat or be exposed to the road and punctured by a rock. You might be unlucky and get a blowout from one rock on the Gibb but usually it is due to a slow leak.
Regarding actual tyre pressure, our recommendation for a hire vehicle with 2-4 people and average luggage is 35psi when the tyre is cold. Out of interest El Questro run 34-35 psi in their vehicles whether on dirt or on bitumen so 35psi cold is a good pressure that you don’t need to change throughout your trip. If you are towing a camper trailer or heavily load you may consider an increase in pressure.
Speed: – Excessive speed is a major cause of accidents. Be alert and travel at a speed that suits the road, vehicle and weather conditions. Our recommended speed for driving on the Gibb River Road is 70km/hr when conditions allow. This allows you to slow down for the corners, culverts and river crossings and when conditions allow to speed up to 80km/hr. We generally recommend slowing down to 50-60km/hr for dry culverts with concrete bases and 30-40km/hr for dry culverts/crossing with rocky / dirt bases. In all cases if there is water across the road slow right down. You can tell if there is water across an upcoming dip in the road because the road ahead will be wet from other cars coming out of the crossing. 70km/hr is a good speed to slow down from. Any faster and you’ll be surprise how much extra time and distance it takes to wash off speed for dips and corners.
Please note: Depending on when it was last graded sections of the Gibb maybe corrugated. Corrugations can cause high levels of vibrations through the vehicle at lower speed, which increase fatigue. If you are experiencing this high level of vibration increase your speed so the vehicle is “skimming over” the corrugations. Speeds around 80km/hr maybe required however please do not travel at this speed if the conditions don’t suit. SLOW DOWN for corners, crests and dips in the road and if dusty. Better to endure some vibration rather than an accident. Slow right down if you see other vehicles approaching.
Dust: – Following Distances & Overtaking Vehicles on unsealed roads raise a dust cloud, which will obscure your vision and that of vehicles coming the other way. Probably the most dangerous thing you can do is travel in somebody’s dust. You won’t be able to see oncoming traffic and they won’t be able to see you. Travel behind the vehicle in front at a distance that has allowed the dust to settle. It is strongly advised that you avoid overtaking. It is better to lose some time than to lose your life.
River & Creek Crossings: – Normally safe procedures for driving across river crossings is to walk out and check the depth, possibility of hidden obstructions and/or holes in the road. The Kimberley is known to have saltwater crocodiles so DO NOT take this course of action. Please note: most of the smaller creek crossings along the Gibb River Road have been lined with concrete to avoid ruts and deep holes occurring during every wet season. This reduces the cost of maintenance for local councils. As a general rule on these crossing if water isn’t flowing and depth is ½ way up your wheels you should be able to cross safely. Please note major Rivers (eg The Pentacost) and other river crossings off the main Gibb River Road do not have concrete on them and are subject to obstacles and unseen ruts and holes. Take Care if you are unsure wait for another vehicle.
Tyre Blowouts:– If one of your tyres blows out or goes flat suddenly, the car will tend to weave or pull to one side. The risk is increased if the brakes are applied. Use them gently and certainly avoid heavy braking. Grip the steering wheel firmly, and roll to a stop by the side of the road.
Braking Efficiency: – After driving through deep water, some water may stay in the brakes and reduce their effectiveness. You should check them after driving out of water, (drive along a short distance and apply your brakes). If they aren’t working normally (and it is safe to do so) drive slowly with one foot on the brake pedal until the brakes are dry and normal braking efficiency returns.