Australia 8 The Kimberley 1
We had been looking forward to cruising the Kimberley region and finally had arrived. It was the start of what would be six weeks cruising virgin Australian country, with numerous anchorages, as we made our way slowly towards Darwin and our exit point from Australia.
We left Cape Leveque on the morning tide, 5th June, using the flood to take us past south Alarm shoal and through the tide race at Karrakatta point. Once through we could head more S towards our first anchorage at the Graveyard. The wind was light from the E so we were motor sailing and with the afternoon tide against, it looked like a long slog up King sound towards the Graveyard. We altered course and found a nice anchorage under Dunvert Island. A pod of pilot whales guided us in and by 1700 we were all secure out of tide and wind. In the evening light there was a purple haze as bushfires raged to the S and we felt glad we were not in the Graveyard surrounded by fire and its fallout.
With no easy access to shore apparent, we decided to push on and headed off to a river inlet known as Coppermine Creek., some 15 miles as the crow flies but 30 miles through the islands. We headed off with the tide, which proved to be a mystery as we had fair tide trough some passes and tide rips through others. No doubt the tide direction would become clearer over time, and I was keen to get it sorted before springs and the full 8-12 meter tides that could cause massive eddies and tide rips running at up to 8kts between the Islands! With an engine speed of just 6kts you don’t need to be a mathematician to work out the potential result!
Once through the Rips we motored along the S side of Yampi sound and by midday we were at anchor in a beautiful bay at the entrance to copper mine creek. After lunch we launched the Dinghy and ventured ashore. We were both very aware of crocodiles, as we knew they were there but we didn’t see any, and took “croc” precaution. Ashore we donned our “Aussie” boots and went off for a bush walk. Gaining height we could see into the water, a kind of milky turquoise, but nothing sinister loomed from the depths. We spent 2 hours walking, watching the Eagles soar above, looking for signs of animals…snake tracks, Kangaroo poo etc….and found our first giant termite mounds. We also found copper in the rocks and picked up a piece for prosperity. Back to the dinghy and a little explore up the creek. Mangroves lined the creek and after a while we decided we wouldn’t push our luck, and returned to Pegasus.
When cruising the Kimberley, it was advised that a “Tinnie” was the best tender, as Crocs were known to bite Ribs (Rubber Inflatable Boats). We, of course, only had the Rib, which locally were known as teething rings!! We had been told that the noise of a Rib slapping the surface was appealing, so as a discipline we always raised the dinghy when not in use. That evening, as we sat under the stars, we could see the lume of the bush fires to the south, and the purple haze gave us an amazing sunset.
We headed off the following day some 20 miles up to Silver Gull Creek. Aided by the tide we made good time and were at anchor in another beautiful inlet just after lunch. We had planned to stop at crocodile creek, a favourite stopping place for cruisers, but we decided that the entrance was just too narrow and so pushed on. Crocodile creek is a narrow pass through rock, taken at full tide, which allows a yacht to tie up in a pool, remaining afloat at low water. To the N is a ladder next to a waterfall that leads to a fresh water pool where one can swim. Saying that, nothing is certain, as some friends on Kialana (see Geralton to Dampier blog) had been anchored there and watched a 14ft salty croc slide down the waterfall!!!
On our way into Silver Gull, we saw a charter boat “The Kimberley Queen” come out of the creek. I guess there are 10 or so charter boats of various sizes that cruise the Kimberley, and we would see them at the more favoured spots over the next 6 weeks.
Silver Gull is popular as there are a couple (Phil and Marion) who have been camping there for 16years, next to a large water tank that is fed by a fresh water stream. It is accepted that people who stop can come up the creek and swim in the tank. Usually this leads to a few drinks with Phil and Marion and a wait for the tide to return and refloat the dinghies, hence it is know as the Squatters Arms. We spent a memorable afternoon there with the boys enjoying the tank and as people appeared and disappeared there was quite a social party atmosphere. Phil explained that they always had a lot of visitors during neap tides as the major local attraction, the horizontal falls, was far more spectacular during spring tides.
