This morning the crew said goodbye to those who travelled onboard our Tasmania Circumnavigation, and Coral Discoverer was turned around ready for our new guests to board in the afternoon. All guests were onboard Coral Discoverer after completing our SailSAFE and pre-boarding checks, and we departed at 4:45 pm. The mandatory muster drill took place shortly after, then Arron introduced the crew.
We all came up for Captain’s Welcome Drinks and Nathan gave a vibrant welcome. There was plenty of smiles and laughter filled the back deck as our small number of guests mingled. Jamie ran through the expedition experience that we were in for over the next 10 days. With the weather predicted to be a bit rough for the first few days, the crew have planned adventures that will make the most of the weather conditions at hand.
DAY 2: QUARANTINE BAY & WOODBRIDGE
18 Jan 2021
This morning we woke to cool, sunny conditions and after a lazy breakfast, we boarded Xplorer for the first time. We may have been a small group but we were feisty and ready to explore. Jo took us to the Quarantine Station Jetty and we all quickly got ashore, where Mike went straight into interpretation mode. We ambled up the road to the first house and shed and found the small wrens playing in the fallen trees, Turbo chooks (Tasmanian Native Hens) scarpered all over an open paddock and a family of Red-breasted Robins plummeted from tree branches into the grasses getting breakfast. A downhill run to the Quarantine Station and we were met by Volunteer Ranger Joe who gave us some history before Ian Terry (our Historian Guest Lecturer) gave us even more information. Joe opened up the facilities for us. Guests wandered into the Information building and learnt about the original settlers on the land, the Cox family, how the station started and why and were also able to look at plant specimens through microscopes.
It all seemed a little surreal with what has been going on over the past year. Ian took a small group to the grave sites of two sailors from the SS Oonah who perished from the Spanish Influenza Pandemic in 1919. Mike, Dani and Jamie had guests with them and they were pointing out orchids, birdlife and fungi. We all visited the graves and surrounds, before making our way back to the jetty for a pick up and the chance of a hot chocolate back onboard Coral Discoverer. It was a very enjoyable morning. During lunch, the weather system really moved up a notch and 62kts was recorded across the Bridge. It was decided to lift anchor and steam across to Peppermint Bay. Dan and Joe took Xplorer across to Trial Bay Ramp where Moon Coaches were waiting for us.
The wind was strong and it took skill to get Xplorer alongside a jetty and onto the ramp. All guests safely disembarked and joined the minibus. Mike Moon drove us directly to Grandvewe Cheeses and Dianne met us at the door. It was a magnificent view from the balcony and guests enjoyed the cheese tasting and gin and vodka infusions. Dianne and family gave an excellent interpretation on their products and are very proud of what they have done and so they should be. There were many items purchased before we rejoined the bus and made our way to Pepperberry Art Farm which is quite close by. We did the Art Walk and with Mike, Ian, Dani and Jamie, there was plenty of interpretation taking place.
The sculptures are impressive at times and plain weird at times but it kept us all guessing. The wind was whistling through the tall eucalypts and the views of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel was fresh to frightening but it was an enjoyable walk. We arrived back at Trial Bay ramp and Xplorer was on its way. Jo did a great job of getting us back to CD and everyone bar Jamie got back dry! – the usual story in rough conditions. Pre-dinner drinks in the Bridge Deck Lounge were very comfortable and many stories were told over a drink. Ian gave the recap and Jamie gave a briefing on tomorrow’s activities.
Guest feedback was excellent and all seemed to have a wonderful time. After dinner we put on the documentary Coast Australia – Tasmania which most guests chose to watch, including the Doctor and his wife.
DAY 3: HUON RIVER
19 Jan 2021
We woke to a sunny morning which soon changed to an icy shower. We boarded Xplorer for our cooling cruise up the Huon River to Franklin, and arrived at the jetty. Graeme (Volunteer), from The Wooden Boat Centre, took the group through the centre. First stop was for Hot Chocolate. Guests really enjoyed the centre and some have organised to build boats in the future. There was a class taking place while we were there and guests were able to see some building taking place. The tour took an hour and after that almost all guests and crew purchased some Huon Pine items. Guests went off in different directions with the Expedition Team. Some went for a walk to the village, some for a Franklin History Walk and others across the road to Franks for scones and cider. Most went for a coffee rather than cider.
The sun came out and if one was out of the wind it was almost warm. After a cold and rainy Xplorer ride back to Coral Discoverer for lunch, Mike gave a presentation on “An Introduction to Tasmania’. Guests enjoyed the talk. We enjoyed an afternoon tea then Jonesy gave his presentation ‘Crossing the Ditch – Kayaking from Australia to New Zealand’. What a journey! What an extraordinary 62 days! What a great presentation. It had it all – raw emotion, elation, angst and fear all rolled into one. Guests had plenty of questions and I think everyone had a tear in their eye at one stage during the talk. I know Jonesy did.
