Backpackers’ Guide to The Kimberley

Backpackers’ Guide to The Kimberley

Tucked away in the northernmost corner of Western Australia, the Kimberley is a 423,517 km2 region home to awe-inspiring landscapes, gorgeous gorges and ancient rock formations dating back 350 million years ago to the Devonian period — some of the oldest parts of the Kimberley Plateau are more than two billion years old!

Far from the bright lights of the big cities, visitors come to this remarkable part of the continent to connect with Australia’s rich Indigenous culture, learn about the area’s diverse geological history, view wildlife, hike to natural rock pools and camp out under the stars.

With heaps of national parks, roadhouses, remote cattle stations and glitzy beachside resorts to satisfy every traveler’s curiosity, this off-the-beaten-track slice of Western Australia is the perfect place to unplug, bask in all the nature around you and really get away from it all.

Road trips must be planned carefully in the Kimberley since you’ll be so far from the nearest town or driving along unsealed roads in the absolute middle of nowhere. If you want to do a straight shot and stick to sealed National Highway 1, the drive from Kununurra to Broome will take about 11 hours non-stop.

Factor in all the places you’ll want to see along the unsealed Gibb River Road, not to mention Lake Argyle and Purnululu National Park (also called the Bungle Bungles), and you’ve got yourself a bonafide multi-day Kimberley road trip adventure.

When to Visit the Kimberley

The wet season, from October to April, is known for powerful humidity, severe thunderstorms and intense flooding throughout the Kimberley, resulting in the closure of the Gibb River Road this time of year. The dry season, from May through September, lives up to its name with hardly any rain and the prevalence of bush fires. Always check road conditions before you head out and be prepared to backtrack several hours or camp nearby if you get turned around at a roadblock.

Note that Western Australia has strict rules about the kinds of food and agriculture you’re allowed to bring in from other states. Make sure you’re not carrying any fruit, honey, vegetables, seeds, plants, or livestock when your vehicle is checked at the border crossing as they might be confiscated and you could be fined.

Jobs in The Kimberley

If you’re looking for work while in the north of WA, you’ll find plenty of options; including many jobs in Broome. For everything else, take a look at our page dedicated to all jobs in WA.

Must-Visit Towns in the Kimberley

The general rule is the larger the town, the better the mobile coverage, so you’ll be fine in Kununurra, Broome and Cable Beach. Most roadhouses, fuel stations and visitor centres along National Highway 1 offer Wi-Fi for purchase, but along the Gibb River Road, prepare to be unplugged unless you’re staying at one of the remote resorts or cattle stations.

1. Kununurra and Lake Argyle

Often the starting point of a WA road trip if you’re driving in from the Northern Territory, it’s the last major town you’ll encounter so stretch your legs and stock up on supplies. Relax in nature at Lake Argyle, about an hour’s drive to the south.

2. Fitzroy Crossing

A perfect pitstop if you’re driving to or from Broome along National Highway 1, with Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park a 15-minute drive from the town centre.

3. Broome

11 hours west of Kununurra, Broome is known for its ancient dinosaur tracks, thriving brewery scene and intriguing pearling history — learn more on a tour by Willie Creek Pearl Farm, Cygnet Bay Pearls or Pearl Luggers Broome.

4. Cable Beach

Next door to Broome, Cable Beach is where you’ll find chic resorts and see the Broome Camel Train — join in on a sunset tour by Broome Camel Safaris, Red Sun Camels or Sundowner Camel Tours.

Crab Creek, Broome

Where To Experience Indigenous Culture

In Kununurra, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts Centre offers studio tours and guided cultural walks in Mirima National Park, all led by Miriwoong artists and guides.

If you’re driving along National Highway 1, visit Mimbi Caves for a tour of one of the oldest portions of the Devonian Reef system, led by a local Gooniyandi guide.

In Broome, Yawuru guide Bart Pigram of Narlijia Tours leads three-hour cultural cruises and two-hour walking tours through the Roebuck Bay mangroves.

