From above, the rugged Kimberley plateau is a geometric matrix – red curtains of sedimentary sandstone atop green escarpments, before low-lying ranges that, 1.8 billion years ago, were as big as the Andes. Thirsty black rivers rest in deep groves across golden savannah plains, the residue of an ancient inland sea. A haze of peachy pink dust covers everything.
In the heart of the Kimberley is a gigantic man-made lake: Lake Argyle and the olive-green Ord River feed a bed of huge orchards and a town, but for all that, Kununurra is still a small green patch on a massive red landscape.
The woodland savannah seems almost alien. The ground is littered with white boulders, long-vanished mountain ranges; spinifex fronds glisten in the sun, short black gums rise from the grass; and boab trees form eerie silhouettes when
a vehicle has kicked up a cloud of dust. When temperatures get up into the 40s, it’s an event to see a cloud in the sky.
But then there are the Kimberley’s famed gorges – sheltered and green, with pockets of monsoonal rainforest. In the Wet, it rains for a few hours then stops – it’s never incessant. The heat and humidity is intense but the sheer drama is amazing: waterholes fill and overflow; the boabs are in leaf; spectacular thunderstorms light up the sky; and waterfalls gush from the escarpments.
The climate changes each six to eight weeks as trees flower, attracting ephemeral lorikeets, honeyeaters following the blossom trail, and water birds after the rain. Plenty of birds are endemic to the Kimberley – like the startlingly cute, rare Gouldian finch.
A place like this is a refuge for fragile wildlife, from wallaroos and reptiles, to shy, short-eared rock wallabies. Packs of dingoes howl on either side of the Pentecost River by night, freshwater crocs roam the inland rivers, and salties thrive up north on the mangrove coast. Tough Brahman cattle have their own legacy, out on gigantic stations.
The Kimberley is the gold standard in adventure – it’s not just a day trip. Fish for barramundi in remote rivers, either by charter or heli-fishing. Set off on the Gibb River Road, and camp in a national park, or stay at a working stock station, or a remote Indigenous community. Explore the Bungle Bungles, 4WD the track up to Mitchell Falls, Admiralty Gulf or Kalumburu, and take the Great Northern Highway to the outback towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek.
1 Cruise the Ord River, swimming, relaxing or fishing for barramundi.
2 Take a scenic flight over Purnululu National Park’s Bungle Bungle Range.
3 Cruise the vast inland sea of Lake Argyle.
4 Visit Kununurra’s galleries of Indigenous and contemporary art, plus Zebra Rock Gallery.
5 Cruise along the Kimberley Coast or Rowley Shoals.
6 Overnight at a luxury coastal accommodation camp.
7 Take a road trip adventure along the Gibb River Road.
8 Test your horsemanship on a cattle muster, catch a rodeo, or frock up for the races.
9 Try abseiling down the epic outback gorges.
10 Sleep under the Milky Way.
Perth is 3150km from Kununurra on sealed roads, and 2380km from Derby. Be sure to take a 4WD in wet season. To avoid closures, travel in the dry season from May to October. You can also take a direct flight to Derby, Broome or Kununurra. From there, it’s all about private charters or driving.
Gwion Gwion art (photography Dan Paris).
THE WORLD'S LARGEST OUTDOOR GALLERY
The Kimberley is home to tens of thousands of Aboriginal rock paintings, and visitors are privileged to have access to several of the great painted galleries of the region, featuring elegant Wandjina and Gyorn Gyorn paintings. In the North, there paintings and artworks of Wandjina creator beings that guide every aspect of tribal life.
You can’t just walk around rock-art sites willy-nilly. Some depictions
are so old and fragile that the slightest touch could cause irreparable damage. Instead, go with an Indigenous guide, whose cultural knowledge has been handed down by their forefathers over thousands of years.
You can learn about hunting, food gathering, bush survival and bush medicine, and your guide may even take you along ‘hidden tracks’, unveiling stories and a fascinatingly different perspective on the country’s rich natural treasures.
For information on tours and a range of Aboriginal wilderness camps, eco retreats and community stays, visit waitoc.com.
Windy Corner, on the Canning Stock Route.
THE CANNING STOCK ROUTE
Stretching over 1850km from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid-west, and crossing several deserts, this is the world’s longest stock route, and you’ll need to be well prepared to face it. It was named after surveyor Alfred Wernam Canning, who also surveyed the route for WA’s famed rabbit-proof-fence. The story goes that on one expedition he took 20 men, 62 camels, two horses, and 400 goats for milk and meat. On another, he walked 338km after his camel died. When water was scarce, Canning sank wells, and some can still be seen today.
