Travel Story Kimberley’s a real pearler after refit

Kimberley Pearl Charters.
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Looking for a Kimberley cruise that's a little different? This rebuilt pearling boat makes the most of its origins in its new life as a charter vessel. 

Beginning life 47 years ago as a hardworking pearler named Dalumba, the newly minted MV Kimberley Pearl has been reinvented and reinvigorated as a charter vessel cruising the Kimberley.

It was bought by Jim and Candy Stevenson three years ago after it spent years as a pearler supply vessel, first for Kailis and more recently for Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.

If decisions were based purely on financials, Kimberley Pearl would likely have been retired or still be slogging away as a supply boat. Rebuilding an old boat is an expensive exercise, usually more than buying a new one, but a boat with history can offer a different experience.

“Old boats have a particular shape,” says Kimberley Pearl Charters manager and Broome local Peter Watterston, pointing out relics around the Fremantle shipyard where Kimberley Pearl is undergoing a cabin reconfiguration in time for this year’s cruise season.

“There’s something about the shape and feel of an old boat — the roominess,” he says. “But finding someone to do them up is rare. As far as I know, none of the old pearling boats has been repurposed to this extent.”

Having been completely gutted, the boat now accommodates up to 12 passengers and four crew.

In April, Kimberley Pearl will head for the Abrolhos Islands before sailing the Kimberley season from May to October. The seven-night Kimberley Dream return charter takes travellers from Broome on a light aircraft charter to the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, 220km north of Broome on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula. Following a tour of the farm, passengers board the Kimberley Pearl to make the three-to-four hour crossing of King Sound.

“The flight cuts out a day’s sailing, so pretty much as soon as you get on the boat you are doing the Kimberley,” Mr Watterston says. 

“Doing the Kimberley” usually entails a visit to Horizontal Falls to see the huge tidal waters rush through the narrow cliffs, the white sands of Silica Beach, the waters of Crocodile Creek and his favourite — the spectacle created by a falling tide at Montgomery Reef.

“The Kimberley is one of the last wildernesses. The isolation, the unique scenery — you can’t describe how beautiful it is,” Mr Watterston says.

This year Kimberley Pearl has 23 charters pencilled in, including five-night fishing charters, the seven-night Kimberley Dream cruise and the 13-night Derby to Wyndham (and vice-versa) tour.

As a small charter boat, Kimberley Pearl can bend to the passengers’ needs and wants, basing itineraries on interests from fishing to birdwatching, ancient rock art, the main sites and more.

At the top of many travellers’ lists is catching the prized barramundi but there are also mangrove Jack, trevally, Spanish mackerel, tuna, fingermark and more.

And then there is other wildlife. 

“One night people couldn’t sleep because the whales around us were making so much noise — not that anyone was complaining,” Mr Watterston says.

The ship’s three purpose-built tenders carry six people each, allowing easy landing, access to the coast and the ability to split groups according to their interests. At night there are bonfires and barbecues on the beach.

Food is a highlight on Kimberley Pearl, with the chef able to tailor the menu to the freshly caught fish, taking cues from Broome with Asian-inspired fine dining. 

Peninsula local Rocky McKenzie, who appeared in the film Bran Nue Day, is one of the chefs, having cut his teeth as an apprentice in Broome and last year representing WA in culinary event East x West in China.

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