Driving Tips in The Kimberley

  • If you’re planning to drive along the Gibb River Road or visit Purnululu National Park, make sure your vehicle is a 4-WD that’s prepped for unsealed roads, as regular 2-WD cars won’t be able to make the journey safely.
  • Pay attention to speed limits, which can go up to 110kph on long stretches and as low as 40kph on your way back into town.
  • If you see someone in distress, pull over and ask if they need assistance. Chances are they would do the same for you out here.
  • Put your mobile away or risk being fined for using it whilst driving.
  • If you’ll be venturing off National Highway 1, read the fine print on your rental car contract to make sure you’re allowed to drive on unsealed roads.
  • Consider getting a satellite phone if you’ll be driving off the beaten track, as there are plenty of places out here without regular mobile service.
  • Don’t drive at night if you can help it, as kangaroos and other nocturnal creatures are most active then — and you won’t want to hit one.
  • Check road conditions so you’ll know to watch for flooding, bush fires, road closures or other situations that might impact your drive.
  • Just to be on the safe side, lock anything that looks interesting — including your Esky — in the boot or take it with you, as theft can sometimes occur.
  • Track down other travelers to share a lift and help you save on costs by checking backpacker groups on Facebook. Meet first though. It’s a long drive.
  • Track down the cheapest fuel near you with apps like Fuel Map Australia or GasBuddy.

If You Don’t Want to Drive… 

Fly: Fly into Broome from most major Australian cities, then drive or take a multi-day guided tour one-way back to Darwin or down to Perth. If you’re short on time, there’s an airport in Kununurra, so you could always fly straight there and head to Broome via the Gibb River Road (unsealed) or National Highway 1 (sealed).

Bus: Coach service is available between Kununurra and Broome via Greyhound Australia’s Broome to Darwin service, though the trip takes about 14 hours — the full ride from Darwin to Broome takes roughly 24 hours. Their hop-on-hop-off Whimit passes give you even more flexibility to explore Australia.

Guided Tours: Live out your camping-under-the-stars dreams and sleep in swags around the fire after a day of hiking on a 12-, 13- or 15-day tour with Kimberley Wild Expeditions. If you’re short on time, opt for one of their two- or five-day trips from Broome to the Kimberley Coast or Purnululu National Park, or a half- or full-day tour to Cygnet Bay, Cape Leveque or Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek.

Cruise: For a go-big-or-go-home type of splurge, multi-day scenic and educational luxury cruises by Silversea, Coral Expeditions, True North, Kimberley Quest or The Great Escape Charter Company offer a completely different experience, with guided tours to some of the places mentioned in this article and a unique way to view the beauty of the Kimberley from the water.

The Kimberley Accommodation

Camping fans will have heaps of options, whether you’re into free campsites or want to pay extra for toilets, showers, onsite pubs and a general sense of security. Locate free campsites, which may or may not have toilets, with apps like WikiCamps Australia and CamperMate. For safety reasons, camping is not recommended in the Kununurra or Broome CBDs. Remote stations along the Gibb River Road offer several levels of accommodation to suit any budget, and you’ll find plenty of hostels, hotels, holiday parks and resorts in larger towns like Kununurra, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome and Cable Beach.

Kununurra

  1. Kununurra Country Club Resort
  2. Hotel Kununurra
  3. Ibis Styles Kununurra Hotel
  4. Kimberleyland Waterfront Holiday Park
  5. Freshwater East Kimberley Apartments
  6. Kimberley Grande Resort
  7. Kununurra Backpackers
  8. Kimberley Croc Motel

Lake Argyle

  1. Lake Argyle Resort

Fitzroy Crossing

  1. Fitzroy River Lodge
  2. The Crossing Inn

Remote stations along the Gibb River Road (closed during the wet season)

  1. El Questro (reopens April 1, 2021)
  2. Home Valley Station (closed in 2020 due to Covid-19 but check back in 2021)
  3. Ellenbrae Station (check website in April, stop by for a scone!)

