It’s not often you need to pack your hiking boots for a cruise. But they were an essential item when I booked a cruise from Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory to explore Western Australia’s Kimberley coast. A cruise very different from what you might imagine.
The Australian Kimberley region is one of the world’s last remaining wilderness areas with a spectacular coastline stretching over 12,000 kilometres with thousands of islands off shore. There are few towns in between. Just nature at its pristine best. Think waterfalls cascading over rugged cliff faces, a massive reef rising out of the sea before your eyes on an ebbing tide, secluded gorges, and abundant wildlife from sharks, dugongs, sea snakes, bats, whales and fish to an array of birdlife.
From the outset, the cruise operators told us “This is not a cruise. It’s an expedition.” To be fair, it wasn’t exactly roughing it. We had a nice little cabin with a queen size bed, a weeny ensuite and a decent size window. Not fancy, but comfortable and more than adequate.
There were tasty chef prepared meals in the dining room, snacks between meals and enjoyable evening drinks on the deck as we marvelled at a multitude of amazing sunsets at sea. Not forgetting numerous beautiful sunrises.
There was a small library on board, and comfortable general places to relax and mingle with other guests There also were informative lectures by experts on the Kimberley region. Some videos to watch. No television reception, no gambling, no entertainers, no swimming pool – not even phone reception. Just interesting like-minded other guests to chat with, good food and a passing parade of most breathtaking scenery that will stay in my heart forever. My idea of bliss.
I mustn’t forget the crocodiles up the rivers and off the beaches – they can sneak up on you, so strictly no swimming off the boat or at the beaches no matter how hot and humid the weather! You know all that Crocodile Dundee stuff? Here it’s for real.
There are a number of cruise companies plying this route. One of the most luxurious TRUE NORTH calls this area “a panorama of rugged mountains, spectacular gorges and majestic waterfalls.” True North takes about 36 passengers, looked after by around 22 crew. Unfortunately out of my price range.
Instead I went with the lesser priced Coral Expeditions on a small ship taking about 40 people. Still expensive compared to massive cruise ships around the world or those boats that take you along European rivers. But worth every cent because this cruise is extraordinary.
Since I did this journey, the small ship I was on has been replaced by upgraded vessels that take around 70 to 99 passengers. Still a small number compared to many cruise ships, and they have an excellent ratio of staff to passengers on board.
Each day we would board a tender vessel or rubber duckies to explore inland up wide pristine rivers or to small islands or bays where we would be led on an exploration walk to enjoy all sorts of interesting sights including ancient aboriginal rock paintings and old 1800’s failed settlement sites. At times we’d have to climb uphill for views over the landscape or to access caves.
Trekking inland through long grasses one day, we saw the remains of a American Douglas C-53 (DC3) plane that crashed on a flight between Perth (Western Australia) and Darwin in the Northern Territory during World War 2.
The six people aboard survived the landing, but had to endure the Kimberley heat for three days before being rescued by a commercial flying boat. While waiting for their rescue, they used pipes from the downed aircraft to distill drinking water – a life saver for them. It is remarkable to see so much of it still preserved at the crash site.
One of the most beautiful little waterfalls we saw along the southern Kimberley coast was Kings Cascade Falls on the Prince Regent River. Our ship’s tender nudged right up under the waterfall so that we could take a cooling shower on the bow of the boat. It was a hot day and the river looked pretty inviting, but it was a no swim zone because of lurking crocodiles.
Back in 1987, a beautiful young part time American model Faye ‘Ginger’ Meadows from Colorado was given the croc warning at these Falls. But when she and a friend showering on a ledge under the waterfall found themselves being stalked by a 4 metre croc, Ginger made the fateful decision to try to swim to safety. Her friend watched horrified as she was snatched around the waist by the crocodile, pulled under and then carried away.
At the Lacepede Islands, just off the coast, we encountered less dangerous creatures. They are famous as important breeding grounds for green turtles. Birdlife International also counts them as an important bird area as they are a breeding colony for up to 18,000 breeding pairs of brown boobie birds – possibility the largest in the world. More than 20,000 roseate terns have also been recorded on the Islands. To step ashore and see them was a real treat.
On another day trip into mangroves we saw mother bats hanging around with babies aboard! And on cave walls you’d spot other wildlife watching you!
Did I mention sharks? We had a shark feeding session off the back of our ship! Handled by expert staff, of course.
Another highlight was hurtling on a wild ride through Western Australia’s famous Horizontal Falls. I was too afraid I’d lose my camera overboard, so no great photos for you. But rest assured – it was adventure plus action! This amazing natural feature sees you squeeze through narrow gorges on fast moving tidal currents. Much more exciting than a fun park ride!
This blog story seems to be getting longer and longer the more I delve into my memories and many photos from this trip. So I feel I must bring it to an end – though there’s much more to say. We saw and experienced so much of Mother Nature that it has left an indelible mark on my soul.
I was so fortunate to experience the Kimberley coast. I hope you get to enjoy it sometime too!