Friday, September 10, 2021

Kimberley Stories Part 1

The King George River, East Kimberley

This blog is a bit different to our usual offerings. Our journey through the strange and wonderful world of the Kimberley is simply too much for us to report in a chronological diary for you. Instead this will be a collection of little stories and lots of photos with hopefully self explanatory captions. We are now in Darwin, back in the land of phone signal and internet  after a couple of months off-line in the Kimberley wilderness.

You can see the detail of where we went on our tracker. Click here Upstart Tracker
Upstart's Kimberley Track

Navigating and Big Tides

After leaving Broome on the 10th June we broke the journey to Cape Leveque by stopping at Red Bluff and then at Thomas Bay which is only a few miles south of the Cape. It was lovely to have some gentle sailing and some quiet time with nobody else in sight. The cape itself seemed like a real turning point to us. We were entering into another world in many ways. A world of large tides of 8 metres or more [2 storey building] and also of strong currents flowing quickly through a rock and island strewn landscape particularly where the water is squeezed by islands being close to each other or the mainland. A navigation challenge for sure. The navigator [Mr Flottmann] needed to sharpen her pencil and keep a good keen point on it. The skipper [Mr Lee] needed to try to awaken a few unused brain cells and interrogate them for ancient knowledge from decades before when he sailed in similar conditions in the Channel Islands of the UK. We have since found that between us we can manage the tricky calculations quite well and if we write everything down as we think of it we can even remember stuff!

Happy at the helm.

Keeping an eye out in uncharted waters
The first challenge was to get across the mouth of King Sound and into one of the creeks on the west facing coast of the mainland. King Sound is a large body of water with Derby at its southern end and Cape Leveque at its northern. We managed to get the tides right and were helped across most of the way by the current. We did end up stopping on the way for a lunch break in a tiny bay which many people use to get out of the current as it turns and wait for a favourable flow again. After an interesting 10 hour trip we pulled into Coppermine Creek which like all the creeks along this coast was very calm and comfortable.

As the evening drew in we were surrounded by bird song on all sides and all through the night the sounds of fish hunting in the water. The crocodiles, we were assured by more experienced Kimberley hands, made no sound whatsoever. It was a few weeks before we spotted our first croc but the murky water in the creeks left us with no doubts that they were around unseen and watching us for a mistake. The following morning we were slightly surprised to see a ‘float plane’ arrive in the creek and also a large rib (boat). We had a chat with the skipper a bit later and he explained the rather complicated business they were conducting zooming tourists around the place to various attractions including the Horizontal Water Falls. We became quite accustomed to the busy charter boat and cruise ship industries going about their business. On the whole they were very respectful of our peace and were not intrusive in any way. 

Up a creek.
Tied up with the tide out in Crocodile Creek
Securing the lines

How the other half live - charter boat with all the toys

Getting Ashore.  

As we moved along from one stunning creek or bay to the next we came to accept that in the western Kimberley it is quite difficult to get ashore. The sides of the land are very steep, boulder strewn and covered with thick harsh spinifex grass which hides holes and crevices making getting around quite dangerous as well as slow and rather akin to climbing. We were keenly aware of the risk of falling in such a remote place. Where the water from the creeks enter the inlets it is sometimes possible to walk along the creek and there are often pools of lovely clear fresh water along the way which it is safe to bathe in. These excursions need to be kept fairly short and a keen eye kept on the clock because with such large tides the dinghy used to get ashore can easily end up stranded on the rocks as the tide goes out, or out of reach without getting in the croc infested water as the tide comes in. In some places the way out of a creek is blocked at a certain point of the ebbing tide by a rock or sand bar and people have got really stuck having to wait 12 hours for the next high tide. Could spoil your whole day. 

Exploring in Pipsqueak


Pipsqueak on her 'Patatas' -
inflatable rollers for getting her up and down the beach as the tide changes

 Rock art and original inhabitants 

Thanks to the excellent work by Ross Squire of MV R&R on documenting the Kimberley for sailors we were able to find lots of ancient Aboriginal rock paintings and camps ashore without too much of the risky business of scrambling over boulders and spinifex. He and his wife Roz have been cruising the Kimberley for many years and this work is his hobby. Ross has made all his cruising notes and other resources available through the Kimberley Coast Cruising Yacht Club website. 

For the ten weeks or so that we were in the region, apart from the miners on Koolan Island and Cockatoo Island we didn’t see a living human ashore or any sign of recent habitation. This is a stark contrast to what would have been the scene for thousands of years until Europeans arrived. There is plenty of evidence of older sites of human living. Huge middens of sea shells, remains of tool making from splintery rocks, exquisite paintings on the walls and ceilings of caves and overhangs, fireplaces, all of which left us feeling very moved.

