Shirley Campbell is a social anthropologist with a special interest in the indigenous peoples of Australia, Melanesia, and the Pacific. After growing up in California, she has widely traveled and experienced firsthand the ways in which communities form and develop distinct, yet interrelated cultures.
People often ask me if there is a ‘best’ time to visit the Kimberley and I struggle to find a definitive answer—it depends upon what it is you want to experience.
Three times the size of England, the Kimberley region is located in the north of Western Australia; it is uniquely positioned, with its eastern border edged by the Indian Ocean and its northern shores lapped by the Timor Sea. The Kimberley sits in the tropical monsoon belt, experiencing a wet season from November through April, followed by a dry season from May to October. For the Indigenous people of the region, however, the division of the annual calendar into these basic contrasts lacks a nuanced appreciation of important distinctions reflected in the life of the Kimberley.
Depending on who you ask, the region is home to three or four seasons. The Mirriwong language group , centered in Kununurra near the Northern Territory border recognizes Hot, Wet, and Cold seasons, while the Gooniyandi people recognize four climatic periods of the year—very hot weather, wet season when the river runs, female cold weather, and male cold weather—all linked to different animal behavior, so they know when to hunt or harvest.
For all people, October and November are probably the least desirable months to be in the Kimberley. After a long hot dry period that gradually embraces the region, landscapes are brown and muddied water holes offer little relief from the heat. This is also the time when the temperatures are at their hottest and the build-up of humidity brings about the ‘mad’ season. Relief only arrives once the rains hit in December and temperatures, both human and climate, cool down.
Access is difficult during the wet season, as roads close together with the national parks and other tourist services. But the landscape is beautiful—especially if you have access to a helicopter to get you in and out! With blackened clouds and spectacular lightning storms, this is a splendid time to be in the Kimberley—albeit, not very practical. With diminishing rains in April and May the land begins to dry, enabling the emergence of identifiable rivers and lakes. Vegetation is green after well-nourished rains and the wildlife is plentiful, supplying abundant food. In my opinion, this is the best time to visit the Kimberley!
Australia's Kimberley: A Voyage to the Outback
May 15 - 29, 2018 | 15 Days | Aboard the Coral Discoverer