The Kimberley Region, in the far North of Western Australia feels like the land that time forgot. Vast rivers carve their way through ancient valleys before tumbling over majestic cliffs to meet the sea. Lurking under the surface of these waterways, the saltwater crocodile is more closely related to the dinosaur than any other reptile. In hidden caves and around secluded watering holes the walls display ancient rock art, some of which dates over 50,000 years old. Giant tides empty the waterways before filling them up again a mere few hours later. Hundreds of islands make up spectacular archipelagos and the intricate coastline has over 1,000 miles to explore from Yampi Sound, North of Broome to the Berkeley River near Wyndham.
It is this wild and untouched wilderness that inspired Rob and Rose to make the 9,000 mile return journey around the Australian coast in R&R, their 72” Princess Motor Yacht. The trip, which took only 10 months to complete, was over 10 years in the making and a huge number of moving pieces came together to make it a success. A reconnaissance trip on The True North, a 50m expedition vessel, in 2012 kicked off the planning process and Rob and Rose spent the next 12 months working closely with their Skipper of 15 years, Mike, to set the plan in motion.
A rough itinerary was the initial starting point. Rob and Rose made the decision to set aside enough time to enjoy each unique part of the Australian Coast equally and allow flexibility for significant weather patterns and breakdowns, culminating in over 6 weeks exploring The Kimberley. At this point they began reaching out to various people and associations as a ‘sounding board’ and built in allowances for distances to be covered, availability of fuel, provisioning, access for guests and typical coastal weather patterns. The most valuable information came from talking to a friend who had completed the trip a year previously, joining the Kimberley Coast Cruising Club and engaging a local skipper and guide, early in the process. Matt, a skipper on a commercial charter boat and partner of R&R’s hostess, Steph, was able to help refine the Kimberley section of the Itinerary and planned modifications to R&R.
Rob and Rose’s travels in their many previous boats have taken them as far North as Cairns, South to Tasmania and East to Port Lincoln in South Australia, but the prospect of taking R&R to the remote Kimberley posed an entirely different challenge. The sheer vastness of the region and distance from any major city meant that R&R and her crew needed to be able to combat any situation without the need for outside assistance. Some modifications were completed as part of the build process when the vessel was commissioned. Additional batteries and the inverter capacity was increased to allow for extended time without shore power or a generator, the fly bridge was enclosed and air-conditioned, an emergency freshwater pump was installed and additional refrigeration and under floor storage was added. The remainder of modifications were made in the first stage of the voyage, at the Gold Coast City Marina. Supplementary fuel tanks and a larger aluminum tender (to replace our inflatable R.I.B.) were delivered, additional shade for the bow and stern, a night vision camera and a new anchor chain were installed, among other additions. The engines, two Caterpillar C32 V12 4 stroke diesels, were given a full service, an extended warranty was granted and a full repertoire of common engine, generator and desalinator spares were purchased.
With all the preparation complete, R&R just needed the right weather to continue north. After being chased to Hamilton Island by Cyclone Ita, Rob, Rose and crew settled in to wait for the end of the Tropical Weather systems and the return of the consistent South East Trade Winds. Travelling North with following weather made the journey much more pleasant and we cruised along the inside of the Great Barrier Reef to enjoy calmer seas and to make frequent stops at the coastal towns before leaving the last of the marina berths behind at Port Douglas.
Upon reaching Cape York, R&R had rounded the most Southern, Eastern and Northern points of Australia and from here the next challenge loomed, 300 nautical miles across the Gulf of Carpentaria. We were incredibly lucky with the weather pattern at the time and managed to make the 32 hour crossing in near perfect calm, accompanied at times by the customs aerial surveillance plane, checking on our intentions. R&R then made her way through remote Arnhem Land where we rarely set foot ashore due to its status as an aboriginal reserve, before reaching Darwin, which was to be the gateway to the Kimberley.
Rob, Rose, Guests and Crew, including local guide Matt, set out from Darwin after three weeks of family visitations, provisioning, and a few repairs, to spend 6 weeks exploring areas of the remote Kimberley seen and enjoyed by very few. The Berkeley river was the first to make a lasting impression, with it’s towering red gorges hugging a narrow, winding river, closely followed by the majestic Twin falls in the King George River, which tumble down over 100 m of cliff face. The heart of the Kimberley was characterized by the perfectly straight Prince Regent River which runs along a fault line, spectacular rock formations such as Naturaliste Island and Raft Point and innumerable secluded swimming holes. Exploring the Southern Kimberley was different again and equally as impressive, heading offshore to visit the vast expanse of Montgomery Reef before returning to the mainland coast to weave amongst the hundreds of islands and inlets making up the Buccaneer Archipelago.
The entire voyage was truly the trip of a lifetime and R&R performed beautifully, allowing everyone aboard to experience so much of the Australian coastline in comfort and safety.
Rob, Rose, Crew and Guests have produced a coffee table book as a record of their adventure, including more detail on the entire voyage and cruising the incredible Kimberley. Copies are on sale through S.Y.C, at $40.00 per copy (or 2 for $75 or 3 for $100.00) and all proceeds will contribute to Sandringham Yacht Club’s junior sailing facilities.
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