At nearly twice the size of Victoria, but with a population of less than 40,000, the Kimberley is a wild land of rare, dramatic scenery.
If that sounds appealing, read on: We’ve found five magical places to stay in this northern slab of Western Australia, which covers 423,000 square kilometres of savannah, rugged sandstone escarpments and secluded coastline.
Bungle Bungles Wilderness Lodge
You don’t have to rough it in the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, famous for its spectacular beehive-striped sandstone domes.
Unzip your tented cabin and throw your red dust-covered suitcase onto the king-sized bed at APT’s Bungle Bungles Wilderness Lodge and you’ll start to feel wobbly with isolation – that’s before you’ve even ventured out into the park.
Tour operator APT has three remarkable wilderness lodges in the Kimberley – Bungle Bungles, Mitchell Falls and Bell Gorge (the most famous gorge along the Gibb River Road). Each is as close as a luxe tent can get to the Kimberley’s “big ticket” natural wonders.
Unbeknown to many a traveller, if you’re self-driving, you can book into the lodges on a per-night basis. If you are partial to an upmarket coach tour, however, APT’s 15-day Kimberley Complete includes two nights at each of the three lodges.
APT, 1300 334 872, kimberleywilderness.com.au ($500 to $700 per night, including dinner and breakfast)
Run by husband-and-wife team Dave and Pat Channing (she’s an Aboriginal woman from the nearby Beagle Bay community), Mercedes Cove is a nature-lover’s dream.
Take your pick of outdoor activities: Watching whales feed their calves from the cliff top, snorkelling among the colourful fish, ticking a multitude of seabirds off the bird-watching list.
The less venturesome naturalist can enjoy the surroundings from the balcony of one of the cabins or through the window of a safari tent, of which there are only two.
If you’re opting for one of the three cabins, the Open Deck is the pick. It overlooks the ocean and sleeps five on the deck with mozzie nets covering the comfy, simple beds.
Mercedes Cove, Dampier Peninsula, (08) 9192 4687, mercedescove.com.au ($150 to $300 per night)
Teetering on the edge of a cliff in the Kimberley’s rugged east, with mighty views over the Chamberlain Gorge, El Questro Homestead would be wilderness enough if you just spent all weekend soaking up the views from your cantilevered bathtub in one of the nine suites.
But venture out to Amaroo Falls, discovered only in 2010 on the property that is 75 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide, and the sense of remoteness is intense. Accessible only by chopper, this wonderland consists of 15 cascading waterfalls.
Unfortunately, gorgeous accommodation and helicopter joy rides are not within everyone’s budget. Luckily, there are plenty more affordable options.
For non-celebs, it’s possible to see all the same sites that Nicole Kidman or Kylie Minogue did when they stayed at El Questro Wilderness Park.
Simply swap the $2000-a-night suite at the Homestead for a $20-a-night campsite, or a pre-erected safari tent or riverside bungalow. You’ll also need to switch the helicopter for Shanks’ pony and hiking boots.
Gibb River Road, 1800 837 168, elquestro.com.au ($20 to $3000 per night)
Kooljaman at Cape Leveque
An Indigenous-owned wilderness camp on the Dampier Peninsula, Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, is 220 kilometres from Broome – about 90 kilometres of that on bone-jarring unsealed red pindan roads.
Here you can sleep in beach shelters with the Indian Ocean lapping just metres from your pillow or, if you’re not keen on pushing in tent pegs, opt for a hand-built cabin or a safari tent with ensuite.
Activities, such as night-fishing and mud-crabbing, spear-making and bush-tucker collecting, hosted by tour guides Brian Lee and Bundy Chaquebor, are plentiful. Head chef Joseph McGrattan wows diners at Raugi’s Restaurant with his French-Australian food using local ingredients.
Kooljaman, Cape Leveque, 08 9192 4970, kooljaman.com.au ($50 to $350 per night)
Ramada Eco Beach Resort
Wedged between the ocean and the bush at the end of a red dirt road two hours south of Broome, Ramada Eco Beach Resort is a chic getaway with a real sense of seclusion.
Choose from one of the 25 villas, 30 safari tents or the two-bedroom beach house.
Chef Luke Sutherland has devised a menu that features local pearl meat and barramundi, and organic produce from the kitchen garden. After a delicious lunch, activities to keep you out of the hammock include turtle and whale watching, beach fishing and a kayak tour.
323 Great Northern Highway, Broome, (08) 9193 8015, ecobeach.com.au. ($120 to $980 per night)
When to visit?
Winter – June to August – is the most popular time to visit the Kimberley, with temperatures ranging from 14-34 degrees Celsius.
The region has the fewest visitors in the wet season, November to April. While the days can be hot, it’s the best time to nab a cheaper hotel rate.
Daily flights from Australia’s east-coast cities to Broome are mostly via Perth (Qantas, Virgin Australia) or Darwin (Qantas/Airnorth). Flight time from Perth to Broome is two hours and 30 minutes.
Direct flights to Broome depart Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (Qantas) during peak months (winter). Flights take four to five hours.