the kim­ber­ley

Sarah ni­chol­son makes a jour­ney to the very edge of aus­tralia’s scorched north-west cor­ner and dis­cov­ers the colours of the Kim­ber­ley are am­pli­fied by iso­la­tion.

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Aus­tralia’s scorched north-west is on show at The Berke­ley River Lodge.

The sun­set has stunned this typ­i­cally talk­a­tive group into breath­less si­lence. We try mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion – brief state­ments about the weather just to be po­lite – but we are so dis­tracted by the show mother na­ture is cur­rently stag­ing that it’s hard to think about any­thing other than the vi­brant western hori­zon be­fore us.

The sky is turn­ing blaz­ing shades of or­ange, fiery colours that re­mind me of lava creep­ing down the side of an an­gry vol­cano, with the sink­ing sun throw­ing a golden light across the scorched land­scape that gives this harsh and un­for­giv­ing place an ethe­real qual­ity.

There are no man-made sounds to be heard, other than whis­pered ob­ser­va­tions from my trav­el­ling com­pan­ions about the beauty of the mo­ment, with the mourn­ful call of a lonely bird break­ing the si­lence as if to re­mind wildlife shel­ter­ing in the Kim­ber­ley coast’s dunes that another hot day is draw­ing to a close.

it’s not un­usual for hol­i­day­mak­ers to no­tice a sun­set, but here at The berke­ley river lodge the last slow min­utes of day­light be­come the cen­tre of at­ten­tion with guests gath­er­ing for sun­set drinks where the berke­ley river meets the Ti­mor Sea to savour a dis­play am­pli­fied with­out the dis­trac­tions of set­tle­ment.

The sea­sonal Kim­ber­ley ad­dress the lodge is open dur­ing the dry sea­son from early march to late oc­to­ber, and boasts 20 tran­quil hill­top vil­las of­fer­ing river or ocean views – is 150 kilo­me­tres from Wyn­d­ham and so se­cluded that air and sea are the only routes in with no tracks to ar­rive by land.

most guests come via Ku­nunurra, with a 60-minute hop in a light plane com­plet­ing the ex­pe­di­tion. The flight crosses cat­tle sta­tions the size of euro­pean coun­tries to em­pha­sise the scale of the re­gion and sheer dis­tance to the des­ti­na­tion.

but it’s this re­mote lo­ca­tion that guar­an­tees sunrise and sun­set is awe­some, prom­ises mo­bile phones won’t chor­tle and emails only up­date in one cor­ner of the main build­ing near dunes restau­rant, and en­sures guests en­counter a cor­ner of aus­tralia’s sun­baked north that’s out of reach to all but the hearti­est ex­plor­ers.

out of bounds “only a few peo­ple have walked where our guests go,” says berke­ley river lodge man­ager Jen­nifer Fitz­mau­rice.

“ex­plor­ing hid­den rock-art caves is al­ways mov­ing, see­ing the in­cred­i­ble wildlife that lives in this part of the Kim­ber­ley is some­thing that will stay with me, catch­ing ev­ery­thing from big bar­ra­mundi and golden snap­per to threadfin snap­per to mud crabs is a high­light, and i love pho­tograph­ing the scenery and wa­ter­falls.

“but best of all,” she con­tin­ues, “i get to take our guests to do these ac­tiv­i­ties

– see­ing their ex­cite­ment is a won­der­ful thing – and tak­ing guests who don’t think they’re ca­pa­ble of hik­ing up to a se­cluded wa­ter­fall with swim­ming holes is so spe­cial.”

With night comes a tem­per­a­ture that’s per­fect for din­ner on the dunes ve­ran­dah, when the arid heat of the flaw­less dry­sea­son day is blunted by a breeze glid­ing in from Joseph bon­a­parte Gulf, and while dark­ness hides the vista around us it de­liv­ers a sky packed with twin­kling stars not di­luted by light pol­lu­tion.

Chef Troy mathews is in charge of the menu and uses the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents in his larder – fish pulled from the deep, veg­gies har­vested from his gar­den, bread warm from the oven – to present a de­gus­ta­tion menu matched with a se­lec­tion of wine and craft beer.

Taste the out­back meal­time is a joy at berke­ley river lodge and while break­fast and din­ner is served at dunes, lunch is a pic­nic and, dur­ing my stay, there’s a buf­fet-style meal on the ledge of a rocky am­phithe­atre that be­comes a roar­ing wa­ter­fall dur­ing the wet and an al­fresco feast on an iso­lated stretch of beach with gourmet good­ies ar­riv­ing in bento boxes.

be­tween meals, guests can over­load on ac­tiv­ity or do noth­ing more than shuf­fle from a scenic spot on their villa’s pri­vate ve­ran­dah to the deck be­side the swim­ming pool. it’s perched to pro­vide a panorama from the sparkling blue sur­round­ing reve­ley is­land to the parched ochre of the es­carp­ment.

“the sink­ing sun gives this harsh and un­for­giv­ing place an ethe­real qual­ity”

i do a bit of both and spend one morn­ing cruis­ing the berke­ley river with Jen­nifer and her part­ner ross Pene­gar – there’s croc­o­dile spot­ting, bird watch­ing, a close look at a trib­u­tary’s rum­bling wa­ter­fall, a wan­der around el­e­vated rock ponds – and the af­ter­noon be­side the pool with a tall gin and tonic.

another morn­ing starts at dawn as i sit on my ve­ran­dah to gaze at night gen­tly turn­ing to day, there’s a fish­ing ex­cur­sion with the catch be­com­ing de­li­cious sashimi at din­ner, and a beach sa­fari with lodge guide Gary show­ing us an abo­rig­i­nal mid­den be­fore lead­ing an am­ble through a fresh­wa­ter stream emerg­ing from the scrub.

and while i trea­sure ev­ery minute of out­back ac­tiv­ity it’s the mo­ments of si­lence and soli­tude i ap­pre­ci­ate most, rare sec­onds when i can marvel at the beauty of a place where in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity guar­an­tees per­fec­tion.

01 01 Wa­ter­fall in a raw land­scape 02 The berke­ley river winds to the sea 03 re­mote vil­las with a view 04 a close-up en­counter with an­cient rock art. all im­ages © Tony Hewitt

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