Kimberley uncut

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 4

Grinning crocs, ancient rocks and sacred spots… All aboard for an unforgettable adventure in one of the world’s last great wilderness areas.

“How are you going to put this into words?” laughed George, one of my fellow passengers above the din of crashing water on the deck of the boat.

And I had to confess as I stood drenched and smiling in the heart of the torrent, I had no idea. In fact, it was a question I’d been asking myself since the start of our cruise.

At the time we were perched under the falls at spectacular Kings Cascades on the remote Prince Regent River. Tonnes of water were crashing down on to the bow of our big cat, K2O, while passengers and crew were making the most of the cooling effect of our refreshing outdoor shower. Skipper Peter Taylor, perched on the roof of K2O, was deftly manoeuvring the boat using a tiny remote control joystick to ensure the bow stayed mere centimetres away from the rocks inside the falls. It was just one more magical moment amongst a host of experiences that I’d been fortunate to have over the previous few days in one of the most enchanting and awe-inspiring parts of Australia.

The Kimberley is a rugged, remote region that covers a vast expanse of northern Western Australia, from Broome up to Wyndham. This place is big; Western Australian, outback-style big, which is to say there is a lot of open space, and not a lot of inhabitants, at least of the two-legged variety. It’s an area about the same size as Japan, but with a total population of a little over 38,000, almost half of whom choose to shelter in the air-conditioned comfort of Broome. The rest are scattered across remote mining settlements and smaller coastal centres like Derby and Wyndham.

But the very reason for its small population is why it is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. The Kimberley is wild and extreme. It can be very inhospitable and is home to lots of nasty toothy critters with bad table manners. It is also spectacularly beautiful in a stark and raw way. And it changes radically with the seasons, of which it has two – the Wet and the Dry. We were fortunate that our tour aboard K2O happened to coincide with the end of the biggest Wet the Kimberley has seen in 50 years – hence the huge quantities of H2O that were currently threatening to pummel us into the deck of K2O.

CROC CENTRAL

Actually, there was one other natural resource that seemed in abundance during our visit – Crocodylus Porosus, or to use its more common name, the saltwater crocodile (or just plain ‘croc’). They were literally everywhere. From the time we left Broome, it seemed like we had our own entourage of these fearsome, leering predators following us into beautiful, sheltered bays and up wild, mangrove-flanked creeks. Everywhere we stopped, one or two invariably popped up close to the boat, grinning in anticipation of a tossed fish carcass or waiting for a careless tourist to unwittingly volunteer themselves for the local menu.

Our trip had begun a few days earlier in the old pearling centre of Broome, where Kimberley to Ocean tours is based. Broome has capitalised handsomely on its colourful past, with most of the town now a living museum to the pearling industry. After an overnight stay at the Mangrove Resort Hotel and a morning’s stroll around the centre of town, we were picked up and delivered by tender out to our home for the next eight days. K2O is a luxuriously appointed, 76ft aluminium catamaran built just over two years ago to owner, Phil Peet’s specifications. It was designed and built specifically for cruising the challenging Kimberley waterways and is a spacious craft, easily able to accommodate up to 12 guests, with a pair of luxury stateroom cabins – each with their own generous ensuites – on the forward main deck, and four smaller cabins in the hulls on either side. It boasts a large saloon/dining area with ample storage for the necessities of life, such as good food and wine, and is fully air-conditioned. There is also a generous outdoor entertaining and dining area at the back of the main deck. Lashed to the upper deck are three smaller aluminium craft for fishing and exploring the area’s narrower waterways.

Kimberley to Ocean offers a variety of cruises with a flexibility to suit most holiday plans. There are 7-, 8- or 14-day packages to choose from, which are extended, expedition-style cruises, often with a flight component, including a helicopter flight over the Mitchell Falls. In addition to the Kimberley coastal cruising, Kimberley to Ocean now offers dive charters to the Rowley Shoals, where guests can dive amongst giant potato cod and humpback Maori wrasse in perfect visibility.

Ours was the first cruise for the season, which runs from the end of the Wet in March through to the last of the Dry in November. According to Kimberley to Ocean, travelling at this time of the year gives the passenger a true insight into the essence of the Kimberley region; taking eight days and seven nights to explore the coast, islands, reefs and rivers of the area, while taking the time to Wet the occasional line when the opportunity presents itself. Or guests can opt to cruise from April to November, enjoying tropical days and balmy nights.

