The Kimberley – Your Guide on What to Expect, When and Why
With its grand yet unforgiving landscape, The Kimberley is often referred to as Australia’s last great wilderness frontier, boasting some of the...Read more
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 see 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.
WORDS: RODERICK EIME
An extremely geographically diverse region, twice as large as Victoria, many bird-watching enthusiasts would regard the Kimberley as an absolute bird paradise. Almost one-third of Australia’s 900 or so species of birds can be seen at some time of the year in The Kimberley. The area boasts a remarkable diversity of habitats, from coastal and inland salt-pans to wetlands, from inter-tidal mangroves to rugged sandstone escarpments, and from eucalypt woodland to seabird islands.
The convoluted coastline with a tidal range approaching 10m in places provides feeding and roosting areas for migratory shorebirds that breed in Siberia and spend the Spring and Summer in the region, such as Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Far Eastern Curlew. The diverse habitats in combination with the annual wet and dry seasons allow a rich bird fauna present in a relatively small area throughout the year.
Even in the dry season, there is plenty of food for birds throughout the Kimberley. The seabird islands support nationally and internationally, significant breeding populations of Brown Booby, Roseate and Bridled Tern, Lesser Frigatebird and Common Noddy. Resident shorebird species such as Pied and Sooty Oystercatchers nest above the tide line, with Crested and Caspian Terns nesting close by.
The mangroves and river systems provide rich feeding areas for fish-eating birds such as Osprey, Brahminy Kite and White-bellied Sea-eagle, Striated Heron and Eastern Reef Egret. Azure and Collared Kingfishers are readily seen in mangroves throughout the region. Comb-crested Jacanas can be seen walking on river plants whilst feeding. Black-necked Storks and Australian Pelicans, Intermediate and Little Egrets are frequently seen around river edges.
Woodland areas support populations of Little Corella, Black Kite, Brown and White-throated Honeyeaters, Red-winged Parrot, Yellow Oriole, Figbird, Rainbow Bee-eater and Silver-crowned Friarbird. White-quilled Rock-pigeon and Spinifex Pigeon are seen in the drier areas, as are Zebra, Double-barred and Gouldian Finches.
While some are unique to certain areas, many species can be found throughout the Kimberley. One of these is the spectacular Eastern Osprey, the ultimate predator along the Kimberley Coast skyline. When you visit we also suggest you keep an eye and an ear out for the Sacred Kingfisher with their distinctive calls. This region is also home to the Eastern Reef Egret and if you are lucky you may spot a dancing Brolga!
Located on Australia’s North West Shelf, 610 kilometres north of Broome is Ashmore Reef. This incredible life-sustaining reef provides several marine habitats and species in and out of the ocean.
It is here you will find around 50,000 breeding pairs of various kinds of seabirds, including colonies of Bridled Terns, Common Noddies, Brown, Red-footed and Masked Boobies, Eastern Reef Egrets, Frigate birds, Tropicbirds, Roseate, Crested and Lesser Crested Terns.
The Rowley Shoals
Another stunning destination to observe birds is The Rowley Shoals, about 260 km northwest of Broome. The Rowley Shoals is a group of three atoll-like coral reefs on the edge of one of the widest continental shelves in the world. It is home to many ocean bids as well as a nesting site for the Red-Tailed Tropicbird, home to one of only two of Western Australia’s colonies, and the rare, newly discovered White-tailed Tropicbirds.
Other beautiful species found at Rowley Shoals include the Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Brown Booby, Eastern Reef-egret, White-breasted Sea Eagle, Ruddy Turnstone, Large Sand Plover, Crested And Sooty Terns And The White-throated Needletail.
Browse Island also is a spectacular destination to observe breeding seabirds and migratory shorebirds including the Brown Booby, Frigate Bird And Eastern Reef Egret.
As the Kimberley is so extensive, it’s important to keep in mind that many species migrate or are nomadic and move with the seasons, so if you are really keen on spotting a particular species you may need to do a lot more in-depth research.
If you have extra time and are feathered friend keen then we recommend you take a look at the Broome Bird Observatory in Roebuck Bay, a super passionate organisation dedicated to educating visitors about the birds that live and visit the area.
Click here to find out more about our life-changing journey in 2020 with Ponant and National Geographic.
Thank you to Dr Eric Woehler for his insight and incredible knowledge.
With its grand yet unforgiving landscape, The Kimberley is often referred to as Australia’s last great wilderness frontier, boasting some of the largest intact natural areas left on the planet and certainly one of the most unspoiled destinations in the world.
Formed billions of years ago, the 2,000km Kimberley coastline is famous for its awe-inspiring rugged beauty and stunning diversity. The abundance of wildlife and waterfalls, indigenous rock art, gorges, volcanic remnants, mangroves, rainforests and islands, and can often only be accessed by smaller ships and zodiacs.
The region’s remoteness and tropical climate can make exploring this part of the world difficult. Cruising, especially small expedition ships, will allow you to discover this vast and expansive coastline with ease, taking you to destinations that aren’t accessible by land.
