The Kimberley is a huge savannah plain in the north of Western Australia. It stretches from Broome in the West to Kununurra in the East, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek in the south to the coastline in the north. The area is bigger than Tasmania and Victoria combined.
Some areas of the Kimberley have been settled by Europeans since the 1800s, while other parts are only newly discovered, like the Bungle Bungles. It is considered to be one of the last remaining wilderness areas on earth and if you’re game enough to explore it, the Kimberley will give you the ultimate outback experience.
The land was first explored in 1837 by George Grey, and the area boomed during the 1860s due to pearling, sheep and cattle farms, mining for diamonds, gold and iron, and cotton picking. It is believed that the Kimberley coastline was possibly the original landing spot of the first aboriginals who came from South East Asia thousands and thousands of years ago.
The natural attractions are plentiful – gorges, waterfalls, palm forests, rocky outcrops and swimming holes – and you will find yourself surrounded by wildlife like crocodiles, birds, frogs, lizards, kangaroos and dingoes. Cattle stations are scattered throughout the Kimberley and you will see their stock grazing at the side of the road.
Aboriginal Art Styles
We saw lots of aboriginal art galleries in the Kimberley containing drawings of crocodiles, kangaroos, people and handprints. There were two distinct aboriginal art styles that we saw – Bradshaw and Wandjina – and it was really interesting to see the difference between the two styles.
Bradshaw Art depicts people like fat stick figures. Sometimes they hold weapons or wear ceremonial clothing. Most of these are painted in red and they are believed to be at least 17,000 years old.
The Wandjina Style is represented by ancestral beings surrounded with halos and sun rays, with big eyes and a nose but no mouth. It is believed that this is a more recent style of art from about 1000 years ago.
When we departed from Derby, we promised ourselves one thing – no laptop activity until we finished the Gibb River Road.
Gibb River Road
Considered to be the artery that travels through the heart of the Kimberley, the Gibb River Road is a 660km stretch of dirt road that was constructed in the 1960s to transport cattle from the stations to the ports of Derby and Wyndham.
There was heaps of wildlife to spy as we drove along – brolgas, bustards and the occasional cow – but the real attractions were the gorges.
Located within the Windjana National Park, the entrance to the gorge is equipped with a picnic area and toilets that actually flush! There is an entry fee into the national park but if you have a WA Parks Pass then you’re all sorted. Camping is permitted in designated areas and the 7km walking track into the gorge starts at the Day Picnic Area.
The first thing we noticed as we entered the gorge was the towering cliffs overhead. As we passed through a narrow corridor of rock, we followed a trail alongside the Lennard River through lush vegetation and trees wrapped by vines. The path led us down on the banks, where about a dozen freshwater crocodiles were sunning themselves. When Juz saw the first one, only 10 metres away, she jumped up and grabbed Dave, but the crocodile didn’t budge. They were all perfectly content with lazing about in the morning sun like statues. We hung around taking photos of the crocs and waited for a bit of action, secretly half-hoping that a bird (or a tourist!) would get just that little bit too close…
The birdlife was incredible, with lots of little finches, rainbow bee-eaters and birds of prey. We also found a tree laden with noisy fruit bats.
A decent hike from the car park along a dry creek bed brings you to a lookout that provides great views of a waterfall and the gorge below. On the way back, we found ourselves sweaty and stinky so we deviated from the path and found a little creek under the shade of a tree and had a refreshing dip amongst the frogs and lilies.
This gorge is a clear favourite. The hike from the car park was nice and easy and brings you out to the top of the waterfall. We were spewing that we forgot our togs because it was a great spot for swimming.
If you cross the river, you can follow another path to a great viewpoint that overlooks the waterfall. You can even scale down the rock cliff into the gorge for a quick swim. Watch out for crocs though.
After a short, tight and rough track leading to this gorge, we were very well rewarded. Adcock Gorge is a great location for a dip, but watch out for all the St Andrews Cross spiders! Juz kept screaming ‘Jumanji’ and desperately avoided their webs out of fear of wearing a spider silk mask.
The calm pool leading up to the waterfall was full of flowering lilies and as we navigated the stepping stones, Dave stumbled upon what he first thought was a snake but later realised it was a legless lizard wiggling about on the rocks! The waterhole itself is lush and full of moss and overhanging roots from rock fig trees. Despite being a little bit murky, the water was cool and refreshing and Juz had a quick swim. There is also some Aboriginal art on the rocks next to the waterhole.
A short walk from the car park will bring you to another waterhole with a water fall that you can swim in. There is another aboriginal art gallery to the right of the waterhole.
Barnett River Gorge
Not the most picturesque gorge in the Kimberley but a great place to camp out for a few days. When you enter the gorge car park and camping areas, you’ll pass a house that says ‘”Trespassers shot on sight” – not exactly the warmest of welcomes so leave them alone and keep moving.
We found a nice patch to set up camp that was relatively shaded and private, and close to a shallow creek and the path towards the gorge. While we couldn’t find the actual gorge at first, we found a series of shallow falls that turned out to be the perfect place to cool off and wash the sweat off your back.
We later found a trail along a dry river bed that led us into the gorge. There was a tour group already there, with a few members having a swim in the river. Juz was about to jump in with them but found out that there were some freshwater crocs inhabiting the water less than 50 metres away. She wussed out, the tour group had a bit of a laugh and we returned to the shallow falls back near camp.
Stay tuned for The Kimberley – Part 2!