"YOU CAN'T GET much more outback than the Kimberley," says 60-year-old Russell Willis, of Darwin-based Willis's Walkabouts. And though this vast wilderness in northwestern Australia remains largely inaccessible, it has attained mythic status among Aussies. It could be its pioneer history, rife with cattle rustlers and gold speculators, or maybe it's the sheer grandeur. From white-sand beaches to endless red-rock canyons, the Kimberley has it allexcept crowds. "Imagine a scenic area the size of Arizona with only 30,000 people," says Willis. Then there's "the Wet." From May through October, the Kimberley is bone-dry, but a metamorphosis occurs in November, when the rainy season hits: Boab trees leaf out, waterfalls gush, and shallow gorge pools become deep, inviting swimming holes.
One of the best ways to see the area at its greenest is in January and February on Willis's 16-day canoe-and-hiking trip into the interior. After a few days exploring the valleys, gorges, waterfalls, and Aboriginal art around the town of Kununurra, you spend five days paddling the Ord River about 34 miles, from Lake Argylea birder's paradise of purple-crowned fairy-wrens, yellow-rumped mannikins, and 200 other speciesback to Kununurra. You'll cruise past freshwater crocs, rock wallabies, and flying foxes, stopping for optional two-to-four-hour cross-country hikes to the top of the canyon. "There are no trails in this part of the world," says Willis. "It's pure scrub bashing 100 percent of the way."
From Kununurra, groups are choppered into Keep River National Park, 354 square miles in the Northern Territory, a land of mind-blowing red-rock arches peppered with palm trees. With a comfortable campprivate tents and a three-course dinnerand the Keep massif as your base, you'll boulder, climb to caves filled with Aboriginal rock art, and cool off in waterfall pools. Yes, sometimes inaccessibility is a very good thing.