WA has enough to entice even the most sophisticated traveller, discovers Jessica Zoiti.
WA has enough to entice even the most sophisticated traveller, discovers Jessica Zoiti.
Glamping [glamorous + camping] – a form of going camping, with glamour. It’s like regular camping, but with nicer things than usual – being warmer, good food and the physical comforts associated with more luxurious types of holiday.
Faraway Bay has been showcased as one of the top 12 Australian Glamping Experiences on Tourism Australia’s Facebook page. Check out what travel-lovers around the world are saying…
Guests of Faraway Bay are loving our new indulgent bar and lounge – the ‘Quoll Bar’
Choose from a selection of quality beers on tap and a refreshed wine list showcasing fine West Australian red, white and sparkling wines. With all beverages and gourmet meals fully-inclusive at Faraway Bay, the only thing to do is choose!
Faraway Bay owner and operator, Kevin Reilly says the Quoll Bar is proving popular with guests, as another perfect place for lounging and soaking up the atmosphere of the bay.
“As well as great views, it provides another area for our guests to relax in true Aussie outback style,” Kevin said.
The bar was introduced as an eco-friendly initiative to reduce waste at the camp, and is named after a friendly family of Northern Quolls who visit Eagle Lodge each night.
“The visits are a real treat for our guests, so we had no choice but to call it the ‘Quoll Bar’!”
FIRST-TIME SPECIAL EVENT – PLACES LIMITED!
– ‘Escape with the Winemaker’, hosted by Larry Cherubino
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to spend three days with one of Australia’s most acclaimed winemakers, Larry Cherubino, at Faraway Bay’s inaugural ‘Escape with the Winemaker’ special event.
Named ‘Winery of the Year’ in James Halliday’s 2011 Wine Companion and ‘Producer of the Year’ in Matt Skinner’s 2011 Wine Guide, Western Australia’s Larry Cherubino Wines is among our country’s finest. With more than 300 medals to his name, Larry has had a distinguished career working in some of the most sought-after wine-producing regions in Australia and overseas.
Book for this exclusive three-day package and you’ll be one of only 16 privileged guests to share Larry’s intimate winemaking secrets firsthand. Enjoy premium wine tastings of Larry Cherubino Wines, wine and food matching and much more – accompanied by all of Faraway Bay’s [intlink id=”21″ type=”page”]regular attractions[/intlink].
The inaugural three-day ‘Escape with the Winemaker’ package includes:
View our package pricing here, or [intlink id=”37″ type=”page”]contact us[/intlink] to enquire or secure your booking.
They say time at Faraway Bay is measured in tides and sunsets. The water is clear and deep and the big sky an endless blue. Sound like paradise? Well, that’s because it is.
For Perth business couple Kevin and Kathie Reilly the utopian blue waters of Faraway Bay on the remote Kimberley coast have become the ultimate sea change.
In search of a second business to complement their seasonal Perth operation, Caribou Charters, Mr Reilly said he was “blown away” when he flew to the Faraway Bay resort after seeing an advertisement in Geraldton.
Having bought the 25ha property, 280km north-west of Kununurra, from Kimberley legends Bruce and Robyn Ellison earlier this year, the Perth couple have spent the past month settling into what will be their home for six months each year.
Mobile phone coverage is unheard of here, stars provide the night-time entertainment, groceries arrive once a week by plane and freshly caught fish is a staple.
As one staff member comments: “Even the toilets are flushed with spring water.”
Although neither party to the deal will reveal what paradise costs, one industry source estimated the remote Kimberley property to be worth between $3 million and $4 million.
But paradise also has its hazards. “There’s a big croc which comes into the bay every now and then .. . he looks like a battleship when he glides in,” Mr Reilly says.
“He comes in here and checks on his harem of girlfriends up the creek and then cruises off again.”
While Mrs Reilly will spend time in Perth, where the couple’s youngest son Griffin, 13, goes to school, her husband will remain on the Kimberley coast throughout the tourist season.
Looking out over a spring-fed plunge pool, the former rock lobster fisherman does not pause to think when asked if he will miss city life. “No, I don’t think so,” Mr Reilly laughs.
Wild and untouched, the remote Kimberley is waiting for the adventurous explorer.
There’s a dream-like quality to north-western Australia. High up in the Kimberley, the land is layered with legends and mystical happenings. You discover ancient lives and wilderness so remote, its creeks and headlands have names known only to those who have lived there, names that don’t yet appear on any official map.
Travelling into the sun, from east to west, I journey with travel company Outback Encounter, on a trip that leads from an iconic cattle station near Kununurra in the eastern Kimberley to secluded tourist camps on the far north-western coast of the continent. Romantic and remote, the Kimberley is between the major gateways of Kununurra and distant Broome, linked by the legendary 660km Gibb River Road. The journey is half the adventure, starting with Bullo River Station, where buffalos watch our helicopter drift across white clouds, on our way to waterfalls barely touched by humans.
“Bullo’s a little lost valley,” says owner Marlee Ranacher, who, like her mother Sara Henderson, has written books about the huge property. From Bullo, our light aircraft skims the top of Western Australia to what is surely the country’s most isolated airstrip, a cross of mown grass at Mitchell Plateau. Below, long, orange dirt roads wend their way to remote communities perched on the coastline of the Timor Sea. In the month after the Wet season, the roads are lined with mangroves and wetlands that glisten in sunlight.
We set sail from Mitchell Falls to the next stop, Faraway Bay, a tiny camp just shy of Cape Londonderry, the most northerly point on the Australian mainland. Gliding down a quiet river in slow boats, we watch diamond mullet bubbling in the mangroves, and spy long deep grooves in the soft, riverside mud.
