Human use study confirms Kimberley’s top tourist cruise destinations

As part a broader WAMSI research project examining human use off the Western Kimberley coast, Professor Lynnath Beckley and her team from Murdoch University have estimated visitation by expedition cruise vessels using cruise itineraries advertised online.

Cruise visits

The study found that there were 18 vessels (excluding vessels engaged in fishing tours) advertising Kimberley cruise itineraries in 2013 indicating relatively little change since a 2008 study (Sherrer at al.).  The cruises take place mainly from April to September between Broome and Wyndham. Just over half of these vessels carried less than 20 passengers but the two largest accommodated more than 100 passengers.

In total, 114 sites were listed in the itineraries of cruise vessels in the Kimberley in 2013, up from 96 sites in 2008. Thirty per cent of the sites, however, were visited less than 20 times during the season and only by smaller vessels.

The most popular places to visit by cruise vessel, excluding the port of Broome, were Montgomery Reef (275 vessels visits with 7382 passengers), Horizontal Falls (260 vessel visits with 7068 passengers), Raft Point (250 vessel visits with 6786 passengers), Prince Regent River (235 vessel visits with 6308 passengers), Talbot Bay (211 vessel visits with 6176 passengers) and King George Falls (115 vessel visits with 5234 passengers). These estimates did not include crew, were based on the assumption that all vessels operated at full occupancy and did not take into account whether passengers actually went ashore at the site or not.

Estimated cumulative number of visits by cruise vessel passengers at the major sites along the Kimberley coast during 2013. Note that numbers assume full occupancy of the vessels, exclude crew members and do not imply that all passengers go ashore. The figure only includes sites with >3000 potential visitors.


Most advertised activities included boat/tender excursions, swimming and walking. At Montgomery Reef cruises offer tender excursions to witness the water cascading off the reef on a falling tide and a few offer opportunities for reef walking, snorkelling and fishing at this site.

Cumulative frequency of times activities appeared in the advertised itineraries of all schedules cruises in the Kimberley during 2013.

Boat cruises to the scenic Horizontal Falls are also common on cruise itineraries, with some vessels also offering speed boat rides through the falls.

At Raft Point, the majority of visiting vessels use tenders to transfer passengers to shore where they are guided on a short walk to a secluded Aboriginal rock art gallery.

Prince Regent River is most often mentioned in itineraries as a waterway through which vessels transit on their way to King Cascades waterfall, though approximately half of the vessels visiting the area also offer passengers the chance to do some fishing in the river.

Implications for Marine Park Management

Of the sites estimated to have the highest number of tourists by cruise vessel, Montgomery Reef and Prince Regent River are located in the Lalang-garram Camden Sound Marine Park. Horizontal Falls, Talbot Bay and Raft Point are within the designated Horizontal Falls Marine Park.

“The estimates of total potential visitors within the new Kimberley parks provide managers and Traditional Owners, particularly the Dambimangari people, with an indication of where any environmental or cultural impacts would be more likely to occur,” Professor Beckley said.

Professor Beckley recommended that the number and size of cruise vessels operating in the Kimberley should be monitored annually as more large vessels with increased passenger capacities could rapidly change visitation patterns to the marine parks and adjacent coastal sites.

The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program