Kununurra offers plentiful accommodation, including caravan parks, hotel/motels, resorts, backpackers, B&B and self-contained apartments. Most tour companies will pick you up from your accommodation. Out of town, you’ll find outback camping, station stays and remote coastal safari camps. Halls Creek is the ideal place to set up camp and explore the East Kimberley landscape, including the Purnululu National Park, the Wolfe Creek Crater, and the China Wall.
Driving outside Derby.
DRIVING THE KIMBERLEY OUTBACK
Traversing sealed roads, unsealed dust-and-gravel, and even rivers, driving in the outback is a true adventure. “Have your car serviced, have a few spares, and always know how far the next service station is,” says Glen Chidlow, CEO of Australia’s North West. “Driving fast in the red dust, you kick up so much dust you can’t see behind you, and any drivers behind you can’t see you. Slow down.”
Ironically, driving fast to avoid corrugation on the roads actually creates the corrugation. Likewise, don’t be cavalier through waterways if you don’t want to get bogged. Watch the driver before you, and go slowly. Some watercourses are seasonal, but the permanent, spring-fed streams have pebbles on the bottom. Taking it at a lick is a way to kill your engine and shift boulders.
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Nathan Hoare, marketing manager
• Take a morning swim at Lake Argyle, where the pool is almost as impressive as the views!
• Hire a boat and cruise along the mighty Ord River. Make sure you take the plunge at the famed
Jump Rock before starting up the barbecue and relaxing in the middle of the river.
• As the day draws in, head up to the top of Kellys Knob with your favourite six-pack or a bottle of wine, and enjoy one of the Kimberley’s best sunsets from
the highest point in town.
DO AND SEE
Kununurra is the eastern gateway to the Kimberley. In town, there are several exquisite Argyle Diamond stores, and one of the largest ranges of Indigenous artworks in the country – the beautiful yet severe landscape has inspired countless artists, and their work is shown in the local galleries. Visit Celebrity Tree Park, Mirima National Park, (also known as Hidden Valley), Zebra Rock, and the Historical Society Museum. If you’re up for swimming, try Valentine Springs, Molly Spring, and (if you’re particularly fit and agile) give Andy’s Chasm a go. For something more relaxing, take in an evening movie at the outdoor Picture Gardens.
Take a scenic flight
Take a charter flight from Kununurra or Halls Creek over some of the most spectacular landforms in the world. See the largest open-cut diamond mine on the planet (the Argyle Diamond Mine), fly over shimmering Lake Argyle, and see breathtaking rivers and waterfalls over the Mitchell Plateau in the Wet. Look down over the extraordinary Bungle Bungle Range, or head out to a luxury remote coastal camp. Luxury safari vacations are also available if you’d like to fly about and spend a few nights at each of the region’s best station stays and eco camps.
Experiencing Mitchell Falls by helicopter (photography BJK Photography for HeliSprint).
Head to El Questro
Join a 4WD tour to the vast El Questro Wilderness Park – it’s eight times the size
of Switzerland. Take a tour from the Homestead and visit Zebedee thermal springs; hike and swim at Emma Gorge, or cruise Chamberlain Gorge; learn about bush foods, bush culture and history, or just drive around the grand landscape. Scenic flights over the Mitchell Plateau are also available. Campers can sleep under a blanket of stars in the crisp clean air, or set up a tent by the river. For a treat, book into the luxurious oasis that is El Questro Homestead and take in the spectacular view over the river as you cool off in the pool.
Cruise Lake Argyle
This man-made phenomenon, a pleasant 70km drive southeast of Kununurra on the border of the Northern Territory, is something of a miracle. Some ambitious
folk envisaged a reservoir on the Ord River to irrigate the ancient Kimberley plateau, and it actually worked – Kununurra has become a tropical fruit bowl and agricultural centre, in the middle of nowhere. With a surface area of about 1000sqkm, Lake Argyle is more than a water supply to the town and local farmers. Its unique ecosystem is home to an amazing array of wildlife, including freshwater crocodiles, 26 species of native fish, and 270 bird species, plus all kinds of marsupials on the islands. The best way to see the lake is on a boat cruise, where you’ll see the spillway and the dam. Don’t miss the old Argyle Homestead and museum.
Explore the Ord River
Spend a few days canoeing, hire a houseboat, or experience the thrill of an air boat down the lower Ord. On a day cruise between Lake Argyle and Kununurra, you’ll see a plethora of native flora and fauna. In the afternoon, view the massive inland sea of Lake Argyle from a scenic lookout. Visit the magnificent Durack Homestead and float over Lake Argyle itself.