Pre-dinner drinks were held in the Bridge Deck Lounge and again we sat in a huddle telling stories. Mike gave the recap on Tasmania’s building timbers and Jamie gave a briefing on tomorrow’s activities. We anchored in North West Bay and will make our way to Adventure Bay in the morning. After dinner tonight we are showing Wilderness, the story of two fine Tasmanian wildlife photographers – Dombrovski & Truchanus. Guests have enjoyed the day.
DAY 4: BRUNY ISLAND – ADVENTURE BAY
20 Jan 2021
On arrival at Adventure Bay we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was little swell and with the sun shining there was almost a warmth in then air. At 9am we departed in Xplorer for the beach near the start of the Fluted Cape/Grass Point walks. We were met by a Pied Oystercatcher Female and its juvenile young one who was propped on one leg and sleeping. Guests changed their footwear before we all met on the track. The first thing we found was a small Echidna, and after telling Jonesy’s daughter to not chase it, most guests got to photo it as it settled down to feed.
There were two walk options one to Fluted Cape and the circuit and the Grass Point return walk. Dani, Marie and Ian went with some of our guests including Jonesy and his daughter, while Mike and Jamie took the other guests on the more moderate walk. Both groups enjoyed the walks. The Grass Point walkers were very fortunate to see a very friendly Bennett’s Wallaby, gregarious Superb Blue Fairy Wrens, and hundreds of roosting terns and cormorants. There were also a number of marine plants and invertebrates that had been washed up onto the rocks. This gave Mike a chance to talk about them while Jamie sought out examples to show. The Fluted Cape walkers had magical view along their walk. Very favourable comments were received. After lunch we again took a cruise in Xplorer around Penguin Island to the Fluted Cape (columns of Dolerite).
With the incredibly large swells there was plenty of foam, surf and vapour to be seen as waves crashed ingloriously into rocky cliffs. Photos were at a premium and it was an enjoyable experience. We then made our way back into Adventure Bay and cruised for the main beach where some guests disembarked onto the sand. We made our way to the Bligh Museum and Barry met us at the entrance. We then went to the beach and enjoyed a wade and for some a swim (crazy). On return to CD guests were invited to the Bridge Deck Lounge for a presentation from Ian on ‘Encounters on the Shore – Palawa meets Europeans on the Lutrawita Shore’. It was well-received.
Jamie did the recap and the briefing of tomorrow’s activities. Guests really enjoyed their day and are looking forward to Port Davey and Maatsuyker Island. Tonight after dinner we are showing Crayfishing – from a fisherman’s Perspective.
DAY 5: MAATSUYKER ISLAND & PORT DAVEY – BRAMBLE COVE
21 Jan 2021
After breakfast, Mike gave a presentation ‘Port Davey – Underwater Exploration’. The sun came out as we entered Port Davey and we dropped anchor in Bramble Cove. At 11am we took a very special cruise out to the Breaksea Islands where Mike, Ian, Jamie and Dani interpreted what was seen. The light was spectacular at the beginning until cloud covered the sun. We then made our way into Watering Bay where a White Bellied Sea Eagle watched our approach from on high. We visited the waterfall that provides freshwater to the yachties and then made our way into Schooner Bay where there were ochre pits that were once very important to the local indigenous tribe. Guests really enjoyed the cruise.
After lunch a small group went over to Bramble Cove Beach to do the Mt Milner Walk. The views were spectacular and when the sun was out Bramble Cove with Coral Discoverer sitting at anchor was spectacular. Everyone had a great time. Five guests went for a swim after the walk which, they reported, was very bracing but worth it. The rest of the guests were offered other activities such as kayaking and a special doco on Port Davey but they declined and went to read books. Crew did go for a kayak. We moved Coral Discoverer to Pimm Point in very stable conditions during pre-dinner drinks.
Ian gave a recap on Denny Kings family and Jamie gave the briefing on tomorrow’s activities in Bathurst Harbour and Melaleuca. After dinner, guests were interested in the Information docos on ‘Port Davey Wild & Pristine and Above & Below’. It has been a great day for guests.
DAY 6: MELALEUCA & BATHURST HARBOUR
22 Jan 2021
We left early and beat a path into Melaleuca Inlet where we did get a little respite from the wind. We arrived at Melaleuca and entered the Hide but there were no birds. We took the Needwonee Aboriginal walk through the dense melaleuca forests. Mike led one group and Ian the other. We met for a photo in the middle and the only thing missing was Icebergs and penguins – it was that cold! When we got back to Xplorer GPH Jo had set up the inside and dropped the curtains so we could have morning tea in comfort.
