I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks working with Adventure Tours Australia on one of their most popular tours, starting in Darwin and finishing in Perth. You can find the exact trip I went on here. This post will cover the first half of the trip, from Darwin to Broome, where we ventured into the Kimberley region of the northwest. It’s difficult to put in words how incredibly beautiful this part of the country is, and every day on this trip reminded me of how lucky I am to be Australian and call this place home.
The Kimberley’s are a mountainous region of northwestern Australia consisting of multiple gorge systems, most with beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes. These fill up with freshwater during the wet season (November to April) and become accessible for hiking and swimming in the dry season (May to October). Most of the waterfalls require hiking through dry riverbeds to reach, which are mostly made up of rocks and boulders i.e. there are generally no flat paths. The Kimberley’s are so vast and extensive; the beauty of the area continued to amaze me throughout the trip, and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll go back and visit.
About Adventure Tours
The style of tour that Adventure Tours run is designed to give you a true feel for the outback in the most authentic way possible. They are generally quite primitive and most of the tours require a reasonably good level of fitness, as there is lots of hiking and camping involved. Depending on the tour, particularly in the NT and Kimberley’s, you’ll have the option to sleep under the stars in your swag (I highly recommend doing this for at least one night on your tour).
Doing a group tour is one of the best ways to see the outback – everything from food to accommodation is already organised for you, you’ll make a new group of friends from all around the world, visit the best spots and you’ll learn so much about the environment and culture from the local guide. One of the things I absolutely loved about this tour was the swimming. We had the opportunity to go swimming in natural water holes almost every day with perfect water temperatures.
I want to give a brief shout out to everyone I travelled with on this tour. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend three weeks with. Our group was a mix from all over the world – Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, France, Poland and Ireland. We all worked well together when it came to preparing meals, cleaning up and setting up camp. Our tour guides Simon and Zane also deserve a special mention as they were not only all round legends, but they were more than accommodating to all of our requests, and went above and beyond to make sure our experiences and meals were as good as they could be. Their recommendations throughout the trip were helpful, and they had an impressive amount of historical and cultural knowledge on the areas we visited.
Nitmiluk National Park & Katherine
We began our journey in Darwin, with an early start down to Edith falls in Nitmiluk National Park. Nitmiluk is about a 3 hour drive from Darwin. Edith falls is comprised of two separate falls; lower and upper. The lower falls are more suitable for families or if you don’t have time to walk to the upper falls. It’s a 2.6 km return walk uphill to the upper falls, which are much more impressive and picturesque than the lower falls.
Lower Edith Falls
Upper Edith Falls
We headed to Katherine gorge in the afternoon, where we got the chance to hike to the top for a pretty nice view down onto the water. The walk to the top takes around 15 minutes, and there are plenty of photo spots along the way. If you have plenty of time in Katherine I’d recommend seeing this, but if you’re short on time you could give this a miss.
Our first night of camping was one of the more “luxurious” nights. We each had our own bungalow style tent, fitted with mattresses and lots of space for our bags. We went to sleep that night with the faint sound of howling dingoes in the distance.
We visited some hot springs just outside of Katherine the following morning before our long drive to Lake Argyle. The pools are only 5-10 minutes outside the town of Katherine and there’s an amazing little coffee cart right by the entrance. The water temperature was perfect for the slightly chilly morning. I’d recommend visiting these pools first thing in the morning to avoid crowds and maximise the warmth (you might get too hot if you go in the middle of the day). There were a couple of separate little pools in the area, so if you want to get away from the group for a photo you can venture slightly to find a different pol. This trip had me constantly amazed at how many incredible spots there are for swimming in the NT.
Lake Argyle is one of the most impressive man made features in Australia, and I seriously underestimated this place. To put it in perspective, the lake can hold 18 times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour! There’s one large caravan park at the lake that most passing tourists stay at, which is known for its infinity pool which overlooks the lake. As beautiful as the pool is, it was flooded with people during the middle of the day, so it’s probably better to go for a swim as soon as it opens in the morning or right before it closes. If you don’t stay at the caravan park, you can still visit the pool during the day for a fee.
Sunset cruise at Lake Argyle
The tour has an optional add-on of a sunset cruise at Lake Argyle. The cruise is usually $100 per person, but for our group we only had to pay $40 as we all decided to go, filling up an entire boat. This was probably the best value for money tour add-on, so I’d consider doing this over any of the other optional add-ons based on value for money. It wasn’t so much of a cruise, more like a speedboat, but I really liked the intimate feel of it, especially if you get a front row seat. You are given an opportunity for a dip too, before the boat driver tells you that about 20,000 freshwater crocodiles live in the lake and surrounds. There’s an incredible array of wildlife at the lake; from freshwater crocodiles, wallabies, and enormous populations of golden orb spiders with webs you can see from 20 meters away, you’ll definitely get a good dose of Australian wildlife there. There’s also an opportunity to watch the sunset from one of the little islands in the middle of the lake – quite a unique and peaceful view.
Kununurra and the Bungle Bungles
Kununurra is the closest town to the Kimberley’s, so if you aren’t traveling on a tour make sure you stock up on supplies here. If you are passing through and have some spare time, there is a sandalwood factory as well as a local rum distillery about 15 km out of town.
