Travel journalist Joanna Hall reviews True North’s Kimberley Snapshot Cruise for Ultimate Travel Magazine, with glowing reports!
It is one of Australia’s most remote destinations, and in this cruise review Joanna Hall finds True North gets would-be adventurers close-up to all the action.
Cruise Review: Kimberley Conquest
By: Joanna Hall
“It is a sight you have to see to believe. We’re gathered on the front deck as True North inches towards the King George Falls, a fine mist of fresh water in the air. A few more metres, and the ship’s nose is literally poking into the pristine water, giving a small group of crew and guests a morning shower they will never forget.
These iconic twin falls, which cascade down vertical sandstone cliffs 80 metres high, are tucked away deep in the King George River in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. They’re a definitive example of how the Kimberley plateau has been eroded over time, leaving behind a network of vertical sandstone canyons and a kaleidoscope of colours caused by weathering.
From the moment we’d boarded the luxury True North expedition ship at Cable Beach in Broome, we knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary meander along Western Australia’s north coast. One of her most popular itineraries is a seven-day cruise between Broome and Wyndham, or the reverse, bringing together key natural sights and off-the-beaten-track holiday destinations.
She carries just 36 guests, and was built specifically for expedition cruising in remote locales in our own back yard, with the view that the travelling elite with an eye for adventure shouldn’t have to compromise on luxury.
Belying her shallow draft and sleek exterior lines, True North has plenty of interior space and style. The decor features blonde wood, cream leather furnishings, off-white walls, biscuit coloured carpeting, and artworks provide splashes of colour drawing inspiration from the exotic environments where she cruises.
This ship is all about exploring, with crack-of-dawn starts, safety briefings, and clambering on and off small boats, and a typical day’s activities ranging from fishing and hiking, to snorkelling and wildlife spotting.
On our first morning, we were aboard expedition boats just after dawn heading through the Buccaneer Archipelago deep into Talbot Bay. Our destination was the famous Horizontal Waterfalls, where water passes horizontally between two narrow coastal gorges.
David Attenborough has described this phenomenon as “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world”, and he wasn’t wrong. The first gap is around 20 metres wide, while the second, and most spectacular, is just 10; that morning conditions were ideal to pass safely through the first, giving everyone an exhilarating start to their cruise.
Even in winter, the Kimberley basks in blistering heat, but True North provides welcome respite. There is air conditioning on board but no pool, the deck space sacrificed for a luxury akin to a private yacht; a helipad and air-conditioned helicopter.
Later, at Secure Bay, we took to the air for the first time, for an alternative view of Buccaneer Archipelago and the Horizontal Waterfalls. A pristine area of 1,000 rocky, sparsely vegetated islands, it was first sighted by William Dampier in 1688.
Another day, another natural wonder. Located north of Collier Bay, the vast Montgomery reef stretches for 292 square kilometres, and with immense tidal flows is capable of “rising” more than four metres from sea level with the tide.
Heading out from True North, before us stretched an extraordinary panorama of vast lagoons, tiny inlets and a mangrove island, which are only visible when the tide is out. Before long, however, the reef began to slowly rise. As water subsided around the more shallow channels, the cascades began and water poured out across the reef’s jagged ledges.
Kings Cascade is another Kimberley icon named by Captain Parker King, after he and his crew rowed long boats up the Prince Regent River in search of fresh water, and it’s famous for the death of Ginger Meadows, a model working on a tourist boat taken by a huge crocodile back in 1987. As if to remind of us of how treacherous these waters are, when True North pulled up for our morning photo op, a large crocodile was patrolling the murky water below.
Excursions on foot to swimming holes are one of many highlights of Kimberley cruises. Earlier in the week, we’d climbed to the picturesque Ruby Falls, and after our visit to Cascade Falls, we hiked for 40 minutes to Camp Creek, negotiating large boulders and wading through waist high water. These freshwater pools provide respite from the heat, and are also havens for spotting wildlife from rare local birds to water monitors.
The rugged beauty of the Hunter River is one of several reasons why people visit the Kimberley. Stretching for 16 kilometres from the main tributaries of the Roe and Moran Rivers, it flows into Prince Frederick Harbour and the Indian Ocean and is a masterpiece of nature, with its steep red sandstone cliffs and knotted mangrove systems.
It’s also abundant with wildlife, particularly the fearsome saltwater crocodile. Basking on the muddy banks of the river, we observed around 15 ranging from juveniles to gargantuan adults, while the skies were packed with bird life from brahminy kites, to impressive white bellied sea eagles.
Our last day on True North began with that shower in the King George Falls, followed by an exhilarating fly past by helicopter and an exploration of the top of the falls on foot. On a clear, blue-sky day such as that, the Kimberley stretches beyond infinity, an endless sweep of red landscape dotted with occasional splashes of green foliage in one direction, and the towering vertical gorges slicing through sandstone in the other.
A Kimberley cruise on True North is undoubtedly a “bucket list” trip of a lifetime to an iconic holiday destination. If you love cruising and exploring off-the-beaten-track places in style, it won’t disappoint.
True North Highlights
36 guests, 20 crew.
Six expedition vessels, and a five passenger Eurocopter Squirrel helicopter.
18 staterooms with private facilities, featuring either single beds or twin/doubles, portholes or picture windows.
The dining room operates at a fixed time on an open seating basis, and there is an observation lounge and bar with a back deck, Linneys (no apostrophe) Lounge doubles up as a pearl jewellery showroom.
Small sun deck and exterior sitting area, DVDs available for in-suite viewing, library.”
– February 2013