Voyage Log: The Kimberley – Coral Discoverer
Darwin to Broome | 9 September 2022 – 19 September 2022
This trip diary was compiled by: Guest Lecturers Anne O’Dea and Steve Winderlich
9 September 2022
All guests met the expedition team at 0700 at Darwin’s Mantra Hotel. Guests were registered, their luggage tagged, and they had the joy of doing yet another Rapid Antigen Test before hopping on the buses and heading for the ship.
Once on board the Coral Discoverer we were greeted by Captain Simon, Purser Shelley and her staff. Then more forms, but also some welcome fresh scones and a cuppa. Next, a flurry of activity saw everyone settled in their cabins ready for our ten-day adventure.
Soon after, the Coral Discoverer pulled away from the Port to ply the waters across the Bonaparte Gulf in idyllic conditions. Many of us began to explore the ship until Purser Shelly called us up to the Bridge Deck Lounge to go through some important logistical ship information. The next activity on the agenda was a mandatory safety drill where guests were made familiar with the safety equipment and procedures on the vessel. Expedition Leader Jamie followed this up with an introduction of himself and the Guest Lecturers Steve and Anne, and a summary of what happens on expeditions that set our ship apart from an ordinary Cruise Ship.
Jamie then let us know about the opportunity to do a helicopter trip to Mitchell Falls.
Following lunch, we enjoyed our first Guest Lecturer presentation with Steve giving us an “Introduction to the Kimberley”.
This was followed by the documentary “Malice or Mutiny” which outlines a series of events that followed the bombing of the ship Koolama in WWII at the location of tomorrow’s adventure.
At 1800 Captain Simon hosted the Ship’s welcome drinks. The calm conditions and pleasant temperature meant we were able to enjoy the occasion on the Sun Deck, set off by a full moon rising directly opposite a glowing red sunset.
As would become our nightly pattern, Jamie outlined the next day’s events, which was followed by a delicious dinner in the Dining Room. During the meal, Shelley introduced her hard-working hospitality team.
10 September 2022
After breakfast it was time for our first expedition for the trip! We boarded Xplorer for the first time this voyage and headed through Koolama Bay towards the King George River. The river mouth is parallel to the bay and is hidden from view by a long mangrove covered sandspit until you are right in front of it. As a result, it was not seen by any of the early mariner explorers. It was only recorded by non-Aboriginal people in 1911. Charles Conigrave was in the area surveying birds and crossed the river inland from the mouth. He named it King George River to commemorate the coronation of King George V. Guest lecturer Anne gave an account of the background to the name Koolama Bay and the dramatic events around a WWII incident that was the subject of yesterday’s documentary.
Travelling upriver we were treated to magnificent views of towering ancient sandstone cliffs as the early sun lit up the colours. These cliffs are Warton Sandstone – the second oldest sandstone layer in the area dating back some 1.8 billion years.
Colourful tafoni layers could be seen in the sandstone walls. These honeycomb and cave formations are caused by weathering of the rock layers.
Along the journey, many of us took the opportunity to join Jamie or Steve in a Zodiac for a different perspective of the River. One group found an exquisitely patterned but, sadly, drowned brown tree snake. Jamie passed it over to Anne on the Xplorer, setting some of the guests on edge.
We called into a small inlet with mangroves and a shallow sandy bottom with seagrass and were lucky to see some young green turtles coming up for a breath while feeding.
The King George Falls 80m high and 14km upstream are reputedly the highest falls in WA. They are certainly the highest twin falls in the state. This late in the season there is barely a trickle of water coming over the falls, but they are still very impressive.
Guests on the Xplorer had the opportunity to see a Great billed heron and Common sandpiper up close. Those on zodiacs spied a rock frog sheltering in a crevice.
After lunch some guests enjoyed tours of the Ship’s engine room or bridge before Guest Lecturer Anne gave a presentation on “Indigenous Art & Craft”, preparing us for the art sites we would be seeing.
The day finished with sunset drinks, a sumptuous dinner and a documentary.
Wildlife: Peregrine falcon, Common sand piper, Great billed heron, Striated heron, Green turtle, Copeland’s rock frog, fish, ray, crabs, Brown tree snake, Longtom fish.
11 September 2022
This morning we headed for Jar Island or Ngula as it is called by the local Gaambera people. The name Jar Island was given by Explorer Phillip Parker King in 1819 after the shards of pottery and other evidence he found of Macassans from Indonesia. These seafarers visited this coastline for centuries – mainly to collect trepang (sea cucumbers).
