Activities - Explore
- Getting Around
- Kimberley Landscape
- Kimberley Towns
- Kimberley National Parks
- Kimberley Gorges
- Kimberley Places of Interest
The Gibb River Road is a legendary 660 km dirt track which winds through the very heart of the Kimberley from Broome on the west coast to Kununurra near Western Australia’s eastern border. It passes absolutely spectacular landscape, and along the road there are many side trips to dramatic gorges, waterfalls and excellent swimming holes. Just watch out for crocs! You will need a 4WD. This isn’t a hint or suggestion, it’s fact, and the road is simply not passable in the Wet.
The Great Northern Highway, an easily drivable sealed road, also runs through the Kimberley, but skirts the edges more. It’s fine for non 4WD vehicles and there is still plenty to see along this road, but for the full experience, take the Gibb.
Note: this region is one of the most remote areas in Australia. It is not advisable to leave the main roads if you are not experienced in remote area travel or sufficiently prepared with food, water and petrol (gas). If you go off-road AT ANY TIME, go with an experienced guide.
Due to the immensity of the area, several tour operators have scenic flights from larger towns to main touristic attractions otherwise almost impossible to reach.
- Northwest Regional Airlines (+61 8 9192 1369) Offers scenic flights over the Bungle Bungles and Wolf Creek Crater from Kununurra, Wyndham and Halls Creek.
- Alligator Airways (+61 8 9168 1333) Offers scenic flights over the Bungle Bungles from Kununurra and Broome, as well as a charter service.
- Horizontal Falls Adventure Tours (+61 8 9192 2885) A full day tour to the bizarre Horizontal Falls, only accessible by plane. Prices $790 ex Broome and $690 ex Derby.
If you cannot drive it or fly it, sail it. A variety of tour operators can arrange cruising and sailing in the Kimberley, and all offer different experiences (and prices!) so do some research first or look out locally when in Broome or Derby.
Here are some of the larger cruising companies:
The Kimberley is one of the world's last great wilderness areas, and covers an area large enough to fit the UK twice! Despite this, the total population is only slightly higher than 40,000 people, most concentrated in small towns such as Kununurra in the east, and Broome and Derby on the west coast.
The Kimberley consists of the ancient, steep-sided mountain ranges of north-western Australia cut through with sandstone and limestone gorges, and steep ridges from which the extreme monsoonal climate has removed much of the soil. The southern end of the Kimberley, below the Dampier Peninsula, is flatter with dry tropical grassland, making it more suitable for agriculture. As such, some of the land supports cattle stations and farming, such as the valleys of the Ord and Fitzroy Rivers where the soils are relatively fertile.
Although none of the mountains reach even 1,000 metres (3,281 ft), there is so much steep land that much of the region is very difficult to traverse, especially during the Wet season when even sealed roads are often flooded by cyclone and storm activity. The coast consists of typically steep cliffs in the north but flattens out in the south.
From west to east, the "major" towns within the Kimberley are:
- Broome A popular destination to get a taste of the outback without forgoing any luxuries. It's the southern portal to the Kimberley and a jumping off point (or final destination) for travellers through the region. Relax on famous Cable Beach, have a beer or two and explore the town's fascinating pearling history. For more detailed information on this laid back resort town, check out the Appy Travels Broome app.
- Derby The third largest town in the Kimberley at population 3,000, situated on the coast just north-east of Broome. It's a small town with a big boab tree (once used a prison, no joke), a big jetty and a big tide (Derby records a difference of 11.8 m from low to high tide). It has all the amenities you'd need.
- Camballin A small town in the western Kimberley, 110 km south of Derby. It has a caravan park, a shop and a mechanic, but no fuel station. Go for the excellent Barramundi fishing on the Fitzroy River.
- Fitzroy Crossing A tiny town 400 km east of Broome and a nice stop over on the way to Geikie Gorge. It has food, accommodation and fuel amenities.
- Halls Creek Located on the Great Northern Hwy between Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra, it serves as a commercial provider for the surrounding cattle ranches, Aboriginal communities and tourists passing through. It is also a gateway to Purnululu National Park.
- Wyndham The oldest and northernmost town in the Kimberley region; it's a small port town of population 700, sitting at the confluence of five rivers. It has all tourist facilities, and even its own "big thing", the Big Crocodile.