With so much diversity we often get asked when is the best time to cruise The Kimberley and what will you see during the different seasons? Generally, the optimal time is from April through to September. Although you can travel from October through to March, it is extremely hot and humid with substantial rainfall and thunderstorms, often flooding and closing main roads – so perhaps not such an appealing time for most!
Remember, that Mother Nature still determines everything, so please take this as a guide not as gospel!
Waterfalls – April to May
This coast is known for its iconic waterfalls, including Mitchell, King George and Horizontal Falls and early in the dry season these falls are at full force. The falls are fed by the regions wet season so the earlier in the season you go the more vibrant and spectacular the falls are going to be. The region will also be very green during this time due to the rain. The weather during this period can still be a little grey with quite high humidity and there can be the occasional rainy day, so it is still a little bit of a gamble, particularly in April. However, seeing the falls at their fullest will surely make up for the changing weather.
Peak Season – June to July
This is definitely the most popular time of year to visit The Kimberley. Primarily because it is cooler, the weather is dry, the skies are blue and generally speaking the temperatures are comfortable. The falls will still be flowing although they will most likely not be at their fullest.
The roads are pretty much in good condition by now and the waterfall swimming pools are full and clean. Remember that the nights in certain areas like the Bungle Bungles can be cool.
Whales – August to September
By August most waterfalls have dried up to a trickle, and most rockpools, although starting to get low, are still clear and great for swimming. This late in the season it is unlikely that Mitchell Falls and King George Falls will still be flowing.
However, this is the season for wildlife encounters. Being a world-class whale watching region, The Kimberley is home to the world’s largest population of Humpback whales. Up to 30,000 Humpback whales swim from the Antarctic feeding grounds to the warm waters of The Kimberley to breed and give birth.
In addition to Humpback, Southern Right and Blue whales make their way along the coast, sometimes coming close to shore with their calves. The best time to observe these gentle giants tail-slapping and breaching is around noon, when the sun is directly overhead, although it can happen at any time!
An expedition cruise during these months brings you up close a personal with these majestic mammals, watch on as they often put on playful displays around the ship.
But wait – there’s more…
This spectacularly vast region is also one of the last remaining healthy refuges for many threatened and endangered marine species, including six of the seven species of marine turtles, dugong, and countless varieties of sharks, dolphins and fish.
The coastal areas of The Kimberley also offer sanctuary for many species of native mammals and marsupials, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates, some that no longer exist in other parts of Australia. It is also home to many species of birds, rare plants, freshwater crocodiles and fish, including catfish and barramundi.
Cruise Express offers luxury expedition cruises to this region with Ponant. These do sell out quickly so enquire today to secure the sailing date and cabin you want. For details on our 2020 options see here.
Why The Kimberley?
With its grand yet unforgiving landscape, The Kimberley is often referred to as Australia’s last great wilderness frontiers, boasting some of the largest intact natural areas left on the planet.
Whether you travel by land, sea or air, there is no doubt every visitor will be impressed with the abundance of wild coastlines and seas, gorges, volcanic remnants, mangroves, rainforests and islands, deserts and sandstone hills.
With an area encompassing over 427,000 km2, The Kimberley is three times the size of England!
The Beauty of Exploring by Ship
Formed billions of years ago, the 2,000km Kimberley coastline is famous for its awe-inspiring rugged beauty, and stunning diversity. As you relax in luxury onboard Ponant’s Le Lapérouse you will discover first-hand, the abundance of wilderness, secluded beaches, spectacular waterfalls and indigenous rock art and history.
Onboard you will also enjoy Ponant’s renowned gastronomy, complimentary beverages and shore adventures including the Ord River, El Questro, or why not try a Bungle Bungle scenic flight.
Flora & Fauna
Annually, over 35,000 humpback whales visit The Kimberley coastline, where they give birth to and nurture their calves before heading back to the summer feeding grounds in Antarctica.
The region is one of the last remaining healthy refuges for many threatened and endangered marine species, including six of the seven species of marine turtles, dugong, and countless varieties of sharks, dolphins and fish.
The coastal areas of The Kimberley also offers sanctuary for many species of native mammals and marsupials, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates, some that no longer exist in other parts of Australia. It is also home to many species of birds, rare plants, freshwater crocodiles and fish including catfish and barramundi.
Unfortunately, The Kimberley faces a number of serious environmental issues, including climate change, large wildfires, weeds, feral animals and cattle grazing degradation.
Melting Pot of Culture
For hundreds of years, the “Macassans”, people of the Indonesian Archipelago, interacted with Indigenous Australians. Although the British landed on The Kimberley shores in 1688, Portuguese, Dutch and the French also continued to visit throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
While cattle grazing on the grasslands was popular in the mid-19th century, the gold rush of 1886 brought many Europeans and Chinese to the area, particularly Halls Creek. Also around this time, pearl fishing became a major industry, with Japanese and Malay divers joining the multiculturalism that became typical of Broome.
With so much to immerse yourself in, a trip to the Kimberley by ship has to be one of the greatest experiences of a lifetime.
For more details on our Ponant Kimberley sailings for 2020 click here. Alternatively, call 1300 766 537 to speak with one of our Travel Specialists as we would be delighted to help.