Once upon a time, many thousands of years ago, or maybe it was more, the ancient people who inhabited the great land we now know as Australia, wondered in awe of a very special region on the north western coast.
This region, known to us as the Kimberley, was the Land of the Wandjina. The Wandjina is the Rain Spirit of the Wunambul, Wororra and Ngarinyin language people ' the controller of the 'Seasons', the bringer of rain, which equals water, which equals 'life'. She is the Woongurr ' the Leader ' she commands respect and she has great powers. To please her is to thrive ' to insult or do wrong is to bring wrath and recompense to the offenders.The Aboriginal people say that Wandjina made earth and sea and everything. He gave man to live in this earth, for this world, this tribal country.The Wandjina is depicted in cave paintings and is entirely different to the stick-like Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw artwork we more commonly see.
These ancient Australians knew this land for its unbelievable beauty and for its very real dangers, for its remoteness and for its unforgiving nature for those who choose to not show respectBecause of its remoteness, this unique part of the world is virtually untouched by modern man, allowing us to explore and enjoy what the ancients first viewed those many many years ago.
With an area of some 421,000 square km, only three towns, Broome, Derby and Kununurra, the population in only around 25,000 hardy souls. The Kimberley is bordered by the Indian Ocean; the Timor Sea and the Great Sandy Desert and land travel is only for the well equipped and the well experienced.
The coastline of Australia's North West is one of the least explored pristine wonderlands on the planet. A place of wild natural diversity; where the seemingly impenetrable coastline hides an eco treasure trove of ancient river systems, framed by awesome towering cliffs and spectacular thundering waterfalls.
Turquoise waters teem with marine life; from prehistoric saltwater crocodiles, neon sea snakes, migrating Humpback whales, playful dolphins, big sharks and a myriad of fish, including wild Barramundi, mangrove jack and the thrilling Spanish mackerel. Here rock oysters are big as your hand and mud crabs fill pots quicker than you can pull them.
An Ornithologists' dream ' the air teems with birdlife including sea eagles, kytes, kingfishers, jabirus and huge seabird colonies thrive in the isolation and food rich environment.
Malcolm Douglas, Australia's expert wildlife mature traveller says of the Kimberley, "I have been trying to film it for the last 40 years and it is impossible to capture the grandeur of it."
"You can show some of the colours to a degree, but you can't capture the scale of it all".
"I go to the Kimberley every year to regenerate my body and to regenerate my soul."?
"I will never stop loving the Kimberley and trying to capture it on film for the world to see."
The Kimberley is a place in the most part so remote it is accessible only from the ocean and here is the best way.
The Oceanic Discoverer
There is only one way to allow the modern traveller to experience and enjoy the Kimberley, and that is by sea and Coral Princess Cruises have the perfect means of carrying you in supreme comfort and safety, the Oceanic Discoverer.The Oceanic Discoverer (launched in 2005 as the Oceanic Princess) is the newest addition to the fleet and is virtually the ultimate cruise ship for the mature traveller (or any age group in fact). Proudly built in Cairns, Australia this ship is not only built on very pleasant lines, but has also been designed by the owners Tony and Vicki Briggs. Tony and Vicki began overnight cruises in 1988 with a converted Fairmile, taking passengers on Great Barrier Reef cruises. Such is their affinity to their passengers that the business has continued to expand, with new vessels and new destinations being added.
The Kimberley Expedition has proven so popular and in demand that they run two ships, the Coral Princess and now the Oceanic Discoverer for the season, April to September.
I mentioned that the Oceanic Discoverer is the ultimate cruise ship for you and besides all the usual things such as the comfort of full air-conditioning, well designed cabins, a spacious dining room, two bars, a large lounge area, spacious decks including a delightful sun deck with a large hot spa. But for myself and the many passengers I interviewed, the highlights of the vessel were the meals (don't start a diet before sailing, although the weight conscious traveller is well looked after), the 'open bridge' policy and the Xplorer.
The meals, with a large galley controlled by two chefs and a very pleasant team of young people to do the serving. Meals are an important part of the experience. Many choices of cold and hot dishes were offered and special diets are catered for. I chose to sit at a different table for each meal, thus giving me the chance to meet my fellow 'expeditioners' and to enjoy their conversation of the wondrous things they had enjoyed so far.
