The North West – one of the most iconic regions in Australia – stretches from Paraburdoo in the south Pilbara to Kalumburu in the Kimberley. The ancient landscape is more than two billion years old and covers an impressive area that’s four times the size of the United Kingdom and includes 14 national parks. From giant northern tides, to a horizontal waterfall and outback gorges gouged into an ancient barrier reef, the North West is a place of adventure and amazement... and it’s a place to visit before the rest of the world catches on to its beauty.
Top things to do
Hike through Karijini National Park
Scuba dive the archipelagos and islands
Visit an Indigenous community on the Dampier Peninsula
Book a scenic flight
Try your hand at barramundi fishing
Learn how pearls are made at a pearl farm
Spend the night at a coastal camp
Have a shower under a waterfall
Go for a road trip along the Gibb River Road
Catch a mud crab
Jump aboard a coastal cruise
Frock up for outback horse races
All these things to do and more at www.scoop.com.au/northwest
A jabiru (photography Penney Hayley for Triple J Tours).
This is a wonderland for adventurous travellers. In contrast to the rich red centre are the inviting, azure waters of coastal towns and the beautiful islands of the Dampier Archipelago. Marvel at the enormity of the mining operations for crude oil, salt, natural gas and iron ore. Indigenous people have lived in the Pilbara for 40,000 years – it’s home to 30 distinctly different cultural groups. Take an Indigenous tour, find rock art and middens, hear local legends and learn the tragic history of traditional owners. You can head off on a self-drive journey through ancient and sacred land along The Warlu Way, which winds from the Coral Coast to Broome. Hike, climb, abseil or wade through the stunning red gorges of Karijini National Park, or search for hidden rock pools among the gorges in the shady Millstream Chichester National Park. To cool down, head to the coast or islands and explore world-class dive and snorkel sites. Stop in to the charming small towns, from the ghost town of Cossack to the ruins of Old Onslow and the pretty coastal town of Dampier, where you can see the statue of Red Dog. Camp at Cleaverville Beach, enjoy the seafood at Port Samson, go mud crabbing and camp for free under the gum trees along the Ashburton River. Visit the state’s highest town (Tom Price), or drive or walk up WA’s highest mountain, accessible by 4WD. Tour an iron-ore mine or enjoy the scenery of the Hamersley Range.
In Broome, deep red pindan hits clear blue water, Kimberley characters mingle with city folk, and historic pearling relics sit among modern buildings. While many fantasise about simply soaking up those famous Cable Beach sunsets, there’s plenty to see and do if you’re up for it. Everything here is at the whim of the weather, so as soon as you arrive pick up a tide guide and start planning. The Staircase to the Moon, flying boat wrecks and dinosaur footprints can only be seen at low tide, or at certain times of year. Also, plan around events; the Broome races and Cable Beach Polo are among the highlights of the social calendar so accommodation, tours and restaurants book out fast. The wet season is just that, but there’s plenty to love (including cheaper accommodation). Watch the storms roll in from the clifftops at Gantheaume Point, or from the shelter of Town Beach. Take a scenic flight, or hovercraft tour to see rivers become inland seas. Trailer boats run charters all year round and you can still launch a tinny in the wet (weather permitting). Large boats go into dry dock or head south from mid October-April; January and February are quiet. Many open-air restaurants shut, 4WD tracks close, and many business scale back services. From May to October, it’s peak season (the population swells to 45,000), with no problems from jellyfish or rain. Watch for whales from July to September, either from clifftops or beaches, or take a charter for an up-close encounter. And there’s no need to rough it. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars, luxury resorts, day spas and boutique shops.
The waterfall at Emma Gorge (photography Simon McBeth).
Travel along the 220km dirt track north of Broome into another world; a pristine paradise with a fascinating history. This native-title land is home to small Aboriginal communities that are open for tourism. It’s a place to appreciate the beauty of nature and space. Walk secluded beaches, snorkel in sparkling waters, and look out for whales, turtles and dugongs. There are six language groups on the peninsula: Jawi, Bardi, Nyulnyul, Jabirrjabirr, Nimanburru and Ngumbarl; each has unique customs. Take a bush tucker walk, go mud crabbing, or learn about the ancient culture of the Bardi Jawi people. Head out and explore the many islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago, or take a sunset sail. Camp in the wilderness, or stay in a luxury safari tent or cabin with your own private beach. While fuel can be purchased from Beagle Bay, One Arm Point, Lombadina and Djarindjin, supplies are limited and shouldn’t be relied upon. The cooler weather from May to June is the best time to visit, but it is possible to come up all year round (weather permitting). The rough Cape Leveque Road (4WD only) is closed periodically during the wet season so check conditions before heading up. Some tours still run during the monsoon, depending on numbers.
