Exploring the Kimberley coast with Lady M Cruises
The Kimberley Coastline is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas.
Only accessible by boat on the right tides and conditions, this coastline is vastly uncharted and untouched. It has jewel-like beaches, pristine swimming holes, ancient art sites and thriving ecosystems of different kinds. To explore this part of the world, unseen by most, is a privilege and a great adventure.
DAY 1: Cable Beach and whales singing
Leaving balmy Broome, it’s the middle of winter and 30 degrees celsius outside. We are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime in the Kimberley, Australia, a cruise aboard the luxury adventure boat, Lady M. We will trace the rugged coastline up to Darwin over the next 12 days.
Stepping onto the boat is a surreal experience. It’s a moment some passengers on board have been dreaming about for years. There is barely the chance to settle in as the crew call out from top deck “Whales!”. Stepping outside is sensory overload. To one side stretches the white sands of Cable Beach and the other an endless turquoise sea. Whale-song fills the air followed by a friendly flipper waving hello only metres away. We have found ourselves smack bang in the middle of the world’s largest humpback whale migration. What a way to begin this Kimberley cruise. Whales dancing and a red sun setting over the horizon.
DAY 2: Croc Creek and the Horizontal Falls
This morning our Captain takes us on tour upon the changing tides. Colours here appear to melt into each other - ochre, black, turquoise and, white.
First stop is Crocodile Creek for a dip in the cool freshwater waterhole above the cascade. This is a safe place out of the predators’ reach, despite its name.
The sound of a chopper fills the air, and we jump on. Taking off, our boat becomes dwarfed against the surrounding landscape. We are flying over the Horizontal Falls, and I’m taken aback by nature’s dramatic display of tidal flow through two narrow gaps in the sandstone rock. The magnitude of the rugged cliffs and the power of raging waters being pushed through them is made so evident from the air. Almost as soon as we land back on Lady M we jump onto the Horizontal Falls fast boat to get up close and personal with the raging torrent. As the boat navigates through gaps with cautious confidence our driver explains the wonder of what is taking place. Talbot Bay can experience tides of up to 10 metres. Today it’s 9-metre rise and fall that is pushed through the gap at 20km an hour.
DAY 3: Three Ways fishing, Ruby Falls, Raft Point
It’s an early start for the keen fishermen (and women) on board. The tide has turned and is on its way in, our skipper hopes to snag a couple of mangrove jack. In a stroke of beginners luck, it’s my line that goes off first. I reel in a decent-sized fingermark, with a proud grin.
Moving onto the Three Ways we try our luck at the elusive barramundi. We soon find out we’re not alone here. The resident hammerhead shark has the same idea, hanging out in the muddy shallows to catch a feed. The barra are biting! Fishing rods are running all over the boat, but we fail to hook one. We are assured there are plenty more chances to come.
Back at the boat, lunch is served, fingermark on the menu, though I’m not sure my little fish was enough to feed us all and suspect these are “some the boys prepared earlier”.
After a cool off at Ruby Falls, we set course for Raft Point, one of the most spectacular sunset spots in the world. Towering islands and layered rock throw off light from all angles. Everyone on board beams in awe. There is something about the beauty of nature that brings out the beauty in people.
DAY 4: Montgomery Reef
At first light, I pull across my curtain to be met with a phenomenal view - the aquamarine waters of Montgomery Reef. This reef, covering some 300 square kilometres of Indian ocean, like all of the Kimberley coastline is affected by the extreme tides. On low tide, the reef platform is exposed, creating waterfalls cascading off it. The local Wororra people gave the area name “Lalang-garram” meaning “the saltwater as a spiritual place as well as a place of natural abundance”. It is part of an important marine park Lalang-garram/ Camden Sound and provides refuge to newborn whale calves, threatened turtle species, dugongs, dolphins and corals.
We weave through red rock and white sand islands and arrive at Butterfly Gorge. It gets its name for a reason. It’s picture-perfect with butterflies of all colours, an ancient indigenous art gallery painted on the rock walls and a freshwater pool to cool off in. In the evening, on our way back to Lady M, we spot a mother turtle moving up the beach to lay her eggs.
DAY 5: Bradshaw art and King Cascade
We head out again for another early morning fish, this time snagging them hook line and sinker. Boating home with an esky full of mangrove jack, blue-bone, Spanish flag, fingermark and one big cod. We know that the chef will be happy!
After lunch, we rock climb some cliffs to see the curious historical site of the Bradshaw art. The style is significantly different to other local indigenous art styles and unlike the ochre used by the Wandjina people, these paintings are “tattooed” onto the rock layers.
