Day 10 – Exploring the Kimberley, Day 6

Discovering the magnificent King George River

King George Falls rises out of the water nearly 300 feet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
King George Falls rises out of the water nearly 300 feet. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

This morning was the first cool, overcast day aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer since we set sail from Broome on Monday evening. Of course, ‘cool’ is a relative term by which I mean ‘something below 30°C.’

Today, we’re exploring the majestic King George River, home to the spectacular King George Falls that tower nearly 300 feet in height and cascade thousands of tonnes of water down into the bay below.

The bay where Silversea’s adventurous Silver Discoverer is anchored this morning is named after the S.S. Koolama, a Western Australia State Shipping passenger vessel that was bombed by the Japanese on 20 February 1942 and was beached here in what used to be known as Ruthiers Bay.

Silver Discoverer at anchor in Koolama Bay this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Discoverer at anchor in Koolama Bay this morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Commanded by Captain Jack Eggleston, the Koolama was roughly the same size as our Silver Discoverer. But in wartime Australia, her activities as a troop transport had put her in the sights of the Japanese Air Force, which attempted to bomb the ship as she sailed off the Kimberley Coast on 20 February 1942.

These mid-morning air raids failed to inflict any damage to the Koolama thanks to Eggleston’s zig-zag maneuvering. Just two hours later, at 13:30, the Japanese returned. Three Kawanishi’s – led by Commander Tsunaki Yonehara – bombarded the Koolama mercilessly, disabling her steering and communications systems, and wounding Raymond “Bluey” Plummer, who had his skull sliced open by an incoming bomb but miraculously survived.

Koolama Bay is named after the S.S. Koolama, which was beached here at the mouth of the King George River following an attack by the Japanese in 1942. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Koolama Bay is named after the S.S. Koolama, which was beached here at the mouth of the King George River following an attack by the Japanese in 1942. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

With his ship mortally wounded, Eggleston decided to beach the Koolama at the mouth of the King George River. But he and his First Officer, Ken Reynolds, did not see eye-to-eye on the situation: Eggleston felt the ship should be evacuated until necessary repairs could be completed; while Reynolds was in favor of abandoning the vessel altogether.

This disagreement between two of the Koolama’s most senior officers would later inspire accusations of mutiny that, to this day, aren’t entirely without merit. Reynolds did convince the vast majority of crew to join him and Koolama’s passengers at what would be known as Calamity Cove. Local Aborigines would later lead most of the crew and surviving passengers on an arduous overland journey that would take them 150 kilometres through the Kimberley to the Drysdale River Mission, now known as Kulumburu.

Once again, we set out via Zodiac on another adventure in Australia's Kimberley. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Once again, we set out via Zodiac on another adventure in Australia’s Kimberley. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Eggleston, with a skeleton crew at his disposal, would succeed in patching up the Koolama over a week later, sailing her on to Wyndham, where Silver Discoverer will be berthed tomorrow. But Wyndham was no kinder to the Koolama. She was nearly sinking by the time she berthed alongside on 2 March, and the Japanese returned to finish her off on 3 March. To this day, she lies four metres under the surface of the water at the far end of the Wyndham wharf, covered in a thick tomb of silt courtesy of the fast-moving currents.

The scale of the landscape in the King George River is immense. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The scale of the landscape in the King George River is immense. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, as I sailed past the location where the Koolama had been beached, I tried to put myself in the position of Captain Eggleston and his passengers and crew. These waters are loaded with poisonous jellyfish, sea snakes, and – of course – the odd saltwater crocodile or three. Add to that the fact that the Koolama was beached here during the glory days of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and you’ve got the recipe for a hell of an awful experience.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

That nearly everyone onboard survived – and that the Koolama made it to Wyndham – is nothing short of miraculous. But this event from the past is a timely reminder that, however beautiful the King George River is, it is an environment that remains stunning to see but horrifying to be trapped in.

On our 3.5-hour Zodiac tour this morning, we were treated to some magnificent sights of the King George River under the diffused sunlight from above. Our guide, Mark, has spent years in this part of The Kimberley, and as such, he knows the King George River like the back of his hand.

Few sights are more impressive than coming upon King George Falls in Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Few sights are more impressive than coming upon King George Falls in Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With a high tide of 2.7 metres this morning, most of the mangroves that lined the entrance to the King George River were almost fully submerged as we passed them at the entrance. So high were the tides that we were even able to sail into a small lagoon on our Zodiacs, crossing a large sandbar that would have rendered the entire area inaccessible just a few hours later.

Some photos from this remarkable area of the world:

The landscape here is definitely alien in appearance. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The landscape here is definitely alien in appearance. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Two guests from Silver Discoverer who were part of the overland hike peer down from the top of the falls. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Two guests from Silver Discoverer who were part of the overland hike peer down from the top of the falls. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Approaching the falls. We went under the one on the far left. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Approaching the falls. We went under the one on the far left. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of the defining moments of our morning of exploration: Mark asked us if we’d like to get wet by going underneath the falls. The four of us in the Zodiac agreed that’d be a fantastic idea. So, our lifejackets came off (they inflate when they come in contact with water) and our Silversea backpacks went in the forward compartment where the fuel jugs are held.

