Itís 2:30 pm, Monday April 22nd in Hawthorne, California however it is 7:30 am Tuesday April 23rd in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, where we are now. Through the wonders of the International Date Line, Monday never happened for us. We are off on a Zegrahm Expeditions trip to the North West corner of Australia, knows as The Kimberly. Part of the trip will be an optional land tour by bus but the majority will be on a small catamaran, the Coral Princess.
Following the authorities admonition to arrive three hours before your flight, we arrived at LAX terminal 2 at 7:15 pm, a good 3 hours before our Air New Zealand flight was scheduled to depart. By 7:40 we were seated in their lounge waiting for the 10 pm boarding time. The flight left a bit late however it arrived in Sydney early, around 6 am.
The food and service in ANZ business class was as good as usual. It is, however, a little hard to cut you meat with the flimsy plastic knives that, after 9/11, are the only kind of knives allowed on the plane. We were even able to sleep for a few hours.
There was no problem with immigration and customs however we got caught by the agricultural police for smuggling food into Australia. We had dry roasted peanuts in our luggage and we didnít declare them. They X-ray all incoming luggage! Fortunately we didnít get assessed the $240 fine.
Zegrahm provided rooms for our group of 23 on the optional trip since we didnít depart for Darwin until 6 pm. After checking into the Hilton Airport hotel we decided not to try to sleep but instead took the shuttle back to the airport and then the train into town. Our destination was the old city power plant which has been converted into a museum of science and industry, called, strangely enough, the Power House Museum. We spent the morning there then, by a very circuitous route, walked to Darling Harbor for lunch. This area is a well developed entertainment center. I imagine it is really bustling in the evening. We had a pleasant lunch at an outdoor restaurant then caught the ferry over to the Circular Quay, then the train back to the airport.After waiting some time for the hotel shuttle we asked a security guard if it is possible to walk out of the airport. We could see our hotel, just a short distance away. He pointed out some people walking up a rise at the end of the parking lot and said they were airport employees walking to their parking lot just behind our hotel. So we set off after then. It required walking the length of the parking structure and lot, up a grassy embankment to a road, across this busy road to the sidewalk and then along the sidewalk until we were at our hotel, on the opposite side of the road. With some difficulty we made it back across this busy airport access road and back to the hotel.
We had enough time to shower and drowse a bit before 6 pm when the group went back to the airport, this time to the domestic terminal. We flew on Qantas 4Ĺ hours to Darwin. Qantas is the only major domestic carrier in Australia since Annsett folded up. And they act as if they have a monopoly, although the service on the planes is still somewhat better than any US domestic carrier. For a while I thought I was on an American Airlines flight however I realized my error when they served us a meal. On domestic flights, Qantas is very fussy about the size and weight of carry-ons. On this flight, as on all group flights on this trip we were seated in the very back; seating is assigned alphabetically.
The Zegrahm representative who met us when we arrived, got us to the hotel and back to the airport, and finally checked in for the Darwin flight took very good care of us. She really expedited the check-in to Darwin. Incidentally, her husband is a captain on one of the humongous Princess Cruise Line ships.
I slept a good part of the way. We checked into the Darwin Carlton after midnight but were greeted by the manager with champagne. We met Chris Done, our guide for the land extension, who is also the Kimberley Regional Manager for the Department of Conservation and Land Management. He has been involved in managing the regionís conservation for 20 years. He has also been a naturalist on previous Zegrahm Kimberly trips however this was his first experience as a tour leader. He did well!
A leisurely 10 am departure allowed a little catch-up on sleep, however, 10 am Darwin is 6:30 pm in LA, the time our bodies are still struggling to leave. Darwin is in one of those strange Ĺ-hour offset time zones that crop up a few places around the world.
Steve, the bus driver for our trip to Jabiru, is quite knowledgeable and talked almost continuously on the way. Chris was able to briefly interject comments. Jabiru is a town in Kakadu National Park. The town was built to support the large Ranger Uranium mine so it is modern with nice, identical houses. With the decline in international demand, there are currently only 300 employed at the mine. Steve had lived several years in the town as the representative of a small air line. Much of the area along the road has been planted with mango orchards.
It seemed strange for there to be a uranium mine in the middle of Kakadu National Park, an area jointly controlled by the aborigines and the government. The area in which the mine is located is known by the aborigines as the "Land of Sickness". I suspect that they learned over the eons that it wasnít a healthy place to live so why not let it be mined and get cash from it.
