There’s something about the notion of going off the beaten track that’s so romantic and idealistic – and yet something that I’ve never really wanted to do. Ever. I fit all the Gen Y stereotypes – a total tech baby, very attached to my phone and laptop and with far more Facebook friends than I’d ever have in real life.
Enter Inspiring Journeys, who took me on an epic adventure through the Kimberley where my phone stopped working within ten minutes of getting on the bus and didn’t get reception again until seven days later. For someone that is never switched off – and I mean NEVER – it was definitely an experience. Apart from the rare moments I spent running around the outback trying to find decent internet reception to check my email, I had no contact with the outside world for an entire week – and I loved it.
But let’s go back to the beginning. I started my journey on a gorgeous 35-degree late September day in Broome, with five other travellers. We were greeted by our Journey Leader, Justine, and Navigator, Peter, before being led to our home base for the next week, Stella. Stella was an enormous 4wd bus with all the creature comforts on board – leather seats, a fridge, bathroom, televisions, magazines and books, and air-conditioning. Oh, the air-conditioning.
After having a brief wander around lovely Broome to stock up on essentials for the week (Dairy Milk chocolate for me, thanks) we climbed onto Stella and settled into our seats for the hours’ journey to the Eco Beach Resort, about 130 km south west of Broome.
Eco Beach is the kind of place you might conjure up in your imagination if the word “perfection” ever gets mentioned. It’s a resort owned by Karl Plunkett and was completely rebuilt in 2009 after being destroyed by Cyclone Rosita in 2000. The result is heaven. Blue skies, turquoise water and endless white-sanded beaches, which disappear and appear with the tides. Perched up on a hill overlooking the beach is the main restaurant area, which also features a gorgeous infinity pool and plush sun lounges.
At Eco Beach you have a variety of accommodation available at your disposal – everything from luxury beach houses to luxury tents, where we stayed. I know the words “luxury” and “tent” generally don’t go together, but that’s exactly what they were. The canvas structures are the next big thing in eco-friendly accommodation and come complete with wooden floors, king size beds, showers and – most importantly – working toilets. Be warned, though – like most tents, they aren’t the place to be noisy, and a little bit of sound carries a long way. They’re also run off solar power, so charging a laptop is a no-go; smaller devices such as phones are okay. If you want a fridge you’ll have to look into the cabins – I stored my chocolate in the esky provided.
Admittedly I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in my tent, as Eco Beach is exactly the kind of place where you want to be outdoors as much as possible. We enjoyed a guided bushwalk by a local Indigenous guide, Kurt, which eventually ended up at a secluded beach about an hour away from the resort. We found bright yellow kayaks waiting for us on the sand and returned by sea, admiring the bright red (harmless) jellyfish along the way. After a quick sustainability tour, the afternoon was ours. I lay in the beach, then on a massage table, then by the pool, accompanied by nothing but a lengthy novel. (There’s also a stunning yoga room set up on the hills overlooking the beach if that’s your thing.)
After all that, a well-deserved dinner was in place; food was pricey (as it is in most of Western Australia) but largely stocked by the sustainable gardens and local farms. Steak, barramundi and chicken, as well as various vegetarian options, were all abundant on the menu and delicious.
You’ll find mostly couples and families with older children at Eco Beach – while small children are welcome, they’re not particularly well-catered for, with no separate kids pool or kids menu. Older children and teenagers will be in heaven, with plenty to keep them entertained and lots of free space to explore, while couples will have plenty of memories to take away from this peaceful place. You’ll find the majority of people visit in June/July, however at the tail end of the dry season – when I visited in late September – it was perfect weather and not crowded at all.
All good things come to an end, however – and are hopefully followed by further good things, which was exactly the case when we traveled onwards to Cape Leveque. It’s about 220 km north of Broome and just about a full day’s journey, however the drive is broken up with several pit stops, including a visit to the stunning Willie Creek Pearl Farm and the ornate Sacred Heart Church in Beagle Bay. After a childhood spent in the car on lengthy road trips around Australia, I’m the first to admit I don’t like driving long distances – but with the longest stretch in Stella only ever being two hours at a time, it hardly felt like we spent an entire day travelling.
Kooljaman at Cape Leveque has a very different vibe to Eco Beach – there’s rustic accommodation sprawled out over a large area of land, as well as busy campgrounds full of families having a great time. There are two beaches – a western beach which is glorious for sunsets but not recommended for swimming, and a stunning eastern swimming beach with gentle waves and soft sand that kids and adults alike will adore.
The tents at Kooljaman are bigger too, with a fully stocked kitchen and large bathroom, as well as a balcony – complete with barbeque – that overlooks the beach. While you can have dinner at the large common restaurant area, you can elect to have Bush Butler packs delivered to your room for breakfast and lunch – baskets full of eggs, bacon, steaks, cereal and all sorts of goodies that you can cook up on the barbeque, and plenty of options for little ones too.