The 'open bridge' policy - most cruise lines are reticent about allowing passengers onto the bridge. But not on Oceanic Discoverer, except for very few occasions, passengers are welcome. On one night a passenger who will be nameless, (Faye) who was having some trouble sleeping, went to the bridge in the early hours and had a wonderful time watching how the ship works in the dark.
But the 'biggee' for me was the Xplorer, this is a purpose-built tender that can carry all passengers, seated in comfort and safety, to explore the wonderful islands, reefs and rivers that abound along the Kimberley.
The Xplorer is raised and lowed on a platform and lift at the stern of the ship. Passengers walk from the dining room onto the deck, through a door and straight onto the Xplorer. Once everyone is safely seated the lift then lowers the vessel into the water and you sail off into paradise. On return, it's the reverse; you are gently lifted to the deck and calmly walk off. Such a brilliant idea, no rocking boat to try and step onto, or performing like a mountain goat to jump aboard. Very safe for the elderly and less mobile amongst us.
An expedition sounds like something you might go on in Africa or up the Amazon, but the Kimberley is more remote and less populated than almost anywhere on earth. And here you have the chance to experience one of the most untouched, natural wonders left on this planet.
Although the Kimberley cruises follow the same itinerary, weather permitting, each is unique. Because of the huge tides of the area, your scenery is constantly changing. Sensational one minute and even better the next, one's camera is never in the case for too long (more about cameras later).
Expedition Leaders and Guest Lecturers
Coral Princes Cruises only employ experts in their chosen fields. Leaders whose first concern is the safety of all guests, with the experience of the adventure and its enjoyment a close second. The guest lecturers are not only highly qualified doyen's whose knowledge never fails to impress, but also are people who can convey their love and enthusiasm for nature to the passengers.
Each day is so full of things that will keep you as busy as you want to be, so I will only give a brief mention of the major activities.
Day One: Our cruise was the Darwin to Broome adventure, with a morning departure that allows one to view the sights of sailing from this great port and to get your sea-legs during the morning. Also to get ready for the Captain's Welcome Cocktail Party and to meet all one's new shipmates.
Day Two: Across the Timor Sea and the Bonaparte Archipelago to stop at King George River and view the very impressive King George Waterfalls on the Xplorer. As well as a landing at Tranquil Bay for a walk on the beach.
Day Three: Bigge Island, a chance to see one of the few places in Australia where the two forms of Aboriginal art, Bradshaw and Wandjina can be seen in the rock galleries.
Day Four: As we continue making our way south we arrive at Prince Frederick Harbour and Naturalist Island. A not-to-be-missed option here is the helicopter flight, from the beach, to the Surveyor and Mitchell Falls. From the air the stunning scenery will amaze as will the fact that man has been able to cross this rugged landscape on foot.
Day Five: Careening Bay and a large boab tree with the inscription - HMC Mermaid - 1820? still evident. After lunch the cruise takes us into Prince Regent Basin.
Note: At every stage the Expedition Leader explains how each of the points of interest came to be named, by who and who after, as well as detailed notes being supplied.
In Awe 4
Day Six: Prince Regent River and Kings Cascade, once again the Xplorer safely takes us up the river to the very special Kings Cascade where fresh water cascades over the terraced rocks.
Day Seven: Kuri Bay, the home of the sea pearl industry where some of the most magnificent pearls in the world are farmed. We step ashore at Raft Point to explore a secluded Aboriginal rock art gallery.
Note: Because you really are out in the wilderness some tour options might be inaccessible owing to wind and tide. But there are so many other special places to see and explore that passengers are never disappointed.
Day Eight: It seems impossible, but each day seems to be more interesting and exciting. Here we are in the Buccaneer Archipelago with more than 800 islands with a tidal range of around eleven metres (therefore the itinerary may change). The Xplorer gently nudges onto Montgomery Reef, as it rises out of the ocean. Because of the tide, the run-off of water gives the effect that the reef is rising out of the sea. Wearing the correct footwear, we can carefully study the marine life on the reef.
Another great adventure here is the Xplorer ride into Talbot Bay and a transfer into the zodiacs to traverse the astonishing Horizontal Waterfalls.
Day Nine: Here in King George Sound you witness the effect man can have on the wilderness as we sail past Koolan and Cockatoo Islands. The islands are almost totally iron ore and over the years vast areas have been mined.
Day Ten: Today takes us through the Yampi Sound as we head for the Lacepede Islands for a close-up look at these noted turtle nestings and booby and frigate bird colonies. As this is a nature reserve, we are not allowed above the high water mark, but the wildlife is so prolific that it doesn't matter. I faced my camera skyward and pressed the release a few times and the images were filled with brown boobies.
