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Kimberley and NT News: Updates for the 2022 Kimberley Season
March 17, 2022

17 March 2022, Issue #098

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In this issue:
  • 2022 Season Updates


Unless you are fairly new to this list you know, from the last issue of this newsletter, that I am not writing regular, detailed dispatches any more. No more keeping-you-in-the-loop-about-all-things-Kimberley.
But I also said that you will be hearing from me occasionally, and as we approach the beginning of the next tourist season in the Kimberley, I had wanted to send you a summary of the most important things and changes.

I drafted most of the below a few weeks ago already.
And then Ukraine happened.

The war may feel far away for Australians, like many other atrocious wars before, but it isn't a far away news story for Europeans, and I am European, and I am in Europe. (More on that below.)
So rather than researching all the intricate details of what may or may not have changed regarding openings, access, prices and what not in the Kimberley, I spent (and still spend) my days reading about recent history and geopolitics (how disconnected and clueless was I??), countless opinion pieces on the current situation, and of course several news blogs from around the world. And trying to help. Plus becoming more and more depressed and disillusioned about the state of the world.

One thing I am sure about: I made the right decision when I decided to make some major changes to my life. More on that below, too.

This is after all a Kimberley and NT newsletter, that is what you are here for, so first, lets cover some updates.

Your guide Destination Kimberley is still the most comprehensive and best advice for independent travellers to the Kimberley and I hope it continues!
We recommend it to everyone … and it is still compulsory reading for our new tour pilots every year.

(Steve Irvine, Managing Director of Shoal Air, on Jan 19, 2019. Read many more testimonials and reviews here.)

2022 Season Updates

Firstly, the wet season has been and still is, well, very wet! Which means the next tourist season will start off with all the waterfalls being in full flow, creeks and rivers still high. Basically, everything is as it should be. From that point of view it should be a great season.

Secondly, and not so great, COVID is still making things difficult for tourism operators. It took the WA government forever to make a decision on the borders. They finally decided to open them. This will of course mean that Omicron will now rip through WA. I can't predict what that will mean for health services, and I especially can't predict when and how it will affect rural and remote areas.

Larger tourism businesses need to make decisions long before a season starts. They need to recruit and get in staff, they need to do work up front, they need to invest. Many needed to make decisions while there was not yet any information regarding if and when borders would open, and even now many don't trust that things will remain open. Hence quite a few places decided to cut their losses and to not open at all in 2022. Others have confirmed that they are committed to opening.

At the time of writing, this it what it looks like:

The following places along the Gibb River Road have decided to remain closed:
  • Mornington Wilderness Camp
  • Charnley River Station
  • Diggers Rest Station
  • Home Valley Station
  • Kalumburu and Honeymoon Bay
Below are those places that have confirmed that they WILL be opening:
  • Mt. Hart Wilderness Lodge
  • Drysdale Station
  • Mt. Elizabeth Station
  • Ellenbrae Station
  • El Questro Station
  • All the national parks
El Questro actually gave everybody a big scare because they, too, had been talking about not opening at all. But then, just in time, the information about the border opening on March 3 came through and they decided to go ahead with opening. (ELQ will open on May 1, as always, and Emma Gorge on April 1, weather permitting.)

The above is of course reflected in Destination Kimberley. (For a couple of weeks there I felt I had to add another closure just about every other day.) I can not guarantee that things won't change again, so keep an eye on things yourself and be prepared for surprises, both good and bad.

Oh, and the Ord Valley Muster has been cancelled, too.
And camper hire company Red Sands closed their Kununurra depot.
Whalesong Campground on the Dampier Peninsula will also remain closed, and Kooljaman is closed anyway.

Because of my comments in my last newsletter, about changing the focus of my business and my life, I received several emails asking about the guide books, whether I am still updating them/whether they are up to date.

Yes I am/they are. All the above and more is reflected in Destination Kimberley. As I also said in the last newsletter, as long as enough people keep buying them, I will continue to update them.

Which brings us to the second, longer part of the newsletter.

This part is especially for all those of you who have been with me for a long time.

When I announced in the last issue that I am more or less stopping this regular newsletter, and moving the focus of my business and life away from the Kimberley, I said I would explain my reasons for doing so.

The response was massive...
Hundreds and hundreds of people wrote back, and your messages were filled with nothing but appreciation, gratefulness and good wishes for the future. You totally blew my mind and took a big weight of my shoulders as well.
I think I managed to write a personal thank you note to everyone, and thank you, thank you, thank you again.

Many people also said there is no need to explain anything. Others wrote they'd be very interested to hear more, and also to hear what I am and will be up to now and in the future.

So here goes.

I started my website in early 2006 and in early 2008 I published my first guide book, Destination Kimberley.
That makes it well over 15 years from the day it all began.
A lot has changed in those 15 years and you could say this job isn't what I signed up for any more.

In the early years there was next to no information available online about the Kimberley.
I don't think I exaggerate when I say it was only the information and the service I provided that enabled "normal" people to jump in their cars and go on an independent trip, something they would not have thought was possible for them.
Couples in their 60s and beyond who had never done any 4WDing or camping, single mums with kids, not to forget the 82 year old gentleman with his 78 year old wife, who crossed the Tanami in their Honda 2WD because my book said they could.

With my support, it became easy.

I made a huge and positive difference in people's life, I changed lives and I have the thank you emails to prove it.
But the world was different back then and the Kimberley was a VERY different experience back then.