Jar island is most famous for the Ngula rock art galleries. Featured are Giyorn Giyorn style paintings which are said to be from when the area was much drier and the sea level much lower 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. We explored some beautiful examples of the art which features flowing elegant human figures and naturalistic animal rock art styles.
Next, we cruised around the island to see a disused pearling farm before returning to the Coral Discoverer where the crew were completing a safety drill.
Before lunch we headed to the bridge deck lounge to listen to Anne’s presentation “The Making of Kimberley Coastal Sculptures”. This introduction to the Kimberley geology helped make sense of some of the incredible coastal formations. Anne’s origami with a few pieces of bread smeared with peanut butter and vegemite unlocked the mysteries of how the famous Horizontal Falls came to be.
The Coral Discoverer moved to the the eastern side of Vansittart Bay so we could visit Anjo Peninsula – the location of this afternoon’s expedition.
After a short ride in the Xplorer, we took a short walk over a sand dune and then across a saltpan where we saw thousands of intricately patterned Elegant fiddler crabs.
We soon came to some savanna woodland where we visited a wrecked C-53 Sky Trooper (DC3) from WW2.
The plane had no navigator and lost its way in bad weather.
Eventually it ran out of fuel, forcing the young 22-year-old American pilot to make an emergency deadstick controlled landing. All onboard survived and were rescued a few days later by a QANTAS flying boat.
Some of us also enjoyed a short walk through a paperbark forest to a freshwater soak where several birds such as finches and honeyeaters were having a drink. Others looked at woodland birds and delicate flowers or had a go at the tricky skill of stripping Pandanus leaves in preparation for basket weaving.
On return to the ship Jamie gave the all important safety briefing for those going on the helicopter flights to Mitchell Falls (Punamii-Unpuu) tomorrow.
After a long and adventurous day, we were glad to relax over sunset drinks on the sun deck. A spectacular blood moon lured many of us onto the back decks during dinner.
Wildlife: White bellied sea eagle, Brahminy kite, Silver crowned and Little friarbirds, Eastern curlew, Rainbow lorikeet, Rainbow bee-eater, Double-barred finch, White bellied cuckoo shrike, Brown honeyeater, Caspian tern, Pied Imperial pigeon, Hermit crabs, Elegant fiddler crabs, Sea snake.
Day 4: Winyalkan and Punamii-Uunpuu Mitchell Falls
12 September 2022
Today was a big day for those who had booked into the helicopter trip. Throughout the day groups were ferried to shore to hop on a helicopter and head off to the magnificent Mitchell Falls. Participants came back thrilled by the experience.
Those not going on the helicopters or who were scheduled to fly later in the day were able to go on an Xplorer cruise among some of the islands of Montague Sound. We had the privilege of exploring remote beaches that set us wondering about who may have been there before us. Could people in the know survive in these rugged places we wondered. Anne and Steve pointed out some bush tucker, medicines and plants with other uses, and we noticed the plentiful seafood available.
The tide was very low during our visit to the first Island where we found ourselves dwarfed by the huge intertidal range, marked by the black stains of cyanobacteria. By the water’s edge, some of us saw some living corals that rarely feel direct sunrays.
The second beach had some interesting ripple rock, and we passed some igneous Dolerite rock that long ago intruded through the dominating sandstone.
The water was glassy smooth as we headed back to Coral Discoverer, setting off acrobatic Garfish which were tailing on the water surface to escape some danger. Back at the Coral Discoverer, some people spied a huge Tawny nurse shark.
Once all the guests who had made the trip to Mitchell Falls were back, the last expedition of the day was to a beautiful Wandjina Art Site in Wollaston Bay.
Day 4 then ended in the usual fashion with pre-dinner drinks, dinner, and for those still able to stay awake, another documentary.
Wildlife: Brahminy kite, Osprey, Common sandpiper, Crested tern, Sooty oystercatcher, Black- faced cuckoo shrike, Great bower bird, Sacred kingfisher, Cuttlefish, Tawny nurse shark, Garfish,
At Mitchell Falls: White-quilled rock pigeon, Dotterels
13 September 2022
The first expedition for the day was a sunrise tour in the Yirinni (Hunter River). The colours of the rising sun were set off beautifully by patchy clouds.
After breakfast we were back out on Yirinni, or the Hunter River as it was named by Phillip Parker King after his surgeon on the Mermaid. We turned into Porosus Creek which is named after the Estuarine Crocodiles which we hoped to see.
