Day 7 – Exploring the Kimberley, Day 3

Ancient Artwork, Massive Reefs & Sunset Cocktails

Silver Discoverer at anchor off Raft Point on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Discoverer at anchor off Raft Point on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Coming ashore at Raft Point for a morning of exploration with Silversea Expeditions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Coming ashore at Raft Point for a morning of exploration with Silversea Expeditions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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).

Arriving on the beach at Raft Point, where we'll begin our journey up to the galleries carved into the sheer cliff face. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Arriving on the beach at Raft Point, where we’ll begin our journey up to the galleries carved into the sheer cliff face. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Lockers for storing your "Wet Landing" footwear are available on the port and starboard sides of Deck 5. Lockers are numbered by suite, and your locker corresponds to the side of the ship your suite is on. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Lockers for storing your “Wet Landing” footwear are available on the port and starboard sides of Deck 5. Lockers are numbered by suite, and your locker corresponds to the side of the ship your suite is on. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Aboriginal locals greet us at Raft Point and tell us about their heritage before we set out. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Aboriginal locals greet us at Raft Point and tell us about their heritage before we set out. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Setting out on our hike: it's only two kilometres, but you'll make it in nearly 40-degree Celsius heat. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Setting out on our hike: it’s only two kilometres, but you’ll make it in nearly 40-degree Celsius heat. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

At the galleries, high in the hills above Raft Point. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
At the galleries, high in the hills above Raft Point. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
These paintings are considered sacred, and only certain members of the Wadjina have permission to retouch them. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
These paintings are considered sacred, and only certain members of the Wadjina have permission to retouch them. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

The return hike to Raft Point was far easier thanks to a light breeze that sprang up in the late morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The return hike to Raft Point was far easier thanks to a light breeze that sprang up in the late morning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

The entire passenger complement of the Silver Discoverer set out at once to explore Montgomery Reef. Here, Zodiacs take refuge in the shade of the ship until all Zodiacs are in the water. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The entire passenger complement of the Silver Discoverer set out at once to explore Montgomery Reef. Here, Zodiacs take refuge in the shade of the ship until all Zodiacs are in the water. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Initially, Montgomery Reef is little more than a discoloration near the surface. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Initially, Montgomery Reef is little more than a discoloration near the surface. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
That changes quickly as water rushes off the reef as the tide drops. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
That changes quickly as water rushes off the reef as the tide drops. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The influx of water creates strong currents and whirlpools that appear without warning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The influx of water creates strong currents and whirlpools that appear without warning. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Suddenly, the reef begins to "rise" from the sea. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Suddenly, the reef begins to “rise” from the sea. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Sun begins to set as Silver Discoverer's Zodiacs race to view more of this amazing phenomenon. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Sun begins to set as Silver Discoverer’s Zodiacs race to view more of this amazing phenomenon. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The turbulent water continues until nearly all 4 metres of reef height are out of the water. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The turbulent water continues until nearly all 4 metres of reef height are out of the water. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Croc on the reef! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Croc on the reef! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

The decreasing tide also revealed a previously-hidden sandbar - and our fellow guests going ashore for cocktails. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The decreasing tide also revealed a previously-hidden sandbar – and our fellow guests going ashore for cocktails. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Silver Discoverer guests atop a sand bar, surrounded by ocean. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Discoverer guests atop a sand bar, surrounded by ocean. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Drinks, anyone? Silver Discoverer's staff serve up cocktails on the sand bar. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Drinks, anyone? Silver Discoverer’s staff serve up cocktails on the sand bar. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silversea's Silver Discoverer off in the distance, as seen from the sand bar. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silversea’s Silver Discoverer off in the distance, as seen from the sand bar. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Cheers! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Cheers! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Making our way back to the Silver Discoverer at sunset. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Making our way back to the Silver Discoverer at sunset. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our floating home-away-from-home cuts a striking figure in the growing darkness. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our floating home-away-from-home cuts a striking figure in the growing darkness. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Zodiacs return to the Silver Discoverer as the last rays of light fill the coast of Australia's Kimberley region. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Zodiacs return to the Silver Discoverer as the last rays of light fill the coast of Australia’s Kimberley region. 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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