To complete a wonderful adventure we finish tonight with the Captain's Farewell Cocktail Party for alas, tomorrow we arrive in Broome.
Some important advice to ensure you enjoy your Expedition to its fullest:
Footwear - You need a well-constructed pair of - jogger - type shoes with good foot support and non-slip soles, one lady in our group, wearing plastic type sandals ended squarely on her bum (luckily not on her hip) when she walked across a sandy rock. For wet landings, for which all are designated, you need shoes that are designed to get wet, reef walkers from Kmart etc.
Cameras - Many people had purchased a digital camera for the trip. A great idea, but you must get some experience with it before you leave. Luckily for them there were many experienced shutterbugs onboard and we were able to help them, but I am sure they missed many good shots because they were not familiar with the camera. Digitals work with a storage card instead of film, so it is important to ask the shop's advice on a bigger card than the standard one. I have a 1GB card ($120) for my Canon G5 (5 megapixels) which on maximum setting (not Raw) that can take about 1,200 images.
This cruise is a photographer's delight, we shot more than 15 hours of HD DVD for our upcoming Foxtel Digital series, the Worlds Best Travel Show and I took around 600 still images.
Don't forget your charger and or spare batteries, the camera shops are many thousands of km away.
Sun Protection - This is the tropics and even though it was winter, down south, the day temp reached the 30s and you are on the water. A wide brim hat and plenty of 30-plus sunscreen are a must.
An Extra Bonus
The cruise is between two of our extreme outposts, Darwin and Broome and it is highly recommended that you allow several days in each town.Darwin - The Top End Unlike the barren and dusty land of Northern Territory, Darwin is a modern and cosmopolitan city and the perfect place to relax before travelling on.
The city was founded in 1869, and although development had previously been slow, it rapidly grew from 1871 on the discovery of gold at Pine Creek. However, development slowed again due to extreme climate and cyclones. It also had poor contact with the other cities around Australia, until the road to Alice Springs was surfaced
Darwin is a great place for tourists, offering a wide variety of accommodation. Including hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts and campsites. Many of the hotels are along the Esplanade, with motels being both in and around the city.
For the shoppers the year-round street markets, shopping centres and boutiques are a must. Food lovers can find a tempting choice of Top End cuisine including crocodile steak and wild Barramundi as well as the usual choices.
History and culture can be enjoyed at the wonderful museums and art galleries. While for general sightseeing, the Wharf Precinct with its restaurants, cafes and displays, the Bicentennial Park on the Esplanade, the boardwalk at Cullen Bay and East Point all add the enjoyment of discovery.
Aquascene is an award winning attraction where each day, on the high tide, hundreds of wild fish come into Doctors Gully to be hand fed. A ritual that has began over 40 years ago which attracts not only the fish but also many thousands of tourists. www.aquascene.com.au
The Aviation Heritage Centre is another award winner with an impressive presentation of aircraft and displays of the Territory's involvement in aviation. From the early pioneer days, to WWII to the modern jet age. From ultra-lights to the dominating B52 bomber. www.darwinsairwar.com.au
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory with its display, amongst many other interesting exhibits, of Cyclone Tracey should not be missed, check out: www.magnt.nt.gov.au
Crocodylus Park and Zoo places you on the right side of the fence to view this prehistoric predator, the saltwater crocodile. A visit to the air-conditioned museum and education centre opens your mind, before going on a guided tour, on a high boardwalk and to watch these animals being fed. The zoo contains big cats, monkeys, giant lizards and unusual birds. www.wmi.com.au
WWII and the air raids 1942
On 19 February 1942 mainland Australia came under attack for the first time when Japanese forces mounted two air raids on Darwin. The two attacks, which were planned and led by the commander responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour ten weeks earlier, involved 54 land-based bombers and approximately 188 attack aircraft which were launched from four Japanese aircraft-carriers in the Timor Sea. In the first attack, which began just before 10.00am, heavy bombers pattern-bombed the harbour and town; dive bombers escorted by Zero fighters then attacked shipping in the harbour, the military and civil aerodromes, and the hospital at Berrimah. The attack ceased after about 40 minutes. The second attack, which began an hour later, involved high altitude bombing of the Royal Australian Air Force base at Parap which lasted for 20 - 25 minutes. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.
