5 Kimberley Gorges to See Before You Die
The Kimberley, perched in the northwest of Australia’s remotest state is a magical place.
1.7 times bigger than the UK, the Kimberley is a massive area and not always the dry, brown and dusty region you might imagine because after the rains this part of the outback becomes a lush and sometimes tropical wonderland of soaring cliffs, massive gorges, palm trees and spectacular waterfalls.
And yes, some of the gravel roads really are red.
The Kimberley gorges though are multi-coloured and many are accessed from the legendary Gibb River Road, which was originally built for road trains transporting cattle from isolated stations to the ports of Derby and Wyndham.
Today it’s one of the last great adventure routes in Australia.
Expect over 600 kilometers (372 miles) of dusty roads with furrowed corrugations. Anticipate water crossings.
Best Time to Visit the Kimberley Gorges
Drive there from about April, after the wet season when the creek levels have dropped, until November, just before the rains descend again.
Is it best to take a guided tour or travel alone?
You can go it alone, or you can book a tour which requires less planning and will often cost about the same, or in some cases less.
I travelled with Adventure Wild on a 12 day adventure along the Gibb River Road and the Great Northern Highway in a return loop from Broome to Kununurra and enjoyed not only the social aspect of travelling with others, but also the fact that we had an experienced driver and a knowledgeable guide on board to show us the sights.
For me, five gorges in particular blew my mind, and I wish everyone could have the chance to see them just once in their lives.
5 Best Kimberley Gorges and Things to See and Do (or Not Do!)
1. Windjana Gorge
Windjana Gorge is accessed from the Gibb River Road and is part of the Napier Range in the Devonian Reef System.
The first really gob-smacking fact about it is that it’s about 250 million years old. Apart from that its sheer size takes your breath away and the cliffs seem to glow in multicolour; red, orange, white and green.
After a 1km walk from the camp site along an easy path you’ll be in the midst of the ragged topped gorge, which is about 3.5km long and has been carved through an ancient limestone reef.
Freshwater crocs are abundant
There’s a deep pool of water formed by the Lennard River, but although it looks tempting don’t take a swim because a large number of fresh water crocs are resident here. You might see them sunning themselves on the rocks.
2. Mannings Gorge
Mannings Gorge is a bit of a hike from the campground and you’ll need a permit from Mt Barnett Roadhouse.
First you have to cross a river which can be deep and wide so you’ll need to swim.
“How are we going to get our cameras across?” I asked our Adventure Wild tour guide.
“See those styrofoam floaty things, like eskies?” (Editor’s note: Eskie is an Aussie term for icebox.)
“And that old lilo?”
“There’s your answer!”
After the river crossing the terrain to the gorge is quite rocky but the path is well marked with rock cairns, painted arrows, and various items strung in trees. It’s a little up and down, but not difficult as long as you don’t do it in the heat of the day.
We enter the gorge opposite the main falls which are cascading over the full width of the rock face,an awesome spectacle, and apart from a couple of other hikers we have the place all to ourselves. Everyone peels off their clothes and jumps in off the rocks. With effort some of us swim behind the thundering falls and look at the outside world from a different watery view entirely.
Natural Bliss! And for me, time to think about what’s really important in life.
3. Cathedral Gorge
Cathedral Gorge is nestled amidst the 360 million years old Bungle Bungle Range in the Purnululu National Park about 250kms south of Kununurra.
Despite being ancient, The Bungle Bungles were only opened as a tourist destination in 1983 and the park is quite difficult to access.
Massive beehive like formations
Pods of enormous striped sandstone domes resembling huge beehives are striped with orange and grey bands. Best seen from a helicopter, they are weird and wonderful and very big.
We walked along creek beds with pools of water in which the red rock reflects a subterranean world in mirror image and the feeling of being a long way from anywhere remotely habitable is never far from mind.
I felt infinitely privileged to be here in this sacred place – a place to dream and wonder.
It’s a 3km return walk to Cathedral Gorge, from the spinifex covered sand plains around Piccaninny Creek car park, along a reasonably easy well marked track with a couple of sleep slopes and narrow ledges.
There are potholes beneath us and looming russet cliffs above us, some are around 200 metres high and glow red as if wounded by their years.
A spiritual experience.
Cathedral Gorge itself is like a huge indoor amphitheatre with brilliant acoustics and a reverential feel to it, hence the name. To sit here and ponder the meaning of life is something everyone should have the chance to do once in their lives.
4. Emma Gorge
On the south-eastern aspect of the Cockburn Range on El Questro Station is Emma Gorge.
From the car park we walked for about an hour through palms, rocks and beneath steep escarpments. There are small pools and mini waterfalls along the way. It’s very pretty.
Approaching Emma Falls is like entering a land of myth and legend.
As you climb the hill the thundering water becomes audible from a distance. Then you see the gorge which supports a massive hanging garden; aquatic plants and jade green ferns are suspended from sheer cliff faces along with gnarled dangly tree roots that look like forgotten climbing ropes.
If the scenery doesn’t take your breath away, the waterfall will. It cascades from a dizzy height (the surrounding cliffs rise to 65m) into the rock pool below, where it splatters, slicing the surface of the water into tiny shards of silver that dance like diamonds.
Swim here in the crystal water, and you’ll be entranced for a very long time.
5. Galvans Gorge
This gorge is easily accessible from the Gibb River Road. It’s not far from Mount Barnett Roadhouse and is approached via a short walk along a lily clad creek.