- Kununurra Located at the eastern extremity of the Kimberley forming the eastern entry point and tourism hub. A relaxed town, the second biggest in the region behind Broome, is has many natural attractions and Baz Luhrmann's film, Australia, was filmed just outside of town. Take a cruise on the wondrous Lake Argyle just south or town.
- Kalumburu This is the northernmost community in WA. It's a modern Aboriginal town 290 km (5 hours driving) from the Gibb River Rd via Kalumburu Rd, a 4WD only track. It has a population of about 420 people and is run by the Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation and visitors are welcome with a permit, with camping and some accommodation available. While there go walking, swimming and fishing, and discover the local artwork on offer.
Kimberley National Parks
The Kimberley is famous for its gorges and waterfalls within its eight National Parks:
- Tunnel Creek National Park Located a two and a half hour drive north of Fitzroy Crossing, the natural 750 m long underground cave through which Tunnel Creek flows is the major attraction of the park. You can walk the length of it to the other side of the Napier Range, dodging bats and stalactites along the way! You'll have to wade through some permanent pools so prepared to get wet, always wear shoes, watch out for freshwater crocs and bring a torch. The cave is famously known as being the hideout of the aboriginal warrior, Jandamarra, who was killed outside the entrance in 1897. Entry is $11, there is no camping allowed and it's inaccessible in the Wet.
- Geikie Gorge National ParkAt only 20 km outside the small town of Fitzroy Crossing (390 km east of Broome) and covering only sealed roads, Geikie Gorge National Park is easily accessible. The mighty Fitzroy River has carved a 30 metre deep gorge into the remains of the ancient limestone barrier reef that once existed in the Geikie Ranges, and the highlight of this park is the resulting multi-coloured gorge walls. You can take a cruise down the river, seeing freshwater crocs, dingos and wallabies along the way. There is no camping in this park, so it will be a day trip only.
- Windjana Gorge National Park Another easily accessible gorge. Other than the high 30-100 m gorge walls, the highlight here is the 3.5 km walk along it's length and the dozens of freshwater crocodile you'll find lounging in pools and on the river banks. They're pretty used to humans and far less predatory that their saltwater cousins, so the shouldn't bother you. Just be respectful and don't try and approach them whatever you do! There is a park fee of $11 and there's a campground should you like to stay overnight. Get to the park from the west via the Gibb River Rd from Derby and take the Leopold Downs Road turn off. From the east, the Leopold Downs Road turnoff is just after Fitzroy Crossing on the Great Northern Hwy.
- Wolfe Creek Crater National Park On the edge of the Great Sandy Desert and composed mostly of desert plains and spinifex grassland, this National Park holds a massive 880 m diameter meteorite crater full of trees, wildlife and sinkholes. It was discovered as late as 1947, and only after an aerial survey of the area! It lies about 145 km south of Halls Creek along the Tanami Road. Free entry, camping available but no water so bring your own.
- Purnululu National Park Purnululu is one of the most famous parks in this region, and Australia on a whole, as the home of the Bungle Bungles. These iconic tiger-striped beehive-shaped sandstone domes rise out of the landscape to heights of 300 m, surrounded by a lanscape of towering gorges, sheltered rock pools, dramatic caves and Aboriginal rock art. It's well worth a visit, and many people take a scenic flight over the area too. Amazingly, Purnululu was not found till a film crew happened upon it in 1983, despite it covering an area of 3,200 km square! It begins 250 km south of Kununurra off the Great Northern Hwy, and is only accessible by 4WD from April-December. There is a Visitors Centre in the park and two campgrounds, and be prepared to pay a park fee of about $11 per vehicle.
- Mirima National Park Located only 2 km north of Kununurra, this National Park is easily accessible and shouldn't be missed, featuring spectacular rock formations and Aboriginal rock art. Also know as Hidden Valley National Park, unusual sandstone formations dominate the park and are often compared to the Bungle Bungles. Entry is $11 and there is no camping.
- Mitchell River National Park This northern park is 1,150 km square of rough but breathtakingly beautiful country. Within is the Mitchell Plateau and its campground, and the spectacular Mitchell Falls, renowned as one of the best cascades in Australia and a highlight of the entire region. Because of its remote location most people take a scenic flight over this area, however, you can drive in on 4WD drive tracks but it will take a couple of days for a round trip. Using the sparse Mitchell River campground as a base, you can take the 4-6 hour hike to the falls, seeing plenty on the way, including plunge pools, the rock art behind Little Merton Falls and the cascades of Big Merton Falls. Access to the Mitchell Plateau is via Kalumburu Rd and the Mitchell Plateau Track. The Kalumburu Rd turn-off is 407 km west of Derby, or 240 km east of Wyndham on the Gibb River Rd. Very hard to access but worth it!
