Explore the Wonders Down Under on an Expedition Cruise to Australia’s Wild West
Down Under, “The Kimberley” means the ultimate in wilderness. Raw and intense in its beauty, this stretch of rugged coast on the northwest flank of the Australia Outback is largely inaccessible except by sea. The vast plateau of the Kimberley runs headlong into the ocean, bearing scars of the erosive action of surf, wind and water over millennia. Rivers cut deep gorges through ochre sandstone. Waterfalls plunge over cliffs. Dazzling white sand beaches meet a transparent ocean studded with islands.
A fascinating collection of wildlife is at home here, including huge primeval crocodiles. Our small ship is the ideal means to explore the complex coastline, cut by rivers and narrow inlets. Excursions by boat, Zodiac and helicopter reveal the Kimberley’s wonders: the spectacular gorges and pools of Mitchell Falls, Prince Regent Nature Reserve with its astounding wildlife, desert tableaus dotted with bizarre boab trees, and the entrancing isles of the Buccaneer Archipelago.
Though the Kimberley is sparsely inhabited except by wildlife, its rich human history is also on display in stunning galleries of Aboriginal rock art.
Physical Rating: Moderate / Flexible
Departure Dates: This expedition is timed during the beginning of the dry season, and occasional showers can be expected.
Apr 22, 2016 – May 06, 2016 Oceanic Discoverer
Apr 14, 2017 – Apr 28, 2017 Coral Discoverer
Group Size Limit: Maximum 65 Travellers
Image: © Australia’s southern coral coast
All gratuities; accommodations in our hotels and on board the Oceanic Discoverer as outlined in the itinerary; all on-board meals; all group meals on land; soft drinks, wine, and beer with lunch and dinner; arrival and departure transfers on group dates; services of the expedition staff, including lectures, briefings, slide/film shows; all group activities and excursions; landing and port fees; some medical expense coverage and emergency evacuation insurance. Helicopter touring included in cost.
All air transportation; excess baggage charges; airport arrival and departure taxes; transfers for independent arrivals and departures; passport and/or visa fees; travel insurance; items of a personal nature such as laundry, bar charges, alcoholic beverages except as listed, e-mail/Internet/fax/telephone charges.
Physical Requirements: Moderate
For most activities, a moderate level physical exertion is involved. You must be able to climb into and out of inflatable Zodiacs to participate in excursions ashore. Once ashore, you must be able to walk from one to three miles, unassisted, over terrain that is sometimes rough and rocky. There will be opportunities for both leisurely strolls and longer, more active hikes. This expedition is timed during the beginning of the dry season, but occasional showers can be expected. Average daily temperatures will range from the upper 80s°F to the low 90s°F, though high humidity can make it seem warmer.
Getting There & Getting Home
You will need to purchase airfare to Broome and out of Darwin (if you connect through Brisbane, the overnight is included in the trip cost).
According to the itinerary, Days 1-3 count as travel days, with your arrival into Broome on Day 3.
You will disembark in Darwin, and transfer to the airport for your independent flight back to Sydney on the second to last day of the trip. The overnight in Sydney is included. The last day of the trip you will fly home.
Discover the region’s intriguing wildlife, including vast seabird colonies, rock wallabies, flying foxes and giant saltwater crocodiles, one of the most ancient creatures on earth.
Enjoy a spectacular helicopter flight to Mitchell Falls atop the Kimberley Plateau, where we stop to swim in crystal-clear freshwater pools
Travel by Zodiac up the Hunter River, passing mangrove estuaries and vertical sandstone cliffs to King George Falls, the highest in the Kimberley.
Our expertise takes the guesswork out: Over the years our staff has taken literally hundreds of expedition cruises aboard dozens of ships. We’re very picky. We know which ones meet our – and your – high standards. And those are the only ones we’ll put you on.
Small Ships assure closer nature encounters; typically carry 60-120 passengers.
Outstanding Naturalist Guides who specialize in the destinations you’ll visit. From wildlife biologists to ornithologists, marine scientists to polar historians, you’ll travel with experts who are carefully chosen for their in-depth knowledge of the destination you’re traveling to.
