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This Ponant Kimberley cruise takes you to Australia’s natural wonders

Lisa Wagstaff sets sail through Australia’s most untamed coastline aboard Ponant’s Le Lapérouse.

As our Zodiac skims across the Indian Ocean, Ngalangie – Montgomery Reef peeks out of the water in the distance. As we draw closer, the majestic 400-square-kilometre reef rises before me, taking my breath away. Water cascades down well-gouged grooves into thousands of waterfalls. Turtles are feasting around us on the algae and seagrass that’s washing off the reef. Ngalangie – Montgomery Reef is the world’s largest inshore reef, and its remarkable corals can survive above the water for hours a day during the Kimberley’s massive tidal cycles. Experiences like these during Ponant’s 10-day Kimberley cruise show me that there is nowhere like this remote region in the north-west of Australia. Billion-year-old sandstone gorges make me feel tiny and just a small part of this complex ecosystem. Migratory seabirds, whales and rock wallabies have me marvelling at the diversity of life, while mangroves, red-flowered sticky kurrajong (also known as the Kimberley rose), and rock figs clinging to cliffs awe me with their ability to thrive in such harsh and remote environments.

Zoidac tour on a Ponant Kimberley cruise
Ponant Kimberley experiences
Kimberley shore landings
Kimberley shore landings © Nick Rains

Witnessing the Horizontal Falls

At the Horizontal Falls, described by David Attenborough as “Australia’s most unusual natural wonder”, I witness more than a million litres of water passing through these unique falls per second. The falls are, in fact, created by tidal movements, the water flowing through a horizontal opening between two headlands with a remarkable amount of power and speed. The first ‘waterfall’ is 20 metres wide and the second is just seven; it’s almost incomprehensible to see that much water pounding through such a small space. As we approach by Zodiac, the churning water is moving at 40 kilometres per hour and has turned the blue of a glacier-fed lake. I’m blown away by the falls’ majesty, and I know the whole experience is one that will stay with me.

Explore the phenomenon that is the Horizontal Waterfalls on a PONANT expedition
Explore the phenomenon that is the Horizontal Waterfalls on a PONANT expedition, watch as the seawater builds up faster on one side of the gaps than the other, creating a waterfall up to 4m high on a King tide. © PONANT Nick Rains.

Wildlife spotting on a Ponant Kimberley Cruise

While it can be treacherous for humans, the Kimberley is a haven for wildlife. Crocodiles sun themselves along the mud flats at Hunter River; manta rays glide past the mouth of the King George River; and rock wallabies hide in the cliffs at Talbot Bay. We are also lucky enough to witness a ‘heat run’ while sailing the Lacapede Channel – a rare humpback whale mating ritual that has nine males breaching around a single female.

After arriving at the Lacapede Islands, we step into the world of breeding seabirds. Expedition leader Sebastian Jones’ enthusiasm is contagious, and I join in his awe as brown boobies fly overhead as we learn about their nesting habits on the island.

Birds in the Kimberley
© Studio Ponant MargauxCoupez
Crocodile at Langgi Bay, Kimberley
Crocodile at Langgi Bay
crocodile on the kimberley shoreline
Basking in the sun © Ponant-Nick-Rains
King George twin falls on a Ponant zodiac
King George twin falls © Nick Rains

Kimberley Indigenous rock art

Another day, the Zodiac drops us on land to see the Kimberley’s unique styles of Indigenous rock art. The Wandjina rock art at Swift Bay is suspected to be more than 4,000 years old. My favourite painting is of a sugar glider, wings spread wide in flight. At Freshwater Cove, our arrival is stalled by a crocodile lurking in the shallows – but once we disembark, we receive a Welcome to Country from the Worrorra people. Leon, a custodian of the area, shares their stories and rock art with us in Cyclone Cave, a cavern named for the Dreamtime story and dangerous weather depicted within.

Life on Le Laperouse

Being able to wake up in each of these remarkable destinations has been made possible by cruising with Ponant. I’m able to immerse myself in rugged destinations and then return to the splendour on the ship. When not out developing a love for rock formations, time on the French-owned Le Lapérouse passes in the blink of an eye. Documentaries, lectures, four-course lunches and dinners, piano recitals, themed afternoon teas, stargazing, a sauna and gym mean I spend less time reading my novel by the pool than expected. Le Lapérouse has two restaurants, Le Nemo for casual dining, and the silver-service Le Nautilus. Menus are bursting with French flavours and Charles Heidsieck Champagne is the house pour.

Le Lapérouse takes just 184 guests, providing my own slice of Parisian paradise on the intimate cruise ship. There are 92 thoughtfully designed cabins and suites with private balconies and terraces. With one staff member per 1.5 guests, I am treated like royalty.

Le Lapérouse ©PONANT | Christophe Dugied
Le Lapérouse © PONANT | Christophe Dugied

Spa time

Instead of filling out a pre-treatment form at the spa, my therapist, Charlotte, discusses all of the usual questions with me, making it far more personal from the start. I have had so many treatments, but this is somehow the most special. I feel like precious cargo. Charlotte is gentle, yet firm, and her hands never seem to leave my body for the entire 90 minutes.

The spa design is also not to be overlooked, with its grand floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to sea, and as I relax to the gentle movement of the ship in harmony with the soft murmur of the engines, I’m in a place of bliss. There truly is nowhere like the Kimberley. I leave with a deeper connection to nature and myself after visiting this unique part of the world – it is a region that every Australian should experience at least once.

The spa at sea on Le Laperouse
The spa at sea on Ponant's Le Laperouse