Shaped like a horseshoe the gorge has a picturesque waterfall that falls about 20m into a postcard perfect circular pool. Around the pool are ancient Aboriginal rock paintings, and trees jut out over the water making it a veritable playground for the adventurous to jump and swim.
The air feels pure, the water is clear, birdsong is abundant and the feeling of total serenity is hard to beat.
Ahhh, The Kimberley a place to dream or to just kick back. A place where the gorges are gorge-ous.
If you asked me … I’d go back tomorrow.
Travel Tips For the Kimberley Gorges
- 4WD is recommended along the Gibb River Road.
- Consider travelling with an overland tour company like Adventure Wild if you have limited time available and want to see a lot without spending a fortune or having to change your own tyres!
- Don’t forget to pack mosquito repellent.
- Freshwater crocs at Windjana Gorge should be avoided, although they are not as dangerous as ‘Salties’. However, be crocodile aware at all waterways in the Kimberley.
- Mount Barnett Roadhouse on Mount Barnett Station is about half way along the Gibb River Road. You need to pay an entrance fee for Manning Gorge here (it’s about 7kms further on). Tel: (08) 9191 7007
- Emma Gorge is on El Questro Station. Park permit is $20 a day. Tel: 1300 863 248 or +613 9426 7550.
- Driving yourself into Purnululu National Park is not recommended. For more information about Cathedral Gorge and the Bungle Bungles contact a tour company or Kununurra Visitor Centre Tel: 08 9168 1177.
Editor’s Note: Guest post and photos by Johanna Castro
Johanna Castro is a freelance writer who’s lived in 11 different countries and visited many more. She currently lives in Western Australia and writes a Travel & Lifestyle Blog called Zigazag helping you to Discover, Plan & Share your next Australian adventure.
What travel hot spots do you want to see before you die?!
Thank you for sharing your Kimberley Gorge travel tips with us here. I’ve never visited Western Australia and you make it look and sound stunning. The pic on Mannings gorge is… well… gorgeous:)
I remember them talking about the Bungle Bungles on Neighbours over 20 years ago! We always thought the name was so funny they’d made it up. But now I know better:)
It was a pleasure to write, and thank you for hosting my words and pics.
Western Australia is a magnificent region but so many people are put off because it’s such a long trip from the East Coast of Aus and I think that overseas travellers generally head for The Rock (Uluru), The Bridge (Sydney) and The Reef (Queensland) before considering The West. Which makes it all the more important to use time wisely and know where to go and what to see when you do make it to the West Coast.
The Kimberley is unique and remote. A place to dream and be inspired. Very different and worth the long distance. Oh listen to me, you’d think I was on the tourist board (I’m not!).
And who could resist a place with a name like the Bungle Bungles – I remember it from Neighbours too :)
Wonderful descriptions Jo, takes me right back to the actual experience of visiting these beautiful sights! I agree, something everyone should see during their life.
Thanks Moira, yes I’d like to have a magic wand and transport everyone there just once in their lives!
Lovely pictures – reminds me of a tour I did around Litchfield National Park near Darwin. One day I’ll head back and explore western Australia!
I hope you do get back to explore The Kimberley and Western Australia, Alan. I’ve yet to visit any Darwin National Parks – must get there! Thanks for your kind words.
Lovely photos and descriptions Johanna, well done. My fella and I did a 4WD trip along the Gibb River Road and into the Bungle Bungles when I was expecting our first son, long time ago. Visiting the gorges and swimming in the ones without crocs was just fantastic… and refreshing! Must enjoy the armchair travelling for now, but must return when a grey nomad.
Hi Seanna, glad you enjoyed your trip a while ago. Now’s the time to plan for your grey nomad days – the ones we saw in The Kimberley were having a whale of a time!
Appreciate your comments :)
I am happy to say “tick tick tick” done and been and seen them all! The domes of Purnululu and the sacred feeling of Cathedral Gorge goes beyond words, and swimming under the waterfalls of Emma, Galvins and Manning Gorge are so refreshing it seems surreal the in the hot baked Kimberley, and as for Windjana – only one word it has the WOW factor.
Great post Jo – anybody who has visited will want to now!
Glad you liked the post, Jill :) Thanks for commenting :)
Also good to hear that you feel the same way about the majesty of the Kimberley gorges.
You really have captured the feeling of being in the Kimberleys beautifully Jo. It’s often hard to explain how mind blowingly stunning the scenery along the Gibb River Road is and sometimes how tricky it is to get there. One of the gorges I remember the most required an hour’s drive on a badly carved up road followed by a climb down a couple of ladders. The beautiful ‘beach’ and swimming hole that greeted us, made it all worth while. We headed to Kakadu after the Gibb River drive so I must go back and see the Bungle Bungles. I’m sure you’ve now inspired many to come and visit the fabulous Kimberleys.
We didn’t visit the gorge you had to climb down ladders to get to, Jenny. Sounds like it’s one for the next trip … thanks for the tip. Yes, you have to see the Bungle Bungles just once in your lifetime :)
Great article Jo! Friends of ours are going to do the Adventure Wild trip next year, you have managed to capture the highlights very well, while also providing some of the necessary facts and tips.
There are not enough superlatives to describe Cathedral Gorge. I will never forget Greg playing his didgeridoo in Cathedral Gorge, the hushed tones of everyone visiting that day showed how much reverence this place inspires.
So glad you enjoyed the post Lee, and I agree Cathedral Gorge is just amazing and inspires reverence – I can remember the feeling of serenity so well.