Day 7 |
Apr 28, 2014

King George River, Koolama Bay

By Chris Cutler, Naturalist
Co-ordinates: S 13º93', E 127º31'
Weather: Overcast, some showers AM, beautiful PM
Air Temperature: 35ºC
Pressure: 1012 hPa
Wind: 5 -10 knots

During the night Silver Discoverer had rounded Cape Londonderry, the northernmost point of land in the Kimberley, and by day-break had entered Koolama Bay. A very different weather pattern greeted us today – ominous clouds instead of the customary early sunshine. Thunderous skies opened-up and provided a good brief downpour.

After the squall had passed the ship, I took off in a Zodiac with guests. We cruised close to the shore where a lightning-strike fire had been burning the last time we had visited the area, the smell of charred ‘bush’ ever fragrant. Along the long sweep of beach -exposed only at low tide- we spied a couple of magnificent-looking Jabiru Storks and some Red-capped Plovers close to the site where the Australian merchant/passenger vessel M/V Koolama had intentionally been beached during WW2.

On 20 February, 1942, the Koolama was hit by three bombs dropped by a Kawanishi ‘flying boat’, the tail fin of one of the bombs grazing the scalp of crewman ‘Bluey’ Plummer. Severely damaged, the ship managed to get to the beach, and after heroic efforts to repair her, Koolama left nine days later in a desperate bid to get to Wyndham. She arrived and docked but sank in situ as the pumps failed after the crew had to abandon her when another bombing-scare forced them to leave the ship. Some passengers and crew were rescued from Calamity Cove by Benedictine priests and aboriginals from the Drysdale River Mission who arrived by lugger, while others made the more than 100-km overland journey to safety.

We traversed the meandering course of the river and through a gorge of spectacular sandstone -some pitted like giant honeycombs by saltwater spray- to the famed waterfalls. The west falls were elegant and dainty, while the east falls crashed with churning force into the tiny bay below. With effort and patience we climbed a steep slope to a plateau above the gorge and walked easily to two streams above the falls. The rain started again as we swam in incredibly refreshing pools of cool water. I followed some faint bird calls and found a family of Variegated Wrens, a cooperatively-breeding species, and kept abreast of them as they moved slowly across the rocky terrain. The obliging male was strikingly beautiful and posed briefly for the lens.

Back in the Zodiacs we celebrated our hike with cold drinks and then took turns driving under the lesser of the two waterfalls for a fantastic dunking. We followed the river back to the ship and later in the afternoon made Zodiac-cruises of different lengths. Back up the falls again later in the day, I watched a Peregrine Falcon dive on (and perhaps hit) an Osprey that flew a bit too close to the falcon’s cliffside nest. A large green walking stick with red wings flew across the gorge some 100 meters. A triumvirate of egrets: Great, Little and the (rather dismissively named) “Intermediate Egret” stood on an exposed beach.
As the sun set beautifully, we were all back to the ship after what had been another glorious day of exploration of this special part of the world.