One of our major stops on the tour was to Purnululu National Park, otherwise known as the bungle bungles. The park is a really special place; it is hard to understand how vast the landscape really is until you’re there. We spent 2 nights here but felt like that was enough to see a lot of the park. It was also pretty hot during the day, around 30-35 degrees, and after spending the first few days swimming we were craving the water again. If you stay at Walardi campground where we stayed, check out the sunrise viewpoint about ten minutes walk down the road from the campground. I would also highly recommend sleeping in your swag here to watch the stars.
On our first day we hiked to Cathedral Gorge in the morning, which is about 4 km return from the starting point at Piccaninny Creek carpark, followed by a 7 km return walk along the Piccaninny Creek trail up to the entrance of the gorge. Make sure you stop at the lookout point on the way back, or if you don’t want to hike the entire 7km you can just go to the lookout, about 3 km return from the carpark. This hike guides you right into the heart of the bungle bungles, and is perfect for some incredible photo opportunities.
Lookout view along the Piccaninny Creek hike
We also hiked to Echidna Chasm and Osmand lookout, a 1.6 km return hike. Echidna chasm was an interesting walk, comparable to Antelope Canyon in Utah, except you are greeted with a huge amount of greenery including palm trees on your walk in. It is at the far end of the park, however, so if you are limited on time then I would suggest prioritising Piccaninny Creek. We did, however, do all 3 walks in the one day with a 6.45am start, so it is possible.
Echidna Chasm hike
We made a quick stop at a sunset lookout called Kungkalanayi lookout for a panoramic view of the rock formations from a high vantage point. This is probably one of the better viewpoints in the park where you can get a 360 degree view. The total amount of hiking for the day was roughly 13km.
Kungkalanayi lookout in Purnululu National Park
On the way to El Questro we stopped at Emma Gorge for a hike to the waterfall there. It’s a 3.2 km return hike, which took us about 2 hours return with half an hour of swimming. Most of the hikes in this area consist of a lot of rock scrambling, but the reward at the end is always worth it. Out of all the waterfalls I saw and swam in on this trip, this one was my favourite. I could have spent the entire day there if we had the time. The pool was so big and on one side of the pool there was an inlet with warm water from hot springs nearby. There were barely any people at this waterfall, potentially because the hike is quite far and rocky. There’s a pretty general rule that the further the hike is, the less people you’ll have to share the waterfalls with.
Waterfall at Emma Gorge
One of the pools on the hiking trail in Emma Gorge
El Questro was significantly different to what I was expecting an outback station to be. It has a bar, restaurant, gift shop and café as well as a swimming spot and some hiking trailheads starting from the campground. The showers here are some of the best you’ll get in the Kimberley’s.
We visited some nearby hot springs in the morning, Zebedee springs, which I wouldn’t really recommend due to the huge number of people already in the water at 7am. A few of us decided not to swim because it was so crowded.
Our second walk for the day was another rock scrambling style walk through El Questro gorge, with a smaller waterfall to swim in at the end. The 7.2 km return hike took us almost 4 hours. Although still beautiful, the pool was a bit smaller than most of the others we swam in, and the hike involved a small section of wading through chest deep water. I wouldn’t recommend doing this one on your own especially if you want to bring your camera gear to the waterfall, as it was pretty difficult to climb up some of the rocks without help.
El Questro Gorge
Waterfall at El Questro Gorge
Make sure to grab a coffee from The Steakhouse at El Questro – best coffee I had on the entire trip through the Kimberley’s.
The walk to Manning gorge is a bit confusing and I wouldn’t recommend tackling it if you’re traveling solo. It’s a 5.6 km return walk, which took around 2.5 hours return with a swim. From the trailhead, you will need to get in a dingy and use the ropes provided to pull yourself across the stream (unless you want to swim across). Make sure to get an early start on this one as well in case you do get lost. A local told us on the way in that they’d already had a search team come out that week. Don’t let this deter you from hiking there though! You just need to be careful and follow the white paint marks carefully as you walk. The waterfall and pool at the end are quite big and have some awesome spots for jumping off. I probably could have spent a whole day there.
Dingy crossing to get to the trailhead at Manning Gorge
Waterfall at Manning Gorge from above
We made a quick stop at Adcock gorge, which had a pretty nice pool at the end with a perfect reflection of the surrounding rock walls. The gorge is a short walk from the carpark.
This gorge was one of the bigger ones of the trip and was pretty easy to access. The walk is 4 km return on a pretty easy walking trail. It was probably the busiest gorge we visited, and one of the coldest in terms of water temperature, but it was still worth visiting.
Falls at Bell Gorge
Although there’s no swimming in Windjana Gorge, it’s worth paying a visit if you want to see lots of freshwater crocodiles in the wild. They start to appear in the water right after the sun comes out. I think we counted around 15 in the one area as we were walking back at the end of the hike.
SOME TIPS WHEN TRAVELLING THROUGH THE KIMBERLEY’S:
- The best time to visit is in the dry season, as the wet season can make transport very difficult or even impossible
- Phone service is very limited on this trip. Telstra is the best provider and you will get the most coverage, although still limited, however Optus and Vodafone are pretty non-existent outside Darwin, Katherine and Broome.
- The further inland you go, the colder the temperatures are at night. It can get down to 0 degrees at night in the dry season so bring warm clothes for night time, even if you don’t think you’ll need it!
- A lot of the driving is on dirt/gravel roads, most requiring a 4WD
Here’s our detailed itinerary from Darwin to Broome (google won’t let me put more than 10 destinations hence there are 2 maps):
Part 1 – Darwin to Adcock Gorge
Part 2 – Adcock Gorge to Broome