Our ground handler, NHA, is WWF’s Travel Partner
Day 1 to 3: In Transit / Broome, Australia
Depart on your independent flight to Broome, Australia via Sydney, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line. Arrive in Broome and relax with an afternoon at leisure. We gather this evening for a welcome dinner and overnight at the Cable Beach Club Resort.
Day 4: Broome / Embark Oceanic Discoverer
Our Kimberley adventure begins with a tour of historic Broome, an old oyster pearling centre where hundreds of luggers once plied this coast. Today Broome is a popular holiday destination famed for its powdery white-sand beaches and laid-back vibe that has made it a popular draw for artists, writers and musicians.
Broome’s multicultural mix was shaped by its pearling history when Japanese, Filipino and Malay pearl divers came in droves to seek their fortunes in the 19th century. For those who prefer, a birding trip is an option to the city tour. This afternoon, we board the Oceanic Discoverer and set sail.
Day 5: Lacepede Islands
The Lacepede Islands, four small spits of land lying over a coral reef, are one of the world’s most important seabird nesting sites, designated as such by Bird Life International since they are home to the world’s largest populations of brown boobies and roseate terns. With no natural predators on these uninhabited islands, the birds breed and thrive in great, noisy colonies numbering in the tens of thousands.
Other prolific seabirds found here include lesser frigate birds, pelicans and cormorants. The islands are also one of Australia’s most important nesting sites for green sea turtles. The Lacepedes gained notoriety in the late 1800s when an American involved in the mining of the islands’ prodigious guano deposits (bird droppings used for fertilizer) raised the flag in an attempt to claim the islands for U.S. possession.
Be sure you’re on deck this evening as the sun sets and the night sky comes alive—far from the city lights, stargazing in the Kimberley is simply spectacular.
Day 6 to 7: Buccaneer Archipelago / Talbot Bay / Montgomery Reef / Raft Point
The Buccaneer Archipelago is a collection of nearly a thousand scattered islands and low-lying reefs, rising like puzzle pieces in the teal sea. These rarely visited isles are among the most photogenic in the world, with mangrove estuaries, secluded bays, pristine beaches, cliffs, headlands, reefs, rugged gorges and whirlpools.
The area has some of the world’s most extreme tidal conditions, and our daily activities are planned around the tides. At Talbot Bay, massive 36-foot tides surge through the close walls between two islands, creating the phenomenon of a horizontal waterfall flowing across the flat face of the ocean. When conditions are right it is possible for a “waterfall” up to 10 feet high to form as the waters trapped on the landward side cascade out through the narrow gap to the ocean side.
At Montgomery Reef, we witness an amazing array of marine life exposed at low tide. Watch cormorants, egrets and sandpipers forage for sea life trapped on the surface as the tide pulls the ocean away. The huge reef is home to great numbers of green sea turtles, which feed on the bounty along with reef sharks and many larger fish. After landing by Zodiac at Raft Point, we take a bush walk up to a rocky saddle where a spectacular display of Aboriginal art is on view. The ancient petroglyphs are an account of the mythical Wandjina clan on the ‘Great Fish Chase,’ with images of Wandjina spirits, dugong, crocodiles, fish and snakes. Our guides discuss the significance of the marine world to the Aboriginal way of life as we learn about the traditions of the indigenous people.
Day 8 to 9: Prince Regent Nature Reserve / Camp Creek / Careening Bay
The Prince Regent Nature Reserve is one of Australia’s most remote destinations, and the rugged sandstone and volcanic landscape helps to protect its scenic grandeur. This is pure wilderness, accessible only by air or boat, and you’ll truly be able to say that you’ve been to a place seen by few others.
The area boasts more than half the mammal and bird species found in the Kimberley, and more than 500 species of plants. With the ship at anchor in St. George Basin, we board the Xplorer to cruise up the Prince Regent River. With near-vertical cliffs on either side, we make our way to the face of King Cascade, an unusual waterfall cascading over terraced rock formations. Tidal conditions permitting, we’ll also explore nearby Camp Creek in search of local fauna such as estuarine crocodiles, red-tailed black cockatoos and galahs.
Day 10: Hunter River / Mitchell Falls
One of the most scenic parts of the Kimberley coast, Prince Frederick Harbor and the Hunter River are edged with verdant mangroves and soaring vermillion cliffs rising over 600 feet above the river mouth, which abounds in crocodiles.