The horizontal falls are caused by the tide entering a lagoon with a 70ft entrance through the cliff. When the tide ebbs out it produces a 10 ft standing wave and corresponding drop in sea level and is reputed to be an awesome sight.
The following morning, by invitation, we went back up the creek and as the boys swam, I went through the Kimberley region with Phil to find his favourite places and his tips on tide and passages. We spent a lovely morning with them and Marion gave both boys a hand carved pearl shell dolphin with black coral eye. A lovely memento of a beautiful place. We mentioned in passing that we had seen no crocodiles. Marion remarked that they were there, but the only boats guaranteed to see crocs were those with children or dogs on board! I guess we were going to see them!
Back on board and with a fair tide we headed off to our next anchorage, an overnight spot at Melomys Island, half way to Raft point. As we left Silver gull we decided to exit Yampi sound to the S of Koolan Island through a narrow pass called the Drainpipe. Koolan Island is a high-grade iron ore island, where they have been literally cutting the island up and loading it onto ships. There is a jetty onto which ships moor and when they are loaded the next one comes in. They have been doing this for years and it looks like they will continue for some time. The Island adjacent to Koolan, Cockatoo Island has the same operation. Passing through the Drainpipe we passed an island called Iron Island. It is pretty much 100% iron ore!
We arrived at Melomys Island in flat calm conditions and enjoyed a red sunset refracted through the iron ore haze of Koolan Island some 15 miles to the W.
Leaving early with the tide, and into a brisk headwind we made our way to the S of Montgomery reef, a huge reef structure, and arrived at Raft point at lunchtime. After soup bread and ham we went ashore to explore. This area was a sacred Aboriginal site and was know as a good hunting ground. Aboriginals would build rafts and paddle out to the reef to hunt Dugong (like Manatee’s) and turtle. Up in the cliffs above the point were caves with Aboriginal paintings and we planned to climb the cliffs and look for them.
With the dinghy on a long line and following the usual croc precautions we donned our Aussie boots and set off up the steep incline towards the cave site. We passed many Boab trees, the first we had seen and quite strange. The Aboriginal people know it as the upside-down tree, which was uprooted and planted upside-down by one of their gods for some misdemeanour! After half an hour climb / walk we found the caves and our first Aboriginal paintings. Pictures of Dugong and other fish were apparent as well as other images that defied imagination. It was clear from the location of the art that they liked to lie on their backs and paint the ceiling, perhaps for longevity of the image…who knows.
We made our way back down, admiring the view across to Steep Island, and once on the beach made a fire to burn our rubbish, then roast marshmallows. Back on board we decided to head to Red cone Inlet the following day some 15 miles across Doubtful bay.
By 9.30 on 10th June we were anchored in Red Cone Inlet, looking forward to our first trip up the creek and to the waterfalls and safe fresh water pools at the top of the cliff. As we anchored we saw another boat in the creek and were pleased to see that it was our friends “Lizard” who we had last seen on Surrier Island some 1000 miles to the West.
We launched the dinghy and headed up the winding, mangrove fringed creek. After 2 miles the creek narrowed and we motored slowly between the cliff faces only about 40 ft wide. There on the rocks was a huge croc, baking in the sun, the first we had seen. He looked primeval and sinister, but in reality did nothing. Even so, I would have been happier seeing him through bars!
We tied up the dinghy to some roots up the cliff and climbed 30 ft up to the freshwater pools. It was absolutely fantastic, swimming in fresh water, in a garden like setting, and having seen the croc we quickly forgot about the snakes!!
