The Kimberley region in Western Australia's north extends from Broome in the west to Kununurra and Lake Argyle in the east. It covers around 421,000 square kilometres and is bordered by the Indian Ocean in the west, the Timor Sea in the north, the Great Sandy Desert in the south and the Northern Territory in the east.
The vast region has just three towns with a population of more than 2000 Broome, Derby and Kununurra. Route 1, a sealed road, runs along the southern part of the area and the unsealed Gibb River Road runs from Derby to Kununurra. Access to much of the region is by dirt road, which is often impassable in the wet season, other than by sea or helicopter.
The Kimberley was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia with groups arriving more than thousands of years from the islands of what is now Indonesia. European settlement began in 1885 with families setting up cattle stations after several years of droving from the eastern colonies. Gold strikes around Halls Creek drew other Europeans, and even though the rush was short-lived, some established their lives there.
It's a fascinating and harsh place but Outback Discovery Small Group tours in 4WD Mercedes let you see it all in comfort. You are met in Broome and have free time at your hotel before meeting the Outback Discovery crew and fellow travellers for dinner.
Next day, you head to Fitzroy Crossing on the border of the Great Sandy Desert. In the afternoon you relax on a cruise through Geikie Gorge, passing 30m limestone walls created by fossilised coral reefs over the course of 50 million years. You spend the night at Fitzroy River Lodge on the banks of the river.
The following day you head into the Great Sandy Desert, along the infamous Tanami Track and visit Wolfe Creek Crater, the second largest meteorite crater on earth. From the rim you see the perfectly round impact site, 60m deep and almost a kilometre wide. That night you stay at Halls Creek, the site of Western Australia's first commercial gold discovery.
Next morning is spent exploring the old stone buildings at Old Halls Creek and the Great Wall of China, a 6m-high quartz outcrop. You then head into the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, home to the Bungle Bungle Range where you stay for two nights. A highlight is the majestic Cathedral Gorge, an acoustically marvellous natural amphitheatre.
There is the option of taking a helicopter flight over the Bungle Bungle Range before driving to the northern end for a walk into Echidna Chasm and along a creek bed into Mini Palms.
The journey continues through the rugged red Carr Boyd Range and then following the Cockburn Range before arriving at the port of Wyndham. Five Rivers Lookout takes in the panorama of the Ord, Pentecost, Durack, King and Forrest rivers flowing into the Cambridge Gulf.
You follow the Carr Boyd Range to Kununurra, a vibrant town at the centre of the fertile Ord River Irrigation Scheme. Huge volumes of fruit and other fresh produce is shipped from there to markets around the world. You stay for two nights in Kununurra.
Next is Ivanhoe Crossing where you visit the Hoochery, the state's only licensed distillery where rum is produced from local sugar. Then it's a visit to Argyle Downs, the rebuilt homestead of the famous pioneering Durack family. After touring the museum you cross the dam wall to cruise the spectacular Ord River and into Lake Kununurra.
Next destination is Home Valley Station, a 285,000-hectare working cattle station spread over untamed Kimberley wilderness. There is a guided tour and a visit to the Pentecost River where you explore the ancient sandstone cliffs of Bindoola Gorge and swim in the clear waters of Bindoola Pools. An Aboriginal guide shares the history of Indigenous people in the area and you enjoy an overnight stay at the station.
The following morning, the tour continues to the Mount Elizabeth Station for an overnight stay. Your gracious hosts share their knowledge of a lifetime spent living and working in such a remote part of Australia.
From there, still along the Gibb River Road, you enjoy a stop at Manning Gorge and on past Silent Grove to the spectacular Bell Gorge, 300m above sea level. It's the source of a series of waterfalls which descend to the ocean.
You will spend two nights at Mount Hart Wilderness lodge, set on a four-hectare oasis in the King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park. You will be treated to stunning geological features, wonderful scenery, wildlife and rare flora and fauna.
Enjoy a walk to Mt Matthew Gorge and swim in crisp water holes under cascading waterfalls, and appreciate abundant bird and plant life. Spend the afternoon at the peaceful Mount Hart.
From Mount Hart you head to Tunnel Creek for a walk in Western Australia's oldest cave system. Then it's on to Windjana Gorge where there is a large population of Johnston freshwater crocodiles. Then it's on to Derby, the main base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the Kimberley.
After an overnight stay you head to Broome for two nights, visiting the Boab Prison Tree and Mayalls Bore, once a stock-watering stop. There is a guided tour and cruise at Willie Creek Pearl Farm where you will see how the rare and very beautiful Australian South Sea pearl is produced.
A tour of Broome is scheduled, stopping at Gantheaume Point, Broome Jetty and the Japanese Cemetery, a testament to the dangerous early days of the pearling industry. There are 900 divers buried there. You will take in the Old Courthouse, Pearl Luggers' Museum and wander through the old buildings of China Town, which has many Indigenous art galleries and pearl showrooms.
That evening everyone joins for a farewell dinner to relive memorable moments before being transferred to the airport the following morning.