I also had a much closer relationship with my readers back then and I received countless wonderful trip reports.

Fast forward to the last years.

It seems there isn't a corner of Kimberley left that isn't all over the internet in glossy, enhanced photos, even the most remote Aboriginal community has a VERY fancy website, everything can and often MUST be booked online.
The goal of a trip for many is to complete a tick list, to be able to brag that you have "done" it, and to create impressive Instagram content.

Experience has turned into consumption and things on the ground had to change to accommodate the demands of the new breed of visitors. Tourists now, not travellers any more.

I can not continue to write about another stretch of sealed road here, a bit more bitumen there, people trashing everything, everything overbooked and overflowing, all the oldtimers getting out and shiny, glitzy new companies coming in and trying to squeeze every dollar out of it...

(Which reminds me, I forgot to mention above:
Lake Argyle Resort has been sold.
And more of the Gibb is being sealed. On the western end the bitumen will eventually get you to the Windjana/Tunnel Creek turn off, and on the eastern end to El Questro and Home Valley Station.
And an online booking system for NT national parks is supposed to be introduced in March 2022.
See what I mean?)

If I wanted to stay in the game, I'd have to adapt to that new Kimberley.

Two years ago one of my readers tried to convince me to develop an app. Brilliant idea, if that's the kind of clientele you want to serve. As he told me, my guides contain far too much information, nobody wants to read all that, just bite sized blurbs about everything, that's enough. He is right, except that the people I write for were always those who had a deeper interest for and understanding of the places they visited. Travellers not tourists.

All I do these days anyway is collect info that is super easily available online for everyone. The links are in my books, everybody could go and look it up themselves.
I just make it as easy as possible for people to consume.

There are still others of course, and they are wonderful. I know there are still people out there who really, REALLY appreciate what I do. But from many of them too I hear that after many visits they are not coming back to the Kimberley, that the changes have spoiled it for them.
It is still possible to find places to get away from the madness. But it's getting harder and harder, and eventually it will become impossible.

Of course it's not as bad as I make it sound. It depends on what you want from a trip.
I hope they will find a way to channel those masses, to make it all sustainable, and to not destroy everything in the process.
But it is mainstream tourism now, and I am not cut out for that.

So that's one part of it.

The other big issue is that not only the Kimberley has changed. The world has changed.
You know the big C word? Right, climate.
And it's not just the climate. Biodiversity loss concerns me even more, but it's all linked of course. Pandemics, fires, floods... The whole world seems to be going down the drain big time.

15 years ago I felt that what I did had a real and really positive impact on people's lives, not just the travellers but also the small, family operated businesses in the Kimberley that had few means of getting the word out about their existence.

Today I can't make it the core of my business and derive my main income from helping people to burn through a ton of fuel while dashing up to the Kimberley in their oversized and overloaded 4WDs and vans so they can brag on Insta about their trip.

Please don't get me wrong. I see nothing wrong with wanting to truly experience the Kimberley. It's the why and how that bothers me, and how the numbers have shifted towards the Insta crowd.

I need to do something I believe in. Something that matters. I have no idea yet what, but I sure don't believe in this any more.

They say about missed opportunities that as one door closes, another one opens.
I think it's also true that if you want to open a new door you have to close the other one first. I have been wanting to start something new for years. I don't want to spend the next 10 or 20 years the same way as the last few, always feeling guilty about not doing more for you but just not being able to bring myself to do it because the passion just isn't there any more.

There is one more thing.

Remember the other big C word? COVID. There was a pandemic. (In my opinion this is the end stage of it, hence "was".)
My mother is 78 this year.
Remember the floods in Germany last year?
Half of my relatives live in that area.

I am living in Austria now, just across the border from Bavaria, half an hour away from my mother. And I have been here for all of the pandemic. It felt like the right place to be.
Given the pandemic, the floods, the war, and everything else going on in the world at the moment, I can not see myself living half a world away from my family again.
The house I live in was built by my grandfather. I have relatives in ever little village around here. (That's the other half of my relatives.)
At this time, this is where I belong.

Also almost 15 years ago I started another website, It was just a little hobby on the side. Ever since the Kimberley site got really busy it has been dormant.
I am thinking about doing something with that. Growing food and creating natural gardens is another big passion of mine.
I probably won't change the world with it, but at least it is something I can get 100% behind.

Another thing I got 100% behind, or rather into, is rock climbing. And that may stop me from doing anything else anyway.
It does nothing to improve anyone's life, but if by any chance there are any real climbers on this list you know what I mean.
(Also, if you happen to live in the lower Inn Valley and have time to get on the rock during the week, shoot me an email. Currently I onsight up to 6b/c, projecting in the low 7s.)

And that's it. That's all I can think about regarding my decision and where I may be going from here.
I want to thank you for all those years. It has been a hugely important and impactful time of my life, certainly the most fulfilling one, and that is only due to you.
That sounds like I will never write again. I doubt that. There will be occasional updates in the future. But I don't anticipate any more long, personal ramblings.
I want to also once more confirm that the guide books aren't going anywhere for now.
They are up to date and I will continue to keep them up to date, for as long as enough people keep buying them.

"I've read your book back to front and it is a masterpiece!"

(Received February 9, 2021.
Thanks, Cameron!)

Take care, and I'll talk to you again, hopefully in the not so far future.

Destination Kimberley, Destination Top End and Destination Red Centre have all the information you need to put together your dream trip.

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(c) 2022, Birgit Bradtke. All rights reserved.
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