It attracts travellers from around the world, but Australia’s Kimberley region is largely taken for granted by many local travellers – that is, until they have the opportunity to travel there and see it for themselves.
The continent’s far north-west is a resolutely beautiful part of Australia, with much of the land protected and designated as National Parks. In turn, travel & touring can be expensive, particularly due to the landscape requiring specialist vehicles, supplies and considerable experience in order to safely traverse it. This is why many people visiting the region do so with a qualified, experienced and reputable tour operator.
Cruising the Kimberley region is rapidly growing in popularity, largely due to a very limited accommodation supply outside of established towns and cities. The ability to be able to venture out from the comfortable surrounds of a ship to explore what is a very remote part of the world and easily return without a long drive to a fixed address means sea travel is set up perfectly to facilitate exploration of the Kimberleys. Here are just some of the ways you can cruise this spectacularly natural part of Australia’s coast.
Extensive and well established touring programs exist for travellers wishing to see the Kimberley region either by land or sea. In the case of the latter, APT utilises four ships of different sizes on a range of itineraries, most of which cruise between Broome and Darwin over a period of time around two weeks or so.
Depending on when you’d like to travel, you could see the region onboard ships such as L’Austral, Coral Discoverer, Coral Expeditions II or even APT’s own MS Caledonian Sky. Each ship features a number of smaller zodiac exploration vessels where guests can be delivered directly to shore for more in-depth guided tours to nearby highlights and attractions.
While certainly present in the region, cruising in the Kimberley is lightly covered by Scenic, in the form of a single comprehensive ‘Top End & Kimberley Snapshot’ tour between Darwin and Kununurra, via Broome. This includes a seven-night cruise onboard True North as the last component of the tour between Broome and Wyndham, before concluding in Kununurra.
Guests visit Talbot Bay, Montgomery Reef, Prince Regent River, Mitchell River and King George River, with special Scenic Freechoice activities in many of these places, before the tour arrives in Wyndham. The 18-day itinerary is priced from $20,955 per person twin share.
North-west Australia is certainly one of those parts of the world where in-depth cruising is the ideal way in which to see it. But if you’ve also travelled on a big ocean-going ship, there are obviously some huge differences in the type of experience you have. Very few small ships operating in the Kimberley region have Broadway style shows performing in a full size theatre and capacity for thousands of people at any one time.
Princess Cruises however is one of very few cruise lines where you can see parts of the Kimberley, albeit with the trade-off being that you can’t get as close to the shore as the smaller ships can. If you’re rounding the top end of Australia on a Princess ship, it will pay to have a pair of binoculars in your possession in order to make out the red cliff faces and some of the wildlife on shore.
All three of Princess’ ships that live in Australia year-round – Sun Princess, Dawn Princess and Sea Princess – visit the Kimberley region at different times of the year, usually taking in the region as part of various Northern and Western Australia Explorer itineraries.
The French expedition brand is yet to visit the Kimberley region but will be doing so on its maiden itineraries from next year.
Arriving during the 2017 mid-year dry season, Ponant’s L’Austral will spend two months in the region from July to September, operating four voyages of 10 nights / 11 days duration, three of which will travel between Darwin & Broome, while the fourth will cruise round-trip from Darwin. Each will visit many of the highlights of the Kimberley, with guests able to go ashore via the L’Austral fleet of zodiac craft.
Joining passengers onboard will be an expedition crew of 12 experts in fields such as marine biology, photography and ecotourism, who will be on hand to share their knowledge, all led by Ponant’s resident Australian wildlife photographer and adventurer Mick Fogg.
Perhaps the only way to improve the Kimberly region even more would be to see it in pure luxury and comfort, which generally comes as part of the Silversea style of cruising and exploring. The line’s 128-passenger adventure ship Silver Discoverer spends a few months every year in the Kimberley region, cruising between Broome and Darwin before heading out into waters in Asia and beyond. Travellers enjoy larger accommodations, with butler service for all suites and complimentary expedition clothing to use during the voyage.
As an international ship, Silversea Expeditions also adds in a stop in Jaco Island, Indonesia as part of its adventures in the Kimberley. Depending on the direction you are travelling, this little detour takes place either immediately after leaving or right before arriving in Darwin. The voyage includes a minimum of five full days exploring the Kimberly region itself, backed by the expertise of a team of marine biologists, ornithologists, historians and more.
Perhaps the line offering the most comprehensive program of itineraries in the Kimberley region, this small operator is also one of the smallest, most intimate vessels available. Something of a niche operator, the line even features six and eight-day fishing expeditions where up to 12 keen anglers at a time can cast a line into the water hunting for Barramundi, Mangrove Jack, Fingermark Bream, Trevally and more fish varieties.
More conventional itineraries include six and eight-day Southern and Northern Quest Kimberley journeys, while those with a bit more time and the intent on seeing a bit more of the region can undertake a 10-day itinerary or even the 14-day “Ultimate Quest”. The line’s Kimberley Quest II ship has been designed with a low draught to allow it to navigate much shallower waters and allow its guests to venture further inland while still on the ship.
Another Kimberley cruise operator which, unlike many of those previously mentioned, spends nearly its entire year in the region. This vessel features its own helicopter where guests can be taken on air adventures over the Bungle Bungle ranges and other parts of the picturesque north-west.
True North offers a range of itineraries from 7-13 nights between Broome and Wyndham or vice versa, with the longer adventure being its flagship itinerary which has been part of the company’s 25-year history. A seven-night round-trip fishing-themed journey from Broome is also part of the ship’s rotation at certain times of the year.
Coral Expeditions cruises many different parts of Australia and Asia including the Kimberley, however it doesn’t spend its entire year here. The line’s ship Coral Discoverer is usually found cruising this part of the world between April and October. Catering to 72 travellers per cruise, Coral Discoverer was also built with a shallow draught to enable it to access some more remote parts of the north-west. Two 10-night itineraries between Darwin and Broome or vice versa make up the entire Coral Expeditions product offering.
A rarity with this ship is that it maintains an Open Bridge policy, meaning anybody can head up and see the Captain or his Bridge Crew whenever they wish to learn more about the complexities involved with navigating the Kimberley waters.
The ship is also scheduled for a major refurbishment later this year which will see the Sun Deck converted into an undercover social hub where guests can mingle with officers and the expedition crew. A circular bar will serve drinks, while a lounge area with exercise equipment will also be installed.