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Trip Logs

Kimberley Cruise: Australia’s Last Frontier Trip Log: May 12-24, 2023

Trip Logs

Kimberley Cruise: Australia’s Last Frontier Trip Log: May 12-24, 2023

By Shirley Campbell with photography by Mark Edward Harris | May 16, 2023

May 13, 2023 | Broome, Australia

This morning, our bodies still in different time zones, we woke early to a quiet sunrise, the stillness broken only by the unfamiliar birdsong emanating from the lush vegetation around us. In these early hours, the temperatures are cooler. It is the beginning of the dry season.

Stepping out upon the red earth in remote, oceanside Broome, it’s apparent we are in a special place. Known for its Indigenous, wartime and pearling history, it’s the gateway to the sparsely populated Kimberley region, with its rugged mountains, swooping gorges, savanna and near-isolated coastline.

With a relaxed day of our choosing ahead, we enjoyed breakfast while pondering what to explore at leisure. Some of us meandered through Broome Court House Markets, appreciating its pearls and other handicrafts, gathering later for a sunset cocktail overlooking the picturesque Indian Ocean and Cable Beach.

Then, after welcome cocktails this evening, we sat down to dinner overlooking the sea, with entertainment from a seven-piece Indigenous Australian band from Broome.

May 14, 2023 | Broome

We woke to another beautiful, cool morning emanating with birdsongs. Choosing from an array of natural and historic highlights, we set out to enjoy the day.

Some of us explored winged wonders at the Broome Bird Observatory, where migratory waders and shorebirds arrive seasonally from the Arctic to breed.

Others joined Bart Pigram — a Yawuru local and member of our Expedition Team — to discover Broome (colloquially Rubibi) through a local lens. After gaining firsthand insight into his people’s language and cultural heritage, we proceeded to a pearl farm, where we learned about pearling history from a local producer.

Yet another group enjoyed a broader survey of Broome, starting at Streeter’s Jetty, which was built for pearl dealers and merchants E. W. Streeter & Co of London in 1897. After an enlightening talk from local pearl producers, we enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine paired with fresh-plucked clams. We then continued to the Japanese Cemetery, where obelisks mark the graves of over 900 Japanese pearlers.

Everyone regrouped over lunch, chatting and relaxing as we overlooked the turquoise Indian Ocean. Arriving dockside in the late afternoon, we then boarded beautiful ‘Le Laperouse,’ with time to unwind and unpack. Enjoying the sunset, we set sail as our Expedition Leader, Brad Climpson, shared what to expect in the days ahead.

May 15, 2023 | Lacepede Islands

Strong northeasterly winds and choppy seas thwarted our originally planned excursion, but our nimble Expedition Team quickly planned enlightening alternatives. We first attended a poignant discussion about blackbirding — the enslavement of Indigenous people — in the Dampier Peninsula.

After lunch, we boarded Zodiacs. Proceeding toward the wild, remote Lacepede Islands, we observed Pacific reef heron, silver gull, ruddy turnstone and a variety of tern soaring overhead or resting along the shore. Meanwhile, the world’s largest — and perhaps most curious — brown booby colony peered at us from the beach. Green turtle occasionally poked their heads above water before returning to the water to hide. Good fortune was with us when we spotted a six-foot crocodile sunning on the beach and, later, sliding into the water for a quick meal.

This evening, we gathered on the deck for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, watching as the sky turned bright red and pink. After our Captain’s welcome dinner, we enjoyed musical entertainment from a lively duo while sailing toward Talbot Bay.

May 16, 2023 | Talbot Bay

Waking to the sunrise over Talbot Bay — with Slug Island to one side and ancient, 1.8-billion-year-old metamorphic rock on the other — we enjoyed breakfast before boarding Zodiacs to explore Garaanngaddim (Horizontal Falls). With the incoming and outgoing tide, water is forced through two narrow gaps in the sandstone gorges of the McLarty Range, creating the cascade.

Travelling further up the bay to Cyclone Creek, we entered the gorge, struck by the bending and folding of geological time that’s encapsulated in the layers of ancient rock. Mangroves lined the water’s edge as we scanned in vain for crocodile. Black and brahminy kite flew above as we entered narrow, mangrove channels. In one, a large crocodile entered the water, staking his territory.

