Cruising success in the Kimberley region brings inter-state challenge to win yacht business

The success of superyachts cruising to the Kimberley area of northwest Australia is seeing an inter-state challenge develop between Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territories (NT) to win the support and related opportunities of these visiting yachts.

News of this challenge emerged during the Asia Pacific Superyacht Conference, held as part of the Singapore Yacht Show 2019 programme of events. The NT’s port of Darwin is the natural hub to serve these visiting yachts, but it lacks the infrastructure to serve superyachts well. WA is looking to be proactive in attracting these yachts to use its marina and shipyard facilities down Australia’s western coast.

Following the setting up of North Australia Yacht Support (NAYS) by Ayla Lewis-Wharton in 2017, the number of superyachts visiting Darwin has more than trebled to 30 or so. Lewis-Wharton has also been promoting the cause of superyachts using Darwin and being active in trying to encourage the port, government and tourism bodies to enhance the facilities for serving large yachts.

NAYS operates as a superyacht agent providing concierge services, customs and immigration, arrival and departure clearances, bunkering, provisioning, shore services, and cruising itinerary advice across North Australia and Asia.

In promoting the superyacht cause, Lewis-Wharton cites the success of Cairns in northern Queensland, which generates some A$570m from the superyacht sector, as an example. She suggests that NT is missing out on a potential windfall worth millions of dollars to Cairns and other ports because of poor infrastructure.

The port at Kitchener Bay and Stokes Hill Wharf is not suitable for handling large superyachts like those visiting the Kimberley. It has been estimated that Darwin will only attract around A$5m from the superyacht sector.

One of the visiting superyachts in 2018 was Octopus, which Lewis-Wharton says can easily spend A$1m in one week. She suggests that her business cannot grow without an upgrade to the infrastructure to serve superyachts. Some plans have been drawn up with an estimated investment required of at least A$10m to develop them.

Apparently, a director of the building surveyors ABP Permits, Chris Lovewell, put forward a plan for a mooring facility in Kitchener Bay in 2017 but nothing has moved forward on this.

The NT government is planning a new scoping initiative to identify the potential for superyachts but little detail is available on this yet. The NT government’s transport ministry has responded that improvements are being considered and that they are in the 10-year infrastructure plan. These improvements apparently include the provision of a new ship lift.

Last year a new repair and refit facility was opened in in Darwin which can handled yachts up to about 40m to 50m.

As to Western Australia, they are considering a strategy based on the existing facilities at Broome and Exmouth as part of a plan to attract superyachts right down the west coast to eventually reach the excellent facilities in Perth and those at Henderson where companies such as Echo Yachts and Silver Yachts can offer some of the best superyacht repair and refit facilities in Australia.