Horizontal Falls, Talbot Bay, WA © Jewels Lynch Photography
8 days exploring the Kimberley’s natural wonders
From natural hot springs to 360-million-year-old rock formations, rare diamonds and raw wilderness, the Kimberley in Western Australia is the wide-open space you’ve been craving.
By Fleur Bainger
The Kimberley’s never-ending landscapes and rugged charm are soothing and inspiring in one. This is a place to explore by land and from the air – it’s the best way to drink in the extraordinary vastness of this part of Western Australia.
The age of the region’s rock formations beggars belief and their beauty captivates. There are oddities to be seen, like flat waterfalls and beehive-shaped domes, and characters to be met at wilderness parks, distilleries and on a huge lake studded with islands. Absorb it all on this exhilarating eight-day tour (car optional) of the Kimberley’s best bits.
Day 1: Arriving in Kununurra
The gateway town to the East Kimberley, where you’ll find some of Australia’s most iconic outback destinations, Kununurra is a great place to start your exploration. There are direct flights from Perth, Broome and Darwin.
Fill your lungs with warm, clean air the moment your head pokes from the aeroplane. Most hotels do airport pick-ups and Kununurra is walkable, but strolling in the heat isn’t for everyone, so hiring a car is a good option. That way you can get to the family-owned Hoochery Distillery just outside town. The fun-loving rum producers say their handmade spirits are “created using traditional, inefficient and labour-intensive methods.”
Day 2: Experience the Bungle Bungle Range
Embedded in World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, the Bungle Bungles can be ogled from the air or seen from the ground, or better yet – both. Departing from Kununurra, Kingfisher Tours, Aviair and HeliSpirit combine aerial views with walks through the stripy, dome-like rock formations that are estimated to be around 350-million-years-old. The curious rock clusters were a secret to all but their Aboriginal custodians until the 1980s, making them a rare and coveted outback destination.
For those with more time, HeliSpirit has an overnight stay option, while people on quicker trips might opt for a flight-only experience. Some Bungles tours also wrap in a touchdown on Lake Argyle or a tour of the Argyle pink diamond mine.
Day 3: Tour the Ord River and Lake Argyle
The largest manmade, freshwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere, Lake Argyle lies just outside Kununurra. Get there via a boat cruise along the Ord River, then spot freshwater crocodiles on the banks of submerged mountains that now look like islands. Try Triple J Tours and Lake Argyle Cruises’ river and lake combos, which include sunset on the water.
Day 4: Kununurra to El Questro Wilderness Park
- Drive time: 1.5 hours
Either self-drive from Kununurra or ensure maximum window gazing on a transfer to El Questro Wilderness Park: a legendary outback retreat and one of the world’s most unique holiday destinations, covering 280,000 hectares (700,000 acres) of breathtaking terrain.
Positioned just off the Gibb River Road and across the Pentecost River, El Questro is backed by the looming Cockburn Ranges. It teams ochre cliffs with tropical bush, swimming holes and gorges that give way to waterfalls. You won’t regret joining a Chamberlain Gorge boat tour, winding along rugged, luminous orange rockface to where cheeky archerfish spit water into the air.
Stay: Consider splurging on El Questro’s all-inclusive cliffside retreat that peers over the same gorge, providing an elevated perspective. Otherwise, the polished wood bungalows at The Station (where there’s a casual restaurant) are excellent, as are Emma Gorge Resort's simpler tented huts. Campers will love the affordability of spread-out sites.
Day 5: Explore El Questro
A soak in Zebedee Thermal Springs is a must at El Questro. Those staying in the retreats or homestead have it to themselves each afternoon, but it’s open and free to everyone before then. Edged with ancient palms, the mossy bathing holes are restorative. Afterwards, do the short, flat hike to Emma Gorge, and bring your bathers – although the natural pool is astonishingly cold, you’ll get a rush from splashing in. Go all out with a helicopter ride over the Cockburn Ranges and its astonishing rock maze. Tonight, dine at Emma’s Restaurant at Emma Gorge.
Day 6: El Questro to Broome via Kununurra
- Travel time: 1.5 hours to Kununurra, 1.5-hour flight to Broome
It will be hard to leave El Questro behind, but the Kimberley Coast beckons. Head back to Kununurra and from here fly direct to Broome. On arrival, take the free airport transfer bus to leafy Cable Beach Club Resort and Spa, then freshen up with either a L’Occitane spa treatment (the massages are phenomenal), a swim in the adults-only pool, or both. Grab an easy poolside lunch, then stroll along Broome’s famous Cable Beach.
In the afternoon, get the free shuttle into Broome to see the revitalised town centre. Keep your eyes peeled for the brass plaques along Dampier Terrace’s footpath, detailing two centuries of pearling history. Outside Sun Pictures – the oldest operating outdoor garden cinema in the world – you'll find an Aboriginal sandstone mosaic depicting Broome’s water sources.
Eat at Johnny Sausage, a pop-up Italian restaurant that serves excellent handmade pasta during high season.
Days 7 and 8: Horizontal Falls, then homeward-bound
Get coffee from The Good Cartel, the town’s only drive-through café that started as a food truck (they do delicious bagels). Then, get ready for an unforgettable day.
The frothing, surging, boiling Horizontal Falls are a spectacle unlike anywhere else on the planet. Take a day trip from Broome with Go Horizontal (from family-owned business Go Beyond Broome) to see them from the air and bump over the white water in a high powered boat, following the water as it squeezes through narrow gaps in the parallel ranges.