I have a confession to make. I thought I was fairly au fait with my Australian geography until my daughter Lyndsay and her husband Reece traveled across the Kimberley with the express purpose of exploring Cape Leveque,
“Cape Leveque? Is’nt that somewhere in New Zealand,” I asked?
“No Mum, it’s the tip of the Dampier Peninsula which is north of Broome!” Lyndsay replied
“And just what’s so great about the place?” I demanded to know. “I know why people want to explore places like Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland on the East coast. After all, that’s where you’ll find the Daintree rainforest, Mossman Gorge and the Great Barrier Reef. But what’s so special about Cape Leveque?”
” It’s remote, beautiful, serene and unspoilt. You’ll understand when you’re there,” she answered.
So a visit to Cape Leveque became a must do on our Kimberley adventure. We found ourselves driving from the Ramada Eco Resort south of Broome to Kooljaman on the northern tip of Cape Leveque. We wanted to spend a couple of days there before working our way south along the cape towards Broome and Derby where we would begin the trek home to Byron Bay.
Kooljamanat Cape Leveque is a remote wilderness camp owned and run by the Indigenous Bardi Jawi Communities. We opted to stay in a shady powered campsite from which we had a wonderful view of the lighthouse. I would definitely recommend booking in advance. We witnessed many being turned away and we weren’t in the Peak season.
As soon as we had set up camp, it was time for a swim and an exploratory walk .
Late afternoon, found us back at the resort, enjoying a sundowner before we made our way down to the western beach to watch the sunset splash the Pindan cliffs with colour.
Travel often brings moments of serendipity and Cape Leveque was to prove no exception. The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we were meandering along the swimming beach, trying to decide if it was hot enough to plunge in, when a voice from the water called out:
“Kenn Sealey, is that you?”
Lo and behold, it was a group of old friends from Condobolin whom we hadn’t seen for over 20 years! They too were exploring the Kimberley but in reverse order to us. We had a lot of catching up to do so agreed to meet that evening for dinner at Kooljaman’s restaurant. But before that happened, we had a pearl farm to explore.
Cygnet Bay Pearl farm is just a few kilometers away from Kooljaman on the eastern side of the cape overlooking King Sound. There are lots of accommodation options here as well. As well as exploring the pearl galleries, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the deck overlooking the horizon pool and a boat tour.
However, the tour was fabulous. We witnessed the huge tidal movements that make this part of the world so interesting and explored many of the islands that speckle the sound. It is definitely worth doing your research though. There are so many different tours to take including one that takes you to a waterfall in the sea!
All good things must end and it was time to return to Kooljaman and prepare for dinner with our intrepid friends, who have serious camping and 4WD skills having reached the Kimberley via the Strzelecki Track.
It was time to leave Kooljaman and head south. We were heading for Whalesong Campground,another Lyndsay suggestion. Whalesong campground is located on Pender Bay just around the corner from Middle Lagoon. This has to be one of the most magical places I have ever camped.
Access to the campsites is via a private track through pristine bushland.
And the open air facilities such as the shower and kitchen were rustic, functional and beautiful.
For a small cost, quality wood was delivered to our campsite.
The campsite had the most amazing views over the bay especially in the early morning as the sun came up.
Whalesong also runs a coffee hub every morning where you can also purchase a range of Gubinge ( Kakadu Plum) products which are created on site by this wonderful indigenous family in a sustainable, ethical and wild harvest way. Do take the time to check out their website. We bought some for us and some as gifts for friends back home. A real taste of the Kimberley!
As we were spending a couple of nights here, we decided to check out Middle Lagoon which had also come highly recommended. We packed a picnic lunch, and drove there in about 20 minutes. But while Middle Lagoon has a lovely position around the point from Pendar Bay, it was also very crowded. It is obviously very popular with the caravan and boating set despite the terrible road in! However the beaches weren’t crowded and the swimming was idyllic.
All too soon, it was time to break camp and head south to Derby. On the way, we stopped at Beagle Bay.
