Landscape photographer Grenville Turner has been shooting for over 30 years. The Kimberley in WA’s remote northwest has been a geographical marvel for over 400 million. It’s well past time we got these two together. 

Words Gail Liston-Burgess

The Kimberley is a place so overwhelmingly visual it’s almost impossible to absorb the totality of the landscape. The deep ochre of the vast desert plains, the vibrant turquoise of the ocean guarded by impenetrable cliffs, the untrammelled beaches, white and piercing, the red-browns of the rugged ranges, the penetrating greens of the plant life, the crystal waters of the hidden gorges . . . the colours of the Kimberley are all-encompassing.

The first European tourist to the region, William Dampier, navigator, explorer, buccaneer and distinguished chronicler of the seven seas, was reckoned to have sighted the coastline in 1688, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that interest in the Kimberley was rekindled, with the pearlers and prospectors establishing bases in Broome and Derby, followed by the cattlemen and mining companies.

Now, comprising some 900,000 square kilometres and forming one of the last true wildness areas on the planet, the Kimberley is a region positively intoxicating to the traveller. There’s Cable Beach, with its 22 uninterrupted kilometres of baking sand; Cape Leveque on the Kimberley’s western tip, with its stunning yellow-gold sunsets; the 350 million-year-old Devonian period reef at Windjana Gorge National Park rising dramatically from the surrounding plain; and to the east, the Bungle Bungles, a continuous procession of huge black and orange-striped domes that tell a 20 million-year-old story. Waterfalls and waterholes dot the Mitchell Plateau to the north, providing a noisy contrast to the numbing silence of a single Boab tree anchored on a seemingly endless plain below. There’s plenty here to discover.

The popular gateways to the Kimberley are along the west coast via Broome and the Great Northern Highway, from the east via Kununurra along Highway 1, or diagonally right down the rugged centre via the Gibb River Road to Derby. Whichever way you choose, 4WD drive vehicles are recommended to ensure easy access to Fitzroy Crossing, Turkey Creek, the 1880s frontier gold mining town of Halls Creek and the multitude of natural attractions along the way. Points of interest on these routes include the 1000-year-old prison Boab tree south of the Derby Highway and Gibb River Road intersection, the Argyle Diamond Mines and Lake Argyle itself (touted as the largest man-made lake in the southern hemisphere, some nine times larger than Sydney Harbour), the million-acre El Questro Station wilderness park, and of course the remote Mitchell Plateau with the famed Mitchell Falls, Surveyors Pool and a never-ending supply of barramundi.

Every year, drawn by the region’s splendid isolation and ruggedness, more and more visitors venture into WA’s far northwest. Some come prepared, some don’t. Many are unaware that road conditions can vary with seasonal influences, so if you’re going off the beaten track, remember that authorities pronounce the importance of lodging plans with the local tourist agencies. Because when “the wet” arrives, many routes can become completely impassable.

Traditionally, the dry season is the most popular time to visit the Kimberley – April through October being the optimum months. Cooler than the wet season, “the dry” is preferred by those who want to explore the natural attractions of the region in greater depth. Humidity levels are almost nonexistent, the skies are nothing but deep azure, fresh breezes cool the night and outdoor activities become the highlight of the holiday experience.

But there’s a bit of a misconception about the wet. Many believe the Kimberley should be avoided at this time. On the contrary, the rain doesn’t fall constantly – it comes in heavy and generally short downpours, usually late in the afternoon and early evening, resulting in summer storm lightshows that must be seen to be believed. This is the perfect time to sit back, relax with a cool drink and watch as Mother Nature refreshes the land.

When to visit the Kimberley is a matter of personal choice, but for those fortunate enough to experience both seasons and their very different moods, it’s an opportunity to understand the true beauty and diverse nature of the region.

For photographer Grenville Turner, there’s only ever been one way to attack the Kimberley – with spirit. Striking out from Kununurra in a 4WD drive loaded with enough essentials for a three-month sojourn, Turner’s plan was to tackle this remote region with no preconceptions, only a desire to respect the environment and report through the medium of photography its honesty and purity. The results, we think you’ll agree, were well worth the trip.

[*For more information on Grenville Turner and his works and exhibitions, visit the Grenville Turner Gallery at www.grenvilleturner.com ]

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