Words & Photography Belinda Jackson
Wild and untouched, the remote Kimberley is waiting for the adventurous explorer.
There’s a dream-like quality to north-western Australia. High up in the Kimberley, the land is layered with legends and mystical happenings. You discover ancient lives and wilderness so remote, its creeks and headlands have names known only to those who have lived there, names that don’t yet appear on any official map.
Travelling into the sun, from east to west, I journey with travel company Outback Encounter, on a trip that leads from an iconic cattle station near Kununurra in the eastern Kimberley to secluded tourist camps on the far north-western coast of the continent. Romantic and remote, the Kimberley is between the major gateways of Kununurra and distant Broome, linked by the legendary 660km Gibb River Road. The journey is half the adventure, starting with Bullo River Station, where buffalos watch our helicopter drift across white clouds, on our way to waterfalls barely touched by humans.
“Bullo’s a little lost valley,” says owner Marlee Ranacher, who, like her mother Sara Henderson, has written books about the huge property. From Bullo, our light aircraft skims the top of Western Australia to what is surely the country’s most isolated airstrip, a cross of mown grass at Mitchell Plateau. Below, long, orange dirt roads wend their way to remote communities perched on the coastline of the Timor Sea. In the month after the Wet season, the roads are lined with mangroves and wetlands that glisten in sunlight.
We set sail from Mitchell Falls to the next stop, Faraway Bay, a tiny camp just shy of Cape Londonderry, the most northerly point on the Australian mainland. Gliding down a quiet river in slow boats, we watch diamond mullet bubbling in the mangroves, and spy long deep grooves in the soft, riverside mud.
From there, it’s back to the airstrip and onto another chopper to the other-worldly Kimberley Coastal Camp, a collection of little gazebos beloved by artists, bushwalkers, barramundi hunters and those seeking solitude. We’re sent out on our art walk with fresh focaccia burning our hands and sweet rainwater in our bottles, to visit a swimming hole and to meet the local spirits, living in a beautifully painted cave. When darkness falls each night, a handful of like-minded spirits converge over dinner, talking about the prolific birdlife, great human survival tales and awe-inspiring art galleries, and we all agree we have never been anywhere so beautiful.
when to go In the Dry season, from April to October. Many properties and roads are closed during the Wet.
what to bring As little as possible: helicopters impose a 10kg limit per person. Just sarongs, swimmers, hats, sunscreen and insect repellent!
getting there Virgin Blue flies Sydney to Broome via Perth twice daily and has several flights each day from Sydney to Darwin. Qantas flies Sydney to Broome via Perth daily, with direct flights from Sydney to Broome from April-September, visit qantas.com.au. Each property (see details below) can organise transfers from Broome, Kununurra or Darwin.
staying there Outback Encounter arranges individually customised holidays to all accommodation mentioned, (08) 8354 4405, outbackencounter.com. Kimberley Coastal Camp is a short helicopter trip from Mitchell Airstrip, 600km north of Broome. Packages from $1590pp, 0417 902 006, kimberleycoastalcamp.com.au. Bullo River Station is a working homestead 110km east of Kununurra. Two-night packages from $2740pp, (08) 8354 2719, bulloriver.com. Faraway Bay is 280km north-west of Kununurra and accessible only by air. Three-night packages from $3460pp, (08) 9169 1214, farawaybay.com.au. Rates for all properties includes all food, accommodation, most activities and some transfers.