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Cruising the Kimberley See the wonder from the water

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 sometimes 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.

Map of the Kimberley, Western Australia

Boutique luxury: True North Adventure Cruises

True North Adventure Cruises have been operating for over 30 years, offering tours that promise intimate views and up-close encounters. The 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 coast and coral.

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 owns and operates two 'sister' expedition vessels in the Kimberley. Travel with a maximum of 100 guests and 75 on-board crew, plus an expert 10-member Expedition Team who provide valuable insights for the entirety of your cruise. Discover the reefs, coastline and remote gorges by Zodiac, inflatable boats that let you get close to the action. Plus, step ashore to explore remote locations. Benefit from the intimate on-board atmosphere while still enjoying the benefits of spacious suites, restaurants, bars, library, gym and salon. Both ships have internet access, and APT cruises include national park entrance fees, airport transfers, port charges, gratuities, all meals and select beverages while on board.

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.

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