We stopped for lunch at the Bark Hut and had some very good Baramundi, the excellent northern Australia game fish. Along the way we visited the Mamukala Swamp or billabong. There is a large blind overlooking the waters that allows birdwatching out of the intense Sun. We saw some White-bellied Sea Eagles, Little Corellas, and a male Jacana walking on the Lily pads. (The male raises the young. An obliging, promiscuous female comes along and lays the eggs, then goes off for other encounters, the hussy. The male broods the eggs then cares for the young, teaching them how and what to eat and protecting them until they are old enough to fend for themselves.)
One interesting but hoakey event was the Jumping Crocodile Cruise. We took a cruise of a couple hours duration on the Adelaide River. This river, like all rivers, billabongs, ponds, and lakes in northern Australia, is inhabited by salt water Crocodiles, or "Salties." The Salties have learned that these tour boats are a source of easy food so as the boat cruises along the crocodiles will approach. One of the crew dangles a hunk of meat tied to a long string on a long pole. The croc will lunge out of the water to get the meat. If the meat is raised as the croc lunges it will get quite far out of the water, often all but the bulk of the tail. After a couple of attempts, the croc is allowed to get the meat. It does make one aware of how far they can rise up out of the water. On future water excursions we were careful to keep all body parts well inside the boat.
Our hotel in Jabiru was the Gagudju Crocodile which is shaped like a croc. The entrance is through the mouth. Each leg encloses stairs to the second story. Our welcome dinner was a Bar-B-Que beside the pool. It was after the Sun went down so it wasnít too hot, just hot. The meats served included kangaroo, crocodile, water buffalo, and camel. (Water buffalo was introduced and is now considered an exotic pest where it runs wild. It is hunted to extinction in the wild.) The water buffalo was served as a ground meat patty and had way too much filler. Both the kangaroo and crocodile were good, although the croc had been heavily marinated so the flavor was mostly marinade. The camel was a large, thin piece that seemed like shoe leather.
At sunset the Lorikeets returned to the trees around the hotel making quite a lot of noise. They made a similar amount when they left early in the morning.
The next day we did the Gulyumbi Aboriginal Cultural Cruise. Our guide was an aborigine named Justin who took us on a cruise along the East Alligator River. (The Englishman who named the river had seen alligators in Florida and didnít realize he was seeing crocodiles.) This river marks the border with Arnhem Land, an aborigine-only area. Justin stopped the boat frequently to relate how the "original owners" used the various plants and bushes along the banks. Then, with special permission, we went ashore in Arnhem Land where he demonstrated various crafts, such as basket weaving, fire starting, and spear throwing. The thing I enjoyed the most was his demonstration of the throwing stick. This is a device that enhances the ability to throw a spear.
On our way back to the hotel for lunch we stopped at Ubirr Rock, the site of many rock paintings. Dating the paintings is quite difficult and many are badly faded since regular ceremonial maintenance no longer occurs. The colors were from red ochre (hematite), yellow ochre (limonite) along with carbon from burnt sticks. White was from pipe clay (gypsum chalk.) Many of the locations also were seasonal dwellings.
We arose early and departed the hotel on our final day in Kakadu. We had a meager breakfast snack at the hotel. (By this time I had given up on coffee. Decaff was only available as a foul-tasting instant concoction.) The reason for our early departure was to go on the Yellow Water Cruise before the heat of the day caused the birds to sit in the shade. We saw crocs, magpie geese, flying foxes, bee eaters, honey eaters, and much more. After the cruise we had our "real" breakfast at the lodge associated with the cruise. It wasnít especially good either; many dishes on the buffet were empty.
We then visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Center. This building, shaped like a turtle, contains a very interesting display of aboriginal life style and folk lore, and a good crafts store. After that we stopped at Nourlangei Rock, an aboriginal living shelter and site of many more paintings. Lunch was a box lunch picnic provided by the hotel and eaten by a stream with many flies.
We spent the night back in the Darwin Carlton and departed the next morning for the airport. Eventually the Air North Embrair arrived. This is an older 30-passenger turboprop with a very cramped cabin. The spacing between our assigned seat row and the exit row was so narrow that Jodie could not sit in her seat but was able to move to the only empty seat which was in back and centered on the aisle. This airline is especially concerned about baggage weight. To mitigate possible problems, Zegrahm paid for two extra seats above what we actually needed. The one flight attendant served nonalcoholic drinks and candy bars.
