Just when you think the world's run out of wild places, you arrive in the Kimberley. The region is vast, stretching across Australia's north-west from Broome in the west to Kununurra in the east. You might have lobbed in to cruise its coastline and see sandstone cliffs that glow red at sunset, galleries of ancient rock art, dramatic tidal waterfalls and pristine waters teeming with fish. Or you might be here to head overland, nosing along tracks to find refreshing waterholes and spectacular waterfalls.
One thing's for sure: the Kimberley is an unforgettable adventure. There's something addictive about those endless blue skies during dry season, the red pindan dust that clings to your boots and the wild things that call this part of the world home. Exploring the Kimberley is everyone's chance to turn adventurer for a while, to get back to basics, to appreciate nature and to remember what life is really all about. It's standing still to admire a technicolour sunset and forgetting that anything else matters.
The Bungle Bungle Range
WHY WE LOVE IT The Bungles is one of Australia's most striking landmarks. Their unusual orange- and black-striped rock domes are commonly called beehives. The range sits within World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, 300 kilometres south of Kununurra. Guests enjoy prime access to Purnululu's highlights when staying at APT's Bungle Bungle Wilderness Lodge, located within the park. From the lodge, it's a 20-minute drive to Cathedral Gorge – a red-rock amphitheatre with such stunning acoustics that it's best not to whisper any secrets here - and a 40-minute drive to Echidna Chasm.
DON'T MISS Echidna Chasm, a long, narrow chasm shaded by rare Livistona fan palms, is a photographer's dream. Colours change dramatically during the day, depending on the angle of the sun shining into the gap between the towering red cliffs.
INSIDER TIP The park's beehive domes, gorges, chasms and wet-season waterfalls were almost unknown to the rest of the world until 1982, when aerial pictures of the landscape were released. The park was added to the World Heritage list in 2003.
WHY WE LOVE IT Stashed within the central Kimberley's otherworldly landscape is Mitchell Falls – a series of tiered waterfalls that are at their most spectacular early in the dry season. At the top of the falls, seek out naturally carved waterholes that are perfect places to sit and soak on a hot day. From the Mitchell Falls Wilderness Lodge, set out to explore all that the Mitchell Plateau has to offer. Hike to Mertens Falls to discover caves and cliffs that have been canvases for rock art for tens of thousands of years. Back at the lodge, cool down in nearby Camp Creek, which is shaded with striking Pandanus palms.
DON'T MISS Mitchell Falls is a hub for scenic helicopter flights. The talented bush pilots land their craft near the top of the falls. Hop aboard to take in the full grandeur of the dramatic landscape.
INSIDER TIP The Kimberley's rock art is among the oldest in the world. Travel back tens of thousands of years by seeing the galleries of Wandjina and Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) figures.
King George Falls
WHY WE LOVE IT As the King George River winds its way north, cutting through Drysdale River National Park on its way to the Timor Sea, it drops more than 200 metres in elevation. Easily the most dramatic part of this descent is an abrupt rupture in the landscape about 12 kilometres from the river's mouth. It's here that the waters part ways to flow around a nub of ancient sandstone, in the process forming spectacular twin waterfalls that tumble more than 80 metres over rugged cliffs into the waters below.
DON'T MISS Hop into a Zodiac vessel for an up-close view of these remote towering waterfalls, one of Australia's most spectacular natural sights and Western Australia's highest single-drop falls. The falls are located north-west of Wyndham in the wilderness of the central Kimberley.
INSIDER TIP King George Falls caught the eye of director Baz Luhrmann, who featured them in his 2008 epic feature film, Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. The river was named in 1911 in honour of King George V.
WHY WE LOVE IT North-east of Broome lies the Buccaneer Archipelago – home to a phenomenon that naturalist David Attenborough has called "one of the greatest natural wonders of the world". Thanks to the region's freakish tides (which can vary by 10 metres over 6.5 hours) combined with a pair of unusual parallel ridges (one featuring a gap of 20 metres, the other a gap of just 10 metres), water builds up behind the gaps. As the cobalt water rushes through these tiny gaps, the effect creates a four-metre-high waterfall between the bays – a spectacle known as the Horizontal Falls.
DON'T MISS Thrill-seekers can climb aboard a fast boat for an exhilarating, adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced ride through Horizontal Falls. Prepare for the sound of walls of water gushing through the narrow gaps.
INSIDER TIP This part of the Kimberley is home to more than one spectacular tidal experience. Watch Montgomery Reef "rise" from the ocean as tidal waters cascade into surrounding channels. Land at nearby Raft Point to visit Wandjina rock-art galleries with a local guide.
El Questro Wilderness Park
WHY WE LOVE IT This east Kimberley park, spread over some 400,000 hectares, enjoys almost legendary status. Why? Probably because it offers something for everyone, with accommodation ranging from campsites and lodges through to luxury villas with outdoor tubs overlooking the Chamberlain River. APT guests stay at Emma Gorge Resort – a stunning haven where visitors wake to the sound of birdsong. The resort is well known among Kimberley regulars for its great coffee. Its cocktail list also comes with an outback twist (the bloody Mary, for instance, includes lemon myrtle, desert lime and the park's own chilli sauce).
DON'T MISS Explore the nooks and crannies of Emma Gorge. Scramble over rocks and boulders to reach the gorge's towering droplet waterfall – wear swimmers underneath your walking gear to enjoy the gorge's cool waters.
INSIDER TIP El Questro's Zebedee Springs is one of the world's prettiest hot springs. Don't miss the chance to soak in these warm waters shaded by palm trees. The pretty-as-a-picture oasis is set against a fiery-red escarpment.
WHY WE LOVE IT Cruising the 55 kilometre stretch of the Ord, between Kununurra and the wall of manmade Lake Argyle, provides a peek into a wondrous aquatic world. This is where birds seem to walk on water (the jacana, a wader that high-steps from one lilypad to another, is nicknamed the Jesus bird). It's where freshies bask on partially submerged logs and white-bellied sea eagles wheel through the sky. Take a seat on the shaded motorboat and listen to commentary about the lake and its role in the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
DON'T MISS While in town visit Kununurra's PumpHouse Restaurant, overlooking Lake Kununurra, for a sundowner or a feast of regional seafood. The restaurant operates around the original pumps of the Main Pump Station, which was effectively decommissioned in 1971 when Lake Argyle was completed.
INSIDER TIP Keep your eyes peeled while cruising the Ord: a hard-to-see rock wallaby or wallaroo might be perched on nearby cliffs. Bring binoculars to better see the birdlife and crocodiles.
JOHN 'KEMPY' KEMP – APT KIMBERLEY DRIVER-GUIDE
John Kemp, better known to guests as Kempy, Sir John or The Godfather, started guiding when he was a spring chicken, revealing the delights of New Zealand's Milford Track. Kempy has now been guiding for more than 12 years. In his eighth season of showing off the highlights of north-west Australia's vast Kimberley region, he says what he loves most is meeting so many interesting people. Over the years, he's come to know the Kimberley's colourful characters, all of whom have fascinating stories to tell.
This article is produced in association with APT & Extraordinary Western Australia. Secluded gorges, tumbling falls, fiery red landscapes and ancient rock art... the Kimberley is simply spectacular. With more than 40 years' experience in the region, discover the secrets of these lands with APT's unforgettable 4WD adventures and cruises. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.