The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
COASTAL WONDERS BIRDING BY HOUSEBOAT
A wilderness of ancient canyons, sculptural rock formations and fierce, frothing waters, the Kimberley region of northwest Australia is three times the size of England. Some of the best sights are concentrated along the coastline, easily navigable on a small expedition ship. Adventure cruise company True North has been operating in the region for 30 years, offering a mix of activities on land and sea on its 18-cabin vessels.
A highlight is Horizontal Falls, described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the world’s greatest natural wonders”. Caused by a fast-moving tidal current squeezing through narrow gorges, water gushes forward to create a ferocious torrent across the surface. Hop into tenders to get as close as possible to the raging waters.
An even greater spectacle that is also shaped by some of the biggest tidal shifts on the planet is Montgomery Reef, which appears to rise from the ocean as water drains away to expose mantas, dugongs and turtles fleeing for safety. Visit during a full moon to see it rise and fall by 33ft in the space of 12 hours.
Rearing its head in the Snowy Mountains, Australia’s mighty Murray River (only the Nile and Amazon are longer) snakes through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, eventually escaping into the sea. According to Aboriginal legends, the river is a rainbow serpent, carving through a range of colourful landscapes; from magnificent red gum forests through to golden beaches and teal waters. One of the most scenic sections runs between Paringa and the Murray Mouth, where the river ends its journey in the Southern Ocean.
Sleep on a houseboat operated by Murray River Trails, and float slowly along the waterways on a safari and citizen science project designed to help preserve key species. Kangaroos, koalas and brush-tailed possums can all be seen, and at night, a top-deck hot tub is the best place to gaze at stars.
Head towards the outer floodplain for a chance to see dozens of bird species, including black swans and yellow-billed spoonbill. Swap your floating home for four wheels and a ferry, travel into the Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park and Coorong to learn
On land, go for guided hikes to explore indigenous rock paintings hidden in caves or glide above the otherwise inaccessible Eagle Falls in the ship’s helicopter, touching down for a refreshing swim at a remote waterhole.
Audley (01993 838 810; audleytravel. com) offers a cruise around the Kimberley as part of a 19-day trip to west and north Australia from £13,450pp, including flights
Natural beauty: travelling by small ship will take you closer to the spectacular coastline about the culture of the indigenous Ngarrindjeri nation. Guided by a member of the local community, a canoe ride provides a chance to learn about the origins of the river that has supported life here for thousands of years.
Five-day safaris (0061 417 533 063; murrayrivertrails.com.au) cost from £2,295pp, including full-board on a houseboat and in a lodge, and transfers to and from Adelaide; excludes flights