After a most unpleasant 1:10 flight we arrived at Kununurra, Western Australia. The meeting bus took us off to a cruise up the Ord River while our luggage went directly to the Lakeside Resort, which was on a small pond. In an effort to develop the region, the government has built two dams. The first is called a diversion dam since it caused the Ord River to flow out through irrigation ditches rather than its usual course. It also impounds water allowing a year-round flow. The second "wall" was much higher and the very large Lake Argyle formed behind it, with a capacity equal to 24 Sydney harbors. This is the largest lake in the Southern Hemisphere. A channel was cut from this lake to the enpondment behind the first so that the water could flow into the irrigation system.
We rode up the river between the first and second dam on a boat powered by 3, 270 hp Honda outboard engines. The 4-cycle Honda engines have become quite popular in Australia. There were frequent stops for birds and a fresh water crocodile. A very good picnic lunch, including highly appreciated cold beer and wine, was provided at a prepared site. One feature of the site was a solar-powered out house. The solar panels charged batteries which in turn powered fans. The idea was to encourage the evaporation of the liquid waste reducing the solids to powder. It seemed to work: there was no appreciable odor.
A water monitor lizard seemed to be resident at the picnic site.
After our trip up the river, at speeds up to 35 mph, we boarded the bus which had driven to the other end, with another tour group which rode back on the boat. On the way back to Kununurra we stopped at the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum. This stone building was the residence of the Durack family, early ranchers in the area. The original site of the house was inundated by Lake Argyle and was dismantled piece by piece and moved to its present location. Actually, the bottom two corses of stone are not original. The workers dismantling the house were caught by the suddenly rising lake waters and had to swim to safety, leaving the last two corses. There was a Great Bowerbird bower next to the house however its keeper had not returned for the season. Water for the house was provided by rain runoff from the roof caught in a big tank beside the house.
We eventually arrived at the Lakeside Resort, a very basic accommodation, however the air conditioning worked.
By this time it was Sunday, April 28th, just to keep the reader up to date. We arose early for our sightseeing flight over the Bungle Bungle. The early departure was to have more nearly smooth air for the flight. The Slingair shuttle van picked us up at 5:30 am. Chris had come around, wearing a headlamp, at 5 am delivering fresh muffins and juice.
Jodie and I and one other couple were on the second plane out, a Cessna 120 Centurion. I was encouraged by how the pilots continuously announced their location to the other planes as they flew along their fixed route. We also flew out at 1,500 ft. and back at 2,500. We flew over the dam, Lake Argyle, the Bungle Bungle, the Argyle Diamond Mine, and were back on the ground by 8 am.
The Bungle Bungle is another of the strangely eroded sandstone formations of Australia. It is a large area, 45,000 hectares, (a hectare is 10,000 square meters, equivalent to 2.471 acres) of sandstone domes with a maze of canyons between them. In one place there is a continuous, fairly linear canyon caused by an earthquake fault.
The Argyle Diamond Mine is a large open-pit mine that is extracting diamonds from a volcanic pipe. The great volumes of diamond-bearing stone are trucked from the pit to the processing facility where it is crushed. The debris passes under ultraviolet light on a conveyer belt. The diamonds fluoress under this light, causing them to be "kicked" off by sensors. This is the only place in the World that produces pink diamonds. (Jodie decided that she would like one and inquired about them later in the trip at a jewelry store. There were none in the store however they called the mine and found that there were two available. Aa carat would only cost about $13,000 US after the GST had been deducted. Jodie decided against this bauble.)
We drove back to the "resort" after the flight and had another poor breakfast. Then the bus showed up and we toured Kununurra. Chris lives there so one of the places we passed by was his farm outside of town. His irrigation water comes from a "bore" rather than from the river. One of his crops is Sandalwood. This is a very difficult tree to grow since it is somewhat of a parasite. The seedlings are provided with a plant that they can parasitize in the same container. After three years that plant dies and a different host must be provided. He also grew rock melons (cantaloupe) and vegetables.
