As soon as cruising in Australia gets the green light, Mick Fogg hopes to jump on board PONANT’s chic Le Lapérouse expedition ship and head to the Kimberley. Fogg, who is PONANT’s Expedition Manager Asia Pacific, says the Kimberley is one of his favourite destinations in the world – he has been there a total of 130 times.
Sprawling over more than 12,000 kilometres and including 2,500 islands, the Kimberley’s colours never fail to amaze visitors, vis-à-vis the red dirt, turquoise waters, and blue skies. Says Fogg: “It is on most people’s bucket lists because it is so unique and seeing it is just spectacular.
“It is quintessentially a frontier place and there’s nowhere else quite like it. There are only a few places along the coast that can be accessed from the land, and these are only accessible to the truly adventurous over difficult 4WD tracks that require a lot of preparation.
“Onboard a luxury small ship like Le Lapérouse you can experience all the coast has to offer in extreme comfort with a highly attentive crew to look after you. I always think the Kimberley is best seen from the water – it’s pretty good on land, but to see it from the ocean in all its glory, it’s really special,” he adds. Fogg says the coastal environment is very different to the inland region, with some of the spectacular archipelagos, pristine mangrove environments and deep gorges only accessible from the sea.
Having chalked up more than 20 years in the cruise expedition industry – seven of those with PONANT – Fogg is confident about the future of cruising. Devising itineraries and tours providing unique experiences that passengers will remember long after they have unpacked their bags at home is the best part of his job.
“We really look at creating some amazing immersive experiences and a few quirky things that will have guests talking at dinner,” he says. Unsurprisingly, bookings are already looking healthy for 2022 and 2023. “People are doing their armchair travel and researching where they want to go when cruising opens up again.”
PONANT is known for its fleet of small luxury ships, promoting sustainability and responsible tourism, excellent service and French-inspired hospitality.
It has 13 ships, including the newest, Le Commandant-Charcot, which is named after the legendary French polar explorer and scientist, Jean-Baptiste Charcot. It is the world’s first PC2 luxury hybrid-electric polar exploration ship, designed specifically to minimise impact on the polar regions’ delicate ecosystems. PONANT already cruises to the Geographic North Pole and Antarctica’s Bellingshausen Sea – new itineraries will venture to even more remote regions. The sleek new ship has 135 staterooms and suites plus an onboard laboratory to accommodate polar scientific missions. A host of activities will be on offer for guests including lectures by experts, kayaking, hovercraft, hiking, ice fishing and more.
Fogg believes that PONANT’s point of difference is its small luxury ships, immersive expeditions and educational activities, combined with excellent entertainment and exceptional service. “You can be out looking at penguins or under a waterfall in the morning and in the afternoon listening to a world-class pianist playing during afternoon tea,” he says.
PONANT Chairman Asia Pacific, Sarina Bratton says the company is offering more close-to-home itineraries including the east coast of Australia, Tasmania and Melanesia. “We have also increased our number of luxury expeditions in iconic expedition destinations such as the Kimberley coast due to high demand for domestic expeditions,” she says.
“Showcasing our proven and reliable health protocols and strict onboard risk mitigations provides confidence in our ability to establish and maintain the ultimate COVIDfree travel bubble,” she says.
“We are aligned with what travellers are looking for in a post-pandemic world.”
Sail into adventure
Mick Fogg highlights five of his favourite itineraries showcasing fantastic natural attractions and adventures on both side of the Tasman:
AUSTRALIA’S ICONIC KIMBERLEY DARWIN – BROOME
PONANT’s 11-day Kimberley expedition cruise features the wild and grandiose Kimberley landscape in all its glory. “This cruise ventures to one of the most picturesque parts of the region, including the Hunter River with wild mangrove forests where saltwater crocodiles live along with many species of birds,” says Fogg. Travellers will discover billion-year-old landscapes and rock art, enjoy Zodiac outings and shore visits and listen to incredible stories of the Dreamtime. A high point is always the King George River and the majestic Twin Falls, which is the tallest in Western Australia. The cruise also includes Collier Bay, with the amazing Montgomery Reef that is home to vast expanses of lagoons and immense coral reefs. “It’s all about waterfalls, gorges, savannah, beautiful colours, calm waters, mountain chains and the wild lands which offer an exceptional adventure in this last frontier,” says Fogg of the epic cruise.