So as Lyndsay had predicted, I discovered that Cape Leveque is indeed remote, beautiful serene and unspoilt. It generates its own, unique wonder that more than justifies the effort it takes to get there. It is an essential part of a Kimberley adventure, and like so many others, we would love to return.
Located just 110 kms west of Kununurra, El Questro Wilderness Park was the first stop on our exploration of the Gibb River Road. We hoped that it would be wonderful and we weren’t disappointed. There was just so much to see and do in one place. (Admittedly a very large place: the park covers an area of over 700,000 acres in the heart of the Kimberley.)
We loved driving around flanked by the majestic Cockburn Range, exploring dramatic gorges and testing out the snorkling capabilities of our vehicle in the process.
We loved swimming under cascading waterfalls in beautiful rock pools, relaxing in thermal springs, picnicking besides waterholes and admiring beautiful sunsets.
El Questro has a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. These are at three locations : Emma Gorge, The Station and the Homestead. Initially, we intended to camp over at the Station on a powered site in our tent. After all we were following in the footsteps of pioneers and were prepared to rough it a little. But after I’d booked, I noticed that El Questro was offering an opening of the season special: three nights for the price of two with buffet breakfast included for their upscale accommodation at the Station and Emma Gorge. Investigating further, the glamping safari tents complete with private ensuite at Emma Gorge really appealed.
We’d still be camping but with a few more mod cons. And surely I could put up with a little bit of luxury whilst in the middle of the East Kimberley Wilderness? Someone to make my bed, tidy my tent and fill my glass at happy hour? And who wouldn’t enjoy standing under their very own blissful rain shower while they washed away the rigours of the day while admiring the branches of a magnificent gum tree against a deep blue sky framed by towering red cliffs?
You guessed it, I cancelled the camp site at the Station and booked Emma! Part of the accommodation cost included the compulsory Wilderness Park Permit, the proceeds of which help with the maintenance of the roads etc within the park.
We reached Emma Gorge with plenty of time to walk the gorge and have a swim before we booked in. The walk involved a bit of rock hopping and scrambling as we made our way through the stunning gorge.
But it was so worth it. The final rock pool with its gentle waterfall was so perfect. The water was quite cold but very refreshing and when you swam under the waterfall on the other side of the pool, it was like being in a natural rain shower, nicely tingly. And of course floating around and gazing up at the majestic red cliffs and a perfect blue sky and knowing that you were in the middle of the Kimberley wilderness was special just by itself.
Back at the resort, we booked in and were thrilled with our tent. It was elevated, boasted a very comfortable queen bed, two single beds, outdoor furniture, a fan, basic tea making facilities and a very well appointed ensuite.. It was very private and had a wonderful view of the escarpment and the bush which was flood lit at night.
Next it was time to sample “happy hour” and dinner at the resort hub. There on the deck, we met fellow travelers from around Australia and the world. Most were travelling as part of tour groups but there one or two who were travelling on their own like us. Talk flowed as we sipped our drinks ensconced on super comfy sofas. And there were plenty of options to choose from on the a la carte menu for dinner. Yep, we were very happy campers!
The following morning we up early, keen to drive over to the station and explore Zebedee Springs and El Questro Gorge. Both were fabulous.
The walk into Zebedee Springs is through a Livistonia Palm forest which is thought to be unique to this area.
El Questro Gorge
Back in the Prado, it was time to drive to El Questro Gorge. We knew that the water crossing into the gorge was quite deep. Only vehicles with a snorkle were advised to cross. Needless to say, Kenn was excited by the prospect! Low range was selected and we sailed across with no problems. A few kms further on and we were at the start point.
This walk isn’t a circuit so we had to retrace our steps. And as is so often the case, the walk seemed so much easier on the return journey even if the drive through the creek was a little more problematical.
Managing to chug our way out of a deep hole, Kenn and I decided to have a look at Jackaroo’s Billabong which was on our way back to the main road. A cup of coffee and some afternoon tea was needed. I was so happy we did as this was a really beautiful spot.