We were not disappointed as we had good views of two crocodiles. Both were feeding in drainage channels from the mangrove mud. Some of us took the opportunity to join Steve or Jamie in a zodiac to explore small side creeks and channels. Some of us witnessed a Brahminy kite diving onto a crab. A kingfisher feasted on one of the many mudskippers on the mud. Flame & White Fiddler crabs were soon spotted all over the mudbanks, especially as the Xplorer followed the rising tide into a side creek. We found a tiny crocodile where the water flow was creeping up the tributary.
After lunch we headed off for a cruise in the Xplorer down Prince Frederick Harbour to look at some amazing geological features. An unusual rock formation is shaped like a hammer. Named “Thor’s Hammer”, the “handle” is laced with quartz crystals. A highlight was two Black breasted buzzards circling overhead.
On the way back to the Coral Discoverer we called in at an Island with more of these crystals that were formed by superheated solutions of Silicas when Dolerite rock intruded through the Wunaamin Miliwundi layer of sandstone.
On our return trip, the wind had strengthened, and we were heading straight into it, so the sea was quite lumpy. Salt spray poured over the sides giving most if us a drenching that saw us laughing hysterically when we arrived back at the ship.
After a quick shower, sunset drinks and another delicious dinner were very welcome. Then Movie night with Top End Wedding.
Wildlife: Wildlife: Estuarine crocodile, White bellied sea eagle, Brahminy Kite, Black breasted buzzard, Mangrove Herons, Eastern curlew, Common sandpiper, Eastern reef egret, Sacred and Azure kingfisher, Flame & White Fiddler crabs & Mudskippers, Archer fish, Toad fish, Trumpet fish, Garfish, Black tipped reef shark.
14 September 2022
After a very early breakfast, we ventured ashore at Careening Bay where there was something for everyone. With the very low tide that follows a king tide, the beach and rocks were exposed to a level that revealed weird and wonderful invertebrates of the sea. We waded through shin deep water to access the beach and heard about endemic cycads and other natural and cultural features of this amazing bay. We saw tracks of a dingo and Beachstone curlew and heard Rainbow pittas and Pied Imperial pigeons.
The Bay is the home of a National Heritage Listed Boab tree that was inscribed by the crew of Phillip Parker King’s ship the Mermaid. The inscription is still legible and reads “HMC Mermaid 1820”. This is where King beached or careened his badly leaking and virtually sinking ship for repairs. The Mermaid had hit the Great Barrier Reef, damaging its stern post, and the vessel had limped along since then with the crew pumping 24 hours a day until it could find a suitable beach to careen.
When the crew set about repairing the stern post, they discovered the situation was much worse than first thought. The iron nails used by the Indian ship builders had rusted leaving multiple holes through which water was flowing into the ship’s hull.
The crew did what they could to repair the damage but when the ship was refloated it was still leaking badly so they needed to get back to Sydney as soon as possible – hopefully without sinking.
Before setting sail for Sydney however, King made one last stop to explore our destination for this afternoon, the Prince Regent River.
Before leaving we attended Guest Lecturer Steve’s presentation titled “Phillip Parker Who?” which revealed the intriguing story of one of the most poorly recognized explorers in Australia’s history. A lot of the place names in the areas we visited were named by Phillip Parker King, and at last we knew his story.
After lunch we headed out on Xplorer up the iconic, dead straight Prince Regent River. The river follows an ancient fault-aligned valley and is lined with magnificent mangrove forests with a scenic backdrop of Kimberley escarpment. The river was named by King in 1820 after the Prince Regent who was to become King George IV. After continuing upriver to around 20 Nautical miles inland, we came to the oasis of King Cascade – a waterfall spilling over a wide rock ledge into the river. King also returned to these falls a year later in 1821 (in his new vessel the Bathurst) to replenish his drinking water supply during his 4th and last voyage around the continent.
As we approached the falls, Steve told the story of the tragic death at this location of an aspiring American actress who was killed by a Crocodile in 1987.
It had been a long hot run up the river, so we took the opportunity to have a refreshing shower as Corey nosed the Xplorer under the falls. Jamie took advantage of the particularly high tide so we headed even further up the River. There we pushed through a mangrove forest up a small tributary which eventually widened out, surprising us with a spectacular amphitheater with a tall fall plunging into the pool below. It felt like we were in a Natural History Documentary.
Back at the Coral Discoverer we refreshed ourselves at Sunset drinks as the Ship pulled out of the St George Basin, where we saw the flat topped mesas named Waterloo and Trafalgar by King.
