Matteo – Kimberley by boat trip report

Where did you go and when? Have you been there before?

I went to the Kimberley, for the second time in August 2023, this time on a ship. I first took on the Kimberley in 2019 on an Intrepid overland camping trip. This time is not only on water but in style on the Silver Explorer with Silversea. Both trips gave an incredible experience in a totally polarised way. With the overland I got to sleep under the stars in a wild camp near Windjana Gorge, discover the Bungles Bungles on foot and by helicopter and listening to Indigenous music in Cathedral gorge. With Silversea I got to experience the luxury of having a butler looking after us, fine wines and fine dines, but also stunning remote waterfalls and freakishly drastic tides, a lot more info on the history, geology, and zoology of the place from the incredible Expedition crew on board of the Silver Explorer.

The trip, started and finished in Darwin. This is what we sailed.
The trip, started and finished in Darwin. This is what we sailed.

 

Silver Explorer berthed in Darwin
Silver Explorer berthed in Darwin
First Sunset on board the Silver Explorer (Darwin)
First Sunset on board

Would you go at that time of year again, or a different time of year? How come?

The first time I went in September, this time in early August. Both times it was very dry, the mighty Gibb was only a trickle in September. This time in early August we had a couple of days that were almost cold, or I should say a lower temperature we weren’t ready for. It would be very interesting, although potentially dangerous, to visit the Kimberley in the wet, to see the power of nature with water gushing from waterfalls and rivers, a very different spectacle from the one I experienced.

I would definitely still recommend August/September as a great time to go, it was generally hot but not unbearable.

June to August is the main tourist season. Expedition cruises run during this period, not during the rainy season.

First impressions of destination?

Definitely a breathtaking destination – it is all about the landscape, the geology and the remoteness of the place. It is simply mind blowing looking at rock art that is 65,000 years old, and I have found very interesting that as carbon dating was inefficient to date the rock painting, they use optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) for dating quartz grains in the mud-wasp nests to obtain the minimum ages of the paintings in the Kimberley.

Although the destination gives stunning visual experiences, the people you share the voyage with complete it. Most of the guests on board were Australian and New Zealanders with 3 Americans and a bunch of different European passports including mine, the majority probably Aussie residents. There was a good mix of people, a couple of families, plenty of retired and semi-retired and some middle aged like me, but everyone with the same excitement and thirst for discovering the scenery, the wildlife, the ancient rock art, and the night sky in this remote area of Australia.

The expedition crew was outstanding, a mix of Aussies, British, Dutch and South Africans; there was a biologist, geologist, and even ex-military. Malcolm and Will definitely stand out from the crowd due to their in-depth knowledge of the area, and infectious interest in Aboriginal culture. They both have spent time in aboriginal communities, and they were able to convey not just the stories but also an insight in aboriginal culture and philosophy.

We were lucky enough to be able to experience a couple of real-life encounters with the original custodians of the land. Bruce at the outpost of Freshwater Cove told us his story, the story of the painting and the story of his people. It was interesting that we got there as the groceries were being delivered by helicopter as the closest town is 8 hours by boat along the coast.

Will telling us the story of the paintings in Swift Bay
Will telling us the story of the paintings in Swift Bay
Bruce clearing up our tracks in Freshwater Bay
Bruce clearing up our tracks in Freshwater Bay
Horizontal Falls
Horizontal Falls

Did it meet / exceed / underdeliver on your expectations?

As my first time on a luxury cruise, with only expedition cruises as a comparison, my expectations were blown out of the water (pun intended). 😊 The service on board was simply outstanding. Our butler, Alain, and housekeeper, Mel, both from the Philippines, spoiled us with attentive service and great senses of humour. One hilarious episode was when our cabin neighbours Ellen and Mal realised the similarity with their names “Alain and Mel”, which sounded like an anagram.

I was regularly visiting Arturo and Jesus, our Mexican bar tenders, they kept my digestion going with espressos and digestives after overindulging at just about every meal.
I kept Ivan, the hotel manager from Serbia, busy most of the time but not as much as Biljana, our head sommelier also from Serbia, who always managed to surprise me in the middle of the ocean and materialise delicious wines from Italy, even prosecco on a sand bank!

Prosecco on as sandbank near Montgomery reef!
Prosecco on as sandbank near Montgomery reef!

The two main table service staff looking after me were Hussein and John. Hussein from Tunisia, was my trusty right hand man who prevented my glass from ever going dry at dinner, and “John” from India, hilariously spoke Italian with a Roman accent. Often on cruises the service can be sterile as the crew are supposed to be neutral but on Silversea, they really treasure all the different nationalities and cultures, not just among the clients but among the staff too.

Some of the hotel & hospitality staff: Jesus, Hussein, (not sure the next two), Biljana, George (the music man), Arturo and John

What did you really enjoy?

The staff, the ship, the destination, everything was absolute perfection. With a background in hospitality in Italy, Ireland and the UK and having worked in various levels of the industry, I am very observant of service quality. All the staff were helpful, friendly and authentic which was one of the highlights for me.

The ship was super-comfortable but not ostentatious, very much a good expedition ship, with the addition of great service. As well as the main restaurant, on deck 6 right at the back between the jacuzzi and the Zagara spa you can find the Grill bar, the perfect place for sundowners, but also for Silversea’s signature dish, steak cooked on hot lava stone. You get to cook it yourself for the amount of cooking you prefer, so my stake didn’t spend much time on the volcanic rock. My life was then complete when the lovely Biljana, magically materialised a bottle of Aglianico red from the south of Italy.

Koolama Bay
Koolama Bay
Barely cooking my steak at the Grill
Barely cooking my steak at the Grill
Hunter River
Hunter River
Montgomery reef coming up from the ocean with the tide
Montgomery reef coming up from the ocean with the tide
Hunter River
Hunter River

What did you not like so much?

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the fact that there was little opportunity for walking or stretching the legs on land. I understand that the terrain can be rocky and treacherous and that there are plenty of restrictions on where you can and cannot go, making sure to avoid protected or sacred areas, but a bit more action would have been great. There were also a few people disappointed when we visited Ashmore reef, as we couldn’t land. I discovered later that if we had landed we would have technically left the country and would have needed to go through biosecurity before being allowed back into Australia. Potentially they would have had to confiscate the food from the ship which would have been disastrous so I guess there was a very good reason not to land.

Ashmore reef
Ashmore reef
Freshwater Bay
Freshwater Bay

What did you think our travellers would think of the destination / product?

Back Track travellers will love, and many already do, the Silversea experience. Although Silversea is moving away from traditional expedition ships, they certainly can deliver an extremely high level of service while still offering adventurous destinations, but definitely more luxury than expedition style.

Whether by sea or by land the Kimberley will not disappoint you. For those that love geology and zoology the place is an absolute mecca, but even the travellers that simply enjoy taking in the scenery and feel privileged to be able to enjoy the views in an extremely remote corner of the world.

How much luggage did you take? Was it suitable? Is there anything you wish you’d taken with you?

We took the standard 23 kg luggage allowance and a carry-on, we knew it wouldn’t have been enough if we didn’t have the chance to do the laundry but the ship had a laundromat on board at no charge which was super-handy. Sometimes you might find a bit of a queue but it was just a great opportunity to have a chat with a fellow adventurer, swap favourite sights of the day.

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