Week 13 - June 11, 2018 - June 17, 2018

Wow, what a week!  This week included a seaplane, a helicopter, a fast boat, a houseboat, a 4x4 truck, dinosaurs, horizontal falls, creek tunnels, massive gorge walls, crocodiles, a huge lizard, camels, bats, kites, a pheasant coucal...and even more.  

At the beginning of the week, we hung around Broome so we could piddle around the town, explore a few of the beaches, enjoy more of it's fabulous sunsets and walk with dinosaurs. 

   Camels at sunset along Cable Beach                                                   We were not the only ones enjoying the beach
   Never a bad day at the beach        Love this picture of Gerson         Broome sunset

With John and Michelle, we also visited Reddell Beach (Yinara) in hopes to catch a beautiful sunset.  Instead, we were surprised by something timeless, or at least 130 million years of time.  We were rock hopping and tide pool skipping at low tide when I noticed a gentleman brushing away sand from some of the rocks.  Suspecting he was uncovering something interesting, I altered my path and sauntered in his direction.  To my fortune, his dog, Billie, was a rather friendly sort and ran over to greet me as I got closer.  Making immediate friends with Billie, I asked the gentleman if he found dinosaur tracks and his slightly reluctant answer was "yes".  Apparently, these particular tracks were found less than a month before and we were within the first 10 people to see them (as they are only visible at extreme low tide). 
    Reddell Beach at extreme low tide - stunning!         Tide pool skipping
    130 million year old dinosaur tracks -  Theropod and Sauropod tracks        Walking with dinosaurs

   Reddell Beach glows at sunset                            Our view as we were driving back to camp

We actually stayed an additional day in Broome so we could explore Gantheaume Point (Minyirr) at the extreme low tide to look for more of the elusive dinosaur tracks.  Although we had the surprise find the day before, we were excited with the prospect of seeing these prehistoric paths stamped in the sandstone.

A bit about the dinosaurs that roamed this part of 'Australia'.  During the early Cretaceous Period, Australia formed the eastern peninsula of the fragmenting super-continent of Gondwana.  It was connected to eastern Antarctica and New Zealand, with a vast seaway covering much of the present-day eastern half of Australia.

From mountains to the north, rivers flowed into the Canning Basin, with the Damiper Peninsula forming part of a vast delta system (still evidenced by the Kimberly region).  The climate was warm but seasonal, supporting fern-dominated coastal marshes and swap forests.  Occasionally, dinosaurs would emerge from the forest to cross the sandy tidal flats or abandoned river channels, leaving tracks that would have us humans in awe (and excitedly squealing like children), millions of years later.

     Theropod's back feet (similar to a raptor)             Sauropods back feet (similar to a brontosaurus)
The Sauropod's tracks were easy to find because the tremendous weight of the dinosaur would displace the mud and leave the telltale 'ring' around their footprint. 

We had a bit of a laugh while we were finding the ancient tracks.  Gerson and I decided to go where the crowd would not venture (as there were about 50+ people looking as well) so we crossed a bit of water and stepped onto large dislodged shelf of sandstone.  Lo and behold, we found a Theropod's tracks as though walking across the beach 130 million years ago.  These tracks would not have been visible but for the extreme low tide and due to the ocean lapping up and over the tracks, we only found them on the wave's retraction.  Nearby searchers saw us focus our attention and asked if we found more tracks.  We easily exclaimed "yes!" and directed the family to where they would have to cross through the water and over the rocks to get to the 'island'. 

The family watched us leave the way we came and they quickly picked their way across in the same manner.  We walked away for about two minutes and when I turned around there were over 25 people making a human chain across the water to look at the tracks we 'discovered'.  We had to laugh because no one thought to look 'outside of the box' and once we showed them it was doable, then everyone got in on the discovery.  Perhaps a metaphor for life.                 

    Our 'discovered' Therpod tracks at the water line                       The human chain formed within minutes

It would be careless of me not to show what else was discovered during our beach forays.  Low tides exposed nature's artwork and colors that had me as excited to find as with the dinosaur tracks.

   Corals (and an anemone) of many colors, gorgeous!       Even the rocks had their own palette    Colorful crab, cute shrimp and a sea worm         Tiny crabs dig out their holes ball-by-ball and make these incredible designs   Majestic Osprey watching over his kingdom

And then it was off to Derby, that in and of itself, was not our meaningful destination.  It was the airport we were after.  Derby is a launching point for the spectacular and unique, Horizonal Falls that are only accessible by a multi-day boat ride or by seaplane.  We happily chose the latter method of transportation.  Actually, we experienced a bit of everything as we coughed up the money and paid for a overnight tour that involved...well, follow the pictures and you will see how much fun can be found in 24 hours.

The Horizontal Falls are not really 'waterfalls' but the result the massive tidal changes that occur, often up to 33' (11m) (yes, 33 feet!).  In the Buccaneer Archipelago, these tidal waters are squeezed between narrow coastal gorges and thus, the momentum of the incoming and outgoing tidal flows can reach up to 30 knots.  The larger of the two gaps is approximately 60' (20m) wide and the smaller is approximately 30' (10m) wide and when the water bursts through these openings, a 'waterfall' occurs reaching up to 12' (4m) in height.

