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Has WA’s border closure put the Kimberley season in jeopardy? Here’s what the experts say

A big question mark hangs over the upcoming Kimberley cruising season, as Western Australia’s borders remain shut and the ban on foreign ships remains.

But a number of cruise specialists and companies are hopeful that keen cruisers will still get their fix of cruising in this iconic location.

The Kimberley cruising season runs from the end of March through to October, with international lines like Silversea and Ponant hopeful they will be able to return.

Other small ship expedition lines like APT, Coral Expeditions and True North have had more luck getting their fleet sailing, with the lines hosting a shortened season last year, much to the joy of cruisers.

Andrew Castles, General Manager from Expedition Cruise Specialists is hopeful and says everything is still currently set up for a great season. 

At this stage the Kimberley’s cruise operators remain ‘full steam ahead’ with their planning for the season and we haven’t seen any cancellation advice coming yet.

“Most operators  are hopeful that there will be some clarity around Western Australia’s border reopening shortly. There’s no doubt, though, that the Western Australian government’s decision to backtrack on their plans to transition to open borders on 5th February has created uncertainty and dented traveller’s confidence as to whether they will be able to make their way into Western Australia to embark.”

Mr Castles says most customers that have booked are from all around Australia, so there will need to be some word on the border soon to prevent damage to the cruising season.

“Over 80% of travellers booked on Kimberley Cruises this year are originating outside of Western Australia, so should the WA borders remain closed it will have significant implications for many of the tourism and cruises operators in the Kimberley – and the wider industry more generally.”

Western Australia was set to open on February 5, but instead has extended its hard closures indefinitely. 

Currently all entrants to WA need to undertake 14 days of self-isolation, be triple vaccinated and adhere to testing requirements.  

Peter Trembath, Brand Director of True North, which sails in the Kimberley, says everything is currently scheduled to go ahead.  But the company is prepared to reschedule if needs be. 

“At this juncture we have not made any amendments to our 2022 sailing schedule. Since the pandemic began, True North has, where necessary, rescheduled guests who experience disruption associated with the pandemic and re-booked guests who remain able to travel. We are confident that this flexible approach will continue to sustain itineraries that are scheduled to depart in March 2022”

A spokesperson from Ponant also confirmed that are sailings are still set to go ahead following cancellation of March dates, although they’re monitoring ongoing government discussions.

“Both our small expedition ships Le Laperouse and Le Soleal are in New Caledonia ready to start the Kimberley season according to our eight week turnaround. As per this eight week turnaround and due to the delay in lifting the Australian biosecurity act, we have cancelled our two March 2022 sailings.”

“We are currently monitoring the conversation with federal and state governments and hope to receive the green light on time to start our Kimberley season in April this year.”

Never sailed the Kimberley before?

If you’ve never taken on the Kimberley before, Mr Castle’s has all the expert advice on the most exciting itineraries and what to know before you head off. Mr Castles also notes that if you are hoping to get in on the 2022 season you’ll want to act fast.

“At the moment though, unless capacity opens up due to border restrictions, the 2022 season is very heavily booked with only very limited availability. Already we’re well into selling 2023 (and some operators are due to release 2024 due to the high demand) so there’s only a handful of cabins left to snap up for 2022.”

Itineraries 

Mr Castles takes you through the range of itineraries on offer this season.

“There’s a couple of classic itineraries in the Kimberley that we really love – as they tick all the boxes in showcasing all of the iconic sights along the Kimberley Coast. Coral Expeditions and Reef Prince operate ‘tried and tested’ ten-night voyages between Broome and Darwin and vice versa, a very comprehensive itinerary which also ties in nicely with the Ghan in Darwin  – always a popular addition to a Kimberley cruise.”

“Alternatively, smaller operators such as Great Escape, Ocean Dream, Kimberley Pearl and True North operate 13-night cruises between Broome and Wyndham and vice versa, with the extra days allowing for more time to linger, explore more deeply and even try your hand trying to land a big Kimberley barra – which the onboard chef will happily cook up for you. Cruises starting or finishing in Wyndham are also ideal for travellers who wish to add a couple of nights exploring the nearby World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles).”

“If your time is limited though, there are some excellent eight- and nine-day itineraries focusing on the Southern Kimberley that showcase the best of the south, including Horizontal Falls and Montgomery Reef. Kimberley Quest and Diversity Charters are great options in this regard.”

First time advice 

If you’ve never been to Western Australia’s slice of rugged wilderness before, Mr Castles says it’s all about finding an expert and knowing what you want out of your trip. 

“The biggest piece of advice is to speak to a Kimberley expert such as ourselves before booking!”

“An expert will help you find the perfect ship that best suits your requirements. When we’re recommending a ship to a traveller we consider things such as the traveller’s fitness level, whether they are interested in fishing whether they prefer a more ‘bare foot’ experience that you find on the very smallest ships (10 – 20 travellers) or whether they like a bit more amenity in terms of more dining choices, whether you need to make a bit of an effort to dress up at dinner and so on.”

“It’s also important that you select a cruise operator that has a great expedition team on board, as you really do rely on the knowledge your expedition leader and guides impart to make the most of your expedition.”