We made a slow journey back to Bathurst Bay and then powered back to Coral Discoverer. As we left Breaksea Island the swell was increasing and the albatross, shearwaters and smaller prions and storm petrels were enjoying all the feeding action on the high seas. As we turned to the east Ian give a presentation “Into the Abyss – Shipwrecks in Southern Tasmania’. It was very interesting.
At pre-dinner drinks, Mike gave a recap and Jamie let everyone know plans for tomorrow. After dinner most guests were in attendance for Wild Tasmania. Despite the windy cold wether, guests enjoyed the day’s cruise and walk.
DAY 7: MARIA ISLAND
23 Jan 2021
We cruised into the anchorage at Maria Island after seeing seals and dolphins in the very early light. At 8:30am we departed for Darlington Settlement. All guests and expedition crew landed. There were two options and Mike took those that wished to look at the settlement. Ian, Dani Jamie and Marie led the rest on a 4.4km circuit to the Fossil Cliffs. Mike’s group started at the Commissary then made their way slowly to the settlement. At 10:30am they returned via the painted cliffs to Coral Discoverer.
The long walkers enjoyed a leisurely walk through the forest viewing many Tasmanian Pademelons, Forester Kangaroos and Bennett’s Wallabies. Wombats were scarce and were only seen when we got to the fossil cliffs. One was asleep under a rock. Everyone was able to sit on a rock and photograph it. The morning was absolutely beautiful weather-wise with warm conditions and just enough breeze to make it comfortable. The long walkers were picked up at 11:45am and on the way back to Coral Discoverer we also took the opportunity to visit the Painted Cliffs. After lunch Mike gave a presentation ‘A Whale of a Tale on Maria Island’ which guests found enthralling. At 3:00 pm we again hit the shores of Maria Island with a group of crew and guests walking the Reservoir Circuit.
This was a 1.5hr walk and it was beautiful walking through massive tall timber which shaded our progress. As we arrived in the settlement we found a female wombat with a young feeding on lush pasture. This was a complete bonus. Mike had a small group who looked around bird rock and green Island. Everyone was back on Coral Discoverer by 5pm and we departed for surprise sunset drinks while we circumnavigated Ile des Phoques. Mike gave commentary and Ian, Jamie and Dani talked with guests while we were viewing the seals and birds. Guests were in awe of the cruise by. The seals were in awe of the guests and really put on a show.
During dinner, Jamie gave the briefing and after dinner the doco on Terrors of Tasmania was shown. It has been a great day. We have moved into Surprise Bay to anchor overnight.
DAY 8: WINEGLASS BAY & SCHOUTEN ISLAND
24 Jan 2021
We woke to overcast conditions but little wind and after breakfast at 8am we took the long walkers across to Hazard’s Beach, then we walked across the isthmus to Wineglass Bay and then walked up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout. It was good exercise. We cruised for Schouten Harbour and arrived at 2pm. Dan drove Xplorer to Crockett Beach and we stepped ashore.
There were locals camping for the long weekend. Our group wandered through and made our way down onto Morey’s Beach. Mike, Dani, Ian and Jamie gave interp along the way. We made our way to the old Whaler’s Hut and chatted to the two young volunteer rangers, who were very happy to give heaps of information. We were back on Coral Discoverer by 4pm and after afternoon tea Ian gave a presentation on ‘Guiding Lights – Lighthouses of Southern Tasmania’. Guests enjoyed the talk.
Pre-dinner drinks ended as a wine and cheese night with Mike giving plenty of info. Jamie completed the drinks session with a briefing. Tonight after dinner Jonesy is talking about his Antarctic Journey to the South Pole. Nobody will miss this one. Guests enjoyed the day’s activities.
DAY 9: FORTESCUE BAY & CANOE BAY
25 Jan 2021
We awoke to cloudy conditions but little wind. Jo drove Xplorer and with Mike and Ian doing the commentary we slowly followed the coast from Eaglehawk Neck and Pirates Bay down to Fortescue Bay. Jo took us past the Blowhole, Tasman Arch, Devils Kitchen and Paterson’s Arch. We went into Waterfall Bay and there was a massive L shaped arch that Jo was able to put Xplorer into. Guests thought this was a true highlight.
We saw a little water cascading down the cliff face. We then headed for Canoe Bay and eventually returned to Coral Discoverer which was now anchored in Fortescue Bay. It was a sensational cruise and the guests really enjoyed it. Jo did a magnificent job guiding us around. After lunch we cruised back into Canoe Bay and landed on a rocky shore. We walked on the Tasman Trail from Canoe Bay to Fortescue Bay, but before doing that Mike led us about 300m towards Pirates Bay and showed guests and crew the tree fern gardens. These were ancient gardens with tree ferns 8m high. To get to these gardens one had to cross a swing bridge.
