Let’s be honest, I tend to talk about the Kimberley as this place of almost indescribable beauty and joy and satisfaction. And it certainly is. There’s no shortage of amazing places and memorable moments to make a lasting impression. But what this trip has also reminded me of is that all of the good stuff – the beautiful swims and the scenic lookouts and the big starry skies – definitely comes at a price. It’s the price of having to work a little bit – or a lot – for those rewards. It is the price of stinking hot walks in the afternoon sun – and sunburnt skin – before turning the corner and seeing that waterfall for the very first time. It is the price of driving a little too fast on rough roads and changing a flat tyre in the afternoon heat. And then figuring out where you should – and probably shouldn’t – go now that you’ve only got one spare. It’s the price of feeling adventurous and driving that track you probably shouldn’t be on. And the sense of discouragement – and maybe a little concern – when you lose the track and wonder why you’re such a f%#kin’ idiot to be out there in the first place. And the excitement of finding the track again! And the relief of getting back on bitumen. Followed quickly by the boredom of being back on bitumen.
It’s the feeling of being invincible and then getting stuck in soft sand just short of where you wanted to be. That feeling of being invincible and discovering in the middle of nowhere your car won’t start. And the feeling of being invincible again when you dig yourself out of soft sand, and get your car started, and all the cool shit you saw along the way. In that sense the Kimberley is whatever you want it to be. It is all of those highs and all of those lows.
It is waking up in the morning with no plan and making a plan – and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It is getting to your favourite spot to find there’s no water. Or too much water. Or too many people. Or no people at all! It’s simple dinners over a gas burner. Burnt toast and burnt sausages. And freshly brewed coffee at sunrise. Oh, the sunrises! It’s being a dickhead and catching your leg on a barbed wire fence you probably shouldn’t be climbing. And tearing off skin on a tree you probably shouldn’t be jumping off. It’s strapping things to the bottom of your car that are trying desperately to fall off. And unexpected detours to fix the things that have definitely fallen off. It’s losing your hiking boots and trying to walk a gorge in thongs and breaking your thongs and walking back in bare feet. It’s getting tired and making bad decisions and driving after dark and dodging wildlife and knowing you should have pulled up an hour ago. And then finding that spot you’ve been looking for, pulling out a camp chair and watching the moon rise over a perfectly still night with a cold beer in hand. It is moments of pure elation and moments of tiredness and frustration. And the whole time Broome and Netflix and aircon are only a few hours – or a day – away. It’s not Disneyworld, that’s for sure. It is the natural world at its best and most nourishing. And the natural world kicking your ass and leaving you half broken, sore and crumpled along the way. And being half broken, sore and crumpled and slumping into the river and being perfectly happy and content.
It is trying new things and being reminded of why trying new things is important. It is about revisiting familiar places that are easy and comfortable and being reminded of why easy and comfortable is also important. The Kimberley in many ways is a playground. And like any playground there are highs and lows. Good bits and bad bits. Easy bits and tough bits. There are moments of getting it right and moments of knowing you’ve definitely gotten it wrong. And plenty of time in between to reflect along the way. No TV, no radio, no Facebook approval porn. Lots of time to enjoy the views and time to think about where you’ve been and where you’re going that day. Time to think about where you’ve been and where you’re going in life. And perhaps doing the unthinkable and stopping to figure out who you are and who you want to be. And after all of that…. at the end of each day you go to bed dusty and tired and satisfied knowing it was all worth it – every last bit of it. The sunburn, and the flat tyres and the getting bogged and the getting lost. It was all worth it. Because along the way you saw some pretty amazing stuff and you felt something – you felt alive. And for all of these reasons and more, when people ask me to describe the Kimberley, I think it’s fair to say it is everything you want it to be.