Jason Flesher, Director of Discovery Operations aboard Scenic Eclipse II, already plays the digeridoo. And he is looking forward to taking passengers on heli-fishing expeditions in The Kimberley.

They will be flown on the revolutionary vessel’s Airbus H130-T2 helicopter to barramundi fishing holes. And, of course, they will get to cook and eat their catch once back on the ship.

Battle for the Kimberley market

It’s all part of a high-tech battle for the traditional Kimberley cruiser that is turning the 2024 season into one of the most heavily contested ever.

The discovery yacht won’t be deploying its Neptune nine-seater submarine – which is probably a relief to the region’s notorious salty crocs. But the helicopters will be fully utilised – and fishing expeditions are already booking well.

We’re on board the ultra-luxe vessel created by Scenic’s founder and chair Glen Moroney on its first visit to Sydney. It’s causing quite a fuss.

Hundreds of travel agents are tramping through the suites, spas and restaurants for their first taste of this Aussie-designed pioneer of luxury yachting. Most are impressed.

The Eclipse Kimberley experience doesn’t come cheap. At around $1,800 per person per night it’s definitely at the upper end. But that isn’t deterring Australians.

Proud owner Moroney tells us he was expecting 75 per cent bookings for his first of two seasons, but they are currently running at 90 per cent. If you want to catch a barra from Eclipse II’s helicopter you’d better hurry.

Local hero

Moroney is a reluctant hero. He created Scenic over three decades ago and now, with a fleet of river and luxury ocean vessels including the stunning Emerald yachts, he is a pioneer.

And he is already onto his next big thing. He won’t say what, but it won’t be another Eclipse. It’s going to be bigger – and as always, it will shake up the industry. Watch this space!

He is most proud to bring this very first Scenic vessel home. He sailed it into Newcastle, headquarters of his global empire, with his 89-year-old dad on board. The town turned out along with the Mayor.

“It’s been the journey 38 years from running bus tours down to Warrnambool – and now owning a fleet of ocean going ships – four with a fifth one coming – and I’m sure in the future there’ll be, there’ll be more,” he told media during a ship tour.

But when Cruise Passenger tried to get onto the submarine bay for pictures. Moroney told us: “I’d be happy to help – but they won’t trust me with the key!” We love Moroney most because, despite being a billionaire and a brilliant industry leader, he is as Aussie unpretentious as they come.

Heli-fishing and pearl farms

Senior crew Scenic Eclipse II
Senior crew Scenic Eclipse II

But back to action-man Flesher. The star of the TV series Maritime Masters will be leading Eclipse’s first Kimberley season, and he has been putting in a lot of work.

“She is truly is a discovery yacht with everything that we have on board.

“Australia has never seen a ship like this and what we’re capable of doing. So I really think not only coming home to Australia but a ship of this magnitude provides the guest with the true experience of Australia, to see the Kimberley like no other way.”

It’s going to be a tough season. For the first time Scenic and Seabourn have joined longer serving lines like Ponant and Silversea. Local lines like Coral Expeditions and True North are furiously promoting their local roots.

Cruise Passenger was inadvertently caught in the crossfire when we published a picture of a rival line’s vessel at one of the falls. Angry correspondence followed with the line’s commercial executive saying: “We like to call out the perpetual level of BS that is shoved on the Australian cruise consumer about gimmicky inclusions that will not be provided”.

Ironic considering Scenic’s Australian credentials.

Flesher admits the submarines will only be deployed on the east coast. But there will be “gimmicky inclusions” galore in Kimberley.

“We’ll still be the only ship with two helicopters on board. And we’ve custom outfitted our zodiac specifically for the Kimberley. We’ve added two covers on top because the black rubber gets very hot. Also we have custom made biminis for shade.

“Just imagine after a zodiac cruise to the horizontal falls, let’s say, and the Talbot Bay and seeing the billion-year-old geology and then jumping on to one of the helicopters and then seeing it from above and giving our guests that whole perspective from above and on the water level or when they’re on a walk from the beach and then flying.

“It truly is like no other.”

Indigenous participation

There will be indigenous guides who will curate the cave paintings and the smoking ceremonies that guests will be able to experience.

And the heli-fishing expeditions are proving a huge drawcard.  It took nine months to get the licences and local pilots will use their knowledge to find the fish.

Another favorite will be a visit to a pearl farm.

“Guests will be flown off the ship 60 nautical miles to Willie Creek Pearl Farm. They’re going to have a private tour and hear about the whole experience about pearling and the history.

“Then our guests will receive an oyster and it’s the oyster itself. It’s third generation. So it’s already provided at least two pearls and our guest will be able to open the pearls.

“My bracelet here – I got the pearl myself from the oyster.”

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Anthony Laver, Scenic’s general manager of Sales and Marketing, said Eclipse II would provide an authentic Kimberley experience. Even the pilots on the vessels two helicopters were Kimberley trained and used to the terrain.

The ship itself uses GPS to maintain position and doesn’t have to anchor on the environmentally sensitive ocean floor.

Discovery leader is Mike Cusack has spent 20 years guiding in the Kimberley, and was once dropped onto the wilderness to survive a year with his wife on bush tucker.

Moroney is very happy with the reception so far.

He told Cruise Passenger he had been expecting 70+ bookings by this time, but they were running at 90+ per cent.

“It’s the first time that anything’s been offered like this, we’re proud and we’re not boasting about it to say that it is so different. It’s so ultra-luxury,” says Laver.

“It’s the only ship that can offer the combination of everything.”

Since its launch, the twin Eclipse yachts have sparked a trend. Hotel brands like Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton have launched luxury yachts – without the adventure toys.

That hasn’t phased Moroney. He is already onto his next plans.

What will it be? He’s not saying. He is busily raising finance for what he says will be bigger than Eclipse and another industry first.

Hear Jason Flesher talk about life on Scenic Eclipse here.

View the video of Eclipse’s historic arrival in Sydney here.