Home of Australia’s largest tides, Derby is a friendly and historic outback town perched at the edge of the King Sound near the mouth of the mighty Fitzroy River.
It's known as the western gateway to outback adventure along the Gibb River Road. The natural attractions of Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge are within a day trip, and Derby is also a popular departure point for tours to the Horizontal Falls.
How to get to Derby
Derby is 220km east of Broome along the Great Northern and Derby Highways. Direct flights from Perth to Broome operate year round, with direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Broome during winter months (June-September).
From 16th August 2021, direct flights will operate between Broome and Derby on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. More information here.
Established in 1883, Derby was the first town to be settled in the Kimberley and the area was also home to several Aboriginal language groups. As a service town to the pastoral industry, Derby’s wide streets lined with boab trees were laid out to allow horse and bullock teams to turn easily, and some of Derby’s earliest buildings can still be seen today.
A Day in Derby
It's just 40km off the Great Northern Highway, and a couple of hours' drive up the road from Broome, so grab your friends, crank up those tunes and road trip it to Derby town! You'll be chasing tides, fish and sunsets, discovering Derby's heritage, Aboriginal culture and arts, teeing up for a game of golf round the Boabs, racing horses or crabs or enjoying Derby's friendly hospitality at the Boab Festival!
Detour to Derby: What makes Derby a hidden gem
Travel & lifestyle writer Julia D'Orazio spent a day in Derby recently and stayed longer - and she's shared her list of things to do while you discover Derby!
Driving to Derby
If you're driving from Broome, the 220km drive to Derby will take you through the start of Kimberley cattle country, passing Roebuck Plains Station, Kilto Station and Yeeda Station along the way. You'll also pass drive over the Logue River, and the Fitzroy Delta. If you fancy a refreshment or need fuel along the way, call into the roadhouses at Roebuck or Willare!
If you're driving from the east, keep an eye out for the turnoff to Derby about 170km from Fitzroy Crossing.
Boab Prison Tree
One of the finest examples of a Kimberley boab tree is found just 6km south of Derby. Measuring over 14m around, this tree is believed to be over 1,500 years old. Also known as Kunumudj, this is is a culturally significant site for the local Nyikina and Warrwa people.
The interpretative signage provides some insight into the natural environment and heritage attached to the tree, including its Aboriginal heritage, its use as an important staging post in Derby's early pastoral days, and its reputed use as an overnight holding cell for Aboriginal prisoners.
In the art centre, visitors can view and purchase artworks by custodians of Wandjina law and iconography from the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunumbal tribes.
The Mowanjum Museum, which opened in 2021, offers an immersive and interactive experience as well as displays of important pieces from the Mowanjum Collection, and the significant Selsmark Collection of dance totems, costumes and musical instruments.
Derby Visitor Centre
When you get to the Visitor Centre on Clarendon Street, there are a few things you'll want to do:
- Check the tide times - on display beside the old wooden supports from the Jetty
- Get a copy of the Derby & Fitzroy Crossing Visitor Guide, or pick-up The Derby Checklist or Wander out yonder and visit Derby brochures.
- You'll also find trail guides for the Derby Heritage Trail, Joon Joo Botanical Trail and Pigeon Heritage Trail
- Tap into some local fishing knowledge from the friendly staff
- Pick up some Kimberley souvenirs.
Though a small town, Derby has a lot of stories to tell. Home to Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years, in the 1600's noted explorers Abel Tasman and William Dampier made their way to the area, followed by Captain P.P. King in 1818. Sixty years later, an expedition by Alexander Forrest led to the arrival of the first pastoralists, and in 1883 Derby became the first gazetted town in the Kimberley.
Derby has served an important role as a port town - for the pastoralists, servicing the Halls Creek Gold Rush, and supporting the iron ore industry. It's not just transport by sea either - Derby was also the destination of Australia's first scheduled air service in 1921!
To discover Derby's heritage, follow the self-guided trails in and around Derby.
Derby's most recognisable place, the jetty, is popular with both locals and tourists as somewhere to take a stroll, soak up the sunset, cast a line, and watch the tide roll in.
The first jetty was built in 1894 as a wooden T-shaped jetty, located at the northern end of today's steel and concrete horseshoe-shaped jetty. Wool and pearl shell were the main exports in the early days, carried by horse-drawn tram from the townsite across the marsh. In more modern times, the town has serviced the cattle industry, and lead and zinc concentrate from a mine near Fitzroy Crossing, as well as passenger ships up to 1973.
Wharfinger House Museum
The small but fascinating Wharfinger House Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in Derby's role in early aviation, the story of the SS Colac, and more. Get the key from the Visitor Centre to access this historical building on Loch Street.
Across the road on Elder Street, you'll see the old Wool Shed, once part of the original port facilities. Alongside are some old trams which one used to traverse the marsh to the port, part of the Derby Historic Tramway Project.
Sculptures on the Marsh
The pictured sculpture is called "Contemplation" by Mark Norval, and can be found on the southern side of the marsh just behind the caravan park. Close by you'll find "Outback Football". They will soon be joined by the "Lady of the Moon" and "Kimberley Ringer" sculptures. Kimberley Moon Lady is the biggest of the sculptures and will stand at nearly seven metres high on the northern side of the Derby marsh just around the bend from Wharfingers House.
