The Kimberley region is located in the northern part of Western Australia, extending from Broome in the west to Kununurra and Lake Argyle in the east, from the sea to a bit south of the main Great Northern Highway (Route 1). It covers about 421,000 square kilometres — slightly larger than Japan and much larger than United Kingdom, New Zealand, or the Australian state of Victoria. It is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the south by the Great Sandy Desert, and on the east by the Northern Territory. Click on the map to see it larger.
The Kimberley has only three towns with a population of more than 2,000 (Broome, Derby and Kununurra), and the total population is only around 25,000. In addition to Route 1 (a sealed road), which runs along the southern part of the area, the unsealed Gibb River Road runs through the heart of the region from Derby to the highway near Kununurra. Access to much of the region is by dirt road (often impassable in the wet season), air (a helicopter is necessary for many parts) or sea.
The Kimberley region was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia, with numerous groups of people arriving over thousands of years from the islands of what is now Indonesia. European settlement, however, is quite recent, dating from around 1885, when the MacDonalds and the Duracks arrived to set up cattle stations, having spent several years droving their cattle from the eastern colonies. Many other Europeans arrived soon after, when gold was discovered around Halls Creek. Although the gold rush didn’t last long, some people stayed.
Other industries have included pearling (a big industry in Broome for many years until the 1940s), mining (including the Argyle Diamond mine, which began operation in 1983 and is still producing about 1/3 of the world’s diamonds), agriculture (centred on the Ord River Irrigation Area near Lake Argyle) and tourism. The geology of the area is varied and fascinating, as well as producing some spectacular scenery. You can also see some ancient Aboriginal rock art.
Ride a camel along the white sand of Cable Beach, the place to watch a blazing sun sink into the Indian Ocean. See 130 million-year-old dinosaur footprints preserved in rock at Gantheaume Point. Have a picnic dinner on Town Beach and watch the ‘Staircase to the Moon’, a spectacular, silvery illusion created by a rising full moon reflecting off the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. It’s visible for three nights a month between March and October. When night sinks over the natural attractions, head to Broome’s Outdoor Picture Garden for movies under the stars. Broome was once the centre of the world’s pearling industry, and today you can buy pearls, tour a pearl farm, visit a pearling museum or see the headstones dedicated to some 900 Asian pearl divers.
Take a scenic flight over the towering orange-and-black striped rocks of the Bungle Bungle Range in World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park. Or camp and explore them by four wheel drive or foot. These fascinating geological landmarks rise up to 578 metres above sea level, sheltering gorges, crystal-clear pools, fan palms, rich wildlife and living Aboriginal history. Kununurra means ‘big water’ in the language of the traditional Aboriginal owners, and here you can also cruise down vast Lake Argyle past freshwater crocodiles, wallabies, wetland birds and dramatic cliffs. Or appreciate its 1,000 square kilometers of grandeur by air. Canoe Lake Kununurra and swim in a deep waterhole under Black Rock Falls. Then visit the Argyle Diamond Mine and see the rare pink diamonds extracted from this ancient rock each year.
Four wheel drive the red-dirt road from Broome to Cape Leveque, where you can stay in the Aboriginal wilderness camp of Kooljaman. Sleep in safari-style or paper bark cabins, then snorkel, reef walk and explore old mission ruins with a local Aboriginal family as your guide. Camp at Middle Lagoon and charter a boat or go mud crabbing with a local guide from Lombadina. Stay in the remote communities of Mudnunn, Chile Creek and La Djardarr Ba and visit Beagle Bay. The Sacred Heart Church here was built by Pallotine monks and Aboriginal people in 1917, all the way down to its mother-of-pearl shell altar.
Four wheel drive the 660-kilometer Gibb River Road from Derby in the west to Kununurra in the east, taking in Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and the mighty Pentecost, and Ord Rivers. Travel into the remote Aboriginal community of Kalumburu, where you can stay; fish from the reef and rivers and camp on the beach at Honeymoon Bay and McGowan Island. For a really rugged adventure, discover the Aboriginal rock art and native vegetation of Mitchell River National Park. Trek Mitchell Plateau and see the majestic Mitchell Falls – a series of four waterfalls – cascade over layers of rock into a deep pool.