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Making Tracks: Awe inspiring Journeys in Western Australia’s Remarkable North West

  1. Soak in the world’s prettiest hot spring

    Zebedee Springs is the world’s most surprising natural hot tub. This series of photogenic thermal pools, shaded by towering palms sprouting straight from the clear, warm waters, is a star attraction at El Questro, a 400,000-hectare East Kimberley wilderness park. A 750-metre-long trail through a dense grove of fan palms leads to this natural oasis encircled by sheer red cliffs.

    The springs are open each morning from 7am until noon for El Questro visitors. It turns into a really special experience, though, if you happen to be a guest at The Homestead. Once the afternoon rolls around, it can usually be arranged for just one lucky couple to have the springs to themselves. A cooler is packed with favourite beverages and an El Questro ranger is stationed at the trail entrance to safeguard privacy.

    El Questro’s accommodation options range from campsites, safari-style tented cabins and bungalows to the exclusive nine-room Homestead. The pick of rooms at The Homestead is the Chamberlain Suite, cantilevered from a clifftop overlooking the Chamberlain River. The new Cliff Side Retreats aren’t bad either – they feature an egg-shaped veranda bathtub with views over the ancient Kimberley landscape.

  2. The Kimberley’s most stunning infinity pool

    Think a swim in the Kimberley’s most stunning infinity pool will cost thousands because it’s part of an exclusive, hard-to-reach luxury resort? Think again.

    Day visitors to Lake Argyle Resort in the East Kimberley pay just $10 to take a dip in the pool featuring a 35-metre-long infinity wet edge. Drape yourself over that edge to soak up views of Lake Argyle, a manmade lake containing more than 20 times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour. The lake – created in the early 1970s to regulate water supply to Kununurra’s Ord Irrigation Scheme – is cradled by the rugged cliffs and peaks of the Carr Boyd Range. As the sun begins to set, the cliffs glow a deep red, contrasting with the blues of the lake and the vast Kimberley sky.

    The pool is free for guests of the resort, which incorporates everything from a caravan park and cabins to grand four-bedroom villas with prime lake views. The resort is a 70-kilometre drive from Kununurra, the East Kimberley’s tourism hub. And if the sparkling lake waters beckon, head down to the shore and dive in. The water is mild to warm year-round and, even though the lake is home to 35,000 freshwater crocodiles, locals swear they don’t bite!

  3. Catch a mud crab for lunch

    Despite its apparent emptiness, Australia’s outback has always been full of food for those who know where to look. It’s a lesson you can learn first-hand during a stay at Lombadina, an indigenous community on the Dampier Peninsula. The accommodation, set back from a long sandy beach, may be simple, just a collection of cabins surrounded by flowering shrubs. However, the bush tucker is first rate.

    For an unforgettable feast, head to the nearby mangroves for a mud crab hunt. Wading through knee-deep water, you will be given a hooked metal rod to thrust into the mangrove roots where the mud crabs like to hide. Finding a crab is not easy; even more challenging is trying to drag it out. The mud crabs are huge, and in no great hurry to emerge from their homes. Fortunately your hosts have had plenty of practice, and will ensure you have enough to feed the group. Along the way, they will share their local lore – the flowering of the wattle, for instance, is an indication that it is the right time of year to hunt stingray – and perhaps even gather a handful of wild oysters to serve as an entree.  

  4. Try pearl meat, and learn how pearls are made

    There is buried treasure in the calm waters of King Sound, but not the sort that is hidden in a chest. At Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, the Brown family has been farming pearls for three generations. The waters of north-western Australia are known for growing particularly large and lustrous South Sea pearls and Cygnet Bay is Australia’s oldest working pearl farm– an excellent place to learn about the intricate pearl-growing process.

    Cygnet Bay’s most exciting tour takes you out on the ocean on the farm’s high-speed patrol boat. As well as inspecting the perimeter and checking in on the pearling fleet, you may get to see the cleaning crew in action. Keep your eyes open, and you may even spot some local marine life, perhaps a turtle or a dolphin.

    The farm’s acclaimed restaurant, Shell, offers you the opportunity to discover a different kind of delicacy. Pearl meat is the name given to the adductor muscle of the oyster, a tender and tasty seafood treat that only a few foodies ever get to try. Each year around harvest time, Shell puts on a special pearl meat degustation menu, showcasing this rarity in a variety of ways.  

  5. Visit a church made of pearls and shells

    Glistening in the sun, the white-washed walls of the bell-towered bush church in the tiny indigenous community of Beagle Bay, around halfway along the rough road to Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula, hides an unexpected treasure.

    Step inside, out of the blazing Kimberley heat, and you are immediately transported into a lustrous wonderland of silvery pearls and shells.

    Built in the last days of the 19th century by French monks out of sheets of tin, the original Sacred Heart Church was blown away by a cyclone.

    The local aborigines scoured the beaches for shells and hand-made more than 60,000 bricks from white clay, rebuilding the church using shell-lime to hold it all together. Once done, they decorated the ceiling with sea shells to represent stars, the walls with tribal symbols made from pearl and plaster frescos of fish inlaid with gleaming shells. The masterpiece is a dazzling grand alter made entirely from mother of pearl that glows silver in the sunlight that streams through the shell-framed windows overlooking the sea. There's nothing quite like it anywhere else in the country.  