It seemed odd to be in these places, all of which were very beautiful with trees, shade and wide views, almost like wandering into someones home uninvited, checking out the kitchen, the living room and the art on the walls. We felt sad that we were seeing so much evidence of a large population of residents who were living a sophisticated, spiritual and comfortable life here, who were forced at gunpoint to leave the land they loved and which supported them, by an invader who refused to even acknowledge them as human beings.

Exploring the "Lost City" at Glycosmos Bay
- a large area of canyons, caves and shady overhangs where a community would once have lived.

Looking for rock art

We only took very few photos of these places. It didn’t seem right somehow for us with only a very shallow knowledge of what we were looking at to be taking away images. However there are a few photos included here. Many of the paintings were very finely wrought with a keen eye for the elegance of a curved line. Hard to imagine the passage of thousands of years since they were originally painted.


Jenni flies off and goes shopping. 

By early July, we had moved on from the creeks around Koolan and Cockatoo Islands and done a two day trip to Raft Point via the infamous passage called ‘The Gutter’ and a lovely overnight stop at Melomys Island and ended up in Red Cone Inlet, a further short sail to the east. There Jenni was laid low by extreme back and hip pain. This was a mysterious thing and we really didn’t know what to make of it. After a couple of days Jenni broke out in a rash in her groin. A phone call on the Satphone for a diagnosis suggested a skin infection and antibiotics.

After another couple of days things seemed to be getting worse, poor Jen could hardly, move was feeling very ill and the rash was spreading and turning to blisters. We decided to head back to Koolan Island area where there was more chance of getting help and a phone signal. We made another call along the way to a friend in Broome who is a physiotherapist and knows the system in this remote region. She was able to get us in touch with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) and on the two day trip back to Koolan we were able to arrange for Jen to be picked up by a plane which was on the way to Broome from the Mitchell Plateau with another sick person. The timing worked out perfectly, and as we approached the island and got a phone signal Chris could send a photo to the flying doctor of the rash and he was able to diagnose a very bad case of shingles. The paramedic at the mine site on Koolan Island got the ambulance out and Jen was very efficiently loaded up and taken to the airstrip just in time for the plane to land and whisk her off to Broome and much needed medical care. Big thanks to the people on Koolan for their gentle care and of course to the wonderful flying doctor service, a free not-for-profit community service.

Jenni off to Broome

Apart from pain relief and rest there was not much that could be done except waiting for the natural course of events to unfold. We were so lucky that our friends Janie and Kevin were managing a B&B in town and  Jen could stay there for the first few days and then due to some Covid cancellations she found a hotel room for the next week. After that the blisters had largely closed over and she was allowed to return to the boat to finish convalescing.

A lovely scenic flight was arranged in a spare seat on a tourist flight which took in the Horizontal Waterfalls and a large section of the area on the way to Cockatoo Island where Mr Lee was waiting for her and her luggage of fresh produce. A rather dramatic shopping trip but the salads were very nice!

The iconic Horizontal Falls

Jenni recovered well on the boat and we made our way in a fairly gentle fashion north and east sailing outside the famous Mongomery Reef and onwards into the central Kimberley. 

Recovering from shingles.
The "Mrs Gandalf" look - cool loose clothing and a steadying stick for balance

Fresh Water

Even well into the dry season in the Kimberley it is possible to find good fresh water. There are many places which are documented in the various cruising guides and of course many more that are not. Most of them require the lugging of 20 litre Jerry cans over rocks and into the dinghy, then up on deck to be siphoned into the tanks. We did find a few places where it was much easier.

One was an old abandoned mine watering site at the top of Silvergull Creek where a large diameter hose runs continuously all year around. This can be used to directly fill the tanks of medium sized boats or to fill containers in the dinghy. We chose the dinghy method as we only needed to do two trips to top up our tanks. 

On another occasion we were tied up in a little deep puddle at the very top of Crocodile Creek right next to a water fall. We were able to get Upstart in close enough to the cascading water to run our own hose down to the boat to fill tanks and give the boat a rare fresh water hosing down. This was also a safe place to do our laundry and some previous yachties had built a strong ladder to climb up to the top of the falls where there were lovely pools for bathing and laundry. 

Laundry day at Crocodile Creek

The only other place we took some fresh water on board was at Swift Bay where there is a PVC pipe hanging out over the water at high tide which trickles and has been a bit chewed by the crocs. It was a bit of a slow process to fill the 20 litre containers but we did a top up to full again.

