Monday 23 March 2015

Kimberley Quest: what's it like?

So, the Kimberley Quest is an expedition vessel with nine guest berths that cruises the Kimberley coast in the north-west of Australia during the Dry season. The cruises range from eight to fourteen days, but I'm on board - sadly - for just three nights. We're getting the full deal, though, with lots of the optional extras: there's been cruising, fishing, star-gazing, tender excursions (not as loved-up as that sounds, actually), helicopter trips, Aboriginal rock art, bush walks and a swimming hole. Plus food! Two breakfasts are standard, lunch is big, dinner is bigger, and Riss the chief stewardess is solicitousness incarnate.

It's not one of those fancy Caribbean charters where the staff flit around unobtrusively: this is Australia, and the crew mix freely with the guests, and everyone is of course on first-name terms. That makes for a much more interesting experience, as they all have good stories to tell (many involving crocs, naturally.) But the service is excellent and everyone does their job well. Louis will even, when required, do a pre-swim croc-spotting snorkel, which to me seems to be going above and beyond. (I wasn't exaggerating, about the croc stories.)
The cabins all vary a bit - mine was in the bow, a double bed with ensuite, fridge, wardrobe and room to move around. Everything is neat and ship-shape, it feels pretty new, and it's definitely comfortable. We guests have full run of the boat, from the back deck where most meals are taken, through the galley/living room area, where the air conditioning is bliss each time we come back aboard from an outing, up to the wheelhouse, where owner/operator Jeff sits behind his bank of screens (one of them showing the cricket). Out on the front deck, there's a spa bath - and that's an odd experience, to sit in water on top of water surrounded by water. Olivia's frequent visits to offer drinks meant water (or liquid, anyway) inside as well.
Tim is the resident authority on nature and history, geological and hunan, and showed us some Aboriginal rock art under an overhang that he'd spotted by chance one day when bird-watching as the boat cruised past - what are the odds? Actually, pretty high: the indigenous people have been roaming this area, inhospitable as it looks to my eyes (trackless, crocs, stingers, snakes etc, formidable tides) for many thousands of years: Tim estimated some of the paintings we saw were 40,000 years old, and that the landscape conceals uncountable examples, most of which are, and probably will remain, undiscovered.

That is one of the very special things about the Kimberley: as well as being stunningly beautiful, it's an ancient land, and a dangerous one. Calling the Kimberley Quest an expedition vessel rather than just a motor yacht isn't an affectation - that's exactly what it is. All that comfort is just icing on the cake.

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