A cruise ship is the perfect way to see the Kimberley
WE ROUND the bend and the river is once again straight, with two spectacular walls of water up ahead.
The King George Falls – twin 80m plunges over ochre-coloured rock cliffs – are Western Australia’s tallest.
As this enormous water feature draws closer, I laze on the deck of Kimberley Quest II and quit counting little jellyfish, bobbing like miniature parachutes in dead-calm water, after reaching 131.
The sky is busy, too. Four white-bellied sea eagles, large birds of prey, circle far overhead.
Earlier, near the King George River’s mouth, I am transfixed by a solitary sea snake swimming in zig-zag style alongside us.
A 2m tawny nurse shark, a usually docile variety with teeth like rough sandpaper, tails us at the same time.
And a 5m saltwater crocodile basks on a flat rock mud at the river’s edge.
Close to where the Mitchell River meets the sea, Indo-Pacific dolphins swim by, at least 15 of them, playfully arcing in and out of glistening water.
And along the Berkeley River, I see wave after wave of tiny flying foxes.
Three high-speed aluminium dinghies set off on fishing trips from which passengers return to pose for pictures with fat barramundi and mangrove jack.
Jabirus, pelicans, black cockatoos and many other bird varieties are part of a rich avian landscape that attracts many birdwatchers. Skittish wallabies hop across the countryside, drinking nervously at the water’s edge.
Along the Drysdale River, gorges no longer dominate the terrain. Instead there are expanses of beach between the mangroves. Our dinghies explore narrow mangrove-lined tributaries to place crab pots. A few hours later they are crawling with crustaceans. Add our haul of oysters, edible snails and fish, and another evening’s fine-dining experience is destined to prove memorable.
I skip a few fishing trips and rocky rambles, preferring to investigate an on-board library crammed with volumes about the region’s flora, fauna and history, along with plenty of escapist fiction.
At these times, I often have a deck to myself. No other human or vessel is visible. A sense of isolation intensifies. I am in the middle of nowhere.
Exquisite emptiness is no surprise. The 421,000sq km Kimberley region has only 35,000 residents, almost all within a few towns.
Kimberley Quest II travels along this desolate region’s squiggly coastline, skirting its many bays and inlets to reveal extraordinary and little-seen Australian beauty as it cruises up a succession of rivers.
On my seven-day voyage, I see few indicators that this is an inhabited planet: two small cruise ships, five yachts and three professional barramundi-fishing vessels.
Kimberley Quest II is 25m long, 8m wide, with a 2m draught. It carries 18 passengers with seven youthful crew. Cabins are large, some with double beds and roomy bathrooms. Decks are outdoor alternatives to indoor dining. No appointments are needed to visit the bridge, with passengers allowed to stroll through at any time.
“A shallow draught means we can visit places bigger vessels can’t,” explains skipper Ben Bonnett, who also guides onshore walks.
For these, Kimberley Quest II is anchored, allowing its towed dinghies to take passengers ashore for rambles. One such foray involves a gentle climb over rocks to a safe (croc-free) swimming hole above a waterfall.
Several others lead to impressive displays of 17,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art. The artwork’s style is called Bradshaw, named after cattleman Joseph Bradshaw who brought this creativity to wider attention nearly 120 years ago.
With the walk behind us, we enjoy sunset cocktails and canapes on a long white-sand beach.
The cruise ends with a helicopter ride along the Mitchell River and across Mitchell Plateau to a far-flung airstrip. From here, it’s a few hours back to the Broome starting point.
Kimberley Quest Cruises (08 9193 6131, kimberleyquest.com.au).
This article was originally published by News Ltd as “Spectacular Kimberley by boat”. See: https://www.news.com.au/news/spectacular-kimberley-by-boat/news-story/a9c5dc974a510339f94c6439ddde5cdf