Taking the opportunity to wash our selves and clothes, after a long swim we headed back to our dinghy. Bruce and Maureen from Lizard had joined us at the falls and we all made our way past the croc and back to our boats before the tide fell and stranded us up river. Having coffee on Pegasus we talked about our adventures and our plans. We knew we would see each other along the way and shared our cruising information. They intended to stay at Red cone Inlet and we planned to meet them at Sampson inlet in a day or two. We said our goodbyes and after lunch headed up the coast with the tide to Langgi, another sacred Aboriginal site.
As dusk fell on a still sea we found an adequate anchorage, only acceptable in the quiet conditions. We were ashore early and ventured up the cliffs to look for some fresh water pools so we could all swim. After half an hour we found some but they were just too inaccessible, so carried on looking. After an hour and a half we decided that our bush walk was just too much and slowly made our way back to the beach. After climbing carefully down some cliffs we arrived back at the dinghy. NO reward after a hot bush walk!
We had developed a quick dip technique with the boys. Dad runs into the water up to his waist followed by the boys. We all immerse fully then run back out. Mum watches from the beach. That way we cool off with the minimum risk…we think!
We took the dinghy up the creek as far as we could and found the strange rock formations revered by the Aboriginals as a meeting of spirits. It was a lovely setting, but we needed a secure anchorage for the night so pushed on to a beautiful beach tucked behind Wilsons point and set the hook for the night. We ventured ashore, and after checking for croc tracks, pulled the dinghy up the beach. While walking along the white sand we saw Lizard arrive and were joint by Bruce and Maureen (B+M) on our walk.
Drinks on Pegasus and the boys watched Avitar, loaned by B+M. We decided we would all use the morning high tide to make our way up Sampson inlet, some 5 miles away, and look for the fresh water pools at the head of the creek.
By 10.30 we had the anchor set and launched the dinghy. Definitely croc country with mangrove, mud and still water. Slowly motoring up the gorge we saw wedge tail eagles gliding the thermals and felt eyes on us all the time. The mangrove was close, only 10 foot apart, and any attack would be sudden without warning. Luckily we were 2 dinghies so more threatening, and a less likely target according to theory!
We walked up the creek and found some fresh water where we could see the bottom. It wasn’t that deep, but safe, so we swam, cooled off and washed. Returning to Pegasus we saw a large croc some 10m from the boat. We were glad to be back on board and made our way to the mouth of a second inlet where we had good deep water and a safe anchorage. We explored this second inlet in the dinghy (The site of Phil and Marion’s last camp) found some more Aboriginal art, and retired to Pegasus for an early night. We planned to head up the W side of Augustus Island and on to Hanover bay the following day.
Up early and away. With clear skies, little wind and a flood tide we were all set to make a fast passage to Hanover bay. Lizard was a little ahead of us, and approaching some narrows between 2 islands reported a strong current. In theory we should have had the current with us, but it appeared against. Being Solent sailors we found a favourable back eddy and approached the narrows with caution. Both engines full power we hit the current and made it across the whirlpools. We were making just 0.5Kts against the tide but after an hour we started making better progress and 2 hours later we were round Adieu point and heading towards the next headland at High Bluff. We could see a nice beach on an island, so decided to stop for the day and slowly made our way towards Entrance Island. Feeling our way past the rocks and shallows we found good holding in 8m of water. We settled down to a late lunch of fresh bread, Pate and bits, followed by Amanda’s pineapple upside down cake…. delicious.
Dinghy down, ashore for a walk, and another beach fire and rubbish burn. Fire is a dangerous element is such dry country and care is needed when starting a beach fire. We tend to dig a 2ft pit well below the high water mark and build a strong, hot fire, then introduce the rubbish slowly to ensure a total burn. When we’re finished we cover the embers over with sand and after the tide there is no sign of any activity. It is very effective leaving us with only tins and bottles for later disposal.
After a good walk and some rock climbing for the boys we were all back on Pegasus by 6pm for an early night. We watched another beautiful Kimberley sunset before turning in, knowing that we only had a short distance to make the following day into Hanover Bay, where another inlet waited and hopefully some good swimming.
See our photographs of The Kimberley 1 below
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