The contrast between our leisurely lunch and the hair-raising ride through the falls couldn’t have been starker. The falling tide passes through two narrow gaps, causing rushing water to escape the inner basins. This results in churning waters below the falls, with massive eddies that funnel water downwards. Through the gaps, the water surges powerfully, moving our Zodiacs from side to side. We emerged at the other end into calmer waters.

Before dinner, we enjoyed our first recap, followed by sunset cocktails on the deck. The weather was glorious, and the musical accompaniment set the mood for a relaxing dinner and evening overall.

May 17, 2023 | Freshwater Cover & Montgomery Reef

This morning, we took Zodiacs ashore, where we made a wet landing on the beach at Freshwater Cove and were met by our Worrorra guides.

After exchanging our wet shoes for dry walking shoes, our cheeks were painted with ochre pigment as a welcome gesture. Heading inland toward Cyclone Cove, we traversed the sandstone landscape, following a trail that gradually ascended to a ridge before dropping down into a rock shelter. There, ochre paintings on the ceilings and walls revealed tales of cyclones; images of stingray, turtle and fish; and the fate of a woman and her son, who were caught in a whirlpool on Montgomery Reef.

Back on board, the ship relocated while we enjoyed an al fresco lunch on the deck. Later, we disembarked, boarded Zodiacs once again and headed out into the quiet waters of Camden Sound. Before long, we heard the movement of water, despite the fact we were navigating calm seas. As if by magic, the Montgomery Reef appeared as though it rose from the depths.

The tidal conditions of the Kimberley coast make this natural wonder among the world’s most unique. Maximum tides of 33 feet hauntingly gave way to a vast lagoon, where water cascades down the exposed reef. We observed turtle, fish and other sea creatures attempting to elude the rushing water as they plunged into deeper channels. Travelling along a river-like channel between two reef “ranges,” we marveled at hundreds of tumbling falls that attract migratory wading birds, manta ray and black-tipped shark seeking an easy meal amid the 154-square-mile reef.

May 18, 2023 | Prince Fredrick Harbour

Anchored off Naturalists Island, we looked forward to two wonderful excursions ahead. The day began with a stunning helicopter ride to remote Mitchell Falls. Taking in aerial views, we saw the Mitchell River snake its way toward the mouth of Prince Frederick Harbour, cutting through the open sandstone terrain, with outpourings of basalt ridges and dolerite intrusions. Landing at the four-tiered falls, we took in views from two vantage points before taking a refreshing dip in a freshwater pool.

We also had the opportunity to cruise the Hunter River during high tide, listening to birdsongs; seeing kingfisher and a loggerhead turtle; and appreciating the vital mangrove ecosystem that supports the wildlife within. Those who instead cruised the river during low tide saw an abundance of mud skipper, fiddler crab and whistling kite, which flew overhead. Meanwhile, egret and heron stalked the shoreline. We saw plenty of crocodile, too, some patrolling the river and others soaking up sun on the warm sand.

After our spectacular adventures, we recapped the day, followed by drinks on the deck as the sky offered a magnificent pre-dinner show.

May 19, 2023 | Bigge Island & Sterne Island

We arose early off the coast of Bigge Island (Wuuyuru), the second largest in the Bonaparte Archipelago. Taking advantage of the cool morning, we made land, observing pits left by nesting turtle. Climbing up some sandstone steps, we overlooked a ceremonial ground tucked into the escarpment, as well as a stone burial mound facing the open sea. Closer to the beach and tucked into narrow caverns, there were beautiful Wandjina figures and paintings representing ships, Europeans in hats and what appeared to be Macassans smoking pipes.

Back on board, we had a leisurely breakfast before attending a discussion on local Indigenous relations.

Arriving at the Montesquieu Islands in the afternoon, we cruised to low-lying, sandstone Sterna Island by Zodiac. Although we hoped to see nesting tern, none were to be seen. We did, however, find a crocodile lounging on the sand. We next turned toward distant Oliver Island — a basaltic, columnar formation — where we saw not only ancient geological formations, but also an osprey flying overhead. Returning to the ship via Gabriel Island, we had an opportunity to stroll along the beach once we knew it was crocodile-free.

Our day finished with cocktails as we watched yet another beautiful Kimberley sunset dip below the horizon.

