No two Kimberley cruises are the same. Each expedition is crafted by experienced captains and expedition leaders around weather, tidal and community requirements. Below is a selection of the key destinations visited.
King George River & Falls (Oomari Falls)
Fed by the King George River draining across the Gardner Plateau, the over-260-feet-tall King George Falls (“Oomari” Falls) are the most impressive Kimberley waterfalls and the highest twin falls in Western Australia. Before reaching the mist-like spray rising from the base of King George Falls, cruise through steep-sided gorges carved by a flooded river system that carved a swathe through the Kimberley landscape 400 million years ago. The indigenous group here is the Balanggarra people. Early in the waterfall season, possibly cruise around the base of impressive King George Falls, or in later months take the opportunity to view the honeycomb erosion patterns of sandstone cliffs up close.
Vansittart Bay (Banjal)
Vansittart Bay is home to many cultural and historically significant sites like the remarkable Gwion Gwion (Bradshaw) Aboriginal rock art galleries estimated to be up to 20,000 years old. Jar Island is so-named after the pot shards found here, brought to the island by Macassan fisherman harvesting sea cucumbers (also known as trepang). Jar Island’s Indigenous name is Njula, and the Indigenous Group is the Gaambera people.
Nearby, on the Anjo Peninsula lays the well-preserved wreckage of a US Airforce C-53 Skytrooper aircraft, the result of a pilot losing his bearings flying from Perth to Broome in 1942 and putting down on a salt pan near present-day Truscott Airbase.
Mitchell Falls, Winyalkan & Swift Bay
Tumbling down the Mitchell Plateau in a series of tiered waterfalls and emerald green rock pools, the Mitchell Falls (“Punamii-Uunpuu”) are the photogenic poster child for the Mitchell River National Park. Take a scenic heli flight (additional cost) to multi-tiered Mitchell Falls where emerald-hued rock pools cascade down the escarpment. The indigenous group here are the Wunambal people.
Mitchell River National Park is inhabited by significant numbers of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and bird species which are lured by a year-round water source. Sandstone terraces beside tiered rock pools make a terrific viewing platform from which to savor the serenity of this ancient landscape.
An alternative option to Mitchell Falls is exploring the sandstone caves of Wollaston Bay or Wollaston Creek. This mass of weathered tunnels, arches and columns form a labyrinth-like maze and was once an Aboriginal midden. Another option while anchored at Winyalkan Bay is a visit to a series of Wandjina and Gwion Gwion rock art galleries at Swift Bay. In the evening, enjoy watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean while indulging in a gourmet BBQ.
Prince Frederick Harbor & Bigge Island (Wuuyuru)
Prince Frederick Harbor is one of the Kimberley’s most spectacular locations at the southern end of York Sound. The harbor is dotted with islands lined with mangroves and monsoon rainforests, set against a backdrop of ochre-hued escarpment. White-bellied sea eagles and other birds of prey are often seen here, and at low tide, expansive mudflats reveal large populations of mudskippers and mangrove crabs. Take the Xplorer tender vessels on a cruise up Porosus Creek to view some striking rock formations. Bigge Island’s indigenous name is “Wuuyuru,” per the Wunambal people.
Prince Regent River & Careening Bay (Wunbung-Gu)
King Cascade (“Mambulbada”) is a classically beautiful terraced waterfall and is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Kimberley. Falling from a considerable height and around 165 feet across, water tumbles down a staggered terrace of Kimberley sandstone. Layer upon layer of the ochre-hued and blackened rock sprouts grasses, mosses and ferns in a sort of lushly vegetated hanging garden. Reach King Cascade after cruising in Xplorer tender vessels down the Prince Regent River which is a remarkable anomaly as the river runs dead straight along a fault line. The indigenous group here is the Dambimangari people.
Lt. Phillip Parker King named nearby Careening Bay after he beached his leaking vessel HMC Mermaid to effect repairs. While stranded on this remote coastline for 17 days, the ship’s carpenter carved HMC Mermaid 1820 into the bottle-shaped trunk of a boab tree near the beach. 200 years later, the Mermaid Boab Tree has since split into two trunks and sports a mammoth girth of 40 feet. Significantly, the bulbous tree is listed on the National Register of Big Trees and the carpenter’s careful inscription now stands almost as tall as a person. Careening Bay’s indigenous name is “Wunbung-gu,” per the indigenous group: the Wunambal people.
Montgomery Reef (Yowjab)
Montgomery Reef is a biologically diverse area covering over 155 square miles and was named by Phillip Parker King. Twice daily, as the sea recedes in mammoth 36-foot tides, Montgomery Reef rises from the Indian Ocean in a cascade of rushing water, revealing a flat-topped reef pockmarked with rockpools and rivulets. Opportunistic birds, turtles and dolphins take advantage of the emerging reef, feeding on marine life left exposed in rock pools. Montgomery Reef’s indigenous name is “Yowjab,” and the channel “Wilyjaru,” according to the Dambimangari people.
Doubtful Bay & Raft Point (Ngumbree)
Raft Point guards the entrance to Doubtful Bay, a vast body of sheltered water which harbors significant sites such as the ancient Wandjina rock art galleries, considered some of the finest in the Kimberley. If a Traditional Owner guide is available, then visit the galleries. Raft point is known as “Ngumbree” to the indigenous group here, the Dambimangari people.
Doubtful Bay is the traditional country of the Worrora people who follow the Wandjina, their god, law-maker and creator. Images of Wandjina are found throughout the Kimberley, recording their stories, knowledge and culture in stone. Other sites in Doubtful Bay include the mighty Steep Island and Ruby Falls at Red Cone Creek.
Horizontal Falls (Garaanngaddim) & Buccaneer Archipelago
The Horizontal Falls are one of the Kimberley’s biggest attractions and are a result of the mammoth 36-foot tides the Kimberley is renowned for. The Horizontal Falls, described by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world,” are created as the ocean thunders through a narrow gorge in the McLarty Ranges. Water builds up on one side and is forcibly pushed through the bottleneck, creating a rushing horizontal waterfall of swiftly flowing seawater. Riding the rapids on Zodiac inflatable tenders is a trip highlight. The Horizontal Falls are known as “Garaanngaddim” to the local indigenous group, the Dambimangari people.
Talbot Bay is at the heart of the Buccaneer Archipelago, where rocks on the 800 or so islands are estimated at over 2 billion years old. At Cyclone Creek, see evidence of massive geological forces in the impressive rock formations and cruise through the Iron Islands, past Koolan Island, before enjoying sunset drinks at Nares Point.
Subject to weather and tides, explore the Lacepede Islands’ lagoons by Xplorer and Zodiac tender vessels. This protected class-A nature reserve is a significant seabird nesting rookery for brown boobies and roseate terns. Other species often sighted at the Lacepedes include Australian Pelicans, frigate birds, egrets and gulls. The four low-lying islands are also an important breeding and nesting habitat for green turtles.
As the incredible Kimberley adventure draws to a close, on the last evening aboard, enjoy the captain’s farewell drinks amongst new-found friends.