Visit the top town
An hour north of Kununurra, Wyndham is the top town of the west, geographically. It’s a small frontier town that typifies the true pioneering character
of the Kimberley region. Stop at the Five Rivers lookout in the Bastion Ranges, take the Three Mile Valley Walking Trail, have lunch at Wyndham Port, and see the Aboriginal Dreamtime statues.
Photography Annabelle Sandes.
Take a charter on the Lower Ord River below the Kununurra Diversion Dam, flowing out to the Cambridge Gulf. You’ll be surrounded by an abundance of native wildlife, including a huge variety of birds and perhaps the odd saltwater crocodile. It is the perfect location to fish for the elusive barramundi. Also fantastic for barra fishing, the Fitzroy River at the heart of the Kimberley is one of the largest rivers in Australia during flood periods. Drop into the infamous Crossing Inn, where travellers wait with a cold drink for for floodwaters to subside. The river is also known for cherabin, a freshwater prawn.
TOP KIMBERLEY BARRA SPOTS
Dunham River mouth
Check with the visitor centre on how and when it is best to access these locations.
The Bungle Bungles (photography James Morgan).
AMAZING NATIONAL PARKS
MITCHELL RIVER NATIONAL PARK
You’ll need a few days to explore this breathtaking 115,000ha of rugged wilderness, encompassing the spectacular Mitchell Plateau, and the Mitchell and Mertens falls, along with Surveyors Pool and the Mitchell River. As well as having significant Aboriginal heritage and cultural value, the park is home to a menagerie of flora and fauna, including the striking Livistonia palm, believed to predate the dinosaurs. Take a bushwalk across the majestic Mitchell Plateau to the waterfalls, through clear streams and pools, and shady pockets of rainforest. Explore natural spa pools and caves at Little Mertens Falls, and swim beneath a huge gallery of ancient Bradshaw rock paintings at Mertens Creek. High clearance 4WD is essential. Campsite facilities are limited: bring fuel, water and food, plus mechanical and medical supplies.
PURNULULU NATIONAL PARK & THE BUNGLE BUNGLES
Long inhabited by Indigenous people, this area was first introduced to Europeans in the mid 80s. The national park is 45,000ha, and home to the geologically fascinating Bungle Bungle Range. The famed orange-and-black beehive-shaped domes stand 300m above the savannah. Take a day trip and explore gorges and narrow chasms, or spot some of the 130 bird species. Open during the Dry, the park is 250km from Kununurra, or 109km from Halls Creek – bring fuel, food and water. Tour operators offer safari-cabin accommodation, helicopter flights and guided tours.
Wolfe Creek crater.
WOLFE CREEK CRATER NATIONAL PARK
Don’t let the cult film deter you from seeing the world’s second-largest meteor crater. Known as Kandimalal by the local Indigenous people, it is more than 880m wide and believed to be over 300,000 years old. It’s 145km from Halls Creek by 4WD – you can get a bird’s eye view on a scenic flight. Camping is available, but bring plenty of fresh water.
TUNNEL CREEK NATIONAL PARK
Western Australia’s oldest cave system, Tunnel Creek is part of the same
375 million-year-old Devonian reef system as Windjana and Geike gorges.
The creek flows through a huge, water-worn tunnel beneath the limestone of the Napier Range – take a torch and wade into the tunnel to see ancient stalactites and stalagmites and beautiful curtains of glimmering flowstones. Be prepared to wake some bats and get a little wet. Located 30km from Windjana Gorge and 115km from Fitzroy Crossing via the Great Northern Highway, Tunnel Creek is for day use only.
WALK A GORGE
Imagine walking out of the heat into a deep, cool gorge, through pristine ancient rainforest, and along creeks so clear you can’t see the water unless a breeze ripples it. Overhead, the sun glints through waving palms and a blue ribbon of sky runs between looming golden cliffs. You get the idea. Now do it for real.
EMMA GORGE, EL QUESTRO WILDERNESS PARK
The 1.6km trail to the gorge ends with a gushing 67m-high waterfall. Take a dip in the rock pool, enjoy the natural warm spring under the rocky wall, and fill up your water bottle for the return hike.
This striking black-and-orange gorge, 150km from Fitzroy Crossing or 145km from Derby, spans 3km and has walls 100m high, carved out by the Lennard River over millions of years. Deep pools of fresh water within the gorge attract great flocks of noisy corellas, fruit bats and freshwater crocodiles, and the area is deeply significant for the local Bunuba people. Camping is available, 4WDing is recommended.