Wildlife: Black flying fox, White bellied sea eagle, Osprey, Crested tern, Little corella, Little egret, Brown honeyeater, Great bower bird, Mistletoe bird, Sea jelly, fish, Hermit crab, Beach anemone, Sand dollar, Stone mason worm, Soft and hard corals, Sponges
15 September 2022
After an early breakfast a small but excited group boarded the Xplorer for a birdwatching tour. We motored slowly around small tributaries to Red Cone Creek in a falling tide and were rewarded with a plethora of endemic and common birds of the mangrove system. We also had close-up views of a couple of crocodiles out hunting the channels in the mud.
Meanwhile the inaugural meeting of the Coral Expeditions Quilting Group was held onboard Coral Discoverer. This small group of enthusiastic needleworkers who discovered their shared interest on the Ship is inspired by the colours of the Kimberley.
Soon after, we enjoyed an informative presentation from Guest Lecturer Anne titled “Culture and Kinship” which gave a small insight into the longest continuous culture in the world and their complicated kinship system.
After lunch, we once again headed out on the Xplorer. This time we were off to Ruby Falls on Red Cone creek. Some of us went with the Expedition team to climb up Ruby Falls. The climb up to the swimming hole was a little challenging but a rope and some helping hands from the ship’s crew was provided to help guests negotiate it safely. The reward was a refreshing swim in a scenic water lily lined waterhole.
The rest of us remained onboard the Xplorer with Steve and Corey in search of crocodiles and other wildlife. We were rewarded with great views a crocodile sitting on a rock ledge with its mouth open to help it keep cool. As we approached, we were able to watch it slide into the water.
Wildlife: Chestnut rail, Azure and Sacred kingfisher, Mangrove robin, Striated heron, White breasted and Mangrove whistler, White quilled rock pigeon, Estuarine crocodile, Mudskipper, Fiddler crabs, Popeye and Diamond scale mullet, Archer fish, Garfish.
16 September 2022
We awoke this morning to a glowing red sunrise. We were anchored 10 nautical miles offshore where we could soon see Montgomery Reef emerging from the sea as the tide fell around us. After breakfast we headed over to visit the Reef – one of the world’s natural wonders. This 400 square kilometer reef is Australia’s and indeed the world’s largest “inshore reef”. The reef is perched on top of a mesa of Pentecost sandstone that would have been a hilltop until around 6,000 years ago when the sea rose to its current level, drowning some of the surrounding landscape.
This reef emerges from the ocean at low tide and the huge amount of water cascades off the top of the reef over its entire perimeter making an amazing spectacle that has to be witnessed to be appreciated. The channel we headed up in the Xplorer was full of turtles and other marine life.
We took turns to board the Zodiacs for a much closer look and to feel the amazing strength of the cascading water. On the reef we could see several bird species with the highlight being three comical birds with batman masks – Beach stone curlews.
On the eastern edge of Montgomery Reef, we could see the “High Cliffy Islands” which are a source of intrigue and mystery, for this was once the home of the Yawijibaya people who lived there for almost 7,000 years. They were big and strong – some as tall as 7ft. In the 1920s they vanished and only recently it has come to light that they possibly died from the effects of the flu.
While the ship steamed towards the Iron Islands, Steve gave a presentation about the “hot topic” of Fire in the Top End. We learnt about the complexity of working with traditional and scientific knowledge to maintain the biodiverse Top End habitats.
As we headed through Collier Bay to our next destination, most of us were on deck with our eyes peeled for Humpback whales. We saw several travelling in the distance, and a couple of us saw one right up close to the bow of the ship.
Next we boarded the Xplorer to explore the fabulously twisted geology of Yampi Sound that Anne told us about earlier in the trip. We cruised around the picturesque Iron Islands and finished by pulling into a tiny beach with very soft sand where we were able to experience the density of magnetite and haematite rocks. One guest had a compass and we saw with our own eyes why early mariners would have hated this area as one of their main navigational aids was rendered virtually useless due to the magnetic content of the rocks.
The eventful day was topped off with Chef Jamil and the Hospitality team hosting a delicious BBQ dinner on the sundeck. Afterwards the lights were dimmed, and a star laden sky was revealed.
Wildlife: Humpback whale, Ospreys, Beach stone curlew, Eastern Reef Egret, Grey tailed tattler, Caspian tern, Crested tern, Green Turtle, Garfish, soft and hard corals.
17 September 2022
This morning we awoke surrounded by cliffs and the peaceful waters of Talbot Bay – the home of the famous Horizontal Falls. This area is part of the Lalang-garram/Horizontal falls and North Lalang-garram marine parks which are managed jointly between the Dambimangari Traditional Owners and the WA parks service. The local name for the Talbot Bay area is Ganbadba and the name for the falls is Garaanngaddim.