Some of the group took a van to Wyndham after lunch. Wyndham is a town that seems to be dying. It once had a busy slaughter house but that closed a few years ago. It had been a major port for this region, exporting cattle among other things, however it is less active now. There is a very impressive aboriginal monument there depicting a male, female, child, and several animals, all made of copper sheet. The figures are all greater than life size. We also drove to an overlook so we could see the merging of the five rivers. I could only see two. On the way back we took a side road to Perry Lagoon, an outstanding bird sanctuary. On the way in we saw three Brolga Cranes.
Another unpleasant flight with AirNorth replenished our stock of candy bars and brought us to Broome. The bus took us to Cable Beach Resort for a very good lunch with beer and wine while our baggage went directly to the Coral Princess. Cable Beach is so named because that is where the first telegraph cable came ashore from Indonesia. The resort is quite large and elegant. I donít know if I would like to stay there; it seems too large and spread out.
At 2 pm we left for a town tour. Broome was an early center of the pearl industry. (No, not the gem but oyster shell used for pearl buttons. If a diver found an oyster with a pearl in it that was a bonus.) When plastic replaced shell as the preferred button material, the town shrunk. Then the Japanese success with seeded pearl growth spread to Broome and the town revived. Pearls grow much faster in the local waters since the great tides sweep many nutrients in to the oysters. The tour stopped first at a store for a pearl demonstration, then a shell store, then drove around a bit, stopping at the Japanese pearl diversí cemetery. The early pearl shell divers were unaware of the cause of the bends so they suffered greatly from them. Finally the bus dropped us in the two-street center of town for the promised shopping. Most stores close at 4 pm so the shopping was limited. At 5 the bus returned and took us to the ship. Many ladies returned with lovely pearls which were a much better buy than pink diamonds.
The tides in this area are at least 30'. Since the tide was low when we embarked, we had to go down many flights of stairs to reach the top deck. We were immediately shown to our cabin which was quite large and furnished with a queen-sized bed. We were told to keep the curtains on the two large, square windows closed since the Sun was shining on that side and the closed curtains might keep the temperature down a bit. (Somehow our cabin was on the Sunny side for the entire trip and it never cooled down until 2 or 3 in the morning. The cabin temperature was always above 80o when we went to bed between 9 and 10 pm. There was no temperature control in the cabin. The passengers on the other side complained of cold for the entire trip.)
There was a desk/dressing table that had 4 drawers. In addition, there were 2 drawers under the closet. The number of drawers seemed quite inadequate until the room was "made-up" during dinner and we discovered 4 large drawers under the foot of the bed. There is also sufficient room under the bed for the luggage. The floor of the bathroom is raised so much above the room floor that a step stool is provided. Some small shelves in the bathroom allow a limited amount of stuff to be left in there. The mirror is so small and placed close to the wall as to be useless. The shower stall was larger than most ship showers, but the water temperature was usually cool, not too bad given the outside temperature, hot!
All in all it is a very pleasant, informal ship. Everyone goes by their first name, even Captain Jason White, who runs around in shorts and bare-footed along with the rest of the small, friendly crew.
Meals are all served buffet style. The only exception is at dinner when the soup or salad and the dessert are served at the table. This is partly because there is a very small hotel staff. They are busy cleaning the rooms during breakfast. The meals were average with variety suffering toward the end of the trip. Apparently provisioning is done only in Darwin. There was, however, an excellent selection of Australian wines, mostly from Western Australia.
The Coral Princess carries a 42-passenger "ferry punt," called the Explorer, that is used for all excursions from the ship. It has a boarding ramp in the bow which is let down as needed. This ramp did not eliminate wet landings. Our first experience with the Explorer was the first full day on the ship at Pender Bay.
The tide was well out so the Explorer grounded in very shallow water some distance from dry beach. Those who had rushed to board first got to get out and wade in. As the boat lightened it ungrounded and moved in further, past those who were wading. Eventually it was our turn to wade across the mud flat to the sandy beach. There were many small creatures on the flats and many tracks in the sand. We climbed a small rise and viewed many birds at a great distance in a small fresh water lake. Most were too far away to see clearly, even with binoculars however several great Bower birds flew by close to us.
This was our first experience ashore and our first opportunity to observe the first aid materials brought ashore by the crew. One carried an oxygen tank. Another carried an elaborate kit that included an automatic defibrillator! They must have experience with passengers in our age group. Fortunately, all of these precautions were not needed on our trip.
