The romance of the Kimberley

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The trip started with a romance and ended in a wedding. The romance was with the Kimberley, a vast, ancient land of desert dunes, savannah, deep gorges and rust-red escarpments. The Kimberley stretches across an area twice the size of Victoria in Australia’s north-west. I had been there a few years before, and knew I’d return. A wedding in Broome clinched it.

We touched down in Kununurra and hit the Victoria Highway at dusk in a hired 4WD heading west for Emma Gorge, ‘barra’ burgers in hand. Eating fresh barramundi became a theme. Emma Gorge is part of El Questro, a
million-acre wilderness park with spectacular, ever-changing scenery and lots of wildlife. The 105-kilometre drive took 90 minutes on mostly sealed road with a final stretch of gravel.

We fell asleep in our safari tent cabin to the stirrings of the bush and gurgling of the creek below, and awoke at dawn to a cheerful riot of bird calls. Temperatures rise to the mid-30s by day but the nights are comfortably cool. Emma Gorge is a cluster of cabins with en-suites a short walk from an open-air restaurant area.

The main pastime at Emma is the 1.6-kilometre walk to the top of the gorge. The path is rocky; wear shoes with grip, and take water and bathers for a dip in the waterholes, the top one beneath an amphitheatre of vertical rock faces.

Then there are the 4WD excursions. Zebedee Springs is a short wander from the carpark along a path overhung by a canopy of lush rainforest. At the end, a human kaleidoscope of tourists has stripped off to lounge around or play in spa-like thermal pools beneath a grove of Livistona palms. We took a boat trip through Chamberlain Gorge another day and laughed as archerfish spat water with pinpoint accuracy at the faces of startled tourists.

Wyndham, the region’s oldest town, is where you go to find out about history. The Wyndham museum is interesting but you can glimpse the past all around the streets. A wonderful collection of steam trains, all rust and rivets, sits unannounced near the docks. The Afghan, Pioneer and Gully cemeteries, and the Warriu Dreamtime Park, are evidence of those who went before.

Roderick and Alida Woodland’s Digger’s Rest Station, 37 kilometres by unsealed road off the highway from Wyndham, has some of the most stunning trail rides in Australia. The Cockburn Range with its dramatic red ramparts is an ever-present backdrop. Boabs stand like bulbous sentinels across the landscape.

We rode out along the King River in the late afternoon as the sun lost its bite and the landscape softened, returning at twilight to a barbecue at the campfire.

We flew from Kununurra to Broome. The wedding on Cable Beach was joyous. Sun, a sea breeze and an aisle of hearts drawn in the sand.

We ended our trip with an overnight stay at the Kooljaman wilderness camp at Cape Leveque, a bumpy two-and-a-half-hour red-dirt drive from Broome. Owned by the Djarindjin and Ardyaloon communities, it nestles in the bushy clifftop overlooking a glorious stretch of beach with distinctive red outcrops.

We left Broome and the Kimberley, like so many of the wedding guests, vowing to go back.

Story: Anne Crawford
Published in RoyalAuto Dec 16/Jan 17