THE KIMBERLEY

Hay­ley Bail­lie un­cov­ers Aus­tralia’s un­touched beauty with True North Ad­ven­ture Cruises

Signature Travel & Lifestyle - - Contents -

As the first glint of light breaks across the dark sky, I dou­blecheck that all my cam­era gear is packed and ready. I’m up in the front, seated next to our pi­lot, Rob, as the he­li­copter’s en­gine roars into life. For me, mak­ing the most of the Kimberley’s rugged wilder­ness on cam­era is all about capturing the light. Along with three of my fel­low True North guests, we are head­ing to Raft Point to watch the sun rise over the land­scape. The colours change in sec­onds. With cam­eras set on tripods, we watch as a low cloud catches the sun, cast­ing its rays in a spec­tac­u­lar kalei­do­scope of colour across the sky, and land­ing on the sand­stone cliffs in bril­liant shades of or­ange and deep ma­roon.

This is the be­gin­ning of our twoweek, thou­sand-kilo­me­tre ‘Kimberley Ul­ti­mate’ ad­ven­ture through the re­mote coastal beauty of Western Aus­tralia’s Kimberley re­gion. Our time on board the pur­pose-built True North is full of ad­ven­ture, from wa­ter­fall swims and he­li­copter rides to fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions. The four boys, aged be­tween eight and 14 years, who are along for the ride quickly for­get that their elec­tronic de­vices have been left at home.

Life on board

True North’s shal­low draught means we can ac­cess rivers, wa­ter­falls and reefs more read­ily than larger ships op­er­at­ing in the re­gion. The all-Aus­tralian crew de­liv­ers a warm, friendly ser­vice that makes us feel like we’re on board our own pri­vate yacht. With its ‘magic car­pet’ – a res­i­dent EC130 he­li­copter – guests visit re­mote Indige­nous rock-art sites, fish­ing holes and pic­nic lo­ca­tions that would oth­er­wise be al­most in­ac­ces­si­ble (un­less you were keen on a four-day hike).

On board, we are treated to all the ameni­ties ex­pected of a five-star ho­tel, paired with a fresh, daily-changing menu and pre­mium wines. One of the high­lights of the ad­ven­ture is the crew’s ded­i­ca­tion to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the Western

Aus­tralian sun­set at its best each day; per­haps a pop-up bar on a de­serted beach with deck chairs ready, a bon­fire rag­ing and the kids start­ing a game of beach footie with some of the crew.

A maze of wa­ter­ways

The kids head out on a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion with True North guide, Jay­den, and fel­low guest Peter Cheg­wyn. Peter, af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Cheg­gers’, is a re­peat guest who of­ten trav­els with his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and has of­fered the kids prizes for the big­gest fish caught. As the story is later told – given cred­i­bil­ity with video footage taken by our 12-yearold son – the fish­ing net be­ing used to catch bait ac­ci­dently lands a twome­tre-long croc­o­dile. In the video, we hear Cheg­gers telling the kids to crouch down in the boat as the croc frees it­self. Safe and buzzing af­ter their ex­cit­ing en­counter, the crew on the ‘kids’ boat’ goes on to catch the first bar­ra­mundi of the trip, with our el­dest son, Finn, tak­ing the $50 cash prize and the hon­our of don­ning the ‘Fish Hat’.

With tides swelling to more than five me­tres, the wa­ter rushes from the sub­merged Mont­gomery Reef with huge force, giv­ing the guests on board a thrill, as if we were rid­ing rapids. Board­ing the he­li­copter, we hear that hump­back whales have been spot­ted in the chan­nel – early for the sea­son – and, on our way to get a closer look, we see a sub­ma­rine field of rays and sharks amid a kalei­do­scope of reef colours. The ad­ven­ture peaks with the sight of a dugong swim­ming be­low the sur­face. As we swing around for one last look, it comes up for a breath, al­most look­ing up at me as I cap­ture the last few frames on my cam­era’s mem­ory card.

The Kimberley beaches are pris­tine, marked only by the oc­ca­sional im­print of a croc­o­dile belly leav­ing its trace, a re­minder not to get too close to the salt wa­ter. The fresh­wa­ter pools and wa­ter­falls are a haven for our boys on hot days. The clear, cool wa­ter is a wel­come re­prieve from the rugged ter­rain we’ve crossed to reach these mag­nif­i­cent lo­ca­tions. This is also a time to re­flect on our na­tion’s first peo­ple as we walk on their land, learn­ing about their cul­ture and mar­vel­ling at the rock art they cre­ated over mil­len­nia.

Wildlife at dawn

I’ve set the alarm early again so I can be on deck for the first light over the Hunter River. The river is ru­moured to have the largest con­cen­tra­tion of croc­o­diles in Kimberley, and we are ex­cited to wit­ness the magic first-hand.

True North pho­tog­ra­pher Oli shares his in­sights on how to best cap­ture the river’s morn­ing sky. He sets up a time­lapse cam­era and as we watch the pink sky deepen, the wa­ter sur­face breaks to re­veal the par­al­lel glints of croc­o­diles’ eyes as they move slowly around the bow of the boat.

Un­der the end­less sky

The Ea­gle Falls are so re­mote that they are only ac­ces­si­ble by a three-day hike or via a thrilling 30-minute he­li­copter flight from True North. All 36 guests on board fly to the falls for a pic­nic day.

One night, we de­cide to stay back and camp as a fam­ily, along with the pi­lot. We cook din­ner over an open fire as the sun sets be­hind the ranges. With in­struc­tion from Oli, I try out some new pho­tog­ra­phy tech­niques to cap­ture the night sky. It feels as though I am in a dome filled with stars.

A voy­age on True North is best suited to those with a sense of ad­ven­ture. Ev­ery day, we are ex­posed to new ex­pe­ri­ences and rich lo­cal his­tory that give our fam­ily a re­newed ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the beauty of our home coun­try. Af­ter our two weeks on board True

North, I would rank the Kimberley firmly on par with Antarc­tica, and my new favourite place to cap­ture the light.

Travel file

Cruise

True North Ad­ven­ture Cruises cu­rates a range of ac­tiv­ity-based itin­er­ar­ies in Pa­pua New Guinea, In­done­sia and West Pa­pua, the Kimberley Wilder­ness and along the Aus­tralian coast. truenorth.com.au

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