AdventureSmith Explorations traveler Chris Harter takes a Australia small ship cruise and details why you should cruise the incredible, remote Kimberley coastline.
I was privileged to see the rugged and awesome wilderness landscape of the Kimberley on an 11-day expedition voyage, and what a trip it was! After traveling extensively in Alaska and worldwide on small ships, I truly think this remote land is a standout among expedition travel. Here’s why:
1. The Kimberley Is the Alaska of Australia
The Kimberley region in Northwest Australia is to Australia what Alaska is to the United States. Both are vast territories considered the “last frontier” of their respective countries. Both are incredibly remote with little infrastructure due to their location, climate and topography. Both hold few year-round modern settlements while still managing to have rich cultures and histories with their ancient indigenous populations. Both environments have prolific and varied marine and terrestrial wildlife populations, many of which are dwindling or absent entirely from their previous ranges due to disappearing habitats elsewhere. Both are on many travelers’ must-see lists, and both can be a challenge to truly see and experience in a comfortable manner. That’s where small ship cruising comes in.
Both are vast territories considered the “last frontier” of their respective countries.
Expedition ships are the perfect way to access these remote lands, and while you’ll be traveling farther to access the Kimberley than Alaska if you are a North American traveler, the journey is well worth the reward.
2. Remote Australia Beaches & Wildlife
If you’re looking for off-the-grid adventure full of classic Australia landscapes and animals, the Kimberley delivers. The first day of my Kimberley expedition showcases such an experience right at the outset. In the remote mining and pearling outpost of Broome, we were able to enjoy fantastic seafood, a jog on the famous 10-mile Cable Beach and brief a wander through the charming downtown for look at the aboriginal and frontier influences. Upon boarding our small ship in Broome, we immediately got under way heading north for Cape Leveque, the last road-accessible location we would see for the next week.
In the afternoon, we boarded inflatable skiffs for a shuttle to the endless beach at Cape Leveque. Greeting us as we arrived were a small group of incredibly playful and inquisitive bottlenose dolphins who seemed to come nearer at the request of our naturalist guide with a whistle and gentle pat on the side of the Zodiac. Once ashore we were left to simply relax on one of the whitest stretches of beach I have ever seen. Some passengers went for a jog, some swam in the calm azure waters, some listened to naturalist guide discourse, some snorkeled along a disappearing rocky outcrop, while others simply slept in the sun. Due to the extensive range of the area’s large and abundant saltwater crocodiles this was to be our last swim in the ocean, but I equally enjoyed the later experience of being in the habitat of Australia’s famed dangerous creatures.
At the Lacepedes Island group, we witnessed the largest resident brown booby population on the planet.
After our morning at the beach, a brief sail brought us to one of the most prolific bird breeding habitats in the world, the Lacepedes Island group. There with incredible light and welcomed cloud cover, we witnessed the largest resident brown booby population on the planet measured in the hundreds of thousands with abundant sightings of Australian pelicans, lesser frigate birds, sooty oyster catchers and roseate terns all in the mix as well. It was an incredible first day for a trip that continued to surprise and surpass all expectations.
3. Coastal Beauty & Tidal “Horizontal Waterfalls”
The second morning of our voyage brought us into truly incredible scenery between the red sandstone mesa formations of Raft Point and Montgomery Reef just offshore. The vistas here were both new and somehow familiar. Having spent my college years in the desert American Southwest, this region of Australia to me looked as if the ocean flooded into the mesas, canyons and buttes of southern Utah and northern Arizona. The coast of the Kimberley offers the stark beauty of these iconic American regions, but fringed with productive mangrove, reef and tidal river ecosystems. The contrast of these two habitats directly next to each other was truly incredible to witness.
The tides here are so severe that they can rise and fall as much as 33 feet causing a virtual waterfall of ocean water cascading off this reef system at low tide.
Again, we boarded our zodiacs to motor out 10 miles off shore amongst a natural spectacle, Montgomery Reef. The tides here are so severe that they can rise and fall as much as 33 feet causing a virtual waterfall of ocean water cascading off this reef system at low tide. With so much water and life moving, the area becomes a vibrant food chain with birds and predator fish all waiting for food to present itself. As we drifted in the fast tidal rivers amongst the reef system we lost track of all the green turtle sightings. I know that we stopped counting at 38 from notes taken that day!
4. The Famous Kimberley Aboriginal Rock Art
If the Kimberley is on your bucket list, you’ve likely already heard of the region’s rock art. On my cruise, we made a landing at Raft Point for a hike to a saddle between two rock outcrops to our first look at one of the Aboriginal rock art galleries that the Kimberley is famous for. Our group was speechless as our knowledgeable Aboriginal art expert guide Darren discussed the significance of this particular gallery with its depictions of the creation story and wildlife reverence. It was another staggering day filled with stunning scenery, abundant wildlife and cultural and historical perspective that very few are fortunate enough to see.
5. Unique Access to Wild Australia
We witnessed 200-foot waterfalls, 40,000-year-old Bradshaw rock art galleries, galloping rock wallabies, the area’s famous saltwater crocs…
My Kimberley cruise truly was an “expedition” voyage into one of the most remote and unique places I have ever seen. We witnessed 200-foot waterfalls, eagles catching fruit bats in mid-flight, hikes to crashed World War II era cargo planes and 40,000-year-old Bradshaw rock art galleries, galloping rock wallabies, the area’s famous saltwater crocs, bumpy skiff rides in the geologic oddity known as the “Horizontal Waterfalls,” expert lectures on geology, Australian ornithology, Aboriginal art and culture and much, much more.
This AdventureSmith traveler sailed aboard the Orion, now rechristened as the National Geographic Orion operating unique itineraries around the world. View AdventureSmith Explorations’ current Australia small ship cruises to get aboard a Kimberley cruise.