For over a decade Lachie has continuously traveled the world with his kayak and camera searching for new rivers to paddle, and stories to share. He has had a bunch of recognition for both of his passions but we wanted to know about his stand out, powerful, expedition experiences — top of the list, ‘Kayaking the Kimberley’.
What Makes Expeditions To The Kimberley Truly Humbling?
Lachie has paddled some of the toughest whitewater in the world and rubs shoulders with the world’s best whitewater kayakers and esteemed expedition athletes. He spends his time predominantly between North America and Asia.
Annually, Lachie returns to Australia during the rains, to the Kimberley region of North Western Australia spending up to a month at a time self-supported in the wilderness rivers systems of the area, sharing his favourite place on the planet with friends.
Over the years his expeditions in the area have varied. For 2 of them he was out there for a month, on another he was alone. Lachie points out that the seasons and rivers are each very different but the humbling power of the Kimberley has never changed for him.
The Edge Of The World
The Kimberley is an extremely remote mountainous region in the North West corner of Australia. And it’s big. The Kimberley is 3 times the size of England and only has one road running through it, and that’s only open for less than half of the year. To access the region you need to fly to Perth, then fly a further 3 hours north to Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley.
From this point the logistics of river access get interesting; you need to charter multiple light aircraft to an Aboriginal community or cattle station and get a ride from a local to the upper reaches of a river. If you’re lucky, you can paddle back to the national highway, if not, you’ll need to charter more flights to pick you up and fly you back to town.
Due to the remote nature of the Kimberley, even helicopter pickups aren’t possible in most locations, due to distance from fuel opportunities.
I’ve seldom traveled to such an isolated, exposed location. To embark on an expedition in the region is intimidating on paper, but it really sinks in when you are on your last charter flights. There’s nothing out there. Truly nothing, only wide open spaces. No roads, just the vast expanse of wilderness as far as the eye can see in every direction. True wilderness.
The Oldest Living Culture On The Planet
The Kimberley region is home to the oldest living culture on the planet — rock art in the region dates back an estimated minimum of 40,000 years. These dates mean that the rock art is not only the oldest example of human migration to the Australian continent, but also one of the oldest examples of figurative art in the the world.
The images provide profound historical clues to an ancient culture. To spend time in the ancient river gorges, littered with some of the oldest pieces of evidence of humankind, is truly humbling. The images sit quiet, timeless, untouched.
Traditional law and customs are still being practiced today; ancestral links are still strong and intact. The area is home to the oldest continuous culture on the planet.
The recent history of the Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region has been one of strength, resilience, adaptation, and survival standing strong in the face of dramatic change.
The most famous example of this was seen through Jandamarra and Bunuba resistance, where Jandamarra, a Bunaba man, lead a guerrilla war against European settlers for 3 years. Once again, it’s humbling to travel through Bunuba country, which encompasses a large section of a river we paddle.
Wanjana — Gods Of The Wet
The weather in the middle of the wet season demands respect. Huge storm cells move across the normally dry and barren landscape. It’s not uncommon to see 2 to 4 different roaming systems crackling with lightning and thunder while they dump torrential downpours.
The Kimberley receives the same annual rainfall of the East Coast in only 3 months. The pristine savannah woodland comes alive with the welcome rain, bird life is prolific and the vegetation turns to a vibrant green.
For most the year the Kimberley weather systems are quite stable. Then the ‘build up’ of humidity increases and rain falls in isolated violent thunderstorms. Huge clouds build and explode in spectacular tempests filled with lightning. Tropical rain is a welcome break to the extreme humidity.
After the build, the weather of the wet season changes again. Gone are the small isolated systems, we see large broad low-pressure systems that dump incredible amounts of water on the Kimberley coastline. Often, when these low-pressure systems move over the warm ocean water, they grow to build into powerful cyclones that lash the coast for an intense couple of months.
These rains fill the rivers and ancient gorge networks, our expedition highways. While the weather stops 99% of people from accessing the region, it allows river expeditions to cover up to 100km in a day. A feat that 4WDs are lucky to achieve in the middle of the dry season under the most favourable of conditions.
The Land Is Alive
Like the weather, location and culture, the ecology of the Kimberley is also incredibly unique.
The most pristine savanna woodland you will find on earth; the woodland, is dominated by low bloodwood and eucalyptus trees. The landscape is spotted with stunning boab trees that somehow resemble wise old souls. Like much of the art, the boab trees are very difficult to date, due to their hollow cores (they have no rings to count).
Many boabs stop us in our tracks, we are in awe of their unique twisted forms; the storms they’ve weathered and years they’ve witnessed are beyond comprehension. The larger boabs are often sacred sites to the Traditional Owners and some are estimated to be thousands of years old. The closest relative of the boab is found in Madagascar, on the other side of the Indian Ocean.
Spending time on the rivers you are often shadowed by large raptors which inhabit the region. But it’s not only the sky where you can spot large fauna, The rivers are home to the largest, most aggressive crocodile on the planet, the Saltwater crocodile, Most of the upper sections where we spend time on the expedition are only home to cute little freshwater crocs which grow to around 2m long. The rivers are also full of barramundi, freshwater turtles, brim and catfish.
The ecosystem has continued in unison throughout time, you feel honoured to be a spectator to the circle of life out there.
You Are Very Alone
Travelling to such a remote region requires a lot of planning, especially in the wet when the extremely limited 4WD network is cut off. All the supplies you need must be packed for the extended journey (up to 30 days). The possibility of losing any equipment is not an option.
Imagine losing a food bag for a few days? A saucepan? A tarp for shelter? Any equipment loss in this remote terrain can result in serious hardship.
You must learn to not waste anything and value every piece of equipment you carry with you.
All You Have Is Your Team
Expeditions in the Kimberly demand excellent teamwork. Our longest trip to the region has been for 4 weeks. The journey is testing, you’re hot and wet the majority of the time and often hungry. You need to bond well with your team to survive in this harsh landscape and work together on the journey.
Every aspect of expeditions to the Kimberley in the middle of wet season make it truly humbling; you feel small and insignificant in comparison to the scale of the landscape and the age of the culture and environment that surrounds you. You must learn to work with the limited resources and skill set you have and put all the pieces together to survive.
Wet season in the Kimberley truly humbles you.
Feature photo by Sally Baker
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