Kimberley (Western Australia)
The northernmost region of Western Australia is called the Kimberley. This spectacular region has an area of over 421,000 square kilometres. It is bordered by the Northern Territory to the East, the Pilbara to the South, the Indian Ocean to the Northwest and the Timor Sea to the North.
The Kimberley is one of the world's last great wilderness areas, and covers an area large enough to fit the U.K. twice, though the total population is slightly higher than 40 000. Most of the population is concentrated in small towns such as Kununurra and Wyndham in the East and Broome and Derby on the coast in the west. Highlights of the Kimberley include magnificent wilderness scenery, rare fauna and flora and a rich and colourful history. The Kimberley thrives as a tourist destination with 85% of the population being tourists. The area draws much of its history on its pearling industry. There are several historic reminders in Broome (such as a Japanese cemetery) of the importance of pearls for the Kimberley. Museums run by local historical societies in Broome, Kununurra and Wyndham, as well as the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum at Lake Argyle, are all worth investigating to take in the history.
The Kimberley really has 3 seasons: The Wet Season or "The Wet" (December - April), The Dry Season or "The Dry" (April - September) and "The Buildup" (October and November)."
The Dry is the ideal time to visit, with six months of blue skies, when you can get cool nights of 15 degrees Celsius in May and June, with blue skies and 30 degree days by 8 am for most of the dry. Take in the amazing ancient scenery, experience great fishing and wildlife spotting, especially for bird-watching and during August for the Humpback whale migration period.
The Buildup has hot days of 40 degrees Celsius on a daily basis for a month or more, can get humid, and people look forward to an afternoon thunderstorm, which have some of the highest cloud formations on the planet and produce spectacular lightning displays. These are especially prevalent in the north at Kununurra and Wyndham and are a great site to see but be prepared for the heat.
The tropical wet season rain cools the buildup temperatures and cyclonic activity produces some heavy rains, especially in coastal areas. "Set in Weather," during the wet season, when clouds set in on the ranges for days, and the temperature cools the land is welcomed by locals.
These seasons have a large impact on visitor numbers, tours, travel accommodation in the region, with most visitors arriving in the Dry season. During the Wet, the Gibb River Road is closed and various areas can be flooded. Some providers, especially in areas such as the Gibb River Rd close completely. You can often find prices at the resorts in Broome may halve from the first day in November. Some tours may still operate out of Broome and Kununurra. Although the buildup period between the end of the dry and the first rains of the wet can be a cost-effective time to visit, at this time, the land seems covered with dust, some streams have ceased running entirely, and the heat and humidity are stifling.
Roads and air travel have improved dramatically in the rest of the Kimberley and the wet season will become more popular with travellers as the "Green Season," to see the Kimberley in its glory, green and with waterfalls flowing in January February and March.
There are no international scheduled flights. Broome and Kununurra have daily scheduled flights, and Derby has a few direct flights a week. Broome is the most easily accessed town, with flights from Perth, Sydney, Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane and Alice Springs on the weekend. Kununurra and Derby are a bit more challenging to get to, with flights from Darwin, Broome or Perth only.
There are scheduled buses by Greyhound from Perth to Darwin, stopping at Broome, Derby and Kununurra. Keep in mind that it is an extremely long bus trip (Perth to Broome will keep you seated for more than 30 hours, and add another 30 hours to get to Darwin).
Cruises to Kimberley normally depart after the wet season. The Kimberley coastline, surrounded with red cliffs and azure blue seas, which is normally inaccessible by car or bus, could now be viewed and explored in safety on a cruise ship. Cruise ships generally depart from Darwin, and will visit placese in the Kimberley region such as King George River and Falls, Vansittart Bay, Hunter River, Montgomery Reef, Talbot Bay, Cape Levequ, The Lacepedes and Broome.
On the ground
There are two main roads in the region, the sealed Great Northern Highway, and the unsealed Gibb River Road. The Gibb River road is probably more spectacular, as it crosses through the heart of the Kimberley through magnificient wilderness scenery, but you will need a 4WD, and it is simply not passable in the wet. Once on the Gibb River Road, you can turn North on the Kalumburu road which will lead you to the Kalumburu mission (permits are required to visit the community) and the Mitchell Plateau. Note that there is no fuel supply on the Mitchell plateau beyond Drysdale station.
It should be noted that 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. If you go off road, go with an experienced guide. Tour operators traveling these regions carry satellite phones as normal cellphones do not work in these places.
Unsealed roads are not suitable for conventional vehicles and international travelers should research their self drive trip thoroughly, contacting relative government tourism bureaus for information and advice before attempting trips into the more remote areas.
If you do not have your own car, there are a number of tour operators who run tours between Broome and Darwin, the tours range from Accommodated Coach tours to adventure 4WD tours, Kimberley Outback Tours runs 7 day small group 4WD, helicopter, accomodation provided tours from May-Sept departing from Darwin and Broome going in both directions. See Kimberley Outback Tours or call 1300 286 453 for more details. Travelwild Australia run 5 and 9 day small group 4WD, camping tours during the dry season departing weekly from Broome and Darwin from $150 per day, see Kimberley Tours for more details, or Kimberley Safari Centre - running luxury Coach & 4wd Safari's throughout the Kimberley's and Western Australia. Freecall 1800 677 830.
Above the ground
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 (for instance Horizontal Falls Adventure Tours).
On the water
If you can not drive it nor fly it, sail it. A variety of tour operators can arrange cruising and sailing in the Kimberley:
There are very little catering options outside of the towns, so the best advice is to be as self sufficient as possible if you drive into the outback.
The Kimberley is not a desert, but it is still a very hot place, so drink plenty of water. There are a few bars in Broome, but otherwise the nightlife is as one would expect rather limited.
The area is more or less surrounded by extremely inhospitable areas (Great Sandy Desert and Tanami Desert to the South and South East), the only reasonable way to leave the region is either to drive South from Broome (be prepared for at least a day of absolute nothingness of flat-straight driving before reaching the interesting areas of the Pilbara) or East from Kununurra into the tropical and humid Northern parts of the Northern Territory.
Hall's Creek is the starting point of the Tanami Track, a comparatively well graded dirt road that will lead you to the Red Centre and further on to Alice Springs. A 4WD is however recommended, and it still a remote outback dirt track crossing arid areas with very little supply on the way (basically only a single roadhouse).
If, and only if, you are fully prepared and equipped (meaning a very thorough research about potential dangers and risks, as well as arrangement for fuel drops), the first 150 km of the Tanami Track are shared with the legendary Canning Stock Route, one of the most demanding and remote tracks on Earth. It is a tough 1800 km 4WD drive with absolutely no facilities and no fuel supply through the desert and very far from any civilization. The track will lead you down to Wiluna, 1000 km North of Perth. Do not attempt this track lightly.