In July & August of 2017, Trish and I, together with Bill & Moyna Richardson, did a 25 day land and sea trip in this region with APT. It encompassed a 15 day journey in a special 4WD coach with 20 other passengers, starting and finishing in Broome. This region is larger than Germany and almost twice the size of the United Kingdom, so it meant we travelled over 3,000 kilometres in 15 days. Early starts were the norm and we covered about 500 kilometres on the biggest day. Shorter tour options are available for those who may find this amount of travel too tiring, but it means omitting some of the featured areas.
There were regular comfort and lunch stops to break the daily travel. The coach was comfortable and the accommodation varied from motel units to remote, tented camps. Glamping really (hardly camping) as the tents were comfortable, with good bedding, self-contained bathroom facilities and often 240v power. Overall the food was good and varied, so we didn’t have standard, repetitive menus each day and the dining facilities at the camps– open-sided lodges – were great. Alcohol of acceptable quality and pricing was available at the camps too.
The highlights for me were the remote APT camps, with swimming in the creeks (croc.-free of course), the Bungle Bungles with the heli. flight, Geike Gorge and cruise, Kununurra River cruise, Mitchell Falls with heli. flight and Bell Gorge. The scenery was varied and spectacular, so every day brought new vistas, colours, creek crossings, rough roads, indigenous cave art and interesting stops on the way. Even some of the isolated settlements such as Wyndham, Derby and Halls Creek were interesting to see – I probably wouldn’t choose to live there though!
We started our trip a day early so we could have more time in Broome, a fascinating town with a great history. We were lucky to experience the full moon in Broome, with the spectacular “stairway to the moon” effect at sunset. Cable Beach Resort was our accommodation between the sea and land trips and it’s been restored to its former glory.
I would certainly recommend doing the land trip first, before the coastal cruise, as the cruise is more relaxing, even though it was full of action. (Just nice to be out of the coach and not driving all day.)
After Broome we embarked on a 10 day Kimberley Coast sea voyage to Darwin with 100 passengers on the MS Caledonian Sky, an expedition ship with very comfortable, roomy cabins, good food and experienced guides. Every day we ventured out in zodiacs with our guides and explored this remote, spectacular region. To appreciate the Kimberleys you really need to see it from both land and sea as it’s quite different.
The highlights of the cruise were Adele Island (great birdlife at an isolated, protected booby breeding site), Talbot Bay and the unique Horizontal Falls (always do the heli.flight there if it’s operating), Montgomery Reef (amazing falling-tide experience), indigenous cave art on islands, Prince Frederick Harbour and King George River and Falls.
An unexpected event was the rescue of a stranded yachtsman and his girlfriend when their catamaran ran over a reef while trying to get to an anchorage, ripping large holes in the hulls. They were lucky that our ship’s crew saw their flare and were able to rescue them at daylight. They lost virtually everything, but there was an interesting conclusion in that the couple asked the captain to marry them at sea, so we had a shipboard wedding.
We travelled a few months after the end of the wet season, so the waterfalls were drying up (both on the land and sea trips). However, as last summer was wetter than normal, there was water in many of the creeks on the land trip and there was good grass cover. The days were mild and we only experienced one really cold night at the Bungle Bungles camp. Earlier trips this year may have encountered creek crossing problems, but with more water going over the various falls.
Travelling too early in the year may mean humid weather, with some sites inaccessible after a big wet, whereas late in the year (ie, Sep/Oct) it would be hotter and drier (ie, no waterfall action).
Fully supported trips such as this are expensive, but when you consider the remoteness of the region (both land and sea content), the limited access period (after the wet season and before it gets too dry), the remote camps, the 4WD equipment needed, etc , and the quality of the expedition ship and guides, the high cost of travelling in this region becomes acceptable.
Overall a wonderful trip and we can recommend it, especially in lieu of attempting the land content in your own vehicle. It’s a unique part of Australia, well worth a look before you get too old and can’t cope with the rigours of the trip.
Neil and Trish Craig