Three icons—PONANT, Paspaley and the Kimberley—will unite in 2023 with a series of wide, wild and wonderful West Australian sailing itineraries.
It’s early morning on the Prince Regent River and the only sound is the swoosh of kingfisher wings over inky water. The bruised sky is still bedazzled with stars, creating a magical backdrop for Jurassic-like landscapes that appear to cleave off the edge of the Earth. Gorges carve sandstone ridges that date back 1.8 billion years while pancake-like rock formations are decorated with Gwion Gwion art capturing the story of the Kimberley’s Indigenous communities over many millennia. If there was ever a part of the world to make you feel insignificant and humbled, in the best possible way, this is it.
This remote and undeveloped corner of northwest Australia really is one of the world’s last true wilderness frontiers. It’s so vast and untouched that the best—really, the only—way to explore it is by boat. And while the landscapes are large, the Kimberley is all about the small details—those iridescent kingfisher wings, the easing of a croc into the water, the dance of orange fiddler crabs through mangroves, the jack-knife of a turtle flipper. And chances are you’ll miss these moments—unless, that is, you’re exploring in a small vessel like the recently refurbished Le Ponant.
Departing the Mediterranean to be in Australian waters for the first time come 2023, the three-masted, 88-metre sailing yacht is the epitome of elegance, thanks to French design house Jean-Philippe Nuel, which deftly united an earthy palette of muted tones with plush finishings across staterooms and public areas.
And you only have to share the vessel—the flagship in PONANT’s upscale fleet—with 31 other guests; the 1:1 passenger-to-staff-ratio guaranteeing service that’s attentive yet unobtrusive, as is the inherent nature of barefoot-luxe cruising.
As striking and appealing as the new vessel is—replete with lounge, bar, library, restaurant and spa—the real eye-candy here is the destination, which Le Ponant glides through, sails primed, like that croc gently slipping into the water.
Wend through gorges and along rivers for which the shallow-drafted Le Ponant was purpose-built—its shape and technology, as well as the highly skilled staff, affording an unprecedented proximity to land and its many allures. Such as the twin 100-metre-high King George Falls, the bone-white sand of some of the Kimberley’s 2,600 islands and the ancient Indigenous rock paintings that are abundant and consolidate this region’s reputation as the natural world’s largest alfresco art gallery.
Le Ponant’s Zodiacs offer an even closer exploration of Western Australia’s natural bounty. One such offering is the unique Horizontal Falls, where the sea can vanish before returning in a matter of hours, causing tides of more than 11 metres (the second biggest in the world). Le Ponant guests skim, slide and swirl over the rapids in a heart-starting frenzy. And then there’s Montgomery Reef, which emerges from the sea at low tide, water cascading from the reef top and bringing marine life with it—sawfish, dugongs, six species of threatened turtles and manta rays performing rhythmic twirls as they feed.
The other marine species that thrive in West Australian waters are oysters, and Le Ponant gives guests exclusive access to the region’s most prestigious pearlers. Welcome to the world of Paspaley, Australia’s largest and oldest pearling company, which cultivates, farms, harvests, wholesales and retails South Sea pearls off the coast of Broome. These are the kind of pearls that, thanks to their luminosity, retail for millions of dollars to those in-the-know. And Le Ponant guests will discover precisely why after a flight aboard Paspaley’s vintage Grumman Mallard seaplanes to Kuri Bay, where behind-the-scenes viewings reveal the remarkable intricacies of pearl farming.
Ultimately, this cruise is an experience unlike any other, a wondrous Australian landscape perfectly aligned to the luxury aboard Le Ponant.
Le Ponant’s new seven- to 14-night luxury Kimberley cruises run from April-October 2023 and include the northern and southern Kimberley regions as well as Rowley Shoals, along with a selection of elevated pre- and post-cruise offerings; au.ponant.com
CREDIT: ROBB REPORT