Expedition Cruising is growing rapidly around the world. One emerging destination is the Kimberley Coast of far north Western Australia. It is accessible almost exclusively by sea or air and has gained increasing popularity in recent years because of its spectacular scenery, pristine nature, Aboriginal rock art and remoteness, giving visitors the impression of exploring an ‘untouched’ world. Over recent years, there has been a marked increase in expedition cruise operators offering luxury experiences along the Kimberley Coast and visiting natural, cultural and historic on-shore sites along the way. Little has been known about the cruise ship operations and their impacts on the Kimberley coast. This paper reports on the Expedition Cruise industry, its size, number of operators, ships, destinations, and perceived impacts.
The research found that in 2006, a total of 30 vessels by 28 companies operated multi-day tours along the Kimberley Coast. Vessels ranged in type and size from fishing vessels and sailing vessels to motor cruise vessels. The majority of operations were luxury motor cruise vessels, most of which are purpose built to operate along the Kimberley Coast to offer upmarket cruises with frequent tender and on-shore excursions, targeting the high-end tourism market. The luxury cruise vessels, with the largest market share, have the largest capacities, ranging from ten to 106 passengers, with 50% of the vessels having a capacity of 20 passengers or higher and the average length of tour was 10 days.
The research also reports on a number of issues relating to visitor safety, environmental interactions, and social and cultural impacts. A key finding is that there is a clear need for a management framework to be put into place with a view to making the Kimberley Coastal tourism industry more sustainable for the long term.
Dowling, R, Scherrer, P & Smith, AJ 2010, 'Expedition cruising along Australia's remote Kimberley coast', paper presented to the Second International Cruise Conference: The cruise industry: emerging issues, problems and solutions, Plymouth, UK, 18-20 February.