Navigating the Kimberley: A Driver-Guide's Tale
Clare Martin is one of APT’s expert Driver-Guides in the Kimberley. Together with her beloved 4WD, aptly named Matilda, she skilfully leads her tours through the north-west region of Western Australia revealing its many secret wonders while carefully navigating kilometres of unsealed road. Here, Clare shares her experiences and tells us why travelling the Kimberley is better with an experienced local at the wheel.
How long have you been a driver guide?
I have been driving for APT for three years now, before that I was a driver-guide in the Red Centre and tour guide across Europe.
Tell us what your job entails?
You have to wear many hats as a Driver-Guide - professional driver, guide, negotiator and arguably most importantly, conversationalist! Your guests rely on you on tour, for everything from providing information on all the wonderful sights we see, to helping them with any personal needs they might have, so it is so important they feel they can trust you. Fortunately, all our APT guests are amazing and really consider this a trip of a lifetime and aren’t fazed by things like a bumpy road!
What regions do you drive in?
Previously I have driven the west coast, but now I am working exclusively in the beautiful Kimberley. It is such a special place to explore, and I have genuinely never grown tired of it.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your role?
Definitely making memories for our guests. On a recent tour I helped an older gentlemen revisit Cathedral Gorge, he had last seen it over 40 years ago, and it was very special for him to be able to return to somewhere he remembered so fondly.
Many people view their tour of the Kimberley as a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and some are nervous to explore somewhere so remote, especially as a solo traveller. It is a privilege to help guests realise their travel dreams.
Which is your favourite tour to run?
Our 17-Day tour from Broome to Darwin. It encompasses all my favourite parts of the Kimberley; you get to experience the incredible natural wonder in the Kimberley and also a taste of the Top End. I personally think the Kakadu region is awesome, it has swimming, boats, wildlife, and the big crocs. The dirt roads are great, and you are rewarded with luxury at both ends, Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa in Broome and the Vibe Hotel The Waterfront in Darwin.
People who join us for the 9-Day remote journey, often say they regret not extending, I don’t think most Australians realise just how much there is to see in this part of Australia.
What location do guests always enjoy?
Bell Gorge is a firm favourite, as you take a scenic walk and swim all day and then head back to the Bell Gorge Wilderness Lodge. To have such comfortable accommodation in such a remote location is unique to APT, and visitors really appreciate it.
It is an optional add on, but a lot of guests choose to include a ride in a chopper over the Bungle Bungles. As I tell everyone on my tour - I can only show so much on ground level, you will only understand the magnificent scale of the rock formation if you see it from the air.
What tour experience/destination do you always look forward to and why?
It is a little cliche, but Galvans Gorge for a refreshing swim. It is such a picturesque little watering hole, which is easily accessible from the road. With the beautiful sandstone rock, and the Boab tree sat at the top, it is a quintessentially Kimberley location you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
What are the benefits to a guided tour versus driving yourself?
The Kimberley is a wild and rugged place, driving here isn’t easy. Driver-Guides have the advantage of training and knowing the roads well. All the guests comment on how stressed they would be driving in such remote area, instead they just get to sit back and enjoy the view while I manage getting us to each destination safely.
Another important advantage is all the inside knowledge us Driver-Guides have having lived and worked in the area. For example, at Mitchell Falls there is some truly incredible artwork most visitors never find, however we have been fortunate enough to been shown these amazing pieces by the traditional owners of the land and are not only able to show you the art – but share the rich story behind it.
What do you bring to the tour as a Guide?
I see myself as an all-rounder, I know a little of everything. I am lucky to have insider knowledge learning from other Driver-Guides, local residents and First Nation communities. I carry reference books and teach my guests about native trees, plants and astrology as we drive. I also have all the handy tips and tricks only a local can tell you. I know where the cell phone reception is, I know what side of the road to go on for a smoother ride, I can even tell guests how to get a drink faster at the bar!
A big benefit for being a guide is the guests get to be surprised in a way they couldn’t be if they had planned and researched the tour themselves. I never give too much away, I just promise them the walk is wort it, I always get the same feedback “I loved that you tell us enough that we want to go but without ruining the surprise”.
Do you have any funny stories from running a tour?
So many! Our guests have a great sense of humour. There was a rock stuck in the tyre which the tour group insisted I keep. He was formally named Dwain the Rock Pentecost, he went to dinner with us, he had his own little hat. A local indigenous artist is painting him for me so I can keep him forever.
What fitness level is required for touring the Kimberley?
Some excursions involve quite a bit of walking on uneven ground, so make sure you know your own abilities and practice navigating uneven terrain before you go.
What advice would you have for someone considering a remote tour?
This is a truly unique experience which you’ll probably only going to do once, so embrace it. Also, pack bug spray and sun block!
Clare likes to make a themed playlist for every tour, including some Australian classics, Kimberley themed-tunes and of course guests make their requests too!
- Prettiest Girl in the Kimberley – John Williamson
- God Light in Broome – Neil Murray
- Kimberley Time – Chris Matthews
- Nutbush City Limits – Tina Turner
- Sunny Afternoon – The Kinks
- Waltzing Matilda – John Williamson
- Going Back Home – Pigram Brothers
A journey led by an expert like Clare is more than a tour; it's a connection to a vast, untamed land and the stories woven into its red-earth tapestry. Explore the Kimberley with APT.