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
Showcasing its exquisite beauty and distinctive culture, these less-visited destinations will bring you closer to the ‘real’ Japan
Here’s a snapshot of what to expect of this one-of-a-kind destination, and where the real Japan comes to life:
Tucked away in the far north, culture buffs love Akita for many reasons. One is that the rustic town, dubbed Japan’s ‘True North’, is as far away from the country’s big cities as you can get. Also, many of its attractions are natural wonders, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shirakami Sanchi, where you can see Japan’s last remaining virgin beech forests. If you happen to cruise in spring, it’s also a top spot for viewing the cherry blossoms.
Hiroshima was the site of the world’s first atomic bomb attack in 1945, but today it’s a thriving modern city. One of its most popular attractions is the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, instantly recognisable for its red, floating torii gate. It’s also famous for okonomiyaki, a delicious pancake made with flour, egg, cabbage, pork, shrimp or seafood topped with sweet sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed and dried fish flakes.
Miyazaki is a popular honeymoon destination for locals, thanks to its balmy climate and lovely beaches. It is home to several ancient shrines, the most important being the Miyazaki-jingu Shrine, built 2600 years ago to honour the former Emperor Jimmu. Miyazaki is also famous for a local tipple called shochu, which is similar to vodka. One of the best places to try shochu is at the Shusen-no-Mori brewery in nearby Aya.
Aomori’s autumn foliage is captivating, especially when viewed from a cable car flying across the top of the Hakkoda Mountains. The ‘land of apples’ is also a gateway to uniquely Japanese attractions, including the ancient Hirosaki Castle, which is surrounded by cherry trees, and the Sannai-Maruyama archaeological site that showcases the reconstructed foundations of a Jomon-era settlement.
This charming fishing port, called ‘Little Kyoto’ by locals, has much to offer the culturally curious visitor — teahouses in Higashi Chaya district, the Nagamachi Samurai District, and the Ninja Temple. Top of your list, however, should be the Kenroku-en garden; built during the Edo period, it is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.Toba
Toba is nestled at the north-eastern end of the Shima Peninsula, a castle town and seaside city where locals believe that gods reside. It’s also a gateway to the magnificent Ise-jingu shrine, a collection of 125 sacred shrines that spans an area the size of the centre of Paris. More than 1500 rituals are held here every year, for the prosperity of the Imperial family and world peace.
Walking among Otaru’s network of canals, it’s impossible not to be enchanted by beautiful heritage buildings and mansions that bring Japan’s history to life. Located near Sapporo, it’s also a popular spot for anyone who has a sweet tooth – the town has lots of irresistible bakeries.
Having its own language, music, traditions, arts and crafts makes the Okinawa group of islands distinctly different from mainland Japan. A key attraction for visitors is Shuri Castle – a former hilltop palace of the Ryukyu Dynasty, the UNESCO World Heritage Site was almost destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa. It is now home to lovingly restored buildings.Tokushima
This 16th-century castle town is best known for a colourful mid-August dance festival, Awa Odori, which attracts many spectators and dancers for the traditional ‘Fool’s Dance’. Tokushima is also blessed with natural wonders, including the spectacular gorge and intricate vine bridges of the remote Iya Valley, and the whirlpools of Naruto.
Hakodate, which sprawls across two bays, is famous for views of towering Mount Hakodate – accessible by the Ropeway cable car– spectacular landscapes and superb fresh seafood. On any given day here you can wander past historic red-brick warehouses on the waterfront, explore the architecture of the Motomachi district, or walk through Fort Goryokaku, a huge star-shaped citadel and Japan’s first Western-style fortress.
Cruising onboard the glamorous Diamond Princess will give nature-loving travellers the opportunity to head off the beaten track and experience the true wonders of this idyllic country.
Visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au/cruise-list/blossoms-of-japan-2020/ to find out more about our
Blossoms of Japan 2020 fully escorted tour.
Words courtesy of Joanna Hill.
Brought to Life
One of the final frontiers of the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea is a naturally beautiful, historically and culturally rich destination.