May 20, 2023 | Ashmore Reef Marine Park

After boarding our Zodiacs this morning, we made our way north toward Ashmore Reef Marine Park, a seabird and marine sanctuary. After the wild — and wet — adventure getting there, we were met by calmer waters.

Above the small coral cay, the sky swelled with seabirds. Each year, about 100,000 of them breed on the three tiny islands that comprise the park. During our exploration, we spotted crested, sooty and Caspian tern; greater frigatebird; and brown-bodied, red-footed booby. Somewhere in all this feathery mayhem, green turtle lay eggs on the narrow stretch of sand. Sailing onward, some of us saw ray swimming around the Zodiacs. Others observed a large sea snake.

Back aboard, we sat down to a lovely lunch as we began our journey back to Kimberley. Our geology expert, Dr. Jason Hicks, then shared the fascinating history of ancient Gondwana, the supercontinent resulting in present-day South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica. We ended the day with a tale of two local women, courtesy of our engaging cultural lecturer.

May 21, 2023 | King George Falls

This morning, we continued sailing the Timor Sea toward Koolama Bay, with ample enrichment en route. After attending a sea turtle discussion, we changed gears, learning about Indigenous resistance and activism.

Upon reaching the bay, we were met with a choppy, whitecapped sea, which set the tone for a thrilling Zodiac excursion to the mouth of the King George River. There, we encountered a herd of dugong, which came to the surface for air before submerging to feed on sea grass below.

Continuing onward, we passed eroded, honeycomb-patterned sandstone walls that were a mind-boggling 1.8 billion years old. Ranging from orange to creamy pink in hue, they rose 263 feet above sea level.

We then arrived at the place where the King George River plunges over an ancient sandstone cliff into tidal waters, creating the astounding Oomari — or King George — Falls. The Kimberley region experienced a productive monsoon season. Consequently, the river pumped a massive amount of water down the vertical drop.

As we revelled in the falls’ spray, some of us spotted a large crocodile swimming near the cascades. So, we made our way nearby beach, where we enjoyed sunset cocktails while white-bellied sea eagle flew overhead.

May 22, 2023 | Wyndham

We made our way through the Cambridge Gulf to dock at Wyndham, a once-bustling port for beef exportation. Disembarking, we set off on one of two fantastic explorations of the region.

Some took a boat trip up the Ord River, appreciating the scenic drive to Kununurra through grassland and acacia, eucalyptus and boab-stippled terrain. Once aboard our ship, we made our way toward the rock and clay Ord River Dam, which creates Lake Argyle, Australia’s largest dam reservoir. Continuing onward, we saw several freshwater crocodile, as well as white-bellied sea eagle, rainbow bee-eater and jacana.

After spotting a colony of black flying fox, we paused for lunch ashore before continuing our journey upriver to the dam itself. During the overland return to our ship, we paid a short visit to the Argyle Homestead Museum, where we learned about the region’s early pioneers.

Others chose to flightsee over the magnificent Bungle Bungle range, a geological wonder within the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Purnululu National Park. After soaring over the Ord River and Lake Argyle, we marvelled at the beehive-shaped karst sandstone of the fascinating landform. Millenia of freeze-thaw weathering enlarged fractures in the rock, creating the unusual patterns.

Before dinner, we all gathered aboard ‘Le Laperouse’ for a final, breathtaking Kimberley sunset.

May 23, 2023 | At Sea on the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf

Spending the day at sea, the ocean appeared choppy from the comfort of our balconies, though ‘Le Laperouse’ navigated the swell and whitecaps with ease. After an eye-opening discussion on climate change, our photo enrichment coach shared ways to capture a journey’s magic through imagery.

We enjoyed our last lunch together in the dining room or on the deck, followed by a screening of Jandamarra’s War, a docudrama about its namesake Indigenous warrior of Western Australia’s Bunuba.

In the afternoon, fresh crepes and live entertainment offered a lovely precursor to the remainder of the day. After some time to pack, we regrouped for a slide show of our remarkable Kimberley adventure, set to the tune of “May Song.” What a way to bid adieu to this beautiful region.

This evening we dressed the part for Captain Ludovic Provost’s farewell cocktails and dinner. Not ready to end the day willingly, many danced and sang into the night.

May 24, 2023 | Darwin

Reflecting on the new friends we made and the unforgettable adventure we had, everyone said goodbye to our Expedition Team and fellow guests before disembarking for our onward journeys.

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