Horizontal Falls The Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

Discovering The Kimberley: One of the last wilderness destinations on earth

Horizontal Falls The Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)
Contributor
Fiona Harper

Last updated
Nov 22, 2023

Read time
7 min read

Sponsored by Coral Expeditions

Vertical sandstone cliffs rise hundreds of metres skywards and waterfalls cascade down their sides. Vast canyons punctuated by freshwater swimming holes. A region three times larger than England, with just 35,000 inhabitants.

Welcome to the Kimberley, one of the last wildernesses on earth.

Small ship pioneer Australian-owned Coral Expeditions has been sharing the secrets of this ancient region for more than 40 years. The line was pioneering Kimberley cruises before most operators were even aware of the region on Australia’s north west coast.

Discover the Kimberley the "Australian Way"

Horizontal Falls in the Kimberley (Photo: Coral Expeditions)

Coral Expedition’s Australian Way ethos underpins expedition excellence and unrivalled local expertise, friendly, Aussie service, a true expedition style and long standing familiarity with the Kimberley built upon three decades cruising the region.

Against the implausibly aquamarine ocean of the Kimberley, Coral Expeditions three Australian-flagged expedition ships – Coral Adventurer, Coral Geographer and Coral Discoverer - are designed to get you intimately close to this ancient landscape.

A landscape like nowhere else in the world. Where weathered lands are carved by the powerful forces of nature and mammoth tides rise and fall to conceal and reveal coastal treasures.

And Coral Expeditions is operating three ships in the Kimberley from April to September in 2024.

The Kimberley’s Dramatic Landscape is Best Seen From a Small Ship

Coral Adventurer Steep Island The Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

Kimberley dawns are nothing short of breathtaking – expect pastel-hued skies tinting towering cliffs of sandstone a burnt orange hue which are replicated in a mirror-like sea. As long shadows shorten to mark the arrival of a new day, the silence is absolute, the peace palpable.

In a region three times the size of England and with an estimated population of just 35,000 people, most of whom live in a handful of towns, it’s possible to go days, if not weeks without seeing another human being.

Coral Expeditions King Cascade Falls (Image: Coral Expeditions)

Most of the 2,500-odd islands are uninhabited while much of the Kimberley’s dramatic landscape is best seen from an expedition ship. Savour the cascading marvel of nature at the terraced hanging gardens at Kings Cascade Falls (above). Bear witness to the diversity of marine life at Montgomery Reef as the falling tide tumbles off the reef in powerful torrents and swirling currents. Enjoy striking Kimberley sunsets as dusk settles upon a remote beach untainted by human footprints.

The real heart of the Kimberley – iconic locations like Horizontal Falls, King George River with its 80m tall twin King George (Oomari) Falls, Prince Regent River and stunning rock art much of which can only be reached by sea.

Coral Expeditions is Built Upon a 20-year Commitment to Sustainable Tourism

Coral Adventurer (Photo: Coral Expeditions)

That’s where Coral Expeditions excels. The Australian-owned company pioneered small ship cruising in the Kimberley and were recently recognised for local expertise built upon a 20-year-long commitment to sustainable tourism, being inducted into Ecotourism Australia’s Hall of Fame.

Coral Expeditions’ ships spend more time in the region than any other cruise line. Each ship carries no more than 120 passengers (Coral Discoverer carries just 72 passengers), allowing the line to get up close and personal with nature.

These purpose-built ships are designed for tropical expedition access, enabling you to get close to nature with ease where other operators cannot. There are plenty of wide-open public spaces and all outward facing cabins connect you with the destination.

The Australian Way on Coral Expeditions (Image: Coral Expeditions)

The line’s all-Australian crew are passionate and proud to share the adventure with you; always attentive and caring with a friendly and approachable style, in keeping with our Australian values.

Coral Expeditons’ ships are also all-inclusive: your cruise fare covers excursions, activities, meals and drinks, expert guides, taxes and fees – so no signing of bills or swiping key cards.

But however wonderful the ships are, Coral Expeditions focuses on the destinations, connecting guests with nature, culture, and heritage with more time ashore in remote natural areas away from the crowds.

Coral Expeditions retains a true expedition ethos, with small ships meaning fewer guests and more intimate and personal encounters along the way.

A unique feature of Coral Expeditions’ ships are their unique Xplorer tenders which are hydraulically raised and lowered from deck level for ease of access and come with shade cover, seating, a toilet and onboard commentary.