  6. Ride a camel into the sunset

    To see Broome’s glorious Cable Beach from another angle, hitch a ride on one of the camels that mosey up and down the beach at sunrise and around sunset.

    The camel trains enter and exit the beach at Cable Beach Club (it’s also popular to sip a cocktail at the resort’s Sunset Bar and Grill, and watch the camel trains lope right past the bar as they head for home at the end of the day). If you’re planning to put a different spin on “hump day”, book your spot early (the sunset tour is the longest and most popular of the tour options), don your most comfortable dromedary riding outfit and sit back and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean while swaying along in the saddle.

    Each camel has a distinct personality, some like to lead the train, others prefer to hang towards the back. Some like to pose for photos and get a pat; others prefer to shun the limelight. The human leader of the camel train is not only an expert in matching riders and camels but also a capable photographer who will help take a souvenir photograph of this memorable experience.  

  7. Drive one of the great off road journeys

    The Gibb River Road is one of the world's great adventure drives. This slender, dusty red dirt highway traverses some of the oldest – and most magnificent – stretches of untamed wilderness in Australia, the legendary Kimberley.

    But it's not just the rugged remoteness of this 1000-km-long 4WD road trip between Broome and Kununurra that makes it a must-do on any traveller’s list, it's the places it leads you to along the way.

    Skirting around jagged-edged red rock mountain ranges, the Gibb threads its way through vast boab-studded savannah grasslands, across rivers where crocodiles lurk, through forests of fan palms and into spectacular gorges with magical swimming holes, the rocky overhangs decorated with galleries of ancient Aboriginal rock art.

    Roll out a swag beside a river, pitch a tent in one of the national parks, pop the top on a campervan or sleep in five-star style in a luxury million-acre station stay. Spend your days paddling a kayak or cruising the rivers and gorges on a tour, visit indigenous art centres, hike into gorges and cool off in a plunge pool fed by a waterfall.You can also saddle up and join the stockmen mustering cattle or see it all from above on a helicopter joy ride. However you do the Gibb, it will be a road trip you'll never forget.

  8. Visit the Horizontal Falls

    Riding the world’s only sideways cascades on a fast boat is like taking the most thrilling theme park ride in an ancient natural landscape. Created by some of the planet’s largest tidal movements, the Horizontal Falls gush between two narrow gaps in the McLarty range, on the dramatic Kimberley coast.

    Regarded by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest wonders of the natural world”, the Horizontal Falls can be seen on a half-day trip from Broome.

    Even the 90-minute journey there, by seaplane, over the red pindan cliffs and turquoise bays of the Dampier Peninsula and the fjord-like inlets and islands in the Buccaneer Archipelago, is an adventure, before the plane slides across calm Talbot Bay.

    Then comes the chance to snorkel, safely protected in a cage, in these crocodile- and shark-filled waters, before heading to the rampaging falls to power through its frothing surf. A slightly more relaxing cruise around the bay over a cooked breakfast or barramundi lunch completes the tour before the flight back to Broome.

  9. Find adventure in the Bungle Bungle

    There are two alternatives when exploring the Bungle Bungle Range in the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park: there is an easy way and a way full of adventure.

    You can fly to the Bungles from Kununurra (it takes an hour) and gasp as you fly over the unique, bell-shaped rock towers with their distinctive horizontal banding produced by layers of black lichens and orange silica.

    Or you can drive from the main highway over 55 km of rough and challenging road (it takes around two to three hours) and that allows you to experience this remarkable collection of unique geological formations rising from the desert. It is worth the effort see as it’s one of the great natural wonders of Australia.

    The Bungle Bungles were produced by the layering of deposits laid down in an inland sea 350 million years ago. As you wander and explore the pagoda-like formations that loom above you in the cool and peaceful Cathedral Gorge or Echidna Chasm, you will notice, where the rock caverns have been weathered and eroded, that these unique formations are not really as orange and black as they appear. They are, in fact, a brilliant white sandstone (like the beaches of South-Western WA) that, over millennia, has been caked with a crust of lichens and wild-blown silica.

  10. Capture the colours of Karijini

    The red rocky gorges, cascading creeks and golden spinifex plains of Karijini National Park in the Pilbara are a photographer’s playground, where picture perfect scenes unfold before you at almost every turn. It’s a place of bold, saturated colours, weathered flat-topped mountains and deep-sided caverns of multi-coloured rock, moss-covered sinkholes and steeply stepped waterfalls perfect for long exposures.

    Get up early and capture the changing light across the gorges at one of the many lookouts, or clamber down the rock faces on one of dozens of walking trails and shoot the gorges from within. There are five gorges to explore, each one offering unique perspectives, from wide-open landscapes and squeezy passages.

    There are two roomy campgrounds at Karijini, but you don't have to rough it if you don't want to: the Karijini Eco Retreat is glamping at its best, with a hard-floored ensuite safari tent complete with a king-sized bed, hot shower, power outlets for keeping your camera and other gadgets charged and lanterns to keep the darkness at bay. Most people though, spend their time on the private deck, watching the setting sun or stargazing at night.

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