From there, it’s back to the airstrip and onto another chopper to the other-worldly Kimberley Coastal Camp, a collection of little gazebos beloved by artists, bushwalkers, barramundi hunters and those seeking solitude. We’re sent out on our art walk with fresh focaccia burning our hands and sweet rainwater in our bottles, to visit a swimming hole and to meet the local spirits, living in a beautifully painted cave. When darkness falls each night, a handful of like-minded spirits converge over dinner, talking about the prolific birdlife, great human survival tales and awe-inspiring art galleries, and we all agree we have never been anywhere so beautiful.
when to go In the Dry season, from April to October. Many properties and roads are closed during the Wet.
what to bring As little as possible: helicopters impose a 10kg limit per person. Just sarongs, swimmers, hats, sunscreen and insect repellent!
getting there Virgin Blue flies Sydney to Broome via Perth twice daily and has several flights each day from Sydney to Darwin. Qantas flies Sydney to Broome via Perth daily, with direct flights from Sydney to Broome from April-September, visit qantas.com.au. Each property (see details below) can organise transfers from Broome, Kununurra or Darwin.
staying there Outback Encounter arranges individually customised holidays to all accommodation mentioned, (08) 8354 4405, outbackencounter.com. Kimberley Coastal Camp is a short helicopter trip from Mitchell Airstrip, 600km north of Broome. Packages from $1590pp, 0417 902 006, kimberleycoastalcamp.com.au. Bullo River Station is a working homestead 110km east of Kununurra. Two-night packages from $2740pp, (08) 8354 2719, bulloriver.com. Faraway Bay is 280km north-west of Kununurra and accessible only by air. Three-night packages from $3460pp, (08) 9169 1214, farawaybay.com.au. Rates for all properties includes all food, accommodation, most activities and some transfers.
Eat Catch dinner daily at Eagle Lodge, a cliff-top eatery that specializes in fresh seafood (like barramundi) and locally grown produce.
Play Let the great outdoors be your playground. Birdwatch, fish, bush-walk, swim in freshwater pools and spy on sunning crocodiles in a lagoon.
Love Poised above the Timor Sea, the exclusive and isolated Bush Camp is built from repurposed materials and has room for only 12 guests, its slogan – “You’ve never been this far away” isn’t hyperbole.
From $3,460 for three nights; farawaybay.com.au
FARAWAY BAY BUSH CAMP is what it says it is: a bush camp. It’s sleeping under a mosquito net, geckos climbing the walls at night, waking to a 5.30am sunrise, keeping an eye out for snakes and the resident crocodile, and showering outdoors in a cubicle of corrugated tin.
The indulgence is in the solitude and the landscape. This remote destination, on the northern tip of Westem Australia, an hour’s ride in a light plane 280km north-west ofKunnunurra, presents the Australian bush up dose and personal. A daytrip aboard the 13m cruiserDiamond Lass to the 80m-high twin King George Falls takes you among the geological wonders that are Kimbeley cliffs; excursions over bumpy tracks in a troop carrier lead to shady billabongs, great bushwalking and rock art that nods to the Bradshaw oeuvre.
Many guests (the maximum is 12 at any one time) come for several days of uninterrupted fishing-for barramundl, trevally, mangrove jack, queenfish. Dinner is more often than not the catch of the day. It’s eaten at Eagle Lodge – a partly alfresco, communal, stone-paved, old wharf pylon-supported “living room”. Others come to get away from it all – and really mean it.
There’s no mobile phone reception, TV or convenience store down the road, although food and drink are pretty much on tap. A little rock pool and a high-powered telescope are happy distractions for “at-home” days.
The region is home to a swag of creatures, including the wallaroo, northern quoll, a short-eared rock wallaby, the rocket frog and the dugong. There are blue-winged kookaburras, double-barred finches and the great billed heron. A brahminy kite does a regular daily flypast aniticipating the kindness of stangers.
An aquatic fauna survey of nearby Gumboot Bay (proposed as a landing site diamond exploeres Striker Resources not so long ago, a project presently halted) uncovered an isopod considered a living fossil and “new to science” as well as rare populations of exquisite rainbowfish (Melanotaemia exquisita) and two potentially new species of glassfish and catfish.
The camp, open from April to October each year, is owned by Bruce and Robyn Ellison who built it in 1996 – and again in 2005 after it was flattened by Cydone Ingid. They juggle the transfers to and from an airstrip 4km away, and the permutations of guest activities. The Ellisons are invaluable guides, as is the bushman staffer Steve McIntosh who returns to the bush camp year after year and is involved in a variety of fieldwork for Australian universities. Identifying sharks and their distribution patterns in the north-west, and spending years discovering Aboriginal rock art in the region. He has bush skills to burn.
A three-day/three-night pachage starts at $3460 and includes pick-up from your Kununurra accommodation, air transfers, accommodation at Faraway Bay, guided activities, boat charter, meals, soft drinks, wine and beer.
70 minutes’ flight from Kununurra, Western Australia
(08) 91691214 www.farawaybay.com.au
The Kimberley remains one of the world’s most inaccessible and isolated destinations. It is a land of extremes. While difficult to appreciate from the ground, a helicopter is the ideal way to appreciate the sheer scale and stunning beauty of this fascinating region.
If you travel by Squirrel, like we did, you will enjoy air-conditioned comfort and wide, leather seats.
They can safely allow you to fly as low as 500 feet, land anywhere and have an excellent safety record – even if the engine cuts out, they are designed to auto-rotate and land gently.
Best of all, they can provide access to accommodation, attractions and fishing holes that aren’t otherwise accessible and provide an experience that is still limited to a privileged few.
No trip to the Kimberley should overlook the famed Bradshaw art, discovered in 1891 by explorer Joseph Bradshaw.
This world-renowned and distinctive art often depicts tall slender people with elaborate headdress and adornments It is thought to the work of the earliest inhabitants of Northern Australia, even before the arrival of the Aboriginals to this part of the Kimberley approximately 10,000 years ago, but this is still somewhat a mystery. Wonderful examples of Bradshaw art can be viewed at both the Kimberley Coastal Camp and Faraway Bay.
