WILD WON­DERS OF WESTERN AUS­TRALIA

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ROD­ER­ICK EIME

The north­ern part of Aus­tralia’s big­gest state has spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes from Nin­ga­loo Reef up to the Kim­ber­ley.

The north­ern part of Aus­tralia’s big­gest state is full of Mother Na­ture’s best work with spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes

from Nin­ga­loo Reef up to the won­ders of the Kim­ber­ley.

These fa­mous words by Dorothea Mackel­lar, one of Aus­tralia’s most-loved po­ets, per­fectly de­scribes the sav­age grandeur of the Kim­ber­ley re­gion in the coun­try’s re­mote north-west.

Even to­day, nearly 250 years af­ter Euro­pean set­tle­ment, this vast ex­panse of an­cient rock and desert land­scape is still one of the most sparsely pop­u­lated re­gions on the planet.

Through­out much of the rest of the cen­tral Aus­tralian desert, fos­sils and pre­his­toric arte­facts can be found strewn across the lime­stone and sand, like some child’s dis­carded toys. Not in the Kim­ber­ley. These rocks were laid down nearly 2,000 mil­lion years ago, well be­fore there was any­thing liv­ing to fos­silise. Walk­ing among the jagged and hos­tile for­ma­tions sprouting un­fa­mil­iar plants, it’s easy to imag­ine you’ve trav­elled back to the dawn of time or even a far-flung planet.

For many folks, their first glimpse of the Kim­ber­ley was Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 block­buster, Aus­tralia. It was no co­in­ci­dence that the tourism mas­ter­minds and movie mak­ers chose to set their epic tale amid the arid hills and labyrinthine river gorges of this iconic land­scape. “Her beauty and her ter­ror,” pre­cisely.

While this alien land­scape may ap­pear de­void of life, re­searchers have dis­cov­ered what some claim to be the old­est known rock paint­ings. The only rea­son these mys­ti­cal and be­guil­ing, so-called ‘Brad­shaw’ or ‘Gwion Gwion’ fig­ures can­not be ac­cu­rately dated is that they are so old, they’ve be­come part of the rock it­self. Even so, they can be safely as­sessed as older than 20,000 years, per­haps even 50,000.

And who were these fan­tas­tic peo­ple? The present day Abo­rig­i­nal clans re­spon­si­ble for the more mod­ern ‘Wand­jina’ art­work are split on their ori­gin, while the­o­ries about a mys­te­ri­ous pre­his­toric race have fu­elled de­bate for decades.

The Kim­ber­ley epit­o­mises the un­com­pro­mis­ing ter­rain and stag­ger­ing ‘beauty’ that so mes­merised po­ets and scribes, yet

“I love a sun­burnt coun­try, A land of sweep­ing plains, Of ragged moun­tain ranges, Of droughts and flood­ing rains. I love her far hori­zons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her ter­ror – The wide brown land for me!” – Dorothea Mackel­lar

de­terred set­tle­ment and ex­ploita­tion for cen­turies. Even to­day, with mankind’s tech­no­log­i­cal might, the Kim­ber­ley re­sists our in­cur­sions, thwart­ing at­tempts to plun­der its min­eral trea­sures. But for how much longer? The seem­ingly lim­it­less nat­u­ral gas re­serves are tempt­ing the hun­gry multi­na­tional ex­plor­ers ea­ger to drill, pipe and ship.

What is it that so drives con­sci­en­tious trav­ellers to im­merse them­selves in this land seem­ingly for­got­ten by time? Is it the ur­gency to see one of the planet’s last un­touched land­scapes be­fore the urge to plun­der pre­vails or the an­cient mys­ti­cism that per­me­ates ev­ery out­crop? What­ever the mo­ti­va­tion, no-one re­turns from the Kim­ber­ley un­changed. It af­fects all who visit, in­tox­i­cat­ing and be­guil­ing in equal amounts.

BROOME – THE UN­OF­FI­CIAL CAP­I­TAL OF AUS­TRALIA’S NORTH WEST

You could eas­ily call Broome the de facto cap­i­tal of the North West. Once a ram­shackle out­post for pearlers and itin­er­ant fish­er­men, wealth from pearls, min­ing and tourism has el­e­vated the town way be­yond its rough beginnings. Broome is also the ma­jor port for ad­ven­ture and ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ers head­ing out to the Kim­ber­ley coast, so al­most all pas­sen­gers will spend some time in this re­mote com­mu­nity. Apart from pearls and the manda­tory Cable Beach camel rides, there are some ex­cel­lent Abo­rig­i­nal art gal­leries and the hover­craft rides out onto Roe­buck Bay are one of the last com­mer­cial hover­craft rides avail­able in the world.

