Picture this: your own private helicopter, available to whisk you to wonders at the snap of your fingers.
If ever there’s a moment in life to live out your dream, it’s on a Kimberley coastal cruise. Imagine your vessel moored beside the King George Falls, cascades that tumble 80 metres over rusty red cliffs, miles from civilisation. Rather than clambering up the meandering dirt track, you chopper effortlessly to the placid rock pools above, soaking in feathery rainwater beneath a giant blue sky. On your aerial descent, you follow the splintering water over the edge and weave through red rock on either side, as if you’re on a slow-moving rollercoaster. Are you with us?
Most cruises – big and small, boutique and big-brand – run from eight to 18 days, and while that’s quite the commitment, investing in a journey to the Kimberley is worth giving your all.
Several Kimberley cruise boats carry choppers, and others provide access to scenic flights, granting expansive, elevated views of Australia’s last true wilderness. Nothing spells out the grandeur and vastness of this land like being airborne.
For choppers: The Great Escape; True North (on board); Ocean Dream; Coral Expeditions; Kimberley Quest; Diversity Charters (as option)
Short and sweet
Budget and time constraints don’t apply to dreams, of course, so this being the real world, you might also consider taking a snapshot cruise of only four or five days, which glides to most of the region’s name-drop spots – Montgomery Reef, Horizontal Falls and the Buccaneer Archipelago, for example.
For snapshot trips: Kimberley Quest; The Great Escape; Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures
For something totally different: Forget the boat and join a private, luxury helicopter safari. HeliSpirit runs six-day tours hopping between key coastal destinations and inland gems.
When size matters
Meanwhile, if liner-style luxe is more your thing, pick one of the larger boats with bells and whistles such as a pool, gym, theatre and butler service.
For big boat luxe: Ponant; Silversea Cruises; APT and Coral Expeditions
Need to know
Anchors away: The higher-end Kimberley cruises use Broome or Wyndham (via Kununurra) as their departure and arrival ports.
What to pack: Resort wear, shorts, tees and flat shoes (you’ll be barefoot most of the time). Don’t forget your bathers.
Best time to travel: Cruise season runs March to October. If you’re into waterfalls and don’t mind the heat, target March to May; if comfortable climes are a priority, hit June to August; whales are spotted June to late September, and throwing in a fishing line is most fun from September to October.
Add some lustre
If you’re cruising the Kimberley, you’ll almost certainly be passing through Broome, once the pearling capital of the world. The local obsession, first with the naturally occurring lustrous shells and then their organic gems, has gripped the town since the 1880s.
Historic tales of fortune chasing, frontier courage, extreme conditions and the birth of Broome’s rich multicultural heritage are told on pearl farm tours, held by the region’s few surviving operators.
Glam experience: VIP Paspaley Pearl Farm Tour
Think 72-foot catamaran, pearlini cocktails, pearl meat tasters and a ‘luggers lunch’. The Paspaley farm floats in Roebuck Bay, 3km from Broome’s Town Beach foreshore, making for a relaxed sail to see the pearl farmers hard at work. The guided tours are run on demand, with registrations taken for the limited experiences.
Family owned and run: Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm
Three generations of the Brown family have overseen this remote outpost on the Dampier Peninsula, two hours’ drive from Broome. Their huge pinctada maxima pearls are fed by minerals carried in by the Kimberley’s immense tropical tides, resulting in anomalies such as the world’s largest, fine-quality round pearl, and a single shell that produced 10 pearls at once. Hear about the challenges of seeding oysters, see a pearl harvested up close and learn what it’s like to live in this piece of paradise. Tours can be on foot or on water; many include an Aboriginal guide.
Close to Broome: Willie Creek Pearl Farm
A dazzling scenic chopper ride, or a 38-kilometre dirt track drive from Broome, this farm brings cultured pearl beds in from the open ocean to rest in sky-blue estuaries. Jump aboard a tour boat to see a pearl plucked from a live oyster, learn about the intricate art of pearl seeding and be tempted by the on-site jewellery store.