Then it was back on track to Fortescue. It is a moderate walk and all guests who took the walk enjoyed it. There were plenty of plant species, reptiles and birds to view and while initially it was very warm, by the time we reached the beach it was gently spitting rain and cooled things down. It was not uncomfortable and a few guests and crew jumped in the water for a swim. It was obviously very refreshing. Xplorer came to pick us up and it was decided that because conditions were still favourable that we would take a cruise in Xplorer down to the Lanterns where views of the Totem Pole and the Candlestick could also be photographed.
There were plenty of seals on the rock ledges which was a bonus. Xplorer Driver Dan had us close to all the action. Guests were very impressed with the cruise and it really sealed the day (excuse the pun). We arrived back on Coral Discoverer and cruised for Port Arthur. We did this via Cape Pillar and Tasman Island and guests were given the royal cruise through the gap after viewing Tasmania’s last built lighthouse. This was a great adventure with Ian and Jamie giving plenty of information. The overcast conditions were excellent for images and with the wind picking up the Australasian Gannets were just motionless above Coral Discoverer.
By pre-dinner drinks we were in sight of Port Arthur and again it was an ideal view of the penitentiary. Jamie gave the recap and then briefed guests on tomorrow’s activities. After dinner guests watched the very special documentary on ‘Maria Island Marine Reserve’. Today was a very special day and guests really had a ball.
DAY 10: PORT ARTHUR
26 Jan 2021
After breakfast, Ian gave a very interesting presentation, ‘One Hell of an Inferno – the 1967 Bushfires’. It was interesting to find out how Tasmania handled this catastrophe economically and psychologically. History has a tendency to repeat itself but will we ever learn from the mistakes made? Guests really enjoyed the talk. With lovely conditions on the water we took guests for a cruise along the coast. We started with the shipbuilding section at Port Arthur and Mike and Ian gave some historic information and some interesting stories.
We went across to Isle of the Dead where officers and convicts were buried during the halcyon days of the penitentiary. A cruise along the limestone coast gave us an insight into the cave formation and then we were able to view the cormorant colony with hungry chicks attacking parents for food. We looked over the salmon farms and spoke of the damage to underwater grasses and other marine critters. A pair of White Bellied Sea Eagles sat in tall Blue Gums watching our every move. In the morning light, they looked spectacular.
After lunch we cruised across to Port Arthur where we went on a guided tour with a Port Arthur Guide. Farewell drinks were very friendly and it was great to chat as a whole group.
It was a good day and a good trip.
Article and Photo Credit: Coral Expeditions
DAY 1: DEPARTING BROOME
14 May 2021
The day began for many of our guests in Darwin as we had to fulfill quarantine requirements at the airport before boarding the Alliance charter flight QQ775714 for Broome to join up with the rest of the guests at the Broome Civic Centre & our final clearance before catching the Broome Taxi Bus to the Wharf. Once on board the Coral Adventurer we could relax & prepare for our cruise northwards along the little-known Kimberley coastline.
By 3pm we had cleared Roebuck Bay & were on our way up the Dampier Peninsula towards the ‘Kimberley proper’. Crew introductions & safety briefings were soon conducted, allowing us to settle into our new surroundings & enjoy the evening. During the night we could feel the gentle tidal movement as we passed over King Sound & the Fitzroy River mouth & made our way north to an anchorage in Strickland Bay, ready for our first excursion to picturesque Edeline Island.
DAY 2: EDELINE ISLAND
15 May 2021
As dawn broke, those ‘early birds’ out on deck saw us cruising into the many islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago, which is where the King Leopold Range disappears into the Indian Ocean like a dinosaur’s backbone. After a good breakfast, we boarded the Explorers from the back of the ‘CA’ & headed into the islands, with all kinds of unusual geological features catching the first rays of the sun. We were now on the southern side of the ‘impact zone’ where, back in historic times, the former island of the Kimberley reconnected with mainland Australia. The last sea-level rise turned this area into over a thousand islands which is now collectively known as the Buccaneer Archipelago.
Today’s target was a little beach on Edeline Island where we could stretch our legs & photograph some old graves of pearl divers from last century, who died in this remote region in the pursuit of highly-prized pearlshell & the occasional pearl. Names like “Fritto Diver” & “Jullo” on the headstones indicate that some of these pearl divers were from places like Timor, to the north of the Kimberley. We were also able to experience ‘up close’ the amazing weathered formations in the Elgee Siltstone structures of Edeline Island itself.