We started our trip in Broome and rather than staying in town, we flew just two minutes north to Coconut Well and spent our first night at the very new Amsara.
Arriving that afternoon, we soon found ourselves in the pool, gin in hand, overlooking the magnificent Cable Beach. Despite being just out of town, one of the advantages of this location is its relative isolation. We took an hour-long morning drive in the Amsara 4WD 10km along Cable Beach and saw no one. Perched up high and 500m back from the beach, Amsara allows you to enjoy the sweeping ocean views from either the pool or shaded garden without fear of mozzies and with a surprising lack of bugs.
Amsara offers complete privacy – there are only two apartments – and is a lovely alternative to the resort options in town, but its proximity to Broome also means that even a one-night stay (like we enjoyed) is well worth the visit.
The apartments are sleek and open with all the amenities you would expect.
However, what makes this place stand out is the homemade produce and cooking. From breakfast in the garden to a magnificent rack of lamb for dinner, owners Don and Jan Hodgson ensure a stay at their establishment is a culinary delight.
We set off from Amsara at 9am, taking about an hour to run up the coast to Cape Leveque, enjoying the wonderful contrast between white sand beaches and deep red mini (three to four metre-high) cliffs.
From there we headed east across the incredible surging tides of the Buccaneer Archipelago, getting a birds-eye view of the distinctive “Kimberley curtain” – the black indicating the high tide mark.
After refuelling at Koolan Island, we flew several times over the Horizontal Falls in Talbot Bay, probably the region’s best-known natural attraction. This natural wonder sits in a narrow gap in the rocks between a massive inlet and the rising and falling sea level, creating a natural waterfall.
As we were visiting at the end of the Wet season, we also took in the magical King Cascades on Prince Regent River and flew over a campsite we had landed on two years previously to see our pile of wood still untouched, an indication of how isolated this region is.
Heading north, we took up an invitation for lunch and a quick stopover at the Kimberley Coastal Camp, which is only accessible by boat or helicopter, with no road in or nearby airstrip.
This must be one of the most isolated places in Australia and has a real Robinson Crusoe feel, wonderful in its practical combination of simplicity but relative luxury forged out of an unforgiving environment – there would be few places like this in the world and the tranquillity is complete.
It is a fisherman’s paradise, and the waters are abundant with everything from the famous barramundi to mangrove jack, finger mark, mulloway, threadfin salmon, giant trevally, Spanish mackerel, tuna, queen fish, coral trout, blue bone and numerous other species.
But the ample fishing is just one reason to stay. The weather is reliable and the waters calm, creating the perfect environment for exploring the coast in the camp’s “Barra Boats” or the more comfortable 7.5m Warabi.
Pluck succulent oysters off the rocks or pick mud crabs from the mangrove-lined creeks all the while visiting beautiful white sand beaches or relaxing on a deserted island while your guide cooks up the day’s catch. Interested?
Kimberley Coastal Camp is also a haven for birdwatchers, artists, photographers and naturalists. This part of the Kimberley coast contains an extraordinary diversity of habitats including stunning sandstone outcrops, tranquil billabongs, open woodland, paperbark-lined rivers, huge tidal estuaries, mangrove-lined creeks, remnant patches of rainforest, and idyllic islands and beaches.
Turtles, wallabies, dingoes, sea eagles, crocodiles and even the occasional humpback whale and calf are all inhabitants of this truly pristine environment. Walking trails have been created to cater for a quick pre-dinner stroll through to an all-day hike. The rock art is another fascinating attraction and this part of the Kimberley has one of the richest repositories in the world.
Scattered among the red sandstone and native grasses, the fully netted huts are basic but comfortable, with a mix of king and twin/single beds, ceiling fans and views of the gulf.
The common area, “The Shed”, is the real highlight and straight out of Gilligan’s Island with a large open-sided pavilion, built using recycled timber, with high raked ceilings.
The huge swinging day bed, (built, like most of the camp, by owner Rocky Terry) is the perfect place to eat, relax or fall asleep.
Renowned for the lovely Bella’s cooking, we enjoyed just one extraordinary lunch before going on our way, but I would recommend the Kimberley Coastal Camp for at least a week. It’s welcoming, mystical and unique.
Further around the coast, the internationally celebrated Faraway Bay provides a similar range of activities and environment but is another level up in luxury.
Arriving late afternoon, we quickly found ourselves sitting in the rock pool watching another glorious Kimberley sunset over the bay, while enjoying the obligatory sunset drink and hors d’oeuvres – this is about as good as it gets.
Two nights were not nearly enough and it is no wonder so many guests are now repeat visitors and often before leaving book the same time for the following year.
Faraway Bay is the product of many years of hard work by Bruce Ellison and his wife Robyn. Bruce lives on site and knows the area intimately having worked previously for many years as a contractor, surveying and setting up isolated work camps for mining companies.
Only after discovering the current location of Faraway Bay did he realise he had found paradise, a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay, a beautiful beach and a permanent spring providing the camp with a never-ending supply of the freshest of water.
Upon this spot, perched on a headland overlooking the tranquil waters of Faraway Bay, Bruce built Eagle Lodge.
Spectacular in its rustic simplicity and built around the natural undulations of the land, this open-air kitchen come dining room is where guests get to eat, relax and enjoy the majesty of the view. It is beautifully finished with a slate floor and enormous jarrah beams recovered from the Wyndham Wharf, with a choice of hammock, slouch chairs or rock pool for chilling out.
A fully stocked cool room and long, open kitchen is put to good use by your personal chef cooking a range of delicacies throughout the day.
This is where you get to feast on freshly caught wild barramundi, mangrove jacks, and reef fish, home-baked bread and exotic, sun-ripened fruit and vegetables picked and flown in from Kununurra’s Ord River. Frasers’ chef Chris Taylor also runs an applauded cooking school on a seasonal basis.
