Berkeley River Lodge – Visiting the beautiful Kimberley

Arrival

A stay at Berkeley River Lodge is an entirely unique and special experience. It is unlike anywhere I’ve stayed before and while it is a different holiday to what I had expected it will long stay with me as very, very memorable. I’ve lived in Western Australia my whole life but this would be the most northern part of this fair state that I’d had the opportunity to explore.

So off we go. We flew from Perth to Darwin before we headed to Berkeley River Lodge (BRL) on the Friday afternoon. If you re spending a day in Darwin and want to know a few nice places to eat then just read here.

The transfer to BRL takes 1 hour and 45 minutes in a small plane that seats around 12 passengers.

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The scenery is stunning. The different colours of the coastline and switching states from the Northern Territory back into Western Australia it is a beautiful journey.

And then you see it. The resort slowly emerges, visible though pleasingly discrete set high along the coast. Twenty villas are dotted in a row behind the main building. It is incredibly striking.

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You land and the warm Kimberley air embraces you, as General Manager Jackie welcomes all the eager new guests. Our group of eight all climbed on board a roofless land cruiser, feeling a little bit safari, and wound our way along the red dirt roads to the main lodge. The warm breeze, the sounds of the ocean, it was officially a holiday.

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At the lodge guests were given cool towels and iced tea after the journey and then after being shown to our rooms we were soon whisked away for a beach cruise with our friendly guide Ben to help us get a lay of the land.

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​Back into the land cruiser we bounced on down to the beach. Gosh it looked nice and here’s the biggest challenge of BRL. You are going to constantly be wistfully staring at that Timor Sea, all glistening and alluring and you are really, really going to want to dip your toe in, splash around in the shallow and throw yourself into the gentle waves but you can’t. Crocodiles, sharks and jelly fish are rife so you are warned to keep a safe distance from the shore. And I can tell you now it’s really tough at times when the sun is belting down but thankfully the pool at the lodge is just what you need.

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Now back to the beach tour. We wandered along, finding sea dollars, being introduced to scrub cattle (cows on the beach will never not be entirely novel) and we even saw a mumma turtle crawling her way across the sand to lay her eggs and this was in the first hour of arriving. We then hopped out of the car and raided the eskies. There’s something special about enjoying a glass of chilled wine with the sand in your toys as you cut yourself another piece of cheese, then reach for a grape as rthe sun sets.

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On our return from the beach it was just about time for dinner, which kicks off at 6.30pm each evening. It’s a delicious five courses which kicks off with a few tasty canapés. Every evening there is also a red and white wine suggestion and I have to say that the inclusive wine list was a solid offering. Some Australian and international wines on the list and there is something for everyone. There’s also standard spirits available, plus a few beers and ciders if you prefer those. Bottom line you won’t go thirsty.

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Here was or evening one menu….

  • Canape – Three cheese tart/Steak tartare
  • Entrée – Pan seared quail with pickled apples and spiced cous cous
  • Sorbet – Pear and Strawberry sorbet
  • Main – Salmon served on parsnip puree with baby carrots and lemon
  • Desert – Espresso pannacotta with macadamia biscotti

I really liked the local seafood influences and everything is fresh, well presented and tasty. And the talented chefs do well given their isolated location. All the staff are such an asset to BRL. Considering the new owners only took over from February they are doing a very good job to ensure all guests are well looked after. It was also fun to see that a group that had caught a giant snapper, had that cooked up for their group. Look at the size of it! Dinner has a relaxed and casual vibe and we even had another guest sing for us. It was a nice introduction to life at BRL.

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​After dinner wandered to our beautiful rooms, enjoyed a shower under the stars in the outdoor bathrooms and fell fast asleep. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Day Two – out first full day!

On your first afternoon you get to plan out the activities you want to do for your stay and it can be tricky at times because they might not work out time wise with everything you want to do, but pick the ones you really want first (river cruise is a total must) and work around. If you haven’t been in a helicopter before then I cannot recommend the Sunset and Swim Tour enough. I hadn’t been in one before and as I would discover it was magic. Join a group of six and it is only $350 per person and it was seriously money well spent.

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So on our first full day at BRL we started the day with a tasty breakie (I’m a fan of the mushroom and thyme omelette on the al a carte menu) and then we had the morning free and decided to go for a walk on the beach. We headed off around 9am, covered in suncream and aeroguard, but vastly, vastly unprepared for the heat. And yes sand flies are fairly ferocious. Suncream and bug spray will stop them biting, it’s more the heat that is hard work at the beach. So if you decide to walk the, head off much earlier than we did and keep it brisk.

On arriving back we went for a dip in the pool and with its natural heating it was complete bliss to dive on in to. Umbrellas provided welcome shade and you can lounge by the pool and enjoy a drink from 10am. And hey you’re on holiday so why not.

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If you don’t have an activity planned then you can enjoy a bento box for your lunch at the lodge or in your room and they are both tasty and filling.

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We enjoyed ours before gearing up to go fishing. Again, sunscreen and bug spray is your friend and they always have some available for you. Our fishing host was Grant and he was awesome!

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Our group of four was taken down the river and there was something relaxing about cruising past the mangroves with the breeze in your hair. I completely fluked our fishing excursion and ten minutes into fishing I pulled in a barra! So yes that was all kinds of exciting. The battle between wo-man and fish. It was a lovely afternoon and we visited a magic waterfall and could even have a swim. Amazing!

