Just the words ‘final frontier’ and ‘isolated wilderness’ are enough to arm any traveller with a slight sense of trepidation. These are phrases often used to describe the north-west corner of our country, a region known as The Kimberley. I have heard many a person say that they would love to visit, but it is ‘too far’, ‘too hard’ and ‘too remote’. I tell them it is actually easier to visit than they think.
Sure, there is no getting around the fact that the Kimberley is a remote wilderness. It is a huge area around three times the size of England. It is largely unexplored and undiscovered, with a sparse population and a landscape of rugged gorges, red desert, dramatic ranges and semi-arid savannah. The Gibb River road is a ‘notorious’, largely unmade, track that cuts through the heart of it, and combined, all of the elements make it difficult for travellers to envisage how they could tackle it.
We left it to the experts, and climbed aboard a custom-designed 4WD truck with APT’s Kimberley Wilderness Adventures that would take us, along with a small group, to all the highlights without any of the stress.
We met our guide, Chris ‘Digga’ Diggenden, in Broome, which in itself, is a breathtaking place to visit. With flights from most corners of the country, Broome is the coastal gateway to the Kimberley and is blessed with famous Cable Beach, spectacular sunsets and a charming and historical town centre. We highly recommend a few days here at the start or end of your journey to enjoy everything it has going for it.
Digga would turn out to be one of the most knowledable, passionate guides we had ever encountered. Having spent a lot of his time in this part of the country, he has an obvious and deep love for it and was a living-breathing encyclopaedia on its history, facts, figures and stories. If we weren’t already excited enough for the adventure, he certainly stirred up some more as we got on our way.
The landscape soon changed from stunning coastal scenery to verdant red outback, dotted with iconic Boab trees along the way, and everyone on board was struck with anticipation. After a few hours we hit the Gibb River Road, and the well-designed vehicle ensured we felt safe and comfortable for the journey. It was originally built as a cattle route to nearby Derby and for much of the year is impassable due to the rainy season. Apart from a small section closer to Kununurra, it is literally a corrugated, red dirt track and only navigable by 4WD. It was immediately reassuring to know we were in such good hands on this outback highway which has little to no resources such as petrol stations along the way.
On either side of this ‘road’ lie some of the Kimberley’s best treasures. Along the way we would take inconspicuous turn-offs to hidden gems, and one of our first stops was Windjana Gorge. An absolute oasis in the desert, sheer cliffs surround a sandy stretch of the Lennard River which forms still pools in the dry season. The only sounds you can hear are the calls of birdlife and we could spot freshwater crocodiles basking in the sun on the banks of the water.
We continued to Tunnel Creek, a natural tunnel formed within the Napier Range that leads to a stunning, natural oasis. This was the first of many ‘adventures’ as we took off our shoes and, with flashlights, waded in the water through the tunnel to the other side.
As we got back onto the ‘Gibb’ and the sun started to sink in the sky, we reached our first accommodation and an introduction to what we could expect from the rest of the journey. Designed to fit perfectly into its environment, yet with as much comfort and style as you could need, Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge was the very definition of ‘glamping’. The view from our safari tents, equipped with private ensuites and decks, looked over the King Leopold Range and a cuppa in bed in the morning, with the tent ‘doors’ open, was something to behold.
In the evening, we enjoyed a home-style dinner with wine in the alfresco restaurant, and were entertained by the campfire afterwards by Digga and his didgeridoo. Nothing could have been more perfect, and also effortless on our behalves.
The journey continued in the same vein. We explored natural wonders on either side of the Gibb, including Bell Gorge, and then journeyed up the Kalambaru Road towards the Mitchell Plateau. This part of the Kimberley is extremely remote, and there were quite a few times that we all felt thankful that the logistics were being taken care of by people other than ourselves. It almost felt too easy, but that was the beauty. We were all simply left to enjoy ourselves and the beauty and wonder around us, instead of worrying about the details.
The walk into Mitchell Falls remains one of my highlights. Joined by a local indigenous guide who added immeasurable value to our experience, we passed stunning aboriginal art galleries and magical waterfalls. Reaching the famed four-tiered Mitchell Falls themselves was the cherry on top. We were all speechless as we viewed the spectacle and heard the traditional legends that surround it. A helicopter flight out of the falls and back to our wilderness camp as the day came to an end surpassed our expectations. I still believe there are few experiences that can equal it.
A trip to the Kimberley would not be complete without a stay at El Questro Wilderness Park, a million-acre property at the end of the Gibb River Road which offers travellers a number of incredible experiences. We hiked into Emma Gorge and swam in the natural swimming hole, soaked in the lush Zebedee Springs, and climbed one of the peaks of the property in a guided 4WD tour that allowed us to watch the sun set over the land, with a glass of champagne in hand.
And finally, there was Purnululu National Park. Home to the Bungle Bungles, the intrepid journey into the park was handled beautifully by our custom vehicle and our experience at the Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge was second to none. From there, we explored the incredible landscape, with a guided walk into Cathedral Gorge along the fossilised bedrock of Piccaninny Creek, where we walked through the middle of the giant, ancient, bee hive-like domes of the Bungles. An aerial tour over them by helicopter later that afternoon completed the experience.
Along the way, we benefited from expert guidance, information and inspiration from our wonderful Digga, as well as the various local guides and staff of our wilderness camps. This kind of information, not to mention all of the logistics of the experience, would take tonnes of research if attempted individually, and we were all able to relax in the knowledge we were in capable and expert hands at all times. Nothing about this trip was ‘hard’, other than the fact that when it was all over, we had to tear ourselves away and go back home.