Rocks and Birds

Overnight to King George River, with a slightly delayed departure due to a late bus, probably held up by the road works. With sunset around 5.30 PM, we used room service and enjoyed a steak on our balcony, with stars out; locating the Southern Cross reassured D about the navigator’s skills. Why were we so whacked after a long sitting day?

Day 7. Saturday 11 August

Another perfect morning: turquoise water, pink rock walls, but we are not alone. T had been marveling at the sense of ‘owning the space’ till D pointed out the presence of a neighbor at anchor. Of course there had to be, since this is ‘the season’. But it doesn’t feel like a Saturday without the word quiz that characterizes normal Saturday mornings as D&T race each other for the 11 letter challenge.

The first expeditioners of the day were in zodiacs and off to explore the King George River at 7 AM. We take the afternoon trip, hoping that the sun on the gorge face will be strong.

After breakfast, T ventured into the handkerchief-size pool for ‘running practice’ (her alternative to the stretch class, for which she has no Lycra). Then a short film about the maritime incident of 1942 in which the cargo & passenger ship Koolama was bombed, disabled, repaired and then bombed again, having limped up to Wyndham with a handful of crew after ‘serious tension’ between captain and senior officers. Yesterday we had been told by the bus driver that a ship was resting at the end of Wyndham jetty: today we learned the story through an ABC documentary  ‘Malice or Mutiny: The Koolama Incident’, in which survivors, and relatives of both the Captain and the First Officer spoke of the incident. Multiple truths, various intents, interpretations, high emotions, jealousy, compassion and fear…a great story. But what is the real truth?

Another lunch – spoilt for choice – the cruise promised a French influence and it has delivered.

Onto our zodiac at 2 PM, captained by Lachie, the Honours university student who has ducked three weeks of his course to be here. Who wouldn’t? He later disclosed that he’d also taken a year off to follow his passion, which was all wildlife, but particularly birds.

The Wharton Limestone walls of the gorge are many colored: the reds of the Iron Oxide (aka rust), the black of the algae, the purple of the Manganese, and the white of recently exposed limestone and deposits of guano. The colours changed in intensity and hue as the sun dropped. Hardy trees – little more than twigs – cling to the rock faces, probably seeded there by a passing bird. There were occasional splashes of green growth on the sheer walls, as well as abundant lush growth on rock falls, nurtured by the nutritious iron content.

Our first stop was a Koolama Cove, where the ship had been beached and the crew put ashore. Nothing there to indicate what had happened, but the landscape and scrub was a reminder of what they’d had to endure, particularly those who had walked the 150 kms from there to the Mission at Kalumburu. After detouring up a side gorge, on to the main falls. Two drops of about 80 metres side by side, separated by a bluff. Just a trickle of water from both of them, which meant we could get right up to the waterfall face- apparently in the wet, the water shoots out tens of metres and vessels can’t get within about 50 metres of where the water falls.

We were a bit surprised to see a group of people on the top – turns out it was a party led by the ship’s captain, who’d undertaken the extremely difficult climb from the river to the top. One of the zodiac drivers offered a sum of money to anyone of his colleagues who’d be prepared to move the captain’s zodiac from the landing place to the other side of the river. There were no takers. 

As we started to depart there were two zodiacs from the ship ties up to the rock wall, dispensing champagne to one and all. As noted earlier, the blurb does promise a French experience!

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By now it had passed 5 PM, so with dark falling at 5.45 PM, it was time to make the 45 minute bumpy dash back to the ship while there was still light. A convoy of about 10 zodiacs headed for home, navigation lights on as dusk arrived.

The afternoon was an opportunity to observe wildlife as well as the natural splendor. Birds sighted: a White Bellied Sea Eagle, an Osprey (and two chicks in a nest), two Pied Oyster Catchers, a Beach Stone-Curlew, an Australian Bustard, a Peregrine Falcon (which was attacking the Bustard), a Darter, a White Faced Heron, a Brahminy Kite – and two Torresian Crows. In the water: a Dugong, a pod of Dolphins, jumping fish – but no crocodiles.

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