This holiday was a few years ago, but it was one of those not-so-run-of-the-mill journeys that, I believe, will interest many. The great thing for the kids was that they experienced something very different to the jet-setting and hotels vacations we had previously undertaken. With family on the other side of the world, all three kids had been doing long-haul travel since they were tiny. It was time they learned to appreciate the stark beauty of their home country, and the vastness of this land. Our Swiss friends were with us until the last day then they carried on towards Darwin. The landscapes we experienced were so unlike the Swiss landscapes (almost as polar opposite as you can get!), you can understand the Swiss fascination with Outback Australia, and- conversely- why so many Aussies love Switzerland! We flew in and out of Broome. From our home town of Melbourne, this was an 8-hour red-eye trip via Perth. Direct flights exist (4.5 hrs) but they were too expensive and did not suit our schedule. Broome is a similar distance from London to Istanbul, or from L.A. to New Orleans, if that helps to put it into perspective! Our first day was spent exploring Broome, grocery shopping and getting to know the 4WD vehicle that was to be our home for the next 8 days. It was amazing, with a butane-fuelled stove installed in a pull-out drawer, our utensils in the other drawer, the tent on the roof, plus a tent packed away for the 3 kids. Our Swiss friends joined us the same day, straight off their international flight, and our adventure had begun!
Stopping to let down the tyre pressure Our campsite set up for the night
Note: Britz no longer hire out the style of 4WD we hired: both the 2-man and the 3-man tents are now pitched on the ground. We did find the vehicle quite top-heavy, and at one point, whilst travelling along an incline, my husband felt it shift slightly and it was close to rolling over. With 3 kids in the back, you can imagine his trepidation! The fact that we had never done Outback driving probably contributed to this close shave. Needless to say, we drove very carefully from then on!
We didn’t want to join the hordes of tourists riding camels on Cable Beach. This holiday was not about joining the crowds. Yes, Broome’s beaches are beautiful, but we had plenty of sand and sea ahead of us! The Cable Beach Caravan Park was not beachfront as such, but a short walk to the northern part of Cable Beach. We found it had clean facilities and plenty of shady trees ( a good thing in that sort of climate!). Our first night in our rooftop tent was better than I had expected, once we were accustomed to climbing up and down the narrow ladder. I loved how you could partly zip open the canopy and look at the stars.
DAY 1: BROOME TO CAPE LEVEQUE After heading north from Broome and turning onto the Broome-Cape Leveque Road, we felt that we had left the main tourist highway behind. The road was sealed for a few kilometres, with the classic “Australian Red” soil hugging each side. Suddenly the soil became the road, and it was time to stop and reduce the tyre pressure. This helps stop any tyre blow-outs, which happen frequently on the corrugated roads. We really felt we were 4-wheel driving, as the vehicle made its way along the noisy, teeth-chattering-inducing corrugated road. The kids thought it was great fun… for about ten minutes! The drive is officially 6hrs 25min, and I’m sure we took at least this long! We had a quick lunch stop and some slow driving on very rough patches, but the road was much better in some places. We knew we were close to Cape Leveque when we saw the airstrip signs (Cape L has its own airstrip), and we were relieved to finally have somewhere to stop and settle for the night.
The eastern beach at Cape Leveque A Cape Leveque shell!
We had packed some basic snorkelling gear so we all went across to the east beach to swim with the fish and hunt for shells. The weather hovers around 30’C and drops to around 19’-20’C at night. This was a warm escape for us, coming from a Melbourne winter, where we were having top temperatures around 12’C! For our Swiss friends, it was just an extension of their summer!
The sun is setting.... ...almost set! Cape Leveque View from the roof canopy! West beach, Cape Leveque
Our night in Cape Leveque was memorable. We shared a BBQ with some interesting fellow travellers who had flown up in their light plane and made use of that airstrip! The next morning, we made our way down to the west beach, over red rocks and red sand, then suddenly found we were on white sand at the shoreline. It is an amazing place. They actually filmed a Qantas ad here many years ago.
DAY 2: CAPE LEVEQUE TO MIDDLE LAGOON We couldn’t hang around too long at Cape Leveque, as we had a 3hr journey to Beagle Bay and Middle Lagoon, and we wanted to be there by lunchtime. The church at Beagle Bay is said to be one of the most beautiful in Australia: with its German and Aboriginal influence it is truly unique. Another 1.5 hours later we were at our campsite at Middle Lagoon. It had basic facilities, but we had all that we needed on board, and cooked a lovely meal, watching the full moon rise and make its way across the sky. The kids and I had been snorkelling again and the beach was practically deserted. We really felt like we had “got away from it all”!
The deserted beach at Middle Lagoon Our campsite.
This little guy was hanging around the bathroom buildings at Middle Lagoon!
