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Kirstie Clements: The close-to-home getaway alternative to a European jaunt

Source: Youtube/Ponant

It might seem that most of Australia is on holidays, considering all those enticing Instagram posts we’re currently being inundated with, but one of the most rewarding mid-year destinations is right here at home, a luxury cruise 10-night Ponant cruise in the glorious Kimberley Region.

While many may have headed towards the crowds and queues and the flight delays of a European summer, a relentlessly stunning journey aboard the Laperouse, sailing from Darwin to Broome, provides an inspiring alternative.

Ponant is the only French luxury cruise line, boasting moderately sized, very tasteful ships, French or French trained crews, an extensive French wine list and a lot of soup a la crème.

I am relatively new to cruising, but an elegant trip to the Arctic with Ponant in 2022 quickly introduced me to the soothing benefits of unpacking once, establishing a lovely rapport with the staff, and being able to retire to your comfortable cabin at will.

The passengers do tend to be older, which lends the trip a laid-back vibe, and certainly didn’t negate visits to the subterranean nightclub after sunset cocktails and an a la carte dinner.

After embarkation in Darwin, the ship sails for a full day, giving passengers a chance to establish their sea legs and understand the nicely measured routine of life on board.

Clements

Cabin life, elegant and relaxing. Photo: Ponant

The first stop is Wyndham, the northernmost town in WA and gateway to the Kimberley region.

Wonders of scale and vastness

Day trip options here were a scenic flight over Purnululu National Park and the Bungle Bungle massif, or a bus drive and a cruise on Lake Kununurra, where I learned more about the Ord River irrigation system than I ever knew I needed to know.

But it is also where I came to understand the sheer scale and vastness of the ancient region that I would see unfurl, and the fact that there would be absolutely no swimming at any time, unless it was in the ship’s pool.

Your constant, and most thrilling companions on the Kimberly cruise are the deadly predators.

There were abundant freshwater crocs at Lake Kununurra, and larger saltwater crocodiles languidly swimming near the Zodiacs the next day at King George River (Oomari), the hot sun glinting off their scales like liquid silver.

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The crocodiles are never far from the Zodiac groups in King George River. Photo: Nick Rains

The naturalists on board make the experience so special, with their incredible knowledge of everything from igneous rocks to sea birds, termites and plankton. Where you and I see a cliff, these brilliant boffins know and will enthusiastically share the minutest details from 1.8 billion years of the earth’s history, pre-fossil, pre-life.

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There are’s just sharks on show. Photo: Kirstie Clements

I asked one guide, Zach, what his area of specialty was and he replied “Well I’m pretty into mangroves”, which is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.

Indigenous legacies

Each Zodiac trip was an adventure, from the swirling Horizontal Falls in Talbot Bay (Garaanngaddim), a natural phenomenon which causes the water to flow in alternate directions, the astonishing Montgomery Reef (Ngalangie), where the unique tide creates mini rivers and waterfalls in the midst of the Indian Ocean, or a visit to a rock shelter at Swift Bay (Warrabii) to see the 4000-year-old Wandjina rock art.

As the colour of the ocean became more and more alluring and striking, so did the presence of its inhabitants, including several humpback whales, and a two-metre tawny nurse shark circling the back of the ship at breakfast.

On my last Zodiac outing before disembarking in Broome, apart from seeing dozens of green turtles, I spied not one, but two, huge sea snakes, like slithering pythons dropped into water.

I described my horror to Zach later. “Oh I’m really into sea snakes too” he said, which is why we should all be more like Zach.

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