Our crew was headed by skipper Pete Taylor, who has spent more than 12 years on the water in and around the Kimberley and is a wealth of information on the area. Backing him up was first mate, James Perron and chef extraordinaire, Zoë Quann, with K2O boss, Phil Peet escaping the office to help out and indulge his passion for chasing the area’s big barramundi. Also coming along for the ride was specialist local photographer, Yane Sotiroski, whose work has appeared in a number of publications on the area.

PISCATORIAL PURSUITS

For this trip, the normally full complement of 12 passengers was down to just six; all male and all enthusiastic anglers who didn’t mind mixing their exploration of the area with some piscatorial pursuits, of which there were plenty. While the Kimberley barramundi population seemed a little quiet – the big Wet having something to do with it, according to Phil – just about every time a bait went into the water, it was swiftly taken by any one of a number of other enthusiastic locals. Catches included mangrove jack, fingermark bream, estuary cod, bluenose salmon, black tip reef shark, one three-metre hammerhead and the ubiquitous European catfish. Notable encounters included fellow passenger Brian’s battle with a vigorous reef shark that turned into a three-way tussle when a medium-sized croc muscled in on the action. A fearsome predator in its own right, the shark responded to being clamped in the croc’s jaws by sinking its own fangs into its opponent. A snapped line ended the ferocious encounter, but it left us with a dramatic insight into the savagery and brutal workings of the food chain, Kimberley-style.

When we weren’t fishing, we were generally marvelling at the spectacular landscapes and vistas that Mother Nature laid on for us from our first day on K2O. Highlights for me included being confronted by the monolithic Raft Point, which guards the entrance to Doubtful Bay. As if a giant slab of rust-coloured rock had been dropped from a great height and shattered on impact, it reminded me of a huge, fractured Rubics cube. Further into the Kimberley, we were to be awed time and again by similarly imposing escarpments and formations bearing testament to the age and violent geological history of the region. The rich, iron-red hues of the splintered rock contrasted sharply with the brilliant greens of the lush vegetation. Thanks to the big Wet, the undergrowth was resplendent with all manner of foliage taking advantage of the moist conditions to stake claims on the local real estate. Bloated boab trees clung perilously to rocky outcrops, while snaking vines, spinifex bushes and scrubby gums filled in the gaps.

It was at Raft Point that we also saw evidence of some of the area’s earliest human activity in the form of Wandjana Aboriginal rock art. A half-hour climb to an escarpment was rewarded with several traditional rock images, thought to be hundreds of years old. It was a reminder that this area wasn’t always uninhabited.

Our thirst for adventure was quenched during a wild and frantic dash up the winding Redcone Creek, as all three tenders raced to the isolated and majestic Ruby Falls. As with all the other falls we encountered, they were at full strength, crashing into a large rock pool that we made our own for a cooling midday spa.

BREATHTAKING DISPLAY

Montgomery Reef, 20km off the coast, provided a breathtaking display of nature’s power, with billions of litres of water pouring off the reef as it experienced its daily flush. Way before we got to the reef, a vast 300 sq km slab of coral teeming with aquatic and bird life, the roar of the tide alerted us to its proximity. Cascading rapids churned their way off the coral, producing chaotic swirls of froth and providing ample food for the sharks and birds that assembled for their daily feast. An ageing green turtle, seemingly caught out by the water’s sudden departure, was rescued by Pete, who gently nudged the stranded reptile seaward as reef sharks darted menacingly close by.

Then there was the haunting petrified warrior rock scape of Langii, a small sheltered inlet where each day, as the tide plunges 10 or so metres, huge sandstone ‘warriors’ emerge ghost-like from the depths. Local Aboriginal lore has it that each monolith hosts the spirits of their ancestors.

Most days we found ourselves in the dinghies skimming over the surface of serpentine, mudlined creeks, looking for likely fishing spots and coming across the occasional startled big ‘saltie’. They would typically slither quickly into the murk, disappearing as completely as a drop of water in a bucket.

At Camp Creek, we discovered an oasis above the falls where the creek widens into a tranquil, pandanus palm-shaded pool before tipping over the edge. We indulged ourselves by lazing in the crystal clear waters and being massaged gently by the swirling currents – always on the lookout for crocs, despite Phil’s dry assurances that “they generally don’t climb waterfalls”.

