Weathered by eons of rain, wind and sea spray, Australia’s untouched Kimberley is almost as old as the Earth itself
The walls of the cave are emblazoned with graffiti so old that no-one can really date these creations with certainty. Some researchers believe the exquisite rock art depictions we’re looking at in The Kimberley could be at least 50,000 years old. Staring at them, we try to imagine the ancient people who came here and painted these intricate murals.
Prehistoric animals, ornately attired hunter figures and mysterious deities of unknown origin all adorn the bare rock face; standing testimony to the tribes who once lived among these rough canyons.
“The Kimberley is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world,” says former Chief Scientist of Western Australia, Professor Lyn Beazley AO. “Its biodiversity and marine ecosystem are among the world’s most pristine. The tropical savannahs of the region are the only near-untouched such landscapes left on the planet.”
Travel companies often use the term ‘pristine wilderness’ to describe somewhere away from the souvenir sellers and taxi touts of the world’s overcrowded tourist traps. But in the remote Kimberley region of Australia’s North West, you can be assured that its pristine wilderness is exactly that.
The Kimberley has been voted the top adventure cruise destination for Australians and is quickly establishing itself as a ‘must-do’. A secret well-kept by fishers, prospectors and cattle ranchers for decades, it’s a relatively new region for adventure cruising, explored only by more intrepid travellers over the past 30 years.
While overland travel is also popular, it can be a rough and uncomfortable experience and it’s not without its dangers. This is where the new breed of luxurious small ships come to the fore, offering comfort and sanctuary in a harsh environment. No other cruise line exemplifies this genre of modern, responsible travel better than Ponant.
Away from the crowded, commercialised ports, Ponant vessels are designed to reach remote, otherwise inaccessible locations with ease. They’re large enough to provide space and privacy for those onboard yet, each state-of-the-art vessel is also small enough to venture where mega-ships can never sail.
Excursions take place aboard sturdy Zodiac runabouts, with just a handful of passengers in each boat and an expert interpreter to guide your experience. With 30 years of maritime experience, Ponant is at the forefront of small ship cruising – it’s gleaming, futuristic vessels are equipped with the most advanced technological and environmentally sensitive tools. Guests can expect to receive a supremely comfortable voyage in luxurious surroundings akin to a 5-star hotel.
In 2018, Ponant responded to the urging of its many repeat guests and launched the first of its new Explorer-class ships, which are designed for adventurous voyages to remote or challenging destinations – including the sought-after Polar regions. These new vessels, of which a total of six are planned, are slightly smaller and more agile than the current fleet and have a raft of adventure-specific features such as an innovative underwater viewing lounge (the ‘Blue Eye’), as well as kayaks and paddleboards.
Ponant is also well known for its gastronomy, with menus devised by world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse. There’s also a comprehensive wine cellar aboard every ship, overseen by a knowledgeable sommelier. To bolster the luxury, indulgent spa treatments can be enjoyed after a conscience-cleansing workout in the gym.
Another clever feature of these new Explorer-class vessels is the hydraulically retractable marina at the stern, where Zodiac tenders are embarked and disembarked. Climbing in and out of tenders can be a nerve-wracking process for less mobile guests, even in the relatively calm waters of the Kimberley.
But this versatile accessory simplifies the procedure considerably, making the overall experience more stress-free and enjoyable. Another thing worth noting is that the vessel dedicated by Ponant to cruising the Kimberley, Le Lapérouse, has a reasonable-sized swimming pool on board. This is much appreciated when you’re craving a relaxing dip in the sun because swimming in the waters off the Kimberley coast is not possible due to the abundance of saltwater crocodiles (a fact that will soon become clear as your expedition guide points out the big reptiles populating the riverbanks).
Ponant’s Iconic Kimberley itinerary is one of the most comprehensive offered by any major cruise operator. In 2020, 11 back-to-back 11-day voyages will take place between May and September, with a different set of excursions every day. The Hunter River, for example, is one of the most picturesque landscapes in the Kimberley, where wild mangrove forests are home to abundant bird species.
