Day 3 |
May 14, 2014

Talbot Bay

By Dr Greg Calvert, Tropical Ecologist, Botanist & Herpetologist
Co-ordinates: S 16º18’, E 123º54'
Weather: Sunny with some high level clouds
Air Temperature: 35ºC
Pressure: 1008 hPa
Wind: 2 knots

Yet another magical day in the Kimberley, and the weather was perfect, with mild temperatures and smooth seas. I was having a leisurely cup of coffee when one of the waiters asked me if the sharks were still around the back of the boat. I swallowed my coffee in a single gulp and raced to back of the ship to find two beautiful Tawny Nurse Sharks circling around the mooring deck. These gentle and harmless denizens of the deep were very tame and curious and with a little splash of my hand in the water soon came close enough for some close photographs -and even a stroke of their pleasantly raspy skin. Before long, they were joined by another couple of sharks, and soon the breakfast bar was empty as everyone gathered along the railings to watch these graceful animals turning slow, lazy circles around the Zodiacs tied up behind the ship.

I quickly donned my life vest, binoculars, camera and hat and fired up the engine of my zodiac, ready for the 2.25hr tour of Talbot Bay. We left the ship at 7.45 and headed down to the world-famous Horizontal Waterfall, basically a huge tidal lake that drains in and out through a narrow passage, fed by some of the most extreme tides in the world.
We had arrived at the falls on an incoming tide, but the tide was still low and the falls weren’t particularly active. One gent asked me if this was as good as they got. I just smiled- he’d know soon enough.
We continued our tour down into Cyclone Bay, stopping to check out some lovely Short-eared Rock-wallabies. Barramundi and Archer fish were spotted amongst the semi-submerged mangroves, and the occasional Dusky Woodswallow turned aerobatics above us catching insects.
Further into the bay, we spotted a Great Bowerbird amongst the mangroves, a green turtle and some amazing geology, with the colossal uplifted ranges a testament to the enormous upheaval these ranges have been subjected to. In some rocks I could see the ancient ripple marks where the sandstone was laid down over 1.8 Billion years ago -while in other places, I could see the intricate folding and bending that earned the site the nickname “Cadbury Rock”, due to its resemblance to a delicious dessert.
A large Wedge-tailed Eagle and White-bellied Sea Eagle made my morning complete. As we returned to the ship, we called in again at the Horizontal Waterfall, and now a huge surge of tidal water was rushing in through the narrow gap. Many of our guests had opted to go on a ride aboard “Full Throttle”: a specialised high-speed boat boasting 900HP -power that allowed them to punch effortlessly through the surging falls. I laughed as we heard the screams and cheers as they blasted through the roaring water.

I returned to the ship at 10.30am to swap groups, and again my boat thrilled to the sight of the Horizontal Falls. We continued again into Cyclone Bay and I was relieved that we were still able to get some nice looks at the Rock-wallabies. The incoming tide had flooded many areas since the morning, so it was possible to get further in some of the smaller inlets than I had been able to do with the previous group, and as the morning advanced, there were several native Pink Hibiscus flowers opening amongst the grassland. The morning passed quickly, with birdwatching, appreciating the complex geology and soaking in the ambience of this ancient landscape. On our return to the Horizontal Waterfall, we found the tide had risen at least 7 metres during our visit, and now the falls were relatively flat and calm, allowing us to zoom through into the great flooded loch to the south. After a quick look around I headed back to Silver Discoverer for lunch.

I spent a good portion of my lunchtime down at the mooring deck as there were now seven Tawny Nurse Sharks, all very tame and easily photographed, and several of the guests were lucky enough to pat them as they cruised by. After lunch, Malcolm Turner gave a very thorough overview of the history of Aboriginal people in the Kimberley with his talk “50,000 years of Australian History”.

It wasn’t long, however, before I had to prepare for another visit to the Horizontal Falls. Over lunch, the tide had fallen by nearly 8 metres, and the great flooded loch I’d explored before lunch was draining out through the narrow gap again. I took my place in the queue of other zodiacs, as we each took turns holding our zodiacs in place in the swirling white water. I had the zodiac engine at full throttle as I edged closer towards the falls, with great swirling whirlpools and surges of water buffeting us in every direction. At one stage, a great upwelling of water appeared in front of my zodiac, looking somewhat like colossal jello, and the Zodiac rose effortlessly up onto it. After a couple of minutes being tossed this way and that, I eased off the power and allowed us to be swept backwards away from the falls, where I cut a graceful arc around even more whirlpools to take my place back in the queue.

The sun was setting as we hoisted the last of the Zodiacs back on board and I only had time for a quick shower before attending the special welcome for first time travellers aboard a Silversea vessel. After a short interlude, Mick gave an explanation of the upcoming day at Raft Point and Montgomery Reef, and I followed with a recap about the Rock-wallabies and the terrible weeds Leucaena and Neem that threaten the beauty and integrity of the Kimberley.

Everyone seemed very pleased with the day and all the things they had seen and learnt, and I was most surely feeling the same way.