Cris-crossed with impressive ranges and riddled with hundreds of vein-like rivers and creeks, the Kimberley is a vast and rugged place that’s best appreciated from the air.
The sunburnt ranges in the Kimberley stretch as far as the eye can see. The plains are wide and open and the rivers are long and winding. But it’s not until you’re up in the air that you really get a feel for just how vast this area truly is. Thankfully, there are a number of very experienced operators in the Kimberley who can take you on a scenic flight of a lifetime – just remember to pack your camera!
Based in Kununurra, Alligator Airways has been taking visitors on joyrides over the East Kimberley for years. There’s a number of tours to choose from that visit many of the area’s most iconic attractions, including The Argyle Diamond Mine, Purnululu National Park (more famously known as the Bungle Bungle Ranges) and the mighty Ord River.
Although Alligator Airways offers regular flights in light aircraft, for something a little different you might like to book a tour in a float plane and experience the exhilaration of taking off and landing on the water. Leaving from Lake Kununurra, you’ll head south over the upper reaches of the Ord and Lake Argyle. Your pilot will even take you down between the islands on the lake, skimming the water as you go.
Your flight continues over the mighty Texas Downs cattle station, then onto the Bungle Bungle Ranges before heading home via The Argyle Diamond Mine and Lake Argyle. You land on Lake Kununurra after being in the air for just over two hours, although with so much to see, the time truly flies (pardon the pun!). A running commentary of the history of the area and the attractions you pass is fed through your earphones throughout the flight. Tours depart at 6am and cost $198 per person.
One of Alligator Airways’ most unique experiences is the overnight adventure to Kachana Station at the edge of El Questro. This is a unique eco-tourism experience that includes Aboriginal culture and art, bush tucker, bush medicine and environmental awareness. You’ll stay overnight at the ecologically sustainable bush camp at the station, where you’ll kick back with a gourmet meal and listen to traditional Aboriginal stories before crashing in your swag under a mosquito dome.
Bird watchers will be pleased to discover that an oenologist accompanies the tour, as does an Aboriginal guide. Both will be able to answer questions on the natural and cultural history of the area. For every person that goes on this tour, Alligator Airways contributes to the cost of regenerating the original rainforest at Kachana Station. Kachana Station tours depart at 11am and start from $1190 per person.
With 50 aircraft in their fleet and 44 helicopters, Slingair Heliwork WA is one of the largest chartered flight companies in the Kimberley. The aircraft are available for private charter and there’s also a range of scenic helicopter tours available throughout the Kimberley and Northern Territory.
Like Alligator Airways, Slingair tours leave from the private hanger at the Kununurra domestic airport and can take you 200km south to the Bungle Bungle Ranges, north to Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls, and south-west to The Argyle Diamond Mine. Individual itineraries can also be discussed if you’d like to travel further afield.
What makes Slingair truly unique is its Air Safaris. Departing from Darwin and flying through to Broome, these fully inclusive packages combine accommodation, tours and meals on the ground with scenic flights between each stop. The longest tour is an eight-day safari, although shorter trips can be arranged. All safaris depart on request and must have a minimum of two people. Three-day Air Safari tours start from $4095 per person if two people are travelling, and rise to $9950.
If you’re looking for a special overnight experience, the one-day, one-night tour to the Mitchell falls may be of more interest. On arrival at the Mitchell Plateau airstrip, you’ll be taken to the Ungolan Safari Camp for breakfast. You’ll spend the rest of the day with an aboriginal guide (where possible) visiting the falls and aboriginal art sites, swimming and bush walking, before turning in for the night at the camp. The tour includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Mitchell Falls Cultural Experience starts from $995 per person.
Those looking to fill their photo album with top quality snaps are better off booking a flight on a chopper. In addition to Slingair’s range of helicopter tours to the Bungle Bungles and Mitchell Plateau, El Questro also offers regular half-hour heli-tours past waterfalls, through canyons and gorges and over parts of the property rarely seen – a tour that gives vertigo a whole new meaning. But don’t worry, the flights are perfectly safe and extremely exhilarating. Tours leave from the Station Township and cost $185 per person.
Kimberley Scenic Flight companies:
Slingair Heliwork WA, 1800 095 500.
Alligator Airways, (08) 9168 1333.
El Questro, (08) 9169 1777.
Other Flight companies:
Based in Broome, King Leopold Air offers breathtaking tours over the rugged West Kimberley landscape and out to the Buccaneer Archipelago, the Horizontal Waterfalls and Cape Leveque.
Its Buccaneer Explorer tour is a favourite with travellers and includes a scenic flight over Talbot Bay, the Buccaneer Archipelago, the Dampier Peninsular, and stops at Cape Leveque for morning tea and a quick swim before following the coast back to Broome.