After a stunning flight from Sydney directly into Broome, there is the chance to explore the pearling museum and the corrugated iron town which is this nor-westerly outpost. The feel is laid back and relaxed, but seems to avoid too much of a tourist feel with some beautiful locally made clothes, arts and crafts. It is immediately apparent that the Kimberley breeds inspiration and creativity by the bucket load and avoids any chance of being comparable to other towns by way of the remarkable and varied history of the people who have come here, since the first people walked in from the north. In the afternoon we board and are made most welcome before departing under a crimson sky and umber rising moon. Seafood adorns the dining tables and conviviality warms the room before we are gently rocked to sleep.
Briefings aside, we are set to explore the remarkable and low-lying Lacepede Islands. For the keen birder, this is a place to have binoculars at the ready. The Explorer takes us very close to shore where we observe Caspian terns, Roseate terns, numerous waders, pelican, noddies and of course, around 17000 pairs of brown boobies. Lesser frigate birds, numbering around 1500 pairs mark out the sky and breeding is in full swing. Green turtles and a curious history told by our knowledgeable staff complete this terrific landing. Drinks on the top deck are hosted by the Captain, and platters of oysters and olives and hummus make the rounds while we enjoy the dolphins, bait balls and sea snakes…
The morning imparts an excellent sense of the Kimberley proper with deep red sandstone bent, buckled and folded under the umbrella of time. Foliage blooms bright green and lush after the rains and we learn about mining and geology. We skirt across eddies of swirling waters deep into the landscape before undertaking the infamous horizontal waterfalls. In a wild ride we are dashed through the narrow channel broiling with white water and sudden plummets in our small zodiac. The ride back is even more adventurous as we are thrown hither and thither climbing back into the calmer waters. Pink and purple hues of sunset plaster the colourful rock faces as a crusted barramundi is served for dinner.
A slow orange dawn highlights cliffs and bluffs growing mysteriously from the gloom. We land on a smooth tumbled pebbled beach, a veritable sample shop of colours to be found throughout the Kimberley. We are led 600m up the hill to be educated and enthralled with the rock painting here with Mikes wonderful story weaving, our minds filling with dreamtime tales and intriguing questions. Only a few hours later we are in a completely watery environment where the tide gushes down over the reef. Scores of green turtles swam around us in the deep trench, manta ray leapt about and fish school beneath us. By the afternoon we swimming in clear fresh water pools with native lilies, dragonflies, small rapids and smooth shiny warm rock. After dark and another delectable dinner we are out on the water again in search of the mighty saltwater crocodile, eyes glowing knowingly in the spotlight. We discover several and our fantastic guides share with us their acres of knowledge about this wonderful diverse part of the Australian wilderness. Today it feels as though we have experienced months of living… how can it possibly get better?
An electric buzz vibrates through the ship during our ‘stars still out breakfast’ as we prepare to tackle the much anticipated Kunmunya Walk. We are trekking into the heart of the Kimberley – with only the food and drink we can carry (and some gaiters, and a bucket load of enthusiasm!) What a jolly good idea in 28°C and 74% relative humidity! Regardless of our already sweating bodies, we set off as dawn bleeds over Mount Kunmunya painting the huge paper-barks by the river orange and pink. Bowerbirds sweep across the treetops and we are shown dingo tracks, quoll tracks, and various local knowledge tidbits as we head inland. The aim is to reach the site where Expedition Leader Mike Cusack and his wife Susan, lived for a ‘Year in the Wilderness’ – an Australian Geographic sponsored project, which saw Mike and Susan live self-sufficiently, build ahouse and learn to survive with the challenging vagaries of a solitary life in the Kimberley for a full year. There is no–one I would rather walk through these parts with, than Mike Cusack; he has everything covered – from nibbles and cool off paddles, to contingency plans – all of which we needed at some point! The walk itself was marvellous, challenging and for some, at times, trying… a truly wonderful sense of achievement for all. But really – sunset drinks on the beach after a long hot walk in the bush really is a treat we all deserve to experience… if you haven’t tried it, I can certainly recommend!
This morning we are whisked a brisk 27nm in the Explorer to King Cascade, a most manicured and delicate looking series of waterfalls. The Explorer is promptly placed nose-to under a gushing torrent, drenching anyone in the forward half of the boat. Screams of delight (and a few of horror) echo through the serpent spirit (aka – the rainbow) and back again as the brave stand under the pounding surge gushing down the cascade, drenching themselves in a most dramatic baptism. Down the creek we see several crocodiles basking in the mud and sun, the elusive chestnut rail – a rare and exciting find. Afternoon we land at stunning Careening Bay, the site of the “gouty stemmed, bifurcated Boab’ marked with the name of the cutter Mermaid.We sip cocktails and watch the sunset while we immerse ourselves in the history of this pristine landscape.