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​And we cruised back to the lodge with a rose in hand. Yes it was hot at times and yes you’ll get sweaty, but damn if you don’t have fun and make some new friends.

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Back to our wonderfully air conditioned rooms for a well-deserved shower before dinner. Again, shout of to the wonder of an outdoor bathroom. I had been somewhat nervy about this arrangement but I am now a total convert and it really suits the balmy setting.

Dinner was another good feed, menu below (loved the snapper ceviche!), and having spent time with various guests throughout the day it was nice to sit down and continue chatting.

  • Canape – Crispy whitebait with tartare/Ceviche finger mark snapper
  • Entrée – Australian blue nose salmon served with caprese salad
  • Sorbet – Apple sorbet
  • Main – Lamb rack served with beetroot and asparagus
  • Desert – Chocolate and coffee tort served with berries and cream

And we fell asleep to the sounds of the crickets and the frogs. Sweet dreams in the Kimberley.

Full day two

After breakie on Sunday we were off on the river cruise. A full day affair from 10am til 4pm. Our hosts were Grant and Matt and we all eagerly cambered on board the boat, which had a full canopy for total shade and a toilet! It’s exactly what I wanted for this full day adventure.

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We set off for a leisurely cruise down the Berkeley River, and again the breeze made such a difference and you could happily take in the stunning scenery and marvel at the work of the ospreys with the clever nests that can withstand cyclones.

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The rest of the day was a blur of a completely happy blur of freshwater showers in waterfalls, picnic lunch on the rocks, in all it was an excellent way to spend a day.​

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​And as if the day could get any better we had booked a Sunset and Swim Heli-tour with the talented Pilot Nelson.

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I’d mentioned it before but this was my debut helicopter flight. So I was a crazy blend of nervous and excited. And that only increased as we were on board. The blades started to turn and we were in the air. It was magic. So low to the ground and you just soar. We made the beach cows scatter and could even see a shark in the shallows. What a way to take in the coast.

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We floated along until we reached this magical creek and our talented pilot landed it in the water on the rocks in the creek. How skilled is that!! And what an absolute haven we landed in. The absolute beauty of the place was actually hard to describe, you just spun around and drink it all in. Nature at its complete finest.

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Neilson then took us to this amazing fresh water pool. So deep in the middle that it looked black and the temperature was so incredible welcoming and refreshing. Across the pool was a water fall and a few of our group followed Nelson higher and higher over the rocks, up, up and away to another pool, warmer than the first and with more waterfalls, we had wandered into heaven. I felt so happy to have been brought here. It was one of those moments in life when you struggle to believe you’ve are so lucky to get to experience a place like this. Blessed indeed.

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We swum back towards the chopper and enjoyed a chilled beverage (loved the Vinaceous Chardy) and a few nibbles. Everyone was loving the blue cheese. I definitely was. And there we stood. Feet wet in the water, sun softly setting and about to take off in a helicopter back to the lodge for our last dinner at BRL.

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​And the menu…

  • Canape – Beef satay skewers/ Oysters Kilpatrick
  • Entrée – Prawns served Asian salad and Chinese masterstock
  • Sorbet – Strawberry and mint sorbet
  • Main – Pork tenderloin with kipfler potatoes and confit garlic greens
  • Desert – Flambe banana with caramel sauce and icecream

I don’t know what I have expected from Berkeley River Lodge and I’ll admit it was different to what I had expected, but I thoroughly enjoyed it all the same. Yes, it isn’t a place you just lay around and relax all day. Yes, it is a place where you need an activity booked each morning and afternoon, but as long as you know that it’s part of the charm. Cover yourself in sunscreen to guard against the sun, spray on aeroguard to keep away the sand flies and you know what, the days are a joy. And I say this as someone who does not like bugs or being hot or anything like that, but just embrace it. Go fishing, river cruise, dive into fresh water pools, it is all so memorable. So yes, go to BRL. It’s a special spot. You’ll make new friends, eat lovely food and get to do a few new things you wouldn’t normally like helicopter adventures to beautiful waterfalls and to shower  every evening under the stars. So yes, well worth a visit.

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Here’s my few final tips for a visit to BRL

  1. Clothes – keep them practical! It is hot and there are bugs, if you want to be comfortable dress for practical not for fashion. Cotton is your friend! At dinner you could wear a nicer outfit, but cotton and light and breathable fabrics all the way.
  2. Weather – it is hot out, so wide brimmed hats, suncream and bug spray are a must.
  3. Activities – Get involved with the activities, do as many as you can, because the lodge is not really designed for people to just hang around and it’s the best way to experience the Kimberley.
  4. Walks – Go early, early in the morning (would set off between 5 and 6am). It heats up very early. Always take a water bottle and suncream and bug spray is your friend everywhere.
  5. Bathrooms – Outdoor bathrooms seem a little daunting, but are actually amazing. Fresh breeze and twinkling stars are a magic combination.
  6. Sleep – After a full day of fresh air activities you’ll be tired early and with dinner finishing around 930pm you’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour for a great night sleep, which is a good things because the sun likes to get up early at BRL. Plus there is no tv in your room, so sweet dreams.
  7. Room Number – You want a room number that is low. Keeps you closer to the main lodge, highly recommend putting in this request.
  8. Helicopters – If you can, then the afternoon helicopter flights are a really special experience. Find a group of 6 and it really brings the cost down.
  9. Internet – There is a smidge of internet available, but they don’t advertise it a lot, but what an opportunity to try and stay offline.

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