We arrive at King Cascade, a tiered formation which in the wet season rages with white water down its rockface. Despite the original belief that no rainforests could be found in the Kimberley region, it’s evident there are thriving rainforest patches found around King Cascade. Our tender pulls up next to a stream of fresh water for us to cool off under.
We take a dip in the deep freshwater pool above the cascade and head home for the boat.
DAY 6: Wandjina art
It’s not every day you get to explore uncharted rivers, but for those aboard the Lady M today was that day. Winding up rivers that don’t appear on any maps we make way to a stunning natural infinity pool overlooking the river. I wonder how many people have ever been swimming in this spot and feel the magnitude of this wild journey. Under the cliff overhangs, we find a Wandjina art site, depicting kangaroos, a dugong and a jellyfish. The Wandjina often depicted what they were asking God for in the next season, like a painted prayer.
DAY 7: Porosis Creek
Porosis is a creek system that snakes out from the Prince Fredrick Harbour. Due to hunters being unaware of the river system’s presence, previous to the hunting ban of 1969, the crocodiles are much larger here than anywhere we’ve been on this Kimberley cruise so far. This whole eco-system appears untouched by the threat of man and bursts with life. Our fishing expedition this morning quickly turns to a fight with a big barra on the end of a line. A crocodile eyes off the fish from the shallows, however Julie (the fisherwoman of the day) wrestles the big fish into the boat. We follow this exciting morning with some mud crabbing, bringing in a full Fisherman’s basket for dinner. Tonight is bonfire night. We arrive on a hidden beach for sunset where the crew has set up a bonfire and feast. Under the stars, in beautiful isolation, we marvel at the unique and beautiful allure of the Kimberley.
DAY 8: Fresh oysters
This morning we are given a hammer and pick to pry palm-sized oysters from the rocks.
We’re cruising past “the colosseum”, a magnificent system of towering pillars and rock caves, and jump ashore. Our torches come out and we venture into the maze. When we arrive back on the Kimberley cruise ship, Amanda, our onboard chef has prepared lavish afternoon nibbles with the oysters from this morning. Yum!
DAY 9: Vansittart Bay and the DC3 plane wreck
Today we have woken up on an ocean that looks like glass. Vansittart Bay.
Our fishing expedition turns into an underwater excursion. An eagle ray flies past us in the shallows and coral gardens are revealed in the deep. A hawksbill turtle and a tawny nurse shark swim around our boat, seemingly unfazed by each other or our presence.
Later in the day we pull into a salt pan where we see the skeleton of a DC-3 plane that crash-landed here in 1942. Marooned for three days under the harsh summer’s sun, all four crew were rescued.
DAY 10: King George River and Falls
It’s low tide this morning and a sandbar blocks the entry to the King George River. Lady M is anchored and we take the tenders exploring through the stunning gorges. The red rock walls tower over us at 84 metres tall. We spot a fresh rockfall where one of the walls has given way, most probably in the recent earthquake felt in Broome.
When the tide comes in we head back to Lady M and bring her through the submerged sandbar to the foot of the mighty King George Falls for the night. Purple black stains mark where the water powers down in the wet (Jan-Mar) and I am grateful for the stillness and silence of the night. In the dry season, this is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. A slither of the moon paints in light on the surrounding rock as stars shine and shoot over the sky. Unforgettable.
DAY 11: King George Falls
It's first light and we are on the side of a rock-face climbing up King George Falls. Reaching the top before the sun peeps over the horizon, the expanse of the surrounding harsh dry land on top of the gorge is exposed and with it, the abundant life at the bottom is amplified. This must be one of the best places on earth to watch the world come alive. Light bounces off many angles. The birds begin to wake and a crocodile swims past the Lady M.
We cruise onward to Tranquil beach. An expanse of white sands scattered cowrie shells and hermit crabs opens up into an inland lagoon.
DAY 12: Cruise ends in Darwin
Today we depart for Darwin. It's hard to believe our Kimberley cruise adventure is coming to an end. Admittedly, at the same time, it feels as though over the past two weeks I’ve lived many lives. I’ve walked barefoot through a land of rich history, observing preserved ecological systems of rare birds, thriving plant-life and powerful reptiles. I’ve caught dinner and had it prepared by a talented chef to then eat under a Kimberley sunset. I’ve enjoyed the company of 12 strangers, now friends, and an incredible, knowledgeable crew who go above and beyond in every way.
Sad to go, but I’m leaving with profound reverence for this wild part of Australia. I shall return.
Find even more about the Kimberley coastline, we have a whole chapter dedicated to it in our book 100 Things To See In The Kimberley. Grab your copy and start planning your own Kimberley adventure.
Grace and Renata travelled courtesy of Lady M Cruises.