Camp fires, crows and kids: Travelling with children on the Gibb River Road

Photo of Gemma Nisbet

The Kimberley's remote Gibb River Roads remains one of Australia's great drives. But if that's not adventure enough for you, add in small four children and a pack of hungry crows. 

It’s a terrible cliche to describe anywhere as a land of contrasts, and all the more so in the Kimberley. It’s so obvious: the turquoise of the ocean against the pindan dust, the seasons, the sun-bleached scrub under the cloudless sky.

Still, they’re hard to ignore, these contrasts. Take our second morning at the Manning Gorge campground, about six hours drive from Broome along the Gibb River Road. We’ve hiked for an hour in the heat through a desiccated landscape of golden grasses and red rocks and scattered eucalypts casting scanty shade. “It’s worth it,” we’re reassured by a couple coming the other way, a couple of fuzzy dogs panting at their heels. Then the path drops away and there’s green: water, grass, foliage. This is Manning Gorge, and we find the water’s cool and all the more inviting for the effort we’ve put in to get here.

Another contrast: in our group of eight adults — two couples from Perth, two from Broome — my boyfriend Davey and I are the only ones without children. Between them, the others have four, 10 months to four years of age.

This is the first time we’ve ever travelled with small kids. To say it makes a difference is to invoke the understatement of the Australian farmer I once saw on the news describing a major flood as “a bit of rain”. On this hike, for example, two of the dads have been lugging the littlest children in backpack-cum-shaded-sedan-chair contraptions that have the babies nodding off in relative comfort and their porters red faced and liberally perspiring. We, meanwhile, walk relatively unencumbered. 

The kids mean that everyone tends to go to bed early and wake up even earlier, which suits camping anyway. Drives are timed around naps and breastfeeding, soundtracked by the Wiggles. Between this and the noise of life with children, quiet tends to be in short supply. “Ah, the serenity of the bush,” becomes the refrain whenever one or more of them is in full voice. Not that I’m complaining — there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here, with our friends and their families.

As someone remarks, our visit to Manning Gorge — with its waterfall to swim under and black rocks to climb and shady spots for lunch — would alone make the trip north worthwhile. In that case, the holiday is richly endowed with proverbial cherries, from the goannas and rock art at beautiful, shady Galvans Gorge to swims in the Manning River and driving to Mt Barnett Roadhouse for cold cans of soft drink.

Then there’s racing leaves in the creek with the two older children, and cooking chorizo on the camp fire. Seeing the kids lined up on their mini camping chairs, and spotting an anthill by the road wearing a NASA t-shirt, and watching the sunset through the branches of a boab. Being joined by the four-year-old for bush yoga, and passing around a block of chocolate after dinner, and sliding into our sleeping bags at bedtime. Even the things that aren’t so good — crows getting into one of our food containers and making a spectacular mess — don’t seem so bad. 

A few days later we’re back in Broome. As the parents struggle with the return to the routines of naps and mealtimes, Davey and I are liberated to do as we please. We drive to Cable Beach for a sunset drink and sitting there, watching the camels walking up from the beach as the sky goes dark, it feels like weeks since we were swimming at Manning Gorge. But that’s to be expected up here — it’s a land of contrasts, after all


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