SETTLING INTO KIMBERLEY TIME
What you need to know before you go – an insider’s view
WORDS BY LINDA BLOFFWITCH, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MY AUSSIE TRAVEL GUIDE
I still find travelling to WA’s northwest as exciting as it was on my first trip nearly 25 years ago. With several trips now under the belt, and a stint of living in Kununurra, there’s one thing that I appreciate more than ever, and that’s the slow, easy way that time seems to flow up here. It just doesn’t feel right to rush!
As RVers, we prefer, in general, to be free spirits and not have to make plans that are too stringent, but the Kimberley is an exception. To begin with, the area is so large that travelling distances alone between towns and attractions need to be factored into your travels. Time and planning is the key to maximising your trip.
Be mindful that roads around the Kimberley can open at different times after wet season rains, and this in turn affects opening times of attractions. The main towns provide most of the services that you would expect of towns their size, but delays are the norm when items need to be ordered in.
Fuel prices can vary within the towns – it pays to ask around for the best location and price. Out on the blacktop, we allow plenty of time to travel from one place to the next because the Kimberley still has one lane bridges and lots of road trains on the Great Northern Highway. You’ll be sharing the road with these monsters at some stage. Be ready to give them a very wide berth.
If your tow vehicle is a 4WD and you’re planning to travel the Gibb River Road, is it appropriate to have your van in tow? Consider this question before arriving in the Kimberley, as you can’t get your van in at all attractions. Road conditions along the Gibb have improved tenfold since my initial visit, but it’s on the tracks leading to the stations that you could come unstuck with a caravan.
One option could be to store your van at Derby or Kununurra which will then allow you to tent the Gibb, do a tagalong, or research accommodation options along the way. You won’t be stuck for choices! Options range from unpowered sites all the way through to some topnotch 5-star luxury.
There are several National and Conservation Parks waiting to be explored. If you plan to visit at least four of these during a fourweek period, save a few dollars and purchase a holiday pass. It allows you to visit an unlimited number of parks over four weeks.
The major Kimberley towns have attractions that can quickly eat into your holiday budget, so work this into your planning. In Broome alone you’ve got a stack of tours; camel rides, pearl lugger sunset cruise, canoeing, hovercraft across the mudflats, and plenty more.
For only a few dollars, take a look around Broome’s local museum, and schedule plenty of time for places such as the dinosaur footprints, Cable Beach, Streeter’s Jetty, and Sun Pictures. And for some pretty special ginger beer, you must visit Matso’s.
It’s easy to understand why the Kimberley gets busy during the dry season, when an area double the size of Western Europe has little more than two dozen caravan parks! When it comes to places like Broome and Kununurra, book ahead if you’d like your site guaranteed. Since site costs are generally the same wherever you’re located in the park, it pays to book early and get a shady or waterfront site rather than a location in full sun.
In Broome, caravan parks allowing pets are limited. Only one in central Broome currently permits pets, but they too have a block-out period from the beginning of June until the end of August. Overflow places such as the Broome PCYC and the Seventh Day Adventist Church allow pets, so check availability when planning your stay.
Free camping options are numerous throughout the entire region with the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome having some amazing spots. This area also has some of the best coastal views in the Kimberley, and for an all-round great holiday destination, the sunsets here are superb. But do your research, since not all attractions permit caravans due to the rough roads.
The tides along the peninsula, which can reach an incredible 10 metres, are nothing short of phenomenal. Cygnet Bay offers a Giant Tides tour that enables visitors to experience the massive King Sound tides first hand as you speed through whirlpools. There wouldn’t be too many other places in Australia where you get a chance to witness a waterfall out at sea!
If seeing the Horizontal Falls is the highest priority for your Kimberley visit, book this tour first as it fills up quickly, and work the rest of your trip around it. Take the time to review the various falls packages on offer, and check local tide charts before booking: to get the most from this tour, you’re after a large variance in tides. It’s generally cheaper to use Derby as a point of departure for tours rather than Broome, and Derby has a range of attractions for visitors. If you’re visiting the Horizontal Falls, base yourself here.
Settle in at Kununurra for a while if you’re visiting east Kimberley attractions. This is another town that also gets busy. There are several caravan parks available, and those that have waterfront views can book out the quickest, so your timing is critical for booking ahead if you’d like one of these sites.
Around Kununurra, popular attractions include the rum distillery, sandalwood products, and Lake Argyle, to name just a few. Aboriginal art is unique in the Kimberley, so to see some excellent local art, visit Artlandish in the centre of town.
One festival held each year that the whole family will love is the Ord Valley Muster, held each May. The town overflows with people coming from all over Australia to enjoy the festival’s casual atmosphere and entertainment over 10 days. One popular activity is digging for a diamond – and while this might sound a bit strange, but our case, Grant did just that and won a magnificent Argyle diamond.
The pinnacle of the event is the Kimberley Moon Experience where you bring your rug, picnic hamper and an esky, and enjoy a fantastic open-air concert under a full moon.
Western Australia’s most northerly town is Wyndham which is very popular for its Five Rivers Lookout. It’s an amazing sight to see these magnificent major rivers converging, and in the late afternoon, it’s a top spot to have happy hour!
Not far from Wyndham is Parry’s Lagoon Nature Reserve, a haven for breeding waterbirds and lurking saltwater crocodiles. The Reserve is easily accessible from the Great Northern Highway and the birdlife is best seen in the early morning or late in the day. I’d suggest booking in at Parry Creek Farm that’s located in the reserve around midday, and then make your way down to the lagoon before sunset and again before sunrise, to watch the birdlife from the boardwalk and bird hide.
When you head back towards Kununurra you’ll find another great attraction, the Grotto. It’s a spectacular deep rock pool that is a wonderful swimming spot early in the dry season, if you are prepared to climb down (and back up) 140 steps!
The King River Road is not far from the Grotto and leads to the infamous Karunjie Track. If you have a 4WD and are looking for a unique Kimberley sight, drop your tyre pressure and drive 38km to reach the amazing mudflats, where you can see for miles! You’ll probably have the place pretty well to yourself with the amazing Cockburn Range as a backdrop. Absolutely magic!
If the call of the Kimberley is echoing in your mind, spend some time planning to turn what will be a great trip into the trip of a lifetime. Your research doesn’t have to be a daunting process – check out internet forums, blogs, travel guides, or have your questions answered on the Caravan & Motorhome On Tour Facebook page.
Take the time to plan and enjoy your visit, and bring some of that Kimberley spirit away with you, just as we do!