There are eight cabins, all well appointed in that casual Kimberley way, sleeping a maximum of 16 guests. In typical owner-operator style, Bruce doesn’t like to have more than 12 at a time, unless visitors come in one group, as they lose that sense of intimacy and personalised service for which they have become known.
Pride over profit – I love it! Six of the eight cabins have their own indoor bathroom plus an outdoor, solar-heated, spring-water shower surrounded by shoulder-high corrugated iron, which allows you to enjoy the view of the bay and stars while showering in total privacy.
Faraway Bay offers an impressive range of activities to choose from. The awe-inspiring King George Sound Falls is a gentle two-hour boat ride around the coast in the 45-foot Diamond Lass, plus there is an endless range of fishing locations nearby.
Arriving early in the season, we also spent a few hours at Monitors.
One of many natural swimming holes, Monitors is some 20 by 30 metres across and created by an awesome waterfall that tends to slow as the season progresses.
We also visited once-popular Aboriginal meeting places where metre-deep mounds of sun-whitened oyster shells have built up over thousands of years.
Like anywhere, your hosts make the difference between an average and extraordinary stay. Now in his ninth season, our guide Steve is probably the most valuable asset at Faraway Bay. A relatively young bloke in his thirties, Steve has a real Crocodile Dundee feel about him.
Lean and with a swarthy look, he is clearly capable of just about any task required from fishing to explaining rock art, boat engine repairs to finding bush tucker.
Our wives were also more than impressed – with Steve as our guide, the girls were suddenly and inordinately passionate about going fishing!
If time permits, ask Steve to take you on one of the several walking trails. Explore the area and view some of the amazing rock art, much of which he has discovered and continues to discover each season. Even if bird watching has not been your thing, you will quickly become enthralled by his knowledge of the vast birdlife in the area.
Although we later flew through the deep and winding water-filled canyons of the King George Sound River, we didn’t have a chance to take the day trip by boat. We chose instead to enjoy some great fishing adventures, catching everything from estuary cod to barra and threadfin salmon while losing a few to small sharks.
This is lazy man’s fishing with no skills required and Steve always ready to bait and untangle lines. Get up close and personal with the resident crocs or hook an unsuspecting shark. It’s all here in this pristine wilderness.
Bruce Ellison says about 10 percent of guests are from flying clubs from all round Australia, flying helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Clubs such as the quirky Rotor Heads tell stories of rounding up camels and dingoes, and stopping in the middle of nowhere to have a picnic on the way. It’s another world up here.
Just over an hour’s flight from the Faraway Bay is El Questro.
Landing in a private helicopter on the manicured lawns at the homestead’s front door is very cool and when talking to guests my wife and I quite naturally fell into the habit of referring to “our” helicopter on the front lawn.
The Homestead is regarded as the ultimate in Kimberley-style luxury and we spent two, glorious air-conditioned nights there. The rooms are beautifully appointed with gorgeous linen, iPod docking stations and great views.
On the rare occasions it is not booked out, (it is rumoured even Nicole Kidman couldn’t get a booking) the famous Chamberlain Suite, with its bathtub perched over the gorge, is highly recommended.
The communal areas of the homestead are beautiful. The freely accessible open bar and relaxing lounge space are a haven and your hosts pride themselves on creating an environment where guests feel immediately relaxed and at home.
A private dinner on a rocky outcrop overlooking the gorge was a highlight but, but for the less brave, you can choose to eat either with the other guests or in private in other wonderful locations around the homestead.
There is a limitless range of things to do, including Zebedee Springs.
Purported to aid in fertility, they are closed to all but homestead guests every afternoon and should not be missed.
A sunset trip down the Chamberlin Gorge on a tinnie with a 2hp silent electric motor is a wonderful experience.
The landscape is spectacular, the atmosphere rather spiritual. Knowing us a little too well by this stage, our hosts packed a mini esky with gin, tonic, ice and lemon and set us on our way.
There is some incredible rock art at the end of the gorge but we were unable to view it on this visit.
Heli-fishing doesn’t guarantee results and depends somewhat on the experience of your guide, but it does mean you can go places you would not normally visit.
Although not highly successful, we did hook some barra and some massive catfish up to one metre long. Fishing on a bend in the river with a 300 foot red cliff opposite you is wonderful even if you don’t catch any “keepers”.
And the look on the face of your guide when he mistakes your cries of “big fish hooked” joy for squawks of “ankle in a crock’s mouth” terror is priceless. Horse riding, bush walks, swimming in hot springs, gorges and heli-flights… the list goes on.
Next morning we awoke early for the fourhour run back to Broome (via Derby for some jet fuel), just in time for our commercial flight to Perth.
Again, the inland landscape is breathtaking.
Lightly wooded flatland cut by deep gullies end abruptly in sheer cliffs as though sheared with a knife. Vaulting columns of rock, tidal flats, winding rivers, boab and all sorts of animals from kangaroos to donkeys, camels and cattle keep the trip interesting.
I’ve just returned from a holiday to Faraway Bay, located about an hour by plane from Kununurra in the far north of Australia. The resort only takes 12 guests at a time and the fishing is wonderful. Crucially, so is the food – truly memorable dishes using produce fresh from the ocean and estuaries, and the best thing is that Faraway Bay also runs a cooking school a few times a year. Don’t miss the camp oven cook-up by Steve (he’ll also show you some Aboriginal art dating back 10,000 to 20,000 years).
I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
At 5am in Faraway Bay, nobody is asleep. Not the rock wallabies, which shuffle away into the dusty scrub, wary of the morning sun inching its way along the sapphire-blue Timor Sea and up the rocky cliffs, making the orange sandstone glow stronger by the minute. Not the geckos, either. They silently move into the crevices of Faraway Bay’s cabins, protecting themselves from the heat they know will arrive soon. And certainly not we humans in the cabins. The view from our beds is just too spectacular. Seeing the sun rise along this glorious crescent of the Kimberley coast is not something many people have experienced. Faraway Bay is just that – far, far away. It’s more than 500 kilometres northeast of Broome and 280 kilometres away from Kununurra, the nearest major town in the Kimberley.