The Kimberley Features Some of the World’s Most Impressive and Ancient Rock Art

Montgomery Reef The Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

Curious, worldly travellers are lured to the Kimberley for its far-flung islands, cultural treasures, its raw wilderness and the breathtaking natural features of its land and seascapes.

Twice daily mammoth ten metre tides recede as over 300 sq km of Montgomery Reef (Yowjab) rises from the sea in a turbulent tumult of cascading water. The tumultuous movement of water attracts a plethora of wildlife and birdlife. Common sights are the white plumage of a stalking eastern reef egret standing stark against the drying reef. In the swirling channels of water, turtles pop their heads up momentarily and sharks cruise the shallows looking for easy prey. But it is the human stories, many of which lay concealed amidst an ancient landscape millions of years in the making which create lasting memories from a Kimberley expedition.

Wandjina Rock Art Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

At Raft Point (Ngumbree) one of the Kimberely’s most impressive rock art galleries guards the entrance to the vast expanse of Doubtful Bay. The bay is the traditional country of the Worrora people who follow the Wandjina as their law-maker, creator and spiritual guide. Wandjinia art (pictured above) often depicts halos around human heads with large eyes and the absence of a mouth. At just 4,000 years old these works are positively youthful by Australian rock art standards.

Gwion Gwion art (once known as Bradshaws) on the other hand are significantly older. These artworks have confounded historians ever since pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw laid eyes on them during an exploratory expedition in 1891. Gwion Gwion art is most unusual with a graceful beauty hinting at considerable creative ability and skill of their maker. The style is easily recognised by fine, elegant human figurines adorned with tassels and ornaments.

An estimated 100,000 Kimberley art sites are spread over approximately 50,000 sq km. Ranging between 5,000 and 50,000 + years old, it’s thought they may hold the key to Australia’s earliest history. In 2021 the University of Melbourne radiocarbon-dated a two metre-long painting of a kangaroo as Australia’s oldest intact rock painting at around 17,500 years old.

Coral Expeditions Has Deep Respect and Strong Connections With the Places it Visits

Coral Geographer visits Raft Point in the Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

Many of these sites are known only to traditional owners and it’s important to respect this land and its historical context. Coral Expeditions visits sites such as Raft Point when Traditional Owners are available to guide guests and share stories on the artworks and its significance to First National peoples. These art galleries tell stories passed down through countless generations and are often found beneath sandstone overhangs – essentially the homes of their ancestors – where artefacts, shell middens and burial sites provide intriguing insights into ancient Aboriginal Australia.

There’s a palpable spirituality to the Kimberley. Possibly it has something to do with the absence of industrial human intervention. But if you take some moments to absorb your surroundings, to listen to the land, feel it’s pulse beneath your feet as you follow in footsteps tens of thousands of years old, the Kimberley will likely wrap its warmth around your heart too.

Coral Expeditions’ Ships Spend More Time Cruising the Kimberley Than Any Other Cruise Line

Coral Discoverer in the Kimberley (Image: Coral Expeditions)

With its roots firmly embedded as Australia’s pioneering cruise line, Coral Expeditions’ ships spend more time cruising the Kimberley than any other cruise line. Their relaxed style of cruising means personal, intimate experiences both onboard and when out on excursions in the Xplorer tenders. Shore excursions and lectures are led by experienced guides and specialists in their field, many of whom have a lifetime of local expertise.

“The Kimberley holds a special place in our heart,” says Jeff Gillies, Commercial Director Coral Expeditions. “Some of our Expedition Leaders have been guiding guests in the Kimberley for over twenty years, yet they say every voyage uncovers something new. That’s why we love this truly Australian adventure so much.”

The newest ship in Coral Expeditions fleet, Coral Geographer, was launched in 2021 and is a sister ship to Coral Adventurer launched two years earlier. Balcony staterooms and suites with large picture windows are a popular choice while open deck spaces and public areas ensure plenty of locations to soak in the views or socialise with new-found friends. Coral Discoverer, with its outward facing staterooms is the smallest ship in the fleet and has the feel of a private expedition yacht. It’s no coincidence that a fine collection of Australian Indigenous art is showcased across all three ships, offering an alluring cultural introduction to any Kimberley cruise.

Publish date November 16, 2023
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