“The high point of this voyage,” says veteran expedition leader Mick Fogg, “will undoubtedly be our exploration of the King George River and its majestic twin falls, the highest in Western Australia. “We also visit Collier Bay, the site of the mysterious Montgomery Reef, where the entire marine ecosystem appears to rise from the sea with the falling tide like a reappearing Atlantis.”
Throughout each journey, Le Lapérouse will traverse one of Australia’s most ancient and awe-inspiring coastlines. The Kimberley’s spectacular waterfalls, stark gorges, vast savannah and desolate mountain ranges are all waiting to be explored by one of the world’s most modern, luxurious expedition cruise ships. A visit to the Kimberley is, in every sense, a giant step back in time to a land almost unchanged since dinosaurs roamed these parts. In fact, with a keen eye, you might just spot one.
Click here to find out more about our life-changing journey in 2020 with Ponant and National Geographic.
WORDS: RODERICK EIME
Probably one of the most common questions our Travel Specialists are asked by those new to luxury cruising is, “but is it worth it”? With a globally booming luxury ocean cruise segment, it seems the answer to that is yes!
Naturally, budget is a major factor in being able to consider such a cruise, and at the end of the day it comes down to what you want out of a cruise holiday, where you are travelling to and with whom. Keep in mind that while these cruises are more expensive upfront, there are no surprise out-of-pocket expenses at the end of the day, and its this all-inclusive nature of the luxury market that has increasingly come more attractive.
Depending on the cruise line, generally included are gratuities, fitness centre, 24-hour room service, all drinks and meals (including specialty dining), your personal preference stocked mini-bar, unlimited Wi-Fi, shore tours, enrichment and entertainment options, even a butler who will unpack your bags and cater to your every whim. The only thing that won’t be covered is the high-shelf liquor, as well as spa and salon services. However, if you manage to book at the right time you may be entitled to shipboard credit that will cover these extras.
The onboard dining is also a luxurious experience with many cruise lines offering Michelin-inspired menus partnered with some of the worlds most prestigious chefs and gastronomic societies. These extraordinary culinary options are often accompanied by master sommeliers and connoisseur wine lists.
Luxury class ships generally offer all suite accommodation with the majority offering a private verandah. In-suite amenities usually include luxurious custom mattresses, premium cotton linens, pillow menus, walk-in wardrobes and your choice of bathroom products from brands such as Molton Brown, L’occitane and Bvlgari. Your hostess and waiters (often with a 2:3 passenger ratio) will offer personalised service knowing your name and your seating/drink preferences, amongst other things. There is a smaller number of passengers onboard compared with the mega-ships, offering more room to move freely and rarely a queue to be seen.
Increasingly, first-class luxury ships offer destination rich itineraries, sailing to some of the most incredible places on our planet. Usually being more intimate ships, they can access more remote waterways in exotic destinations, stopping at more exclusive ports of call and giving passengers more quality time on-shore.
Booking a high-end cruise also entitles you to access exclusive shore excursions and activities. Some of these ships have zodiacs, kayaks and other aquatic toys all included in the price. These cruises are designed to be more educationally immersive with naturalists, historians, geologists and many more specialists at your disposal making it a perfect holiday for the young and old.
At the end of the day, cruise ships like all of us, have their own personalities, quirks and all, so what may be a wonderful ship for you may not for the person next to you. Unlike any other cruise experiences, choosing to sail away on a high-end luxury ship is the making for a most unforgettable holiday. Please talk with our Travel Specialists as they are equipped to explain the differences between the luxury cruise lines so you can pick the best ship and experience for you.
Definition – Epicurean: a person devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine food and drink.
Often referred to as the best cruise line for lovers of great food and wine, Oceania Cruises has carved out an impressive epicurean niche for itself in this often competitive foodie industry.
