Wyndham is a town in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Kimberley's oldest town has had a turbulent history of boom and bust that, along with the striking surrounding landscape, has shaped it into an destination more interesting than many think.
Wyndham sits on the Cambridge Gulf near the confluence of five rivers; the Durack, Pentecost, King, Forrest and Ord Rivers. Spreading itself around the base of the Erskine Range (known to locals as The Bastian) on the edge of an expansive mud flat, the town is split into two main areas, the historical portside township and the residential Three Mile. Excepting the grandiose landscape, its attractions are decidedly low key, but anyone with an interest in history will find many relics connecting with West Australia's pioneering past.
The nearby East Kimberley Coast is one of the most remote and least discovered areas of the Australian coastline. Beautiful white sandy beaches, magnificent river gorges with cascading waterfalls and creek systems which are ideal for barramundi fishing. There are saltwater crocodiles in the Kimberley region. Always observe crocodile warning signs.
The town was established in 1885 as a major port for the East Kimberley to support gold mining at Halls Creek. Wyndham quickly boomed as ships brought in waves of miners heading off to the Halls Creek goldfields to seek their fortunes.
By 1888 the gold at Halls Creek dwindled and with it, the fortunes of Wyndham. The town became a minor service centre for the growing pastoral industry around the Ord river. By 1912 Wyndham's economy was virtually non-existent.
In 1913 the government began building the Wyndham Meatworks to restart the town's economy. World War I disrupted construction and it was finally completed in 1919. The meatworks was the lifeblood of the town's economy until its closure in 1985. With it many businesses departed to nearby Kununurra.
The sinking of the Koolama
In 1945, near the end of World War II, the port became the site for one of WA's most curious naval incidents. The MV Koolama, a one time cruise ship requisitioned to transport soldiers into Indonesia and East Timor for the battle against the Japanese, was struck by Japanese bomber planes as it sailed from Broome toward Wyndham. Mangled by three bombs, it was beached off a remote part of coast, far from any town, where some of the ships 160 passengers and crew bailed into lifeboats and headed to a sheltered cove onshore to make camp. After a few days under the roasting Kimberley sun, and with little food or prospect of imminent rescue, the group fractured into two camps and quickly flared into conflict. One group set off with a party of Aboriginals sent from Kalumburu Mission and trekked over 150 km to the Drysdale River Mission, while a small crew loyal to the captain stayed back to repair the ship. Diving underwater to plug the gaping cavity while crocodiles lurked nearby they restored it enough to limp 300 km into Wyndham port. Within 24 hours the bombers returned and put in a few finishing blows from which the Koolama lurched on its side and settled into the mud at its present resting place.
- Wyndham Tourist Information Centre, Great Northern Hwy (At Kimberley Motors), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. On the odd occasion when they are open, they provide the usual maps and brochures on the area and free advice on how to get there.
Wyndham is about 100 km from Kununurra by road. The smoothest way is to head west on Victoria Hwy then north on Great Northern Hwy into Wyndham. A bumpier but more scenic way is on the 4WD only Parry Creek Rd, though it may be closed in the wet season if the water level at Ivanhoe Crossing is too high or the road is submerged by flooding.
- From Broome. A daily Greyhound bus to Kununurra can let you out at the Great Northern Hwy turn off but you will need to cover the remaining 60km into town on your own.
- From Kununurra. Same as for from Broome but in the other direction.
Few planes fly directly to Wyndham. The closest airport is at Kununurra from where you can hire a car and drive.
The town itself is quite small and easily traversed on foot, as long as the heat doesn't deter you. Some of the outlying sights are on graded unsealed roads that can get quite rough at times. A sturdy 2WD vehicle might make it but a 4WD would be better.
- Afghan Cemeteries, Great Northern Hwy. Graves from around the 1890s of Afghan camel drivers who were the backbone of transport between cattle stations and towns in the days before road trains. Many tombstones, aligned to face Mecca, are quite large as the camel masters would have their lead animal buried with them for their final trek into the afterlife.