The afternoon was closing in, so we headed home to Emma Gorge. We had just enough time for a quick swim in the resort pool and a rest on the sun loungers with our books before getting ready for dinner. A great way to end a perfect day. Could tomorrow be as good?
Chamberlain Gorge is regarded as one of the things not to be missed at El Questro. It is a 3 km long fresh waterhole surrounded by magnificent cliffs. But you could sail to the end of it in 10 or 15 minutes. So, since we had done the 55km Ord River cruise through a similar landscape in Kununurra a couple of days before, we decided to give the cruise a miss. But it is possible to get an idea what the gorge holds by driving to the boat jetty.
Having taken a look at Chamberlain Gorge and enjoyed a coffee break at the Station, we hiked through Amalia Gorge.
The lack of wet season rain had affected this gorge the most. We were there in early June and the creek was no longer flowing but a few waterholes remained. Despite this, it was easy to see why this gorge is a favorite with so many people. The walk along the creek is shaded and very beautiful and and normally there would be lots of private swimming spots to enjoy along the way. We spotted one couple swimming in a pool but we didn’t join them as the water looked a bit stagnant.
Then the path started to climb and at the end you had to shimmy around and through some pretty scary rock formations to reach the upper pools at the end of the track.
But again the effort was worth it. There is a little cascade of waterfalls and rock pools falling down into one larger pool which acted as the most marvelous mirror. And we had the place entirely to ourselves!
As we retraced our steps we were extra careful navigating the rock ledge. It was a lot harder going down than it was climbing up. But we did it! Feeling very chuffed with ourselves we drove back to Emma Gorge. It was our last night at El Questro and we had loved every minute. As we sipped our pre dinner drinks, there was a beautiful sunset.
El Questro does give the visitor a wonderful wilderness experience. And while every place in the Kimberley has its own unique beauty, what sets El Questro apart is that it is a microcosm of everything that the Kimberley has to offer
We had had three action packed days here but there was still so much that we could have done. More gorges to explore, more 4WD tracks to conquer, more lookouts to reach and perhaps even a helicopter flight or two.
In hindsight, much as I loved staying at Emma Gorge, a stay at the Station would have been more central to most attractions. As we had our own 4WD vehicle and we had filled up in Kununurra, we found that we didn’t spend much money at El Questro except on dinner and accommodation and these I felt were reasonably priced.
You could spend a great deal of money here if you wanted to complete all the tours and experiences on offer. Like everywhere in the Kimberley, the organised tours offered by El Questro are not cheap. But for many, they are the stuff memories are made of. If you are lucky enough to have unlimited funds, check them out on the El Questro website.
Now the real test was about to begin. The Pentecost River crossing awaited us in the morning the the challenge of the Gibb River Road beckoned. Join us as we bump and shake our way to Broome.
The Western Kimberley exceeded our expectations. It is so majestic, so wild and it has to be said, so red!. On this part of our Kimberley Road Trip we drove from Katherine in the Northern Territory along the picturesque Victoria Highway to Kununurra, in Western Australia. There we explored the town and the beautiful Ord River, which will be the subject of this post and reveled in the natural wonders of El Questro Wilderness Park which will be the subject of Part 2.
Someone once said, ” Aim for the sky, but move slowly, enjoying every step along the way. It is all those little steps that make the journey complete” and this certainly applied to the 600 kilometre drive from Katherine to Kununurra.
While the first 100 or so kilometres was through fairly flat and dry country with only a few stunted trees breaking up the landscape, we soon reached the vast Gregory National Park. We had entered the country of the mighty Victoria River where the savannah rises to sandstone escarpments on either side of the highway, a precursor of what was in store for us in the Kimberley. We took the opportunity to stretch our legs at a well sign-posted Escarpment Walk which is conveniently next to the highway. As we meandered up the hill, we followed the Nungali-Ngaliwurru and Wardaman stories through the interpretive signs about the creation of the landscape. And what a landscape it was!