Later in the morning we made our way north into a tidal channel between Chambers & Hidden Islands, where we could see strong currents surging through the narrow valley. Giant Clams & many other components from offshore coral reefs are present here, all of which are fed by the daily, nutrient-rich tidal currents which race through this channel. Beneath the red sandstone cliffs at the eastern end of this ‘Whirlpool Passage’ we witnessed the strength of these currents as the Explorers were pushed around by the eddies & whirlpools generated by the rushing tidal current. The changing geological patterns & colours surrounding us were to become a fascinating aspect of our daily excursions.
Our last stop was a walk in ‘squeaky white sand’ on a secluded beach on the opposite side of Hidden Island, adjacent to Whirlpool Passage. This was Silica Beach, the product of a weathering process of the fine, pale Penticost Sandstones of this northern end of the King Leopold Range. We were able to see Rock Figs Ficus platypoda & rock-dwelling Eucalyps like Eucalyptus brachyandra. We also saw small birds like Striated Pardelotes & Double-bar Finches.
We then sped back to the mother ship in time to enjoy a beautiful sunset during Captain Miles’ complimentary Welcome Aboard sunset drinks up on the Vista Deck – a great first day in our Kimberley adventure.
DAY 3: TALBOT BAY & HORIZONTAL FALLS
16 May 2021
Our morning anchorage is in Talbot Bay opposite the gaps in the drowned Leopold Ranges known as the Horizontal Falls. Pearl farmers setting up their industry in the hidden reaches of the Leopold Ranges found a mysterious tidal passage they nicknamed ‘Cyclone Creek’, as it was a safe place to store their floating equipment during the cyclone season. Today, Paspaley Pearls have moved elsewhere & it used as a base for Horizontal Falls Sea Plane Adventures from Broome & Derby.
The recent rise in the sea level (4000 years ago) has drowned the western end of this beautiful 600km long mountain range. Its highest peak is Mt Ord, reaching 937m above sea level. The present landscape of valleys, ridges & deep gorges developed after uplift began 20 million years ago. This morning we cruised through the awesome drowned valleys below towering sandstone ridges, looking for Short-eared Rock Wallabies, Saltwater Crocodiles & Sea-eagles, etc. We saw at close hand the results of the massive pressure applied to these once horizontal sedimentary layers (about 560 million years ago according to the WA govt. geologists) while they were still within the earth’s crust, so that they are now standing almost vertically. We saw the best geological colours & contrasts that nature can produce, reflected double in the mirror-calm waters. The enormity of the whole process defies the imagination. The beauty for us is just to sit in the comfort of the Explorers & enjoy the spectacular scenery in shade & comfort! Mangroves have colonized the shoreline away from the strong currents & we saw some yellow wattle flowers contrasting with the greens of the hillsides. Beds of conglomerate (Pudding Stone) stood out in the otherwise fine sedimentary layering.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect morning to view this region’s imposing geology. What better way to express our deep feelings & gratitude for the King Leopold Ranges than to return to the ‘Calorie Ship’ & eat a hearty lunch!
DAY 4: PRINCE FREDERICK HARBOUR & MITCHELL FALLS
17 May 2021
We awoke in our new anchorage at Naturalist Island in Prince Frederick Harbour. Some of our guests were keen to take helicopter flights up on to the Mitchell Plateau to see the northern Kimberley from the air & to walk down to see the Mitchell Falls as the river leaves the plateau & winds its way north to the sea. The choppers collected their passengers from the little beach on Naturalist Island.
Today we are visitors to Wandjina land. The following statement, written from a Worrorra perspective and taken from the Wandjina Tours website, presents an outline of Lalai (traditional rule book) as believed by themselves and associated clan (tribal) groups, the Wunambal and the Ngarinyin:
‘We, along with the Ngarinyin and Wunambal tribes are part of the shared Wandjina culture and belief system. The Wandjina is our supreme spiritual being who created all this country during Lalai (creation/dreamtime). Wallungunder [Walanganda], the Boss Wandjina, came from the Milky Way to create the earth and the people. The first people were the Giyorn Giyorn (Bradshaws figures). They had no laws or kinship and were a lost people. He thought that these people could be good, so he went back up to the Milky Way and asked other Wandjinas with the power of the Dreamtime Snake to help bring laws and kinship to the Gyorn Gyorn people. The Dreamtime Snake represents Mother Earth and is called Ungud. Each of our people have their own Ungud birthplace or dreaming place. The Wandjinas went on to create the animals, and the baby spirits that live in the rock pools or sacred Ungud places throughout the Kimberley, and they continue to control everything that happens on the land, sea and sky today.’
Our morning cruise in the Explorers took us from Naturalist Island up the Hunter River past an unusual stone monolith which Navigator John Lort Stokes called ‘the Ninepin’ & into the mangrove-lined Porosus Creek. Towering sandstone escarpment faces formed a scenic valley sheltered from the strong weather systems of the wet season, allowing extensive tidal forests to develop on vast beds of accumulated sediment. This was home to many forms of wildlife, including Saltwater Crocodiles, which use these sheltered waterways as safe nursery zones for the more vulnerable sub-adults until they reach maturity. We were fortunate to observe some of these juveniles basking on the mudbanks or chasing mullet in the drainage gutters while Brahminy Kites & Sacred Kingfishers patrolled the mudflats for breakfast morsels.
