There are many outstanding cruising experiences on offer in Australia's Kimberley region.
By Fleur Bainger
Two billion years of natural history are on show along the isolated Kimberley coast in Western Australia. The geology alone is mind bending, with ochre rock formations created during intense movements of the earth, twisted by time and eroded over millennia. Waterfalls blow fine mist over clifftops, giant boab trees stand like proud sentinels and Aboriginal rock art hides in the crevices. Among all this age, there's the most sought after commodity: peace, best achieved while reclining on the deck of a cruise boat. Multi-day tours, all covering roughly the same itinerary, depart from Broome, Wyndham (via Kununurra) and/or Darwin. April and May are generally regarded as the best times to go as the area's waterfalls are in full force after the wet season. However, any time within the cruising season (April to October) is bound to be special.
Top cruises to do in the Kimberley
Boutique luxury: North Star Luxury Adventure Cruises
North Star is the original and, many argue, the best of the high-end Australian-run cruise boats. Operating in these barely chartered waters for more than 30 years, North Star's multimillion-dollar vessel, True North, hosts 36 people, retaining a boutique feel while offering a five-star hotel-style experience. An on-board helicopter whisks guests over waterfalls, islands and cliff edges. There are shorter, seven day cruises, longer, 14 day events and specialist expeditions focusing on waterfalls or fishing.
Barefoot Luxury: The Great Escape Charter Company
Family-owned and run, The Great Escape Charter Company has a 26 metre (85 foot) luxury catamaran that caters to just 14 guests, with six crew (including an excellent chef) attending to their every need. Each room has a queen bed, flat screen TV and private bathroom. Importantly, a helicopter sits on the roof, providing access to hard-to-reach places. There's also a spa on the front deck and wi-fi.
Big boat comforts: Silversea Cruises
Silversea Cruises' newly refurbished vessel, Silver Discoverer, delivers the ultimate in big boat luxury. For the 120 passengers on board, all rooms have butler service and ocean views. There are lounges, a pool and poolside grill, a sundeck, two gyms and even a beauty centre. Zodiac boats ferry guests to terrestrial sites, fishing spots and narrow waterways. Helicopter excursions to places such as the four-tiered Mitchell Falls can be arranged and a flight to the Bungle Bungles is included. Historians, naturalists and geologists travel on board.
Eco adventure: Kimberley Expeditions and Eco Abrolhos
While almost all Kimberley cruises include a respectful appreciation for the environment, Kimberley Expeditions and Eco Abrolhos each offer a special focus. Both vessels are stable catamarans with shallow drafts, allowing them to nose right under waterfalls, meaning less jumping in and out of Zodiac boats to see things. Both are owned and run by passionate couples who have been in the region for years and aim to tread lightly on the extraordinary nature they visit. And both fit about 38 passengers, ensuring intimacy and camaraderie.
Traditional Cruising: APT
Highly regarded touring company APT runs three different vessels for between 70 and 230 passengers, allowing you to choose the size and cruising style that suits you best. On each, you'll find the perks of traditional big boat cruises: spacious suites, restaurants, bars, libraries, gyms and hairdressers, for example. All have internet access.
Targeted trip: Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures
If you don’t have a week or two to spare, and want to fly in and out to a specific part of the Kimberley coast, Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures may be your best bet. Following a scenic flight from Broome, its 12-person luxury houseboat departs from the fascinating Horizontal Falls and targets the thousand islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago over a four night adventure. Helicopter excursions provide alternative views of the rocky red surfaces, and a new speedboat delivers thrilling experiences next to the remote landforms, as well as access to excellent fishing zones.
Budget expedition: Ahoy Buccaneers
The Kimberley cruise scene’s newest entrant is vastly different from its competitors. Ahoy Buccaneers runs a 25-year-old motorised sailing yacht, which is slower than its competitors, but at a dramatically lower price. The cruise visits all the same places as the pricier options, but there are no historical, cultural or geographical talks. The no-frills experience best suits those who enjoy camping and 4WD holidays and are happy to help out preparing dinner and washing dishes. That said, there is a deck-spa. The yacht fits up to 26 guests in small cabins or, for a cheaper rate, you can sleep on deck and on the beach in a swag (an Australian invention, similar to a sleeping bag, but with a built-in mattress and pillow).