Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Finally – The Kimberly Coast!


We are finally safely ensconced on board our new home for a month, the Silver Discoverer. This had been a very long journey, particularly for our dear friends Michele and Cathy. Like us, they too traveled the almost 39 hours to Perth, however they arrived on one afternoon, and then had to be up by 2:30 am the next morning to catch our 2.5 hour flight to Broome, in northwest Australia. Once there, we were taken to a hotel when we could have breakfast and rest until it came time to board the ship around 1pm. Michele and Cathy, however, went for a walk instead, but how they got the energy is beyond me.

All of us finally boarded buses for our long drive out to the pier where our ship was waiting. Reaching the dock, I was a little surprised that I could not see the Discoverer. I will admit it was a very long dock, but still, the ship had to be there someplace! The dock was under repair, and only one narrow lane was open, so the bus had to drive forward very slowly. The closer we came to the end of the pier, the more I wondered where in the heck we were being taken. Suddenly I realized what was going on; this region of the world is home to some of the largest tidal flows to be found. As it happened, the tide was out, and our ship was so low in the water that only the very top of the vessel was visible. In fact, when we pulled alongside, we were actually looking into the bridge with the ship below the dock level. This situation actually created a problem for the ship. You see, while a ship can make fresh water, it can only do so while moving. Generally, that is not sufficient for all of the needs of the passengers, so while in port, the ship buys water from the local authorities. Here, however, with the tide so low, the ship was riding very close to the bottom, and, therefore, could not take on the required amount of water because to do so, would have weighted it down too much. This is not a huge crisis, but it does mean that some restrictions are in place to conserve water until supplies can be replenished.

All of us wanted badly to rest; however, as is the case on an expedition cruise, the first afternoon is a flurry of required activity. We had time for a quick lunch before being required by immigration officials to attend a mandatory face to face passport check. One hour later we had a mandatory life boat drill, followed one hour later by a sail away party. Just when we thought we could rest, at 6:15 pm we had to attend the staff introductions and all important Voyage Overview, followed immediately by dinner. Lisa and I were barely functioning, but poor Cathy and Michele were dragging to say the least. Poor Cathy had to skip dinner and get some rest because bright and early the next morning we all had to attend the mandatory zodiac briefing and a briefing of the day’s activities. Whew! Whoever said that expedition was relaxing, was dead wrong.

Here we are at the fabled Kimberly Coast – so what is it? Well, the Kimberly is one of nine regions in the State of Western Australia. It is located in the northern part of the State and is bordered on the west by the Indian Ocean, on the north by the Timor Sea, on the east by the Northern Territory, and on the south by the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts. In total, it covers over 163,000 sq. mi. Besides having one of the world’s greatest tidal flows, it is also one of the hottest parts of Australia with temperatures in November reaching 100 degrees F on the coast, and 104 F inland. On our outing today, we encountered temperatures around 97F, with a clear blue sky.

In anchoring in Talbot Bay, we explored cyclone bay and observed the fabulous horizontal falls from the closeness of our zodiacs. This requires a bit of an explanation, so stay with me. Departing the ship on our zodiacs for a ride into cyclone bay, which is a long narrowing body of water much like a fjord. Next to the bay and running parallel to it was a very large lake. Next to that lake was yet another large lake. So, we were going up the narrowing bay, with two large lakes off to our right. Between the bay and the first lake was a narrow slit in the surrounding rocks. The slit was perhaps the width of 4 zodiacs. As the tide came in, the rising water races through that slit, and fills the adjacent lake. Likewise, when the tide fell, the lake emptied back into the river with a torrent of rushing water.

If you are with me so far, then let me go one step further. Between the first lake and the adjacent lake there was yet another narrow slit in the rock. This slit was perhaps the width of only two zodiacs. So, as the rising tide filled cyclone bay, so, too, does it fill the first lake. Likewise as the first lake filled, water rushed into the second lake. This entire process ebbed back and forth as the tide rose and fell.

Now having set the stage, allow me to describe our two hour experience on the zodiac. We set off entering cyclone bay. The scenery is magnificent. We are surrounded by towering red rock, which is the continent of Australia itself. Plate tectonics has slammed the region of the Kimberly’s violently into the continent producing a wondrous display of strange rock formations. Finally we reach the area of the slits, which because of the large volumes of water thundering through them are known as “The Horizontal Falls.” We carefully approach the first slit, which is gushing water towards us as the falling tide empties the adjacent lake. As we approach the slit, the waters around us become more and more turbulent, with giant whirlpools all around us. Finally our leader lines our little zodiac up with the slit and gives the little beast all of its 90 horsepower, and …… nothing except a violent ride. We simply do not have the horsepower to push our way through the narrow opening, but what a thrill!

That adventure behind us, we set out for a spectacular ride up the narrowing bay. We were looking for wildlife as well as enjoying the scenery. I managed to capture photographs of a two very unique birds – sorry, I don’t know their names, also three kinds of land crabs, red, blue and a black and white little creature. Then we saw a rather unique site – right beside our zodiac was gliding a large black fin. Our guide just about jumped out of his skin because no such animal should be this far inland. We came to a gliding stop all the while looking for the telltale fin, when it suddenly appeared right beside us. There, gliding just below the clear surface of the water was one of the strangest creatures I’ve ever seen. I estimate it was around 4 ft. in length with a strange tail. Our guide guessed it was a small sailfish, but he really did not know. The lady sitting on the very front actually got a picture with her iPhone, so the expedition will look at it and see what they can make.

When it was time to return, as we went by the slit that an hour before was impenetrable, our little zodiac drove right up to and through with no resistance. The tide was turning, and so the water was mostly calm. We then drove across the first lake to the second slit, and I have never quite seen anything like it. Before me was a virtual wall of water since the lake beyond was not able to drain due to the more narrow slit. The water level in second lake was clearly above our lake and was gushing through the narrow slit. We pulled up to it, and as we did previously on the first slit, we tried to power our way through the little slit, but alas, it was to no avail. Interestingly enough a local tour company offers rides through the falls, but then their boats have 1,000 horsepower in order to do so!

At the end of a very long day we all had the Hotel Director join us for dinner and had a wonderful time. One interesting thing we learned was regarding just how full this cruise indeed is. I have noted that I have never seen this ship so full, and he confirmed that we have so many passengers that four members of the crew had to be left behind in Broome because the ship is limited to no more than 216 persons in all. I don’t know just why this particular trip is so popular, but one theory is that because tomorrow is a full moon, we will be seeing maximum tidal flows.

So, that gives everyone an update from down under – stay tuned for more to follow from the little ship that can!


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