DAY 3: MIDDLE LAGOON TO WILLARE BRIDGE This was just a day of travelling to Willard Bridge, which would eventually get us to Fitzroy Crossing. As there is very little in the way of civilisation for many kilometres in this area, we felt that this was our best “halfway point”. Perhaps we should have gone further, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! The first part of our journey was retracing our trip back to Broome; 4 hours on the road. We shopped for more supplies, knowing that this was the last big township until our return. Willare Bridge Roadhouse is actually further from Broome than Beagle Bay, but driving on sealed roads makes a huge difference and we only took half the time. The roadhouse is a resting stop for drivers of road trains and other heavy vehicles, as well as a few local tourists. We camped on the lawn behind the roadhouse and endured the basic facilities. The kids will never forget the animal/s that sniffed around the tent in the middle of the night (I think it was cow/s), and I will never forget the sounds of the cattle trucks coming and going! One obviously had a cattle dog on board which simply would not stop barking! Sleep was impossible. Finally I heard the engine start and then the barking became more and more distant until it faded away into the night. Thankfully, we all managed a few hours of sleep.
DAY 4: WILLARE BRIDGE TO FITZROY CROSSING
Do not overtake unless safe!... ...because THIS is a road train! Boab tree. How did it come from Africa? Get your supplies here! It's 293 kms to the next town!
Needless to say, we didn’t stay any longer than necessary at Willare Bridge Roadhouse. We were off to Fitzroy Crossing on the sealed (thank goodness!) Great Northern Highway, and arrived at the Fitzroy River Lodge & Caravan Park in time for lunch. The lush lawns, swimming pool and excellent facilities were appreciated by us all, and we had a good night’s sleep.
Fitzroy River Caravan Park We had to negotiate this bridge early in the a.m. Native flora ... ...and fauna! (On a walk near Fitzroy X-ing)
DAY 5: FITZROY CROSSING TO MT.HART HOMESTEAD via Tunnel Creek & Windjana Gorge. We all looked forward to this day, knowing that we would see some spectacular sights. First came the 3.5 hour trip to Tunnel Creek National Park. The sealed road ended not far from the turn-off onto the Leopold Downs Rd, so it was back to corrugation, dust, and water crossings! There is a very small car park and drop toilet at the entrance to Tunnel Creek NP, and the rest is pure nature. Search on-line for stories of the aboriginal freedom-fighter, Jandamurra, who used this cave system as a hide-out: it makes an interesting read. Either use reef shoes or simply go barefoot, but put the kids in swimming gear because they will get wet! We walked/waded through the picturesque cave system, carrying the little ones through the deepest parts. Our Swiss friends equipped their boys with headlamps, which was a great idea. It was a very hot day, so we carried water bottles. Note: the creek water is not drinkable. The photos speak for themselves: just look at that spectacular scenery!
After trying to take in as much of Tunnel Creek as possible, we were off to experience more majestic landscapes at Windjana Gorge, which was another 1.5 hours down the dusty road. The Lennard River has taken millions of years to carve through the rock and create this beautiful place- just give the freshwater crocodiles a wide berth. Don’t be too worried, these are the “non-dangerous” crocs; it’s the “Salties” you need to fear… and they’re not around here.
Don’t worry, it’s not a Saltie!
Beautiful Windjana Gorge Spot the croc!
We took our time exploring but we had to move on. We rejoined the Gibb River Road late in the day and arrived at the gates of Mt. Hart just on sunset. Little did we know that the entrance was a good 50 minute drive (sometimes though small creeks!) from the homestead. We had numerous “Are we there yet?” moments from the kids, and we were all tired and hungry when we finally reached the campsite- in darkness. Trying to set up camp and cook with only headlamps and a torch for light was challenging, and we all crawled into our beds, exhausted!
Peaceful Barker River The kids enjoyed a swim... ... but the water was really cold!
DAY 6: MT. HART TO SILENT GROVE & BELL GORGE A more relaxed breakfast was necessary after yesterday, and we were able to take our time. We decided to visit the Barker River Falls (within the vast boundaries of Mt. Hart) before we hit the road again. From the campsite you can drive alongside the homestead’s airstrip and down a 4WD track, and it is a short walk from the end of the track. The kids had an amazing time there, and would have stayed all day if we had let them! We had a 4.5 hour drive to Silent Grove and we couldn’t arrive too late or we would miss a spot in the camping grounds. (Nowadays you can book on-line). The camp ground itself was fairly basic but the toilets and showers were nice. We took our time finding our ‘perfect spot’, not too far from the facilities, and by nightfall it was fairly crowded because it is such a popular place. But I’m going way too far ahead…
Our campsite at Silent Grove The river crossing on the way to Bell Gorge
After reading so much about Bell Gorge we wanted to check it out ASAP. It is a short drive from Silent Grove, plus a stepping-stone crossing of a river and a clamber down some rocks, but every bit as beautiful as we had hoped. Deciding to spend the rest of the day there meant we had to send the dads back to retrieve the lunches, but then we could all swim to our heart’s content.
