Highlights of the Kimberley
We have counted over 200 different scenic locations which are visited by the Kimberley cruise boats, including magnificent rocky gorges, waterfalls and many world class icons. Here are a few of our favourite from the coast, plus a few spots from the Kimberley's interior.
Once the pearling capital of the world, Broome is a cosmopolitan beach town located at the base of the pristine Dampier Peninsula, over 2,000km north of Perth. This is the traditional country of the Yawuru people and relics from the past can be seen scattered in and around the town - from dinosaur footprints embedded into the rocks, to pearling memorabilia and graveyards such as the Japanese (pearler’s) cemetery.
The spectacular, 135km-long Berkeley River winds its way through Drysdale River National Park and Oombulgurri Indigenous Reserve before emptying into the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. Enjoy freshwater pools, waterfalls, pockets of rainforest and lots of wildlife including crocs, eagles and rock wallabies
The Buccaneer Archipelago is a group of around 1,000 islands located along the Kimberley coast, north of Derby. These remote and largely uninhabited islands are known for their rugged terrain and pristine, white sandy beaches that few have ever set foot upon. Captain Phillip Parker King named the Buccaneer Archipelago in commemoration of William Dampier’s 1688 visit.
Each year, up to 25,000 humpback whales embark upon the greatest migration on the planet, cruising the west coast to calve and raise their young in the shallow waters of Camden Sound. The 700,000 hectare Lalang-garram/Camden Sound Marine Park hosts the world’s biggest humpback population and if you arrive between July and October, you’ll be treated to incredible encounters with these gentle giants as they feed and breed.
In September 1820, Lieutenant Philip Parker King pulled into a beach, now known as Careening Bay, to repair rotten timber in the hull of his 76-tonne cutter, the HMCMermaid. The bay provided good shelter and access to fresh water, and Parker King was able to utilise metal salvaged from a nearby shipwreck to conduct repairs. During this time, the ship’s carpenter carved the inscription “HMC Mermaid” into a nearby boab tree and, almost two centuries later, it is clearly visible today. The twin-trunked boab is now about 12 metres in circumference.
It’s one of the most visited waterfalls on the Kimberley coast, found on an isolated stretch south of Cockatoo Island and accessible only by boat. Despite the name, it’s also a popular place to swim. During spring high tides the sea flows right into the pool, mingling with fresh water cascading over the falls. These high tides allow crocs to reach the swimming hole too, so to play it safe, climb the sandstone walls to reach a lovely, pandanus-fringed billabong at the top of the falls. Safe from salties, the spring-fed pool provides a pretty view over the waterfall too.
Darwin is the thriving capital of Australia’s Northern Territory (note - the Kimberley is in Western Australia, not in the N.T). It’s a multicultural town with many different opportunities for dining and also with access to national parks such as Litchfield (can do day trip) and Kakadu (overnight is needed). The waterfront area has a lagoon, a wave pool and many restaurants looking out onto the grassy lagoon area. Walking from the waterfront up the hill, you’ll get to the esplanade area which has green parklands, views out to the sea, many hotels and the CBD area close-by. 20 minutes from the CBD is Darwin’s international airport.
DC3 Plane Wreck
For visitors to remote Vansittart Bay, the wreck of this USAAF Air Transport Command C-53 Skytrooper is a fascinating sight. This DC3 crashed en route from Perth to Broome back in February 1942, after the disoriented pilot made an emergency landing in bad weather on a salt pan on the western side of Mungalalu Truscott Airbase. To the pilot’s credit, all crew and passengers survived and their Kimberley adventure continued when, days later, they were rescued by a passing QANTAS flying boat.
The word ‘waterfall’ almost always conjures up an image of water tumbling over a rocky ledge, which makes a horizontal, ocean falls difficult to imagine. What happens at Horizontal Falls is this: huge tides pushing water through two, extremely narrow gorges rush so quickly and with such force that water banks up on one side, creating a surging white rapid. Passing ‘over’ the falls in a boat, you can experience the drop in sea level and the bigger the tide, the more exhilarating the ride! When the tide changes, the waterfall reverses.
The Hunter River is located in the north-east corner of the stunning Prince Frederick Harbour. The Hunter’s grandeur can be felt as soon as you reach its river mouth where Kampamantiya – a 200m-high sandstone escarpment – towers overhead. The river is home to one of the largest populations of estuarine crocodiles in the Kimberley, which hints that the barramundi must be in good supply here. This scenic river winds upstream for 30km, replenished by two 90m-high waterfalls, the Hunter and the Donkin.
The anticipation is intense as you cruise up the Prince Regent River, idling through a gap in the mangroves before this famous falls is finally revealed. Its terraced rock face creates a tapestry of white water, cascading past rock figs and ferns from a freshwater billabong high above. It’s no surprise then, that this safe-from-crocodiles pool at the top is a haven for hot, sweaty tourists.
Mitchell Plateau & Falls
The Wunambal people know the four-tiered Mitchell Falls as Punamiiunpuu, one of the Kimberley’s most iconic landmarks and a place of great cultural and spiritual significance. Carved through sandstone by the Mitchell River, this faraway falls cascades 97 metres over four distinct tiers, each emerald pool flowing into the next.