- Drysdale River National Park Located 100 km south of Kalumburu and 150 km west of Wyndham, it's the largest and least accessible National Park in the Kimberley. Access is via the track from Carson River Station from the Kalumburu Rd, and permission must be obtained from the Kalumburu Aboriginal Corporation (+61 8 9161 4300) prior to entering, as well as registering at the DEC office in Kununurra. But what you get it untouched wilderness with no marked walking tracks, rangers or facilities in sight. It has two major waterfalls, Morgan Falls and Solea Falls, with numerous others along the course of the river, as well as open woodland, gorges, cliffs, and creeks. You'll need to be completely self sufficient and experienced in bushwalking, off road driving and navigation.
The main reason why people traverse the grueling Gibb River Road in the first place is the gorges to be discovered along the way. Found along the road are plenty of these mighty chasms, supporting many a waterfall and swimming hole. Starting from Derby and driving towards Kununurra you can visit: Lennard Gorge, Bell Gorge, Dimond Gorge, Sir John Gorge, Adcock Gorge, Galvans Gorge, Manning Gorge, the Barnett River Gorges, Windjana Gorge and Geikie Gorge.
The most beautiful and popular are:
- Bell GorgeA very pretty gorge 20 km off the Gibb River Rd in the King Leopold Range Conservation Park along Silent Grove Rd in the west Kimberley, just north of Windjana Gorge. It's a very popular spot for its picturesque waterfall leading to a deep plunge pool, safe for swimming and surrounded by flat rocks to lounge on. There's a 1 km walk from the carpark down to the gorge, and you can stay at the campground there or at the Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge, a two hour drive away.
- Manning Gorge This gorge is on the Mount Barnett Station, about half way along the Gibb River Road. Access is via the Mt. Barnett Roadhouse where you pay a fee then proceed to the gorge and campground. Get there early in the dry season to see the waterfall, but there's pools to swim in all year round.
Kimberley Places of Interest
On the very tip of the Dampier Peninsula, 206 km north of Broome in one of the most remote corners of the world, lies Cape Leveque. It is renowned for its beautiful beach, and is the home to the Aboriginal community owned Kooljaman Resort, clearly one of the most isolated resorts in the world! You can take your pick of accommodation from anything from regular camping, units, cabins on the beach or luxury safari style "tents" in the hillside. Whilst there, enjoy swimming and snorkeling, and don't miss the beach at dusk when the setting sun sets the already red rock ablaze. It's a dazzling area, and well worth braving the bumpy 4WD-only Cape Leveque Road, a four hour drive from Broome. Don't miss it!
El Questro Wilderness Park
The El Questro Wilderness Park is a privately owned former cattle station 110 km west of Kununurra on the Gibb River Road. It encompasses an area of approximately 10,000 km sqare that extends some 80 km into the heart of the Kimberley. It's a beautiful slice of land and has many natural features, including Emma Gorge, Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro Gorge and the Zebedee Springs; lovely places to swim and admire. These sights come at a cost though, and Delaware North, the company that owns El Questro, charges $18 entry per adult. It's up to you to decide whether it's worth the cost when there are so many beautiful, and free, sights along the Gibb River Road. There are three resort areas within the park where you can stay, ranging from top-o-the-line B&B to bush campsites. In full resort style, they also offer a range of tours, flights, cruises, dinner packages, horse rides, etc., meaning you can have a pretty adventurous stay, or a super relaxed pampered (and expensive) experience. It's up to you savvy traveller.
Located 300 km out to sea from Broome are the Rowley Shoals, one of the world's best, yet least known dive sites. They are a chain of three huge pear-shaped coral atolls on the edge of a wide continental shelf, rising with nearly vertical sides from extremely deep water. They are famed for their almost untouched coral gardens, giant clams and other shellfish. Drift diving in and out of the atolls sweeps you through pristine reefs with schools of Trevally, Mackerel and Tuna, as well as sightings of Barracuda, Giant Potato Cod, Maoei Wrasse, Moray Eels, turtles and many species of shark. It is very expensive though, starting from around $3,000 (getting up to $10,000!) for a five day tour, but what an amazing and different experience! The following companies have charters to this special place: