TOP END ADVENTURE
Camping in the Kimberley during a trip from Broome to Darwin involves sleeping in swags and swimming in pools at the end of gorges. Just watch out for crocs!
IN the off season he is a wrangler at a crocodile farm but right now, our guide Dave is running over the rocks through a Kimberley gorge in his bare feet. He points to the plants and flowers that would help us survive in the wild – as food and pharmacy – and others than can be used as sandpaper or kindling to stoke a fire.
On our trek along the legendary Gibb River Rd, he has picked up snakes from the road and moved them out of the way of trucks. And along riverbanks, he knows where the freshwater crocodiles have made their nests and laid eggs so we can avoid them.
But the most amazing thing about Dave McMahon, 27, is that he trained as a fine dining chef in an earlier life. We are not only the safest tour group up here but also the best fed.
It is under the shade of giant boab trees and ghost gums that we camp our way across the Kimberley and into the Bungle Bungles from Broome on our way to Darwin, sleeping in swags under mozzie nets and swimming in cool pools at the pointy-end of the gorges.
As dusk gathers, sunsets are watched in awestruck silence from lookouts on top of rock formations that have been here for 1.8 billion years while black cockatoos and black kites fly above.
Then with just a fold-up table for a kitchen, a trailer that seems like a food Tardis (because it never runs empty) and a camp fire as a stove, back at camp Dave creates feasts of which Tuscan barramundi on night number one was only the first.
You can do the Kimberley almost without tasting the red dust these days. It caters for the luxury traveller with established accommodation in safari tents and cabins or homesteads and day trips to dip in and out of the gorges before heading back to a real bed and hot showers. But you would never discover the surprising joy of sleeping in a swag under the brightest stars and waking up with the dawn chorus.
I wouldn’t have believed it either – but we are sleeping nine hours a night or more and waking up rested and relaxed and unbothered by any nasties other than a snuffling around the campsite one night that we put down to a curious wallaby. Or a snorer from another tent...
As well as being the safest and best-fed, we can also lay claim to being probably the smallest tour group doing the trek. There are five of us plus Dave. With no vehicles larger than a six-seater Landcruiser, family company Venture North can cater for tailor-made trips like ours.
The 11-day itinerary was drawn up by my four fellow travellers, Brenton and Kaaren and Greg and Ruth, together with Venture North and then opened up to fill the final two seats. It was The Tailor, a South Australian-based company that tailors holidays, who recommended Venture North. Then I saw the trip advertised on Venture North’s website and here I am on an adventure that invariably draws the comment from friends and colleagues: “Oh, I would love to do that.” Do it!
The Kimberley is another world – peaceful, slow and full of magic.
On the first night at Windjana Gorge, we count 33 freshwater crocs, about twice as many as the number of people camping here for the night. It means the showers and toilets are almost empty.
George, one of the volunteers with enviable jobs of keeping an eye on the campsites and collecting the fees, is packing up his trailer home the next day after his month-long stint is up.