Colours of the Kimberley Coast

Sparkling sapphire sea, cloudless bright blue sky, deep brick red pindan cliffs, cream and orange sands, purple mulla mulla flowers and spectacular multi-coloured sunsets, this is the Kimberley coast in “winter”.

Our time on the Kimberley coast was spent hopping from one beautiful spot to another. First was Eighty Mile Beach. The Wallal Downs Station has established a very pleasant caravan park on part of their ocean frontage property and located behind a small dune to provide wind protection. Well-watered green lawns, plentiful trees for those who want shade or open areas for those that need solar power and viewing platforms to sit and enjoy the evening sunset spectacle. The beach is wide and the sand firm, great for long walks, and there are apparently plentiful fish to be caught from the shore or boats.

After the dust of the Pilbara the showers were also a treat and the washing machines very welcome. We planned to stay two nights but stayed three and could easily have extended further except some of our supplies were getting low and couldn’t be replenished before we reached Broome.

Next stop was Barn Hill, another station run caravan park. This park lacks the green grass so it is dustier and the sand on the beach is not as firm for walking but there are spectacular rock formations at the back of the beach not far from camp and also red pindan cliffs, multi-coloured rocks and fascinating rock pools along the shore.

This time we managed to leave after just two nights and then drove straight into Broome to replenish our supplies before back tracking to spend a couple of nights at the Broome Bird Observatory. 

The Bird Observatory is one of our favourite places to stay in this area. It is located at the top of Roebuck Bay about 30 minutes drive from Broome. They do a lot of work in monitoring migratory birds, run tours and provide accommodation or camping. The camping area is small and always very quiet, only about ten sites and no power or generators. A Shade House serves as a camp kitchen, viewing point for watching birds and wallabies at a water point and as a general meeting place. Every evening a bird roll call is held when they record all birds seen or heard within 70 kilometres during the past 24 hours. It is always peaceful and friendly and just across the sandy road are the marvellous colours of Roebuck Bay. Aerial shots in the area are especially rewarding.

The Dampier Peninsula lies north of Broome and this was our next destination. There is free camping at a few places along the southern stretch of the peninsula and James Price Point is the most spectacular of these. Its also a favourite with Broome locals but as we arrive there mid week there are few others around and we find a great spot tucked back into the red pindan cliffs. There we escaped the strongest of the winds but could still gaze out over the amazing ocean in front of us. We could wander up the beach at low tide or take a dip in front of the camp at high tide but most of our time was happily spent enjoying the beauty and reading and relaxing.

We had four peaceful days before the weekend arrived and the area filled with locals out for the day or to camp for two or three nights. We spent most of a day trying to find another spot to camp further up the peninsula but most camp sites were closed due to covid and entry to all of the aboriginal communities is restricted to local residents or essential workers. The places which were open either didn’t appeal to us and were likely to be even busier than James Price Point so we back-tracked all the way and spent one night near Willie Creek and two nights at Quandong Point before returning to James Price Point for another two nights.

Finally it was time to return to Broome but this time we were treating ourselves and had booked into a very nice Air BnB. Seems our stay in Geraldton has made us soft. We had eight days in Broome and managed to eat out at some very nice places, enjoy some drinks at Matsos Brewery (my personal favourite was the Angry Wranger, a mix of ginger beer and chilli beer), visit the markets a few times and enjoy the food from the stalls, watch the Staircase to the Moon from Town Beach, visit Gantheaume Point when the full moon was setting just before sunrise and drive up Cable Beach a couple of times to watch the sunset with a picnic meal.

Remote, Rugged and Captivating

Inland Pilbara is hot, dry and dusty and there are very few towns or people. Places to get supplies or support are few and far between. The ground is rich in natural resources and mining companies are busy digging them up, transporting them to the coast and shipping them overseas. Most of the rivers are dry beds but their width show that when it does rain it is likely to flood. The far east of the region consists of deserts including the Great Sandy Desert, the Little Sandy Desert and The Tanami Desert. We just love it!

This trip we did a short (for us) loop around the top of Karajini to Auski, across country to the Newman to Marble Bar road, up to Nullagine and then east to Skull Springs, Running Waters and Carrawine Gorge and then back to Marble Bar and finally out to the coast near Eighty Mile Beach. 

All the mining in the region makes travel both easier and more difficult. The easier part comes from the network of well maintained roads and the more difficult from the traffic along the roads. Wide loads are common as the mines shift their heavy equipment around. This load was so wide we had to pull well off the road to let it past.

On dirt roads huge semi trailers create clouds of dust which are dragged behind them. Visibility can be zero so it’s just a matter of pulling well off to the side of the road and waiting for the dust to settle minutes later. Once away from the mines the roads might be rougher but the scenery is always captivating.

We made an overnight stop on the road between Newman and Marble Bar on the banks of the Fortescue River. It was close to the road but the traffic was minimal after dark and it was a very pretty place for a stay.

Midway between Newman and Marble Bar is the tiny town of Nullagine where we stopped for a rest break before leaving the main road and heading east toward the deserts.