This art looks particularly beautiful at sunset.
Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures
Start your Horizontal Falls adventure from Derby, with daily tour departures and all departures for overnight tours to the Falls. Fly by seaplane to the Horizontal Falls, and enjoy time aboard the floating base, where your breakfast or lunch will be served. Enjoy viewing the falls up close, plus a cruise through the surrounding area. Overnight guests will enjoy the newly refitted overnight accommodation.
From a short scenic flight, to helifishing, an adventure to the Horizontal Falls, or an incredible chance to see Australia's largest inshore reef (Montgomery Reef) from the air, KAS Helicopters offers a wide range of adventurous tours, all departing from Derby!
Discover Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
Travel from Derby (departing the Visitor Centre) on a one day tour to Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) and Dimalarru (Tunnel Creek). Enjoy a fully commentated bus trip, learning about Derby, the Kimberley and the Napier range while taking in the scenery. At Windjan Gorge, you will be joined by a Bunuba Traditional Owner, who will guide you through both Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) and Dimalarru (Tunnel Creek).
One Tide Charters
Offering 5 to 12 day cruise itineraries departing from Derby, One Tide Charters explores the remote pristine wilderness of the Kimberley Coast including the Yampi Sound and Horizontal Falls, the Sale River, Montgomery Reef, Walcott Inlet, the Prince Regent River and more.
If you'd like to meet the artist behind the sculptures on the marsh, along with other local artists, call into the Norval Gallery on Loch Street. The Norval Gallery is run by a Kimberley artist husband and wife team Mark and Mary Norval. The gallery showcases their own insightful work as well as the artwork of many indigenous artists from the amazing Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Tee off at the Boabs
Enjoy a round of golf at Derby's unique golf course where you can tee off amongst the Boabs - contact the Sportsman's Club for information. If bowling is more your thing on bowling, how about the greens at Derby Bowling Club.
Come back in July next year for the Derby Cup, and a little bit more unusual, but great fun are the crab races held at the Mary Island Fishing Club!
There are some sensational fishing spots in and around Derby. Cast a line at the jetty or head out to some harder to reach spots along the May River, Fitzroy River or The Cuttings. Out on the water, fish around the islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago, or the creeks flowing into the King Sound. Don't have a boat? Don't worry! You can join a fishing charter departing from Derby.
Call into the Visitor Centre for advice from the fishing crazy staff!
Eat & Drink
There are plenty of options for your breakfast, lunch and dinner in Derby. On Clarendon Street you'll find the Spinifex Hotel, with dining options in the restaurant or bar, as well as Neaps Bistro at the Derby Lodge and the Jila Gallery & Café, and on Rowan Street, Tasty's Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch.
Ask at the Visitor Centre for more options!
Derby Boab Festival
The Derby Boab Festival celebrated its 62nd year in 2022 and is a celebration of the West Kimberley lifestyle and has fun for all the family! Plan your visit for the July school holidays each year, with the calendar of events including a float parade, Mardi Gras, Bush Poets Breakfast, Long Table Dinner and more.
If you're travelling in July, plan to visit the Mowanjum Festival for an evening of Aboriginal culture and art. Held at the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art & Culture Centre, the festival offers a chance to learn about and appreciate the culture of the Ngarinyin, Woddordda and Wunambal peoples through the performance and revival of Junba, traditional song and dance.
Arts & Culture
The Kimberley Art & Photographic Prizes have been running for over 50 years, and celebrate the rich talent pool of Kimberley artists. The exhibition takes place each July, and gives you the opportunity to cast your vote in the People's Choice Award, and enter the "Snap 'n Send" category for the photographic prize!
Take a tour with a local guide
Lamartij Tours offers the chance join with Edwin Lee Mulligan on an easy journey through Derby, and to gain some insight into the spiritual connection traditional owners have with the land and their resilience to survive. Book with the Visitor Centre!
Things to see and do in Derby
The best place to see the huge variation between high and low tide, as well as the beautiful sunsets, is at the Derby Jetty, where you can also try your hand at fishing with locals and visitors. Discover Derby's rich history by following its heritage trails, and visiting locations such as the Wharfinger House Museum, Pioneer Cemetery and the Old Derby Gaol. Within a ten minute drive, the Mowanjum Art Centre, the ancient Boab Prison Tree, all offer a glimpse into Derby’s past and present, and nature lovers will enjoy the Joonjoo Botanical Trail and Derby's birdwatching opportunities.
Within a day trip of Derby, Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek can be visited along the Pigeon Heritage Trail, and tours to the Horizontal Falls, Montgomery Reef and the Kimberley Coast are also available.
Tours from Derby
Depart from Derby for tours to the famous Horizontal Falls, with half-day, overnight stay, or 24-hour stay tours on offer. For even more tidal magic, take a helicopter flight over Montgomery Reef.
Guided 4WD day tours to Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek are a popular option, and include a guided walk with Traditional Owners from the local Bunuba people.
There are also some great fishing options - fly high on a heli-fishing adventure, join a fishing charter (available from May to December), or take a cruise of the Kimberley Coast.
For other tour options, including local sightseeing and cultural tours, head to Derby Visitor Centre for expert advice and bookings!
Places to stay in & around Derby
Whether you're towing a caravan, camping or looking for a self-contained apartment or motel room, you'll find some great options in Derby.