We were picked up in a small bus and carted off to the small airport that primarily services the touring aircraft and the occasional arrival of tourists that chose not to experience the 'fun' drive to that part of the country.  Our group consisted of five couples and we felt rather special stepping into our seemingly private seaplane.  In a matter of minutes, we were overlooking a magnificent landscape of tidal flats, tidal rivers and mountains that make Kimberly what she truly is, beautiful.

   Our motley group of 10 excited people               Derby and the tidal mud flats
   The remnants of a prior 'horizontal fall'            Buccaneer Archipelago  
    The wondrous Horizontal Falls         A very smooth landing and we are off to a great start
   Loved this seaplane disguised as a whale shark        Floating base of operations

We landed alongside a small floating base of operations that included seaplane docks, boat docks, helipads, a houseboat (crew quarters and kitchen) and our tour started off with none other than a swim with sharks.  Well, it was not as dramatic as all that, but it was definitely a lot of fun.  According to the guide, the archipelago waters are filled with many different types of sharks as well as 'salties' (saltwater crocodiles).  Apparently, the normally nocturnal and virtually blind nurse sharks like to nap under the floating base and have learned that with the sound of the seaplane comes beings that will gawk at them through a 'cage'.  Along with these strange beings, also comes an encouragement of pieces of barramundi (a common and delicious fish in the Kimberly region) that are hand-delivered to any sharks willing to throw kisses at the guests.

Nurse sharks do have an impressive set of teeth but they are more bottom feeders, cleaning the ocean floor.  They use suction to inhale their food (octopus is a favorite) and as such, when reaching for their snack, they make this very loud sound akin to removing a vacuum that is stuck to your skin.  Because they are rather blind, they come up to you like they are going to give you a kiss and 'smack', they let off that suction sound and you just have to laugh.  If they connected with your skin, that would be one heck of a hickey!

   Incoming nurse sharks (a shy bull shark was around too)       We were all smiling...look at those teeth
   This is Timothy, he is special ;-).  He liked to swim and get his snack on his back          Imagine this big wet kiss

We no sooner than got out of the shark tank, when we were herded onto our boat for our adrenaline-filled ride through the larger Horizontal Falls.  As the size and speed of the falls are contingent upon the tides, we were fortunate to meet the incoming tides near to its full height.  The captain raced the boat up the cascading water and you could feel the surge and swirl of the aggressive falls.  What a rush!  Literally!
   Horizontal Falls (larger)              The falls were like riding rapids      A selfie of a selfie of a crazy ride
   We were having a lot of fun

We also visited the smaller of the Horizontal Falls but due to the height, 15' (5m), it was not safe to ride through.  The captain of the boat backed up our boat to the water and at a speed of an incredible 25 knots, he held the boat in place (which means the water was moving at 25 knots!).
    The smaller falls and holding steady amidst the torrent of water       Photo from a book, but it shows the power of the smaller falls

We passed through the falls several times and each time it was a different ride.  Between the surging water and the swirling whirlpools, you could not depend on anything but hanging on to the seat in front of you.  And, that was just our morning! 

Lunch was being cooked for us so we made our way to our home for the night, a wonderful houseboat with six ensuite cabins and an upper deck bar.  Although we had flown over the area and were amazed by its beauty, driving into the small bay took our breath away.  We placed our things in our room, hurried up to the rooftop deck and sat down to a delicious barramundi lunch.
  Our view coming into our home for the night      Our ensuite cabin and Cinderoo blue water
     Our fabulous barramudi lunch                                    Rooftop lunch view
We enjoyed our lunch and had a chance to take a breath before our next adventure:  fishing in the Buccaneer Archipelago.  Our captain took us out into Talbot Bay and as the fish were not cooperating as much as we would have liked, we moved around to various cubbies to try our luck.  I will beat my chest and say I caught the second fish of the day (some fish not worthy of keeping) and Gerson did eventually reel in a good fish, albeit too small.  Others did catch keepers and we later enjoyed their fish as our dinner appetizer.  One person actually caught a small black-tipped reef shark and it was released.
   On our way to our fishing spots             Our prize catches of the day     Cool seaplane taking off
  View to the larger Horizontal Falls and the tides are changing                    Coming back to home base and the lowering tide

So, if multiple rides through the falls and fishing was not enough, we sped back to our home base and readied ourselves for our helicopter ride.  We were split into three groups and off we went to fly over, not only the Horizontal Falls, but all around the bay area.  The brilliant colors of the water, the cliffs and the landscape almost overwhelmed our sense of sight.  To think we rode through those falls just a few hours before...and will be again!