The afternoon activity took us south across Prince Frederick Harbour to one of the many islands known as Lumbarni to the local people. Here we were able to access a couple of the numerous ‘story places’ belonging to the Wandjina tradition, which included a beautiful portrait of a colourful Wandjina personality displayed beneath a low rock overhang behind the beach. Then it was back to our stunning anchorage to enjoy sunset drinks in one of the most remote places on the Australian continent!
Overnight we travelled right around the top of the Kimberley to a completely different landscape.
DAY 5: VANSITTART BAY
18 May 2021
As we approached our Vansittart Bay anchorage for the morning’s activities, we could see our new sister-ship ‘Coral Geographer’ at anchor off Jar Island. On arrival on the shore of this small island, made famous by Phillip Parker King back in 1820 when he discovered Makassan clay pottery & other artifacts of the ‘trepang trade’, we were able to exchange greetings with our fellow company members as they departed the site.
We are now on the country of the Wunambal Gaambirra people. They call this place Ngula. As we were about to discover, Jar Island is also decorated with some of the most ancient human history records on the planet. Giyorn Giyorn (Gwion Gwion or Bradshaw) art, is thought to be the cultural product of an ancient race of people with African links who disappeared, along with their language & culture, from the north Kimberley region almost twenty thousand years ago. This is quite different to the bold Wandjina figures from the present-day people, which we saw yesterday on Lumbarni Is. The beautiful & graceful, heavily adorned human figures painted with iron-rich ochres are today just fading stains on the flaking rock surface, but we are so fortunate to be able to access these historic galleries. Of the four primary coloured ochres originally used, only the iron-rich red ochre stains remain to remind us of this long-past civilization.
After a well-earned lunch, the Coral Adventurer was relocated to the eastern side of the bay beside the Anjo Peninsula. Our objective was to land on a beach, walk over some low sand dunes & across a wide tidal flat to some coastal woodland where the wreckage of an American C53 aircraft lays in state from the WW2 era. No lives were lost when the plane from Perth attempted a forced landing on these tidal flats as it ran out of fuel. Large bloodwood trees beside the flats eventually brought it to its final long-term resting position. The crew were later rescued by a Qantas float plane. Ironically, the WW2 Truscott Airbase was constructed on this peninsula just a short time after this mishap only a few kilometers to the north!
After sunset we departed Vansittart Bay for our next anchorage to the east in Koolama Bay.
DAY 6: KING GEORGE RIVER
19 May 2021
This morning we found ourselves arriving at anchor in the protection of the sandstone ramparts of Koolama Bay & after a hearty breakfast, we were soon heading up the King George River following a spectacular eroded sandstone valley with towering red sandstone walls, which led many kilometres inland to the famous King George Falls. The Explorers took us into the ancient geological world of the Kimberley. As we motored upstream, we learned the basic facts of this hidden river valley.
This is Kuwini country & is patrolled by the Balangarra Rangers from Kalamburu. The mouth of the King George River eluded detection by the early mariner explorers like Baudin, Freycinet, King and Stokes who had all sailed through Koolama Bay, not noticing the rather insignificant river mouth & it remained to be discovered & given its European name as late as 1911. Charles Price Conigrave was a passionate ornithologist (Rainsbury 2015) and keen to lead a team of four to an overland venture through the then unexplored territory between Cambridge Gulf and Admiralty Gulf. The party crossed this river channel on 7th December 1911 and Conigrave ‘…named the river after King George V whose coronation took place that year….’ (Epton 2003). Conigrave also correctly predicted where the river would discharge into the sea but did not have the time or resources to actually follow this river to what we now know as Koolama Bay, but continued his exploratory journey westward.
The average height of the cliffs here is estimated at 80 meters & the age of the Karundii Plateau at 1,800 million years, which predates life on earth (no fossils). Many of the Warton Sandstone blocks within these cliffs are in ‘precarious’ positions, mainly because of the sea level erosion. The Kimberley region is seismically stable, however distant earthquakes and tremors, common in the Indonesian Banda Sea to the north (the Timor coast is only 525 km away) frequently cause these slopes, and other precariously balanced blocks high on cliff faces to dislodge and fall. Tree root growth within the major joints can also contribute to such falls. We witness new rock-falls after each wet season. Magnificent pastel shades of pink, yellow & even purple were evident in the salt-weathered sandstones just above water level. These are the true colours of the sandstone. ‘Honeycomb’ weathered patterns were also prevalent under the overhangs above tide level.