Take the 60-minute fl ight to Faraway Bay from Kununurra and you get a taste of how vast this region is: the crop fi elds and cattle stations (including the Packer-owned Carlton Hill Station, where much of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia was fi lmed), and then the seemingly infinite grasslands, peppered with spindly eucalypts, and the shimmering mudflats. Rivers such as the Berkeley and King George carve their way through deep gorges formed by tens of thousands of years of rainfall and head north out to the coast, a scribbly line of sandy coves and bays, one of which is Faraway Bay. Faraway Bay’s location is so remote, in fact, it didn’t actually have a name when leaseholder Bruce Ellison first came across it, some two decades ago, in his search for the ideal bush camp location. Ellison, now 65, had been working in the north of the country for many years setting up camps for oil exploration. It took him and his wife Robyn six years to be granted approval and a lease to build a bush camp on this land. What Ellison and Robyn eventually created here has minimal impact on the environment and has brought only a small increase to the number of sunrise witnesses. There are just eight cabins and the rest of the camp is one building, a rustic, open-air lodge with a small plunge pool and a golfing tee attached. A path leads down to a white, sandy beach, but the resident croc prevents any swimming. Power is supplied by a generator and solar panels and water comes from a nearby natural spring. Food supplies are flown in every week from Kununurra. Unique accommodation? You bet.
Since Faraway Bay’s beginning in 1997, it has twice won the prestigious Australian Tourism Award in this category. But whether it’s luxurious or not depends on your checklist. The rooms don’t have air-conditioning or stylish bedding but they do have 180-degree water views. Showers are taken outdoors, but the water is piping hot and organic soaps and shampoos are provided. The dining area is frequented by all insects great and small, but the food served there is sublime – from the homemade toasted muesli for breakfast until the banana and caramel créme pie for dessert at night. As well as Bruce and Robyn Ellison at the camp, there is a hostess, a chef and two guides. Considering the maximum number of guests is 12 (16 if a single group), that’s a healthy staff-to-guest ratio. All activities are led by guides and included in the price, so you can go wherever you want as long as the weather is agreeable. During my stay, there was only one other guest and he wanted to go fishing with Bruce, so that left me with my own personal guide, Steve McIntosh, to show me the natural surrounds.
Our first excursion is to the King George River, a short ride away on Faraway Bay’s 13-metre cruiser Diamond Lass. Up close, the 80m-high gorges of this river are much more varied and beautiful that what you see of them from a plane seat. There are washes of yellow, ochre, red, brown and dusky pink throughout the ancient sedimentary rock, as well as mauve-coloured mineral deposits that have eroded faster, reminding me of honeycomb. Black algae runs down parts of the gorge, showing where water has cascaded for centuries. Some parts of the gorge are almost sheer rock face while others are collections of boulders so precarious you hold your breath as you glide past. Up until a few years ago, we would have had this river to ourselves, but now there’s a regular fleet of rubber dinghies carrying passengers from a cruise ship to share it with. Our single, sturdy boat, however, can still take us to places the others can’t reach. The river has twin falls, which at the time of our visit are still heavy with water from the plains. McIntosh edges the nose of boat just underneath its thunderous cold spray and I’m given the dubious treat of a shower. A much more sedate aquatic experience is the swimming hole we next visit, nestled in the upper reaches of a tiny cove at the mouth of the river. With cool, clear water and plenty of rocks to sun myself on, I could quite happily stay all day. Faraway Bay’s bushland, however, is just as enticing as its coastline. It is home to a remarkable collection of “Bradshaws”, ancient rock art that’s between 5000 and 20,000 years old (which predates Aboriginal arrival in Western Australia) and easily accessible by an hour’s bush walk. And it’s in the bush that McIntosh’s knowledge and experience truly impress. While I am stumbling through the spinifex grass, cursing my choice of shorts and worrying about the heat, McIntosh bounds along barefoot, pointing out purple lilies and explaining how their petals can be crushed up and used as insect repellant. Before he came to Faraway Bay seven years ago, McIntosh was a guide for scientific research teams doing field work and has spent a lot of time in Aboriginal communities.
It was McIntosh who discovered the rock art here, some 400 panels spread over 20 kilometres. He shows me three that are within 100 metres of each other and I’ve never seen anything like it: carefully painted images of elongated human figures with elaborate headdresses and jewellery. McIntosh’s theory is that at the time these figures were drawn, this area was a much different place to live. There would have been an abundance of food and water so the tribes living here wouldn’t have had to move around and would have had more time and energy to devote to themselves and art. The only disappointment in my excursion is that I don’t see a boab tree, a quintessential image of the Kimberley, but I get the next best thing: a taste. Chef Sam Smith has created a delicious salad using slices of baby boab root with rockmelon. The white root has the texture of a radish and the taste is similar to a water chestnut. The highlight of Faraway Bay’s cuisine, though, is the campfire roast the staff cooks on my last evening. It’s a communal effort: McIntosh tends to the jacket potatoes, damper and roast lamb cooking on the coals while Smith prepares an appetiser of tempura trevally, using the fish Bruce and his guest have caught earlier that day.
The Faraway Bay staff are clearly closeknit, but guests are quickly made to feel part of the family. Sitting around the campfire, we share our tales from the day and there’s a lot of laughing and gentle teasing, especially when a praying mantis the size of a dinner plate lands on my shoulder and I react by shrieking and spilling my wine everywhere. But I get over my embarrassment quickly. There’s a sunset to enjoy. As the sun slips underneath the cliffs, clouds glow purple and pink above the muted browns and oranges of the bush. It’s a beautiful sight, and judging by the silence that falls over our group, one the people at this extraordinary bush camp never get tired of looking at.
