My curiosity was initially piqued when the bus taking us and our luggage drove onto the beach at Broome’s picturesque Gantheaume Point….where was the pier, I wondered? Then, as I saw the True North anchored out in the bay, and a fleet of tenders bobbing up and down on the waters edge with crew waving jovially at us, it confirmed my anticipation that this would be no ordinary cruise!
For those of you who’ve never heard of it, True North is a boutique expedition ship which carries just 36 guests, and it cruises some pretty far flung spots….with the wild Kimberley region of northwestern Western Australia being one of the most popular. Next week I will go into detail about where we went and what we got up to, but for this blog I am concentrating on the ship and the on board experience – which I have to say in the world of cruising is something a bit different!
So our start out was a wet boarding. Shoes off, jeans rolled up, and we waded out to about knee high water to clamber on board the tenders and be whisked out to the ship. “Welcome to Kimberley boot camp” our escorted said brightly. Was he joking? As it turns out, not exactly.
Once on board we were welcomed with a glass of champagne with which to chill a little and enjoy the end of another picture perfect day in these parts – which means an intense, colourful sunset over the Indian Ocean. Then we had a quick tour of the ship and were taken to our stateroom.
True North is small but she doesn’t feel cramped. Our stateroom was on the lowest deck, with twin beds and a private bathroom, and two portholes near the ceiling. Those on the higher decks, however, were larger with a writing desk and picture windows, and could be arranged with double beds.
The decor throughout is elegant, contemporary and you would wonder if not somewhat impractical for an adventure cruiser – lots of cream and beige, from the walls and floors to the wood and the leather seats. But there’s a no-shoes policy on board which really helps keep the ship in tip top condition; there are shoe racks on the back deck, and only bare feet are allowed inside, even for dinner!
When it comes to facilities, True North is a small ship so you shouldn’t expect much. There are two outdoor areas; one is at the back of the ship outside the main lounge and completely covered, while the other is at the front, with a partially covered area and space to sit on lush cushions right on the ship’s bows. There’s no sun deck and no pool, which is a disadvantage when you are cruising croc country and desperate for a dip, and the only other deck space is devoted to housing the on board helicopter, and the equipment and tenders on the lower deck.
The boot camp remark at the beginning of the trip was reaffirmed from the very next morning. Life starts early on this ship with breakfast often kicking off at 6am, a buffet with a hot option served for a short period. Lunch is usually midday or 12.30pm depending on the morning activities, and dinner was always at 7pm sharp. It’s all open seating across six long tables in the only dining room, but you can sit where you like and with whom, and as we found, our fellow guests were a sociable lot who mixed it up every night.
Speaking of guests, they were quite an eclectic bunch although the most common age group was retirees of 60-plus. As we discovered later, some of our cruising companions included a porn king from Perth and his former centerfold model wife, an hotelier from Adelaide and a retired High Court Judge from Sydney!
Back to the food, though, which is highly elaborate for a small expedition ship also. Andy and his side kick, Luke, served up a feast every day – this is not a ship to plan on a diet! Lunch could be anything from Spanish mackerel with salad to leg of duck confit with soba noodles, and dinner began in the lounge with bar snacks and cocktails at 6pm, and a main in the dinning room followed by a lavish dessert. All home cooked, and often focussing on what’s local – in some cases the keen onboard fishers’ catch of the day!
Entertainment is low key – well, it’s nonexistent really. We found ourselves downstairs watching a DVD by 8.30pm or 9pm, completely knackered and ready to rise early the next day to partake in any number of events. More on that later. Some people gathered in the bar for drinks, but that was mostly before dinner, and there were a few educational lectures on the Kimberley region and its wildlife, but that was pretty much it.
This isn’t a cheap cruise by far, and you have to pay for many extras when it’s all over including all alcohol, coffees, internet access (which is $2 a minute), and those amazing helicopter rides. Overall the ship is lovely, however, and although we encountered picture perfect days the entire week, the ship rode the waves quite well. The main drawcard I feel, however, is the cruise itself – and that will be the subject of next week’s blog. Happy cruising!