Contrary to widespread belief at the time, the attacks were not a precursor to an invasion. The Japanese were preparing to invade Timor, and anticipated that a disruptive air attack would hinder Darwin's potential as a base from which the Allies could launch a counter-offensive, and at the same time would damage Australian morale. With Singapore having fallen to the Japanese only days earlier, and concerned at the effect of the bombing on national morale, the government announced that only 17 people had been killed.
The air attacks on Darwin continued until November 1943, by which time the Japanese had bombed Darwin 64 times. During the war other towns in northern Australia were also the targets of Japanese air attack, with bombs being dropped on Townsville, Katherine, Wyndham, Derby, Broome and Port Hedland.
While in Darwin we chose to stay at the Holiday Inn Esplanade. For detailed information go towww.holidayinnesplanadedarwin.com.au
For a hire car we chose Hertz, specialists in arranging your transport needs. For detailed information go to www.hertznt.com
For more complete tourism information on Darwin and the Northern Territory seewww.travelnt.com
Broome - Our Last Outpost
Nestled on the shores of Roebuck Bay on the north coast of Western Australia - Broome offers a unique holiday experience unlike any other. Originally founded as a pearling port in the late 1800's, Broome now boasts a multicultural population of many nationalities lured here by the promise of finding their fortunes. Koepanger, Malay, Chinese, European, and Aboriginal cultures have all blended to create a captivatingly friendly and flamboyant personality that is the heart and soul of Broome.
Stroll along kilometres of pristine white sand and swim in the clear water of Cable Beach or at the end of the day sit back on Cable Beach and watch the spectacular sunset over the Indian Ocean. Visit Gantheaume Point, home of the 130 million year old Dinosaur Footprints visible on very low tides. While there, take in the vibrant colours of the red sandstone cliffs that spill into the water and see Anastasia's Pool - built by a former lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife.
Wander through Chinatown, once the bustling hub of pearl shells, billiard saloons, entertainment houses and opium dens and brothels. The finest pearl showrooms, retail outlets and sidewalk cafes provide a great shopping experience and an opportunity to soak up the charm of old and new Broome. Check out the history of pearling, cruise the bay on a real pearl lugger or be whisked back in time to the high seas and drama of the early days of pearling.
Sit back in a deck chair and enjoy the new release movies at the oldest operating outdoor picture gardens in Australia. Roam through the Broome Historical Society Museum; explore the fascinating history that awaits you. On low tides, the Dutch Flying Boat Wrecks are visible off Town Beach.
Meander through the famous Courthouse Markets on a Saturday morning. Enjoy a tasty bite to eat as you make your way through the amazing collection of local arts and crafts. Reflect on the dangers of the early days of diving at the Japanese Cemetery, final resting-place for over 900 pearl divers.
Play a round of golf at the Broome Golf Club's fully grassed 18-hole course and take in the awesome view from the Clubhouse.
View some of the largest Crocodiles in captivity (from safely behind a fence) and witness their true nature during crocodile feeding tours at Broome Crocodile Park. Owned and operated by the perennial grand father of outback adventure Malcolm Douglas, who first started the park more than 25 years ago.
Malcolm explained to us that he has turned his interest in 'wild' Australia into a passionate crusade to save endangered and sick animals and to create a means of showing this to the world by his renowned documentaries. He also told us of his soon to be completed 'new' park he is building outside of Broome. We can't wait for a look when open. Keep your eye onwww.malcolmdouglas.com.au
Treat your taste buds to the exotic east meets west cuisine, and at the end of the day why not take in another glorious sunset. It's not just the spectacular setting, warm summer days and balmy nights that make Broome a 'one of a kind' holiday destination.
A unique experience - who could guess as to how many sightseeing tours I have been on? I am sure I can't tell you, but Broome Sightseeing Tours really impressed. This award winning service owned and operated by Scott and Sheridon Robertson is outstanding. Combining modern technology to present a special experience. Inside the tour bus they show carefully selected historic and modern films of the history of the areas you are being driven around. A great way to learn more and to appreciate what living in such a remote area is about.www.broomesightseeingtours.com
For more detailed information on Broome go to: www.australiasnorthwest.org.au
We chose to stay at the legendary Cable Beach Club Resort: www.cablebeachclub.com
Broome Broome Car Rentals the local experts provided our self-drive transport:www.broomebroome.com.au
For internal air travel in Australia we chose to fly with VirginBlue and can recommend them to you:www.virginblue.com.au
And last, but the most important