Sailing the Kimberley Coast on Le Ponant: A personal journey through untamed beauty
Written on Tuesday, May 30, 2023 by Emma
Our barefoot luxury sailing expedition with Ponant aboard its emblematic 3 mastered yacht “Le Ponant.”
I have just returned from the sailing adventure of a lifetime in the Kimberley aboard the luxury yacht, Le Ponant. She is in our waters for a very limited season before heading back to the Mediterranean so this is a rare opportunity to experience luxury small ship sailing in the rugged wilderness of Australia.
With only 32 passengers on board Le Ponant, the experience is immersive and intimate. The deck space and lounge areas are plentiful, allowing you to sit and relax alone, or with others, and enjoy the spectacular view shared between only a few of you. A smaller group can also venture off the yacht at the same time, so zodiac excursions are longer, and time spent with expedition guides and naturalists is unhurried. This itinerary indulged my romantic notion of ‘sailing’ – and of course Ponant delivered the luxury and unique experiences they are renowned for.
Our adventure started in the Northeastern part of Western Australia on the Kununurra River, also known as the Ord River, a picturesque waterway that winds its way through the heart of the Kimberley. Characterised by its calm waters, lush vegetation, and awe-inspiring cliffs, it is home to a diverse range of wildlife. It was our first sighting of crocodiles who were spotted sunning themselves on the riverbanks whilst birds like the iconic Australian kingfisher and the majestic wedge-tailed eagle soared overhead.
In the late afternoon we drove into Wyndham, and moored in all its beauty was “Le Ponant”, the luxury 3 mastered yacht that was to be my home for the next unforgettable week. Like all Ponant expedition yachts the experience on board is exceptional. Luxurious accommodations, gourmet dining, warm and friendly service leaving you wanting for nothing. The Champagne was flowing as the sun was setting as we acquainted ourselves and met the incredible crew who became like family for the next 7 nights. Our voyage through the rugged beauty of the Kimberley region was about to commence.
Day 1: Exploring the Enchanting George River
The perfect morning for a leisurely breakfast on the desk where I was instantly captivated by the towering cliffs and vibrant red rock formations that surrounded us. It was time to harness up our life jackets and board our first zodiac excursion. The river meandered through the landscape, revealing hidden gorges and lush vegetation along its banks. As we cruised deeper into the heart of the river, I marveled at the untouched wilderness that enveloped us.
Our expert guides led us on a thrilling Zodiac excursion, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the untouched beauty of the Kimberley. The sound of cascading waterfalls echoed through the gorge, and the crystal-clear waters were inhabited by some intimidatingly large saltwater crocodiles, gazing at us from the rocky surrounds. From the safety of our zodiac we enjoyed a glass of champagne as our guides steered us directly under the waterfall! It was an experience that awakened my senses and reminded me of the raw power and unspoiled wonders of nature.
Day 2: Winyalkan and Ancient Rock Art
The next day, we set sail towards the ancient Aboriginal rock art site of Winyalkan. This sacred place was a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Kimberley region. The intricate rock paintings told stories of the Indigenous people who had called this land home for thousands of years.
Accompanied by our knowledgeable guides, we hiked through the rugged terrain, delving deeper into the stories depicted on the rock faces. The vivid ochre hues and intricate details of the paintings were awe-inspiring. It was humbling to witness the connection between the ancient art and the land itself, and I felt a deep reverence for the history and traditions that permeated the area.
Day 3: Prince Frederick Harbour and the Majestic Roe River
Our journey continued to Prince Frederick Harbour; a haven of tranquility nestled within Kimberley’s pristine wilderness. The harbour was flanked by dense mangrove forests and dramatic sandstone cliffs, creating a dramatic backdrop for our adventure.
The highlight of the day was our excursion up the enchanting Roe River. As we sailed deeper into its labyrinthine channels, we encountered an abundance of wildlife, from graceful crocodiles to exotic bird species. The river’s calm waters mirrored the untouched beauty of the surrounding landscape, and I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of serenity as we meandered through its twists and turns.
So, who said you cannot swim in Kimberley? What a treat and something not too many would experience. Ponant’s expedition manager Mick Fogg in his recent research of the area had found us a little rocky oasis where the tide was starting to come in and with much trepidation and nervous excitement we jumped out of our zodiacs and into the rock pools, keeping one eye for any hungry crocodiles heading towards us. Fortunately, they stayed away but gave us a gentle reminder of just how wild this area is as we passed them on the banks as we made our way back to our yacht.
Day 4: Montgomery Reef and the Dance of the Tides
Montgomery Reef awaited us on the fourth day, and I was eager to witness its awe-inspiring spectacle. I didn’t understand a lot about tides. Our naturalist guides were so excited as they had waited to experience this incredible natural phenomenon. In the morning we cruised around the reef that had emerged from the turquoise waters revealing a vast expanse of marine life and intricate coral gardens. Learning how the birds wait for the reef to appear to gather food and the short time they have before the waters rise and the reef is deep underground was incredible. We then returned later that morning exploring the area watching the reef and sandbanks slowly disappear again. It was an incredible experience.
As we cruised along the reef, we were treated to a breathtaking display of marine biodiversity. Turtles, giant clams, sea snakes and an abundance of fish appeared beside us in the crystal waters. It was a reminder of the delicate balance that exists between the land and the sea and the importance of preserving these fragile ecosystems.
Day 5: Talbot Bay’s Thrills: Horizontal Falls and The Narrows
Talbot Bay greeted us with its legendary attractions: the exhilarating Horizontal Falls and The Narrows. Our adrenaline soared as we embarked on an exhilarating adventure through the roaring tidal currents of the Horizontal Falls. The sheer power of the rushing water was both humbling and invigorating. We were told of the ancient dreamtime story of the serpent that lives in these falls and why this area is so sacred and needs to be respected and protected.
Next, back to the yacht where we were met with a glass of champagne and enjoyed our usual 3 course lunch as we navigated through The Narrows, a narrow waterway flanked by towering cliffs. The emerald waters shimmered in the sunlight, and I was mesmerised by the sheer grandeur of the landscape. It was another moment that reminded me of the untamed nature’s ability to leave us in awe.
Day 6: Serenity on Adele Island
Adele Island, a secluded paradise, was our next stop. Surrounded by pristine beaches and turquoise waters, this sanctuary was home to a diverse array of seabirds, brown booby, frigate birds Egrets, Terns and even pelicans and plenty of marine life. We explored along the sandy shores in our zodiac stumbling upon a very large crocodile resting on the water’s edge as we breathed in the salty air and savored the serenity that enveloped us.
Day 7: Aerial Splendors: Flying over the Kimberley
Our incredible journey had to end, but not before one final adventure awaited us. We boarded the Paspaley Grumman Mallard flying boat, soaring high above Kimberley’s breathtaking landscapes. From Kuri Bay to Broome, we marveled at the rugged cliffs, winding rivers, and ancient gorges that stretched as far as the eye could see. The aerial perspective showcased the vastness and diversity of this awe-inspiring region, etching the memories of our extraordinary voyage deep into our souls.
As I bid farewell to the Kimberley region, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity to explore this remote corner of the world in such luxurious comfort. Cruising with Ponant provided me with unforgettable experiences and deepened my appreciation for the raw beauty and rich history of Kimberley. It is a journey that touched my heart and will forever hold a cherished place in my travel memories.
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