At 0815 the time was right to challenge the might of the Horizontal Falls. Guests enjoyed an exhilarating ride through the falls on zodiacs expertly driven by Dan and Corey. The resulting hair style was “windswept and wild”.
Before lunch, some guests enjoyed more tours of the Ship’s engine room or bridge.
For the afternoon’s activity we went for a scenic cruise along Talbot Creek, now more often called Cyclone Creek because it offers a haven for boats during the cyclone season. We were rewarded with amazing views of layers of sandstone folded, tilted and twisted up from their original horizontal layers thanks to the forces unleashed when the ancient Kimberley block collided with the Australian landmass. All this was set off by the aqua seawater which soon had our cameras clicking away. Photos just can’t do these features justice.
We also had a good look at the iconic Kimberley Rose, a Kurrajong that drops its leaves in the dry season but produces bright red flowers that stand out in the surrounding bush. Jamie went rock climbing to bring us a sample rose flower and a small branch of a Callitris pine that shelters from fire in large fissures in the rock layers.
We also saw quite a few birds given it was the hot time of the day, including White quilled rock pigeons and a magnificent White bellied sea eagle.
Back onboard, the Coral Discoverer weighed anchor and headed past Koolan Island towards Nares Point. We were all delighted to find ourselves surrounded by several small pods of Humpback whales which was capped off with a spectacular performance by a mother and calf with another adult just in front of the bow. The calf breached repeatedly as we cheered it on.
Wildlife: Humpback whale, White bellied sea eagle, Mangrove Heron, Common Sandpiper, White quilled rock pigeon, Great bower bird, Mangrove gerygone.
18 September 2022
As the sun rose this morning, we found that Coral Discoverer had dropped anchor during the night at Nares Point which is an extraordinary example of geological folding of sedimentary sand and siltstone.
We boarded the Xplorer straight after breakfast to catch the falling tide before it got too low for us to sneak over a rock bar to some interesting sites that were excavated and dated in the 1980s. These sites recorded the occupation of the area by a group of Aboriginal people from as early as 26,000 years ago. The picturesque and colourful rocks of the Yampi Peninsula were alive with birdlife and we also spotted a Taipan hunting on the low rocks.
Next, we cruised past the Koolan Island mine which has some of the richest iron ore content in the world. The mine’s sea wall was breached by the ocean several years ago, but immense works over 2 years repaired the damage and the mine reopened for business.
Before returning to ship, we landed on a small beach near Nares Point for a short beach walk. Anne showed us the decorated bower of a Great bower bird and Jamie pointed out an ebony tree and caper bush while some of us crept into a cave to look for bats.
Before lunch, Quiz Master Steve hosted the renowned Kimberley Quiz, testing if guests had been listening during the presentations and excursions. The winners were Team KRATT (Kimberley Rose and the Two Thorns).
After our last delicious lunch of the trip, a recap of the trip was narrated by Jamie to a sample of the beautiful photos the expedition team took throughout the trip. Jamie then let us know about some of the other trips Coral Expeditions offers.
Jamie’s presentation was interrupted by a spectacular performance by a mother Humpback whale and her calf.
Our last magnificent Coral Discoverer sunset did not disappoint. During Captain’s Farewell Drinks we had another highlight where whales frolicked very close to the ship. A delicious roast capped off the amazing menu that comes from the Ship’s small galley.
Wildlife: Humpback whale, Ospreys, White bellied eagle, Great bower bird, Yellow throated miner, Brown honeyeater, Striated heron, Eastern reef egret, Taipan.
19 September 2022
Overnight we had a smooth trip from Yampi Peninsula to Broome arriving at Broome Wharf at 0800.
Sadly, all good things come to an end and as we arrived in Broome, it was time to say goodbye to old and newfound friends, having thoroughly enjoyed cruising the Kimberley coast on the Coral Discoverer.
Coral Discoverer had steamed 1009 nautical miles (1869kms) in ten days.
Your crew on this voyage have been:
- Captain Simon
- Chief Officer Riccardo
- Second Officer Samuel
- Chief Engineer David & his team Terry &Ash
- Bosun Dan & his Deck crew Corey & Warren
- Expedition Leader Jamie
- Purser Shelly
- Lead Chef Jamil, Chef Sarita & Galley Assistant Lochlan
- Senior Cruise Attendant Lillian & her team, Sophia, Tarryn, Ashlee, Danielle, Macey &Lily Mae
- The onboard Nurses helping to keep us all safe & well was Anna
Your Guest Lecturers have been Anne O’Dea & Steve Winderlich
It was a great trip. We hope to see you again soon on another adventure with Coral Expeditions.