You’ll want to have a beer with this Duncan. Join Cathy and her mates as they embark on a ten-day bikepacking trip down the Duncan Road in Australia’s remote East Kimberley region.

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on the traditional Country of the Miriwoong, Kija, Gurindji, and Jaru peoples who have occupied and cared for the lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

A Warning

‘You’re not going down there. People die out here!’

And that was our introduction; a truckie yelling at us from beyond the bitumen. It was day two and we’d just turned off the Victoria Highway to embark on our ten-day bikepacking trip along the Duncan Road.

We felt prepared.

We’d poured over the maps. We’d spoken with our local contact, Clayton. We were experienced bikepackers and our dehydrated food stash was a real danger to our trip weight loss ambitions.

But he had us rattled.


We rode on, becoming increasingly nervous about finding our first camp and, more importantly, the waterhole that marked it. We needed water if this trip was going to work. We banked on a minimum of four litres each per day: 12 in total.

We’d been assured that there was plenty out there. It was May. The Kimberley had had a great wet season. In fact, our pre-departure worry was, would there be too much, making the road unrideable due to mud? Turns out there were to be no mud masks on this girl’s trip.

We took a side road in the vague vicinity of where Clayton’s hardened index finger had landed on the map a few days earlier indicating water.

The maps were detailed but Clayton’s vast knowledge of this land wasn’t in contours and symbols. He described landscapes.

His instructions seemed clear and obvious but in that remote, unfamiliar moment, we struggled to comprehend. The road led us to a dry, rocky creek bed.

‘People die out here!’

Grimly, we continued deeper down the Duncan. The heat was oppressive. Would this be it? Would the Kimberley claim us on day two?

And then there it was! A small sliver of water glistened on the road. Matilda Creek. Oh, so significant in her insignificance.

We hooted and high-fived on our way to plunging into her deeper waters just off the roadside. Our confidence cups were filled. We’d found water. We were on our way.

Where the Hell is the Duncan Road?

Duncan Road, formerly known as the Duncan Highway, is a 430km remote Outback road zigzagging through the lands of the traditional custodians, the Miriwoong, Kija, Gurindji, and Jaru people in the East Kimberley and Northern Territory.

The Duncan was built in the 1960s to service the growing cattle industry which continues to this day. It starts in the north at the Victorian Highway and ends in Halls Creek in the south, rising onto the plateau.



If you look at a map, countless rivers and creeks intersect the Duncan on their way to Lake Argyle, most notably the Behn, Negri, and Ord Rivers.

Cycling the Duncan was a wild idea that had started with talk of meandering along the popular, neighbouring Gibb River Road.



A chance conversation led us to Duncan Road, with claims of a more stunning, less travelled route. One where we could skirt the annual grey nomad migration. A few texts later and with little convincing, Jude and Jaye were in.



The next day we woke after sunrise, leisurely packed up camp, filtered some water and set off. The heat was already upon us, but it wasn’t long before we were rewarded with the sight of a long, deep waterhole bordered on one side by a thriving blanket of pandanus and a crackling cloud of bats.

The contrast of bright green against a backdrop of deep red and brown was a surprise. A welcoming oasis, out of place in an otherwise devoid landscape.


The water was alive with Freshwater crocs. While not man-eating like their saltwater sisters they can deliver a nasty bite in the case of mistaken identity.

Apparently, there are no mistaking three pasty white city girls. The crocs scattered as we eased our bodies below the surface. I wasn’t so confident we’d have the same effect on day ten.

And so began a new routine, at every waterhole we swam. Sometimes naked, sometimes fully clothed. Our fear of not finding water washed away little by little with each dip.

Feeling the Heat

We left the oasis behind and made our way further up the road. Sometime late in the day we crossed the border into Western Australia.

The road rapidly deteriorated from a recently graded gravel road into an overgrown, corrugated, two-wheel track. It seemed WA was not mates with Duncan.



We were headed for the Behn River. It’d been a long day and by the time we decided to call off the unsuccessful search for another Clayton camp recommendation, it was my turn to suffer from mild heat stress.

