A 4WD trip taking in Broome, the Dampier Peninsula and down the legendary Gibb River Road – this is back country adventure at its best.
By Fleur Bainger
What to expect
- A crocodile park that requires your best poker face
- An ancient dome forest that none of your mates have seen
- An outback drive that’ll put hairs on your chest
- Time: 8 days
- Distance: 1,418 kilometres (880 miles)
- Transport: 4WD
- Nearest major city: Broome
- Price: $
A gap year isn’t just about partying hard and making new friends, it’s also about expanding your mind and teaming travels with new skills that will set you up for the next chapter of your life. Travel through Western Australia’s surprising Kimberley and learn about perseverance and passion; the things people have achieved and the places that exist in this under-the-radar region are simply mind-blowing.
Day 1: Cable Beach
The ocean at Cable Beach is flat, gentle and shallow – the perfect introduction to chilling out in the Kimberley. Marvel at how few people are here to share this sandy expanse – sometimes, less is more. Drive 15 minutes out of town to Broome’s saltwater crocodile hotspot. Huge beasts eye off visitors to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park; staring back at them through a chain-link fence is a lesson in staying calm. Spot resident emus, cassowaries and kangaroos before returning to Cable Beach to share a pizza at the Sunset Bar and Grill. Then, join one of the famous camel trains for a day-ride (cheaper than sunset strolls). Before sunset, hire a SUP board and drive to Gantheaume Point. Watch turtles dart through the turquoise water as you gaze dreamily at the glowing sienna cliffs – a spot where, at low tide, 130-million-year-old dinosaur footprints can be seen pressed into the rock. Stay in a dorm or room at Beaches of Broome, the closest budget accommodation to Cable Beach.
Day 2: Dampier Peninsula
Pack breakfast and barbecue supplies, spare fuel and plenty of water and spin your wheels towards Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, a remote property about two-and-a-half hours’ drive north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula. The farm, run by a third-generation pearler and marine scientist, produces pearls that are coveted around the world – quite a leap from the days when his pioneering grandfather ran operations from a bark hut on a deserted island nearby. Join a farm tour and see how pearls are manually seeded so they produce spherical gems. Camp overnight on the farm – in your own canvas or in an on-site safari tent – and float in the refreshing infinity pool.
Day 3: Cape Leveque
Not far from Cygnet Bay is Kooljaman, an Aboriginal-owned-and-run wilderness camp facing Cape Leveque’s trio of sandy beaches and deep red cliffs. Head there in the morning to set up camp, then chat to the Aboriginal staff about living and working alongside some of the largest tropical tides in the world – it’s a reminder that awareness of your environment is key. It’s equally inspiring to hear about human ingenuity, a required skill when your home is far from shops and everyday conveniences. In the evening, pull out those barbecue ingredients and dine in the open air, watching one of the most magical sunsets you’ll ever see.
Day 4: Cape Leveque to Broome
Avoid being toasted by the midday sun by driving back to Broome via Beagle Bay Church, where you’ll note that being unconventional (the walls are inset with pearl shell and painted bright colours) can draw useful attention. Back in town, grab a feed and a mango beer at Matso’s Broome Brewery, another quirky success story. Before the pearl boutiques close, pop in to Cygnet Bay Pearl’s Broome showroom to gawk at its enormous, 22.24-millimetre (nearly one-inch) pearl – believed to be the largest fine-quality, perfectly round pearl in the world. They could’ve sold it for a load of cash, but chose to keep it. In the evening be sure to grab a spot on Greg Quicke’s Astro Tours to get a Southern Hemisphere view of the Milky Way. The zany astronomer gave up a life as a pearl diver and mechanic to follow his curiosity and passion for the night skies. Stay at the Kimberley Klub YHA, which is located in Broome’s heart, near the pearl boutiques of Chinatown.
Day 5: The mighty Gibb River Road
Time to indulge your adventurous streak. Driving down the 660-kilometre (410-mile) Gibb River Road is a bit of a rite of passage in Australia: you’ll gain serious cred if you tackle the old cattle-droving track in a 4WD. Be rewarded with outback gorges that none of your mates are likely to have ever seen, and photographs that’ll triple your bragging rights. Drive to Windjana Gorge, a spectacular wall of rising rock where you can follow a 3.5-kilometre (2.2-mile) walking trail past sun-worshipping freshwater crocodiles. Continue on to Bell Gorge in King Leopold Conservation Park – a must-see stop loved for its U-shaped cliffs, waterfalls that tumble 100 metres (330 feet) and crystalline swimming holes. The best spot to camp is just a 10-kilometre (6.2-mile) hop away at Silent Grove, a basic bush campground with unpowered sites.
Day 6: Gorge country
In the outback, you rise with the sun – and it rises early. Drive to Galvans Gorge and splash in to a waterfall-fed oasis, just off the Gibb River Road. Next, hit Manning Gorge, another waterhole that acts as a natural pool for sun-kissed travellers. If you look carefully, you might spot Bradshaw and Wandjina rock art. Continue to Drysdale River Station, a working cattle station surrounded by outback woodlands – if you’re cashed up, spend day seven taking an awesome scenic flight over the frothing, tiered Mitchell Falls. Otherwise, skip Drysdale and settle in for a long drive to El Questro wilderness park, where you can camp by a river.
Day 7: El Questro to Kununurra
Indulge in a lazy morning by the Pentecost River and head to the El Questro Station hub for a cooling dip in the small river pool. For hot springs, drive the short distance to Zebedee Springs in the morning (they’re closed from noon onwards) and soak in a series of palm-fringed, natural baths. Later, venture out on a boat journey along the red rock walls and still waters of Chamberlain Gorge. Keep an eye out for the gorge’s comical archer fish, which spit water at insect prey. As sunset nears, drive to Kununurra and stay in the YHA.
Day 8: The Bungle Bungles
You’re on the last day of your epic Kimberley trip: time to splurge. Shell out for a scenic flight over the 350-million-year-old rocks of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, where you’ll land by the tiger-striped domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. The ancient rock formations rise like a giant forest from the earth, as eye-popping from the air as they are from the ground. You’ll evoke serious envy when you tell anyone you’ve been here. The rock formations have only been visited by non-Aborigines since the 1980s, so they’re still untouched and incredibly memorable. Later, make your way back to Broome and get ready to head out on your next big Australian adventure.
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