KUNUNURRA – GATE­WAY TO THE ORD

Sit­u­ated in the East Kim­ber­ley, the out­back town of Kununurra is the log­i­cal end of the Gibb River Road near the North­ern Ter­ri­tory bor­der and the ideal lo­ca­tion to start or fin­ish a Gibb River Road drive. It’s also the lo­ca­tion of the fa­mous Ar­gyle Downs Homestead Mu­seum, site of the orig­i­nal pi­o­neer­ing Du­rack fam­ily prop­erty, most of which is now sub­merged by the equally fa­mous man-made Lake Ar­gyle.

The mes­meris­ing an­cient land­scapes of the Kim­ber­ley ex­tend way past the coast, in­land to the eye-bog­gling Bun­gle Bun­gles (now more cor­rectly known as the UNESCO World Her­itage-listed Pur­nu­l­ulu Na­tional Park) along the in­fa­mous Gibb River Road and through some of the wildest, old­est and most fas­ci­nat­ing ter­ri­tory imag­in­able.

Kununurra and its man­made mini-ocean, Lake Ar­gyle, which holds nine times more wa­ter than Syd­ney Har­bour, is full of its own out­back ad­ven­ture and those keen to fol­low cin­e­matic themes can trail­blaze Hugh and Ni­cole’s Aus­tralia or ven­ture to that place of night­mares, Wolf Creek.

There are tours you can join, or the more in­de­pen­dent­minded can set off on their own self-drive ad­ven­ture check­ing into any of the sev­eral homestead ‘re­sorts’ or in­ter­na­tional stan­dard lux­ury re­treats like El Que­stro or Berke­ley

River Lodge.

BUC­CA­NEER AR­CHI­PEL­AGO MYS­TER­IES

The Buc­ca­neer Ar­chi­pel­ago is a stun­ningly rugged area off the Kim­ber­ley coast con­sist­ing of some 1,000 is­lands. The scenery is spec­tac­u­lar with se­cluded white sandy beaches, patches of rain­for­est, man­grove es­tu­ar­ies, plung­ing cliffs, in­dige­nous rock art and hid­den reefs that lit­ter off­shore wa­ters. Its dis­tant lo­ca­tion has kept it an un­spoilt and re­mark­ably pris­tine lo­ca­tion to ex­plore and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Here too, tides of up to 11 me­tres are among some of the big­gest in the world, and cer­tainly the largest in Aus­tralia. In some places they are treach­er­ously strong and un­pre­dictable, surg­ing up rivers and rip­ping through in­land pas­sages.

The warm weather, wa­ter and re­mote­ness of the ar­chi­pel­ago have cre­ated an in­cred­i­ble breed­ing ground for a huge ar­ray of wildlife in­clud­ing croc­o­diles, snakes, birds, bats and most im­por­tantly, fish. Visi­tors to the Buc­ca­neer Ar­chi­pel­ago find the fish­ing here ex­cep­tional and many species in­habit the re­gion in abun­dance. Your catch could in­clude bar­ra­mundi, co­ral trout, red em­peror, trevally, snap­per tuna and Span­ish mack­erel, as well as oys­ters and enor­mous mud crabs.

Even fur­ther afield, the Row­ley Shoals is made up of three un­touched co­ral atolls ly­ing 340 kilo­me­tres west of Broome. As a pro­tected ma­rine con­ser­va­tion park it is home to a wide va­ri­ety of corals, fish, mol­luscs and other in­ver­te­brates, some of which are unique to Aus­tralia.

KARIJINI NA­TIONAL PARK

If Aus­tralia’s North West is all about ad­ven­ture, then ex­plor­ing the an­cient rocky tun­nels and plung­ing gorges, pad­dling through crys­tal-clear wa­ter­ways and swim­ming un­der stun­ning wa­ter­falls are surely some of the best bits. And what’s more, most of this amaz­ing scenery is all within easy reach.

A great time to go is dur­ing ‘The Karijini Ex­pe­ri­ence’, a five-day event that al­lows guests to see and en­joy this mag­i­cal part of the world in a unique way. Now in its fifth year, the Ex­pe­ri­ence is held on the tra­di­tional lands of the Ban­jima peo­ple, and is a cel­e­bra­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, con­nec­tion and cul­ture. On from 11–15 April 2017, you will see the best of the land­scape as well as ex­pe­ri­ence many cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and spe­cial events.

