Choosing a Kimberley Cruise
Travel writer Fleur Bainger has experienced expedition cruising in the Kimberley several times. Raft Point, Kings Cascades, Rowley Shoals, you name it, she’s cruised it. Here are some of Fleur’s useful insights into the many options on offer in this spectacular region.
There are no footprints on the beach at Bigge Island. As we pull up in a tender, the ocean, transparent like gently stained blue glass, is the only thing lapping at the pupil-contracting white sand. It’s so piercingly pure and seemingly unchartered, it emanates a wild, new-frontier feel.
The only way to reach this remote Kimberley island is by boat. For the past 30 years, cruise vessels have been exploring the wonders contained in this raw and precious environment. It’s the blink of an eye in the region’s two billion year old geological history. On deck by day, faded red rocks seem twisted as though by giants. By night, inky silhouettes of island archipelagos roll past in the moonlight.
The cruise you choose will determine the style of expedition you experience, the level of luxury and even the activities, but all deliver the same earthly marvels within the Kimberley. Read on to find out more.
Many cruises explore the vast region’s nooks and crannies for 14 days, granting detailed insights into the wilderness. There might be helicopter rides over a verdant plateau to the tiered Mitchell Falls, where Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water from the prior wet season continuously pour over rock platforms, or side-trip flights over Lake Argyle to the weathered rock formations of the World Heritage listed Bungle Bungle Ranges. There could be swims in the deep, motionless gorge pools of Ruby Falls or hikes to the huge rock overhang painted with giant fish and powerful Wandjina spirits at Raft Point.
The longer you journey, the more likely you are to see the ocean mirror still, its silky sheen rippled by a flying fish or the lifted head of a sea turtle.
Some shorter tours – think four to seven days – specialise in passion pursuits. There are fishing-oriented cruises that target ideal conditions and locations to throw in a line in hope of hooking a prized barramundi, waterfall-driven cruises allowing you to stand beneath the plummeting water until you’re wet to the skin, and those that zero in on the biodiverse ecology, watching for (and diving with) marine and bird life. The Roaley Shoals near Broome offers top rate snorkelling and is a great activity to augment a booked cruise from Broome.
One option is to fly by seaplane into a crater-like gorge, landing on water to join a 12-person luxury houseboat cruise through the scattered islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago. With a helicopter on the roof and a speedboat tethered to the side, there’s extraordinary access to dramatic rock faces, narrow waterways and expansive aerial views. The four night tour departs from the frothing Horizontal Falls and glides along calm, bright blue waters between rugged islands to Aboriginal rock art sites, fishing spots, waterholes and dugong sanctuaries. Other luxury vessels condense their itineraries into a week of highlights, including the King George Falls, Montgomery Reef and Prince Regent River.
A small number of boats offer budget-oriented experiences of the Kimberley coast, stopping in at all of the wish-list attractions but doing away with the creature comforts typical of other cruises. One offers a swag (roll up bed) option where you can forego a cabin to sleep under the stars, and has no historical, cultural or geographical talks. Guests also help out in the kitchen – including doing the dishes. Beach camping with live-aboard stays is also an option. This style suits those who adore camping and 4WD experiences, and who revel in simple pleasures.
Perhaps the greatest value are the intangible extras: the relaxed feeling of a beach bonfire by sunset where everything’s set up for your arrival; the fresh flavours and pleasure of making just-caught fish into panko crumbed delights; the spirit-renewing bush walks to hidden rock art sites and the sheer delight in spotting twirling manta rays and bobbing dugongs.
Before June, the landscape is green, the pools brimming and the waterfalls are fast flowing after the rainy season which typically runs from December through to March.
From June onwards, there’s time to gaze at magnificent humpback whales nurturing their young in Camden Sound. If you’re planning on travelling in September to November then the five or seven night dive and snorkel cruise to the Rowley Shoals Marine Park is a must. This underwater wonderland has around 700 tropical fish species, colourful coral and playful spinner dolphins.