Ancient Artwork, Massive Reefs & Sunset Cocktails
Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
I was up before sunrise this morning aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer, ready for our 7:30a.m. departure by Zodiac rafts for our hiking adventure in Raft Point that will take us to see the Wadjina Rock Art that has been painted onto a rocky outcrop high in the hills above Raft Point.
To accomplish these Zodiac transfers, guests aboard the Silver Discoverer are assigned to one of four groups: Group 1, 2, 3 and 4. I am in Group 2, and with each of these outings, the groups are rotated so that no one group always gets the first wake-up calls.
Today, Groups 2 and 3 are meeting by the Aft Pool on Deck 5 to go ashore first, at 7:30a.m., while Groups 1 and 4 will depart the Silver Discoverer one hour later at 8:30a.m. Guests arrive between 10 and 15 minutes prior to their scheduled departure time, and wear special Zodiac lifejackets (not those awful, bulky orange things).
We were told today would be a ‘wet landing.’ Each morning, an Assessment Party goes ashore to scout out the local conditions and report back to the ship. That way, if we have to disembark the zodiacs in the water – which was the case today – we can be better prepared to wear footwear capable of being immersed.
To store your wet footwear once you come back to the ship, guests can use two sets of lockers located on either side of the Deck 5 promenade. Cleverly, these lockers correspond with the side of the ship your suite is on, and they are all numbered. All you have to do is find your suite number and place your wet belongings in that designated bin.
Some of the first aboriginal artwork present in The Kimberley was discovered by a man named Joseph Bradshaw. Bradshaw, like a number of other famous explorers, was completely and totally lost when he bumbled upon the mysterious Gwion Gwion art. In the time-honoured tradition of the lost explorer, this artwork became known as The Bradshaw Paintings.
Carbon-dating isn’t possible, but it is thought that these drawings could be as old as 17,000 years. The native Aborigines believe that these paintings – which are scattered throughout The Kimberley – were created by birds that pecked at the rocks until their beaks bled, then used their own feathers to draw these elaborate works of art.
For our hike to the galleries, we were met by local Wadjina members who greeted us and painted our faces with two stripes of red ochre to honour local customs. We then made a short two kilometre hike up to the galleries.
Here’s the deal with the hike: it’s not that hard, but the searing heat and rising humidity in the early morning hours makes it feel like you’re slogging 20 kilometres through the desert. Bring lots of water; most of what you drank at breakfast will end up in your shirt. In fact, everyone was perspiring heavily by the time they reached the top, but the rewards for making the trek were plentiful.
The return journey to the beachside was much easier, as a breeze had developed in the mid-morning that helped to cool things off. Before leaving the beach, we had to walk through smoke from a fire made of local bushes in order to rid ourselves of evil spirits. The entire morning was an amazing cultural experience.
Back onboard the Silver Discoverer, everyone must have had the same idea: lunch. Lunch is served buffet-style, not in The Restaurant on Deck 3, but in the Discoverer Lounge on Deck 5. It’s tasty and there’s an enormous variety of food on offer with specialities that change each day, all available with complimentary local wines, beer, or the cocktail of your choice.
One thing I do miss here onboard – and that I strongly feel should be considered on a future refit – is a proper Library. Silver Explorer is stocked to the brim with books, and every other Silversea vessel has a fabulous onboard library. Here onboard the Silver Discoverer, just a single bookcase placed at the entrance to the Discoverer Lounge offers up reading materials for guests.
But that’s a minor quibble – as the events of the day would showcase with amazing clarity.
If you were looking out over the side of the ship this afternoon in the hopes of seeing Montgomery Reef, you would have noticed one small problem: no reef. As it turns out, Montgomery Reef is very much there; you just can’t see it.
At around lunchtime, the tide hit a high of 9.6 metres. Six hours later, it would have dropped to just 1.4 metres. It’s this enormous tidal fluctuation that allows Montgomery Reef to effectively “rise” from the sea.