We were expecting that our last stop in the Kimberley at the King George River would provide us with the thrill of seeing and getting splashed by the highest water falls in the state but it was not to be. As it was a bit later in the dry season, the twin falls had stopped running a week or two before we got there prompting the comment that the next time we pass through we would do it from east to west arriving earlier to be sure they were flowing. 

Two weeks too late to see the magnificent Twin Falls flowing

Crocodile Tales.
We did start to see crocodiles after a week or two. Once we had got our eyes trained up a bit we started to see quite a few. It should be noted here that we had been introduced to the concept of ‘logodiles’ and ‘rockodiles’ which are often masquerading as crocs just breaking the surface of the water like they do. We were surprised at how many of these there were to be seen once we started looking. 

Hello! Oh its a REAL crocodile!

We had three interactions with real crocs which were a bit alarming. The first was as we were exploring by dinghy up a creek off Deception Bay. We had noticed a large croc on the rocks sunning itself in the late afternoon sun looking like a statue with its mouth wide open to cool down. We took the dinghy in a bit closer to take photos on our way out of the creek and before Chris could focus the camera Jenni noticed another one following the slow moving dinghy only a few meters behind us. We sped up and left it behind but it was still following for quite a while. 


The second left us with racing hearts once again, this time with dry mouths as well. We had enjoyed a lovely swim in a safe pool a couple of hundred metres walk over rocks up a shady creek with some folk from another boat. The next day we went ashore again to do laundry on the rocks much closer to the main salty creek. As we dinghied in Chris commented that the large sloping rock would be a fine spot for a croc to be sun baking. We carried on and had been deeply engrossed in doing our laundry in the fast moving stream for an hour or so when Jenni saw a large 3.5 - 4m croc just a few meters away with its head out of the water watching us. Luckily our laundry was done and we bundled it back into the baskets and were out of there in very short order! I think we were occupying its nice warm daytime hangout spot. 

The spot where the croc was watching us. Yikes!

We saw another very large croc in the King George River just fast asleep on the muddy bank as we went past. There were no feet marks in the mud at all, he or she had obviously just floated ashore when the tide was higher and seemed content to sleep the untroubled sleep of the apex predator until the water came in again. We are pretty sure that this was the croc that tried to eat one of our fenders later that evening. 

Apex predator

Jenni was in bed and Chris getting ready when he heard a big noise from the back of the boat and a shaking of Upstart which spoke of a large heavy object. He grabbed the big torch and went into the cockpit where he found a large croc with one of the fenders that we have strung across the back of the boat for dinghy landing in its mouth. By this time Jenni was out of bed and also in the cockpit a meter or so from this massive head which was completely still in the spotlight. It gave a last violent shake to the fender, let go when it didn’t come off and slid back into the water. 

The croc spent the next ten minutes hanging around the back of the boat with its head out of the water, watching us, waiting for one of us to make a mistake. We decided that we needed to get the dinghy up a bit higher which could be safely done from inside the cockpit and also get the fenders off before our mate came back to savage the rest of them. This involved undoing knots whilst hanging out from the back of the boat over the water, just what the croc was waiting for no doubt. The undoing of the knots took a few minutes and was ok while Jenni had the creature in the spotlight. Of course it went underwater, probably after it saw what Chris was doing and Jenni called out to stop messing around with knots, use a knife and be quick about it. Sadly in the process the ruined fender fell overboard and drifted off on the tide, it would have been a great souvenir. Needless to say neither of us slept particularly well that night - a memorable farewell to the Kimberley as we left the following day for Darwin.

Too much to see! We would have liked to have seen so much more of everything between Broome and Darwin but there is just too much. We met people who had been coming to the Kimberley for many years and who still felt they were just getting to know the place. This first visit has been really good for us in that we now know much more about what we will be coming to next time, what to bring, where to go and so on. We have included below a list of our 27 anchorages roughly in order west to east in case anyone wants to see where we went. 

Red Bluff
Thomas Bay
Coppermine Creek
Crocodile Creek
Silvergull Creek
Dugong Bay
Talbot Bay Horizontal Falls
Melomys Island
Raft Point
Red Cone Inlet B
ack to Melomy Island
Back to Silvergull Creek RFDS from Koolan Island
Dog Leg Creek
Deception Bay
Sampson Inlet
Sheep Island
Tengarra Bay
Ivy Cove
Rainforest Ravine
Palm Island area
Dog Ear Bay
Swift Bay
Murrangingi Island
Parry Harbour
Maia Cove
Freshwater Bay
Sir Graham Moore Island
Glycosmis Bay
King George River

More Photos.  As you can imagine we took hundreds of photos in our few months in the Kimberley. and there's just a handful here. We were particularly fascinated with incredible rock formations and wildlife so rather than fill this first blog up,  stand by for more pics in  Kimberley Part 2.





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