Kooljaman is set on the edge of land which is owned by the Djarindjin community and which you’re not allowed to access unless you’re with an elder – and this is the best way to see a side of the Kimberley which few people get to experience. Our Indigenous guide Brian picked us up early in the morning in his dusty 4wd without much forewarning as to what was coming – the only thing he said was to prepare to get muddy. After driving a good hour through the bush and sand dunes, we pulled up alongside the mangroves. Brian handed out some large metal sticks and armed with only them, we climbed through the mangroves to go mud-crabbing. It’s not something I ever thought I would do and yet it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The naïve city girl in me was expecting some tiny, cute mud crabs to scuttle out of a couple of holes – the reality involved reaching into muddy puddles to pull out enormous crustaceans with pincers the size of my hand.
After driving to the tip of the Dampier Peninsula and watching some reef sharks and a turtle swim just off the point, we were treated to a feast of mud crab cooked over a fire and broken open in the salt water of our very own private beach. We ate naturally seasoned mud crab straight out of the shell with our feet in the water – and I’m not a big seafood eater at all but if it had turned out to be my last meal, I wouldn’t have been disappointed.
The next twenty-four hours was spent in leisurely bliss on the beaches of Cape Leveque, where I had grand plans to go snorkeling but ended up conking out on the beach with my iPod and sleeping on my towel for a good three hours. It’s funny how quickly you adjust to holiday time – in Sydney I will run around like a headless chook for eighteen hours on end without stopping to think, whereas in Broome I was struggling to get through a few hours of activities without requiring a nap.
Sunset drinks is one of my favourite things about Western Australia and something we got to experience at Cape Leveque, sitting at a picnic table on the western beach while feasting on kangaroo, barramundi, lamb, chicken and amazing salads.
The next afternoon we were set to catch a charter flight to Fitzroy River, however ‘Broome time’ was strongly in place and so we took a brief detour to the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre in One Arm Point, where we were able to pat green turtles, pick up baby turtles, and feed barramundi (I’m not going to give away too much here expect to say that it was a TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE).
It took just over an hour to get to Fitzroy River on our eight-seater Cessna (of which I was unofficial co-pilot) where we settled at the Fitzroy River Lodge before heading to Geikie Gorge for a river cruise to spot some freshwater crocodiles. The Lodge is clean, comfortable and a great place to stop over on your way to other destinations, and the river cruise is the perfect way to unwind in the afternoon while looking at some amazing scenery.
The next day saw a trip to the Tunnel Creek Cave Walk which I was, admittedly, apprehensive about. Imagine walking waist-deep through the water of a cave that’s known to be home to fresh water crocodiles, bats and various other critters. Now imagine doing it in the dark, and that’s the cave walk for you. Armed with only head torches, we made our way slowly through the cave which turned out to be absolutely stunning – and completely worth the fear of getting your arm chewed off by a croc (which has never actually happened, mind you).
After a picnic lunch and an afternoon drive on Stella, where we enjoyed a spot of trivia and even a movie with popcorn, we arrived at Mornington Wilderness Camp which is truly an experience to be had. Located in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by native bushland, Mornington has several eco tents and camping sites available for accommodation, a main kitchen area and not much else. It’s stunning, incredibly peaceful and inspiring in terms of the work they are doing to sustain the native wildlife.
We had a beautiful dinner, followed by a Powerpoint presentation out in the wilderness and a couple of glasses of wine. Going to bed was a bit of a challenge as the bathroom had quite a few frogs in residence and I don’t appreciate amphibians as much as I should – but only one jumped on my head and after a few girly squeals I drifted off to sleep in my gorgeous (carpeted!) eco tent.
Our final day was spent looking at termite mounds and relaxing by a beautiful river with a picnic lunch, as well as pool noodles and snorkel sets. We reluctantly set off back home by catching a charter flight back to Broome, where I found myself turning on my phone and being really annoyed by the messages flooding into my inbox.
It was an unforgettable adventure, a brilliant getaway and made all the more better by the little touches added in by Inspiring Journeys – everything from the lovely afternoon teas while on the road to the chocolates and postcard left in our room on the day of our departure. I’ll have stories to come from this trip for years.
If you’re going to travel the Kimberley – or any outback location for that matter – Inspiring Journeys is the company to do it with. There wasn’t a moment of the trip I didn’t enjoy – except maybe the part when I had to get home to my laptop which, surprisingly, I didn’t miss at all.
Nat was a guest of Inspiring Journeys.
Flick through the gallery of my trip to see more incredible photos:
Justine, Peter and I in front of Stella. Justine and Peter were friendly, knowledgable and lots of fun - everything you want in a guide.