Often described as the last frontier, this region is vast and challenging, but rewarding. The wet season is a brilliant time to visit – waterholes fill and overflow, the boab trees are in leaf, spectacular storms light up the sky and rain shatters the humidity. While many roads close – particularly dirt tracks like the Gibb River Road – scenic flights over Mitchell Falls, the Bungle Bungle Range and Lake Argyle cover the drenched countryside, so you can marvel at the monsoon. When the rain stops and the dirt roads start to open, set off with a 4WD and swag, join a tour, or fly directly to areas few people have set foot on before you. If the journey is part of the adventure, set off on the Gibb River Road. Explore gorges, waterfalls, and plunge pools, or stay at a working stock station or a remote Aboriginal community. Take the rough 4WD track up to Mitchell Falls, Admiralty Gulf or Kalumburu, which are rich in Indigenous history and untouched beauty. You can use the Great Northern Highway to reach the outback towns of Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek, or explore the huge sandstone domes and camp amidst the wildlife at the stunning Purnululu National Park. There’s ancient artwork in the open-air galleries inside gorges and national parks, or self-drive to the best art centres in the Kimberley. Fishing for barramundi in remote rivers is a must – take a fishing charter or try heli-fishing. The Kimberley Outback is a birdlover’s paradise, with everything from native birds to species that migrate here from Asia and Siberia. The region used to be a place that attracted only true bushmen, but now tours, remote flights, eco resorts and luxury campers mean you can also travel the region in style.
The Bungle Bungles (photography Dan Paris).
WHEN TO GO
Whales | Jul-Nov BEST SPOTS Dampier Archipelago, Nickol Bay, Camden Sound,
Eco Beach Resort Broome, Goombaragin Eco Retreat, Middle Lagoon, Whalesong Cafe and Campground, Mercedes Cove Exclusive Coastal Retreat and Kooljaman at Cape Leveque.
Barramundi Fishing | Apr, May, Oct, Nov BEST SPOTS Balla Balla Creek, Willie Creek, Fitzroy River, Pentecost Crossing.
Staircase to the Moon | Mar-Oct BEST SPOTS Onslow, Dampier, Cossack, Point Samson Peninsula, Hearson Cove, Port Hedland and Broome. Check www.australiasnorthwest.com/events/staircase-to-the-moon.
Waterfalls | Apr-Jul BEST SPOTS Fortescue Falls, Mitchell Falls, Emma Gorge, Bell Gorge, Galvans Gorge, King George Falls.
Wildflowers | Jul-Oct BEST SPOTS Karijini National Park, Millstream Chichester National Park, Kununurra, Broome.
Birdwatching | BEST SPOTS Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve, Ashmore Reef, Lake Argyle, Roebuck Bay, Port Hedland, Millstream Chichester National Park, Karijini National Park.
Fruit and veg | Ruby grapefruit (Jun-Aug), mangoes (Oct-Jan), zucchini, squash, melons (May-Sep).
Bell Gorge (photography Simon McBeth).
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Everything in this land of extremes is in the hands of the weather, so careful planning is vital. The Pilbara is most comfortable from May to November when the nights are cool and the days are warm. The best time to explore is just after the wet season when the waterways are thundering and there is plenty of wildlife. During peak period in the Pilbara, be prepared to march single file along waterfall walks, and to battle it out for a campsite. It’s important to keep in mind that while the weather might be hot, the water temperature in many of the gorges can be freezing – some folk even recommend wearing a wetsuit if you’re visiting during winter (especially at Karijini National Park).
From May to October in the Kimberley you’ll be welcomed with clear blue skies, day after day: although the days are balmy, it gets chilly at night. The iconic 4WD Gibb River Road track is also open. Remember that if you’re flocking to the sunny conditions, there are plenty of other travellers on the same wavelength. Be prepared for throngs of vacationers – walk trails are packed, Broome is bustling and Zebedee Springs is often completely crammed for weeks on end. If your travel timetable is flexible, plan your trip for April or November – you’ll be thankful for the peace and the opportunity to admire the picturesque sights without the crowds.
