Sunday, May 22, 2016

Up A Lazy River


Finally we have, what on an expedition cruise, is considered a relatively easy day – all that is scheduled is a visit to King George River and the famous King George Falls. Now for the more adventuresome among us, a six hour hike to the top of the Falls is offered – very steep and dangerous we were told, so we rather wisely did not sign up for that option. A quick run to the Falls and back was offered, but it was only 2 hours in length, and did not stop to see wildlife along the way. Again, not our choice. Instead we chose to make a 3 hour morning run by zodiac, and boy was that the correct choice! Now the Cathy and Michele did the same tour, but in the afternoon.

Lisa and I set off with the most experienced expedition team member in charge of our little boat. In all there were only six of us, so moving around for photographs was no problem. To tell the truth, I really did not expect to see much wildlife this morning because it was not only high tide, but with the full moon, it was what they termed “the highest of the high tides.” Generally more wildlife are seen at low tide.

As we entered the river, our guide, Malcom, noted a channel among the mangroves that he had never seen before. It was open now because of the extremely high tides, and so we set off along the towering rock cliffs to our side to see what could be seen. What a jackpot!! I can’t remember everything, but let me try. Right off, we spotted a beautiful white eagle sitting on her nest high among the rocks. Soon after that, we saw both gray and white herons in great abundance along with egrets. Soon on a tree limb hanging right over us was a wonderfully colorful bird – of course I can’t remember the name, but both Lisa and I got photographs. Suddenly someone calls out that something is at the top of the rocks moving around. Malcom cuts the motor and we drift for a while, when before our eyes pops up a long tailed rock wallaby. I got an image, but Lisa got a good photograph. When the little estuary gave out, we proceeded back into the river itself only to find quietly watching from the sandy beach a pretty good sized crocodile. Lying completely motionless you could take it for dead, but that is how they lure their prey so not to be fooled. These are salt water crocodiles and are meat eaters so being near one is not to be taken lightly.

The ride up river was spectacular. The water was like glass, and the low sun on the rocks gave them a bright red glow. We came to a small cove, so of course Malcom takes a look inside and to his surprise we spot a very rare creature in the water. All we can see is the nose and the long back as it glided around our little zodiac. The animal is the Dugong and it is a relative of our manatee. It stayed with us for the longest time and no one wanted to move. Finally we had to continue up river, where we found a pair of brightly colored oyster catchers sitting on a partly submerged rock along the river’s edge. Malcom had slowly worked us to the left shore where we had some shade, and then slyly cut the engine, suggesting that we should look around for ourselves. Gee, I wondered, what am I looking for? Someone shouts to look in the water, and there was a beautiful and very large jellyfish. It was pink colored, which we later learned was from having eaten small crustaceans, and it was beautifully undulating in the river. Wait, there was yet another one – smaller and white – wait, was another one coming to the surface right beside our boat. Before long, there were dozens, then hundreds, and finally thousands of the big creatures filling the water. The largest were perhaps slightly bigger than a basketball, and because of the calm conditions and shallow water, they were clearly beautiful. All we needed was music to choreograph their ballet.

We continued along while Malcom kept up a constant stream of information regarding the surrounding rock formations, which were beginning to tower over the river as we were now entering the King River Gorge itself. Then, there before us were the beautiful King George Falls! Really a wondrous sight. Amazingly Malcom was explaining and apologizing for the small volume of water because we are into the dry season. Usually at the height of the rainy season the Falls are virtually unapproachable. Even so, it was an impressive sight. The Falls are actually two main falls, separated by a rock wall in between. When at full force, each side is composed of multiple Falls all at once. We ran up to the left Falls and got quite close to the thunderous downpour of water. Understand, that it is at these Falls that the salt water of the sea, which is what we are floating on, meets the fresh water from the inland rivers of the continent. “Kinda neat to think of it that way!”

We then moved over to the right Falls and right away Malcom spots a small salamander marooned on a rock ledge near the Falls. We go over, and he explains that this beautiful little creature is a fresh water animal which has fallen from the top to land and be marooned here. It will either die on the ledge, or be eaten by a crocodile if it falls into the water. He says that if it is still there when he comes back in the afternoon, he will rescue it. We move our little zodiac right up to the cascading water until we are being covered by spray. Malcom backs off and with a sly smile and asks if anyone would like to get wet? Three people said yes, and so he asked them to sit in the front, and for the rest of us to move to the back. Now I have known Malcom many years and trust him implicitly, so when he proposed running up until the front of the zodiac was under the Falls, but not the back half – I figured, what the heck? Even though he had done this many times, today the Falls had different plans, and once we stuck our little bow into the falling water, it was as if a giant hand reached out and literally pulled us into the Falls. By the time we backed out, everything, and everyone in our little boat was soaked. Poor Malcom had his camera out and his case hung on the pedestal, and it was dripping wet. I had covered my brand new Sony camera with my Tilly hat – and – it was dry! Get this: before this cruise I washed this old hat and then sprayed it with water repellent because in the past it just soaked up water. Well, by darn, it worked! So no real damage except to Malcom’s pride and his camera, but even so, everyone was laughing and dripping all at the same time.

As we turned our little boat around to go back to the ship, someone let out a gasp because not five feet from us was a huge crocodile lying on a rock shelf with his feet out and ready to jump!!!! Guess what he was watching – yep, the poor little salamander. We got great pictures, but I had my leg over the side of the zodiac, and probably got a little too close in hindsight. These little darlings are known to jump in an instant and grab and twist a limb right off.

My, my – where does the time go? We had left for a three hour ride, and it was already well past that and we still had to return to the ship. But, what an amazing morning. Not one person complained about our being an hour late – after all, this is an expedition cruise.


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