The Australian aborigines say that Wolfe Creek crater - Kanimalal - was formed as a result of the birth of the fabled Rainbow Serpent, the mythological being who rose from the depths of the Earth to create life in the world. Until 1947, no one thought to contradict their story, as the rest of the world was completely ignorant of the crater's existence. The crater was only 'discovered' when an aerial survey was made of this unexplored area of Western Australia. Scientists then suggested that the vast wound in the Earth had been caused over 300,000 million years ago by a 50,00 ton rock that fell from the skies at a speed of some 15 km a second. When it happened, the crater would have been much deeper, but over the millennia the sand and wind have worked to partially heal the great wound, which is now some 60 metres deep from the top of the rim to the crater floor.
The mark left by the meteor is awe-inspiring, to say the least, and at Wolfe Creek it's easy to understand why the aborigines believe that rocks, water, earth and sky all have spiritual identities and hold the land in such reverence. It's also easy to understand the disturbing scenery being used as the setting for the 2005 horror film Wolf Creek.
During the wet season, water accumulates in the centre of the crater and forms circles of vegetation in rich contrast with the intense red of the rock and the brilliant sky. The water makes it difficult to travel by land across this almost Martian landscape, but scenic flights allow a bird's eye view of the scene and give an idea of the scale of this great scar on the Earth's crust.
When the crater is dry, visitors to the Wolfe Creek National Park may be lucky enough to catch sight of some of the unique wild life of the area such as the dragon lizard, the red kangaroo or the Inca Cockatoo, a beautiful pink bird with wonderful fiery crest. Even in the dry season, an aerial visit over the crater is a must for any visitor to this distant location on the edge of the Australia's Great Sandy Desert.
Air safaris are becoming more common in this area, and fly over this and other great natural landscapes and scenery such as the tower-like mountains of the Purnululu National Park. From Halls Creek - the most important city in the Kimberley region, and home to many of the remaining Aborigines - Northwest Regional Airlines offers scenic flights of one or two hours over the crater. This is a great place to learn about the ancient culture, and you can even take a trip to Warmun, in Turkey Creek (just 160 kilometres from Halls Creek) where the art centre offers the largest display of traditional art by the Gija people of the region.
Halls Creek is also a good base point for exploring Western Australia, a vast unknown where the twenty-first century traveller will be as overawed as the British adventurers who visited the continent in the nineteenth century: it is almost like something from another planet. The vast red lands of the Kimberley region inspire the imagination to epic stories such as the love story between Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in the film Australia.
British Airways and other airlines fly to Sydney and from there, several airlines offer flights to Halls Creek Airport, the main airport in the Kimberley region. From Halls Creek, 200 km from the crater, the company Northwest Regional Airlines organise scenic flights lasting an hour and a half on the Wolf Creek crater for a minimum of two passengers, for around £160 per person. The agency Luxury Australia specialises in luxury adventure tours and offers customised tours of Western Australia that include excursions to the crater.
Where to stay:
Kimberley Hotel, offers luxury accommodation in a setting decorated with photographs and souvenirs of the first Australian explorers, for around £95 per person. The Halls Creek Motel, whose garden offers good views of the landscape, with cost around £85 per room.
When to go:
The rainy season (October to March) makes many areas impassable, but transforms the moonscape of the crater into an extraordinary carpet of vegetation and water.
While in Kimberley, don't miss...
Purnululu Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home of the Bungles Bungles mountain range, a strange natural formation that looks like towers moulded by hand. The town of Kununurra, north of Halls Creek, where you can take scenic flights over the area and boat trips on the Kununurra lake.