- Anthon's Landing, Foreshore Rd (Next to the Boat ramp). The few gnarled remnants of the original wharf from the 1880s can be seen at low tide. After being replaced in 1919 by the present day port, it remained intact until it burnt down in 1944.
- Bastian Range Five Rivers Lookout, Hugo Austla Dr. Head to the top of the 330m Bastian Ranges that loom over town for a wide view of town, the mud flats and the five rivers that give the lookout its name. A plaque points out the landmarks and BBQs provide a chance to cook a snag as the sun sets.
- Giant Crocodile statue, Great Northern Hwy. The first thing to greet your arrival is a 20m long crocodile that is a popular place to take photos with an expression of mock terror.
- Koolama shipwreck, Meat Works Rd (40m North of the wharf). Laying in the tidal mud flats near the wharf is the disintegrating shell of the MV Koolama, bombed during Japanese air raids in 1942. Most of the time it's submerged and even at low tide there is not much to see.
- Wyndham Museum, O'Donnel St. Housed in the old Courthouse building, the volunteer run Museum has a range of historical artefacts, documents and photos from the past. Opening hours depend on which volunteer decides to unlock the doors but it generally operates only in the dry Season (Apr-Oct).
- Boab Tree Gaol (Drive 6 km out of town to King River Rd, then 23 km to the tree). This large hollow Boab, estimated to be 2000-4000 years old, was once used as an overnight accommodation for prisoners being transported to Wyndham. Its 14-m circumference would have been pretty crowded even by backpacker standards.
- The Grotto, 2 km down an unsealed road off Great Northern Hwy (Turn off sign posted on the highway). A small waterhole in a natural amphitheatre. Stair carved into the rock lead pool surrounded by lush vegetation.
- Hike (Three Mile Valley walking trail), Daroo St. Although you can find a satisfying walk in almost any direction, a well worn route starts at the base of the Basitian range and follows the Three Mile Valley creek through some mildly undulating yet ungracious terrain.
- Swim (Community Swimming Pool), Civic Way, ☏ . W-F noon-5PM; Sa Su 10AM-5PM. When the tide is out there are no other swimming options closer than at the local pool. The 6-lane, 25-metre pool and two toddler pools are shaded from the sun and a fun place to do a bombie with the local kids.
- Wyndham Supermarket & Butchers, 20 Great Northern Highway, ☏ . daily. The place to restock your supplies for the road ahead.
- Port Take Away, O'Donnell St. Down by the port, you can expect typical takeaway fare and the occasional battered Barramundi for variety.
The pub is hard to miss, it is a bit of a feature of the town. Expect a cold beer and a chat, but not much in the way of nightlife.
- Digger’s Rest Station (37km along King River Rd), ☏ . Budding stockmen seduced by the Kimberley's old pastoral days might find a stay on this working cattle station assuages their infatuation for herds and horses. Basic rooms pale in comparison to the view of Cockburn Ranges and King River surrounding the property but you have little reason to stay indoors as organised bush walking, horse riding and fishing activities are offered as well as watching the operations of the cattle yard. Bunkhouse $150; Bush hut $110.
- Parry Creek Farm Resort and Caravan Park, Parry Creek Rd, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Outside of town in the middle of green Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve. Air-conditioned cabins, rooms and naturally ventilated powered camp sites are in a nice quiet spot.
- Three Mile Caravan Park, 53 Baker St, ☏ . A place to pitch your tent or park your van next to the biggest Boab in captivity. Powered sites $13; Unpowered sites $10.
- Wyndham Town Hotel, 19 O'Donnell Street, ☏ . Near the port and the historical area. Guests have spoken favourably about the large rooms but less so about the lack of wheelchair access. The restaurant and bar are one of the few places to get a feed. $88-110.
- Kununurra - comfortable base from which to explore the many natural attractions and eat a decent meal.