When we visited this area six years ago we briefly visited a place originally called Eel Springs but now known as Running Waters and had the place to ourselves. Ever since then Paul has wanted to return to take photos of the twisted paperbark trees surrounding this permanent spring. As a bonus the water is crystal clear and even slightly warm as one of the springs comes from the artesian basin.

Well word has certainly spread about this place, it was busy. We’d left the coast because school holidays had started but seems like lots of other West Aussies had the same idea. We managed to snare a nice spot right by the water, someone had just left, and hoped to stay for several days. We swam and relaxed and Paul was out at sunset and sunrise and was pretty happy with his shots.

Unfortunately on our second day we acquired close neighbours who had a taste for heavy metal music and we decided to move on the next morning. After backtracking a little we turned off the road toward a camping spot near the Davis River. The side track was easy to find, it was marked by some animal skulls on a post so naturally the alternate name for the camp is Skull Springs. It was much quieter here, just one camp set up by the water and we decided to leave them to their peace and and we set up camp above the river bed in an open spot with scattered white gums around.

Our final stop in this area was at Carrawine Gorge, another favourite from our visit six years ago. That time we stopped for nine nights but this time the increased numbers of campers, the new vegetation along the water which impeded the views and the copious amounts of dust which billowed through many of the prime sites anytime a car drove past combined to shorten or stay to just two nights. It was still pleasant and the bird life was lovely but it was time to head for the coast and to clean up some of the accumulated dust.

Pilbara Jewel

Handrail Pool, Weano Gorge, Karijini NP

We love all of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and different parts have different treasures but the jewel of the region has to to be Karajini National Park. We’ve visited the park several times before but it’s a place you can visit time and time again to enjoy the wonderful country, the colours, the mountains and the deep gorges.

This is an ancient land; mountain ranges have weathered down and while they are still called mountains, Mount Bruce, Mount Sheila, Mount Nameless and Mount Meharry, in other younger countries they would simply be called hills.

Precipitation doesn’t occur very often but when it rains it pours. It’s a dry country now but there are still permanent water sources and the flat red earth is cut by deep gorges. From the top you can peer down into deep canyons to see waterfalls and rock pools. Several walking trails take you down into subterranean gorges. Our last visit was nearly six years ago and while Paul still tackled some of the difficult trails on this trip I lowered the bar and settled for moderate walks (up to class 4).

The first gorge we visited this trip was Kalamina Gorge. It’s one of the most accessible gorges and while not as dramatic as some we think it is possibly the prettiest gorge with some lovely little falls and reflecting rock pools. It’s in the middle of the park and on previous visits it’s been very quiet but word of its charm seems to have got out as the car park was nearly full when we arrived. We still managed to have plenty of quiet times to enjoy the beauty as most other visitors walked the gorge, possibly had a dip, and then left.

From Kalamina Gorge we travelled to our first camp at the national park campground near Dales Gorge where we stayed for three nights. The easiest entry into Dales Gorge is via a steep staircase down to Fortescue Falls. There were quite a few swimmers in the pool below the falls.

 From Fortescue Falls it is a short further walk to the idyllic Fern Pool.

Fern Pool, Dales Gorge, Karajini National Park, WA

The other entry into the gorge is via a steep path including a short ladder near Circular Pool. On our first evening we took a very pleasant walk along the rim. The late afternoon light displayed the beauty of the country and the wildflowers were a delight.

Circular Pool was closed due to a recent rock slide but the path through the gorge was still open and was a great walk on the next day.

About 50 km west of Dales Gorge several gorges meet and provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the park. We moved camp to best appreciate these places and spent the next three nights at the Karijini Eco Retreat. We stopped to enjoy the view at the lookout over Joffre Gorge and Paul returned there for some pre sunrise photography the next morning,

Joffre Gorge, Karijini NP, WA

The landscape and vegetation in this region is amazing and we never tire of it, especially when the sun is just rising or getting low and providing extra drama.

Weano Gorge with Handrail Pool at the end of the accessible area provides amazing rich colours

Another amazing gorge to visit is Hancock Gorge and at the end of a very tricky walk you reach the magical Kermits Pool where light bounces off red and gold walls to create magical waterfalls.

Before leaving Karijini we had one more stop. Hammersley Gorge is on the western edge of the park and has some amazing rock formations we have photographed in the past, This time we hoped to see the Spa Pool, a spot we had missed on previous visits. We reached the bottom of the gorge not long past sunrise and Paul began the scramble up the gorge toward the spa. I decided it was too tricky for me and picked my way up the rocky sides to a spot above the spa. From there I could see we had picked the wrong time of the day to visit as it was half in deep shade and half in strong sun.

Paul had a far more difficult trek to reach a spot where he made the same conclusion. Guess you can’t win them all. Anyway Paul managed a lovely shot of one of the small water falls and I enjoyed the amazing curves in the rocks.

If you have never been to Karijini you should put it on your bucket list and if you’ve only been once or twice or for just a short time it is certainly worth a return visit.