One, two three...!
There was a rope hanging from the waterfall and (see pics) we all ended up climbing up and jumping into the deep pool of water together. There were other tourists there but at no point did we feel crowded. The kids all agree that it was the most memorable day of the entire trip. There were “extreme sportsmen” climbing the entire waterfall using their hands and bare feet, then jumping off the sheer cliff face. Not for me, thanks! We stayed until the sun was setting, then we had to return to Silent Grove for our last dinner, campfire and drinks (see notes about alcohol). When darkness fell we tilted our chairs back and turned our attention skywards. With the nearest large city hundreds of kilometres away, there is no light pollution at Silent Grove. The Milky Way can be seen in all its glory, and we all counted shooting stars as the hours slipped by. We didn’t want the day to end, as we had to say our goodbyes the following morning. A beautiful group pic. Bell Gorge was the perfect backdrop!
DAY 7: SILENT GROVE TO DERBY Imintji Roadhouse was the departure point for our Swiss friends, and it keeps very limited stocks of meats and fresh food. We stopped off to pick up food supplies for 1 more dinner and breakfast, and the Swissies stocked up for their ongoing journey, all the way to Kununurra and then to Purnululu NP and the Bungle Bungles. We will return one day to complete the journey, but on this occasion we had school terms dictating our holidays, so we headed for Derby, an 8.5 hour journey covering 225 kms. The kids were very patient and we arrived well before sunset, setting up camp for the last time. Derby’s Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park was larger than we expected and had excellent facilities, with green shady trees and nice lawns; rather like the campgrounds at Fitzroy Crossing. A walk into Derby in the evening showed us that not a lot is happening in the township after dark. Groups of Aborigines wandered around but they were doing no harm. The kids were in awe of an elder who was sitting, carving patterns into wooden items then selling his artwork.
There are plenty of termite nests to be seen! Typical Kimberley region road scenery
Derby has a “Prison Tree”, built inside a massive Boab tree. It’s still a mystery as to how this African native made it all the way over to one small area of Australia, somewhere between the continental split and man’s first venture into Australia.
DAY 8: DERBY TO BROOME After a 2.5 hr drive (on sealed roads), the journey was over. Time to clean out and hand back our 4WD and head back to Melbourne. Hope this has inspired some of you to see this remarkable area. We fitted a lot of sightseeing into our 8-day trip. One day, perhaps when we are “grey nomads”, we will return to the Kimberley.
Do your research before you leave home. Ours was a very well-researched trip, as we had to be in certain locations on particular days if we wanted to see all those sights!
Check out on-line pics of the vehicle you’re hiring so that you have some idea of your future temporary home! Our 4WD had a small fridge that ran off the car battery, and it was a challenge to fit all the cold goods into such a small space. It’s a good idea to take a couple of cool bags from home.
Know exactly what you need to provide from home, i.e. sleeping bags, pillows, towels, special foods and entertainment for the kids (such as an i-pad), etc.
I found recipes from a camping cookbook, but there’s plenty on-line to inspire you! We had chicken burritos one night (a perfect camping meal), took BBQ meat to campsites where we knew there were BBQs, and made salads. Lunches were sandwiches and fruit. Breakfasts were fun: pancakes, eggs, bacon, …what is camping without cool breakfasts, especially when you’re a kid? I had a recipe that used tinned apples and plain cake mix (both brought from home) to make a lovely apple dessert cake. Forget carrying ice-creams, or any frozen goods for that matter, as the fridge struggled to keep our goods below 10 degrees C.
Our supplies only lasted us a couple of days, so plan a visit to a roadhouse or to a larger township every 2-3 days, and have your meals planned.
Alcohol is prohibited in most Aboriginal communities, and there its a limit set for tourists (again, do your research). All alcohol carried by tourists must be for personal use only, and it is very hard to purchase any alcohol away from the big townships. We only had 2 mixed vodka drinks left by the time we reached Silent Grove, and I decided to go begging around the campsite offering money for 2 bottles of beer for the boys (how desperate was that???!!!) so we could toast to future trips! A lovely German couple took pity on us and wouldn’t accept any money! We made those drinks last all evening!
LASTLY- AND MOST IMPORTANTLY!!! Northern Australia has a Wet Season and a Dry Season. In the Wet Season, all the waterways are in flood. NEVER travel in the Outback with this sort of transport in the Wet Season, i.e. October to April. We travelled in July, and that’s a perfect time to go. The closer to July the better, as it is right in the middle of the Dry Season.
LORD HOWE ISLAND: A MUST-SEE!
Lord Howe Island is a very special place, with both flora and fauna unique to the island, ie found nowhere else in the world. Although it lies in the Tasman Sea, 700 km from the mainland of Australia, it is actually part of the state of New South Wales.