Unknown to many people, New Guinea was the site of conflict during both World War I and World War II, says Mat McLachlan, founder of Australia’s leading battlefield tour company, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours and host of the Mat McLachlan WW2 History Cruise. In fact, the Anzacs’ very first action during World War I was not Gallipoli, but New Guinea.
New Guinea during WWI
The North-Eastern part of the island of New Guinea, plus a number of nearby islands, was part of the German colonial empire. This section of the island had been operated by a German protectorate from 1884, before it was taken by Australian troops in 1914.
In mid-August that year, just weeks after the outbreak of the World War I, 2000 soldiers and naval reservists set sail from Sydney Harbour to German New Guinea. The objective was to seize and destroy German radio stations transmitting from the island, ahead of the departure of Australian troopships for Europe and the Middle East. On 11 September 1914, 25 men went ashore at Rabaul to take out the Bita Paka wireless station. Although the mission was a success, the Battle of Bita Paka saw the first Australian soldiers die fighting for their country.
On 23 January 1942, the Japanese invaded New Guinea — landing at Rabual on the island of New Britain. The first coastal village to be captured by the Japanese, it was turned into a fortress so impregnable that the Allies never attempted to capture it. A massive military complex serving more than 97,000 Japanese soldiers and thousands of accompanying personnel, it was the main Japanese base in the South Pacific.
To guard against air bombardment, the Japanese dug 800 kilometres of tunnels to house their command centres, barracks, storehouses, and a hospital. The tunnels are still there and there are numerous war sites to see in and around the town.
Milne Bay was another key strategic point for World War II in the Pacific. Australian troops arrived in Milne Bay in June 1942 and worked alongside American comrades, carving roads and three airstrips out of jungle and swamp. For the Japanese, it was essential to claim this region back to progress their takeover.
During the night of 25 August 1942, 2,000 Japanese marines attacked the Allied base. The ensuing battle lasted three weeks and the Allies claimed victory. Today, remnants of Japanese landing barges used in the battle can still be seen.
“The Battle of Milne Bay was a turning point in the Pacific War as it was the first time the Allied forces decisively defeated a Japanese offensive on land. This battle largely marked the beginning of the end for World War II in the Pacific,” says Mat.
To find out more about the Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours WW2 History Cruise, head to www.cruiseexpress.com.au/cruise-list/ww2-history-cruise/
Words courtesy of Mat McLachlan
The joys of holidaying with the ‘entire’ family
Booking a cruising or any holiday for multi-generational families is increasingly popular and while holidays are a chance to get away from it all, holidays with the family are more about bringing everyone together, without having to spend all your time together and it’s great value for money…sounds appealing…. read on!
It’s becoming increasingly common for grandparents, their children and theirs to take a holiday together. Destinations that have been on the increase include Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Europe and Vietnam.
It is still relaxing, affordable and guaranteed to create a lifetime of incredible memories, especially for the little ones to treasure.
Outlined below are a few of Cruise Express’ favourite suggestions to help grandparents, parents and children have the best cruise holiday possible!
1. Size Counts – Choose a larger resort-style ship which offers more facilities for kids and teenagers and more activities (including yoga, cooking and craft classes) for different age categories. Bigger ships also carry more kids so your brood can make friends more easily. Best of all, adult-only retreat areas on the larger family size ships offer a real-time out!
2. School Holidays – If you can and your grandkids/kids are young enough and not in senior years at school, take a cruise outside school holiday periods when there are more cabins available and fares (even airfares) are more affordable. You’ll be surprised at how many other kids there will be onboard for children to mix with.
3. Balcony – If there are young ones traveling with you on a multi-generational, a balcony cabin is not recommended for safety reasons. An outside 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 constantly. Some cruise ships now, like Royal Caribbean’s ‘Ovation of the Seas’, offer ‘virtual balconies’ in their inside cabins – live feed of what is occurring outside, dock or ocean!
4. Rooms – There are many options here including suites, sharing a 4-person cabin with bunks, interconnecting cabins, or you can opt to get neighbouring cabins – next to each other or one outside/balcony cabin and one inside cabin directly opposite the hallways to save money. Grandparents also may want to look at treating themselves to a suite!
5. Activities – Many larger cruise ships today have water slides, rock climbing walls, wave-surfing pools and flying foxes which are huge hits with all children.
