Home to a rich and unique cultural history, travel writer and Western Australian native Mel Hearse has found few places that can match the Kimberley’s raw, red-earthed and water-lined beauty.
Considered one of the most extraordinary places in the world, my experiences travelling through Western Australia’s Kimberley region have taught me two important lessons. Firstly, a camera is indispensable and secondly, you'll always wish you had more time.
Dotted with remote, but beautiful spots covering thousands of kilometres, it’s very possible to spend weeks in the region without doing the same thing twice. Regardless of what you choose to see and do, you’ll be treated to views you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and feel enveloped by thousands of years of Australian culture along the way.
Image: The Bungle Bungle Range, Purnululu National Park
Getting started on your trip
The North West has a wide variety of accommodation options – from self-drive holidays (with overnighters in the back of your own campervan or tent) through to luxurious gorge-side resorts. Do be warned that accommodation can become limited in peak times, so it’s best to book ahead.
There’s an equally wide array of holiday activities on offer - from an adventure junkie's dream trip through to a luxe spa getaway, or a back-to-basics nature based escape. We chose to mix and match, putting some of the budget aside for some scenic flights, a whale watching tour, and a night at the Billi resort to try out the ultra-luxurious eco tents.
In terms of getting around, you can fly in to Broome or Kununurra directly and hire a 4WD. Should you opt to self-drive, ensure you fill up your tank when possible, and pack a quality first aid kit, drinking water and basic car repair equipment.
Image: Gantheaume Point, Broome
If you prefer not to drive, make the most of the many tour operators on offer. Leaving from both Broome and Kununurra, they cover most of the Kimberley, and you can travel to the various attractions by bus, boat or plane. A key feature of a Kimberley holiday is the Aboriginal history. You can get a better taste of it from a local Aboriginal guide who can take you to little known places and teach you all about ancient rock art, bush tucker, hunting techniques, spiritual beliefs and the Dreaming. The Broome Visitor Centre can provide a listing of tours available in the areas you’re interested in visiting.
Image: Wandjina Aboriginal rock art, Garry Norris Photography
The camel ride tour along Cable Beach at sunset is an iconic part of any trip to Broome and the Kimberley. However, off the back of a camel you can still enjoy the stunning sunset view from one of many great dining spots along the pristine white beach, or 4WD down to the beach for a dusk picnic.
Image: Cable Beach, Broome
Another must-do activity is to check out the pearl farms - Broome is home to the South Sea Pearl, the finest in the world. Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm is the oldest in Australia, and offers tours and accommodation.
Gibb River Road
The Gibb River Road winds through almost 700 kms of the central Kimberley Plateau, from King Sound at Derby to the Cambridge Gulf at Wyndham. However, caravans and trailers are not recommended along this stretch, and it’s best driven by 4WD through the dry season from May to October as the wet season can severely restrict travel due to flooding and road closures.
Along the way you’ll pass numerous world-class gorges, rivers, canyons and creeks, including picturesque Emma Gorge and one of the more popular gorges in the region - Bell Gorge. Bell Gorge is part of the King Leopold Range Conservation Park, found about 30 km off the Gibb River Road. A short walk along the pretty Bell Creek takes you down into the gorge, where you can get right up to the water's edge. There are also two campgrounds in the area, so worth considering for an overnighter.
Image: Bell Gorge, King Leopold Range Conservation Park
Bungle Bungle Range
Estimated to be about 350 million years old, the Bungle Bungle Range is the major landform of the Purnululu National Park, covering approximately 450 square kilometres. Much of this range is protected land, meaning you won't be able to walk through it, but you can take a helicopter flight for an aerial view.
The distinctive beehive-shaped towers are made up of sandstones and rocks composed of pebbles and boulders, cemented together by finer material, and shaped by the combined effects of wind from the Tanami Desert and rainfall over millions of years. As well as natural beauty, the region is also culturally significant. Aboriginal people have been living in the area for over 20,000 years and continue to maintain a strong connection to the ancient landscape.
Image: Cathedral Gorge, Purnululu National Park
Mitchell Falls is a solid two-day drive from Kununurra, via the Gibb River Road, Kalumburu Road and the Mitchell Plateau Track. If you've only got a day to spend in the area, flights leave from Kununurra and Broome regularly.
The track to Mitchell Falls starts at Mertens Creek and the adjacent Mitchell Falls Campground. From here you can walk to Mertens Falls, Mertens Gorge and Mitchell Falls. The other main attraction in the park, Surveyors Pool, lies further north. A flora and fauna fanatic’s delight, it features open woodlands of grey box and white gum, as well as 50 mammal species, 220 bird species and 86 kinds of reptiles and amphibians – including salt water crocs!
Fancy kicking back in a thermal spring for the day surrounded by stunning natural forests? Check out Zebedee Springs in the El Questro Wilderness Park near Kununurra, open to the general public from 7am until noon each day – or all day for those staying at the incredible El Questro Homestead.
The spectacular red cliff wall views make hiking through the gorge to get to the springs well worth the effort.
Image: Emma Gorge, El Questro Wilderness Park, Tourism WA
Located deep within Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago, massive tidal movements create a waterfall effect as water banks up against one side of the narrow cliff passage. The waterfall effect can be up to four metres high between the bay - a phenomena described by David Attenborough as "one of the greatest natural wonders of the world". As with other remote or hard-to-access areas in the Kimberley, a scenic flight is the best way to appreciate the full effect of this natural wonder, or you can get up close and personal on one of the boat tours on offer.
Image: Horizontal Falls
Image: Boat tour of the Horizontal Falls, Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures
Cape Leveque and Kooljaman
The distance from Broome to Cape Leveque, located on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, is 206 km, which will take about two and a half hours. July through October is the best time of year to see the plentiful marine life the area (though weather-wise, other months do make for a fabulous swimming and fishing based holiday.) There is plenty of whale activity just off shore, which can be seen from one of the many whale watching boat tours or from land (with or without binoculars).
Image: Outback touring on Cape Leveque Road, Tourism WA
Popular with tourists, Kooljaman is an off-the-grid wilderness camp located on Native Title land. Sustained by solar power and local bore water, the camp features low-impact accommodation ranging from unpowered camping sites to deluxe safari tents and cabins. The area offers year-round swimming and fishing off the beach and a wide range of tours, on land and sea. If you’re not looking to stay overnight, day passes are also available.
Top image: Cable Beach, Broome, Lauren Bath, Tourism WA
This article is brought to you by Tourism WA.