If you’re looking for a holiday full of frontier adventure, dramatic gorges and waterfalls, crocodiles and generally escaping the crowds, the Kimberley should be top of your Australian travel itinerary. If you’ve seen Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman’s film Australia, you’ll already be familiar with some of the region’s jaw-dropping scenery.
Stretching from Broome almost all the way to Darwin, and comparable in size to Poland, the Kimberley is a huge and remote chunk of north-western Australia. To see it properly you need to rent a 4WD vehicle in Broome or Darwin or, if you’re not too confident of your river-crossing skills, book a tour. They’re not cheap, but if you do just one tour in Australia, make it this one. The best option is to take a one-way tour between Darwin and Broome that lasts about 10 days. Tour prices generally include accommodation, food and park fees.
The Kimberley’s main gateway town is Asia-infused Broome – where you’ll find Cable Beach (actually 4km from town) and possibly the most beautiful sunsets in Australia. A lively pearling town with a rich history, gastronomic reputation and well-established tourism infrastructure, Broome is a place all Australians seem to dream of visiting. Luckily its remote location means it still never feels overcrowded, despite always being a popular option for luxury holidays and honeymoons.
There are plenty of hotels, vacation apartments and bars, plus the world’s oldest open-air cinema, a bird observatory and a crocodile park. Taking a guided camel ride along Cable Beach at sunset is perhaps one of Australia’s most iconic and famously romantic experiences, with images of the spectacular sun melting into the Indian Ocean having adorned a million tourism posters. If you’re not a fan of riding camels, or are a keen photographer, it’s actually much better (and cheaper!) to simply sit back on Cable Beach with a sundowner drink and watch the camels lumber past.
If visiting between March and October, try to time your Broome holiday to coincide with the full moon, during which the light at low tide creates a stunning optical illusion known as the Staircase to the Moon. It’s also a lively time to be in town, when both locals and tourists flock to the area to enjoy the night markets as well as the visual spectacle. It’s easy to catch a flight to Broome, however you’ll generally have to travel via either Perth or Darwin. You can also take scenic flights over the Kimberley from Broome.
Things to see in the Kimberley
Whether you choose to book a tour or self-drive, you’ll most likely find yourself travelling along the 4WD Gibb River Road (probably up there with Queensland’s Cape York for the title of Australia’s most exciting roadtrip). Highlights along the way include Bell Gorge, Windjana Gorge, Galvans Gorge, Adcock Gorge, El Questro Wilderness Park and Tunnel Creek. An interesting diversion, in the Kimberley’s south-eastern corner, is the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater, which lent its name (albeit mispelt) and some aerial shots to the 2005 horror film. Believed to be over 300,000 years old, it’s the second biggest meteorite crater in the world.
A great place to explore if you’re just looking to escape Broome for a few days is the Dampier Peninsula, between Broome and Beagle Bay along the Cape Leveque Road. It’s an area with endless, empty white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, Aboriginal culture experiences and a famous German church with an altar made from mother of pearl. Tours are easy to arrange from Broome, although you will have to book ahead and arrange permits if wanting to travel to Aboriginal communities.
You can’t travel to the Kimberley and not visit Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungle), on the region’s eastern edge. Incredibly only discovered by outsiders as recently as the 1980s, this World Heritage-listed area is home to thousands of bizarre and ancient, giant sandstone domes. The Bungles are one of Australia’s greatest natural wonders, with a trip there being as memorable as seeing Uluru (Ayers Rock), only without the crowds. It’s a great place to take a scenic helicopter flight as only a very small fraction of the national park can be explored from the ground. If you’re limited for time but are desperate to visit Purnululu, you can catch a flight to Kununurra and then book a two or three day tour. While in Kununurra, it’s worth taking a boat trip out on Lake Argyle, a massive reservoir which is renowned for good fishing (and crocodiles).
Like with Kakadu, Cairns and the rest of Australia’s tropical northern regions, the Kimberley only really has two seasons – the Wet (November to April) and the Dry (May to October). Note that heavy rains and flooding during the Wet will make many parts of the Kimberley, including much of the Gibb River Road, inaccessible, even if you’ve rented a 4WD. As a result, tours operate less frequently, temperatures regularly soar above 40°C and you’ll be able to see less of the region, but on the plus side it’s quieter, tours and accommodation are generally cheaper and you will get to see some incredible storms. If you travel towards the end of the Dry season, extremely high humidity will be near unbearable. The start of the Dry season is generally the ideal time to visit the Kimberley. It’s busier, but temperatures are lower and you can get almost anywhere.