A cruise is just the gateway to Australia’s spectacular North-Western region – plan your next trip to this ancient land with advice from our seasoned adventurer.
It’s the world’s worst-kept secret. Western Australia’s Kimberley and North West region was voted by Cruise Passenger readers as the top adventure-cruise destination for Australians and ranks high on the global list of ‘must-do’ expedition cruises. But once you’ve taken your cruise – pulled a thrashing barramundi from the Hunter River, gazed in awe at the dizzying precipices above Mitchell Falls and shot the wild waters of the horizontal waterfalls – what next?
The mesmerising ancient landscapes of the Kimberley extend way past the coast. A journey inland will take you to the eye-boggling Bungle Bungle Range (now more correctly known as UNESCO World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park), along the famous Gibb River Road and through some of the wildest, oldest and most fascinating territory imaginable. Kununurra and its man-made mini-ocean, Lake Argyle, is full of its own outback adventure, and those keen to follow cinematic themes can trailblaze Hugh and Nicole’s Australia or venture to the Wolfe Creek meteorite crater, recast as a place of nightmares in the film Wolf Creek.
There are various group tours on offer – 4WD, flight-seeing, trekking – or you can set off on your own self-drive adventure, throwing down a swag at any of the area’s campsites or checking into one of several homestead ‘resorts’. Take your pick from any of these destinations and ideas, then extend your cruise adventure into one of Australia’s newest and most remote holiday destinations.
You could easily call Broome the de facto capital of the North West. Once, it was a ramshackle outpost for pearlers and itinerant fishermen, but wealth from pearls, mining and tourism has elevated the town way beyond its rough beginnings. Broome is also the major port for adventure and expedition cruisers heading out along the Kimberley coast, so almost all passengers will spend some time in this remote community. Apart from pearl outlets and the seemingly-mandatory Cable Beach camel rides, there are some excellent Aboriginal art galleries, and the hovercraft rides over Roebuck Bay come courtesy of one of the last commercial hovercraft ride operators in the world. Getting around the port town is easy and cheap on a hired scooter. www.broomevisitorcentre.com.au
The outback town of Kununurra in the East Kimberley, near the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, is the logical end to the Gibb River Road, and the ideal location at which to start or finish a Gibb River Road drive (see p36). Kununurra is also the location of the famous Argyle Downs (Durack) Homestead Museum, site of the original family property of the pioneering Duracks. Most of it is now submerged by the equally famous man-made Lake Argyle. And if you haven’t fully satisfied your cruising urge, day cruises are available on the lake. www.visitkununurra.com
Pronounced Derr-bee, this town of some 4,500 people was the first European settlement in the region and the site of a jetty built in 1894 to service the growing pastoral industry. The streets are lined with massive boab trees, and history buffs will enjoy following the Derby Pastoral Trail, which leads to the wharf and takes in the Wharfinger House Museum, Derby Pioneer Cemetery and the Old Derby Gaol. www.derbytourism.com.au
Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing
These two towns along the main Great Northern Highway (National Highway 1) would make useful stops if you were driving the loop from either Broome or Kununurra using the Gibb River Road in one direction. Fitzroy Crossing, as the name suggests, is set on the namesake river and is the spot to base yourself for explorations of the Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge National Parks. You can even stay at the Crossing Inn, built in 1897 as a shanty pub and trade store for long-distance travellers. Halls Creek is a historic gold mining town located on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert; from here, you can set off for a tour of the Bungle Bungles or, if you are so inclined, take an aerial sightseeing flight instead. The town is also the stepping-off point for a drive to the fascinating Wolfe Creek Crater National Park where you can explore a massive, 850-metre-wide meteorite crater. You’d have to go to Arizona to see a bigger one. www.hallscreektourism.com.au