The writer travelled as a guest of Faraway Bay and Australia’s North West Tourism.
After so many years of travelling for a living, I’m sure some people think I must have been everywhere. The joy of travel, though, is that it’s infinite. There are always new places to discover, to dream about and to wish for. Right now, I’m starry-eyed about the remote Faraway Bay in the Kimberley, the outback of the outback. I’ve only just discovered that this far-flung paradise exists, and now I yearn for its remoteness and its unique wilderness experience.
People talk about the daunting challenge of accessing this area, but just getting there is part of the appeal for me. To leave the city behind and dive into a pre-historic world, with soaring sandstone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, tidal rivers, sprawling mangroves, sunbaking crocs and dense rainforest teeming with wildlife. What an adventure.
Faraway Bay is perched on a tiny headland, in the northwest corner of our vast continent. They call it a Bush Camp, but this coastal hideaway in the middle of nowhere sounds like the ultimate in rustic luxury. The bungalows apparently disappear into the landscape yet have 180-degree water views, along with a stone bordered pool and an open-air dining room that serves luscious, healthy meals. All this makes me feel weak at the knees with desire to be there and be part of this dream location – apparently it just can’t be beaten.
The owner studied the coastline by chopper, all 350 km of it, to pick the perfect spot. When I get there, and I will, I want to spend my days bushwalking the whole surrounding area, discovering the many Aboriginal rock galleries hidden in the cliffs, or just flaking out under the warm sun during wintertime. Sounds dreamy, sounds good – think I’m going to have to turn this one into a reality.
The only ways in are via the air or sea. Small light aircrafts from Kununurra take you to a private airstrip, then you’ll travel via 4WD to The Bush Camp. Or you can charter a boat and make your way up the coast.
WHAT TO DO WHILE IN THE AREA
The Orion (See Summer) travels past here on one of her trips so that’s another good way in.
THE BUSH CAMP
Faraway Bay, Kimberley
OR VISIT: www.westernaustralia.com
Earlier this year, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman found themselves in the diminutive but thriving East Kimberley township of Kununurra, just west of the Western Australia/Northern Territory border.
In town for the filming of Australia, director Baz Luhrmann’s latest blockbuster, the two actors were quick to wax lyrical about their love of the Kimberley region – a vast, uninhabited chunk of wilderness which begins just west of Broome and stretches all the way to the NT border.
It’s hardly a surprise to find Kidman and Jackman thus enamored. Landscape like this leaves a taste in your mouth and has an almost spiritual cachet – something to do with how comfortingly insignificant one feels in the face of all that ancient there-ness. Landscape one, tiny human, nil. It’s as if God supersized remote and ended up with the Kimberley. The red sandstone ranges that are such a feature of the region are some of the oldest in the world. Worn away over time by the torrential rains of the wet season, they’ve formed beautiful gorges and permanent waterholes.
The region where Luhrmann decided to recreate his vision of outback Australia is particularly, resoundingly, empty. Most of Australia’s filming took place at the Packer-owned Carlton Hill Station, approximately an hour’s drive from Kununurra. Had Luhrmann and his crew been able to travel a further 200km across impenetrable ranges and valleys to the north, they would have discovered a coastline filigreed with unsurveyed creeks and bays so remote, so unexplored, that they’ve yet to be officially named. Here, perched on a rocky sandstone outcrop overlooking the Timor Sea – and within sight of Western Australia’s northernmost tip – is Faraway Bay, an exquisite bush camp accessible only by air and boat.
Owners Robyn and Bruce Ellison discovered the bay while on a driving adventure back in the 80s.
“It wasn’t an official place or anything, but we’d heard from the locals about the amazing fishing and the views. We were determined to take a look,” remembers Robyn. The pair made their way across country by four-wheel drive, travelling along some 660km of weaving, rough dirt roads before finding an old track which led them down to the ocean.
Bruce, who’d earned a crust setting up camps for oil exploration companies up and down the East Kimberley coast, knew gold when he saw it. “I’d never visited such a pristine spot. There was good access and plenty of sweet spring water.” The pair camped on the beach and the next day Bruce turned to Robyn and announced: “I’d like to build a bush camp right here”. It was as simple as that. Six years later, having submitted their plans for public environmental review, the Ellisons were granted a lease over a substantial patch of virgin bush. In 1997, their long-held plans were realised with the opening of The Bush Camp at Faraway Bay.
For those willing to travel and pay for the exclusivity of genuine remoteness, it doesn’t get much better than this. Accommodation is in one-room cabins dotted along a cliff top, each cleverly designed to take full advantage of the 180-degree ocean views while maintaining privacy. The camp takes just 12 guests at a time – up to 16 if it’s a single group.
The cabins are upper-end practical rather than downright luxurious. Some have private ablutions while others make use of the communal facilities nearby, tastefully adorned with hessian curtains. A shell-strewn pathway leads past native scrub to Eagle Lodge, a large central meals area. It’s here that guests gather each day to take in the views over Faraway Bay, swim in the property’s glorious spring-water pool and watch their meals being prepared by chef Simon Naber. He has a fully fitted kitchen but is in his element cooking on the two large fire pits made from local rock, which sit to one side of the dining area.
Robyn, who spends half her time on-site and half back in Kununurra, works closely with growers of the Ord River Irrigation system, sourcing produce for The Bush Camp. Naber, too, uses local produce whenever he can get his hands on it. Inevitably, given the bounty of marine life which thrives in the area’s winding mangrove creek systems and deeper waters, this means fish. “We had one of our guests hook and release 11 different species in a day,” says Naber, who catches only what he needs and uses it fresh.
“We regularly get the really sexy stuff – barramundi, mangrove jack, queenfish, Spanish mackerel and giant trevally all make it on to the menu.”
