It’s the drop-dead gorgeous destination dreamed about by geologists, artists, stargazers and moviemakers. For the rest of us, the Kimberley is a chance to experience Australia’s vast North West and its stark, ancient wilderness.
Introducing The Kimberley
With an area of more than 420,000 square kilometres, Australia’s Kimberley is bigger than most of the world’s countries and twice the size of Victoria. Its rugged isolation is home to 12,000 kilometres of incredible coastline. It’s also hundreds of millions of years old and predates life on Earth – something I learned from the onboard geologist at one of his fascinating lectures.
My cruise from Broome to Darwin takes 10 days to explore the region’s best-known and totally uninhabited natural attractions – time that skips past like specks in the cosmos.
It’s here in the little pearling town of Broome where almost half of the Kimberley’s sparse population of about 40,000 people reside. It’s a great place to start our adventure and where we see the first of many magical sunsets against the contrasting, vibrant colours of the earth and sea.
Aboard the Silver Discoverer
Aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer, I am experiencing the future of expedition cruising. This genre of adventurous travel began some 50 years ago when the first Antarctic cruises took place. Back then it was exciting, but rudimentary cruising with little in the way of creature comforts.
Since then, the bar has been progressively lifted to the point where established luxury cruise lines like Silversea now bring their own brand of 5-star sophistication to the table. Along with the enrichment and fulfillment delivered in exceptional destinations like here in the Kimberley, we can now enjoy all-inclusive service with dining inspired by Relais & Chateaux and butler cabin service aboard state-of-theart, purpose-built expedition vessels.
Starting life as the much-loved Clipper Odyssey, an extensive refit transformed this perfectly suited vessel into another befitting the Silversea brand. Christened Silver Discoverer, the 103-metre ship accommodates a maximum of 128 guests, served by 87 officers, staff and crew.
Luxury accommodations afloat
Shipboard accommodations deliver luxury levels now increasingly in demand in modern expedition cruising. Suites ranging in size from 17 to 40 square metres offer butler service, champagne on request, refrigerator stocked with guests’ choice of beverage, European bath amenities, premium Pratesi bed linen with down duvet covers, iPod docking station, plush bathrobe and slippers, umbrella, hairdryer (reasonably priced) wi-fi – although coverage is limited at sea in the Kimberley – flatscreen TV with on-demand movies, music and satellite news.
Silver Discoverer’s elegant lounge and open bar is the popular gathering point where travellers swap tales and relive the day’s adventures.
Exploring exceptional beauty
And our adventures begin with a three-hour Zodiac cruise from Silver Discoverer to Montgomery Reef, introducing us to the extraordinary effects of the Kimberley’s massive, six-metre tides. During king tides, water cascades off the sandstone reef, revealing green turtles and frantic fish in the churning, swirling sea. Swarms of wheeling seabirds feast on marine creatures exposed as the reef appears to rise before our eyes.
At Talbot Bay, rapidly rising and falling tides coursing through narrow gorges create the Horizontal Falls. So stunning is this sight that Sir David Attenborough once said it is “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”. A high-speed boat ride through the gap is a thrill I won’t forget in a hurry. Screaming with excitement is mandatory.
History and heritage
We’re reminded of the Aboriginal connection to this land with two distinct types of ancient rock art at Jar Bay. The Gwion Gwion, or Bradshaw paintings, are believed to be at least 17,000 years old and there is much fascinating speculation about their origin. Sacred to the Worora, Ngarinyin and Wunumbul people, the Wandjina figures are comparatively youthful, dating back ‘just’ a few thousand years. Here, in these impossibly isolated places, one wonders what life was like 40,000 years ago.
The expedition team is here to help us unravel some of these mysteries. Experts in geology, marine biology and ornithology guide us on all shore and Zodiac excursions, adding enlightening, entertaining talks. We learn that there are more than 300 species of birds in the region and lots and lots of crocodiles lurking in the water near mangrove swamps. Our leader reminds us, “Don’t trail your hands or feet in the water, please!”
Baz Lurhmann featured King George Falls in his epic movie Australia, with scenes also shot at Purnululu National Park, home to the Bungle Bungle Range, where scenic flights are also popular.
The most popular time to cruise the Kimberley is in the dry season, from April to September, when temperatures are moderate and the humidity less. The wet season usually finishes in March and the waterfalls are at their peak soon afterwards. Whale watching is best between June and November when humpbacks migrate north from the Southern Ocean.
By the time the ship docked in Darwin, we had sailed 1641 nautical miles (more than 3000 kilometres) and felt privileged to have glimpsed a few of the secrets of this extraordinary wilderness.
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