The build-up to the wet season in the Kimberley is spectacular, with violent thunderstorms, lightning shows and far-reaching cloud masses. The weather can change in a heartbeat at this time of year – huge sheets of rock can be struck down from gorges, so it’s best to raincheck your afternoon stroll to a waterhole if a storm is looming. Cyclones can brew at this time of the year but are difficult to predict even at the best of times; the local visitor centre is your best source of information. If you plan on travelling during the wet season be mindful that roads are often subject to flooding – keep up-to-date through local news and weather sites. As the wet season progresses the torrential downpours become small, isolated storms and, as they become less regular, the Kimberley comes alive with wildlife and gushing waterways – it’s the ideal time to visit the stunning landscape.
Weather moving in over Karratha (photography Karratha Visitor Centre).
GOOD TO KNOW
Do your homework – careful planning is essential
Book in advance for peak season
Take plenty of water, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and protective clothing with you
Talk to national park rangers about hikes
Be croc-aware around all waterways in the Kimberley, and only swim in recognised areas
Be aware of marine stingers (especially November-May)
Never drive on closed roads
Seek permission or obtain permits to drive on pastoral stations and Aboriginal land
Carry plenty of water, food, fuel, supplies and tools
Consider tide times
Be aware of fire bans, especially late in the dry season
Karratha Visitor Centre (08) 9144 4600; Newman Visitor Centre (08) 9175 2888; Broome Visitor Centre (08) 9192 2222; Derby Visitor Centre (08) 08 9191 1426; Fitzroy Crossing Visitor Centre (08) 9191 5355; Wyndham Tourist Information
Centre (08) 9161 1281; Kununurra Visitor Centre (08) 9168 1177; Halls Creek Visitor Centre (08) 9168 6262; Karijini Visitor Centre (08) 9189 8121; Millstream Chichester Visitor Centre (08) 9184 5144; Onslow Visitor Centre (08) 9184 6644; Port Hedland Visitor Centre (08) 9173 1711; Roebourne Visitor Centre (08) 9182 1060; Tom Price Visitor Centre (08) 9188 1112; Exmouth Visitor Centre (08) 9949 1176
Purnululu National Park (08) 9168 7300
Windjana Gorge National Park (08) 9195 5500
Mitchell River National Park (08) 9168 4200
Mirima National Park (08) 9168 4200
Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve (08) 9168 4200
Montebello Islands Marine Park (08) 9144 4600
Karjini National Park (08) 9189 8121
Dampier Archipelago Island Reserves (08) 9144 4600
Murujuga National Park (08) 9182 2000
Tunnel Creek National Park (08) 9195 5500
Millstream Chichester National Park (08) 9182 2000
Geikie Gorge National Park (08) 9195 5500
King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park (08) 9195 5500
Karlamilyi National Park (08) 9182 2000
Drysdale River National Park (08) 9168 4200
Wolfe Creek Crater National Park (08) 9168 1177
Cape Keraudren Nature Reserve (08) 9173 1711
Cape Range National Park (08) 9949 2808
Ningaloo Marine Park (08) 9949 2808
Walardi Campground ($12 per person per night) (08) 9168 7300
Kurrajong Campground ($12 per person per night) (08) 9168 7300
Stargazers Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9182 2000
Mitchell Falls Campground ($7 per person per night) (08) 9168 4200
Miliyanha Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9182 2000
Windjana Gorge Campground ($12 per person per night) (08) 9195 5500
Dales Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9189 8121
Silent Grove Campground ($12 per person per night) (08) 9195 5500
Karijini Eco Retreat Campground ($20 per site) (08) 9425 5591
Wolfe Creek Crater Campground (Free) (08) 9168 4200
El Questro Station Campground ($20 per person per day) (08) 9426 7550
Home Valley Station Campground ($17 per person per day) (08) 9161 4322
Honeymoon Beach Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9161 4300
Quondong Point Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9191 3456
Yardie Creek Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Kurrajong Campground, Cape Range ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Tulki Beach Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Osprey Bay Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Mesa Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Bungarra Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Boat Harbour Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
One K Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Lakeside Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Neds Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
North Mandu Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Pilgramunna Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
T-Bone North Campground ($10 per person per night) (08) 9949 2808
Port Hedland Markets Bi-monthly. (08) 9158 9624
Broome Courthouse Markets Saturday and Sunday from 8am till 1pm. (08) 9192 2222
Derby Community Markets Every Saturday from February to December. (08) 9191 1426
Halls Creek Markets First and third Saturday of each month. (08) 9168 6007