As each enormous Kimberley tide retreats, Montgomery Reef appears to rise out of the sea, shedding water in spectacular cascades and countless waterfalls. Marine creatures race over the edge of the rapidly drying reef to the safety of the sea, creating spectacular scenes unequalled anywhere in the country. At over 300 square kilometres, this is Australia’s largest inshore reef, found 20km off the central Kimberley Coast in Lalanggarram/Camden Sound Marine Park.
Purnululu National Park
Is Purnululu National Park worth visiting? Yes, definitely. Unlike other national treasures, the Bungle Bungles has only been known to white Europeans since the early 1980s when a film crew showcased the area to the world.
Wyndham is the Kimberley’s oldest settlement and the northernmost town in Western Australia, located at the very end of the Great Northern Highway, 110km from Kununurra. Popular sights include The Bastion (Five Rivers lookout), which rises 335-metres above sea level and offers offers astounding views over the five rivers that run into the Cambridge Gulf (the King, Pentecost, Durack, Ord and Forrest rivers); the 18m-long Big Croc statue at the entrance of town; the unique Afghan Cemetery, where Afghan cameleers were buried with their camels; and The Grotto, a massive amphitheatre gorge and bottomless waterhole near Wyndham.
There are potentially 10,000 beaches on the 1,000 islands that make up the Kimberley’s Buccaneer Archipelago, but one trumps all the rest. Located on remote Hidden Island, Silica Beach is a rarity in these parts, revered for its turquoise sea and ivory sand. This is surely the whitest, squeakiest sand you’ll ever come across. A stroll here feels like you’re walking on icing sugar, leading some to call this the Kimberley’s Whitehaven after the world-famous Whitsundays’ beach.
Raft Point is an imposing bluff rising from the middle of Doubtful Bay in the heart of Worrora country. For sweeping coastal vistas over neighbouring Steep Island, climb 150m above the beach to reach a sandstone overhang, Here, rock canvases are crowded with ochre art of the Wandjina, who has great importance for the Wororra, Ngarinyin and Wumumbul peoples. With large, round eyes and halos around their heads, Wandjinas are associated with rain and seasonal regeneration. Their location, high on the bluff, really makes you wonder about the amazing resourcefulness of the Indigenous people who have lived and thrived off this remote country for thousands of years.
Testament to how untamed and still unexplored the Kimberley is, these falls are named after the daughter of skipper Chris Tucker, the Kimberley cruise operator of Great Escape Charter Company. It’s a popular inclusion on cruise itineraries and with gorgeous, freshwater rock pools, it’s easy to see why.
Access to the falls is via Red Cone Creek. On spring and king tides when sea water floods the bottom pool, it’s safer to climb above the falls for croc-free swimming. After clambering up the rocky cliffs to the left of the falls, you’ll discover a lovely natural spa pool beneath a small waterfall and a gorgeous vista over the main pool below. Further exploration upstream will reveal more billabongs which are also safe for swimming.
This inland sea is a heavenly spot, nestled in the Carr Boyd Ranges, a 45 minute-drive south-east of Kununurra. By volume, Lake Argyle is Western Australia's largest, freshwater, man-made reservoir and it’s like no other place you’ve ever seen! When it’s full, the lake covers 980km2 and holds 10.7 million megalitres of water – that’s enough water to fill the Sydney Harbour 21 times! More than 25,000 freshwater crocodiles and 26 species of native fish call the lake home, and the islands within the lake are home to various marsupials and reptiles. The birdwatching here is incredible.
Gibb River Road
This 660km-long, old stock route is now a popular adventure trail that still retains its raw and undeveloped appeal. A 4WD vehicle is highly recommended and necessary to access many of those gorges. There’s next-to-no mobile phone reception out there, so switch off your gadgets and enjoy the magnificent scenery, swimming holes, waterfalls and rich cultural history of this iconic part of Australia.
With lakes, rivers and striking geological formations, Kununurra is the adventure capital of the Kimberley. Catch a barra, cruise the Ord, go waterfall hunting or explore nearby places such as Mirima National Park, Lake Argyle and (further afield) Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungles) and El Questro.
Fringed by the tidal mudflats on the edge of King Sound, Derby, which is the western gateway to the Gibb River Road, lies 200km northeast of Broome and is famous for having the highest tidal range of any Australian port. It’s remarkable to watch the tide flooding in during spring and king tides.
Camp Creek is a hidden gem that gently woos its visitors. At Camp Creek you can follow the fresh water upstream through rapids and billabongs and discover two deep, blue swimming holes with gorgeous, paperbark-fringed waterfalls.
Off the north Kimberley coast, 6km across Scott Strait, remote Bigge Island harbours incredible galleries of ancient rock art. Canvases include scenes of Wandjina and Gwion Gwion (or Bradshaw) art, as well as more recent ‘first contact’ art: sailing boats and people wearing orange headdresses and smoking pipes that illustrate the first interactions between Indigenous peoples and foreign visitors to these shores.
King George Falls & River
Nothing beats a new day breaking in the ancient King George River. The symphony of bird calls, echoing through the gorge, schools of fish leaping and the roar of mighty waterfalls, are sights and sounds that will stay with you forever.