Western Australia’s northern reaches are among the wildest places on Earth. Time to explore, says Joanna Booth
If Greater London had the same population density as the Kimberley, there’d be only 139 of us in the city. We’d hardly fill a tube carriage.
Overcrowding just isn’t a problem in Australia’s greatest wilderness, the Kimberley. This vast region of north Western Australia is a land of red rock formations, rainforest, plains and gorges, bounded by a wild coast. It may be relatively short on people – at 41,000, its population is less than half that of the Glastonbury music festival, spread over an area more than 100 times the size – but that’s part of the charm. All this beauty, all to yourself.
Western Australia as a whole is hardly crowded. It’s the world’s biggest state – 10 times the size of the UK – and with the capital Perth farther from Sydney than Auckland, it’s not traditionally been part of first-time visitors’ Australia itineraries.
Which is rather shortsighted of us, as Perth is four hours closer to the UK than Sydney. It’s also increasingly convenient to reach (see Getting There, overpage). Australia’s fastest-growing city, Perth enjoys more hours of sunshine a year than any other, and has a host of attractions from surfing and shopping to wineries and wildlife.
But to really get away from the rat race, clients need to leave the city behind and head north.
MORE THAN OK CORAL
Self-drive itineraries explore this Coral Coast, from the otherworldly limestone pillars of The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park up past Shark’s Bay, where at Monkey Mia a pod of friendly dolphins swims to shore daily to be hand-fed, to Exmouth, home of Ningaloo Reef.
A fringing reef, it offers direct access from the beach to an area with 200 species of coral and 500 types of fish, and is one of the few places in the world where clients can swim with whale sharks, between March and July. These gentle giants are the world’s largest fish, growing up to 16m long, with mouths over a metre wide. Happily, they’re filter feeders – think giant Hoover, rather than rows of fangs. Manta rays and turtles join them in the waters.
The Department of Parks and Wildlife has developed a sea kayaking trail along the reef with 10 mooring points, making it easy for travellers to paddle and camp their way along the coast, but if that sounds too much like hard work, Sail Ningaloo runs a luxury catamaran from which a maximum of 10 guests can snorkel, dive, kayak and fish.
For stunning landscapes, visitors need look no further than Cape Range National Park, 25 miles from Exmouth, home to rugged limestone ranges, canyons, wild beaches, and indigenous fauna from emu to red kangaroos.
Self-drive itineraries up the Coral Coast tend to last at least a week. The driving distance between Perth and Exmouth is 770 miles, so it’s important to help clients manage their expectations of what’s achievable. Travel 2 offers a six-day Coral Coast & Dolphins trip out of Perth from £1,369, including flights from the UK. Kuoni’s 10-night Marine Explorer motorhome itinerary offers the ultimate freedom for clients who want to take each day as it comes, from £2,269, with flights.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
For the ultimate wilderness experience, clients should head for Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley.
A two-and-a-half-hour flight from Perth, the booming pearling industry in the 19th century made Broome the multicultural town it remains to this day. Clients won’t want to miss a movie under the stars at Sun Pictures, the world’s oldest operating outdoor cinema, or Cable Beach, a 14-mile stretch of white sand, turquoise water and red cliffs. They can even take a camel ride on it at sunset – one of the area’s signature experiences.
Beyond Broome is the mother of all wildernesses, the Kimberley itself. Clients can stay right in the outback, choosing accommodation from basic camping right up to the luxurious El Questro Homestead, a five star retreat cantilevered over the Chamberlain River. Home Valley Station is a working cattle station, owned by the local indigenous community and with many Aboriginal staff. It offers a choice of accommodation from safari-style tents to ‘Grass Castles’ – timber and steel homesteads set on the river.
Clients can take four-wheel drive adventures, trek, horse-ride, fish, and, to see some of the Kimberley’s most stunning landscapes from the best angle, take scenic flights. These are particularly popular over the Bungle Bungle Range, a breathtaking series of red and black beehive-shaped rock domes in the Purnululu National Park.
Local specialist Kimberley Wild Expeditions has a new 10-day overland tour between Broome and Darwin, focusing on walking and camping, finding hidden waterfalls and walking through towering gorges. A shorter, five day trip from Broome, visiting the Bungle Bungles and Mimbi Caves among other highlights, starts from £1,029 with Anzcro.
At the other end of the scale, Abercrombie & Kent has launched the first private jet adventure in Western Australia, allowing a maximum of 30 guests to spend 13 days exploring in a Fokker F70LR aircraft (from £15,925 including all experiences, guides, accommodation, food and drinks).
Starting from Perth and ending in Darwin, the itinerary includes exclusive access to isolated Aboriginal communities and ancient rock art galleries, and a stay at Berkeley River Lodge in the Kimberley. This remote lodge opened in 2012, and just 20 luxurious suites sit on top of coastal dunes by the sea.
The Kimberley’s coast is just as special as its interior – a fact now recognised as the Western Australia government has created the Great Kimberley Marine Park, which rivals the Great Barrier Reef in terms of size and biodiversity. This move will help protect the 30,000 humpback whales that calve in the waters every year, plus the native dolphins, dugongs, turtles and coral species.
This year two new cruises explore this wild coastline. Silversea Cruises’ new Silver Discoverer will bring everything from botanists to butlers for an 11-night itinerary (from £5,950), and Northstar Cruises (bookable through Travel 2) will take a 10-day voyage during the wet season, when waterfalls thunder, billabongs swell and tidal ranges are huge (from £6,783). TW
Flights to Perth are on the increase. Etihad Airways will commence daily flights from Abu Dhabi from July 15, with connections from London and Manchester. For a choice of six UK airports, book clients a flight through the Qantas and Emirates partnership. After flying to Dubai (if they choose Heathrow they can opt for Qantas’s award winning A380 service), they’ll connect to one of Emirates’ three daily services to Perth.
As Australian itineraries invariably involve internal flights, it makes sense to book a Qantas Walkabout Pass. Available only with a Qantas international ticket, the pass can significantly reduce the cost of domestic fares. For example, booked in advance as part of the Qantas Walkabout Pass from the UK, the fare between Perth and Exmouth could be £100, half what it would be booked separately.
ASK AN EXPERT
Ellen Cross, Cox & Kings
“The Pinnacles is a place like no other. If it weren’t for the West Coast sunshine, you could think you were on the moon. There are thousands of rock formations, some over five metres high.”
Karen Joyce, Austravel
“Fly up to Exmouth if clients need to cut down on travel time; they’ll need a minimum of two nights to explore. For something a bit different, try Sal Salis luxury tented camp, just metres from the reef.”
Brian Hawe, 1st Class Holidays
“For the ultimate wilderness experience it has to be El Questro Homestead. With just nine rooms, it offers true relaxation in stunning scenery.”
FIND OUT MORE
Agents can find out more at the Extraordinary WA Roadshow, where Tourism Western Australia, regional destinations and key partners will reveal the latest news and sales tools.
The evening events will take place in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow between June 30 and July 3. For those who don’t live nearby, there’ll be a live webinar at lunchtime on July 2. Find out more at waroadshow.com
Plus, don’t forget to complete the Western Australia module of the Aussie Specialist course at aussiespecialist.com. And keep an eye out for your chance to win a place on a fam trip to Western Australia, launching in Travel Weekly on May 15.
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