After exploring the 13 kilometers of towering river valley we had the opportunity, when arriving at the base of Western Australia’s highest falls, to board the zodiacs & experience the two separate flows at close range.
DAY 7: BIGGE ISLAND & CAREENING BAY
20 May 2021
The second largest is land in the region was our destination today. Bigge Island was named after Thomas Bigge sent out by the Colonial Office in London to investigate the affairs of the nascent colony of Sydney. He would never see this part of the world (unlike us!) but the current fashion amongst explorers and namers was to attempt to obtain favour with those in power – either for social or material advancement.
Bigge Island and the surrounding bay in many ways encapsulate the Kimberley especially with regard to the history of human contact. Here, the guests were to experience more of the Wandjina style rock art that they had had a small taste of previously. Upon climbing up the beach. the first thing they saw was an posing figure, gazing out over his country. This “father” Kaira wandjina and his retinue of smaller “children” figures maintained a serene vigil. The large figure was remarkable in that, over the centuries, people had gouged out depressions into the extremely durable sandstone, right where the figures eyes are. This was a powerful reminder of the antiquity of the culture and the devotion of its followers.
Other paintings were less spectacular visually, but told an extraordinary tale of contact between aboriginal society and others from over the waves. Outlines of boats under sail, strange men with headgear and even wandjinas smoking SE Asian clay pipes spoke eloquently to the fact that the coastal people of the Kimberley did not live in isolation, but were active participants in trade and cultural interaction.
Bigge Island will have an important role in future conservation strategy. Free of feral pests such as toads and cats it is an important refuge for wildlife that will be affected by the emergence of such pests and a reservoir of biodiversity until such time that these threats can be managed.
The other of the days destinations was a tangible link with the European heritage of the Kimberley. None other than Phillip Parker King entered this bay in 1820, with the intention careening his ship, the “Mermaid” for some much-needed repairs. She was leaking so much almost continuous pumping was required- a task that was taking its toll on the men. Upon inspection, the ship was found to have virtually no nails left. Steel ones and been used instead of copper and they had simply rusted away. King hoped fervently that replacing these nails would fix the problem (they to go all the way back to Sydney!!) but, alas when the ship was re floated and under way it was found to be still leaking.
This event, is commemorated by a large boab tree – comprised of two trunks -with the inscription HMC MERMAID 1820 incised into its trunk. Still clearly visible to this day it reminds visitors of the determination and privations faced by many of the early mariners around the shores of this uncharted but beautiful coast.
DAY 8: PRINCE REGENT RIVER, KING CASCADE & HANOVER BAY
21 May 2021
The Prince Regent River runs straight as an arrow deep into the Kimberley heartland. There are no significant bends, curves or tributaries. Normally, rivers do not behave like this.
This is no ordinary drainage. What was once an eroded rocky gorge has now been flooded by rising sea levels over 6000 years ago to form the river we now know. It is not only a physical boundary but also a cultural one – being that point at which two aboriginal language groups, Wunumbal and Worrorra, meet. The explorers are capable of travelling far up this river – to a picturesque destination with an ominous secret.
And so, we did… pausing to look at some snubfin dolphins breaking the surface close by. These are only found around Northern Australian waters and are not as “showy” as other species so any sighting is a treat for guest.
Tides being favourable, we entered a mangrove creek where several crocodiles were observed, one being a brand-new hatchling from this year basking right on the water’s edge, at no small risk to himself, given the number s of herons and Brahminy Kites we had been observing. Another species that guests were advised to look out for, the elusive and shy Chestnut Rail, also showed itself briefly as it stalked between the mangrove roots.
All of the crocs we had been seeing were quite small – 2 meters or shorter- and some of us were keen to see something bigger. Conditions were promising – a lowish tide early in the morning and sunny mudflats to bask on. Persistence paid off when we spotted a mature male of at least 4 meters at his ease on a mudflat. He lay there, unconcerned while both explorers pirouetted about, changing angles and jostling for position so as to give everyone good views and photos. If this wasn’t enough another Chestnut Rail emerged from the gloom and strode behind the crocodile in full sun – neither animal caring about the other one little bit. Aren’t these birds supposed to be rare and hard to find?
The presence of this mature crocodile was, fortunately for the guest lecturers on board, just around the corner from our destination.
King cascade is tumbling skein of water falling down a rocky terrace from the escarpment above. It flows continuously all year, although levels are reduced during the dry season. Ferns and moisture loving plants grow within the falls and either side, framed by large fig trees and the ever-present sandstone.
The explorers are capable of nosing right up to the falls with the entry ramp down, so those who wished could stand on the vessel in perfect safety and enjoy a freshwater shower. We don’t land here – this place has a secret, for in 1987 this was the scene of a fatal crocodile attack, where Ginger Meadows met her death by a crocodile of similar size to that we had just seen around the corner. A lesson for the guests. To be croc wise in croc country!