Guests arrive by light aircraft, following the trajectory of the Ord River as it snakes and thickens its way to the Timor Sea. Turning west at the coastline, the plane drops altitude to give passengers a chance to spot dugong, manta rays and other aquatic life. It’s not unusual to spy a lone saltwater crocodile sunning itself on a strip of beach. On landing, Bruce is waiting to greet guests and transfer them by topless four-wheel-drive Toyota (“It’s our modified limo. I took of the top with an angle grinder”) the remaining 4.5km to the camp.
The couple’s focus in creating Faraway Bay was to have minimal impact on the pristine surrounds.
“It’s an overused term, but we really wanted to leave a very small footprint,” says Robyn. “We’re not allowed to introduce plants or animals. We’ve lived in the bush all our lives and we take our responsibilities very seriously. It’s how we choose to live.”
The couple take great delight in sharing their patch of paradise with the 500 or so guests who visit Faraway Bay each year. “They’re a diverse bunch, from all walks of life. They come here for a good time, for a bit of a yarn, to kick back and relax,” says Bruce, who sees himself as something of an anchor. “I don’t do much guiding but I make sure the camp keeps rolling on. If the generator or anything else plays up, I’m there.” Each May, Chris Taylor, general manager and executive chef at Fraser’s Restaurant in Perth, swaps his chef’s whites for boardies and heads to the bush camp to teach at the Kimberley Cooking School. Taylor says he can’t wait to get his hands on all that wonderful fish. “You don’t need to get fancy with this quality of produce. Often I cook the protein component really simply and let the sauces do the talking.”
The Kimberley Cooking School runs over a period of five days, and Taylor’s strong preference for Asian flavours seems entirely in tune with the climate and atmosphere of the place. Confit baby octopus is cooked to butter-like tenderness and served with stirfried bean sprouts and a dark, hot chilli jam. Rujak salad, dressed with tamarind, shrimp paste and roasted peanuts, simply dances in the mouth. A red vinegar and fried-onion dressing takes duck – flown in, of course – to new heights. Guests learn a range of other secrets. How to make a good eggplant pahie curry, the intricacies of a fiery Yemeni spice paste called zhug, the exact location of the beer fridge…
“What we have here is an oasis of diversity,” says camp manager Steve McIntosh, who introduces guests to the area’s myriad natural attractions. “We’ve recorded more than 120 bird species, and Ju Ju Wilson, an elder of the region, has also helped us identify more than 50 different bush foods.” Robyn Ellison adds, “Steve is as much a part of Faraway Bay as we are. His knowledge, ability and enthusiasm are integral to this place.” Daytime activities are included in the tariff and are as strenuous or leisurely as guests’ needs dictate. There are rock pools and waterfalls to visit, secret fishing spots to discover, crocodiles to spot. Rock wallabies, quolls and phascogales all call the place home. Boat trips on the Ellisons’ 13-metre cruiser Diamond Lass often lead to Lesueur Island, a sandy coral atoll 12km of the coast. Less than a kilometre long, it’s a major nesting area for flatback turtles.
McIntosh has been at Faraway Bay for seven years and shows no sign of losing his enthusiasm for the place. He confesses that at the end of the dry season, when the tourists all go home, he hangs around the area for a few more months, “exploring, camping out, feeling the landscape”. One of his major discoveries has been the existence of more than 400 panels of ancient rock art, spread over 20km of coastline.
Local archaeologist and historian Lee Scott-Virtue has spent 26 years surveying Kimberley rock art. She’s a regular visitor to Faraway Bay and says there is clear evidence that Aboriginal people have been visiting the area for at least 30,000 years. “We know this because many of the paintings here are of megafauna, giant kangaroos and crocodiles, that kind of thing, which disappeared at the end of the last ice age some 22,000 years ago.” More than two thirds of the rock art found at Faraway Bay consists of so-called Bradshaw figures, found throughout the north-west of Australia. The paintings demonstrate “an incredibly sophisticated level of painting using a whole range of brushes made from real hair”, says Scott-Virtue. The paintings offer a window into a complex culture. “The range of human figures shows everything from high priests with very ornate costumes and headgear
right down to hunting figures.”
Sitting by The Bush Camp’s magnificent pool at sunset, gin and tonic in hand as a northerly sea breeze cuts a swathe across the bay, guests watch as the dying sun lights up the red and brown clifftops. It takes a moment to put this level of comfort into context. We’re more than 3000km from Perth and the nearest corner shop is 70 minutes away by light aircraft, yet we have everything we need.
A generator provides electricity. Pure spring water is gravity-fed from a rock pool above the property and makes for beautiful drinking. Heated by solar power, it’s also used for the showers. Somewhere above us, a dingo howls into the night.
Take a letter, Maria. Dear Mr Luhrmann, there’s something I’d like you to see. This is Australia.*
THE FINE PRINT
Qantas fiies direct from Sydney and Melbourne to Darwin or Perth. From Perth, Skywest fiies direct to Kununurra. Airnorth and Qantas offer connections from Darwin to Kununurra.
The Bush Camp at Faraway Bay Operating from 1 April to 31 October, The Bush Camp offers four-night packages priced at $3710 with shared facilities;
six nights from $5190. All prices quoted include air transfers from Kununurra, accommodation in a twin-share room, meals, drinks and activities. For bookings, visit www.farawaybay.com.au or phone (08) 9169 1214.
Kimberley Cooking School Classes run 12-16 May 2008, priced from $3960 all inclusive.
The Ord Valley Muster Including more than 40 events – culminating in the Airnorth Kimberley Moon Experience concert (17 May)
– this festival runs 2-18 May 2008.
Words and photos by Belinda Jackson
It was late afternoon when it finally hits me: I can’t hear a thing. The air is still and all animals (including people) have been lured into a gentle siesta by the luxurious heat, which lays heavy on our skins like a velvet cloak.
