A partnership between Ponant and Paspaley offers ultra-luxury sailing experiences in the Kimberley.

Luxury small ship line Ponant has pulled off a major coup, bringing its three-masted sailing ship Le Ponant to The Kimberley in a unique partnership with the Paspaley pearl family.

The yacht has recently undergone a major refit to reduce the number of staterooms – she now carries just 32 passengers – and make her even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

She will sail unique itineraries in the region – and guests will be ferried to the ship using the Paspaley family’s Grumman Mallard seaplanes.

Le Ponant, the line’s expedition fleet flagship, will join Le Laperouse and Le Soleal in one of Australia’s most picturesque and iconic regions and is forecast to attract high-end world tourism.

coral expeditions

The Kimberley is a hugely competitive market, with Coral Expeditions, APT and True North currently sailing there, and Scenic’s ultra-luxe Eclipse yacht arriving in the area in 2023.

However, a three-masted sailing ship is an entirely new experience, and coupling that experience with the Paspaley seaplanes creates an amazing sense of luxury that others will find it hard to replicate.

The idea to bring the sailing ship to Australia came from Ponant Asia Pacific Chair Sarina Bratton, who approached the chair of the French line with a plan to have the ship in her region year-round, with cruises in The Kimberley from April to October and in South East Asian destinations such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Melanesia for the remainder of the year.

About Le Ponant

Built in 1991, Le Ponant is 89 metres long and offers 16 staterooms and suites with one crew member per guest and a dedicated chef preparing fine gastronomic food showcasing the local culinary heritage.

Le Ponant usually sails the Mediterranean and getting her into Australia was no mean feat.

She features a marina for Zodiacs, kayaks and glass bottomed boats, a wellness space for spa, massage and yoga, and the Le Diamant panoramic restaurant.

Ms Bratton told Cruise Passenger at the launch of Le Ponant’s first visit Down Under that she presented the idea to Ponant, part of the Groupe Artemis company, which owns a huge portfolio of brands including Gucci and YSL, earlier this year.

The company quickly approved the extraordinary plan. Ms Bratton has worked with Paspaley in the past, having launched a Paspaley boutique onboard Orion during her time as managing director of Orion Expedition Cruises.

“This unique experience will see the third ship of the Ponant fleet to be based in the Asia Pacific region showcasing Australia, promoting sustainability at sea and creating compelling travel experiences in barefoot luxury,” she said. 

Ponant’s director of expeditions, Mick Fogg, said the size of the sailing vessel meant it would be free to plot its own course through The Kimberley’s many small-ship locations.

“We have created these very special sailings with flexile itineraries allowing us to design the best possible experience for guests,” he said. “Each voyage will offer a combination of iconic locations and hidden gems.”

He told Cruise Passenger a sailing ship offered a slower pace to enjoy the beauty of the destination as well as the ability to visit locations that others couldn’t.

The vessel will operate out of Kuri Bay – owned by the Paspaley family, one of the oldest pearling operations in the world, and home to the family’s fleet of three vintage Grumman Mallard seaplanes.

The seven-and eight-night itineraries begin on April 7, 2023, and will feature journeys from Kununurra to Broome.

Prices for the itineraries start at $3,000 per night, with the option to charter the whole vessel, and sailings are expected to attract both Australians and international guests.