The Kimberley is the Australia people fantasise about. It’s a fiery-red dream of rugged ancient landscapes, jaw-dropping natural formations and Grade A Aussie authenticity. But making that fantasy a reality is surprisingly easy. Broome – the hugely endearing, character-packed gateway to the Kimberley – is a perfect bookend. It’s just a direct flight away from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth – and once you’re there, there are at least five ways to style the trip to your tastes and interests…
The adventurous way
It’s possible to ease in gently with a paddle from Broome’s legendary Cable Beach. The Broome Adventure Company runs kayaking tours there, and turtles are generally happy to pop up and say hello.
It’s a wild ride rather than wildlife in store at the Buccaneer Archipelago’s ‘horizontal waterfalls’ – fast-moving tidal flows between two gorges that create a white water experience for the fast boats that take them on. That’s day-trippable with Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures, and acts as a taster for one of the world’s great 4WD experiences – the 660km Gibb River Road from Derby to Kununurra. The route is interspersed with epic gorges, swoony waterfalls, picture-perfect swimming holes and hiking trails where barely another soul is likely to be seen.
Given another week, the drive can be turned into a loop, returning via Highway 1. On the way, there are the eye-poppingly odd red and black beehive-esque rock formations in the Purnululu National Park – also known as the Bungle Bungles.
And, if time-pressed, a much shorter day trip loop can be created by veering off the Gibb near the freshwater croc-lined banks of Windjana Gorge. On the way back to Broome, tackle Tunnel Creek – a 750m underground tunnel created by an ancient barrier reef, full of small pools and spectacular cave formations.
The luxury way
Want to keep it simple? Then a few days’ spa, R&R at the likes of the Cable Beach Club or Kimberley Sands Resort works very nicely indeed. But it’s also possible to stimulate the inner sense of discovery in the Kimberley’s rugged expanses while not having to rough it.
The El Questro Wilderness Park offers lavish clifftop retreats with free-standing baths, tropical garden showers and private decking with maxed-out escarpment views. Those pushing the boat out can arrive by helicopter, then get taken out on the chopper to see waterfalls and gorges not accessible by land, or to prime barramundi-fishing spots.
Alternatively, go by sea rather than air. North Star Cruises runs seven, ten and thirteen day cruises on the 36 passenger True North. This small group ship sails up to the thundering Twin Falls on the King George River, drops by ancient indigenous rock art and pulls over to see dugongs swim along the Montgomery Reef.
And then there are the pearls. The biggest and most valuable in the world come from north-western Australia, and the major pearling players have glossy showrooms in Broome. But to see how pearls are cultivated from oyster to jewellery box, pearl farms such as Willie Creek near Broome and Cygnet Bay on the Dampier Peninsula offer tours – with scenic flight transfers if desired.
The cultural way
Broome’s jewellery showrooms are complemented by a host of art galleries, many focusing on indigenous art. And a trip to the flicks here has heritage gravitas – Sun Pictures is the world’s oldest outdoor cinema and has been showing movies under the stars for 100 years.
The Kimberley region has a strong Aboriginal heritage, which is most easily explored on the Dampier Peninsula. Kooljaman at Cape Leveque is owned by two nearby indigenous communities, and offers safari-style tents overlooking the tides and red cliffs in this gloriously end of the world-ish spot. Brian Lee’s Hunter Creek Tagalong Tour teaches traditional fishing and mudcrabbing methods before cooking the catch on an open fire. Bundy’s, meanwhile, offers night time fishing, introductory bush tucker tastings and spear-making sessions.
Just off the Gibb River Road, the Home Valley Station is also indigenous owned, and offers an accommodation range from basic camping to impressively luxurious ‘grass castles’. Horse trail rides and fishing outings are available too.
For rock art, the Mimbi Caves near Fitzroy Crossing are a prime spot. Girlooloo Tours brings the caves to life with Dreaming stories forays into traditional bush medicine made from flora found inside.
The historic way
A highly distinctive history is a major part of what makes Broome very different from the average resort town. Broome was built on pearling, and the Pearl Luggers once used by crews searching for the lucrative shiny shells are now the best place to delve into the industry. The huge suits and helmets the divers had to wear raise gasps, and the stories of the conditions they worked under highlight both the adventure and the danger. Most of the divers and pearling crews came from Asia, which accounts for the distinct Asian influence on Broome’s character. A wander through the surprisingly huge Japanese and Chinese cemeteries, or around the corrugated iron heritage buildings of Chinatown, bring that home.
Plenty of the old buildings now have a new purpose. An old pearling master’s house now proudly reincarnated as the Pinctada McAlpine House boutique accommodation and a century-old store is now home to the famously experimental Matso’s Brewery. The ginger and mango beers go down a treat on warm nights.
The World War II story, where Japanese raids took out several flying boats in Roebuck Bay, is covered by Broome Historical Walking Tours and the Broome Museum. It’s still possible to walk out to the wrecks of those flying boats on a low tide.
The unusual way
Those monster ten metre tides are another thing that makes Broome stand out. The Indian Ocean can come right up to the mangroves, then be several kilometres out a few hours later.
Such an unusual landscape calls for exploration via unique means – a hovercraft. Broome Hovercraft Tours runs trips out to the ancient dinosaur footprints in the rocks near Gantheaume Point, then stops for magical sunset views with the red skies twinkling in the tidal flats.
Broome’s longer-standing form of novelty transport is the camel, and the rides along the humungous sandy expanses of Cable Beach have become a local tradition. There’s plenty of beach for the Broome Camel Safaris crew to share with the families taking their 4WDs and fishing rods down to the water’s edge.
A short but satisfyingly strange addition to a break in Broome can be complemented with a day out with a difference on the Dampier Peninsula. Ahoy Buccaneers invites guests along the red dirt roads to do the mail run up to Cape Leveque. Scenic views are interrupted to drop off parcels at remote communities, pearl farms, and the gloriously out-of-place Beagle Bay church, where the altar is made from shells and mother of pearl.