I felt nauseous and headachy and lay down on a rock by the river to recover. While I wasn’t going to die on this day, it did make me appreciate our remoteness and how situations could turn very bad, very quickly, in the Kimberley.

Midway through our roadside dinner preparation we were interrupted by Jimmy, a 20-something Jackaroo in his ute. On route to Kununurra for a few days off, and clearly a few cans in already, Jimmy stepped out of his ute to say G’day.

He’d gotten as far as the bonnet with hand outstretched before realising out the corner of his one open eye the ute rolling back down the causeway towards the Behn River.

He scrambled back into the driver’s seat and threw on the handbrake, narrowly saving the ute from a watery grave. As the ute’s taillights faded into the night and the dust settled, we all hoped Jimmy made it to the Kununurra Hotel in one piece.

A Day in the Life

Life on the Duncan Road was simple. We settled into a familiar rhythm, waking at 4.30am to pack up camp, savouring a morning coffee, and getting a couple of hours under our saddles before the heat of the day bore down on us.



Usually, breakfast was by the side of the road, followed by lunch at a waterhole or dry riverbed. We swam when we could, stopped often and made camp by 3pm. A fire was set, water filtered, food rehydrated, and bed by 8pm.



The land changed with each day. Some days we traversed pockets where flora had been obliterated by the marching hooves of animals whose meat is sort after internationally.

On others, the ecosystem flourished. We scanned the spinifex for the glamorous Gouldian finch, only to be startled by punk pigeons.

Our twitching was rewarded with Crimson and Double-barred finches, Brolga, Burdekin, Whistling ducks and the ubiquitous Whistling kites. The familiar red rock of the Kimberley was a constant.

Our cycling distances weren’t long by bikepacking standards, and the elevation gain was almost non-existent, but the scenery demanded we take three rest days anyway.

The Negri River was our first, followed by the Ord River, or Clayton’s Camp as it was affectionately known, and Sawpit Gorge.


Clayton’s Camp

Clayton’s Camp lay just beyond the Old Ord River Homestead. We followed Clayton’s instructions to a place he bases himself for a few months each year to get back to Country and search for precious stones.

And what a place it was. We could’ve taken the large rock shelf that borders the Ord as our camp, but instead, we grabbed our gear and waded across a shallow section of the river to a needle-shaped sand spit in the middle.



Sitting at the tip of the spit we were projected into the middle of the Ord, nature’s best vantage point. Two Jabirus flew low, directly towards us.

These large, prehistoric-looking waterbirds are majestic with their two-metre wingspan propelling them effortlessly through the air.

Whistling kites circled above, curious at their unlikely visitors. Dingoes roamed the riverbank on the hunt for an evening meal and as the sun set, the eyes of our friends, the Freshwater crocodiles, glistened red under our torchlights.

When darkness enveloped us, the stars shone brightly over the ancient landscape. It’s hard to pick a favourite night on the Duncan Road, but this one was right up there.

The Last Push

As we climbed the increasingly drier landscape of the plateau on our approach to the Nicholson River, our water anxiety returned. A small, cattle-sullied mud pool signalling the southernmost point of our trip was a welcome relief. Everything is relative when you’re this remote.



We rode out west, grateful for the howling tailwind propelling us across the dusty 100km of treeless plateau plains.

Geology determines life and landscape in the Kimberley – and so it seems – our emotional energy. After a long, blistering day of flat savanna mundanity, we were treated to the dramatic spectacle of the Halls Creek fault line carving dry woodland and cradling creeks abundant with wildflowers and birdsong below us.

We rolled into that first creek with smiles wider than a crocodile’s, danced like brolgas, and swam freely like the bream we hadn’t managed to catch.

Another 28km on we pitched our tents under the shadow of Sawpit Gorge and lingered in her pools.



When we pulled into Halls Creek the next day, signalling the official end of the Duncan Road, we were thrust back into civilisation with its overwhelming choice and overbearing smells. Our ten days of the simple life were done. Water no longer in our thoughts.

The truckie was right. But not this time round.



Duncan Road with its dirt, dust, heat, Jabirus, crocs, dingoes, waterholes, and Boab trees was bursting with life. A piece of East Kimberley paradise that few experience. And there we were. Three mates on our bikes. How lucky were we!