A leader in adventure cruising, True North celebrates 30 years in 2017. Katie Milton looks back at the history of this pioneering Australian line.
Before True North Adventure Cruises launches a new itinerary, two company representatives are sent to scope out the destination with “not much more than a backpack,” says brand director Peter Trembath. Using light aircraft, helicopters and small charter boats, the ground team explores the area, consulting with the local communities and unearthing spectacular natural sights, all the while working out the logistics of getting guests there.
This is the True North difference: a highly curated experience that is based upon “a purpose-built ship, unparalleled access, unrivalled opportunity and activities-based itineraries,” says Trembath.
The concept for Australia’s pioneering luxury adventure cruise company in the Kimberley region was seeded in 1987, when founder and managing director Craig Howson moved to the west coast of Australia and started operating fishing charters along the coastline. The areas where he was conducting these trips were, for the most part, inaccessible by land, and as he came across unexplored islands, breathtaking rivers and gorges, ancient indigenous rock art and diverse ecosystems, Howson realised he was onto something special.
Exploring the Kimberley on True North
The first purpose-built True North ship launched in 1999 and, hosting only 28 guests at a time, the adventure cruiser placed a strong emphasis on personal service, with luxurious extras such as a rooftop helicopter pad, high-end adventure vessels for excursions and on-board specialist guides. The ship made its way along the West Australian coast, offering guests the chance to experience remote, hard-to-access areas with daily ground excursions and limited time at sea. True North’s trademark shallow draft is a feature not employed by other Kimberley operators, allowing “the ship to access shallow coastal areas and wild rivers in comfort and style,” says Trembath.
The further the company explored, the more regions they added to their sailing calendar, including marine life-rich Rowley Shoals and coral reefs in the Timor Sea. Bookings flooded in up to two years in advance. Trembath has a particular fondness for Rowley Shoals. “I first went there in 1990, and have taught many people to dive out there including my kids – it still blows me away,” he says.
In 2005 the company launched a new 36-guest ship to replace its older model, and with it the chance to expand itineraries once again to locations such as West Papua and Papua New Guinea and, more recently, Indonesia’s Komodo Island and the jungle-covered Raja Ampat Islands.
Natural water showers
Likened to a “floating boutique hotel”, the True North ship offers guests a choice of three cabin tiers. The Explorer Class Stateroom is the largest, spanning 15 square metres with a king-size bed and three porthole windows. With a sundeck, observation lounge, alfresco bar, dining room serving organic Australian cuisine, and a no-shoes policy, life on board is comfortable. But the real reason True North guests keep coming back is the on-shore experiences.
On a five-day Coral Atoll Cruise through the Rowley Shoals, guests spend their days snorkelling and scuba diving the kaleidoscopic reefs with up-close encounters with humpback whales and manta rays. On the iconic Kimberley wilderness cruises, guests can switch between deep-sea fishing adventures, scenic helicopter flights over the winding estuaries, guided hikes, remote picnics and tours of ancient rock art. Each sailing is accompanied by a resident biologist and a team of six specialist guides to ensure that guests not only see these spectacular landscapes, but also become informed about the surrounding ecosystems and local cultures.
Trembath says he has been with the company for 16 years because “the opportunity to be able to take people to places they wouldn’t be able to get to and at the same time keep it nice and comfortable is something pretty special”.