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 Story & Photos by Julie and Cameron Pocknee, SY “Dream Weaver l”

By way of a quick recap, 'Dream Weaver 1', a 12m Roberts Spray, departed Mackay in July 2006 to tour the north Australian coastline. Following a stormy wet season spent in Darwin, we again threw off the berth ropes to cruise the famous and remote Kimberley coastline in early June this year.


The longest passage you have to make in the Kimberley region when departing Darwin is the first one, traversing the notorious Bonaparte Gulf from east to west. Many cruisers opt to cross the 250 nautical miles directly from Darwin to either the Berkeley or King George Rivers. We had plenty of time though and were intent on seeing as much coastline as possible, so tracked south down the NT's west coast before sailing (or more to the point motor/sailed as the forecast 15-20kt sou easter petered out to 5-10kts) the 90 miles to Lacrosse Island, at the base of the Bonaparte Gulf - wow, we're in the Kimberley!


Sheer sandstone cliffs which step up from the sea onto spinifex covered plateaus are everywhere in the Kimberley. They are a truly magnificent spectacle, and even more so where they form massive gorges around rivers like the King George and the Berkeley. These two rivers are the 'icon' rivers on the eastern Kimberley coastline and are not to be missed. Once over the shallow sandy entrance bars, these rivers provide sanctuary from the predominant winter sou easterlies. You can spend days if not weeks exploring these lengthy but narrow deepwater gorge systems where towering waterfalls discharge enormous volumes of freshwater for most of the year.
Freshwater is abundant in the Kimberley although many of the smaller creeks dry toward the end of the dry season. We were seldom more than a week between watering opportunities, which is more than can be said for other provisions. Unless you plan to have your champagne and caviar brought in by float plane, you need to budget and stock carefully before leaving.

We were prepared for a 5 month stay and cleared the Darwin supermarkets of many of their tinned goodies before departure. After about a month, you would kill for a tomato or any fresh greenery! On the other hand, fish and oysters are abundant once you get the hang of local conditions and we lost count of how many luckless mangrove jack disappeared via the galley. Fuel is available at a number of locations but come with long pockets as it costs up to $2.50/l for diesel and $3/l for ULP, and they don't believe in credit cards or cheques. Our vote goes to the friendly gents at McGowans Island Beach (private camping park) in Napier Broome Bay where both diesel and ULP are available off the beach at a budget $2/l.

 Story and Photos by Julie and Cameron of Dream Weaver

 The western coast of the Kimberley (a point to point stretch of about 250 miles) is deeply indented and provides some of the most spectacular and well protected anchorages you will find anywhere. Aboriginal art in caves and on protected rock faces is common, particularly wherever there is permanent water. A number of derelict settlements along the coast bear testament to just how remote and harsh this region was for those non indigenous who attempted to make it their home. Headstones and crumbling stone buildings say it all.


Sailing is an almost forgotten art once you round the top of WA and head south in the Kimberley (unless you stay well offshore, but where's the fun in that?). Generally light winds and difficult navigation through tortuous and often unsurveyed waterways with strings of pearl rafts thrown in for good measure means plenty of motoring. We logged a 50% sailing record, but many others are not as fortunate. The tides are huge in the southern Kimberley (both east and west coasts) with springs bringing a whopping 10m+ differential. Naturally, currents are likewise impressive in constricted channels like the entrance to the Prince Regent where we heard of boats being taken along at 14 knots - in neutral. Luckily we didn't encounter anything quite this furious although current did assist us in achieving up to 11.5knots under power - surely a record for a 'Spray' which is noted more for its performance at anchor than in the speed stakes?!

Whales are 'everywhere' on the western Kimberley coast, with the humpback season coinciding with the dry season. We watched speechless as a large bull came clear of the water within 100m of the boat before thundering back into the water in what we assume was a display of territorialism. I will never forget the immense size of the creature up close or the thought of whether the insurance premium had made it through ok in our absence!


Crocodiles are also prolific around coastal and estuarine parts and the smaller fellows are quite inquisitive, often coming right up to the boat for a closer inspection. Swimming and snorkeling in all salt water is unfortunately off the menu unless you fancy becoming the menu. Numerous freshwater holes well above the reach of the crocs do however provide welcome relief from the hot weather in this part of the world.

Aside from pearl farming, the other big businesses in Kimberley waters are tourism and gas. Numerous charter boats and helicopters take their well heeled clients to enjoy the delights of the Kimberley while the less obvious offshore gas wells are serviced by frequent helicopter relays to and from the mainland. Surprisingly, we saw only a handful of private vessels, many of whom we spent time with. It was always a treat to meet likeminded others and swap stories over a drink while watching the sun sinking into the Indian Ocean.

  After about 2½ months, we turned back for Darwin via Wyndham, a journey of about 1000 nautical miles. If we hadn't seen everything 'in the book' on the way down, we made efforts to see it on the way back. A highlight was an overnight stop at Montgomery Reef where we were lucky enough to have spring tides and calm weather. The 9m ebbing tide created spectacular waterfalls over the edge of the reef and provided some entertaining 'white water rafting' in our tinny through the deep channels incised into the reef.

Safely back in Darwin, we're now left to contemplate the next adventure. South East Asia features high on the list, but first we'll see out the cyclone season in air-conditioned marina comfort and go through the normal off-season maintenance routine. Perhaps go see that big rock in the centre of Australia!