Australia

10 Must-Do Experiences in NW Australia

Boab Tree in Kimberley

If you asked me what my favourite part of Australia is, I would have to answer the North West part of the country, specifically the Kimberley plus the area around Broome.  With its beautiful natural scenery, including gorges, beaches, ranges and natural formations, plus the fact that it is largely still in a natural state, North West Australia is an amazing part of the country.  The only downside is its remoteness: the drive from Perth to Broome alone is over 2000km alone. Not to mention the earlier drive from the east coast of Australia where I live!

The alternative is to fly into Broome or one of the other small towns (such as Kununurra), and hire a 4WD or 4WD camper van you’re allowed to take on unsealed roads.  A car, preferably 4WD, is a must to visit the majority of the most spectacular sights and enjoy then adventures to be had.

Here is my pick of the top 10 must-do experiences to try and squeeze in while you are in North West Australia.

1. Camel ride on Cable Beach

Camel Ride at Broome

The camels ambling along Cable Beach

I’m not sure when and why the practice of camel rides on Cable Beach, the beautiful long stretch of beach in Broome , began.  However, these days it’s a must-do when in Broome. It’s also accessible to everyone regardless of whether you have transport or not.  (Many of the best resorts in Broome are just metres away.)  The most popular option is the sunset camel rides, with the sun setting over the Indian Ocean. But there’s also the option for a mid-morning or pre-sunset ride.  Make sure you book with one of the multiple companies in advance, these are popular!

2. Camp at Kooljaman

Kooljaman

Where the red dirt meets the sea

Just to the north of Broome lies the Dampier Peninsula, and at its tip (a few hundred kilometres away along a 4WD track) is Kooljaman.  With the option to camp or glamp, it’s a magical place to stay for a couple of nights.  My favourite thing about Kooljaman is the beautiful white sandy beach and blue water. The red sand, white beach and blue water create a beautiful contrast.

3. Go mud crabbing at an Aboriginal Community on the Dampier Peninsula

Mud Crabs Lombadina

A successful mud crab expedition at Lombadina

While visiting the Dampier Peninsula, either at Kooljaman or one of the other Aboriginal settlements, don’t miss out on the chance to go mud crabbing.  Armed with long crabbing hooks that look like over-sized tent pegs, the aim is to extract the giant mud crabs from their burrows amongst the roots of mangroves.  Luckily the guides are far more adept  and make sure no-one misses out on dining on delicious mud crab for dinner.  Read more about this experience in my post!

4. View the Horizontal Falls

Horizontal Falls

The Horizontal Falls from above © Robyn Jay on flickr, used under Creative Commons license

Not far away from Broome, there’s a rare natural phenomenon known as “horizontal falls”.  Created by the huge tidal differences in the area (up to around 12 metres), the water surges through gaps between peninsulas to create waterfalls that are horizontal.  One of the best ways to witness them is on one of luxury small cruises that ply the coastline. Alternatively take a scenic flight in a helicopter, if you have the budget.

5. Head underground at Tunnel Creek

Tunnel Creek

Wading through Tunnel Creek

About 350km to the west of Broome, and not far off the sealed highway (so its still accessible by 2WD cars, as long as you’re okay driving on some unsealed roads) is Tunnel Creek.  The creek is named after the natural tunnel it forms through a low-lying mountain range, nearly a kilometre in length. Don’t miss the chance to follow the creek from one side of the range to the other, sometimes walking alongside it, and other times wading through it.  (When I did it late in the dry season the maximum wading depth was about knee-high. But it can be higher some seasons or earlier in the dry season.)  Bring a head torch!

6. Spot the freshwater crocodiles at Windjana Gorge

Freshwater Crocodiles at Windjana Gorge

A “freshie” on the bank at Windjana Gorge

Close to Tunnel Creek is Windjana Gorge.  This time the waterway has cut clear through the gorge, and it’s a favourite hang out spot for freshwater crocodiles.  Although “freshies” don’t have the fearsome reputation of their saltwater cousins (eating nothing large than fish, turtles and small creatures), it’s still a little nerve wracking to see them. Especially when they’re lying on the mud banks and floating in the clear water only a few metres away from where you stand.  It’s generally also a traditional to not swim here in the gorge.

7. Do the Gibb River Road

Manning Gorge

The gorgeous Manning Gorge. Did I mention it’s crocodile free and perfect for swimming?

If you’ve got a 4WD, it’s a must to drive along the length of the Gibb River Road.  (For 2WD cars, take the sealed high way between Broome and Kununurra instead.)  While the road is increasingly being sealed, the majority of it is still unsealed and can be quite rough. A 4WD with decent clearance is also required to cross the grand Pentecostal River.

Along the way, there’s many magnificent gorges to visit. My favourite is the beautiful Manning Gorge located about halfway along the length.  It’s possible to camp there, near the road house.  Next to the camping ground is a beautiful freshwater water hole with old tyres provided to either float around, or cross the water hole for the start of a 1 hour hike to Manning Gorge proper.  Leave early in the morning and you’ll have the magnificent gorge to yourself for awhile. Relax while swimming in its beautiful waters or leap in from the high rock platforms along the side.

Want to explore more of Australia by 4WD? Add these awesome 4WD tracks, Brisbane, Queensland to your wish list.

8. Visit El Questro

Emma Gorge & Zebedee Springs

Emma Gorge (left) and Zebedee Springs (right)

At the eastern edge of the Gibb River Road near Kunnunarra lies El Questro. It’s a former cattle station that is now a wilderness park, over 1 million acres in size.  With various accommodation options from the luxurious homestead to simple camping, it’s a must to spend a few nights here.  The 35km of the Gibb River Road to the Park entrance and Emma Gorge is now sealed, although there are then gravel roads, so it’s now accessible to most 2WD drives.  The two favourite experiences were the walk to Emma Gorge, with a chilly dip at the end beneath the walls of the waterfall.  Also have a dip in the natural spring waters of Zebedee Springs, surrounded by magnificent palm trees.

9. Scenic flight over the Bungle Bungles

Bungle Bungles

Flying over the Bungle Bungles

It’s expensive, but you really should splurge on a scenic flight over the Bungle Bungles.  The flights leave from Kununurra, and firstly cross over the huge inland sea of Lake Argyle and the Argyle Diamond Mine, before circling over the bee hive rock formations of the Bungle Bungles.  If you have extra cash, do a longer trip where you can land on the group and go hiking along some of the tracks.  The alternative is to enter the park via 4WD, off the sealed high way route south of Kununurra. When I was in the area we were warned that it was very rough, so ask around for road conditions first.

10. Buy some local Aboriginal Art

Carved boab nut

Carved boab nut from Waringarri Arts

There is a wide variety of Aboriginal art to see in the Kimberley region, whether on natural rock faces (mainly in out of the way locations only accessible by tour group) or on the walls of galleries.  While you are visiting, you should definitely buy some Aboriginal Art, ideally from an Aboriginal run artist collective.  If you don’t have much room, buy one of carved boab nuts, which are only found in the area.  Some options include the Waringarri Arts collective in Kununurra or Mowanjum Arts near Derby.  Alternatively, the Old Broome Lockup Gallery has some more modern pieces.

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