SEDUCTION BY SUNSET

Each evening, we were seduced by the Kimberley sunsets; so over whelmingly brilliant they could only be experienced with the calming effect of a chilled chardy in one hand and a morsel of fresh mud crab in the other. Occasionally, tropical lightning forked its way through the clouds, adding to the visual grandeur with a giant outdoor lightshow of flashing purple and blue.

And while our optical nerves were being assaulted, our gastronomic senses were under constant attack as Zoë unloaded her entire culinary arsenal – everything from pizza to pot roast – into her willing victims. Zoë’s creations ran to all manner of exotic and elaborate delights; so much so that when sitting down to dine I frequently had to remind myself that I was on a boat in the Kimberley and not a fashionable restaurant in Carlton. Days would begin with the waft of freshly baked bread and the sizzle of eggs and bacon on the rear deck, while fresh fish of the day was always an option for lunch and dinner. Speaking of which, dinner was invariably the climax of each day, with entrees and mains followed by desserts to die for. In fact, Zoë’s desserts and other daily snacks proved so irresistible that most guests complained of unintended excess baggage at the completion of our adventure.

Throughout our Essential Adventure we were pampered and spoiled, with Pete, James, Phil and Zoë genuinely keen to make sure we made the most of our time aboard K2O. All were walking encyclopaedias of information on the Kimberley, its history and features and all had a genuine enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge of this pristine and isolated environment. At the end of each day’s on-water expeditions, the whole boat was meticulously washed down, while guests relaxed with chilled wines or beers to recount their adventures.

As a tour provider, Kimberley to Ocean aims to offer a more intimate Kimberley experience, as Phil Peet explains.

“We only take relatively small groups, so guests tend to get looked after on a more personal basis. Plus, we believe we offer unmatched luxury for this size of vessel and really believe we offer the best value for money.”

The adventure continued right up until our final day anchored on St George Basin. In the shadow of the imposing escarpment of Mt Trafalgar, we watched as the floatplane gently skipped across the mirror-flat waters. On board was the next group of lucky guests who would enjoy our adventure in reverse, exploring the Kimberley from east to west. From the air, the previous eight days gained a new perspective. For an hour and a half we flew over the inlets, coves, rivers and islands we’d visited, hardly ever seeing any signs of civilisation. It made me appreciate what a special place the Kimberley is and how lucky we are to have it in our own backyard, so to speak.

Kimberley to Ocean provides a veritable kaleidoscope of Kimberley experiences. If you have a sense of adventure and a taste for the good things in life, you need to speak to the good folks at Kimberley to Ocean.

Cost for the seven-night K2O Essential Adventure begins at $4650 per person, which includes Lower Deck Twin King Single accommodation. A Main Deck Luxury Stateroom with private ensuite package starts from $6750. Prices do not include alcoholic beverages, which can be pre-ordered through Kimberley to Ocean and paid for in advance.

For more information, go to: www.kimberleycruise.com.au or call 1800 210 318.

Kimberley to Ocean Fact File

Kimberley to Ocean offers a variety of tour packages, starting with the 7-night K2O Essential Adventure. Other tours include the 13-night Kimberley Ultimate Adventure Cruise, beginning at $8960 per person, the 7-night Kimberley Discovery Expedition, beginning at $5850pp, the 6-night Kimberley Fly, Cruise, Fish Expedition ($3550pp) and the K2O Discovery Dive (from $2990pp). Guests can opt to start in Broome or Wyndham for the 13-night Ultimate Adventure, including a courtesy transfer to and from accommodation in Broome or Kununurra. All other Fly/Cruise packages start and end in Broome.

Tours tend to fill fast, so bookings need to be made well in advance of the intended time.

Tours run from March to November and temperatures generally range from 24C to 34C, with varying degrees of humidity.

Kimberley to Ocean offers complimentary soft drinks, tea and coffee. The vessel is fully equipped with 240V power for recharging and guests are welcome to download their holiday snaps on the boat’s computer. There is a full complement of fishing equipment on board that is available on a loss-replacement basis, or guests are welcome to bring their own equipment.

K2O is also available for private, exclusive charter for Dive Discovery charters to the Rowley Shoals and along the Kimberley and West Coasts.

Contact Kimberley to Ocean on 1800 210 318, or (08) 9192 7185 or e-mail cruise@kimberleycruise.com.au.


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