A member of the Fine Travel team was recently hosted by luxury cruise line Silversea on a 10 night voyage from Broome to Darwin. This cruise combines the spectacular scenery of Australia's Kimberley Region with the six star expedition experience Silversea is known for.
As a cruise destination, the Kimberley region was more beautiful, dramatic, and filled with culture than I had anticipated. When combined with the luxury Silversea experience, a cruise in the Kimberley region is a perfect mix of an easily accessible location, a temperate climate (at this time of year), a unique geological region, and an opportunity to have the Silversea team go the extra mile to ensure an unforgettable experience. The 2023 season will be the last for the Silver Explorer so we haven't included a review of the ship. In 2024 the Silver Cloud will be operating the Kimberley itineraries.
Geography, History and Culture
A Silversea Kimberley cruise itinerary will generally include the must-see highlights of the Horizontal Falls, Montgomery Reef, the Bungle Bungles (which is experienced from the air), the Hunter River Falls, Ashmore Reef and ancient Aboriginal rock art sites. What brings these excursions to life is the quality of the Silversea Expedition Team. With an excursion planned for almost every day of the cruise (there are only two sea days out of ten), there was plenty of opportunity each night to have a debrief of what we had seen during the day and an update on the following day. These would generally be run by the Expedition Leader and then a member of the expedition team would also speak in greater detail. More detail of the excursions can be found on the Itinerary tab of the Silversea Kimberley itineraries on our website.
Even if the Expedition Team hadn't prepared us for the unique geography, the contrasting colours of the blue ocean and sky against the rust-coloured rock formations give the region an innately ancient feel. Combined with the scale of the landscape which often extends as far as the eye can see when travelling in the zodiacs, it was easy to imagine a long extinct animal appear from behind a rock face to watch our progression. Often our expedition was the only group exploring the region, and its remoteness and inaccessibility for the general tourist means that it is a pristine landscape without rubbish or pollution which made us appreciate the surroundings even more.
Aboriginal history and culture
The history and culture of the Aboriginal people is an important part of the setting for a Kimberley cruise. At every location, the Team paid respects to the traditional custodians of the land and this mindset flowed through to the respect that the Expedition Team had for the Kimberley ecosystem. Their intention is to work in harmony with the Aboriginal people and recognise that we have a unique opportunity to experience this incredible and ancient area.
Visiting Aboriginal rock art sites and meeting with Aboriginal people to hear their stories was a highlight of the voyage for us. Learning that their heritage can be traced back at least 75,000 years, and that the Egyptian pyramids were built around 4,000 years ago, puts this unique experience into perspective.
Although it is difficult to date the rock art sites that we visited, as usual carbon dating techniques can’t be used due to the age of the rocks (over 1.8 billion years), academics and art historians date some of the rock art we saw back 17,500 years.
We were lucky enough to view two sites, both with very different paintings from different time periods showing the evolution of rock paintings in the Kimberley. One depicted images from everyday life, a set of instructions if you like – and we were fascinated to learn that a painting of a turtle (which was an important food source) communicated to the viewer where it could be found and which parts were safe to eat.
Another site contained images of Gwion Gwion figures, early paintings of men and women in ceremonial costume complete with headdresses and bracelets. It was incredible to realise that some costumes of some of these images which could be 12,000 years old closely resemble ceremonial dress worn today by some of the communities of the Kimberley, providing a tangible link to an ancient past.
The Silversea "Soft Expedition" Experience
If you aren't familiar with Silversea, it is a "True Luxury" cruise line (think 6 star) with an Italian heritage. Silversea operates on an "all inclusive" basis which means that everything onboard is included (with few exceptions such as the spa services, the boutique and certain premium wines and spirits).
The all inclusive approach sets the scene for the cruise in two ways. Firstly, as there is no tipping, the service and interactions with the crew feels more genuine. There's no lingering feeling of "should I tip", "is he waiting for me to tip", "how much did the others tip".
Secondly, having drinks included makes socialising with new friends even easier. Catching up with a couple you met on the zodiac that morning for sundowners before the evening briefing is seamless - the bar staff offer your preferred drink and there's no awkward "I'll get the drinks tonight”. Everyone can just relax and enjoy each other's company and enjoy the incredible sunset which this area is renowned for.