Montgomery Reef covers 1035 square kilometres, or 400 square miles – so much surface area that to completely circumnavigate the reef would take an entire day and a half by Zodiac, which can move through the water substantially faster than even the Silver Discoverer herself.
Setting out from the ship at 2:45p.m., the reef was completely invisible from sight. Gradually, however, the water began to change colour, taking on a dark blue tone at first and then becoming more and more murky as the tide began to drop, revealing the first few tips of the reef.
Although everyone knows that Montgomery Reef is being revealed by the lowering tide, the fact that the reef is the only physical landmark for miles around results in the illusion that it is literally rising from the sea. As more of the reef is exposed, water flows with increasing urgency off its surface, creating swirling pools of fast-moving currents and literally turning the surface of the ocean into an undulating mass of mini-rivers and tributaries that pushed and pulled our Zodiac around like it was a cork.
To add to this spectacular sight, the vast majority of the reef became exposed as the sun was starting to set. By the time the reef had completed its ascent from the depths below, close to 4 metres (13 feet) had been uncovered.
While we noticed what appeared to a shark flapping frantically atop the reef, one other creature wasn’t nearly as concerned with the dropping water levels: a large saltwater crocodile, who seemed quite content to lazily rest atop the reef until something tasty came its way. The birds were also pleased with this development, feeding on trapped fish at their leisure.
It’s amazing how much you’re able to learn during a three-hour Zodiac ride, and how much your perception of the world around you can change. Silversea Expeditions has a man named Conrad Combrink in charge of their Expedition programme, and he’s done a masterful job of developing itineraries that really give you a feel not just for the place you happen to be physically present in, but for the larger world and the diversity of the ecosystems here. This reef has been popping in and out of the water for centuries now, and it will continue to do so long after you and I are gone. In fact, much of this area in The Kimberley pre-dates the earliest life forms on our planet.
So picture this: the sun is lying low on the horizon, turning the reef a crimson-red and lining the sky with hints of purple thanks to smoke from some nearby wildfires. We’re zipping along in the Zodiac when we round a corner of the reef to see a sandbar off in the distance. This sandbar was covered by water just a few hours ago, and is now completely clear of it.
There’s also our fellow guests on the sandbar, milling around. Silversea had decided to move tonight’s Cocktail Hour to a sandbar in the middle of the ocean.
The entire experience highlighted so much of what I like about Silversea: their complete willingness to go the extra mile.
It would have been infinitely easier to have cocktail hour back onboard the ship. Instead, the crew of the Silver Discoverer loaded cans of soft drinks, juice, champagne, beers and wines into several massive coolers and brought it all onto the sand bar by Zodiac. The sand bar that was, at the very least, a full 10 minutes’ sail from the ship. Between the Silver Discoverer’s staff and bar staff and the supplies, it likely took two Zodiacs to cart everything over.
Having sunset cocktails aboard the Silver Discoverer would have been memorable after our experiences with Montgomery Reef. Having them on a sand bar in the middle of the ocean was unforgettable.
Silver Discoverer, The Kimberley Coast, Australia to Indonesia
|May 9, 2014||Day 1 - Arrival Down Under|
|May 10||Day 2 - Sydney and the Shangri-La|
|May 11||Day 3 - Perth|
|May 12||Day 4 - Embarking Silver Discoverer in Broome|
|May 13||Day 5 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 1|
|May 14||Day 6 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 2|
|May 15||Day 7 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 3|
|May 16||Day 8 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 4|
|May 17||Day 9 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 5|
|May 18||Day 10 - Exploring the Kimberley, Day 6|
|May 19||Day 11 - Wyndham, Australia|
|May 20||Day 12 - At Sea|
|May 21||Day 13 - Savu, Indonesia|
|May 22||Day 14 - Komodo & Pink Beach, Indonesia|
|May 23||Day 15 - Waikelo, Indonesia|
|May 24||Benoa, Bali, Indonesia|