Sunday, May 22, 2016

Up, Up, and Away

Up, Up, and Away

Yesterday was without a doubt the highlight, so far, of this adventure for Lisa and me. We took a helicopter ride on a Bell JetRanger helicopter to the top of The Mitchell Plateau where the world renowned Mitchell Falls are located. The Falls are a very beautiful 4-tired series of falls in this remote outback of the Kimberley Region. Accompanied by Michele and Cathy, we all four squeezed ourselves into the little machine, which my Father, who used to design helicopters for Boeing, often described as 10,000 pieces all just wanting to fly apart. For those of you who are aware of Lisa’s knee problem, this was her biggest challenge yet. She has conquered getting into the zodiac, and in being able to make a wet landing, but climbing up and into the helicopter was a pretty big challenge – but she bravely made it, to a chorus of applause.

Our flight to the top was a magnificent 20 minute ride at first along the coastal cliffs, and then up river until we had to climb to reach the plateau itself. Once we reached the Falls, our helicopter made a circular pass over the Falls, then below, first to the right, and then to the left so that everyone got good pictures before circling back and gently landing on the rocky surface near the top. Once we disembarked, they had a shady area with a bench or two, and Lisa wisely elected to just stay in the almost 100 degree Fahrenheit shade rather than attempting a walk along the edge to the two viewpoints. I was able to make the first viewpoint, but going any further was well beyond my ability. Still, I took some wonderful pictures before returning to Lisa. Just to give you an idea as to exactly just how hot it was, my camera became too hot to even touch. Our flight back was equally impressive, and the pilot took a different route so that we could see more of the beautiful scenery.

Once back on the ship, we ended up having left before lunch and landed just as lunch was closing, so we ordered a cheeseburger in the room, and collapsed into the cool sheets for a well-deserved nap. So far, of course, I am relating my adventures, but for the record Michele and Cathy remind me of a pair of Energizer Bunnies, who just can’t stop. Before our flight yesterday, there was a brief wet landing onto a nearby island where some rock paintings could be seen, and of course, the girls were first in line. After returning to the ship from our helicopter ride, while we were worn out, the little bunnies kept right on going on a two hour zodiac ride on the Hunter River looking for crocodiles. And, as if that was not enough, they managed to squeeze in a documentary film on the origins of the paintings, then being recycled for the 6:30pm recap and briefing – then straight to dinner. I don’t know how they do it, but my hat is off to them – they don’t want to miss anything!!

Today the day again dawned without a cloud in the sky. We are surrounded by seas that are at times dark blue, and at others a beautiful shade of green. This morning our ship was anchored in Vansittart Bay near Jar Island. Our first activity was a 90 minute round trip to shore to view an aboriginal art gallery, or as I would term it, ancient rock drawings. We ran ashore in our zodiac for a wet landing onto a pristine white sand beach, and then after a short walk inland, came to the first of two painted galleries. This was my first exposure to aboriginal rock paintings, and I found it very interesting. The group then moved on to a much more difficult walk to reach the second gallery while I demurred and returned to the beach for a quick zodiac ride back to the ship. Even though I had been gone less than 90 minutes, I was drenched in sweat and dehydrated. Lisa very wisely decided to take a day off since the experience with getting into and out of the helicopter had left her knee quite swollen and sore.

As I have said before, on an expedition cruise, there is no rest for the weary. No sooner had we returned to the ship for lunch, then it was time to set off again. This time we were going ashore to view the remains of a DC-3 that crashed-landed in 1942. During lunch the ship had repositioned within the Bay to Anjo Peninsula, where once again we made a wet landing onto a beautiful white sand beach. We immediately set off climbing through soft white sand to climb the dune at the shore and once on top coming, or perhaps better put, sliding down the other side where we were confronted with a very wide salt flat. I had to cross this large area in order to reach the wreckage on the other side within the tree line. As we entered the trees to our left were two giant termite hills, and to our right, and in front of us was the intact fuselage and wing of a DC-3 that was now 74 years old. It is a tribute to the strength of this old bird that it was so well preserved, that people could actually walk across the interior ribs and it held their weight. In 1942, the aircraft was headed from Perth to Broome when it became lost, and because of low fuel and deteriorating weather, the pilot made an emergency landing on the old salt flats. Miraculously everyone survived and were eventually rescued. The Australian military salvaged all useable parts, and even cut a portion of the skin to use for shade, but otherwise this aircraft is still pretty much intact.

It was a long hot walk back to the sand dune, then up and down again, and finally exhausted and overheated, I made it back to the ship.

Recap and briefing, a cocktail party for new cruisers to Silversea, and a wonderful dinner capped off yet another day here “down under.”


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