Comparable to world-class dining destinations in New York, London and Paris, Oceania has won numerous food industry awards from Town and Country, Fodor’s Travel, Cruise Critic and Travel Weekly’s Readers Choice.
Offering the finest cuisine at sea™, Oceania’s legendary Master Chef and Executive Culinary Director, Jacques Pépin believes in sourcing the best food from around the world. Chefs onboard all Oceania ships are committed to the highest quality authentic cuisine, believing that our connection with dining experiences lasts long after a meal has ended.
Previously a chef at the renowned five-star Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris, Pépin has also created incredible gastronomic dining options in the La Reserve dining rooms onboard Marina and Riviera. The new seven-course gastronomic experience, called La Cuisine Bourgeoise, is limited to 24 guests and features classic French cuisine such as lobster souffle, cream of porcini with sautéed duck foie gras, and 72-hour slow braised short rib with gnocchi au jus.
Oceania offers numerous cuisines and dining venues to suit every palate and dining mood, ranging from European inspired cuisine of the Grand Dining Room to steaks, chops and seafood at Polo Grill, gourmet Italian at Toscana, country French at Jacques or the contemporary flavours of Asia at Red Ginger.
Don’t miss the vintage wine and gourmet menu pairings, uniquely designed by the onboard sommeliers or simply indulge in Oceania’s well respected and varied wine cellars at sea with wines to suit every palate and occasion.
Enhancing the culinary experience onboard Oceania’s O-class ships, Marina and Riviera, is The Culinary Center, a hands-on cooking school at sea, with fully equipped state-of-the-art teaching kitchens for hands-on cooking lessons. Culinary Discovery Tours™ are offered at selected ports where passengers have the opportunity to accompany Chefs to shop for fresh ingredients at local markets and experience authentic meals in private homes or local restaurants.
With all meals included onboard all Oceania voyages (including complimentary room service), the multiple open-seated fine dining options and decor will have you disbelieving you are dining at sea!
Call us today on 1300 766 537 to find out what offers we have available with Oceania Cruises.
If the idea of a holiday that includes NO shopping, cooking, cleaning, sitting in traffic or scooting around to after-school activities sounds appealing then read on Mums (and Dads)!
For most of us, family getaways over the years have involved packing up the car for that trip up or down the coast, a few nights here and there, trips to the airport, stopovers and jetlag… what part of that is a ‘holiday’?
Instead imagine starting your well-deserved break only a few minutes down the road while still being able to travel to new destinations, enjoy delicious meals (that you didn’t make), have someone else make your bed and even clean the bathroom – every day! Yes, we are talking about a cruise holiday. Here are some points for you to consider when thinking about organising a local cruise:
Close to home: Once those bags are checked in at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay (or White Bay depending on which ship you are cruising on) you are officially ‘on holiday’. It’s that simple – all a little too exciting!
All inclusive: Experience twice daily cabin service, almost all day dining, 24/7 room service, entertainment around the ship day and night including live shows, a gymnasium, and many child-friendly activities – it’s all included. PLUS revel in spa treatments, high-end dining and local touring (at additional cost).
Kids Club: No surprises here! Kids Club is divided into age groups (from 3 years old) with age-appropriate activities, facilities and evening events. Some cruise lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line, Cunard, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International offer baby ‘club’ (usually from 6 months) and evening babysitting services – usually for a nominal fee.
Fun for the kids (meaning life is easier for you): At the end of the day, you want the entire family to have a wonderful holiday. Many of the ships cruising to and from Sydney have water slides, rock climbing walls, wave-surfing pools and zip lines which are huge hits with older kids. On these child-friendly cruises, there will be lots of kids onboard so your troops can make friends easily. A word of warning, if you actually want to spend lots of time with your children then cruising may not be for you!