During a lecture and lunch the ship moved to the Lacepede Islands. We again boarded the Explorer and motored along the shore viewing the Brown Boobies plus several other varieties. Then we went ashore to view the nesting boobies and Lesser Frigate Birds, at a distance. There are quite a number of Silver Gulls preying upon the other birdsí nests. We saw them successfully grab an egg from a booby nest. We also saw a shark and a Green Sea Turtle in the water along the beach. The beach was entirely composed of coral rubble plus a few sponges.
Tonight was the Captainís welcome cocktail party held on the after deck. We were invited to dine at the Captainís table this evening along with three other passengers. Some of our fellow travelers later asked what we did to deserve this. I explained that when we boarded the ship I went to the bridge and gave the captain a $100 tip just to insure that we would have a pleasant journey. (Of course I didnít do that.)
The next day we entered a region of uplift. There are many sharply tilted sandstone slabs, some on top of or next to slabs of conglomerate. We passed two defunct iron mines on Cockatoo and Koolan Islands. Some mining was conducted below sea level through the use of coffer dams. These sites have been rehabilited as much as possible, given that they are right next to the ocean. We passed some other islands, not yet attacked by the miners, called the Iron Islands. The ore is 60% iron.
Along the way we passed by the Paspaley Pearl Farm in the secluded waters south of Slug Island. This is the company that started the cultured pearl industry here. We anchored in the lee of the island in Talbot Bay for the highly touted view of and trip through the "Horizontal Waterfalls." These are actually reversing waterfalls that are the result of two very narrow passages to two very large basins. Given the very large tides in this area, the waters pour from the ocean through the passages in a vain attempt to fill the basins during high tide. They reverse and attempt to drain the basins during low tide.
We boarded the Explorer and motored to the falls along with the two inflatables from the ship. The flow was deemed to dangerous at the moment for the passengers so the Explorer went off on a sight-seeing tour while the levels became more nearly equal. When we returned, the two inflatibles took groups of four on an exciting ride through the first passage and around the first basin and up to the brink of the second waterfall then back up the first passage. The inflatables were driven by "The Silver Bullet," the chief engineer who has grey hair, and "Red Dog," the first mate. While we were there, a ship much smaller than the Coral Princess made the transit down and back.
Another day, another weirdly eroded bunch of sandstone. The very low tides have exposed a mass of eroded sandstone pillars on the beach of Langgi Island. According to legend, the Wandjin warrior Namarali fought to save his people. The enemy warriors he killed are still present in the form of the rock pillars. The complete length of the pillars is visible only at very low tides. We walked among them, attempting to photograph the strange shapes without the other strange shapes of our fellow passengers. After the pillars we walked to a small lagoon and tried to see its resident croc however he was too shy. We then did a short, difficult climb to an aboriginal burial site. When an important male dies, his body is laid out until the flesh is gone, then his wife carts his bones around for a year before they are covered with red ochre and wrapped in paperbark. Then they are laid away in a cave or some significant spot. In this particular burial the bones were wrapped in sailcloth rather than paperbark.
The ship then moved to Doubtful Bay to the entrance of Red Cone Creek or Scottyís Creek. We boarded the Explorer for a trip up the creek to a water fall and fresh water pool. After the staff carefully inspected the pool for a croc we enjoyed a cooling dip.
On Friday we arrived at Montgomery Reef. Because of the high tides, this reef "rises" almost 10 feet out of the sea twice a day at low tide. The water trapped on top drains out in cascades. We took the Explorer up a channel and eventually stopped and climbed up onto the reef. There was a profusion of coral, sponges, giant clams, anemones, and some monkey fish holes. A Green Sea Turtle was caught in a pool on top.
On the way back to the ship we stopped so the naturalists could coax a stranded Loggerhead turtle back into the water.
For this hike across the uneven, wet reef top the crew added a full sized stretcher to the emergency kit brought ashore. Walking sticks were available for the passengers.
During lunch the ship moved to Raft Point, so named because one of the early English explorers found aboriginal rafts here. Dark volcanic rock has intruded under the much older King Leopold sandstone. The eroded volcanic soil is much more rich and supports lush growth, including many Boab trees, a relative of the African Baobab trees. These trees have an unbelievable shape and look like a tree that a young child or Dr. Seuss would draw. The trunk is extremely large that stops suddenly where the spiky branches emerge.