6. Package – Before you leave or as soon as you board, look into buying a soft drink/ice cream package for yourself and possibly for the children so they can enjoy unlimited refreshments during the cruise, saving you/them money in the long run.
7. Kid’s Clubs – Encourage the children and allow yourselves to take advantage of the Kid’s Clubs. That way they can have lots of fun and you can enjoy a relaxing time together, meeting up as a family as you wish.
8. Dinner Sittings – If your kids are under 12, opt for the first sitting dinner or book earlier dinner times if your ship offers open dining. If you are travelling in a multi-generational group, we recommend making bookings as far out as possible to avoid disappointment, especially for the specialty restaurants.
9. Ashore – When ashore don’t try to pack too much into the day, particularly in hot, tropical zones, as the kids will tire quickly. A morning excursion could work best before returning to the ship for a late lunch and afternoon siesta!
10. Duration – Shorter cruises of under 10 days are better suited to multi-generational families. There are weekend and 5-day cruises from Australia or longer 7-10 day cruises to Queensland or through the South Pacific which the kids will love.
Call us today on 1300 766537 to find out what is available, where and when!
There are many cruise lines that offer great multi-generational cruising options, and we also suggest to visit our website to find out some current amazing discounts with Royal Caribbean this summer and get the most suitable options for your family holiday!
The Northwest Passage
Having captured the hearts and minds of explorers and fortune seekers for centuries, this almost unconquerable sea passage, well beyond the Arctic Circle through the Arctic regions of North America, is the Northwest Passage.
Undisputedly one of the most remote and exciting travel destinations in the world, the Northwest Passage is the only possible shipping route between the Atlantic and the Pacific and is an epic adventure for true explorers. In summer, for a few short weeks, the temperature rises enough for the ice to melt, life reappears, nature is reborn and the mythical route is free for us to relive the polar adventures of previous generations of explorers – successfully!
Many have died crossing the waters connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but probably one of the most famous was British Explorer, John Franklin, who in 1845 set sail from Greenland to the Arctic Archipelago (now known as Canada!) with 128 men onboard two ships, all of whom died. During the remainder of the 1800s, the American and British governments launched approximately 40 expeditions to find these lost explorers, but it wasn’t until 2014 when a team of Canadian divers found one of these ships at the bottom of a channel.
Any adventure across the Northwest Passage will include passing explorer sites and ship graveyards, yet despite this fascinating, if not grim history, there is so much more this destination has to offer. Visitors will be mesmerised by the landscape – the vast expanses of ice floe, myriads of jagged islands, blue-toned glaciers, mountain chains, expanses of tundra and vertiginous walls.
This truly is a remarkable journey and even today, few ships have the capabilities to successfully complete the Northwest Passage. At the heart of this vast labyrinth of icy channels, there are just three main routes that allow the Northwest Passage to be crossed.
Sailings often leave from Reykjavik and travel along the south coast of Greenland, reaching the Hudson Strait, named after the English sailor Henry Hudson, who mapped it for the first time in the early 17th Century. Then head towards the Fury and Hecla Strait, named after the ships of the explorer William Parry. Always covered in ice, this seawater channel is around 1,900 metres wide at its narrowest point, and represents an impassable obstacle for most ships. Entering the passage, you will have the privilege of visiting Igloolik, an Inuit village that was only discovered in 1822.
An unique sailing experience can be enjoyed a little further on in the Bellot Strait, amidst countless icebergs. Sail along Banks Island, famous for the wreck of HMS Investigator lying offshore, one of the ships tasked to search for Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. There is also incredible wildlife at Fairway Rock, home to many marine mammals and sea birds.
Journeys across the Northwest Passage offer an exciting array of wildlife encounters, including arctic foxes, narwhals, muskoxen, bowhead whales, orcas, seals, belugas, walruses and the possibility of seeing one of nature’s most dangerous yet beautiful creatures, an imperial polar bear with her cubs. This is a superb destination for bird lovers, with over 26 species of sea birds that migrate, nest and fish in the region.
If you’re interested in learning more, or actually undertaking the journey, see here for details on the Northwest Passage in 2020 or for the Northwest Passage in 2021 click here. Alternatively call us on 1300 766 537.