Kimberley dreaming: Indigenous tourism the new must-do

The Kimberley's remoteness is both its blessing and its curse. Thanks to its untouched bush landscapes filled with dramatic gorges and splendid waterfalls, and its red sand beaches washed by azure water, this north-western corner of Australia scores the top spot on many people's travel wish lists. However, the logistics can make a Kimberley trip seem daunting. 

Even during the May to October peak, when direct flights to Broome are available from Sydney and Melbourne, the flying time is still around five hours. And then there is the challenge of getting around an area three times the size of England, where far-flung sights are linked by red dirt roads.  

Despite these challenges, the number of visitors to the Kimberley is continuing to grow. So too are the options awaiting travellers. In particular, visitors can enjoy an ever-increasing range of indigenous experiences, many of them created by the communities themselves. 

In fact, indigenous tourism will be one of the most important growth areas for Kimberley tourism, according to Lori Litwack. The general manager of one of the area's most celebrated properties, El Questro – which caters for everyone from campers to luxury lovers – Litwack says that visitors can expect even more opportunities to experience the Kimberley through indigenous eyes. "More indigenous tourism will open up previously inaccessible areas," she says.

That includes initiatives such as the Camping with the Custodians program, which looks set to expand beyond its first two sites at Imintji, near Bell Gorge, and at Mimbi, near Fitzroy Crossing. The program encourages visitors to camp near – and interact with – local Indigenous communities. More than just campgrounds, these sites also offer additional features such as roadhouses and art galleries, all of which employ community members.

Mimbi's Gooniyandi community has already proven itself keen to share its stories with visitors, with community elders offering guided tours of the Mimbi Caves, which have been used by local communities for more than 40,000 years. Other Indigenous-run companies are also offering a different take on some of the Kimberley's most remarkable sights. 

At Windjana Gorge near Derby, for instance, Bungoolee Tours highlights an oft-forgotten part of the Kimberley's history, the resistance mounted by the Indigenous people as pastoralists came into the area in the 1890s.  To hear about the exploits of a warrior such as Jandamarra – a man who worked as a police tracker before changing sides – at the scene of one of his most famous battles is a riveting experience. 

Kimberley tourism is changing in other ways, too. Litwack says that ongoing infrastructure improvements – particularly improved roads – will make the area more inviting for self-drivers. "More roads will be sealed, and people who are less adventurous will feel comfortable driving and travelling," she says. "The caravans and campers on the market now are really good for rough off-road, [so more road trippers will be] coming through."

Luxury travellers will also be able to enjoy new experiences. Guests at El Questro's most exclusive property, The Homestead, are increasingly opting for heli-safaris that let them explore otherwise-inaccessible corners of the 283,000-hectare property, such as Amaroo Falls, an eye-catching series of 15 cascading waterfalls.

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