CAP­TI­VAT­ING KIM­BER­LEY

Mar­vel­ling at the an­cient cliffs and bays of Western Aus­tralia’s Kim­ber­ley re­gion on board lux­ury ves­sel True North.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY ROD­ER­ICK EIME

As you cast your eyes on the golden hues of the sav­agely weath­ered stone ed­i­fices along the Hunter and Prince Re­gent Rivers, laid down by the same an­cient wa­ter­ways al­most two bil­lion years ago, you are see­ing a snap­shot of our planet so old, it pre­dates the ear­li­est forms of mul­ti­cel­lu­lar life by hun­dreds of mil­lions of years.

That’s the thing about the Kim­ber­ley, like old great grand­mother na­ture her­self, every tick of the clock here is mea­sured in hun­dreds of years. Whether you’re a cap­tain of in­dus­try, celebrity su­per­star or hum­ble streetsweeper, the Kim­ber­ley doesn’t care. You’ll be gone and long for­got­ten be­fore she’s taken her next breath.

The ex­quis­ite and mys­te­ri­ous Abo­rig­i­nal rock art from the mod­ern Wand­jina and an­cient Gwion Gwion pe­ri­ods give us some in­di­ca­tion of the im­pact of hu­mans in the vast 425,000 square kilo­me­tres of the Kim­ber­ley.

“The Kim­ber­ley is one of the most eco­log­i­cally di­verse ar­eas in the world,” says Pro­fes­sor Lyn Bea­z­ley AO from the Univer­sity of WA, “its bio­di­ver­sity and ma­rine ecosys­tem are among the world’s most pris­tine. The trop­i­cal sa­van­nah of the re­gion are the only near-un­touched such land­scapes left on the planet.”

Even though we may be brief and tran­sient vis­i­tors to her realm, that doesn’t stop us mar­vel­ling at the grandeur of her cre­ations. The majesty of King Ge­orge Falls in full flight ranks along with Vic­to­ria Falls and Ni­a­gara in terms of sheer beauty, if not wa­ter vol­ume. Ex­pert and ex­pe­ri­enced ad­ven­ture cruise op­er­a­tors like True North, will bring their ten­ders so close that your whole body will shud­der as the cas­cade plum­mets 80 me­tres into the river, en­velop­ing you in a dense, misty spray.

Cruis­ing along the Kim­ber­ley Coast has only come of age rel­a­tively re­cently, draw­ing guests ini­tially from all over Aus­tralia, but in­creas­ingly from the far cor­ners of the world as the global phe­nom­e­non of small ship and ex­pe­di­tion cruis­ing grips the imag­i­na­tion of the mod­ern, experiential trav­eller.

The much-cel­e­brated True North af­fords her 36 pam­pered guests the op­por­tu­nity to in­ves­ti­gate the spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes and nat­u­ral won­ders up close. Take the buck­ing, tur­bu­lent ride through the in­cred­i­ble hor­i­zon­tal wa­ter­falls in Tal­bot Bay fed by the rag­ing 10 me­tre tides; cruise among the ed­dies and whirlpools around Mont­gomery Reef as it ap­pears to rise from the depths like a re­turn­ing At­lantis, or hike to the eye-pop­ping Wand­jina rock art gallery at Raft Point for a glimpse of life long be­fore the first Euro­peans and you’ll just start, mind you, to get a feel for this pre­his­toric won­der­land.

And there is no more as­ton­ish­ing sight of this land than from a he­li­copter. True North is one of only a cou­ple of ships op­er­at­ing in the re­gion with its own on­board chop­per. The ad­van­tage of this ma­chine is ap­par­ent when vis­it­ing re­mote rock art sites and dis­tant fresh­wa­ter pools. Dur­ing he­li­copter flights it’s com­mon to see whales, crocs and even dugongs in the rivers and bays be­low.

