Time moves so slowly in the Kimberley, it might as well stand still. Adventure cruiser, Roderick Eime, faces off with the ancient Wandjina.
Their mouthless faces stare out from the rock ceiling, eyes wide and all-seeing. These are the Wandjina, invisible to mere mortals. The Kimberley of Australia’s North West is their realm and they rule supreme, governing the rain and the life-giving regeneration that follows.
We’re here in the famous cave at Raft Point, possibly the best known of all Wandjina rock art sites in the Kimberley. Their Dreamtime stories are kept alive by local indigenous people like the Mowanjum people from nearby Derby. Their Dreaming stories tell of the first Wandjina, called Idjair, who lives in the Milky Way and is the father of all the Wandjinas who went on to create the Earth.
“The Wandjinas gave the language, the culture and the laws of the country,” says Mowanjum artist Leah Umbagai, “They told us how we have to work the country and how we have to live. So all the laws, language and traditions we got from the Wandjinas. This is a very powerful person or spirit being that we believe in. We are here because of the Wandjinas.”
The oldest Wandjina art was created perhaps 4000 years ago. It is traditionally repainted every few years because the dyes and ochres would otherwise fade and deteriorate. Older still are the Gwion Gwion paintings, now so ancient they are fused in the rock itself and impossible to date by conventional methods. Researchers are confident they are at least 20,000 years old, probably older.
Coming face-to-face with these prehistoric murals is a humbling experience. All of a sudden you realise how fleeting your existence is and how little the Earth cares about your dreams and aspirations.
Even though we may be brief and transient visitors to this realm, it doesn’t stop us marvelling at the grandeur of the creations that surround us here in the Kimberley. The majesty of King George Falls in full flight ranks along with Victoria Falls and Niagara in terms of sheer beauty, if not water volume. The better cruise operators will bring their tenders so close that your whole body will shudder as the cascade plummets 80 metres into the river, enveloping you in a dense, misty spray.
The best way to access these remote wonders is by small ship and expedition cruising has found a solid niche in the Kimberley with more and more vessels plying these remote waters thanks to the accelerating tourism interest in the region. However, with the notorious six-metre tides, patchy charts and tricky currents, local experience comes into its own. This, coupled with the preference to smaller vessels, makes the Kimberley a premium destination for adventure cruise travellers.
One of the acknowledged preeminent operators, is the multi-award-winning True North Adventure Cruises who have seen more than 30 years of continuous operation in the region.
“We are very different to a big ship holiday,” said owner and founder, Craig Howson OAM, “Our itineraries are always activity-based and much more suited to travellers who are looking for a holiday that is also an enriching experience.”
Their luxury expedition vessel, True North, carries just 36 guests in superlative ‘barefoot comfort’ and lavishes guests with such activities as heli-fishing and flightseeing with their onboard jet helicopter, tender exploration into remote tributaries and ecological enrichment thanks to onboard scientists like Dr Andy Lewis, a passionate marine biologist and expedition leader.
For those looking for simpler relaxation, Craig’s team offers unsurpassed fishing in the many tributaries throughout the Kimberley where dedicated anglers can land snapper, mullet, queenfish, mangrove jack or even the legendary barramundi. If you can’t catch a fish in the Kimberley, then you really should give it up.
The Kimberley cruise season is typically between March and September as the weather transitions from wet to dry. Early season has the best waterfalls, while later is best for fishing. The choice is yours, because the Wandjina will be doing their thing regardless, just as they have done since the dawn of time.
For more information see True North.