The wild Kim­ber­ley coast’s water­falls are best seen by lux­ury cruiser.

LIKE a gi­ant drag­on­fly, the heli­copter hov­ers and whirrs above the Hunter River. The smooth, turquoise vein of wa­ter run­ning through the red land of the Kim­ber­ley is in­ter­rupted only by the white speck of a cruise boat. Slowly, the chop­per low­ers onto the he­li­pad of the lux­ury cruiser True North – surely this is the ul­ti­mate wel­come mat? My four fel­low pas­sen­gers, soon to be joined by just 26 oth­ers, step out onto the boat, blinded by the sun­shine and deaf­ened by the pro­pel­ler.

Two hours ago we were at the Pinc­data Re­sort in Broome, laz­ing un­der boab trees by the pool. Then we were picked up for a short trip in a six-seater light plane, fly­ing over the Kim­ber­ley, across tiny is­lands, man­grov­e­lined rivers and rain­for­est. At Mitchell Plateau we trans­ferred to the True North’s heli­copter for the fi­nal 15 min­utes of the jour­ney. It’s not yet lunchtime and the ad­ven­ture has al­ready be­gun.

Other guests, who were shut­tled over ear­lier this morn­ing, have em­barked on a four-hour hike to Jack­son Falls – a “walk” with a dif­fi­culty rat­ing of 10 out of 10. Any no­tions of a re­lax­ing Kim­ber­ley cruise are put to rest. The av­er­age age on­board is about 55, and I later learn of

their ac­tive life­styles, rang­ing from trekking trips to triathlons. Stereo­types about cruis­ing are in­stantly sunk.

The day’s re­main­ing ac­tiv­i­ties pull the pace down a notch, with a choice of sight­see­ing on one of the six ten­ders, fish­ing for bar­ra­mundi, which prove stub­bornly elu­sive. “They should call it cast­ing, not fish­ing,” quips Ross from Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley.

In the morn­ing I join an­other dawn-pa­troller on the bow for sun­rise. Gra­ham, a Perth ac­coun­tant, is on his fifth cruise with True North and has just booked onto three more. Cups of tea in hand, we try to ar­tic­u­late the mag­i­cal light, the supreme seren­ity, the rough and rocky land­scape. Af­ter break­fast and fish­ing (still no barra), Cap­tain Brad inches the boat up against the ter­raced wa­ter­fall, King Cas­cade. We’ve been ad­vised to wear our swim­ming cos­tumes, but don’t fully un­der­stand why un­til we’re so close to the fall that it’s rain­ing down on top of us. As if that’s not wet enough, two ten­ders head out to – and un­der – the nearby Am­phithe­atre Wa­ter­fall. Be­ing ham­mered by the cool­ing blast in the out­back heat is a re­fresh­ing treat. Then we’re off for a wind-in-the-air zoom along the Prince Re­gent River be­fore speed­ing back to the boat in time for sun­set.

The next day is the trip’s high­light, in­cor­po­rat­ing a “heli-pic­nic” at a re­mote oa­sis ac­ces­si­ble only by air. Rob, our pi­lot, who found the spot a few years ago, shut­tles ev­ery­one to Me­laleuca Falls, land­ing on a cliff over­look­ing a swim­ming hole. Shaded by pa­per­bark trees, the set­ting seems as if it was carved out of the most rugged chunk of par­adise. Af­ter a steak and seafood bar­be­cue, we take a five-minute walk to a larger wa­ter­fall where we climb up to sit on a rock ledge be­hind the cas­cade. When the thun­der­ous gush gets too much, we jump like chil­dren into the wa­ter be­low.

The nat­u­ral marvels con­tinue the fol­low­ing morn­ing, which is spent ex­plor­ing Mont­gomery Reef, home to green tur­tles, birds, sharks and dugongs. Our guide Jar­rad, who was born and bred in the Kim­ber­ley, points out the var­i­ous species and ex­plains the work­ings of the

The True North and its heli­copter at King Ge­orge falls.

Kings Cas­cade wa­ter­fall.

A state­room on the True North.

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