Bigge Island, set in the ocean like a jewel, is a stunning place to wake. Sandstone tables on sandstone legs, with standstone chairs on sandstone tiles, decorated with sandstone ornaments and sandstone vases. There are sandstone crocodiles and sandstone birds, limited only by our sandstone imaginings. These sandstone tables and chairs and fantastic creatures lead to tunnels of sandstone in the tall cliffs, which are painted with magnificent Wandjina painting as well as middens, burial and ceremonial sites. The afternoon is a busy affair to complement our magical morning with helicopters shuttling people to Mitchell Falls for the experience of a lifetime, over to enjoy more painting and the bungle bungle style rocks of Winyalkan. Others explore caves of geckos and bats and stunning white beaches against clear azure waters. A decadent ‘full of style’ BBQ on the beach completes the evening, until darkness envelopes us and we are sped back the ship, giggling and laughing under a sky so full of stars you could almost reach out and touch them.
Jar Island must contain some of the best examples of Gwion Gwion painted images in the Kimberley. We crawl and climb our way through boulders and caves to see some magnificent paintings of figures and animals overlaying each other, speculating on the apparent Emu depicted here which must have roamed here before the sea level rise some 8000 years ago. We wander across a salt pan to reach a WWII DC3 which crashed here. The men are entranced, discussing rivets and bolts and steel production. The highlight for me is a lizard in the plane wing, and the visuals of a shiny steel plane, gutted and overgrown by vines and trees – nature slowly consuming it. It is yet another day of remarkable contrast in the Kimberley.
King George Falls. The name even sounds dramatic. We make our way into the slowly narrowing river…..even at full speed it takes us a good hour but as the honeycombed cliffs beside us become taller and narrower, we find ourselves craning our necks more and more. We reach the end of this fjord, gorged by water over 20,000,000 years ago, which falls from the flat and calm Kimberley Plateau. This is not just a waterfall, but in fact two 100m high waterfallsblasting down the blackened cliff face. Zodiac rides take us straight into the blast of the falls for a final washing of Kimberley water and micro minerals, and another chance to feel truly insignificant in this ancient towering landscape.
Ok, so the Kimberley is not always flat calm. At least, not across the aptly named Joseph Blown-Apart Gulf. But, what is a voyage without a touch of weather to remind us how lucky we are? Soon enough we make it across into calm waters and spend the afternoon reaching deep into the mangroves of the Top End. A bit of a bird spectacular, we are surrounded by the delicate and colourful rainbow bee-eaters, little, intermediate and great egrets, mangrove and rufous night herons. A sea eagle takes flight after being precariously close to a flying fox colony and we are educated about the 51 species of mangroves which call the NT home. Later we enjoy a slideshow and a poignant reminder of all we have seen, done, experienced and learned. Dinner is as delicious as ever as the chatter of a full and happy ship echoes about. The camaraderie is intoxicating. As disembarkation nears it is impossible not to reflect on far deeper things than our day-to-day experiences. Something about the Kimberley demands you to look both inwards and outwards. It demands you to see things from a different perspective, and there is no doubt that our dedicated and talented staff facilitated and enabled us all to have the kind of experience we needed in order to do just that. It is impossible not to feel honoured to visit this place – this jewel, right here on our doorstep in Australia. It is far more than just a holiday, it is an exercise in appreciation at being alive. Everyone should try it sometime.
I quote the most eloquent words of Mike Cusack….who breathes the Kimberley as part of his soul, in order to sum up a Kimberley voyage. We have been in splendid isolation and had rare moments listening to the silence. We have been immersed in the Kimberley’s rugged, austere beauty, the power of its waters, and the potency of its landscape. Together we have been in the presence of Wandjina and Gwion-Gwion, awed by the almost inconceivable scale of geological time, and the frontier of humanity’s first great step – the inaugural sea crossing to a new continent over 60,000 years ago. We have been close to the probably entry point of those original ‘tide-riders’ whose descendant went on to create human kinds oldest continuous culture. We have been in rock shelters that carry the spiritual expression of those hunter – gatherers with paintings that may be more than 17,000 years old. We have seen the same coastline – ‘..the longest undefiled coastline in the world..’ that would still be familiar to Tasman, Dampier, Baudin, Flinders, and King if they were to sail back along their routes of discovery of the past 360 years.
What more can be said? Visit the Kimberley while you can.
Read more about our Kimberley Expeditions.