Fogg often refers to the Kimberley as “the Antarctica of the Tropics” because of its remoteness and sheer size. It is home to the oldest continuous culture on Earth, the world’s largest living reptile (the saltwater crocoodile), the only two ‘horizontal falls’ on Earth and the largest population of migrating humpback whales on the planet.
TREASURES OF THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COAST AND TASMANIA SYDNEY – HOBART
A new 8-day expedition cruise aboard Le Lapérouse features the natural and cultural treasures of the south-eastern coast of Australia and Tasmania. From Sydney the cruise heads to Jervis Bay, known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. The area has a rich biodiversity and attracts many birds. Next on the itinerary is Eden on the NSW coast, known for its long, rich history with whales. There are also expeditions to the region’s stunning national parks and scenic coastline. “Maria Island is a highlight when we reach Tasmanian waters and it has a rich history and extraordinary wildlife sanctuaries,” says Fogg. “The Tasmanian Peninsula has a rugged coastline and lots of marine life including Australian fur seals and Little penguins and it’s a playground for whales passing by, as well as expeditions to inland woodlands and forests.”
FOOD, WINE AND YACHT RACE IN TASMANIA HOBART – HOBART
Another favourite is the 11-day trip of Tasmania’s natural coastal wonders, which includes the state’s food and wine festival. Guest cruise on Le Lapérouse, which starts and ends in Hobart after the New Year’s Eve arrival of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht racers. Highlights include Maria Island and a cruise along the Tasman Peninsula with its spectacular dolerite spires rising from the sea. “The remote Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area has lots of amazing features; a stop at King Island features its interesting history and culture and some of the island’s best produce,” says Fogg. In the Tamar Valley, the wine route is a chance to sample some great drops along with the region’s gourmet produce. “On returning to Hobart, guests stay on board for two nights to enjoy the exciting finish line of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race and the New Year festivities, as well as Australia’s biggest food and wine fest, Taste of Tasmania.
EXPLORING AUSTRALIA’S EAST COAST ISLANDS CAIRNS – SYDNEY
Fogg loved researching this 10-day expedition cruise from Cairns to Sydney. Passengers can discover the treasures of the Great Barrier Reef aboard Le Lapérouse – think pristine islands and glittering waters. From Cairns, known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the ship cruises to Willis Islets in the Coral Sea Territories with 30 separate reefs in the Coral Sea Marine Park. The cruise then ventures 50km to the north-east of the Whitsunday Islands to the biodiversity-rich Hardy Reef. “Percy Island is where you can take a dip in the shallow waters and Lady Musgrave Island is perfect for snorkelling – both are located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Fogg. The cruise continues down to the Hawkesbury River region in NSW that is famous for its colourful cliffs and historic towns. “This cruise is a great mix of great landscapes from spectacular pristine islands to small coastal towns,” he says.
NEW ZEALAND’S SUBANTARCTIC ISLANDS EXPEDITION DUNEDIN-DUNEDIN
Want to experience wild and unblemished landscapes and amazing marine and animal life? Fogg recommends the 15-day New Zealand Fiordlands and Subantarctic Island cruise. The south-west NZ World Heritage Area is home to the majestic Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. “This cruise is a wonderful opportunity to see King, Royal and Snares crested penguins in the thousands as you cruise around on a Zodiac,” says Fogg. The Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand are often described as the Galápagos of the Southern Ocean. “The scenery is breathtaking, there are meadows of mega herbs forming a colourful tapestry and towering cliffs buffeted by the power of the waves and wind, and it’s the playground of the Royal Albatross,” Fogg says. “With myriad penguins patrolling the black sandy beaches, it is truly a nature lover’s dream come true.”
Visit au.ponant.com to learn more.