MAn­nInG GorGE, wA

An oa­sis on the Gibb

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS CHRIS WHITELAW

The Gibb River Road is one of Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar tourist routes pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the mag­nif­i­cent Kim­ber­ley re­gion and its wilder­ness land­scape of lush river gorges and vast sa­van­nah plains. It was orig­i­nally con­structed for road trains trans­port­ing cat­tle from the sur­round­ing sta­tions to the ports of Derby and Wyn­d­ham, with scant re­gard for the comfort and amuse­ment of recre­ational trav­ellers. While it’s not the 4WD chal­lenge that it once was, the Gibb is still a rough and dusty track for most of its 650km length and is only ac­ces­si­ble in the dry sea­son (May-Novem­ber). Man­ning Gorge, 309km east of Derby (406km west of Ku­nunurra), is an oa­sis along this route that is not just a per­fect place to break the jour­ney but is a mag­i­cal des­ti­na­tion in its own right.

The gorge is on the Mt Bar­nett Sta­tion, a 283,280ha pas­toral lease held by the Kupun­garri Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion (KAC), and is ac­ces­si­ble via Mt Bar­nett Road­house.

The road­house is open seven days a week from 7am-5pm dur­ing tourist sea­son and

re­stricted hours dur­ing the off-sea­son. An en­trance fee to Man­ning Gorge is payable at the road­house and this in­cludes ac­cess to the camp­ing area and a mud map of the walk to the gorge.

The spa­cious camp­ground is lo­cated at the end of a 7km track on the banks of the Man­ning River. There are no al­lo­cated sites but there is am­ple room for rigs of all sizes among the open wood­land dot­ted with huge boab trees. The river’s crys­tal waters pro­vide fan­tas­tic swim­ming, among the best in the Kim­ber­ley and very pop­u­lar in the dry sea­son. Not sur­pris­ingly, campers tend to clus­ter near the river­bank but more pri­vate sites are only a short walk away. Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude flush­ing toi­lets, show­ers, a big cen­tral wa­ter tank (not for drink­ing) and fire­places (bring your own fire­wood). Un­for­tu­nately, there is no sep­a­rate gen­er­a­tor area, so you may have to put up with some noise. Ad­di­tional ac­com­mo­da­tion is avail­able at the road­house.

The walk to Man­ning Gorge starts from the camp­ground, or more pre­cisely, from a beach on the far bank ac­cessed by a swim or boat ride across the river. A small metal dingy has been set up on a pul­ley so you can ferry your­self (and your gear) across the wa­ter or you can float all your stuff across in sty­ro­foam boxes pro­vided for that pur­pose. It’s also pos­si­ble to walk a long de­tour up­stream and wade across by way of slip­pery rocks, treach­er­ous logs and mud – or you can be en­ter­tained watch­ing oth­ers try it this way.

Once across the river, the trail winds for about 2km through open sa­van­nah lit­tered with sand­stone boul­ders and spinifex and is

well marked with hun­dreds of rock cairns, white-painted ar­rows and beer cans strung from the trees. The walk­ing is rel­a­tively easy, though it can be rocky, un­even and hilly in places. The open land­scape is beau­ti­ful and, depend­ing on the time of year, aglow with wild­flow­ers and trees fes­tooned with masses of gaudy blos­soms. There is lit­tle shade along the track, how­ever, and it’s wise to wear a hat and take plenty of wa­ter.

The gorge it­self is huge and frames a wa­ter­fall that cas­cades over broad ter­races of orange sand­stone worn smooth by mil­len­nia of wet sea­son tor­rents. Early in the sea­son, the river surges pow­er­fully and full width into the gorge, but dwin­dles rapidly as the dry takes hold. You can eas­ily spend a cou­ple of hours ex­plor­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing ter­rain and swim year round in the deep plunge pool be­neath the falls or in the pris­tine chan­nels that me­an­der through the gorge. You may be lucky enough to have the whole place to your­self but, if not, there are many spots to spread out your towel or pic­nic ham­per in rel­a­tive seclu­sion.

There are sev­eral Brad­shaw fig­ures and other Abo­rig­i­nal mo­tifs tucked away in the nooks and cran­nies of the up­per gorge and an im­por­tant Wand­jina paint­ing among the rocks down­stream near the camp.

Many trav­ellers on the Gibb call at the road­house to re­fuel and re­stock be­fore mov­ing on to other des­ti­na­tions in the Kim­ber­ley. But with mag­i­cal Man­ning Gorge and idyl­lic river­side camp­ing only a short dis­tance away, it makes per­fect sense to stay here a while and en­joy the Kim­ber­ley in all its nat­u­ral splen­dour.

CloCk­wise from above: The Man­ning River cas­cades into the up­per gorge; Spa­cious camp­sites among the sa­van­nah wood­land; Man­ning Gorge be­low the wa­ter­fall.

above: Waders can ferry their day packs in sty­ro­foam boxes on the pul­ley sys­tem shown. RIGHT: Gi­ant boabs stand proudly among the camp­sites.

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