Day 8 – Exploring the Kimberley, Day 4

Silver Discoverer arrives on Australia’s Hunter River

Today, guests aboard Silversea's Silver Discoverer had the chance to explore Australia's magnificent Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Today, guests aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer had the chance to explore Australia’s magnificent Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

You know you’re expedition cruising when you’re up at a time in the morning that you’ve always considered purely theoretical. But the group of guests that made their way down to the Discoverer Lounge just after 05:00 aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverer certainly weren’t upset about the early breakfast call; getting up early was going to allow us to be in the Zodiacs by 06:00 for a sunrise tour of the Hunter River.

Watching the sun rise onboard Silver Discoverer as we make our way to Australia's Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Watching the sun rise onboard Silver Discoverer as we make our way to Australia’s Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Unfortunately, we were a bit delayed in getting to our anchorage, so our Zodiac disembarkation was pushed back to 07:00. No matter – I got to have the pleasure of watching the sun rise from the aft deck of the Silver Discoverer as she cruised toward our anchorage, all the while nursing a cup of hot Illy coffee.

Here’s some food-for-thought: the Hunter River is home to a dense mangrove system that is estimated to be more than two billion years old. As if that wasn’t enough to ponder over, the tidal fluctuations are just as pronounced here as they have been during the rest of our explorations in The Kimberley, reaching 6 metres in height at lunch time and dropping down to a paltry 1.7 metres by 18:25.

Enjoying a fresh cup of coffee out on the aft portion of Deck 5 aboard Silver Discoverer. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying a fresh cup of coffee out on the aft portion of Deck 5 aboard Silver Discoverer. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

So why does that matter? On our Zodiac journey this morning, we began our trip up the Hunter River at a low tide of a little more than two metres. As you sail up the river, the tidal height is easily visible on the leaves of the mangroves, which are covered in brackish silt up to a certain height before resuming their normal, vibrant green colour. It looks like they’re dead, but they’re not: this is the overall tidal height.

Because of that, the landscape is constantly changing. At low tide, we saw dozens of Mudskippers darting about on the grey, clay-like shoreline left exposed by the retreating water. These ugly little lizard-like creatures camouflage themselves with their surroundings perfectly, resembling a muddy iguana.

Silver Discoverer at anchor off Hunter River, Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Discoverer at anchor off Hunter River, Australia. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Racing out on another morning of adventure. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Racing out on another morning of adventure. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The deadliest creature in the Hunter River, however, is the Saltwater Crocodile. The largest reptile in the world, the Saltwater Crocodile is the most aggressive of the crocodile species. They like to hang out at ‘periscope depth’ in the shallows along the shore, hidden by the murky waters and remaining so still that they could be mistaken for a branch or a bit of underwater mangrove.

At one point in our journey, we spotted a large saltwater croc sunning itself on the muddy bank. This brief sighting helped illustrate two important factors to us. First, in the five or so minutes we were watching the crocodile, he remained completely motionless. This allowed us to see how quickly the tide was advancing, as in that five minute span, his snout went from being above water to being fully submerged.

Cruising Australia's Hunter River in search of wildlife. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Cruising Australia’s Hunter River in search of wildlife. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The deadly Saltwater Crocodile is abundant in the murky waters of the Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The deadly Saltwater Crocodile is abundant in the murky waters of the Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Notice how well he blends in with his environment. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Notice how well he blends in with his environment. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Second, despite their size (saltwater crocodiles can grow to be eight metres long and weigh in at over 1,000 kilograms), these things can move. When we got too close to it with our Zodiac, he moved like a bullet from a gun. One minute he was in front of us, and in the next he’s disappeared into the muddy waters, leaving only a splash in his wake. In our Zodiac, we’re safe. But you can appreciate the danger in this part of the world to the uninitiated who either fall overboard or decide to go for a swim. You can’t see them, but the Saltwater Crocodiles are everywhere.

The Hunter River is remarkably picturesque. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Hunter River is remarkably picturesque. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Dense mangroves emerge from the water, their bases hidden by the high tidal conditions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Dense mangroves emerge from the water, their bases hidden by the high tidal conditions. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The ever-changing landscape of the Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The ever-changing landscape of the Hunter River. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our tour along the river today was three hours. On long Zodiac excursions like these, it helps to bring your complimentary Silversea backpack along and load it up with water and sunscreen. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Our tour along the river today was three hours. On long Zodiac excursions like these, it helps to bring your complimentary Silversea backpack along and load it up with water and sunscreen. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The real beauty of this part of the world – and the advantage Silversea has in offering Expeditions like these – is that we were the only ones on the Hunter River today. Aside from our other Zodiac companions (which we saw for perhaps 30 minutes out of our three-hour total), we were the only ones in this entire area. Just us and the massive ecosystem known as the Hunter River. In terms of remoteness, this isn’t that far off from the kind of isolation present in Antarctica or the Far North.

Other guests took part in the optional (i.e.-not included in the cost of your cruise) helicopter flight to Mitchell Falls, which I hear was a spectacular (if expensive) journey. At Mitchell Falls, three different photographic vantage points are available to view the four cascading waterfalls that plunge vertically into stepped basins. There’s also a small freshwater lake that you can cool if in, if you so choose to. However, as amazing as it sounds, I certainly don’t feel like I missed out on an essential experience, as we’re set to cruise the astonishing King George Falls in a few days’ time.