From the Hunter, we fly via helicopter into the Kimberley’s vast interior, with a stop atop the Mitchell Plateau for close-up views of the triple drops of Mitchell Falls, a series of cascades and pools culminating in a deep gorge carving its way through the Outback. The 20-minute flight over the wild bush landscape offers spectacular aerial views.
From the air we may spot crocodiles along the river and wild cattle running loose atop the plateau. We’ll have a chance for a refreshing dip in the rushing falls and crystal-clear pools, well above the crocodile habitat the Kimberley is renowned for. In the vicinity of our anchorage, we explore the small tributaries by Zodiac, searching the lush mangroves and tidal mud flats for crocodiles, mud skippers and fiddler crabs, as well as the many bird species that make their home within the dense vegetation.
Day 11: Bigge Island / Low Rocks
A unique experience awaits us on Bigge Island, sacred to Aborigines for more than 20,000 years. Well-preserved Aboriginal paintings decorate the walls of caves, depicting mythical figures and offering visual evidence of the European arrival into the Aborigines’ world.
We’re also likely to see warabis, or rock wallabies, which sprint from one rock ledge to another. In the afternoon, we step ashore on a tiny island atoll known as Low Rocks.
As we approach, the skies fill with the wings and sounds of thousands upon thousands of seabirds, including four species of terns, pied cormorants, white-bellied sea eagles and osprey. The island is also a nesting site for green and flatback turtles and has its own resident saltwater crocodile, which is often seen patrolling the waters along the shoreline.
Day 12: King George River / King George Falls
Today we drop anchor in Koolama Bay, named after the merchant ship Koolama was bombed near here by Japanese aircraft during World War II. Aboard our excursion boat Xplorer, the 7-mile journey up the jade-green King George River reveals dramatic scenery and a wealth of bird species.
The almost-vertical sheer canyon walls have been eroded over millions of years and look like stacks of ochre sandstone reminiscent of a child’s building blocks. Our destination is King George Falls, a supremely photogenic locale where the 300-foot twin drop plummets from rust-colored cliffs, the highest waterfall in the whole of the Kimberley.
Day 13 Tiwi Islands
Part of Australia’s Northern Territory, the Tiwi Islands are located where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. The islands are home to the Tiwi indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years. Permission pending, we’ll go ashore to join Aboriginal guides for a tour of the small community of Nguiu, its museum, and the old mission precinct, and local people will teach us about their traditional hunting-based subsistence lifestyle. There will also be an opportunity to visit the local arts centre to view and purchase high-quality Tiwi crafts and screen-printed fabric. Tiwi art is distinct from that of nearby Arnhem Land, appearing more abstract and geometric. With its strong patterns and use of colour, Tiwi art is considered very attractive and highly collectible.
Day 14 to 15: Darwin / Disembark / Brisbane / Home
Our voyage concludes after breakfast this morning in Darwin, capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. There’s a bit of time to explore the historic frontier town, which was originally established by crocodile and buffalo hunters and pioneer cattlemen.
Darwin was wiped out by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, then rebuilt as the capital of Australia’s northernmost tropical region. Much architecture remains from Darwin’s early period, with museums, markets and a diverse selection of cafes and pubs to keep visitors entertained.
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Brisbane with dinner and overnight at our airport hotel.
NEW TAB THE SHIP
The 65-passenger Oceanic Discoverer was launched in 2005. At 207 feet long, the ship’s small size is perfect for regional exploration, with the ability to explore narrow inlets and small coves off limits to larger vessels.
Spacious en suite cabins enjoy ocean views.
On board is a complement of Zodiacs, a glass-bottom boat, and a powerful aluminum excursion boat that can carry all guests during excursions.
A spacious lounge, equipped with two large plasma TV screens, provides optimal space for lectures.
The dining room features the finest fresh seafood of the region and a comprehensive selection of Australian and New Zealand wines. Guests may also choose to dine on the topside sun deck, which offers 360-degree views of the passing scenery.
* A major refurbishment of this vessel is scheduled for 2016, and the ship will be renamed the Coral Discoverer. The staterooms and public areas will be of a similar size, layout, and design, except for the Category 5 suites, which will include a private balcony. We will update imagery as soon as we have new images of the refurbishment.