The food options are generous, and all included with an extensive breakfast buffet with hot and cold options, as well as food cooked to order if preferred. There are two options for lunch, including a short but concise a la carte menu on the pool deck or a lunch buffet which often featured a speciality cuisine. We were lucky enough to enjoy Greek and Indian themed lunches on our voyage. There is the option of a high tea each day and then dinner can be back at the pool deck with the a la carte menu or a four-course dinner in the restaurant with matching wines.
Silversea has also taken all-inclusive pricing to the next level by introducing "door-to-door" pricing alongside it's traditional "port-to-port" pricing. Door to door pricing can include airport transfers, return airfares (or an air credit), transfers to and from the ship and pre and post cruise accommodation. This approach makes the entire journey seamless - especially when it comes to pre-cruise and post cruise accommodation and transfers.
Silversea can be known as quite a formal cruise line, with requirements like jackets at dinner and each suite assigned a butler with white gloves. On an expedition cruise in a region where it was at least 25 degrees each day, the atmosphere onboard was smart casual. The only clothing request for the main restaurant was that gentlemen not wear shorts after 6pm.
Having a butler was a nice touch; the butlers on board service 15 cabins each and he was always available if we needed him, but there wasn’t any sense of intrusion.
Over the course of a 10 day cruise it would be reasonable to expect even the highest standards to slip. We were amazed that the Silversea crew were, without exception, always on best client facing form. The crew was warm, engaging, friendly and remarkable at remembering names and preferences. Members of staff went out of their way to find solutions to guest problems as wide ranging as rearranging travel options once the cruise had finished, to getting the ship's IT Officer on board to fix a guest’s Wi-Fi connection and it was all done in a competent and professional manner.
Exploring on Zodiacs
Zodiacs are a big part of exploring the Kimberley region. Whether it's cruising in the rapids of the Horizontal Falls, watching Montgomery Reef magically appear from the ocean or cruising the Hunter River looking for wildlife to reach the waterfalls. The Silversea crew and Expedition crew are experienced in helping guests of all ages and physical abilities on and off the zodiacs and they are very mindful of speed and the comfort of guests.
Silversea makes it clear that a reasonable level of physical activity should be expected. There were some guests on our cruise who couldn't comfortably walk unaided so they chose not to participate in some of the shore excursions / zodiac trips. Equally we had fellow guests in their late 70s and early 80s who had no trouble participating in all the activities.
Your Fellow Silversea Guests
Often the cliche "like-minded guests" is used to explain what the other guests will be like on a cruise. As a couple in our mid-forties, we were a novelty and the youngest guests by some twenty years. With the exception of a couple of nights when we decided on a casual dinner under the stars at the grill, we were invited to join other couples or groups for dinner in the main restaurant (there is only one restaurant on Silver Explorer). To give you a sense of who we met and became friends with:
- Retired doctors from Pennsylvania who had travelled extensively (most recently to the Galapagos) and hold voluntary board positions.
- A retired business man from Scotland who had sold his business and settled in Perth with his wife and daughters who have a passion for horses.
- A retired geologist who had worked in the Kimberley region and was now pursuing his passion for Aboriginal song lines.
- A retired lawyer from Sante Fe who is establishing a contemporary photography gallery.
- A group of retired Partners from a Big 4 Accounting firm in the US.
And there were many more. Everyone we met was well travelled (particularly on cruises), friendly and had more than a passing knowledge of New Zealand (and had generally been here).
When we spoke to the experienced cruise guests they all shared that they loved being able to unpack once on the cruise and wake up to a new port each day. The Silversea crew were also a big draw point and there were many hugs as we disembarked and stories of meeting crew who they had sailed with on other voyages.
Is a Silversea Kimberley cruise right for me?
For an inquisitive traveller looking to escape the New Zealand winter, a Silversea cruise of the Kimberley is an ideal choice. Silversea offers excellent service and the Expedition Team is knowledgeable, engaging and friendly. The Kimberley region is unique and left us with a lifetime of memories.