A new wave of outback tourists is discovering that luxury cruise ships are the best way to see one of Australia’s least civilized but most beautiful regions

Story By Peter Solness

With daytime temperatures regularly reaching the high 30s, Raft Point on the remote Kimberley Coast of Western Australia is not the sort of place to be particularly active, let alone undertaking a one-kilometre scramble up a steep rocky creek-bed in the blazing afternoon sun.
But in a region that boasts the worlds second highest tidal variation (a whopping 12 metres) daily life is dictated by the flow of the tides; be it the movements of saltwater crocodiles on the river banks, schools of mullet in muddy mangrove channels or even the timing of shore-side excursions for passengers aboard the $200 million expedition ship, the MV Orion.
Today the captain’s timetable allows for a three-hour afternoon visit, so like the predatory osprey and brahminy kites that hover overhead, we have to strike with precision, if we are to achieve our goal – to witness a world-class Aboriginal art site at the top of the track – then return to ship before the next change of tide.
It’s a sweaty climb up the escarpment past lazy old Boab trees and bright yellow wattle flowers, but the effort is richly rewarded. Resting under a ceiling of pale-faced Wandjina art, which depict ancestral spirit-beings for the Worora Ngarinyin and Wunambal peoples, and looking out across this ancient 1.8-million-year-old landscape still untouched by the hand of modern civilization, it is easy to feel transported to a period of pre- European contact.
It’s no wonder the Kimberley leaves such an impression on visitors or that this roadless coastline has become a magnet for a new wave of outback tourism, where people can leave their four-wheel-drives at home and climb aboard a luxury ocean-going vessel instead.
The Australian-based operators of the MV Orion understand the lure of the Kimberley and have devoted much of the ship’s annual tour calendar (which also includes places like Papua New Guinea and Antarctica) to a 10-day Kimberley Expedition Tour, which plies a 1,700-nautical mile passage at a leisurely 14 knots, between Darwin and Broome throughout the April to September dry season.

This story excerpt is from Issue #55

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2007