The sun has warmed the waters of the plunge pool, fed from an underground spring, and after a rest we slip in lazily, saying nothing, just looking out over the virgin coastal scrub to the Timor Sea, which spills all the way to the horizon.
Somewhere past that line, after the water changes from tropical aqua into the deepest blue of the Indian Ocean, are the islands of Timor and Indonesia, connected to this rocky headland millennia ago, when the land was young and infinitely wilder. Australia’s tiger, the thylacine, roamed alongside flesh-eating mega-roos, giant wombats and the Old People – the earliest Aboriginal settlers. Faraway Bay is aptly named. Perched on the northern tip of Western Australia’s Kimberley coast, the nearest town is Kalumburu, a gathering of just a few hundred souls, while the flight to Darwin crosses Cambridge Gulf and the stupendously large delta of the Victoria River, whose tributaries and estuaries creep over the land in a pattern as intricate as veins on a leaf.
The few signs of human habitation are the rare occurrences of long, low homesteads on properties that tote up their acreage in the the millions. The only things moving are grazing cattle and buffaloes, an occasional flock of emus or a mob of ’roos startled out of their sun-driven stupor.
Then we see the eight small thatch and estuaries creep over the land in a pattern huts and one large communal shelter that as intricate as veins on a leaf. comprise Faraway Bay. The plane taxis onto a red dirt strip, our pilot, Sam, leaves the keys in the ignition and guide Steve McIntosh (lanky and laconic, a former pro-fisherman with a shark’s tooth at his neck and plaited leather on his bicep) throws us and our gear into a battered Land Rover. He submits with good humour to an interrogation.
Where are you from? Southern Queensland.
How long have you lived here? Seven years
Why? Liked the place. Learned the Aboriginal ways of hunting.
What’s your social life like, then? Pretty quiet, he says with a bashful grin. No surprises there, then.
Incredibly, this strip of coastline near Cape Londonderry – the northernmost point of Western Australia – has never been officially surveyed, so the place names are whatever the locals call them. The bush camp generates its own electricity, takes its water from a freshwater spring, and catches its own fish.
It goes without saying that there is no mobile phone reception.
The region’s history is a blur of Dreamtime records in the hidden caverns and remote rock faces throughout the land, most unmarked and unremarked upon, spotted with the occasional reference to modern life – a lonely plaque commemorating the bombing of a boatload of evacuees by Japanese aircraft in World War Two. In the early ’80s, Bruce Ellison was working with exploration companies all around this coast when he discovered the location for Faraway Bay. Remote, but with fresh water and a place for a landing strip, he told his wife, Robyn, in 1989, ‘I think we’ll put the building here’.
“I thought, ‘You and whose army?’”
Robyn shoots back with a laugh, as we chat over sundowners beside the pool made of local stone, from which wallabies sip in the hot months.
Aside from the stone, everything else has been barged in, including the massive kauri pine beams that hold up the main building, which in a former lifetime were the old Wyndham wharf, lying unused and earmarked for the bonfire until Bruce claimed them.
What Faraway Bay does have is plenty of fish and plenty of wildlife, including turtles, wallaroos, dugongs, irrawaddies (a type of dolphin) and the aptly named Resident Croc, which lives in the waters behind us, which Bruce puts at nearly five metres.
“That’s the good thing about falling in the water here,” adds Steve. “You’ll never drown, something will always eat you first.”
Throwing a line out the back of our boat as we motor slowly up the King George River, the newly-fanatical fishermen on board hook saltwater salmon, blue mullet, an archer fish, long toms and a diamond-scale mullet. I’ve never heard of most of them. The rushing river ends at two curves of sheer vertical waterfalls, maybe 60 or 70 metres toward the baby blue sky, their ochre rock faces are lined with fissures, ledges and large expanses polished by the wind and the rain, but no-one’s ever named them so they won’t have been measured. I lean back to capture the rich sandstone colours with my camera, promptly losing my new sunglasses to the deep. Fruitlessly, we try to skim them with a hat, but no-one’s going to challenge a croc for the sake of my sunnies. Scrambling to the top of the falls, the river above is fresh, cool and safe for swimming, bliss after the hot climb, and when we walk back down to the boat, the reward is a cold esky with snacks and a welcome beer. The only other sign of human life on the river is a large white catamaran, Dog on Cat.
“We used to have a dog,” says river rat Ray by way of explanation. Steve slings the weekend papers and a bag of fresh chillies to Ray and his wife Barbara; they share a few words then we part ways. After a hard day’s fishing and boating, dinner is fresh golden snapper with broccoli, almonds and jasmine rice, dished up by Mason, a chef from Kununurra who’s stepped in for the week while the property tries to find a new chef in a region where the crocs outnumber humans. We’re all gathered around the long, trestle table with a chilled white wine going down smoothly, and everyone starts to talk about Faraway Bay and the irony that because it is so remote, those who’ve chosen to work here are always surrounded by people, like us, wanting to touch that remoteness.
There’s talk about the serenity, the lack of pressure, and the friendliness of other folk out here. And there’s a lot of talk about sacred places and magic. Looking out into the clear, starry night and listening to the lonesome wail of a dingo, calling for a mate, that magic is absolutely tangible.
Faraway Bay is about an hour’s flight in light aircraft from Kununurra. The roads are often closed in the wet season (October-March).
Where to stay
Accommodation is in eight bush cabins (which all look out to sea) with indoor and outdoor showers. A two-night stay at Faraway Bay costs from $2100 per person and includes transfers from Kununurra, meals, drinks and property activities such as fishing in the King George River from the Diamond Lass and rock art explorations. Longer packages are available as is hire of the entire camp.
Book packages, including flights, through Outback Encounter, (08) 8354 4405,www.outbackencounter.com
Belinda Jackson was a guest of Outback Encounter