CO­RAL COAST

Fol­low the coast and dis­cover some of the world’s most di­verse ma­rine habi­tats, just me­tres away from pris­tine beaches.

The UNESCO World Her­itage-listed Shark Bay and Nin­ga­loo Reef is the largest fring­ing reef on Earth and one of the few places in the world where you can swim with the largest fish in the sea, the gen­tle whale shark. Swim­ming with these giants of the sea is an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence, and even if they are not in the neigh­bour­hood when you are there, you will be dis­tracted by the co­ral gar­dens, gi­ant manta rays, tur­tles and, at the right time, hump­back whales. This un­der­sea gem is ab­so­lutely world-class.

One of the best way to see the whale sharks is with Sail Nin­ga­loo, which of­fers day tours and three-to-12-day tours to max­imise your Nin­ga­loo ex­pe­ri­ence. For divers, this is about as good as it gets, but if you aren’t up to div­ing into the deep, the snorkelling is just as thrilling.

At Mon­key Mia, the fa­mous dol­phins can be seen up close. Wan­der the fas­ci­nat­ing nat­u­ral for­ma­tions of the Pin­na­cles Desert moon­scape, or for the ul­ti­mate coastal ad­ven­ture, take a hike along Kal­barri’s dra­matic land­scapes, where 400-mil­lion-year-old river gorges meet the In­dian Ocean.

BY AIR AND SEA

Pur­pose-built ves­sels like True North and Great Es­cape have honed their itin­er­ar­ies over the decades to a truly fine art, en­gag­ing the most knowl­edge­able guides and lec­tur­ers to de­liver the most com­plete and com­pre­hen­sive ex­plo­rations avail­able.

Be­tween May and Septem­ber ev­ery year, a small fleet of ex­pe­di­tion and ad­ven­ture ves­sels con­duct en­rich­ing, nat­u­ral­ist-es­corted tours through­out the labyrinth of es­tu­ar­ies, wa­ter­ways and coves. Teem­ing birdlife, mys­te­ri­ous ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, awe in­spir­ing land­scapes and nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non wit­nessed by very few Euro­peans are just part of the seem­ingly ir­re­sistible al­lure of the Kim­ber­ley.

At Talbot Bay, the Hor­i­zon­tal Wa­ter­falls were de­scribed by David At­ten­bor­ough as “one of the great­est nat­u­ral won­ders of the world”. This highly un­usual phe­nom­e­non oc­curs as the huge, ten me­tre tides ebb and flow be­tween a tiny gap in the ridge within the bay in the Buc­ca­neer Ar­chi­pel­ago. It’s pos­si­ble to fly in by sea­plane to do this ex­pe­ri­ence, or else any of the small ad­ven­ture ves­sels reg­u­larly con­duct adren­a­line rides through the rapids us­ing high-speed ten­ders.

The more con­ven­tional Mitchell Falls are su­perb cas­cades, named af­ter the marvel­lous plateau, and are per­haps the crown­ing glory of the scenic at­trac­tions of the Kim­ber­ley. Scenic flights, ei­ther fixed-wing or he­li­copter, are the best way to view these falls which are at their most im­pres­sive early in the sea­son be­fore the del­uge of ‘the wet’ is fully drained.

The way to cover a lot more ter­ri­tory in these wide open spa­ces is by air. Truenorth He­li­copters of­fers a num­ber of op­tions but the most suit­able is a sa­fari that de­liv­ers breath­tak­ing nat­u­ral won­ders, river cruis­ing and a stay at a work­ing cat­tle sta­tion or two. The nine-day sa­fari is in an EC 145 twin-en­gine he­li­copter and you will be glued to the win­dows as you take in the sights with high­lights be­ing Pur­nu­l­ulu Na­tional Park (Bun­gle Bun­gles), rock art, wa­ter­falls, King Ge­orge Falls and more. Stay in a work­ing cat­tle sta­tion as well as lux­ury lo­ca­tions such as Home Sta­tion, Kim­ber­ley Coastal Camp, Kim­ber­ley Wilder­ness Camp and Berke­ley River Lodge, as well as Bullo Sta­tion in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory. •

Pho­tog­ra­phy by ©Rod­er­ick Eime – Travog­ra­phy.com

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