A little further on, we came to the settlement of Victoria River and a closer encounter with Kimberley rocks and the Victoria River itself.
We passed the little settlement of Timber Creek and soon after, crossed the WA border and found ourselves at the Quarantine station. We thought we had disposed of everything that was banned back in Katherine, but ended up surrendering our unopened jar of Byron Bay honey. No morning sweetness for us on this trip! They take bio-security really, really seriously here.
Sooner than we expected, we were driving into Kununurra where we were spending a couple of days. I had booked an Airbnb for our stay. Unbeknownst to us at the time of booking, it turned out that we knew our host, Donna. We shared a Condobolin connection: Donna had gone to Primary School with our girls and we had taught alongside her mum. It really is a small world. Needless to say, Donna and her partner Brad made us very welcome in their beautiful Kimberley home and suggested that as soon as we had settled in, we explore the Mirima National Park which is on the outskirts of the town. The locals call the rock formations of the park, their mini Bungle Bungles and it’s easy to see why.
We found Kununurra itself to be a delightful town in a lovely setting alongside Lake Kununurra. It has an excellent supermarket and some interesting shops for those who like to browse.
Admittedly we were there at the best time of year: beautiful warm days and cool evenings. A perfect time to see more of Lake Argyle and the Ord River on a day triple j tour. An unforgettable experience. We were picked up near our accommodation and taken 70 kms by coach through Durack country to Lake Argyle.
We then drove to Lake Argyle Resort, where we caught a glimpse of the vast Lake Arglye.
Crossing the Ord Top Dam wall, we caught a glimpse of the Ord Hydro-Power Station before boarding the Triple J Tour boat for a scenic 55km cruise back to Kununurra. This has to be the best boat ride I’ve been on and I’ve been on a lot in quite a few countries.
Our stay in Kununurra had come to an end but we would be back. Like many travelers to the Kimberley, we planned to complete a circuit. We would drive to Broome and explore the Western Kimberley via the Gibb River Road and return home via the Great Northern Highway.
This meant that following our amazing Ord River cruise we would be heading for one of the jewels in the Kimberley Crown: El Questro which is conveniently situated at the beginning of the Gibb. We would save that other treasure of the Eastern Kimberley, the incredible Bungles Bungles for our return trip along the Great Northern Highway.
As we packed the car and checked our camping provisions, we were very excited. Images of Emma Gorge and Zebedee Springs had fueled our Kimberley dream . But we wondered what we would think of the wilderness park as we had friends who hadn’t been that enthusiastic about it. Please join me next time to find out.
Most visitors to Byron Bay love the walk that takes them up to the Bay’s iconic lighthouse and down to the Australia’s most easterly point. It offers those who are willing to tackle the steps to the top, lovely beach and coastal rainforest vistas. And leaning on the fence at the point, you can gaze out over a seemingly limitless Pacific ocean or peruse the bottom of the cliff where turtles and dolphins like to hang out. And because it is so lovely, there are always lots of people to share the moment with you.
But if you hanker for a little bit of shady solitude or want to imagine yourself castaway on your own private, pristine little cove then meandering along the Three Sisters’ walk at Broken Head just to the south of the centre of Byron Bay might be for you. It certainly suited our daughter Lyndsay who together with baby Ilyssia was visiting us from Darwin.
“Jingi Walla” you are welcomed to the track, which begins to the right of the Broken Head carpark, by the traditional owners and joint custodians of the Broken Head Nature Reserve, the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay. The track is only 1.6 kms return and follows the clifftop to a lookout over Kings Beach.
As well as the Three Sisters Walk, Broken Head has a beautiful beach which is patrolled in school holidays. Across the dunes from the beach is a large grassy play area complete with undercover picnic tables and barbecues. There is also an amenities block and basic supplies such as an essential ice cream or two, can be obtained from the kiosk in the adjoining Holiday Park.
