The Kimberley region is situated in the northwest of Australia’s largest and remotest state, Western Australia. It’s an enormous area and to give you an idea of size, it’s about 1.7 times bigger than the UK.
You can expect wide open expanses, along with massive gorges, soaring cliffs, palm trees and spectacular waterfalls, not to mention the 1 million acre cattle stations and never ending dry, burnt sienna vistas that are often covered with spiky, spinifex grass.
And yes, some of the earth and the gravel roads really are red; a deep, rusty red that gets in your clothes and stains your t-shirts!
Many of the gorges and scenic hotspots 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. It has quite a history if you have a chance to read about the pioneering farming families of The Kimberley.
These days though it’s become a magnet for adventure travelers, especially in the dry winter season from about May to September, when the river crossings are passable, the creek levels have dropped, and the waterfalls are flowing after the rains.
Overland Guided Tour or 4 WD Alone?
You can go it alone, but you need to be extremely prepared and you’ll need a 4 wheel drive vehicle to cope with the 600kms or so of dusty roads which often have deep furrowed corrugations and only the occasional service station. Or you can book a tour with an Outback tour company which requires less planning and will often cost about the same, depending on which company you choose.
I travelled with Adventure Wild on a 12 day camping 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.
Bag: We were told to keep our packing to under 15kg in a squidgy stuff bag 65cm long x 35cm wide x 30cm high rather than a hard sided suitcase because all luggage is thrown on top of the bus under a tarpaulin and space is limited. There were washing facilities at some of the camp sites and in Kununurra, so clothes didn’t have to stay clean for the whole 12 days.
Day Pack: Also take a small day pack with you, so that you can keep your day time essentials handy under your seat, and also take it with you on hikes into the gorges.
Walking Footwear: You’ll need comfortable walking boots or sturdy walking shoes, and a pair of all terrain sandals, as you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking. Some of the terrain is rocky and the rocks in the gorges can be slippery. All terrain sandals can also be used for walking over uneven rocky surfaces and on hikes where you will get your feet wet. I took my old tried and tested hiking boots and a pair of lightweight all terrain sandals.
Camp Footwear: Thongs (flip flops for North Americans) or Crocs or Sandals because you won’t want to walk around barefoot due to the possibility of snakes and spiders.
Socks: Two thick pairs for boots or two thin pairs if you are taking walking shoes.
Hat: One that gives good cover – preferably that has flaps to cover your ears and neck. The ozone level in Australia really is thin.
Long Trousers: One or two pairs of lightweight ‘longs’ suitable for hiking if it’s cold and suitable for wearing around the camp fire at night. If they are soft (trackies) you may even end up sleeping in them too.
Shorts: Two or three pairs, preferably non crease and easy dry.
T-Shirts: Three for daytime and a long sleeved, loose fitting shirt as a sun cover up that you can also use in the evenings (Remember there are mossies in the Kimberley)
A warm jacket or polo fleece: Because it does get cold at night.
Beanie and possibly gloves: Yes, as hot as it gets in the day (very hot) the temperature can really drop at night to very cold.
Underwear: Comfortable underwear to last about 6 days (you can wash along the way) and perhaps thermals for night time.
Nightie or Pyjamas, and bed socks.
Bathers or board-shorts: Boardies can also be used for walking, and are a good option if you wear them with say a bikini top to swim across a river or swim in a gorge, and then go for a hike, as they drip dry quickly.
A sarong: It’s a great cover-up when you need to go to the ablution block, and great for walking around camp in the heat of the day. It can be used as a towel, a sheet, a light cover, a pillow, a picnic blanket or a shawl at nighttime.
Toiletries, Health & Safety
Toiletries: Eco-toiletries sensitive to the environment are the best, and don’t forget tampons and sanitary pads as required. Razor. Hair brush (there will not be any hair driers). Scrunchies if you have long hair. Lip stick, blusher and mascara (if you must). (Read through the low-key traveler’s beauty kit for advice)
Sunscreen: You will be able to purchase more along the way, but definitely take enough to last you for about 5 days.
Insect repellent: It’s essential.
Anti-histamine tablets or creams: Recommended.
Basic first aid items: Bandaids, headache tablets, prescription medicine, spectacles, anti bacterial cream for small scratches or blisters.
Moisturiser for girls: Remember it’s a dry heat in The Kimberley.
Tissues and Wet Wipes: Toilet paper is generally available.
Easi-dry camping towel: Pack a small easi-dry camping towel and keep it in your daypack (great for quick dry offs after river swims, and great to quickly dry any drops of water off your camera or phone).
A towel for showering.
Camera and charger: There will be amazing waterfalls, gorges and golden red sunsets – so make sure your camera has enough memory too.
Head Lamp Torch and batteries: It’s pitch black in the Kimberley region at night.
Mobile Phone and charger: Reception is rarely available but on the occasions it is, the tour guide will tell you, or take you to the best spot for cell phone coverage.
iPad if you have one: You’ll want to record your trip right?
Adventure Wild had a coach fitted with a 12v/240v inverter system to keep cameras and laptops/iPads charged throughout the trip – so don’t forget your chargers.
Fly Net: One that drops over your hat. Sometimes the flys in the Outback can be pesky – think humungous cattle stations.
Water bottle or camelback: To carry when walking
Swags or tents with swags will be provided, so you won’t need sheets or bedding. Adventure Wild supply you with a Sleeping Bag, Pillow & Pillowcase.
Take a good attitude too: On an overland trip like this you’ll need to always be prepared for the unexpected, so you need to be able to go with the flow and be open to adventure.
>> If you would like to read more about Jo’s trip to the Kimberley pop over to her blog ZigaZag: Why You Should Escape to the Kimberley
Any additional tips you’d provide on how to pack for outback camping tours in The Kimberley? Add them in the comments below.
* * * * *
About the Author: Jo Castro is a Freelance Writer and travel expert. Her Western Australia Travel and Lifestyle Blog, ZigaZag helps people to “Live for the Moment, Love Adventure and Do Something Awesome.” Jo’s written for 40+ print, and several online publications, has self published a children’s novel for charity, lived in 11 different countries, is married to a geologist and has two well travelled, grown up children. She now lives near a beach in Western Australia where her gypsy heart is content, but maybe not quite tamed.
*All photos except for title photo by Jo Castro.
Book a Viator Tour Before You Go
9-Day Kimberley Camping Tour from Broome Including Windjana Gorge and the Bungle Bungles – $1,808.57*
This nine day 4WD adventure explores those Kimberley highlights you have always wanted to experience- encountering wildlife in Windjana Gorge, the adventure of Tunnel Creek, a journey along the famous Gibb River Road, magnificent El Questro Wilderness Park, Kununurra, Lake Argyle, the World-Heritage protected Bungle Bungles and the dramatic Geikie Gorge.