Everyone said that the road up to Drysdale River Station was “rough as guts”.
In fact, Lee and I hadn’t planned to take the Kulumbaru Road. But, after nearly two weeks of only solar power, the batteries were low and we needed to charge up; Drysdale Station had power. We’d also run out of brake pads on the front wheels of the car, or so we thought, and were now trying to drive without using the brakes.
Lee was worried about this, but I thought it would be an adventure to visit that out-of-the-way station. Lee was sick of corrugation, “If you want to go, you drive,” he said and pulled over.
So I drove. And it made that road to Ningaloo Station seem like a smooth ride. The corrugations were so deep, we couldn’t hear each other speak.
There’s a road train that comes into Drysdale Station every week to deliver supplies and it goes out filled with cars that have broken down. There were Jayco caravans at the station with kitchen cabinets that had fallen right off the walls. We felt lucky that the only damage we sustained was a missing D shackle; the safety chain connecting the trailer to the car was dragging on the ground. Luckily, Lee had brought a spare D shackle.
The highlight of our time at Drysdale was an afternoon spent on the Drysdale River with just us and a thousand birds.
I took the kayak down the river, lined with trees and palms. The river was brown and still, calm and deep. There was no one else. At first, I hugged the riverbank to get a better look at the birds. A pair of rainbow bee-eaters flew right over me. A dozen crimson finches came down to the water to drink. Two Rufus night herons perched in a tree up ahead. Several pied cormorants twisted their necks round in another tree.
Then I saw a freshwater croc move from the riverbank and splash and disappear under the dark water without a trace, and I decided to stick to the middle of the river.
Paddling down that river for an hour, all alone in the wilderness of the Kimberley, on a river with no one but the birds, was sublime. It felt timeless, as if I were lost in another world where only the present existed. I was unable to think of anything else—what I was going to scrounge together for dinner, or how I was going to get K to memorise her times tables, or whether Trump would somehow win the election—I was just there, on the river with the birds and the occasional splash of a freshwater croc into water.
Ellenbrae and Home Valley Stations
After Drysdale, we drove back down that bumpy road, back to the Gibb, and stopped at the quaint Ellenbrae Station. This was one of my favorite spots. They make scones at Ellenbrae, which we devoured. We set up camp and went to the river for a swim and a kayak. That evening, the girls had a “donkey bath”, where the water is heated by a log fire.
The next morning, we woke to light rain, unusual at this time of year. I cooked pancakes under an umbrella and we packed up and moved on to the busy Home Valley Station, which was more like a caravan park than the bush.
At Home Valley, we camped right next to the playground and the kids played for hours with other kids, running themselves ragged. Lee and I read books and went for walks.
And K got to go on her first ever horse ride.One evening, we were playing Uno and having a drink at the bar, when we noticed a crowd gathering outside. K went to see what it was: a whip-cracking show. She came running back, “Mom, will you interpret?” I came with my glass of wine and sat in front of her and it was the easiest thing I’ve had to interpret on this whole trip. The whip cracker was a man of few words.
After three days at Home Valley, we said goodbye to the Gibb and drove to Kununurra. Lee was overjoyed to be on a sealed road again. I was a little bit sad to leave the Gibb.
When we got reception and I looked at the New York Times online, I saw the terrorist attack in France with 81 killed by a truck and the attempted coup in Turkey with hundreds dead. It was strange to think we’d been swimming in gorges and kayaking down rivers and camping under the stars, blissfully unaware of the chaos elsewhere.