An experience visiting the Kimberley Region of North Western Australia can vary greatly depending on the time of year that you visit.
Road Conditions, Weather, Water, National Park Closures, The Moons Cycle and even School Holiday Periods all play a huge part how the Kimberley changes.
The stars in the southern hemisphere are really good, we have a better view of the Milky Way because of the tilt of the Earth.
The Kimberley has virtually no light pollution or any other pollution so has beautiful clear skies and is one of the best places in the UNIVERSE to lie back in your swag and contemplate your blip of a life amongst it all. If you want to see views like the one below, log onto a moon cycle website and find when the moon will be not full (sorry don’t know the term for the opposite of a full moon!).
The Kimberley has a Dry Season & Wet Season Climate, in very basic terms, most of the rain which the region receives falls during the Australian Summer, which is December to March, someone very clever a long time ago decided to call this rainy time the “Wet Season”.
While it can and does rain at other times of the year, the chart below shows the average rainfall for the past 40 years in the town of Kununurra where the average annual rainfall is 835mm, whilst this average can and does vary, the pattern of when it falls is reasonably constant.
So what happens to all the water that falls in the wet season?
Well a truck load flows down the rivers and out to sea, the rest gets absorbed by the predominantly sandstone rock, some of this disappears into the earth only to come out in a million years in some future spring, while some seeps out over the next 12 months, the result is beautiful filtered water filling rivers and gorges where us lucky humans can play.
Over the year, the quantity and quality of the water changes.
In general, there is more water, and the quality of the water is better at the start of the tourism season (April) than at the end (October), however local rain can fall at other times to freshen up individual rivers and waterholes.
Unfortunately not all the water in the Kimberley is used for good, it does have an evil side – it is responsible for closing roads.
The main road in the Kimberley where most of the good stuff occurs is the Gibb River Rd. This road is mostly made from dirt and rock, and along it’s entire length of about 700km, there is only 1 bridge, which crosses the Lennard River.
The rest of the time the road simply goes into the river, if there is too much water for a car to cross, then the road gets closed. Obviously this happens mostly when it rains, ie the Wet Season.
Driving on a closed road, even if it looks OK, attracts huge fines and is frowned upon by people who use the roads regularly, as driving on a soft road can really mess it up.
Most the Gibb River Rd is open in April, however if it has been an exceptionally big “wet” or a late “wet”, then they can still be closed, planning to travel in late March and early April can be risky as access may be restricted due the closed roads. Normally, but not always, you are safe from mid April.
Temperatures also varies over the season.
In general it’s hotter at the start and end of the season with high 30 to 40 degree celsius range and cooler in the middle, 28 – mid 30 degree celsius range. Note that the Kimberley could never really be considered to be cold (except at night, see below).
Die hard locals will not swim in the cooler months and will walk around with jumpers & beanies on and say it’s freezing, but they function on different temperature scale than most of the people who visit the Kimberley, no one coming out of an Australian winter down south or from Europe will think the Kimberley is cold.
June and July are considered cooler months and sometimes you can get slight chill if there is breeze and you have just emerged from a swimming hole, but seriously, this is minor discomfort.
If you struggle with the heat, aim for June and July, if you don’t mind the heat and are happy to cool down in a waterhole if you get hot, then anytime is good.
NATIONAL PARKS & PRIVATE PARKS
All the waterholes and gorges along the Gibb River Rd are either in National Parks or on Private Property (like El Questro), some of the small gorges like Galvan’s Gorge are not really managed and are accessible all year round providing the roads are open, however others are managed which means someone can decide to close them.
Most National Parks close over the wet season, as do most of the private parks, generally, once November hits gates are locked and access to the good stuff is severely restricted.
The other thing which can cause closures is bush fires, whilst these are not normally dangerous to travellers, as they normally travel relatively slowly, if they are in, or close to a popular tourism attraction, those in charge will close off access and wait for the fire to pass, this is more common at the end of the season during the month of October. When these closures occur they can range from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
School holiday periods in the Kimberley can be very busy. There are 3 periods which affect the Kimberley Season;
- Mid April
- Late June to Mid July
- Late September to Early October
Busy is a relative term, it might mean there are 20 – 30 people swimming at a waterfall instead of having it to yourself.
You should plan to visit between the months of April to October, go too early and you risk the closure of roads and attractions due to a late wet season, go too late and you risk the closure of attractions due to bush fire.
Roads and campsites are busy during the school holidays, the busiest time of the season is the first 2 weeks of July, if you have children then you probably need to travel at this time and will be surrounded by other families anyway, so your children are more likely to bug someone elses family and leave you in peace (yeh right!)
June and July are warm but not hot, with cool to cold nights, during these times it can get down to single digits temperatures in the Bungles (where you cannot have a fire), many people consider these months to be the best.
Personally, I like August, the busy school holidays are over, the days are nice and warm which makes great swimming, the nights are still cool which makes great camping and the water quality is still really good.
At the end of the day, the Kimberley is awesome, if you have the type of life where you can pick and choose what and when you do it, then the above info will help, if not, then don’t stress about trying to work out the perfect time, the Kimberley never fails to deliver an incredible wilderness experience.