FOOTLOOSE

THE KIMBERLEY FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE.

RON MOON

WEíVE BEEN going to the Kimberley since 1978 and, while Iím not sure how many trips weíve taken to its sandstone ridges and grassy valleys, we have also often thought about a boat trip along the coast.

To cut a long story short, we finally got around to doing it. Over a year ago, we got a few friends together and booked a charter boat - Kimberley Xplorer through One Tide Charters - for an early Dry season trip out of Derby. The plan was to see the Kimberley just after the Wet when all the waterfalls and the like would be thundering, but the weather didnít play ball and, after a Wet that really didnít eventuate, the waterfalls were just trickles - not that it made the slightest bit of difference to the adventure we had.

Our trip took us north from the muddy waters of King Sound at Derby, along the coast through Whirlpool Passage into Cone Bay, up past the great ĎIron Islandsí of Cockatoo and Koolan, and to the Horizontal Waterfalls, the only place we saw any other tourists on this trip.

This unbelievable water flow is generated by the huge tides the Kimberley is known for, which rate as the second biggest rise and fall in the world. Greg, the skipper and owner of Kimberley Xplorer, who has been wandering this coast in small boats for more than 30 years, told us that everything revolves around the tides.

Over the next few days we continued north, going ashore each day to explore islands, find hidden treasures and cast a line. Sailing through Perseverance Inlet we visited Camden Harbour and the failed 1864 settlement, before sailing on past Treachery Head into the St George Basin and the mighty Prince Regent River and King Cascade. We set up camp that afternoon on a shelf below some great Kimberley sandstone cliffs.

Here we collected oysters, fed sharks off the rear marlin board, discovered ancient Aboriginal art sites, swam on deserted sandy beaches, found the graves of Japanese pearlers and Portuguese whalers, and splashed around in hidden freshwater pools. We also visited Careening Bay, where Phillip Parker King careened his ship in 1820 and his men carved the name of their ship, the HMC Mermaid, on a big boab tree.

The Kimberley Xplorer isnít a big boat, but itís the perfect boat to explore the Kimberley, with a catamaran-type hull designed to sit on the mud if the boat ever gets stranded by the tides. Powered by twin 5.9-litre Cummins engines it can cruise at more than 17 knots. With Gregís vast experience, he will take you places the bigger, fancier boats canít reach or where their skippers fear to tread. The boat only takes eight people (along with three or four crew) so, like us, you can easily get together with friends and take over the entire ship.

This is a trip where youíll really experience the best of the Kimberley, with one of the most experienced skippers in the region and one of the greatest Kimberley characters youíll ever meet. Youíll have one hell of an adventure, so donít pass up the opportunity if you get the chance; youíll never forget it.

For more information, visit: kimberleycruise.com.au