Thursday, May 5, 2011

Swimming in Crocodile Creek

Our penultimate day on MV Orion ended with a breathtaking swim in crocodile territory, and we survived. Don't be impressed, we were swimming in a fresh water pool inaccessible by crocodile... and what a relief to throw off our clothes in the 27 deg C heat and splash around like excited kids. I headed straight for the small waterfall crashing over bulging rocks and let the water pour down all over me. Wonderful to finally dunk under the water and be immersed in some of that aquatic terrain after days of Zodiac jaunts, but no swimming. The Kimberleys' biggest drawback is its oldest and wiliest inhabitant...yep, the croc of course.
Apart from a gorgeous afternoon in the water under a benevolent and shining sun, there was the added sensory delight of a saxophonist to make us bluesy, and the aqua bar, complete with salty margaritas. This may be pioneer country, but rest assured, we are not slumming it...
On another note, I loved our Expedition Leader's one-hour talk in the morning on the theme 'Why Australia does not have Monkeys'. Rivetting stuff which taught me a lot, and made we wish for more of such erudite and entertaining lecturers in my life. I feel I understand a bit better about how the world works, and have discovered a new scientist, Wallace, to rival Charles Darwin. It's too long to explain here, but suffice to say, I was enthralled and a teeny bit wiser for the talk!
Another highlight of the Orion tour was the cabaret review held the penultimate night, starring the Orion crew, playing flute, guitar, macarena and dancing, even stripping! Hilarious, touching, talented, was lovely to see "ordinary" folk transformed into performers with panache.
Must sign off, the holiday ends and Qantas calls. Adios for now, au revoir le Top End!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rugged, ancient and subtle

It’s our 9th day on MV Orion, and only my third post. In a lazy way we sailors have been too busy to bother with the outside world. While we’ve been at sea this past week there’s been a historic Royal Wedding and the routing of the ultimate bogeyman, Osama Bin Laden, but none of us have sighted a newspaper in days, nor switched on a television screen. Today we made a foray into Talbot Bay where natural beauty beckoned in all her glory.
I felt poetic and longed for a well-thumbed copy of bush verses – “I love a sunburnt country” and musings of similar ilk. Who wouldn’t feel moved by the vistas and landscapes we saw on our outing today? Undulating ochre and black outcrops in aspics of aquamarine, sapphire and algae-green; soft, long grass bowing in the mildest of breezes; scribbles of cloud wafting across an intense blue sky.
The weather has been idyllic: warm but not oppressively hot. Cut the Zodiac motor and sit still for a while as you listen to the occasional trill of a kingfisher piercing the silence and you begin to feel the heat beat down. Then we move again and nature’s air conditioning recommences, lulling one into another reverie. Comrades click wildly at the slightest sighting of an osprey, sea snake, wallaby or termite hill. Me? I’m a child of Africa. The “wildlife” here is far, far too subtle and sparse for me. I prefer to simply drink in the vast, impressive vistas. I will not be here again; nor will I see something so rugged and ancient again anytime soon.
And so much water everywhere, yet not a puddle to swim in. If there’s one constant yearning, it’s to swim in the luscious lagoons that lap temptingly around every corner. But it’s not too be: every now and then, a harmless looking “stick” turns out, on closer inspection, to be a croc, floating serenely for a moment on the water’s surface, its pale green eyes staring at us curiously as a film flicks backwards and forwards across its hooded orbs like a camera’s shutter.
We watch as it propels itself backwards and dips languidly below the water’s surface, reappearing moments later with its corrugated jaw pointed skyward and yawning open as it gulps down its gullet whatever is caught there for dinner.
Aboriginals and crocodiles: these are the hardy survivors of thousands and thousands and thousands of years. The Kimberleys is their terrain and us? We are merely trespassers.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nirvana at last

What a difference 24 hours make. After my torturous flight by light plane over the Bungle Bungles (the beehive range only discovered in the mid 1980s, I later discovered), I retreated to my stateroom in shock and didn’t reappear till the next day. While Steve disappeared on a day-long adventure, I pottered around in the morning until our Zodiac departed after lunch for a three-hour cruise down the King George River.
The water and sky were brilliant blue, the warm 28 deg C sunshine offset by a refreshing breeze as we chugged mellifluously along the river, surrounded on all sides by cliffs of rugged pink sandstone sculpted by the elements over thousands of years. As cameras clicked and guides pointed out nests high on the cliff face of sea eagles and ospreys, I fell into a trancelike reverie.
Back in the Big Smoke I had become oppressed by a sense of Groundhog Day. For weeks I had dreamed of communing with nature, and suddenly, at last, here it was... the moment I had imagined, and I gave myself to it completely.
As our Zodiac riffed along the sparkling water and fellow travellers oohed and aahed and chuckled among themselves, I was blissfully happy to be right here, in the Top End, far, far, far away from anything that was more of the same.
The King George River is pretty damn remote, and requires effort to reach, and it’s unlikely that the average traveller will visit twice. And here I was, gliding through a dream-like terrain of water, cliffs and sky, with each of my senses responding with subtle, trembling pleasure.
The afternoon sun began to sink as we approached the King George Falls, pounding furiously after a very rainy season. We teased our Zodiacs as close to the spray as we could get. Rainwater cascaded over the cliff face on either side of a rocky outcrop, and we bobbed in the foam whipped up by the sheer weight of the torrent. It was exhilarating to witness Mother Nature unburden herself in such lush, spectacular style.
After some playfulness at the waterfall, we turned back to motor relaxedly through our corridor of sandstone turning soft pink and grey in a sunset sky. I thought it couldn’t get better than this, but it did. We turned a corner and ...

Thursday, April 28, 2011


It’s the first time I’ve posted because I’ve been unwell most of the time up until now, and had absolutely no appetite for anything except sleep and escape. Talking to people has been like hiking up a steep and hilly mountain. And the din of cocktails for the Captain’s welcome aboard? Not fun.
     Yesterday was hilarious though. I woke and felt human, even felt up to making small talk with relative strangers. Then I climbed aboard a small aeroplane at around noon, seven of us in all and the pilot, and I was seated at the very front, accepting this privilege with some foreboding. Sure enough, 10 minutes into the flight, sweating like a piglet in the midday sun, the cabin rocking wildly, I regurgitated the entire contents of my stomach into a handy sick bag, and for the remainder of the very long two hours and 20 minutes, closed my eyes, and prayed for touchdown to come as swiftly as possible.
       Lake Argyle, resplendently full after a generous Wet Season, shimmered below me, but I barely noticed, and as for the corrugated grid of the Bungle Bungles, I saw them briefly from the corner of my eye, thought “Hmmm, remarkable” and closed my eyes again. Yes, I admit, the sprawling and dramatic beauty of the Kimberleys have been somewhat wasted on me thus far.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dreaming of a Kimberleys getaway

Rutherford D Rodgers, whoever he is, once said, "We're drowning in information and starving for knowledge". Well, that's how I feel. Running on empty, and not feeling overly confident about anything. In desperate need of R&R. So... luckily, not much longer to go. We depart three days from now for Darwin and from there will immerse ourselves in the rare beauty of northwest Australia, which is not exactly your overrun tourist destination. Thank heavens not! There, for the following 10 days, I plan to replenish my soul, and find some sense of serenity and calm once more... All aboard the Orion II for a 10-day cruise to the Kimberleys. While the boat is all about luxury, the holiday is essentially about immersing oneself in Nature and lapping up life in a unique, remote location. Am yearning for our 'time out' and loving the build-up to this ultimate getaway!