When is the best time to cruise the Kimberley?

The Kimberley is a land of many extremes…….

And that is certainly the case when it comes to the weather. Choosing the right time to take your Kimberley cruise is essential.

Kimberley cruise is essential.

It is always warm (well hot in fact) in the Kimberley. The question is: is it warm and dry or warm and humid/wet? Much like the rest of Northern Australia, the Kimberley enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. This means that rather than four seasons, there are just two: wet and dry.

Wet season (November–April)

The Kimberley wet season is between November and April (as long as Mother Nature keeps to the script). The Wet season is, as you’ve probably guessed, the time when it rains the most.  Although it doesn’t rain every day, when the skies open – you know about it. Over 90% of the region’s annual rain falls during these months, usually leading to spectacular floods. As the clouds part and the taps turn on, a deluge of water cascades onto the land. Alongside this torrential rain is thick humidity and often a spectacular lightening show too.

Photo credits to Ben G. Fuller

Dry season (May–October)

Just as the wet season is not always wet, the dry in ‘dry season’ is also a misnomer. There can be showers in the Kimberley between May and October but these quickly blow through and clear skies follow. You’re most likely to experience these showers at the beginning and end of the dry season (May and October) as the seasons shift from the end of the previous wet season or build to the one that’s about to start.   

During dry season, you can expect daytime temperatures to be anywhere between 20-35°C, with the heat and the humidity building as the season progresses. In June and July–the peak of the Kimberley tourist season and the driest months–you will get more than your fair share of clear, blue skies with temperatures reaching the 30s.

So the basic answer to the question, “When is the best time to take a Kimberley cruise” is during the Dry Season when most of the cruises operate. However most people don’t ask that question to get such a bland reply – they need more specific information and so I, in terms of Kimberley cruises, I like to think of four seasons:

Season 1 – The Wet. (November through to February/early March)

This is easy – during this period no Kimberley cruises operate – it is just too rough, too humid, too hot and too prone to storms and cyclones. In fact most of the vessels will have been re-positioned towards other locations, often to Southern waters.

Season 2 – the very late wet season; a time of transition.

Also known as the waterfall season. Some ships do commence cruises at the end of the wet season and such departures have become increasingly popular. Why? Because if the Wet has delivered then many of the waterfalls will be magnificent torrents and very photogenic. But you must be aware that this time still has a lot of humidity and potentially rain.

King George Falls at its mightiest

Note that overland travel during this period is not realistic. The Gibb River Road, which, unlike the Great Northern Highway, is not sealed often does not open until mid to late May.

Season 3 – The dry season (high) May – August.

There’s a saying in the Northern Territory that we sometimes borrow, “Never visit the Top End in a month with R in it”.

May, June, July and August are definitely the most popular time to take a Kimberley cruise and the population of Broome, the main Kimberley cruise port, often quadruples during these months. Temperatures during this period out to sea will be almost perfect – mid to late twenties with clear blue skies. Beware though, the night-time temperatures can dip as low as a cardigan-inducing 14°C (!)- so make sure you pack something warm. Actually it can get a little windy at night and if you are on the top deck enjoying a BBQ or beer it can genuinely get chilly on occasions. But other than that, this is a perfect time to travel. 

My friends and colleagues who take their photography very seriously think this is the best period to visit the Kimberley as the light is super clear. Photos that include water (either the sea or waterfalls) against the rugged Kimberley coast show up beautifully at this time – even on iPhones. This is also the peak time for 4WD access to the Gibb River Road.

And on a personal note, speaking as a Melburnian, it is a perfect time not to be in the southern states!

Taken by Helmut Woerner on his Kimberley cruise August 2018

Season 4 – the late Dry season

The final Kimberley cruise season starts in August and runs through to October. In terms of weather this is still a great time of the year to take a Kimberley cruise. Admittedly some of the iconic waterfalls (King George for example) will a little less spectacular  with water flow by this stage however this does allow the boats to get into the gorges and butt the boat up against the falls for the famous Kimberley Shower!  Other classics such as Horizontal Falls and Montgomery Reef (tidal) and King Cascade (spring fed) are mostly unaffected.

Cruising the Kimberley during the late dry season does have its advantages. If you are into fishing, then the barramundi are definitely biting with the warm water. More notably this is a whale watching period as humpback whales make their way north from the Southern Ocean. This is also the time of year many of the Kimberley Wildflowers ( found nowhere else in the world) come into bloom. The Kimberley Rose aka Sticky Kurrajong is only found in the Kimberley region. It is a deciduous tree, that produces the a beautiful display of red trumpet flowers during dry season (winter) once it has shed its leaves.

The Kimberley Rose

Recognising that there are differences within the Kimberley cruising season some operators are now distinguishing between peak season (May-July) and off-peak (April, September – October) in their pricing. Selecting the last departure of the early shoulder season (late April) or the first departure of the late shoulder season (early September) does open up the opportunity of a particularly good deal with such operators.

A quick word about school holidays. This really doesn’t affect Kimberley cruises. These trips are not family cruises. Whilst we occasionally book family groups on some of the smaller vessels (adults and teenagers) this is a rarity. The price is a bit much for families and as these sailings are not cruises (they are expeditions) there are few (well, no) facilities on board for children – no kids clubs for example. It is possible that Broome can get a little bit busier during WA school holidays but during the cruise season (between April and October) Broome is jammed packed anyway. So don’t worry about working around school holidays when choosing the right time to travel. Unless of course you can’t travel during school holidays because you are on grandparent duty; I hear that a lot!

I love the Kimberley so much that I would happily cruise there in any month between March and October but there are some clear differences in experience from a Kimberley cruise say in April compared to July or August for example. And to some extent the best time for you to take a Kimberley cruise may depends on what is most important to you. If you are looking at taking a Kimberley cruise but you are not entirely sure on when to travel (or indeed which vessel would be most suited to you) then why not book a Discovery Call with me? This is a no obligation chat where I can help you choose the right cruise for you and at the right time of year.

About Jenny

I’m an expert in small ship cruising in the Kimberley and have completed four cruises on different vessels along this spectacular coastline. With a family I now work part-time so if you would like to have a chat with me about Kimberley cruising at a time that suits you book in a call here  and I will call you then.

Cruises in the Kimberley are not ‘one size fits all’ scenario; there are different ships and itineraries each offering their own special elements.  If you would like some general information to start your research then download my free guide to Kimberley cruising here.   I have also written some really interesting blogs (if I do say so myself) click here to have read.

Here are a few of the most popular ones.

Book your no obligation 20 minute discovery call with our Kimberley cruise expert.

Book a time and date that works in with your schedule and we will call you. Let us discover together the right Kimberley Cruise for YOU.