   It's all about the Horizontal Falls - outgoing tide      The archipelago landscape was no less beautiful
   Coming back to the home base bay - stunning                            Gerson's smile says it all

Ok, can we rest now?  Nope!  It is time to jump back into the boat for a ride through the outgoing waters.  This was a whole new experience as the water was rushing even faster than before and we had quite a few jumps and lunges through the falls.  The remarkable thing is, that once you pass through the narrows, the water on the incoming side is smooth as glass whereas the water on the outgoing side, is turbulent with whirlpools and pockets that can suck a boat engine under.
    Gerson's face is classic              The still photos just does not do the falls justice, but you can see the force of the water
We stopped for a look at the smaller falls and no way were we going to be riding through this angry narrows
All this adrenaline use worked up quite an appetite and we were not disappointed.  The chef (yes, a chef was on board), prepared our fish caught earlier in the day as a tasty appetizer and we enjoyed a nice steak for the main.  The rest of our evening was spent in contemplation of what an extraordinary day we had and in anticipation of the morrow.
  Lovely dinner
The next morning, we awakened at o'dark thirty to enjoy a before breakfast, sunrise cruise up Cyclone Creek.  We all just sat and enjoyed the peacefulness of the waterway and I suspect, we were not the only one.  While we were stopped and just floating along, a suspicious ripple slowly travelled down the creek alongside of us.  As a fish would not make this type of elongated and very slow disturbance in the water, methinks we had a glimpse of a saltie.

    Sunrise on the archipelago                                     A saltwater crocodile perhaps?
Breakfast was just what we needed and after we packed our belongings, we were back in our boat for one last visit to the falls.  When we thought that our experience through the Horizontal Falls could not get better, it went beyond anything we could expect. 

You see, with the tides, there is incoming and outgoing movement of the water, thus, the Horizontal Falls (which occur with the changing level of the water that is contained within the gorges).  This water goes one way, stops dead for about two minutes, and then starts moving back the other way.  We were incredibly fortunate to be able to visit the falls at the precise time this exchange occurred.  Outstanding!

Our Captain took us through the larger falls and we were also able to experience the smaller falls and view the beautiful scenery beyond the walls.  When we returned through the falls, the Captain 'parked' our boat in the middle of the larger narrows and as we were in the 'dead tide', we just sat perfectly still for about a minute.  Then, the wonder of the moon and physics and all that is special with our world, started the flow again and we began to drift with the incoming tide.  In a matter of minutes, the rapids appeared and we had one last rush through the falls, one last spin around the forming whirlpools, and off we went to meet our seaplane.

   Beautiful island in the archipelago                            Back through the falls we go
  Through the small falls at just about dead tide           View to what lies beyond the small falls 
    Coming into the larger falls at dead tide  
   Just starting to move again - Remember what this waterway will look like in less than an hour

Our seaplane ride was made all the better recognizing what we had boated through within the past 24 hours and gave us even more appreciation of the beauty of this untamed area.
  The color of the water and flying over the floating base of operations

   I cannae get enough of the views of the Horizontal Falls

   Mother Nature is truly an artist

As though the past 24 hours was not enough of an adventure, we only waited until the next day for John and Michelle to come back from their overnight Horizontal Falls tour and we were off in their 4x4 SUV for yet another fantastic jaunt to Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge.

Tunnel Creek is aptly named as a creek has formed a tunnel through a mountain.  A bit infamous, this tunnel served as a hiding place for Jandamarra, a Bunuba tribesman that lived two very different lives:  one as a prisoner of white settlers and the other, as one of the most trusted police trackers, but ultimately, he was labeled an enemy, and thus in the 1890's, he evaded capture by hiding in caves like Tunnel Creek. 

As we walked and waded through the 750m (750ish yards) tunnel, we found stalactites, stalagmites, crystal falls and of course, bats.  I even saw a very photogenic lizard that seemed to be a throwback from the dinosaur days.  Maybe one of the footprints we found in Broome was a long-ago relative!

   Entrance into Tunnel Creek with Michelle, John and Gerson exploring     This picture explains everything about me ;-)
   A beautiful moth and a very cute bat         Various formations were stunning
   This was an underground water fall and a source of the water         The end of the tunnel and the continuation of the creek
  I Icalled this the 'Mardi Gras Mask' formation          Beautiful marbling in the stone        Quite the photogenic lizard (huge, 18")
From Tunnel Creek, it was back up a rather pesky unsealed road and a visit to Windjana Gorge in hopes we would spy some large lounging fresh water crocodiles, or 'freshies'.  Windjana Gorge is carved out of the 350 million year old Devonian Reef and the Napier Range is reputed to be one of the best exposed fossil reef complexes in the world.  The gorge itself was amazing and we were not disappointed with the critters we spotted along the river's shore.

Nice start to entering the gorge       Fossil (nautilus relative) and no, the second picture is not upside down
   Just having some fun and Gerson surfing the stone wave           A very large stork and a pretty parrot
    And yes, lots of freshies. Don't they look like something of dinosaurs themselves?  Look at those spines, those teeth, that smile!
  Lunch in Windjana, nice!          Several of these kites hanging around and quite the acrobats   

    Lone, picturesque Boab tree                        Did not expect to see a Pheasant (coucal or cuckoo) running around the camp

We came back from Windjana completely shattered and found our beds all too welcoming.  What a week to remember and with these photos and our memories, to be relived again and again.



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