Kimberley tourist attractions attract visitors despite foreign competition

Kimberley tour operators say they are experiencing a bumper dry season, defying expectations that the opening of the Western Australian border would draw travelers overseas.

Border closures extended for most of 2021 in WA, with Premier Mark McGowan only opting to lift restrictions on interstate and international travelers in March.

Tour operators capitalized on a captive audience during the lockdown, recording some of their highest visitor numbers in recent years at Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra.

But they braced for pain when the WA border reopened.

Willare Roadhouse manager Neralie Middleton said after years of uncertainty many operators were unsure what the 2022 dry season would bring.

Neralie Middleton says her truck stop has been busy.(Provided)

“With international borders open and greater access to tourism across Australia, it was unclear what we were going to be up against, but it has been exceptional.”

An aerial view of a truck stop surrounded by pindan land
Willare Roadhouse serves travelers passing through the North Kimberley.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

She said her business, located around 50 miles from Derby, had seen a 35 per cent increase in customers since last year.

“It’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful – and not only is it good from a business perspective, it’s just good for the region,” Ms Middleton said.

Stimulate demand

Operators say it is difficult to determine the reason for the rise in numbers, but some believe the increase in caravan sales last year has contributed to the resilience of Kimberley’s tourism industry.

As a result, many tourists are embarking on self-guided tours, leading to an increase in visits to national parks around the Kimberley.

According to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Mitchell River and Purnululu in the Eastern Kimberley nearly doubled their visitors between 2021 and 2022, with Yawuru Birragun recording an additional 40,000 visitors.

A smiling woman with brown hair and a dark blue shirt Parks and Wildlife on
Kathryn Dyball says tourists should respect Bunuba country when visiting.(ABC Kimberley: Hannah Barry)

Parks and Wildlife Ranger Kathryn Dyball takes travelers on a tour of Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park, which is jointly managed by the traditional Bunuba owners.

“It’s a pretty good season, there are a lot of tourists passing by,” she said.

“It’s actually quite similar to last year’s numbers, but we found that this year is longer.

“Last year it was quiet around August… but at the moment, for the whole of next month, we’re still pretty full for morning and afternoon tours – so it’s still going strong. pump.”

A boat on a calm river surrounded by trees
Danggu Geikie Gorge is in central Kimberley, about 20 minutes from Fitzroy Crossing.(ABC Kimberley: Andrew Seabourne)

Australia’s managing director of North West Tourism, Natasha Mahar, said there had been a concentrated effort in the Kimberley to keep the industry afloat over the past two years.

She said the most recent dry season had been a pleasant surprise.

“We expected [visitor numbers] to file; we thought everyone would go abroad,” Ms. Mahar said.

“However, we are delighted that people have really wanted to explore their condition further, and hats off to our operators who have had a difficult year with the staff situation – they are resilient here.

Photograph of Natasha Mahar, patron of tourism in Australia's North West, taken in Broome's Chinatown.
Natasha Mahar says the northern tourism industry still needs government support.(ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke)

Shake up business

The Kimberley features prominently in Tourism WA’s latest Walking On A Dream campaign, which Tourism Minister Roger Cook says aims to double pre-COVID tourism activity in WA by 2032.

Ms Mahar said the campaign would only help the Kimberley get back on its feet after two difficult years.

“We’re spotlighting all of those Kimberley dream experiences – walking through Purnululu in the Bungle Bungle Ranges and hearing an Aboriginal elder singing in the cathedral throat, going to the stairway to the moon and listening to that didgeridoo,” said she declared.

“These are just a few of the things that really give you that dreamlike, thrilling experience in the area.”