Created by the raging floodwaters of the Fitzroy River through the ancient Devonian reef system, Geikie Gorge is truly spectacular. Accessible by day only, it has several walk trails, through the soaring, weathered multicoloured cliffs of the gorge itself, or along the west wall. Look for fossils in the limestone rocks. In the early Dry, the gorge brims with water, and between May and October you might spot a croc. Take a guided boat cruise to learn more about the nature and culture of the gorge known as Darngku by the Traditional Owners (cash payment only).
The most popular Kimberley gorge. Climb down large boulders and rocks to a series of beautiful waterfalls; there’s a camping area with toilets and showers at nearby Silent Grove.
Wade or row across the Manning River to where the hike kicks off. It can be
a long, hot walk, but it’s worth it when you arrive at this huge gorge. There’s a large campsite with basic facilities if you want a break.
Tip If you’re walking a gorge, take bathers, hiking boots, water, a jacket and supplies.
The entire Kimberley, including the western outback and Kimberley coast, covers 423,517sqkm. It is three times the size of England and approximately the size of California. Of its 40,000 people, at least half are of Indigenous descent.
EAT AND DRINK
In Kununurra, you’ll find supermarkets and cafes (be sure to grab a mango smoothie while you’re there). If you’re feeling social, the PumpHouse is a thriving
bar and restaurant within a converted water station.
For fresh fruit, head out to historic Ivanhoe Crossing, over the Ord River. Tour around the town and the Ord Irrigation Area, and discover the amazing fresh produce. If you’ve got some time up your sleeve, fit in a visit to the Hoochery, Western Australia’s oldest continually operating rum distillery.
You can’t leave town without catching – or at least eating – the elusive barramundi that attract scores of fishermen to the region. Get in touch with local operators to fish at a secret spot.
KUNUNURRA RODEO AND CAMPDRAFT
High-level competitors attempt to ride bucking bulls and horses in front of local crowds. Organised by the Kununurra Bushmen’s Rodeo Association. Dry Season.
ORD VALLEY MUSTER
The most exceptional event in the Kimberley. Along with activities and concerts, the Muster includes the outstanding Durack Homestead Dinner, prepared by a celebrity chef. The highlight is the Airnorth Kimberely Moon Experience, a concert featuring iconic Australian artists, with the Ord River as the stunning backdrop. May.
MUD CRAB RACING
Derby’s Mary Island Fishing Club runs this substantially more amusing version of horse racing. To adhere to the dress code, make sure you’re wearing your very best thongs. Jul.
KUNUNURRA AGRICULTURAL SHOW
See how the outback works and enjoy variety of entertainment, food stalls, displays and sideshows. Jul.
LAKE ARGYLE ADVENTURE RACE
Featuring a 3km swim, 29km paddle, 40km mountain-bike ride and 10km run, this event can be performed solo or in teams of two to four. Aug.
Grab your frocks, suits and fascinators. The races include a family
day followed by the Wyndham Cup, a great excuse for a day of
banter and betting. Aug.
BROKE OR BARRA FISHING COMPETITION
Flex your fishing muscles and sign up to compete in one of the Kimberley’s most celebrated barramundi fishing tournaments. Sep.
THE GIBB CHALLENGE
This team relay takes place over 700km of breathtaking Kimberley landscape from Derby to the renowned El Questro Wilderness Park. Oct.
To check out events in your specific time period, head to scooptraveller.com.au/Kimberley.
The Gibb Challenge.
Cruising the Kimberley coast is a renowned bucket-list experience, whether you choose to make the trip in a luxury catamaran with a maximum of two couples, or on a super-decadent cruise ship, where daily small-boat adventures and helicopter flights to secret fishing, bushwalks and swimming spots are all part of the package. You can find a list of the region’s various cruise operators at scooptraveller.com.au/Kimberley.
TIP Pressed for time? See the Buccaneer Archipelago, giant tides and the breathtaking Horizontal Falls all in a day tour, with Kimberley Aviation from Derby or Broome.
ESCAPE TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
One of the greatest experiences you can have in the Kimberley is a getaway on the wild and wonderful coast. Possibilities to run away to Never Never Land include ‘roughing it’ in the wonderful Kimberley Coastal Camp, or Cape Leveque in the Buccaneer Archipelago, and choppering out to the luxurious far northern Berkeley River Lodge, or transcendental Faraway Bay. You’ll never regret it – getting there is half the adventure. Add that to incredible food, personalised service and unique experiences on arrival, and you’re guaranteed lifelong memories to relish.
Berkeley River Lodge.