The Kimberley in Western Australia

Echidna Chasm Bungle Bungles in Purnululu. Photo by Nick Haslam

The Kimberley, Western Australia

The Kimberley plateau is one of the last great wilderness areas of Australia. With an area of more than 420,000 square kilometres, (160,0000 sq ml) and a population of only 40,000 it is one of the least populated areas remaining on the continent.

So far from the major population centres of Australia, it is a largely pristine territory, and looks today much as it must have done when the first nomadic hunter gatherers roamed the savannah here more than 20,000 years ago.

The region has a vast biodiversity, with huge tidal rivers and mangrove lined coasts to the north, and wide sweeping plains of grasslands interspersed with rolling rocky hills to the south.

The largest town is Broome, an old pearling port with 20,000 inhabitants, lying beside the 22km of unbroken sands of Cable Beach, reckoned to be one of the best beaches of the entire Australian continent. In the 19th century, Japanese, Chinese and Aboriginal people formed the majority of Broome's population and today it still has a cosmopolitan feel despite being one of the most remote towns of Australia.

El Questro Station in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia East from Broome the coast of the Kimberley is a vast indented shoreline of wide river mouths and creeks, with rocky headlands above deserted white beaches.

One of the most unusual sights is the horizontal 'two-way' waterfall of Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago, an 800 island group just offshore. With a huge tidal range, and wide mud flats, the fast rising and falling tidal flows create dramatic swirling breaking waves like waterfalls in the narrow channels between the islands.

The archipelago is 30 minutes by boat from Derby, a sleepy administrative centre 200 kilometres northeast of Broome. On the outskirts of the town, stands an ancient baobab - known as the Boab Prison Tree. The hollow tree, which is more than 1500 years old was used as an overnight lockup for miscreants in the early 1900s, most of whom would have been Aboriginals.

Heading east from Derby across the centre of the Kimberley plateau the rugged unsealed Gibb River Road, (known as the Gibb), is strictly for four wheel drives only and is closed during the Wet (the annual monsoon which lasts from November until March).
Mitchell Falls in Western Australia. Photo by Tourism Western Australia
From the centre of the Gibb, dirt roads lead to the remote northern Kimberley where the spectacular Mitchell falls are well worth a visit - though the detour will take several days on one of the most difficult tracks of the entire plateau.

The remote aboriginal settlement at Kalumburu, the northern most settlement of Western Australia, is a popular destination for fishermen who catch big barramundi in the muddy creeks, also home to some of the biggest saltwater crocodiles in the world.

On the eastern side of the Kimberley, Wyndham is another cattle port, perched on the edge of the wide mudflats of the Cambridge gulf where five big tidal rivers enter the sea. The lost hidden creeks and rivers of the Kimberley coastline have a bewildering variety of fauna and flora, from immense salt water crocodiles to sea eagles, wallaby and the large black Jabiru, Australia's only stork.

This remote coastline offers numerous possibilities for adventure activities - from fishing to camping and trekking. However it is rugged country and in the Wet most roads are closed with outlying farms and communities accessible only by air. Much of the land here is under indigenous ownership and permits must be obtained for entry. But many four wheel drive tours enter the northern Kimberley and increasingly aboriginal run tour operators give visitors the chance to visit remote and beautiful sites in the company of their traditional owners.

James Wheatley
James Wheating, Guide for Kimberley Wild Expeditions
"Broome is at the gateway to one of the last true wilderness areas of the world. There are pristine beaches, plenty of fish... no-one around for 100s of kilometres"

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Responsible Travel would like to thank the Western Australia tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
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