Feel like a gentle stroll or bike ride along a path offering lovely vistas of a particularly beautiful stretch of coastline? Then the Coastal Recreational Path might be just the thing for you. The path, which is being constructed by Ballina Shire Council, aims to connect the coastal village of Lennox Head from the Pat Morton Lookout to Angels Beach in Ballina. The southern section from Sharpe’s Beach to Angel’s Beach has been finished and as Kenn and I discovered, is well worth exploring.
We accessed the path from the Sharpe’s Beach car park as this was the closest access point to Byron Bay. The first section of the path to Flat Rock winds through picturesque heath land
while offering lovely views of the ocean.
When we reached Flat Rock, we found a viewing platform and of course access to a fantastic beach. For those who enjoy camping, there is also a tent park here.
Then the path meanders through coastal wetlands and instead of smooth bitumen we found ourselves on a slightly elevated metal walkway,
wandering past gnarly coastal banksias.
One of the things I loved about the path were the information boards providing interesting information about how the aboriginal people had interacted with the land as well as some of their dreaming stories.
All too soon, we found ourselves at Angel’s Beach.
It was also lovely to see lots of little ones on the path, cruising along in their strollers or peddling their tricycles with Mum and Dad ambling along behind. The path is very flat, perfect for beginners as well as the more advanced to ride along. We even spotted a toy poodle standing up in a bike basket, paws on the handlebars having the best time.
All too soon we were back in Lennox heading home. Next time we plan to bring our bikes and a picnic. Maybe we’ll see you there!
I am a relative newcomer to ‘Glamping’. Until recently, my camping experiences involved a tent, an airbed that hopefully would stay inflated and a sleeping bag. There were minimal extras: a little two burner stove, a gas lantern and a camping table. A lot of baked beans and tinned spaghetti was consumed. I have no champagne memories! But on a recent camping trip to Evans Head, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of camping realities, the world of ‘glamping’
Evans Head is only about 45 mins away from Byron Bay. The group we joined for a long weekend were seasoned glampers. We had waterfront sites at the Silver Sands Caravan Park and soon, remarkable hand crafted camper trailers were being unloaded, tents and tarps erected and kayaks and professional looking fishing gear stowed away.
There was so much to explore and experience. First of all, we had to explore the track along the river, to the breakwater and the beach and test out the surf. The water was clear and very warm for this time of year.
Soon, it was time for Happy Hour and a gourmet barbecue as we watched the tide run out on the river and the pelicans playing. Next morning, I was up early enough to catch the sunrise. I didn’t have to forego my beauty sleep as daylight saving hadn’t ended and the sun was kindly rising at 7 am. The sun peeked through the clouds and then burst over the ocean in amazing colours!
Walking back to camp, I noticed that the riverside cafe was open. No need to forego creature comforts while glamping. I thought, as I appreciatively sipped a large takeaway cappuccino.
Later that day we tested out the 4WD on the sand. You can drive north along the beach for quite a few kms and you don’t need a permit to do so. It’s just you, the sea, the sand and the seagulls and pelicans. Oh and the occasional horse and rider.
We also explored the beautiful Chinaman’s Beach which is a little to the south of our campsite on the other side of the river. The beach is perfectly unspoiled and is fringed with amazing aubergine coloured rocks, tangerine, brown and cream striped cliffs and amazing rock pools. I love climbing over and through rock pools. It’s like there a new world just waiting to be discovered by you. What a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours!
Back at camp, the troops had been busy. A visit to the fishing co-op and Tiger Prawns were on the menu. My baked bean days were over!.
And so the weekend continued. The Kayakers ventured upstream, circumnavigated a small island and let the current bring them back to camp. The fishermen had some success in the surf gutters. Blessed with perfect sunny weather and balmy nights, we swam, ate, walked, ate, fished, ate and drank a …a little. What’s a bottle or two of Pinot Grigio between friends? And I took the time to catch up on some reading and day dream about the next glamping adventure.