We hiked up through the woodland on a barely discernable path through the dry spinafex grass to some aboriginal paintings. The footing was mostly sandstone rocks that had tumbled down from the cliffs above. By the time we reached the caves our clothing was completely soaked due to the heat and the difficulty of the climb. Those who didnít wear long pants sported scratched legs from the prickly spinafex. The quality of the art, however, made it all worthwhile. Most of it was painted on the underside of the sandstone ledges. As in other sites, this one showed evidence of having been lived in.
One of the passengers had been stationed on Champagne Island during WWII. As we passed it the next morning the ship slowed so he could study it through binoculars. The rest of us celebrated the occasion with Champagne on the aft deck. As we pulled away, the seas became choppy and the Coral Princess began rocking and rolling. This continued for 1Ĺ hours. I had thought the catamarans would be more stable in roll than a monohull. This did not seem to be true, probably because the double hulls results in a more shallow draft. The pitch was rather pronounced, probably because the ship is shorter than other ships we have been on.
After lunch we boarded the Explorer for a very long ride up the very straight Prince Regent river to the King Cascades. It is straight because it follows a fault line. These falls are impressive not only because of their size but also their beauty. It is a true cascade with the water tumbling over the sandstone cliffs in a profusion of individual falls. Green plants grow wherever the flow of the water permits. They have always been a source of fresh water for boats. This was also the location of Western Australiaís last fatal crocodile attack in 1987.
On our way back down the river we turned up Camp Creek and had a delightful dip in a billabong. Although the pools were quite small, the water was cool and refreshing. The location was quite beautiful also.
Sunday was the day for our big helicopter ride to Mitchell Falls. Jodie and I were in the last group so as the initial groups were going to the falls we had a marvelous early morning trip up the Hunter River with Kevin and a small group at 8 am. Because of the early hour it was almost cool, a forgotten experience. We saw quite a few birds and also a few crocs.
I havenít mentioned Kevin Coate, the other naturalist besides Chris. He has spent more than 30 years in the Kimberly and was primarily the "bird" man on this trip. In this respect, he seemed to be able to spot and identify birds with the naked eye from at least a half a mile away.
Our flight left at 11:50 am, as scheduled. Our lunch was a very large sack lunch. Jodie and I were the only passengers on the flight however there was also one of the crew so we all had a window seat, although there were no windows since the doors had been removed. The terrain between Prince Frederick Harbor on Naturalist Island and the Mitchell Plateau was rather barren with sparse vegetation. There were a few scattered trees with occasional patches of still green grass. This flat plain was eroded here and there by streams, some still flowing, some dry.
After a figure 8 pass over the falls we landed and were greeted by Lynne Greig, the Zegrahm Cruise Director, and Chris. We hiked to a view point and attempted to photograph the entire falls complex and then ate our lunch on one of the few shady spots on the entire plateau. We then hiked back across the moonscape to the head of the falls. By this time we were quite ready for the promised swim so we set off in search of the pool described by Lynne. It was a quiet backwater or billabong fed by a small waterfall. Our helicopter arrived just as we were climbing out, much cooler and refreshed. The whole area is covered with wildly eroded sandstone, each shape stranger than the previous one. During strong "wet" seasons the whole area around the falls floods. Given the depth of the canyon and the size of the falls it is hard to imagine so much water.
That evening we had a beach picnic. This seems to be traditional on nature cruises but seems like a great amount of work for the crew. The captain manned the grill. In addition to the food and grill, they also hauled folding chairs ashore. About half of the passengers seemed to be contented sitting on the beach well after the meal and sunset, being bathed by the cool air draining down out of the small patch of rain forest on the hillside behind the beach. Mark Buckingham, the Zegrahm Expedition Leader, found a centipede which he said was quite poisonous and that they would be coming out in great numbers. We, therefore, should all return to the ship. Perhaps this was true.
5/6 Today was a day of rock art. We first went ashore on the West side of Bigge Island to view some art in caves eroded from the sandstone cliffs. Since they were quite narrow, we had to view them in small groups and take off hats and packs before entering. While we were waiting to enter we viewed some of the bird life around a pond. Then we went to the other side of the island in the Explorer to another site. I didnít see much since the people in front didnít vacate before we had to head back to the boat. You had to lie on your back to see some of them and it must have been tempting just to stay there and rest rather than moving on. What I did see was old and quite faded. Some had suffered from sandstone exfoliation.
