Discover one of the oldest and largest wilderness landscape in the world by air, water and land.

WORDS Brian Johnston

The ancient Kimberley landscape is magnificent.

It features great yawning gorges, escarpments slashed with red rust, gushing waterfalls and sapphire seas. Even the trees are amazing: solitary boabs standing like giant trolls, gum trees twisted as bonsai, fan palms unexpectedly green against orange cliffs. Sunsets are sumptuous, as if the red earth has set fire to the sky.

The Kimberley is one of the world’s last remaining frontiers. The region is bigger than Victoria but has just 35,000 inhabitants. Parts of it are so remote they’ve barely been visited, except by the Indigenous people who have called the Kimberley home for nearly 60,000 years. Rock art is often the only sign of human involvement in a wild landscape.

In short, there are few greater adventures. Travel though the Kimberley and you aren’t just navigating space but time as well, into some of the oldest geological destinations on Earth. A journey here is about big moments: towering gorges, Mitchell Falls, the Bungle Bungle Ranges, the sun fizzling out in the pink Indian Ocean from Cable Beach in Broome. But it’s about the small pleasures, too. Yellow grass rustling, the sun flashing on wheeling cockatoos, and waterholes where purple waterlilies float.

With scenery this astonishing, you’ll want to see it from every angle you possibly can. Get out hiking. Get onto the water. Take to the skies. This is quintessential outback Australia writ large, and full of wonder from dawn to dusk.



NOTHING BEATS seeing the rugged Kimberley landscapes from the air, whether it’s the convoluted valleys of the Carr Boyd Range or the man-made beauty of Lake Argyle. But the highlight of any scenic flight or helicopter ride is the purple and rust-red humps of the Bungle Bungle Ranges in Purnululu National Park, where sandstone has been deeply indented and eroded into fantastic contours 20 million years in the making. Later, walking among these beehive hills is an experience from a different perspective, but just as awe-inspiring.

You can fly over any landscape here and be wowed. The Buccaneer Archipelago, for example, is an extravagance of battered islands pounded by astonishing 12-metre tides. By seaplane, you can land on the waters of Talbot Bay, skimming down below red cliffs and taking in wonderful views of its famous natural wonder, the Horizontal Falls. From above, you can clearly see how the tides are confined between narrow gorges, causing pressurised surges of foaming water.

A helicopter flight over Mitchell Falls is sensational, too. Even Little Mitchell Falls, another red scar on the face of outback immensity, has a size that belies its name. And although not as immediately dramatic, a scenic Cessna flight between the Mitchell Plateau and Darwin showcases the aerial magnificence of the WA and NT outback. It’s as if you’re looking down at a vast abstract artwork in red and orange – or an Indigenous painting of dots and streaks and zigzags created by plains of spinifex, the exclamation marks of giant red termite mounds, and worn hills produced by inconceivable eons of flash floods. The coast, which arrives at the splendidly named Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, provides a contrasting clash of turquoise and sapphire water, over which a thousand rusting islands are sprinkled.



IN A SEEMINGLY dry red land, an abundance of water is a reminder of the terrific wet seasons that have created the eroded Kimberley landscape – though most of it is only seasonal, and the rest hidden in gorges and rivers. You can explore some of these waterways as part of a Kimberley tour – including the Fitzroy River near Fitzroy Crossing. It slides through Geikie Gorge where, on a one-hour cruise, you’ll spot freshwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandbanks and – incredibly – stingrays drifting in the gurgling water. The gorge’s orange walls are banded with white minerals to create a gorgeously layered landscape.

On the other side of the Kimberley, near Kununurra, the Ord River is magnificent. You can explore a 55-kilometre length of it before it reaches the dam that creates vast Lake Argyle. A three-hour boat trip takes you past soaring red cliffs and – if you’re early enough in the dry season – dozens of cascading waterfalls. All this moisture gives life to abundant bird species, nimble-footed rock wallabies and fruit bats.

Not far away, 280,000-hectare El Questro Station has its watery moments too. In Chamberlain Gorge, red rock walls tower 60 metres, cupping a lush little valley of gum trees whose water is filled with fish. Meanwhile Zebedee Springs is a pocket of rainforest in a rocky red landscape, fed by water that bubbles up at 30°C. Settle in as butterflies flit and sunlight filters through towering Livistona palms for another superb Kimberley experience.

“Over an escarpment, Mitchell Falls create a thundering four-tiered masterpiece in the eroded orange outback.”



THE KIMBERLEY isn’t a place for passive enjoyment. Get out and hike and you’ll truly feel the soul-stirring wonders of this remote, rugged place. A walk through Windjana Gorge, for one, takes you between crumbling, honeycoloured cliffs that rise on either side of a tranquil, atmospheric river. Millennia of water erosion has exposed what was once a reef. Fossils embedded in the limestone tell the story of a time when this whole region lay beneath the ocean.

At Emma Gorge, you’ll need reasonable fitness for a 2.5-hour return hike off the Gibb River Road through scrubby savannah and tumbled rocks. When you get to the gorge, white butterflies dance over giant boulders and birds flap among the pandanus of this verdant mini-environment. The waterhole is a refreshing reward for your effort. Float on your back and see sunlight sparkle in the waterfall as it spills over the red lip of the cliff high above, as if rain is falling from a blue sky. The sun leaves a pink rim on the horseshoe of cliffs. Later, you can stay at Emma Gorge Resort in a tented cabin and dine under the boab trees as you enjoy a Kimberley sunset: who says you have to make sacrifices to see the outback?

On the Mitchell Plateau, a walk leads you through a hot red landscape dotted with white gums, paperbarks and fan palms. Rock art emblazons the rocks with animals and spirit figures from the Dreamtime. A landscape of rusting rocks, dry creek beds and knobbly outcrops looks as if it hasn’t seen rain in decades but, where the Mitchell Plateau falls over an escarpment, Mitchell Falls create a thundering four-tiered masterpiece in the eroded orange outback. It’s another stupendous Kimberley sight that if it weren’t so remote would surely be world famous.



Experience the Kimberley by air, water and land during our 13-day Jewels of the Kimberley small-group tour, travelling from Broome to Darwin. Discover the magic of Mitchell Plateau and its ancient rock art; stay at Ngauwudu Safari Camp on the Plateau (built exclusively for Outback Spirit guests) and explore the wonders of the Bungle Bungles with a scenic helicopter flight.

Explore more stories like this one in our Beyond Magazine. Download or request your copy today at