Returning to Silver Discoverer...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Returning to Silver Discoverer…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...and a waiting cocktail! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…and a waiting cocktail! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The only downside to not taking the helicopter? Our day of exploration ended at 10:00, whereas the groups participating in the helicopter excursion set off on that in the morning, then did the Zodiac tour in the afternoon, returning to the ship just before dinner.

But, as I am behind the curve on work, this gave me a much-needed day to rest and get some writing done. It’s important to remember how active these expeditions are over a regular voyage on Silversea; until now, I’ve been going from six in the morning straight until ten at night – and that’s before the writing and uploading of these posts!

One of the nicest touches aboard Silver Discoverer is the original photography taken by expedition team members interspersed throughout the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
One of the nicest touches aboard Silver Discoverer is the original photography taken by expedition team members interspersed throughout the ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of the things I really like about Silver Discoverer is that throughout the vessel and in the suites, beautiful photographs of Silversea’s Expedition destinations around the world have been framed and hung with care. All of them have been taken by Silversea’s Expedition Team members that specialise in photography, and there’s even a few courtesy of our own Expedition Leader, Mick Fogg, and our onboard photographer, Ray Stranagan.

Of course, being an expedition cruise means that sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, and it’s always good to expect the unexpected. As it happens, this was the situation we found ourselves in this evening aboard the Silver Discoverer when one of the Zodiacs on the afternoon tour of Hunter River became stranded on the mud flats when the tide dropped suddenly and the raft ran aground.

An unusual sight: some zodiacs are re-lowered into the water after 5pm to provide support for one of the Zodiacs that became stuck on the Hunter River due to the rapidly-changing tides. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
An unusual sight: some zodiacs are re-lowered into the water after 5pm to provide support for one of the Zodiacs that became stuck on the Hunter River due to the rapidly-changing tides. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

In any other part of the world, guests would disembark the raft, walk across the mud flats, and board a waiting rescue Zodiac. However, this is not possible in the Hunter River due to the abundance of saltwater crocodiles. Faced with that, sitting tight became the best solution to the problem.

The guests onboard were safe and comfortable, (and arguably getting an exclusive adventure this evening), and eight additional Zodiac rafts were sent to aid the beached Zodiac and to maintain communication with them. Rafts that had been hoisted onto the ship were rapidly re-placed in the water, and almost the entire Expedition Team was on the scene before sunset.

A total of eight Zodiacs returned to drop guests off at the Silver Discoverer before returning to provide support to the Zodiac that went aground. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
A total of eight Zodiacs returned to drop guests off at the Silver Discoverer before returning to provide support to the Zodiac that went aground. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I mention this not to scare anyone away from expedition cruising, but rather to highlight the caution and care the Expedition Team here onboard the Silver Discoverer has shown in dealing with this problem. Rather than let rumours run throughout the ship, messages were broadcast over the public address system informing us of the situation and notifying us of the change to this evening’s program.

Just before 21:00, an announcement was made over the public address system advising everyone that the Zodiac had been refloated and was on its way back to the ship. About 30 minutes later, the first of the stranded guests walked into the dining room, all smiles, to a hero’s welcome.

Returning to the Hunter River at dusk. I was impressed at how calmly and professionally the entire Expedition Team handled the incident. By all accounts, those on the stranded Zodiac had a fun time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Returning to the Hunter River at dusk. I was impressed at how calmly and professionally the entire Expedition Team handled the incident. By all accounts, those on the stranded Zodiac had a fun time. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I was impressed to see how well the team came together to find a solution to the problem and to ensure that the affected guests were being looked after. Like any good tour operator, Silversea’s credo has to be safety first. In fact, just today the line announced that it was modifying the itineraries of four Black Sea voyages due to the continued unrest in the Ukraine. Ports removed include Yalta, Sevastopol and Odessa. Modified are Silver Spirit Voyage 5422 (July 21); Voyage5426(August 20); Voyage 5431 (September 29); and Silver Cloud Voyage 1431 (October 19). On the last three affected sailings, guests can opt for a $200 onboard credit or enjoy an exclusive, previously unscheduled tour of Bucharest, Romania.

Tonight's partial dinner menu. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Tonight’s partial dinner menu. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying dinner onboard Silver Discoverer. The food has been phenomenal so far, and the local Australian wines have been very good. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Enjoying dinner onboard Silver Discoverer. The food has been phenomenal so far, and the local Australian wines have been very good. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

But the problems in the Ukraine seem very distant from the remote wilderness of The Kimberley. Tomorrow, Silver Discoverer should be in Swift Bay, where we’ll set out on even more adventures in this diverse region of the world. Amazingly, we still have today and tomorrow left in The Kimberley, and we continue on to Wyndham, Australia on Monday before sailing on to Indonesia on Tuesday. It’s brilliant to look back at what we’ve seen so far – but even better knowing there’s more days of discovery ahead onboard Silversea’s newest expedition vessel, Silver Discoverer.

More days of adventure await us aboard Silversea's newest expedition ship. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
More days of adventure await us aboard Silversea’s newest expedition ship. 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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