Be­yond the Prince Re­gent River and into the north­ern re­gion, you’ll be able to see the enig­matic Gwion Gwion

(aka Brad­shaw) rock art that some ex­perts be­lieve could be the old­est known mu­rals and por­traits known to man. De­bate among an­thro­pol­o­gists and ethno­g­ra­phers as to their ori­gin and mean­ing has been sim­mer­ing for decades.

But a visit to the Kim­ber­ley need not be all heady, in­tel­lec­tual stuff. Sim­ple plea­sures abound in the se­cret back­wa­ters and man­grove forests that bor­der the many rivers. Ex­pert fish­ing guides aboard True North of­fer some of the most ex­cit­ing fish­ing to be had among the muddy rivulets where man­grove jack, snap­per and the mighty bar­ra­mundi taunt fish­er­folk.

Both the fear­some salt­wa­ter crocodiles and serene dugong in­habit these wa­ters, while birds of a myr­iad feather squawk and wheel over­head or flut­ter among the dense fo­liage.

The late dry sea­son, from Au­gust on­wards, is best for fish­ing and wildlife spot­ting be­fore the wet sets in again.

True North’s ex­pe­di­tion lead­ers with in­com­pa­ra­ble lo­cal knowl­edge will know of se­cret fresh­wa­ter bil­l­abongs, fed by crys­tal clear springs, a short climb up from the wa­ter’s edge where you can dip in the su­perbly re­fresh­ing wa­ters just as the first in­hab­i­tants of the Kim­ber­ley did tens of thou­sands of years ago. Re­lax in the shade un­der the pa­per­bark and river­gums as a gourmet pic­nic is laid out for you.

Broome bliss

When you ar­rive in Broome, the nom­i­nal cap­i­tal of the Kim­ber­ley, your first sight of the land­scape is from your air­craft as it pre­pares to land in the his­toric port town. Vivid greens, golds and ochres wash the en­tire land­scape be­neath you from hori­zon to hori­zon, while rivers and scrubby trees form the great pas­tel vis­tas which so in­spired our artists and po­ets like Dorothea Mackel­lar. ‘Far hori­zons’, ‘wide brown lands’, ‘jewel sea’ and ‘droughts and flood­ing rains’ per­fectly epit­o­mises the Kim­ber­ley.

For any­one ven­tur­ing to the Kim­ber­ley for a cruise, it is the com­mon wis­dom to spend a few days in the in­trigu­ing re­mote town­ship of Broome. A mix­ture of pre­served fron­tier vil­lage and mod­ern go-ahead busi­ness, Broome never for­gets its roots, carved out of the dust and mud by gra­ziers, pearlers, fish­ers and min­ers from numer­ous eth­nic back­grounds over more than a cen­tury.

You can take ei­ther land or air tours from Broome to such sig­nif­i­cant land­marks as Wind­jana Gorge, Tun­nel Creek or even the Bun­gle Bun­gles (Pur­nu­l­ulu Na­tional Park). The Dampier Penin­sula to Cape Leveque, for ex­am­ple, can be ex­plored in a day tak­ing in the fas­ci­nat­ing Bea­gle Bay and its unique church as well as the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm where you can learn some of the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory of pearl cul­ti­va­tion in this re­mote wilder­ness as well as take home a last­ing and beau­ti­ful sou­venir.

Ex­plor­ing all of Aus­tralia’s Kim­ber­ley, a re­gion twice the size of Vic­to­ria, can­not be com­pleted in a sin­gle visit. One trip, how­ever, will be enough to sow the seed of won­der­ment that will bring you back to grad­u­ally re­veal the many lay­ers of this mag­i­cal and mys­ti­cal land.

Open­ing im­age: Heli-ex­plor­ing in the Kim­ber­ley.From be­low to top right: Stargaz­ing aboard True North; Rock art view­ing; Head­ing ashore for a climb.

Pho­tog­ra­phy cour­tesy Oliver Ol­droyd /True North Cruises.

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