Late again!! Too much fun! A high-speed dash back to the ship was necessary to arrive in time for lunch.
One gory story per day is enough. The afternoon was much more leisurely, the ship travelling to Hanover Bay, where everyone could watch the scenery over a drink, take in a talk by one of the lecturers and work up an appetite for our famous barbeque followed by the even more famous ship’s quiz, where guests matched wits with the expedition team.
DAY 9: RED CONE CREEK & MONTGOMERY REEF
22 May 2021
Early start today. Why?? Because the tides say so. The rhythm of ship’s activities is always determined by them here. This occasion was a trip up red cone creek to Ruby Falls and the croc free waterholes above the escarpment where, at long last, everyone could have that longed for swim.
Almost everyone. The plunge pool at the bottom of the falls is easy to reach …both for us and for the crocs. The safe pools required a climb up the escarpment wall well out of croc range. Crew members had arrived early and had tied a rope from the top down to the landing area to make things a bit easier and there were lots of staff around to pull and push but it was still a bit of struggle. For some it was too much. They took another option of a cruise along the mangroves bird spotting and watching the world go by.
Those who made the climb had to walk a little further along the somewhat flatter creekside and were rewarded by the sight of a pretty little stream tumbling through the rocks, fringed with elegant pandanus trees. Both the views and the swim were restorative and refreshing-well worth getting up early for.
This afternoon’s excursion was eagerly anticipated by many. Montgomery Reef is a world-famous submerged piece of coral and algae encrusted sandstone that rises out of the sea as the massive tides fall away. Waves and steams of water runoff from the top and create spectacular waterfalls and cascade down the reef wall. Along a narrow channel sea turtle are commonly seen as well as sharks and sea snakes. Patrolling herons and other sea birds patrol the exposed reef flats, looking for food stranded by the falling water.
The tides were unfavourably small on this instance, so this meant that, while most of the reef remained under water with concurrent loss of visual spectacle, the water itself was much clearer and the turbulence much less. This enabled the explorers and zodiacs to get guests right up to the edge of the reef, where they could clearly see turtle, sharks, and many other fish cruises through the unusually clear water. So many turtles were seen that a sort of “turtle fatigue” developed. The other positive was that we were alone. No other vessels were around. Monty is a popular and must-see destination for the expedition cruise industry. Sometimes on a big tide, things can get crowded. Not this time. The solitude, the silence and the profusion of life at this remarkable place made a profound impact on the guests.
DAY 10: IRON ISLANDS, NARES POINT & KOOLAN ISLAND
23 May 2021
We have just about run out of Kimberley! A much more leisurely breakfast (8.00am!) saw the ship at anchor on a glassy sea at the Iron Islands.
As their name implies these small islands contain large amounts of very pure iron ore. In fact, the purity is such that some rocks can even be welded together with no extra refining being needed! The dark purplish colour of the ore bearing haematite contrasts with reds and greys of the sand and siltstones as well as the yellows and greens of the spinifex and trees against a cerulean sky.
Koolan island, immediately adjacent, is the site of an iron ore mine that has been operating spasmodically and with different leaseholders since the 1960s.
This valuable geological feature is a very localised one for we are now back where the voyage started – at the southern edge of the Kimberley block, where it meets the red sands of the Pindan country, close to Broome.
The explorers cruised leisurely about, taking in the formations and the glassy calm sea conditions.
Geological forces have really gone to town here. Buckles, dips, folds, strikes, synclines and anticlines all seem to contribute to a stratigraphic mish mash of from texture and colour. The outrageous folding of Nares Point, right next to the beach of the same name where the guests enjoyed their last feel of Kimberley sand between their toes is a powerful illustration of ancient forces. Other ancient sights were to be seen. Halfway up Koolan Island, away from the mine site are two caves, which show evidence having been occupied for at least 26,00 years – a nice counterpoint to the present-day activities just around the corner.
And so… just like that… back to the ship. Lunch, tea and finally Captain Miles’s farewell drinks… watching the sun set for the last time on board – all the while toasting the success of another memorable and unique cruise aboard Coral Adventurer.
DAY 11: DARWIN
24 May 2021
We said our farewells to each other and the cruise today. We disembarked in Darwin at 0800, going our separate ways. Some of us are heading home while others are continuing to travel. Many of us are hoping to keep in contact with the new friends we have made. We have very much enjoyed this trip with you, and thank you for your interest and appreciation of this spectacular part of Australia. Heartfelt thanks to all guests for their patronage and adventurous nature and best wishes for the future from everyone here at Coral Expeditions!
Article and Photo Credit: Coral Expeditions