Then, devoid of lifejackets and backpacks and keycards and anything that could possibly be damaged by water, Mark maneuvered us underneath the smallest stream of the falls, where we got wonderfully soaked (and almost massaged) by the thundering water from above.

We all enjoyed it so much, we went for another go-round under the falls!

Racing back to the ship. Here, Expedition Team member Andy waves to the camera. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Racing back to the ship. Here, Expedition Team member Andy waves to the camera. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The water was fresh, cold, and immensely heavy. The weight of it pounding on my shoulders (and my crushed hat) felt like having a Swedish massage on your entire upper body, all at once, in no more than 30 seconds. This was the smallest of the falls; the one which, at a distance, appears rather tepid.

You can appreciate the punishing force that the main King George Falls would have.

After our morning tour, I noticed I’d unconsciously shot 298 photos. Such is the beauty of The Kimberley. In fact, as of this writing, I’ve already snapped 2,646 photographs – and we’re only halfway through this Expedition!

An unusual occurrence here in The Kimberley: today, it rained. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
An unusual occurrence here in The Kimberley: today, it rained. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, something happened that rarely occurs in The Kimberley: it rained. For the first time since leaving my hometown of Vancouver, Canada (where it rains all the time) 11 days ago, I saw rain.

Rain in The Kimberley is infrequent at best. When it does rain, it tends to pour, flooding the landscape with water the soil is ill-equipped to deal with.

Just after one this afternoon, the sun was obliterated from the sky by ominous-looking clouds moving in from the Timor Sea. The Zodiac Expeditions at 14:00 and 15:00 were reminded to dress for rain via announcements made over the Silver Discoverer’s Public Address system.

Then, perhaps unaspiringly, it rained. And rained. And rained.

Guests return to the Silver Discoverer at 5p.m. under darkening skies and increased rainfall. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests return to the Silver Discoverer at 5p.m. under darkening skies and increased rainfall. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

At her anchorage in Koolama Bay, Silver Discoverer’s entire 102 metre (338 foot) length bobbed up and down with the increasing swells as the wind picked up and the rain only increased in intensity. With its newfound grey skies and broodingly dark waters, The Kimberley suddenly resembled the western coast of Ireland in a storm, or the rugged cliffs of Mexico’s Sea of Cortes.

Although the weather was inclement for the better part of the afternoon, I thought it was fabulous that we had the opportunity to see this region of Western Australia in some decidedly uncommon weather. Today was the first day I didn’t immediately start perspiring the second I stepped outdoors, and the first time I’ve had to kick the lights in my suite on prior to sunset.

On the plus side: the inclement weather made the Silver Discoverer's public rooms ideal to photograph. Shown here is the Explorer Lounge, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
On the plus side: the inclement weather made the Silver Discoverer’s public rooms ideal to photograph. Shown here is the Explorer Lounge, Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Once again, I’d like to highlight where the rest of the Silversea fleet is tonight, courtesy of the Silversea Chronicles:

  • Silver Cloud: Porto Vecchio, France
  • Silver Wind: Hvar, Croatia
  • Silver Shadow: Juneau, Alaska
  • Silver Whisper: Zebrugge, Belgium
  • Silver Spirit: Ibiza, Spain
  • Silver Explorer: Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK
  • Silver Galapagos: Santiago, Galapagos, Ecuador

Today, I was thinking about some of the places I’ve seen in this world. I witnessed sunsets in Rome and dawn in Athens. I have seen wild animals run free in the jungles of South Africa and glaciers calve in the wilderness of Alaska. Yet there is no place on earth that’s equal to The Kimberley. It’s as remote as Antarctica and as ecologically diverse as the Galapagos.

What’s truly astonishing, however, is that you can see a place as remote as this while still sleeping on Pratesi linens from Italy and eating Pierre Marcolini chocolates from Belgium.

Silversea has only had an expedition presence in the Pacific Ocean for a little over a month now, but something tells me this is going to be a very good addition to the line’s luxury adventure offerings.

Guests return to the Silver Discoverer and a waiting cocktail this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests return to the Silver Discoverer and a waiting cocktail this evening. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silver Discoverer, The Kimberley Coast, Australia to Indonesia

DAYPORT
May 9, 2014Day 1 - Arrival Down Under
May 10Day 2 - Sydney and the Shangri-La
May 11Day 3 - Perth
May 12Day 4 - Embarking Silver Discoverer in Broome
May 13Day 5 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 1
May 14 Day 6 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 2
May 15Day 7 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 3
May 16Day 8 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 4
May 17Day 9 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 5
May 18Day 10 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 6
May 19Day 11 - Wyndham, Australia
May 20Day 12 - At Sea
May 21Day 13 - Savu, Indonesia
May 22Day 14 - Komodo & Pink Beach, Indonesia
May 23Day 15 - Waikelo, Indonesia
May 24Benoa, Bali, Indonesia
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