Pearl Of The Kimberley
Peel back the various layers of the Kimberley aboard the three-mast luxury adventurer Le Ponant.
The scale of the Kimberley is hard to fathom. It’s one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet, with just 36,000 people living across 425,000 square kilometres. But it’s also one of the most diverse—a wilderness frontier where waterfalls seem to pour off every cliff edge, vast caves are decorated with the world’s oldest rock art, gorges carve through twobillion-year-old sandstone escarpments, and epic tides tumble over reefs, transforming ecosystems in minutes.
Sprinkled among it all are tropical foresttopped islands—thousands of them—and impenetrable ochre chasms enveloped by bottle-shaped boab trees and tall stands of grass that bristle like an old man’s beard. It’s remote, rugged, ravishing, and so vast and untouched that the best—really the only—way to explore it is by sea.
The ideal craft with which to do just that—in serious style—is the Le Ponant, a sleek three-masted yacht making her maiden voyage in Australian waters come 2023, peeling back Kimberley layers between Broome and Kuri Bay over 11 days. In many ways this expedition—limited to just 32 passengers—is the anti-cruise.
There are no bulging buffets, no queues, no casinos, no enforced inactivity. And there’s no formal attire, either. In fact, no shoes on board at all. Staff know you by name (there’s a one-to-one guest-to-crew ratio) and craft menus based around your dietary requirements—and whatever fish you and your crew reel in that day, whether that’s tuna or barramundi, fingermark or mud crabs. Decor across Le Ponant’s 16 suites and public spaces—a restaurant, bar, lounge, spa—is classy and understated, all cream and tan so as to not distract from the eyecandy outside.
This was the vision of French design studio Jean-Philippe Nuel, who unites luxurious finishes with natural elements to create calming, sun-kissed cocoons. On any Kimberley expedition, Le Ponant’s shape, size and technology affords unprecedented proximity to land. Ideal for wildlife spotting, the yacht gives passengers a front-row seat to everything from the tiniest of iridescent kingfishers to saltwater crocs in unfathomable lengths, wallowing in mangroves on the hunt for fish and crabs.
In the Kimberley, the skies feel wider, the air cleaner, the night’s stars brighter, the wilderness, well, wilder. Then there are the tides. The sea can seem to vanish and then come flooding back in along parts of the Kimberley coast, with tides of more than 11 metres recorded in Talbot Bay around Horizontal Falls. Every morning, the tide squeezes through two gaps in the ridges of the McLarty Range, building up on one side of the narrow cliff passage, pushing through at rapid speeds to create the appearance of a waterfall turned sideways. Then in the afternoon, it reverses, and the flow surges back out through the chasm.
One Le Ponant day is allocated to experiencing the phenomenon first hand, skidding around enormous eddies creating watery sinkholes. The tides are not quite as large at Montgomery Reef, but they offer drama of a different kind. Between Camden Sound and Collier Bay, the 420-square-kilometre reef system emerges from the sea at low tide, water cascading from the reef top and bringing marine life with it.
As the reef empties, the channel fills with a huge number of marine animals, from sawfish and dugongs to six species of threatened turtles. The other thing that the Kimberley has no shortage of is coastline, some 13,000 kilometres of it in fact, decorated with 2,600 islands. Many of them form the Buccaneer Archipelago, 1,000 droplets of land that pop from the turquoise sea like a scattering of jewels.
It’s so pretty, there’s a proposed marine park in the works, covering 660,000 hectares, including the Dampier Peninsula, which will protect the largest population of migrating whales on the planet. From June to October each year, around 45,000 humpbacks calve and raise their young in the warm waters.
To cruise among these giants in this immense wilderness is as humbling as it is heart-fluttering.
Le Ponant’s exclusive Kimberley adventures commence in April 2023; au.ponant.com
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