Broome & The Kimberley
Australia's last frontier is a wild land of remote, spectacular scenery spread over huge distances, with a severe climate, a sparse population and minimal infrastructure. Larger than 75% of the world's countries, the Kimberley is hemmed by impenetrable coastline and unforgiving deserts. In between lie vast boab-studded spinifex plains, palm-fringed gorges, desolate mountains and magnificent waterfalls. Travelling here is an adventure and each dry season a steady flow of explorers search for the real outback along the legendary Gibb River Road.
Aboriginal culture runs deep across the region, from the Dampier Peninsula, where neat communities welcome travellers to Country, to distant Mitchell Plateau, where ancient Wandjina and Gwion Gwion stand vigil over sacred waterholes.
Swashbuckling Broome (home to iconic Cable Beach, camel-tinged sunsets and amber-hued watering holes) and practical Kununurra (with its irrigation miracle) bookend the region. Both are great places to unwind, find a job and meet other travellers.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Broome & The Kimberley.
Looking like a packet of half-melted Jaffas, World Heritage Purnululu is home to the incredible ochre and black striped 'beehive' domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. The distinctive rounded rock towers are made of sandstone and conglomerates moulded by rainfall over millions of years. Their stripes are the result of oxidised iron compounds and algae. To the local Kidja people, purnululu means sandstone, with Bungle Bungle possibly a corruption of 'bundle bundle', a common grass.
WA's most famous landmark offers turquoise waters and beautiful white sand curving away to the sunset. Clothing is optional north of the rocks, while south, walking trails lead through the red dunes of Minyirr Park, a spiritual place for the Yawuru people. Cable Beach is synonymous with camels and an evening ride along the sand is a highlight for many visitors. Locals in their 4WDs swarm north of the rocks for sunset drinks. Stingers are common in the Wet.
One of the most intriguing features of the Kimberley coastline is the phenomenon known as 'horizontal waterfalls'. Despite the name, the falls are simply tides gushing through narrow coastal gorges in the Buccaneer Archipelago, north of Derby. What creates such a spectacle are the huge tides, often varying up to 11m. The water flow reaches an astonishing 30 knots as it's forced through two narrow gaps 20m and 10m wide – resulting in a 'waterfall' reaching 4m in height.
Part of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the superb Mornington Wilderness Camp is as remote as it gets, lying on the Fitzroy River, an incredibly scenic 95km drive across the savannah from the Gibb's 247km mark. Nearly 400,000 hectares are devoted to conserving the Kimberley's endangered fauna and there's excellent canoeing, swimming, birdwatching and bushwalking.
Sublime gorge on the Fitzroy River at Mornington where sunsets are spectacular due to the fiery red of the sandstone rocks. Canoes are available for hire from the camp office.
Leave early if walking to Punamii-unpuu (Mitchell Falls; 8.6km return). The easy trail meanders through spinifex, woodlands and gorge country, dotted with Wandjina and Gwion Gwion rock-art sites, secluded waterholes, lizards, wallabies and brolga. Most people will complete the walk in three hours, but factor in several swims. The waterhole below Little Mertens Falls is especially inviting, while rock art can be found under the cliffs. Individual Uunguu Visitor Passes must be purchased online before arrival.
According to the Jaru people, Kandimalal marks the spot where a huge rainbow serpent emerged from the ground. The impressive crater (880m across, 60m deep) is both remote (137km south along Tanami Rd) and somewhat eerie. A short track leads to a lookout on the crater rim; keep an eye out for ringtail dragons. Access to the crater centre is no longer permitted. There's campsites and toilets, but no water. The final 23km of road may be rough.
Now under the management of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, this historic station, 44km north of the Gibb, offers shady, grassy campsites and excellent birdwatching. Don't miss the stunning, multi-tiered Grevillea Gorge and adjacent Lily Pools.
Sick of the sun? Then cool down underground at Tunnel Creek, which cuts through a spur of the Napier Range for almost 1km. It was famously the hideout of Jandamarra (a Bunuba man who waged an armed guerrilla war against the police and white settlers for three years before he was killed). In the Dry, the full length is walkable by wading partly through knee-deep water; watch out for bats and bring good footwear and a strong torch.