Cruising the Kimberley is an experience that features highly on bucket lists, whether it's a Kimberley coast cruise, taking a smaller ship down shallow rivers or a cruise and land combination.
This untouched wilderness area, in Australia's north-western corner, covers more than 423,000 sq. km. From thundering waterfalls and dramatic tidal flows, to saltwater crocodiles, mighty boab trees and red plains that seem to stretch on forever, there are incredible sights (and photo opportunities) at every turn. As one of the first parts of the globe to be inhabited thousands of years ago, the region also has great cultural significance and extensive Aboriginal rock art.
Unfortunately, the other thing that is incredible about cruising the Kimberley is the price -- you won't get much change from $10,000 per person, with luxurious trips costing even more. But for those who can afford it, a Kimberley cruise will not disappoint.
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Best Time for Kimberley Cruises
Kimberley cruises can only operate during the dry season, which runs from April to September. Outside these times, the water is so high and the waterfalls are so powerful that it isn't safe to cruise. April and May are the best months to visit as waterfalls are in full flow at the end of the wet season.
Kimberley Cruise Lines
Boutique ships and purpose-built expedition vessels offer itineraries ranging from seven to 14 nights during the Kimberley cruise season. Some lines such as Coral Expeditions and APT have several ships in the region during cruise season while others offer a few select voyages. Other Kimberley cruise options include Ponant, Silversea, and True North Adventure Cruises plus a handful of smaller operators. All lines carry an expedition team and zodiac vessels for off-ship adventuring.
Kimberley Cruise Itineraries
Kimberley cruises travel from Darwin (or, occasionally, Kununurra in Western Australia) to Broome and vice versa. All of the cruise lines visit almost identical ports. These include Talbot Bay, which has massive 12m tides, Montgomery Reef, and the soaring red cliffs of the Hunter River. Other highlights include King George Falls, which thunder over an 80m drop, and rock art at Jar Island, which dates back more than 20,000 years.
Kimberley Cruise Port Highlights
King Cascades: Located in Prince Regent National Park, this terraced waterfall can only be reached by boat. Make sure you change into your swimmers on the way to King Cascades. When the ship cruises close enough to put its bow under the tumbling water, get someone to take your photo enjoying a 'shower' surrounded by the wild beauty of the national park.
Talbot Bay: Sir David Attenborough described the mighty 12-m tides at Talbot Bay as "one the greatest natural wonders of the world". While you can view the phenomenon from the expedition ship, many adventurous travellers opt for a high-speed boat ride through the gaps in the sandstone walls to experience Talbot Bay's famous Horizontal Falls up close. Although these are called waterfalls, the flow actually consists of intense tidal currents pouring through a 300m gap in the McLarty Ranges.
Raft Point: Raft Point's soaring red cliffs will have you reaching for your camera. But it's the Aboriginal rock art that draws an even bigger gasp. The secluded Aboriginal rock art gallery at Raft Point includes Wandjina drawings of the ancient spirits who were believed to renew the land during the big wet, which happened every year. If you look closely, you can also see the delicate, graceful Bradshaw figures, which were painted over during the creation of the Wandjina drawings.
Mitchell Falls: Located in Mitchell National Park, these four-tiered falls are one of the most famous sights in the entire Kimberley region. They were created by the Mitchell River and its tributaries, which created spectacular gorges and waterfalls throughout the sandstone plateau.
Kimberley Cruise Tips
Book Your Cruise Early: The Kimberley cruise season is short and the most popular ships and itineraries often sell out far in advance. Book early to get your preferred ship and preferred dates, especially if you're travelling on one of the more affordable cruise lines.
Fitness Counts: The Kimberley can be a challenging destination for unfit travellers and those with mobility problems. Most onshore trips involve walking over uneven terrain, sometimes for extended periods. There's also a lot of climbing in and out of Zodiacs, even on expedition ships with a hydraulic lift that allows passengers to enter the excursion boats more easily.
Seeing Mitchell Falls Is Expensive: Mitchell Falls is one of Australia's most famous, and most photographed, waterfalls. Unfortunately, it's also difficult to reach. You've got two options when it comes to seeing Mitchell Falls: a challenging six-hour return hike over difficult terrain or a helicopter flight. Your only option as a cruise passenger is the helicopter flight (which isn't included in the cost of your cruise).
Extend Your Pre- and Post-Cruise Stay: Darwin and Broome are more than simply a jumping-on-or-off point for your Kimberley cruise. Spend a few extra days exploring the attractions and colourful, multicultural history of these two towns. Don't miss the sunset at Cable Beach in Broome and Darwin's Mindil Beach, which also has a lively market on Thursday and Sunday nights.
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