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The Kimberley — Wonder down under

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Kimberley was one of the earliest settled parts of Australia, with the first arrivals landing about 40,000 years ago from the islands of what is now Indonesia. European settlement started around 1885 when cattle were driven across Australia from the eastern states in search of good pasture lands. Many other Europeans arrived soon after when gold was discovered around Halls Creek.

The massive area is twice the size of Victoria and more than three times the size of England. It is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, the north by the Timor Sea, the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts and on the east by the Northern Territory. It is made up of local government areas of Broome, Derby-West, Kimberley, Halls Creek and Wyndham-East Kimberley.

With just 25,000 inhabitants, there are fewer people per kilometre than almost any other place on earth. It is remote and rugged with wide horizons, ancient gorges, beautiful rock pools and long, clean beaches.

Broome is the unofficial capital of The Kimberley, a town built on the back of the pearl trade, and is the southern gateway for those seeking adventure in the remote north-west. Other lucrative industries include diamond mining (the Argyle mine produces a third of the world's stones), agriculture and tourism.

Visiting Broome is like stepping into a postcard. The narrow peninsula is where the bush meets the sea. Turquoise waters and cattle stations which would dwarf some countries, a mixture of colonial and old mission houses, churches, pearling master huts all blend to make it the special place it is.

Imagine lazing in a hammock on the 25-kilometre long Cable Beach or taking a lazy Red Sun Camel ride along the sand. The camels are friendly and well-trained and an early morning ride is a peaceful way to start the day.

There's so much more to see and unless you have unlimited time, it is recommended you contact Broome Aviation for a plane or helicopter flight. The longest established aviation company in the Kimberley, they offer wonderful options to take in as much of the area's natural wonders as you wish.

Cape Leveque is a hidden pocket of the Kimberley, 220 kilometres north of Broome on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula. It is an oasis of white sand, red earth and thick bush. It is best accessed by air, but a large 4WD will make the journey, which includes unsealed roads with corrugations and sandy sections. Roads may be closed during the wet season from late September to late May.

Kooljaman is literally the only place to stay once you arrive. The wilderness camp makes the most of the surrounding natural beauty and offers a range of accommodation. The most luxurious is safari-style canvas tents, sitting high on a hill on wooden decking overlooking the western beach. They are well furnished and each is set off a pathway, secluded from neighbours.

Campers have paperbark and bush pole cabins, one-room family units and palm frond covered beach shelters. A large green garden with established shade trees is used as a camping ground. Most activities centre around the water. Swimming and snorkelling, boat trips to Sunday Island, fishing and reef walking.

From mid-July to October there is plenty of humpback whale activity just off shore. Having recently calved, they are heading southward, and can be seen clearly, even without binoculars.

Kooljaman is owned by two Aboriginal communities, Djarindjin and One Arm Point. Befriending one of the locals will be rewarding in many ways. They can impart an enormous amount of knowledge for this magnificent piece of the outback and tell a great story. Some run tours in search of mud crabs and bush tucker. Others tell of the area's cultural history.

There is a general store, community shops and Dinkas Restaurant is open from April to mid-October for lunch every day and evening meals from Monday to Saturday.

Flying over the rugged Buccaneer Archipelago allows you to witness possibly the most spectacular and deserted coastline in the world. It is made up of a thousand islands, secluded white beaches, patches of rainforest, mangrove estuaries, steep cliffs, hidden reefs and indigenous rock art.

The tides are Australia's largest — up to 11 metres — and can be treacherous and unpredictable, creating such amazing spectacles as the horizontal waterfall in Talbot Bay. The tide rushes through fairly narrow gaps in the cliff, and the difference between inflow and outflow creates the amazing falls.

The archipelago's warm climate and water, combined with its remoteness, have made the perfect breeding ground for wildlife including crocodiles, snakes, birds, bats and fish. Barramundi, coral trout, red emperor, snapper, tuna, mud crabs and oysters are amongst some of the tasty sea life.

As you head across the Mitchell Plateau to the Bungle Bungle Mountains you come across the inland town of Kununurra. It is modern and attractive, friendly and welcoming and surrounded by the beauty of the Ord River and Mirima National Park and is close to Lake Argyle and the border with the Northern Territory.

By the way, if you would rather be a passenger than driving yourself, Kimberley Safari Centre has custom packages to take you to the Bungle Bungles and provide a reputable guide on arrival.

Their 4WD safaris offer years of experience as they guide you to Aboriginal rock art, cruise through the ancient Devonian Reef or go freshwater crocodile spotting. Safaris range from luxury, fully catered excursions staying in accommodation or permanent bush camps, or you can camp under the stars in a swag.

A trip into Purnululu National Park will have you marvelling at the thousands of huge beehive-shaped mounds of the Bungle Bungle Ranges. Formed by layers of alternating coloured sandstone, the mounds rise majestically from the red earth and are one of Western Australia's most significant natural features.

Once part of the seabed of an ancient sea, millions of years has forced the earth upwards to form a cake-like block then split under further movement. Wind and water carved the fissured plateau into isolated segments, and the formation was eroded and smoothed into the present-day Bungle Bungle Ranges. Their stripes have been created by lichen which encrusted layers of orange rock.

Desert and oasis dwelling creatures find refuge there, possibly the most important being one of Australia's rarest species, the lilac-crowned wren.

Once almost inaccessible because of the inhospitable terrain, a major highway was completed in 1986. Now the area, once known only to Kija Aborigines and a few ranchers and explorers, can be enjoyed by tourists.

The fragile and easily damaged Bungle Bungle Ranges are protected by law from climbers and souvenir gatherers. The area's north-west corner was made a national park in 1987.


Western Australia's north.


Kooljaman at Cape Leveque camping starts at $16 per person a night. Safari tents start at $210 a couple a night.

Kimberley Safari Centre three-day tours start at $1854 per person, all inclusive.

East Kimberley Tours day trips start at $225 per person.

Broome Aviation half-day tours start at $390 per person.

Virgin Blue has one-way flights to Broome. They are on sale from 8.30pm, August 3, 2006 until midnight August 4, 2006 for travel between November 1 and 30, 2006.

One-way fares from;
  • Perth, $149
  • Adelaide, $249
  • Sydney, $269
  • Melbourne, $269
  • Brisbane, $299

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are Internet-only and one way. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at August 3, 2006 and are subject to change.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

For further information

Red Sun Camels
PO Box 2252
Broome WA 6725
Ph: (08) 9193 7423
Fax: 08 9193 7423

Broome Aviation Pty Ltd
Lot 1, 2 McPherson Street
Broome WA 6725
Ph: (08) 9192 1369
Fax: (08) 9192 2476

Kooljaman Cape Leveque
PMB 8, Cape Leveque
Via Broome WA 6725
Ph: (08) 9192 4970
Fax: (08) 9192 4978

Kimberley Safari Centre
PO Box 41
Kununurra WA 6743
Ph: 1800 677 830

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