North by north­west

A voy­age into the time­less Kim­ber­ley

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - FIONA HARARI

It be­gins with crocodiles and ends with whales. In be­tween there are co­ral-strewn beaches, ex­otic birds and count­less sea tur­tles. On one mem­o­rable morn­ing an oth­er­wise non­de­script mud­flat pro­vides up-close sight­ings of two man­grove snakes, a pair of fight­ing mud­skip­pers, an osprey, a brah­miny kite tak­ing flight clasp­ing a fish, and a salt­wa­ter croc­o­dile lan­guorously de­vour­ing a rep­tile.

Na­ture is stun­ningly abun­dant on an 11-day voy­age along the Kim­ber­ley coast, a slow and var­ied jour­ney that takes in some of the most spec­tac­u­lar and oth­er­wise in­ac­ces­si­ble sights on a me­an­der­ing route be­tween Dar­win and Broome. I am aboard the 90m-long all-suite MS Cale­do­nian Sky, and sea­sonal cruises along the north­ern­most coast­line of Western Aus­tralia in­clude all meals, most bev­er­ages, and daily ex­pe­di­tions with a spe­cial­ist team of guides courtesy of a fleet of in­flat­able Zo­di­acs.

This is lux­ury cruis­ing, but not quite as it is al­ways known. There is Wi-Fi but, given the re­mote­ness of the itin­er­ary, no mo­bile phone re­cep­tion; a tal­ented jazz duo but no casino; and a nightly turn-down ser­vice but no folded towel art. The ge­nial cap­tain is not too fussed whether pas­sen­gers re­fer to this tem­po­rary home, which has just 57 suites, as a ship or a boat. But please, he adds dur­ing a wel­com­ing cock­tail re­cep­tion shortly af­ter em­bark­ing in Dar­win, do not call it a cruise line.

This is an ex­pe­di­tion voy­age. And al­though there are mul­ti­ple lux­ury touches — from spa­cious suites with Molton Brown toi­letries to cool tow­els and wel­come drinks each time we re­turn aboard — the fo­cus is firmly on what hap­pens out­side, as we pass through one of Aus­tralia’s most spec­tac­u­lar wilder­ness ar­eas and a land­scape dat­ing back 1.8 bil­lion years.

For a week and a half, civil­i­sa­tion is mostly ab­sent as 101 pas­sen­gers, as­sisted by a friendly and in­dus­tri­ous crew of 79, ex­plore iso­lated coves and his­toric mark­ers, with reg­u­lar sight­ings of wildlife. Be­cause of the ves­sel’s com­par­a­tively small size, we ven­ture in and out of the smallest of bays, as well as larger water­ways. One day we take a three-hour Zo­diac cruise along the King Ge­orge River sur­rounded by soar­ing, al­most geo­met­ric-look­ing sand­stone cliffs, and spot a rare dugong mov­ing through the wa­ter. The next day we an­chor off­shore, mo­tor across to a tur­tle-nest­ing beach, scale a sand dune, wan­der over a salt flat, and in­spect the re­mark­ably non-rusty re­mains of a plane that crash-landed in 1942.

Each day the land­scape changes and a new ex­pe­ri­ence awaits. We wan­der through spinifex to in­spect an­cient

Zo­di­acs take pas­sen­gers on a Kim­ber­ley ex­cur­sion, main; Brad­shaw/ Gwion Gwion rock art, above

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