Beyond Broome & the Gibb River Road
North and east of Broome is wilderness at its best, suited to those who love nature at its most raw and isolated. Swimming in the ocean and river mouths is off-limits due to crocodiles, although many of the inland rivers and pools are free of saltwater crocodiles and can provide welcome relief from heat and dust.
Stretching 220km (136 miles) north of Broome, the Dampier Peninsula is home to several Aboriginal communities and a small resort at the northern tip of Cape Leveque. The four-wheel-drive Cape Leveque Road runs through the fine red pindan dust, past Beagle Bay's wonderful pearl-shell church built by missionaries, and up to the remote red-cliffed cape. The Aboriginal community-run Kooljaman Resort here has cabins and deluxe safari tents gazing out over an empty azure sea.
Traveling the Gibb River Road is not for everyone, being rough, dusty, and lacking the world's little luxuries; it's for those who love wilderness and adventure in a primal land. Facilities are few and far between. Both this road and the Kalumburu Road are classified as four-wheel-drive, but you must check whether your rented vehicle can travel them. The roads are often closed during the Wet from December to April; call tel. 13 81 38 for up-to-date road conditions.
The western part of the Kimberley is the most accessible and can be explored on a long day trip (or two) from Broome. The Mowanjum Aboriginal Community, 12km (7 1/2 miles) beyond Derby, has an art gallery worth visiting. The 350-million-year-old Windjana Gorge, 240km (149 miles) east of Broome, has tall gray limestone cliffs enclosing long, silent pools separated by enormous sand banks -- basking places for freshwater crocodiles. Another unsealed road leads south, past Tunnel Creek, a limestone cavern which you can walk through, to the Great Northern Highway. Some 100km (62 miles) farther east (or 418km/259 miles east of Broome) is Geikie Gorge (pronounced Geek-ee). Its 30m-high (98-ft.) walls are part of the same ancient coral-reef system as Windjana; you explore Geikie Gorge on walking trails or on small cruise boats.
Traveling farther along the Gibb River Road, you wind through rough rocky ranges, with detours to take in the delights of stunning pools and waterfalls such as those at Bell and Manning Gorges. Facilities exist only at isolated homesteads and Aboriginal communities, and there are a few designated camping areas. At night the stars are absolutely magnificent, with the Milky Way a silvery blaze across the sky.
Up the Kalumburu Road 130km (81 miles) is the turnoff to Mitchell Plateau. The plateau is heavily dissected and marked by tall mop-headed livistona palms. This is the home of magnificent rock art. Some rock outcrops contain superb painted images, particularly the Wandjina, showing vivid haloed figures, sometimes with a body, or simply a head, but never with a mouth. The Bradshaw figures, or Gwion, are also found here; these are stylized human figures, often sticklike in appearance, of unknown but certainly great age.
There's a scenic 3.5km (2.3-mile) walk to the Mitchell Falls, although you can take a helicopter transfer. The falls drop down in three tiers, with deep pools enclosed by sheer rock walls. The best chopper trip goes from the falls way out to Admiralty Gulf, a milky turquoise sea with sharks and crocs visible in the shallows, and back along the lower Mitchell River gorge. The flight shows the immensity and emptiness of the Kimberley, bringing a superb vista of rocky terraces, islands, mangroves, bays, and creeks extending in all directions -- with absolutely nothing else to be seen.
Several operators offer tours along the Gibb River Road. APT Kimberley Wilderness Adventures has an excellent 13-day tour from Broome to Broome that takes in Mitchell Falls, Kununurra, Ord River, Bungle Bungle, and Geikie Gorge at A$6,995 per person twin share.
One Big River -- The Fitzroy River is Australia's largest wild river. It has no dams, it's totally unfettered, and its flow after the summer cyclones has been rated among the highest in the world. This makes its waters highly desirable to Australia's drying cities well to the south -- there are regular (and perhaps not totally farfetched) plans to harness it and carry the precious water thousands of kilometers away. The Greens and local Aborigines do not agree! Most visitors only see the Fitzroy in the Dry, either at Geikie Gorge or the long Willare Bridge east of Broome, when it is but a quiet and unremarkable stream.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.