Don’t wander willy-nilly around the Kimberley countryside. If you’ve got a trip coming up, there’s no better way to get ready than to ask the experts.
Broome any time?
My wife and I are talking about taking a trip to Broome, though due to work etc the Christmas break seems to be the only time we can get away. Some friends are saying stay away at that time of year due to the heat and cyclones, then others are saying the wet season doesn’t really kick off until January. I thought if anyone knew it would be Mr. Australia. Your thoughts? – Evan Wilkinson, Mosman Park
Evan, from WA boy to another, you should really know this already. Although, having said that, I had to look a few things up myself and make a few calls, just to be certain. So – what do I know about Broome during Christmas? My initial response would be that it’s way too hot and sticky. But there are some obvious advantages to that. It’s cheaper, of course, and will cool down a bit after the rains. But the main thing to remember is that it’s the height of stinger season (about October to April), so you can’t even get in the water for respite.
If you insist on going, stick to somewhere on Cable Beach that has a pool and the air-conditioning set to “Antarctic” 24/7. It can literally be too hot to do anything. Plus tours into the Kimberley, scenic flights etc, all close down from November to May. Sure, it’s quieter during that time of the year if you like that sort of thing, but you’ll have to weigh that up against the crippling heat and humidity. Sorry if that’s all bad news. Save Broome, or even further to Ningaloo, for another time of the year – say July/August, when the whale sharks are doing their thing.
And here’s a challenge for you: see if you can resist taking a photo of camels walking in a line along the beach with the sun setting behind them. I know it’s almost impossible, but give it a try. – Ed
While you’re up that way?
My husband and I are planning a trip to the Kimberley. We want to fly to Broome from Melbourne, then drive to Kununurra. We’ll probably have around ten days. Can you suggest areas/highlights we should visit? Should we use a 4WD and, if so, do we need to be experienced? – Dianna Reave, Melbourne
Love the itinerary. You don’t mention the time of year but April to September is definitely the time to go. Many roads are impassable in the wet season, and national parks are closed. Boating and swimming in the gorges is out of the question.
Crossing the Kimberley from Broome to Kununurra, you have two options: the Great Northern Hwy or the mostly unsealed Gibb River Road. The latter is the shortest route at just over 700km, but it can’t be rushed and it’s a big undertaking for outback novices. A 4WD is essential and you should carry two spare tyres and much of your fuel, food and water. If you venture north along the Kalumburu Road through the even more isolated Mitchell Plateau, you must be totally self-sufficient.
The sealed Great Northern Hwy swings south of the Kimberley’s main ranges and, as such, bypasses much of the rugged scenery. At around 1050km, it’s longer but quicker, and towns and services are more frequent. A normal car is fine, but many of the side-trips to special sights require a 4WD, so it’s advisable and definitely more comfortable. No specific 4WD experience is required.
Derby, 190km up the coast from Broome, is the Gateway to the Gorges, and is a good starting point for Kimberley expeditions. Between Derby and Fitzroy Crossing are three unmissable national parks: Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Geike Gorge. Windjana Gorge NP is two hours inland from Derby. You can walk the length of the gorge in the dry season, when it shrinks to a series of pools. The Aboriginal art sites need seeking out – ask locals or the ranger stationed here during the dry season.
Just 30km southeast is Tunnel Creek NP, with its remarkable 750m tunnel carved by water. You can walk the length of the tunnel but even in the dry season be prepared to get cold and wet. You’ll need a torch – to watch out for the bats, stalactites and eels.
Fitzroy Crossing is a jumping-off point for Aboriginal heritage trails and boat tours in Geikie Gorge NP, only 18 km northeast of town. Another must-see in the region is Purnululu NP, with its distinctive Bungle Bungle Range, 160km and about four hours northeast of Halls Creek. The park’s limited tracks are for 4WD vehicles only. Many visitors camp for several days and make overnight treks to Cathedral Gorge and other spots. BYO all food and water.
For a desert experience, head south of Halls Creek along the Tanami Road (or Track) for 148km to the spooky Wolfe Creek meteorite crater. The car park stops at the base of the crater, and it’s a quick hike to the lip. Some parts of the crater wall are a sheer 50m drop to the floor, but you can clamber down safely in several places. This is another sight probably best appreciated from the air.
From Halls Creek it’s 310km north to Kununurra. Before you tear into its creature comforts, a worthwhile circuit is north to the historic port of Wyndham, 52km up the road and the meeting place of five teeming rivers which flow into Cambridge Gulf (see page 140 for a Reader Story on the area). Skirting the Cockburn Range south of Wyndham along a 4WD track, you’ll pass turn-offs to three famous cattle stations. The most well known is the oasis-like El Questro, perched dramatically atop a cliff over the Pentecost River. Accommodation here ranges from the luxurious (around $1000 a day) to basic riverside campsites.
Travellers on outback roads should check local conditions before heading out, especially after rainfall, which can turn roads into rivers. The Gibb River Road is used by road-trains transporting cattle, which can also leave the track in a state. Contact the local tourism office, police or road authority for up-to-date info.