5/7 We took a long ride up the King George river to the falls of the same name. Along the way we passed stark red sandstone cliffs. Before we did the falls we landed on a beach that is composed of coral rubble. There were many colorful shells, including a shell of the deadly Cone Snail. This very small creature packs poison "darts" that are powerful enough to quickly kill a person. When Kevin picked it up he was quite careful to determine that it was no longer occupied. There were also some nice pieces of red coral. The beach fronted a mangrove-lined lagoon that had a resident croc.
After this tranquil day we spent the night and part of the next day passing through the Timor Sea. This open sea was quite rough for our little ship. We bounced around quite a bit, so much so that the side boards were put up on our beds. Going up and down the very steep stairs on the ship was quite a challenge.
Our last stop on the voyage was our only encounter with people. We went ashore on Bathurst Island and visited the Tiwi people. They are aborigines, however according to our guides, live a different sort of life than those on the mainland. We were warmly greeted on the beach by three guides so we broke up into three groups and walked around viewing, among other things, a church which was elaborately decorated with their art forms. Several beautiful, large mahogany trees grace the island. Then we were taken by bus to the Tiwi Design Arts and Crafts Center were we could buy locally made items, and buy we did! We also visited a museum and finally had afternoon billy tea and damper (bread cooked directly on the fire coals.) After tea we had a welcome ceremony and some dancing. Part of the welcome was being blessed with leaves that had been held in the smoke from a fire. The Tiwi seem to have a religion that is a mixture of Christianity and their aboriginal beliefs. The island and the people seemed well cared for. Almost every available flat surface on the buildings were decorated with aboriginal art.
This island was the first Australian territory attacked by the Japanese at the start of WWII. Part of a large group of planes on their way to attack Darwin broke off and strafed the town. The local priest radioed a warning to Darwin but it was ignored. Darwin was unprepared for the attack. One of the Japanese made a crash landing on the island and was captured by a local who put a tool handle against his back and told him it was a gun. Another native saw several crashed Japanese and rushed to the priest and asked for ammunition for his rifle. He was given one bullet since there was little ammunition available. He said that would be ok. He would just line them up and shoot them all. From then on, he was known as "Line Ďum Up Charlie."
The ship remained at anchor until very early in the morning when the engines were fired up and we went off to Darwin. We left the ship at 8 am and had a tour of the town with almost no stops or pauses, not even for wallabies. However we did stop at the Museum of Arts and Sciences and also had morning tea there. There is quite a display of photos and film of Cyclone Tracy that totally destroyed Darwin Christmas Day 1974 with winds reaching 160 mph. It, of course, has been completely rebuilt now however there was some talk of abandoning the town at that time.
We also saw "Sweet Heart," a huge stuffed crocodile that resented any outboard motor that ventured into his territory, so he would attack them. He died in the relocation attempt so his body was stuffed and given to the museum.
We were given a rushed opportunity for one last bit of souvenir shopping at the downtown mall. Then it was off to the airport for the flight to Sydney via Brisbane.
On the 3-hour Qantas flight from Darwin to Brisbane we were served lunch; on the 1Ĺ-hour flight from Brisbane to Sydney we were served a hurried snack, called dinner. As was our fate for the entire trip, we were seated in the next to the last row on the flight to Brisbane. Although the same 767 continued on the Sydney, the flight number changed and we had to get off and reboard. On this segment we were in the very last row.
The scheduled bus didnít appear at the Sydney airport so Lynne told us to grab the hotel shuttle when it showed up. Most of us took the shuttle to the Sydney Airport Hilton. The remainder came a little later on the chartered bus. It had been waiting at the domestic terminal departures area, for some unfathomable reason.
After a continental breakfast the next morning we went off to the airport, eagerly anticipating our 14-hour Air New Zealand flight home. Fortunately our Air New Zealand seat reservations were not assigned in alphabetic order. There was a very long wait for business check-in however the business lounge was very nice. Another interesting twist on security, although we passed through the usual X-ray and magnetic detector screening to reach the boarding lounge, there was a hand search of our carry-on to get into the boarding area for our flight. Something special for flights to the US.
This was a very good, scenic trip. The two naturalists, plus Mark Buckanham, the Zegrahm Expedition Leader, and Lisa, normally the cruise director on the ship, were all quite knowledgeable about the plants, birds, animals, and geology of the Kimberley. Our other needs were well taken care of by Lynne Greig and the crew. Both the formal lectures and the informal contacts on shore were informative and interesting. I might even remember some of it.