Broome

  1. Kimberley Travellers Lodge (YHA Broome)
  2. Oaks Broome Hotel
  3. The Roey (The Roebuck Bay Hotel)
  4. Moonlight Bay Suites
  5. Habitat Resort Broome
  6. Broome Time Accommodation

Cable Beach

  1. Beaches of Broome Resort & Backpackers
  2. Cable Beach Backpackers
  3. Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa
  4. Mantra Frangipani Broome
  5. Oaks Cable Beach Resort
  6. Bali Hai Resort & Spa
  7. Kimberley Sands Resort

South of Broome (worth the 130km, 90-minute drive) 

  1. Eco Beach Resort

What to See & Do in The Kimberley

1. Lake Argyle

See rock wallabies, wallaroos and freshwater crocs up close on a lake cruise, or enjoy lake views from Lake Argyle Resort and Caravan Park’s infinity pool.

Lake Argyle – the jewel of the Kimberley with Charlie Sharpe

2. Hoochery Distillery

Visit Western Australia’s oldest operating distillery in Kununurra to learn about the process, sample homemade treats like Ord River Rum Cake or do a rum tasting.

Hoochery Distillery, Kununurra

3. Mirima (Hidden Valley) National Park

Five minutes from Kununurra, hikes here feature 300 million-year-old sandstone formations. Watch for rock wallabies and dingoes in remote sections of the park.

4. Purnululu National Park (The Bungle Bungles) (4-WD only)

A major highlight of any trip to the Kimberley, don’t miss Cathedral Gorge, Echidna Chasm, Kungkalanayi Lookout, Piccaninny Creek and the Domes Walk. Only visit if you have a 4-WD vehicle (or with a guided tour) as there’s a two-hour drive along unsealed roads to reach the park entrance.

5. The Gibb River Road (4-WD only)

This 660km epic journey takes you along unsealed roads from Kununurra to Derby through rivers, ancient valleys and to many of WA’s best natural watering holes. For a real treat, visit Emma Gorge, part of El Questro Wilderness Park, and hike or camp by Bell Gorge and Manning Gorge, located within Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges Conservation Park

6. Boab Prison Tree

Visit the 1,500-year-old Boab Prison Tree in Derby to learn about the Kimberley’s pastoral history and how it once served as a holding area for Aboriginal prisoners.

7. Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park

Take a boat tour through this 350 million-year-old gorge to learn more about the area’s geology, Aboriginal history and wildlife.

8. Windjana Gorge National Park (4-WD only)

A great place to see freshwater crocs, fruit bats in the trees, and admire fossils of marine life, frozen in time along the gorge’s limestone walls. 

9. Dimalurru (Tunnel Creek) National Park(4-WD only)

Bring a torch and brave a short hike through the darkness (and a few knee-deep underground pools) for an unforgettable look at Australia’s oldest cave system.

10. Cape Leveque (4-WD only)

This remote spot at the edge of the Dampier Peninsula is a great spot for whale watching, snorkeling, swimming, boating and learning about Indigenous culture.

11. Horizontal Falls (Zodiac or air access only)

This unique river rapids effect is the result of Talbot Bay’s fast-moving waters squeezing their way through the narrow gorges of the McLarty Range.

12. Dinosaur Footprints at Gantheaume Point

View fossilised Sauropod tracks and other footprints left behind by dinosaurs over 130 million years ago at this beautiful beach just 10 minutes from Broome’s CBD.

13. Staircase to the Moon

Head to Town Beach or The Mangrove Hotel Resort to view this natural phenomenon as the full moon rises over Roebuck Bay’s tidal flats.

14. Broome’s Chinatown

Full of pearling history and a delicious mix of international cafés and restaurants, Chinatown is the beating heart of Broome’s CBD.

15. Matso’s Broome Brewery

Head to Matso’s, the most remote brewery in Australia, for its signature ginger, chilli ginger and mango beers, and hard berry, lemon and melon ciders.

Matso’s Broome Brewery

16. Sun Pictures

Enjoy some downtime at the world’s oldest outdoor movie theatre, where you can kick back and watch today’s best films in canvas deck chairs.

Sun Pictures Broome