I’ve always been intrigued by the north-west corner of Australia. The Kimberley region is three times the size of the UK, but barely registers any detail on a map.
The images are inspiring: Sweeping, rugged landscapes hiding secluded gorges, river crossings and sandy beaches. While I lived in Sydney it seemed like a distant world, but as I headed west it was my chance to go exploring in person.
The Kimberley is bordered by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean to the west, the humid top of the Northern Territory to the east, and the arid Great Sandy Desert to the south. To the north is the Timor Sea and Asia.
Think of a cross between Australia at its most harsh and at its most diverse. And think isolated: there are fewer then 50,000 people living in the Kimberley.
My girlfriend and I have waited until the dry season (roughly May-October) to visit because tropical monsoons between November and April batter the land leaving some Outback roads impassable.
We’ve planned seven-nights of self-drive adventure from Broome to the Gibb River Road, then up to Cape Leveque.
Broome is the historic pearling capital of the Kimberley and the sunset on famous Cable Beach is stunning. The big, beautiful sky soothes us with shades of orange and yellow as we watch the camels take their evening stroll by the water.
Our second favourite Broome experience is the Crocodile Park. We not only see enormous crocs, closer than we might have liked, but also take in a bunch of tips that may come in handy in the bush.
Broome isn’t cheap, though, which we will learn is a central theme to travelling in the Kimberley. We cut costs by camping at Cable Beach Caravan Park. A day later we’re ready to hit the road.
We feel like extras in Mad Max behind the wheel of our four-wheel drive (4WD) truck. A few hours after leaving Broome we reach the Gibb River Road, the famous Outback track. Free roaming cattle, creek crossings and endless termite mounds and fat boab trees keep us company.
It’s a real event when you spot a truck passing the other way through the dust. Though not as unpredictable as it once was, I wouldn’t recommend anything but a 4WD truck to
After a chance encounter with a baby emu crossing the road, we camp at Windjana Gorge National Park. In the limestone ranges, we creep along the sandy edges of shallow pools, keeping an eye on the freshwater crocs sunning themselves just 20 metres away.
As we listen to the squawking of exotic birds echo around the tall rock walls, I feel like I’m in
Next is Tunnel Creek. In most parts of Australia, park walkways are usually rather tame. So we’re confused to find that the recommended route here is finding your own way through 1km of pools, rocks, and bat poop in near darkness. Exhilarating! (Especially when your partner starts hyperventilating.)
A few hours later we get to Bell Gorge and I forget all about that. A 20 minute walk down the cliffs and we’re swimming in waterfall-fed pools and relaxing on ancient, volcanic rocks.
I get that feeling where you actually find yourself in the pictures you’ve so longed to be in and you don’t know what to do but smile. I don’t want to leave.
Further up the road we visit Galvan’s Gorge. We have a final swim in its quaint pool before lamenting not having enough time to visit attractions further up the road, including the famous Bungle Bungles.
We next head north from Broome towards Cape Leveque at the tip of the Dampier Peninsula.
All we know is that there’s unique accommodation available at the Aboriginal community-owned eco-resort, and that you definitely need a 4WD to get there.
We almost lose control of the truck a number of times on the wide, terribly uneven sand road, and can’t help feeling inadequate when we’re passed at 100km/hr by locals who give a carefree wave as they pass.
We don’t see much until we get to the cliffs overlooking the ocean, but it’s well worth the wait. We let our tires down to drive on the beach to our “shelter”.
We’re speechless when we realise our new home is just metres to the water and is but a thatched roof, picnic table and freshwater shower.
We enjoy a cold beer while gazing out towards Indonesia. Then a swim, a sunset,
a campfire, and staring at the stars.
In the morning, I open my eyes to the sun rising over the ocean. I’ve never experienced anything like it. So beautiful.
Feeling like we need to interact with the beauty that surrounds us, we book into
a boat trip.
We would have loved to take a scenic flight over the hundreds of islands scattered north in the Buccaneer Archipelago, but it’s too pricey.
The boat ride doesn’t disappoint, because we’re lucky enough to have Denis join us. A year 12 student from the local One Arm Point Community, he tells us how he spends his spare time spear hunting fish and sea turtles.
I can’t help but marvel at how different his life is to mine.
Denis also tell us about another side of the Kimberley, how the stunning red cliffs are receding with severe weather, and about the intensive mining in the region.
On the long stretches of dusty road back towards Broome and our flight back to Perth, I wonder about climate change, the state of the world, and just how sustainable a self-drive trip like ours is.
I come to the conclusion that, maybe sooner rather than later, people’s experiences of the Kimberley might be quite different to ours.
What won’t change, however, is that a trip to the Kimberley will almost certainly be a trip of a lifetime.