Another state and another iconic Australian region to explore, The Kimberley. A bit like Katherine Gorge, this was one of those areas that we didn’t know too much about, despite it being such a familiar ‘page’ in the Australian travel guide. In case you were wondering, the Kimberley region is made up by the sparsely populated northern region of WA. And at a bit over 420,000 square kilometers in land area, or around three times the size of England, it is a fairly big chunk of wilderness! A vast, red rocky landscape dominated by our new favourite tree, the boab. It looks like we’ve traded Sydney’s inner-west for the wild, wild west.
Following on from our fresh fruit and vegetable gorge on approach to the quarantine check at WA border, we badly needed to restock supplies. This required a 50km detour into the bustling town of Kununurra. It seemed just like we had landed in the K-sister city of Katherine, with its bustling local economy seriously bolstered by caravan and camping tourism. A good chance to fill the fridge, catch a family friend to get the low-down on the local attractions, then take the very scenic drive back out to Lake Argyle.
We were greeted with one of the best parks we have stayed in so far. Situated in an elevated position overlooking the biggest man-made lake in Australia made for some impressive views. To put it in perspective, the lake’s normal full volume is more than 18 times that of Sydney Harbour. The lake was made by damming up the Ord River back in the early 1970’s which has secured irrigation for the area and also makes a significant contribution to power with an impressive hydro electricity scheme.
We got a great feel for our new Kimberley landscape, firstly by doing the impressive Bluff Walk, then by splurging on a family helicopter flight. Our little boy Sullivan was full of bravado all day leading up to our impending helicopter ride, that is until the rotors began to spin. He promptly dug his nails into mum, and screamed ‘I don’t like it’ at the top of his lungs for 5 minutes before falling asleep for the rest of the joy ride. Money well spent!!
The rest of our stay we had a nice time catching up with our South Coast friends, who appeared out of nowhere and somehow nabbed a spot right next to us in an almost full caravan park. This included taking the cruel infinity pool challenge (amazing pool + spectacular views / ice cold water = quick swim) and spending the evenings in the bar listening into the resident muso, while the kids ran, danced and wrestled themselves to exhaustion. All in all a great introduction to this amazing part of the world which had us keen for more.
We next moved onto El Questro Station, a wilderness resort that has been carefully created and cleverly marketed, located just at the Eastern end of the legendary Gibb River Road. Like everything in this region it is big, with the station area sitting at a lazy one million acres! The corrugated 15km drive into the station, including a couple of river crossings, in our mostly on-road caravan got the heart racing a little, but we got through unscathed, for now. On check-in, the busy campground and surcharge frenzied pricing structure had us feeling a bit like we were being stitched up by the spanish mafia. However, El Questro grows on you the longer you stay. It is quite an impressive undertaking with heaps of stunning, well organised and well maintained bush walks and 4WD tracks. It really is like a private national park, and you soon start to understand and justify the reason for the premium pricing structure.
We lazed a morning away in the spa-like Zebedee springs, enjoyed a Saturday evening gourmet BBQ complete with impressive campground musician, and undertook our toughest but most impressive family bush-walk to date up Emma Gorge. The walk was right on the limit of our abilities with the kids in tow, but the end result of the towering gorge walls encompassing the stunning waterhole was well worth the effort. Both the scenery and the icy waters managed to take our breath away. And I’m sorry to say it East Coast, but Emma Gorge has now been voted as best swim of the trip.
On our way out of El Questro, unfortunately the ruggedness of the park caught up with our beloved caravan. After some particularly bumpy corrugations we decided to ‘poke our heads in the van’ to make sure everything was OK. What greeted us was our oven/griller/stovetop lying flat on the ground with power cables, gas piping and smashed glass everywhere. A bit of gaffa tape and the oven was back in place and we drove off cursing, but still thankful for the adventure.
Next stop was Purnululu National Park, and another Australian icon, the Bungle Bungles. We stayed in the campground on the edge of the park and had been warned that the 55km drive in was a little hairy, but how bad could it be? The next day we let the tyres down and set off full of ambition. Two hours later we arrived at the visitor centre, teeth still chattering from the corrugations. This included an emergency toilet stop for Sullivan which resulted in a great photo to be exhumed for his 21st birthday – we are calling it ‘Poo in Purnululu’. Despite the challenging drive it was a real privilege to witness this amazing landscape up close, including the Bungle Bungle domes and Cathedral Gorge. The vast size and the remoteness was quite jaw dropping, however this seemed lost on the kids as the mercury hit 37 degrees on the trek out of the gorge. It got a bit dicey there for a while, but the classic bribe of an icy pole back at the visitor centre got us through. We didn’t see as much as we would have liked as that imposing drive out of the park still awaited us, but it was certainly worth the effort.
The first half of the Kimberley Region had certainly been action packed, and such a unique ever-changing landscape. We have also noticeably been having more and more chance meetings with photographers on the road as we head West. Our Jeep branded up with the Austockphoto logo has certainly helped here, and we often get a look of recognition from people that have seen us back down the track as we pull into a new camping area. It has been exciting to see the business take shape on the road and great to be able to talk to photographers about it, from interested kids through to well-known pros. We can’t wait to see what some of our contributors come up with from the amazing Kimberley. For us it was time for a couple of days to catch our breath and then go again towards the West Coast. Check in soon to hear about our West Kimberley adventures.