Holiday festivities: Yes there are more children onboard in school holidays (although you’d be surprised how many cruise outside these times) but if you are able to sail during peak holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the experience onboard is out of this world. For example, during the festive season ships are decked out with all the trimmings and you might spot the odd roaming group of carollers! Or perhaps you might take part in a ship-wide Egg Hunt during an Easter cruise. Remember the onboard staff are also celebrating and are far from home, family and friends so be extra nice to them.
Intergenerational: Cruising is a great holiday option for three generations of the one family as you can be as independent or together as you like. There are so many activities onboard that everyone will have something to do from bingo to enjoying cocktails at a fancy bar to simulated skydiving.
Room tips: If your children are small, sharing a four-person cabin with bunks is ideal but if they are older, you’ll be falling over each other. Many ships offer interconnecting cabins or you can opt for neighbouring cabins – next to each other – or an Oceanview or Balcony cabin and an Inside cabin directly opposite the hallway to save money.
Balcony safety: Some parents may worry about little ones falling off balconies – it’s actually not possible to ‘fall’ as they are high. It is hard to even access the balcony for littlies as your balcony door is so heavy. However, if your little monkeys are young (and love climbing), we still suggest a balcony cabin requires adult supervision at all times. An interior room with a virtual balcony or oceanview cabin with a window or porthole will be just as exciting for the kids and you won’t need to keep an eye on them as much.
While cruises are available year-round to and from Sydney, during our warmer months (Nov-Apr) more ships visit our shores giving even more options. We can help you choose which ship is best for your family and then secure the best cabin/s available.
There’s nothing to lose and a whole lot of R&R to gain – contact us so we can organise your cruise, anywhere, anytime!
When is the best time of year to travel to Antarctica?
We all know that wherever you journey in the world you will be impacted by the time of year. However, more than any destination, the time of year you travel to Antarctica will make a big difference. There is no perfect time to visit Antarctica – each and every day is inspiring and magical.
With the help of our expedition specialists’, we have highlighted what to expect during different months:
Early summer offers pristine conditions with more snow and the largest icescapes largely undisturbed from winter. It is still a very cold time of year however the polar ice has begun to break up. It’s important to know that some areas may still have limited access. The scenery is truly captivating, incomparable to any other time of year, yet the wildlife may not be quite as plentiful.
Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins do come ashore to breed. Their courtship and nest building can be quite comical to watch. By the end of November, there are plentiful nests full of eggs. Other wildlife to enjoy include seabirds such as petrels, skuas and albatross. While there are no guarantees, the elusive Emperor penguin can sometimes be found during special icebreaker tours along the Weddell Sea.
At this time of year, South Georgia, known as the home of King penguins, is also the area where Elephant seals are courting and breeding.
This time of year offers the warmest days (as high as 5 deg C!). There is also a lot of sunlight (around 20 hours a day) so it’s also a great time for photography.
December and January are traditionally the most popular months to visit. There is the added bonus of plentiful penguin chicks beginning to hatch. With longer warmer days, this time of year is also great for more and longer land expeditions.
For history enthusiasts, the ice surrounding East Antarctica is breaking up enabling tours to the historic huts of Shackleton and Scott. While this is a spectacular time, travelling to Antarctica over Christmas and New Year’s are unfortunately the most expensive.
Now the temperature begins to drop again and while the land is more rocky and muddy, there is still a lot to enjoy. Penguin chicks have started to grow their adult coat and have begun to fledge. This can bring in predators such as Leopard seals which not ideal for the chicks but a spectacular sight for us.
Fur seals are more bountiful and their pups have become more independent, sometimes becoming quite playful with visitors. Much of the wildlife has retreated to the sea by this point. However these months are the peak time for sighting whales such as Humpbacks, Sperm and Orca which have returned south to feed.
The Sub-Antarctic islands such as South Georgia and the Falklands have a large and different array of flora and fauna. The islands can be just as spectacular if not more than Antarctica. Unfortunately, there is still no calm time for crossing the notoriously rough Drake Passage. Please read our blog on alternative suggestions on how to reach Antarctica if this concerns you.
Go on, what are you waiting for?