Winters chills may be kicking in, but if you’re the type who’d normally get on a plane and head for the sun, what now?
With sunny Bali and the northern hemisphere ruled out this year, thanks to that pesky virus, where to go?
West Australians, there’s never been a better time to venture north, to explore that remote part of our very own State that many of us still don’t know well: The Kimberley.
“It’s just the most wonderful part of Australia,” enthuses Iolanthe Fitzgerald, 29, who grew up in the region.
“This year, of course, with the borders closed, we have the whole region to ourselves!”
Iolanthe is marketing manager of Kingfisher Tours, which her mother Rosie Sandover founded eight years ago. This family business specializes in small, quality eco tours showcasing highlights of the region.
“Our team is the dream team in the Kimberley,” she says with pride, “All our staff are locals, our Aboriginal guides and our bookings staff have all grown up here.”
One of the biggest drawcards is the Bungle Bungles, those striking and ancient beehive shaped rock formations in East Kimberley’s Purnululu National Park.
Normally at this time of year, tens of thousands of tourists are flocking to this World Heritage Site in our far north to see its breathtaking scenery and abundance of wildlife.
“Usually about 140,000 tourists visit the Kimberley each winter; most are from elsewhere in Australia or overseas. This year, of course, West Australians get to explore the entire region on our own. It’s a really, really special time to be able to get there,” she enthuses.
“There’s so much to see and it still astounds me that many of my friends in Perth, where I went to boarding school, still don’t know this pristine and breathtakingly beautiful part of our State. There’s magnificent Lake Argyle, the Ord River, and numerous secret waterfalls and special places to see.”
Exploring the Bungle Bungle Range, 250 km south of Kununurra, “is one of our most popular tours,” Iolanthe explains.
“Some visitors just fly want to there from Broome or Kununura for a quick scenic tour, but the vast majority want to actually walk through the region and experience its wonder over several days.”
For that, Kingfisher is better placed than most.
Its Bungles tours are led by Bec Sampi, a Gija woman, who is Kingfisher’s head guide and is based for this season in Purnululu National Park. Bec greets guests in her four wheel drive with a huge smile and welcomes them to country.
Next, she takes them on a walking tour of the stunning region, telling colourful dreamtime stories, “like that of the cheeky echidna who gets up to all sorts of trouble and has to hide in caves,” and sharing traditional bush tucker and bush medicine knowledge on the way.
Expect to see plenty of wildlife: rock wallabies, goannas, perhaps even a python or echidna. “The bird life is wonderful too,” says Iolanthe. “Brolgas, kites, egrets, sandpipers, jacanas, Gouldian Finches.. it’s a twitcher’s dream!”
After a delicious morning tea, Bec leads guests up to spectacular Echidna Cave lookout. Later at Cathedral Gorge, Bec sings her people’s moving ancient songs with her clapping sticks.
After the tour, guests can either stay overnight at a local lodge, or return to Broome or Kununurra.
“We will tailor our tours to suits the needs of our guests, be it a one day tour, or an Ultimate Kimberley itinerary over a few days,” explains Iolanthe.
“Some people may be in the Kimberley for say, 10 days, and may want to do a couple of tours, like our Secret Waterfall Adventure – where we visit a beautiful part of the country most locals haven’t been – then spend the bulk of the time doing their own thing. So we can help them find the right accommodation and organize a couple of tours, perhaps a boat trip along the Upper Ord River or a visit to the Argyle Diamond Mine.”
The mine, one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds, has been operating since 1983 and is closing next year.
“A lot of our visitors are really keen on touring the mine and they end up buying something special in the diamond shop on the site,” says Iolanthe. “Be warned, just because we’re in a special and remote part of the planet, there’s still shopping to be done up here!”
She says these days Kununurra, population 7500, sports a variety of cafes and restaurants, including the PumpHouse with an open air deck overlooking Lake Kununurra.
“It’s an interesting little town, with a couple of good galleries too. Our office in Kununurra is sandwiched between two cafes, which suits us very nicely,” she giggles.
“Of course, more people heading north still fly first to Broome rather than Kununurra, which is closer to Purnululu National Park, but either way, we are there to help our guests arrange their itineraries.”
This year Kingfisher Tours will be open for business until September 20, a shorter season than usual, so Iolanthe urges West Australians keen on knowing this part of our home State more intimately not to delay. “Get in touch and help us to help you work out a terrific itinerary,” she urges.
“Not only will you be doing your bit to keep Kimberley locals employed, you’ll get to see this precious part of the world with way less tourists. A win win!”
To enquire about a Kingfisher tour visit kingfishertours.com.au , phone 08 91682718, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.