One of the most compelling expedition cruising regions, with itineraries selling out a year in advance, is here in Australia.
Straddling the far northwest of Australia across Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the Kimberley is one of the world’s last wilderness frontiers.
The Kimberley coast is spectacular with thundering waterfalls, plunging gorges, ancient Aboriginal rock art and pristine swimming holes around Doubtful Bay and the Sale River. Then there are the seabird breeding grounds on Adele Island and one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Horizontal Falls.
The best way to explore the fascinating coastline is by sea and a range of expedition ships ply the waters between Broome and Darwin from March to September.
Popular boutique ships, carrying up to 260 passengers with expedition leaders, Zodiacs and helicopters for exploring inland often sell out a year in advance. If money is no object, you can charter a family-owned catamaran that caters to just 14 guests.
There are also budget expeditions on motorised sailing yachts where you can sleep in a swag.
APT’s Wilderness Adventures arm takes more guests to the Kimberley than any other operator. MS Caledonian Sky accommodates 114 guests on an all-inclusive cruise between Darwin and Broome. The ship has a fleet of Zodiacs to take passengers closer to region’s amazing sights. A 10-night Broome to Darwin cruise costs from $11,995 per person. kimberleywilderness.com.au
The French cruise line returned to the Kimberley this year with L’Austral carrying 264 guests. On board there’s a swimming pool, full spa and 14 Zodiacs. The 10-night round-trip Jewels of the Kimberley itinerary includes popular spots such as King George Falls, Mitchell Falls, Montgomery Reef and Horizontal falls. The round-trip from Darwin is priced from $10,490 per person (deluxe cabin). en.ponant.com
The line has five cruises between Darwin and Broome on Silver Discoverer in July and August next year. Carrying 120 passengers in ocean-view suites, the ship has a shallow draft and can get close to shore. It has a pool, fitness centre and a fleet of 12 Zodiacs. An all-inclusive 10-day cruise, with shore excursions and a helicopter ride, is priced from $11,250 per person. silversea.com
True North Adventure Cruises
Boutique operator True North has been sailing in the Kimberley for more than 25 years. Its 36-passenger True North offers 17 voyages each season. The 50-metre ship carries a six-person helicopter. Seven-day Kimberley Snapshot cruise from Broome to Windham is priced from $12,995 per person (extra charge for helicopter flights). truenorth.com.au
The custom-built Kimberley Quest II accommodates 18 passengers in nine cabins. It has six crew members and three excursion tenders. Seven-night Northern or Southern Quest cruise starts from $10,933 per person. kimberleyquest.com.au
The line operates two ships in the Kimberley, the 50-passenger Coral Expeditions I and 72-passenger Coral Discoverer. They carry Zodiacs and an excursion boat that can take all passengers on shore excursions. A 10-day Broome to Darwin cruise starts from $9,980 per person. coralexpeditions.com/au
The Great Escape Charter Company
The family-owned company has a 26-metre luxury catamaran that caters for 14 guests with six crew including a chef. Each cabin has a queen bed, flat-screen TV and bathroom. A helicopter sits on the roof. A 7-night Broome to Mitchell Plateau starts from $9,868 per person. greatescape.net.au
The company offers a “no frills” Kimberley experience on a 25-year-old motorised sailing yacht, MV Oceanic, which suits those who are happy to help prepare dinner and wash dishes. It can accommodate 26 guests in ensuite twin cabins or you can sleep on deck in a swag. A seven-day cruise costs from $2,200 per person sleeping in a swag, up to $3,300 in an ensuite cabins. ahoybuccaneers.com.au