Days 1-3: In Transit / Broome, Australia
Depart on your independent flight to Broome, Australia via Sydney, losing a day as you cross the International Date Line. Arrive in Broome and relax with an afternoon at leisure. We gather this evening for a welcome dinner and overnight at the Cable Beach Club Resort.
Day 4: Broome / Embark Oceanic Discoverer
Our Kimberley adventure begins with a tour of historic Broome, an old oyster pearling center where hundreds of luggers once plied this coast. Today Broome is a popular holiday destination famed for its powdery white-sand beaches and laid-back vibe that has made it a popular draw for artists, writers and musicians. Broome’s multicultural mix was shaped by its pearling history when Japanese, Filipino and Malay pearl divers came in droves to seek their fortunes in the 19th century. For those who prefer, a birding trip is an option to the city tour. This afternoon, we board the Oceanic Discoverer
and set sail.
Day 5: Lacepede Islands
The Lacepede Islands, four small spits of land lying over a coral reef, are one of the world's most important seabird nesting sites, designated as such by BirdLife International since they are home to the world’s largest populations of brown boobies and roseate terns. With no natural predators on these uninhabited islands, the birds breed and thrive in great, noisy colonies numbering in the tens of thousands. Other prolific seabirds found here include lesser frigatebirds, pelicans and cormorants. The islands are also one of Australia's most important nesting sites for green sea turtles. The Lacepedes gained notoriety in the late 1800s when an American involved in the mining of the islands’ prodigious guano deposits (bird droppings used for fertilizer) raised the flag in an attempt to claim the islands for U.S. possession. Be sure you're on deck this evening as the sun sets and the night sky comes alive—far from the city lights, stargazing in the Kimberley is simply spectacular.
Days 6 & 7: Buccaneer Archipelago / Talbot Bay / Montgomery Reef / Raft Point
The Buccaneer Archipelago is a collection of nearly a thousand scattered islands and low-lying reefs, rising like puzzle pieces in the teal sea. These rarely visited isles are among the most photogenic in the world, with mangrove estuaries, secluded bays, pristine beaches, cliffs, headlands, reefs, rugged gorges and whirlpools. The area has some of the world's most extreme tidal conditions, and our daily activities are planned around the tides. At Talbot Bay, massive 36-foot tides surge through the close walls between two islands, creating the phenomenon of a horizontal waterfall flowing across the flat face of the ocean. When conditions are right it is possible for a "waterfall" up to 10 feet high to form as the waters trapped on the landward side cascade out through the narrow gap to the ocean side.
At Montgomery Reef, we witness an amazing array of marine life exposed at low tide. Watch cormorants, egrets and sandpipers forage for sea life trapped on the surface as the tide pulls the ocean away. The huge reef is home to great numbers of green sea turtles, which feed on the bounty along with reef sharks and many larger fish. After landing by Zodiac at Raft Point, we take a bush walk up to a rocky saddle where a spectacular display of Aboriginal art is on view. The ancient petroglyphs are an account of the mythical Wandjina clan on the 'Great Fish Chase,' with images of Wandjina spirits, dugong, crocodiles, fish and snakes. Our guides discuss the significance of the marine world to the Aboriginal way of life as we learn about the traditions of the indigenous people.
Days 8 & 9: Prince Regent Nature Reserve / Camp Creek / Careening Bay
The Prince Regent Nature Reserve is one of Australia’s most remote destinations, and the rugged sandstone and volcanic landscape helps to protect its scenic grandeur. This is pure wilderness, accessible only by air or boat, and you'll truly be able to say that you've been to a place seen by few others. The area boasts more than half the mammal and bird species found in the Kimberley, and more than 500 species of plants. With the ship at anchor in St. George Basin, we board the Xplorer to cruise up the Prince Regent River. With near-vertical cliffs on either side, we make our way to the face of King Cascade, an unusual waterfall cascading over terraced rock formations. Tidal conditions permitting, we'll also explore nearby Camp Creek in search of local fauna such as estuarine crocodiles, red-tailed black cockatoos and galahs.
Day 10: Hunter River / Mitchell Falls
One of the most scenic parts of the Kimberley coast, Prince Frederick Harbor and the Hunter River are edged with verdant mangroves and soaring vermillion cliffs rising over 600 feet above the river mouth, which abounds in crocodiles. From the Hunter, we fly via helicopter into the Kimberley's vast interior, with a stop atop the Mitchell Plateau for close-up views of the triple drops of Mitchell Falls, a series of cascades and pools culminating in a deep gorge carving its way through the Outback. The 20-minute flight over the wild bush landscape offers spectacular aerial views. From the air we may spot crocodiles along the river and wild cattle running loose atop the plateau. We'll have a chance for a refreshing dip in the rushing falls and crystal-clear pools, well above the crocodile habitat the Kimberley is renowned for. In the vicinity of our anchorage, we explore the small tributaries by Zodiac, searching the lush mangroves and tidal mud flats for crocodiles, mud skippers and fiddler crabs, as well as the many bird species that make their home within the dense vegetation.
Day 11: Bigge Island / Low Rocks
A unique experience awaits us on Bigge Island, sacred to Aborigines for more than 20,000 years. Well-preserved Aboriginal paintings decorate the walls of caves, depicting mythical figures and offering visual evidence of the European arrival into the Aborigines' world. We're also likely to see warabis, or rock wallabies, which sprint from one rock ledge to another. In the afternoon, we step ashore on a tiny island atoll known as Low Rocks. As we approach, the skies fill with the wings and sounds of thousands upon thousands of seabirds, including four species of terns, pied cormorants, white-bellied sea eagles and osprey. The island is also a nesting site for green and flatback turtles and has its own resident saltwater crocodile, which is often seen patrolling the waters along the shoreline.
Day 12: King George River / King George Falls
Today we drop anchor in Koolama Bay, named after the merchant ship Koolama
was bombed near here by Japanese aircraft during World War II. Aboard our excursion boat Xplorer,
the 7-mile journey up the jade-green King George River reveals dramatic scenery and a wealth of bird species. The almost-vertical sheer canyon walls have been eroded over millions of years and look like stacks of ochre sandstone reminiscent of a child's building blocks. Our destination is King George Falls, a supremely photogenic locale where the 300-foot twin drop plummets from rust-colored cliffs, the highest waterfall in the whole of the Kimberley.
Day 13: Tiwi Islands
Part of Australia's Northern Territory, the Tiwi Islands are located where the Arafura Sea joins the Timor Sea. The islands are home to the Tiwi indigenous people who have lived here for thousands of years. Permission pending, we'll go ashore to join Aboriginal guides for a tour of the small community of Nguiu, its museum, and the old mission precinct, and local people will teach us about their traditional hunting-based subsistence lifestyle. There will also be an opportunity to visit the local arts center to view and purchase high-quality Tiwi crafts and screen-printed fabric. Tiwi art is distinct from that of nearby Arnhem Land, appearing more abstract and geometric. With its strong patterns and use of color, Tiwi art is considered very attractive and highly collectible.
Days 14 & 15: Darwin / Disembark / Brisbane / Home
Our voyage concludes after breakfast this morning in Darwin, capital of Australia's Northern Territory. There's a bit of time to explore the historic frontier town, which was originally established by crocodile and buffalo hunters and pioneer cattlemen. Darwin was wiped out by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, then rebuilt as the capital of Australia’s northernmost tropical region. Much architecture remains from Darwin’s early period, with museums, markets and a diverse selection of cafes and pubs to keep visitors entertained. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Brisbane with dinner and overnight at our airport hotel. Board your independent flight to the U.S. on Day 15, arriving the same day.