The King George River is one of those iconic Kimberley places that we were very keen to see and yet feared we might have to pass on. Across the entrance to the river, there is a large sandbar which is very shallow and changes position regularly. The latest waypoints from the Kimberley Cruisers Club (charted in April) mapped a zigzag S shape into the river mouth and we knew from everyone we had spoken with and from what we had read, that we needed to cross the bar on a rising tide, near high tide, to ensure a safe passage. Unfortunately for us, at the time we were in the area, high tide was at midnight. Attempting to follow the crucial twists and turns in darkness really didn’t appeal and normally with the tides as they were, we would have given this river a miss. But after much talking and thinking it through, we agreed to give it a go and came up with a plan. If we left very early in the morning so as to arrive at the entrance at sunrise, we may have a chance of getting through using the waypoints and spotting for the channel from the bow. So early to bed, in what was a pretty rocky anchorage at Kalooma Bay, just outside the river entrance. At 4:30am we were heading down to the entrance, watching a magnificent sunrise.
As we started to negotiate the sandbar, Peter stood up the front with his polaroids looking for the bottom, while I followed the pre-set waypoints. We had agreed that if the water level (under the boat) got to less than 1m we would back up and give it a miss. At one point the bottom rose sharply to less than 0.5m below our keel, but before we could react it dropped away again. This was a bit stressful, and all at 6am, well before my wakeup time. We finally got through the sandbar and the depth went to 3 m which was a huge relief; but not for long.
As we started up the river, another sand bar appeared. This was not expected and suddenly we were in 0.5m again. This is where having spent last night thinking through what we were planning to do proved very useful. In my head all night I had been piloting the boat around bends, keeping to the outside curve where the river should be deepest and trying to work out how to know when to cross the river to the other side. So, we made our way carefully over to the northern side of the river (the outside of the curve at that point) and found that if we travelled less than 5m from the rocks, yes that is correct less than 5m from the shear walls of (very pretty but very solid) rock, we stayed in 7-10m of water. Then there was the tricky bit when we have to cross to the other side of the river to match the curve, this is where Peter’s polaroids came to the fore.
[The reason shallow entrances should be attempted on a rising tide is so that the tide coming in can help lift the boat off the bottom if you hit. On a dropping tide (which we were on) the tide keeps taking water away leaving you high and dry until the next high tide – which at that time was 12ish hours away].
The photo shows our path on the plotter (the photo was taken on the way out, hence the 2 tracks) and as you can see according to the technology I was ploughing through dry land. Yet again a case of work with what you can actually see around you not what the technology suggests.
While all this was going on, we were absolutely being blown away by the scenery.
After the initial half hour of sphincter tightening (Peter’s terminology) everything settled down; I got into the swing of the curves and the feel of the river, and we could relax and take in the view. As we got closer to the head of the river (in this case the falls) where we were planning to anchor, we passed a small beach, which in our research was said to be a good place for a barbecue. What we saw there was a set of croc tracks; a good metre in width of main slide with claw marks outside that. We did not want to meet that monster in our dinghy! Finally, we pulled up and anchored less than 200m from where the Twin Falls were not falling. The scenery, stillness and silence (apart from the bird song, which I didn’t realise I had missed until now) definitely made up for the stressful start to our day.
The King George River is a very famous tourist attraction with twin waterfalls that thunder down during the wet season (and into the dry). But at the time of year we were visiting, the falls were dry and the place was beautifully quiet. Again, no-one else was there which suited us fine. Because of the narrowness of the gorge we were in deep shadow, but the temperature was over 36 degrees and there was no breeze at all.
I was very concerned that Neon wasn’t handling the heat well and took to washing him under the shower; by the third such treatment he had given up even struggling and just sat there accepting his fate. Between loss of fur and a fishier diet, he is now almost literally half the cat he was when we left Perth 5 months ago.
We wanted to wait until it was cooler to climb the gorge, but by 3pm it was still 36o and we were worried about losing the light for the return dinghy trip if we left it too long. So just after 3pm (after giving Neon a last shower), we headed off in the dinghy, albeit somewhat nervously after seeing the size of that croc slide back around the corner. We did a quick tour of the falls and rock walls from the dinghy. We could get right up under the falls (as they weren’t running), which was pretty cool. We then tied up using the dinghy anchoring system following a very careful perusal of our landing area for anything possibly reptilian. I was glad that we had practised using the system at Swift Bay, as the shore was solid with really sharp oyster shells that could have made a mess of the dinghy (and us if we slipped) and I didn’t want to hang around the shore any longer than necessary (crocs can move really fast) – I kept a tight grip on my boat hook.
Once ashore we climbed up through a gulley which was thankfully in the shade. It was easy to tell that many others as had done this climb, as there was a lovely soft patina of wear from all the hands that had used the tree trunks for support before us. On the plateau at the top there were again little cairns to guide us to the falls edge. Although this time there were many different paths, all with little piles of rock to show where to go, but they all pretty much headed in the same direction. The problem arose on the return, as we had to be careful not to miss our gulley down.
What a glorious view – we were so glad we had taken the effort to get here (and carried the extra water bottles and lollies).
The temperature had finally started to drop a bit, so we stayed up the top for quite a while to enjoy the view before making our way back to the boat. No crocs were waiting for us; but believe me we checked before pulling the dinghy in.
This experience was incredibly impressive, gloriously peaceful and oppressively hot.
This photo shows the sharp shells lining the shore and the tenacity of the Kimberley figs. I had been seeing these little things gripping to life, hanging out of cracks in the oddest of places, all along the coast. They do grow to a decent size if they find enough water. In places you can see the roots, like cables, dropping down the cliffs to the waters edge.
The rock of this area had a pinky-mauve hue and the layers were composed of somewhat courser grains with less folding apparent, but there was still the lego block structure in the cliffs
The next day we again lifted the anchor before first light. The trip out was much easier; there was a slightly higher tide and we had the track of the trip in to follow. We were able to go a lot faster and were over the sandbar by 6:30am.
Imagine our surprise when we saw ‘Infanta’ anchored up on the other side of the Bay. Peter used the radio to hail them. We realised later that we had probably woken them up, even without the radio, as Gavin has his AIS set to alarm when anyone comes within cooee – he does a lot of single handing on that lovely little boat. We anchored up near them and headed over for coffee and ginger biccies (is there a boat out there that doesn’t stock ginger biccies?). I also took over a book for Kerry, as she had mentioned back at Swift Bay that she had run out of reading material (Peter had the same problem as he had forgotten to top up his kindle before we left the internet civilisation). The only book I had that would possibly suit Kerry (she reads human interest and I am into Sci Fi) was “An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth” by the Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (I read it before we headed off on this journey and found it resonated well with what we were doing – a good read).
They were also glad to see us emerging from the river and were pleased to hear of our success, as it meant that they knew they could get in. After a good chat and agreeing to catch up in Darwin, we left them and headed off. We found out later that they had got down to 0.1m when they went in, that’s too shallow for us.
One of the important bits of information we got from Gavin and Kerry was that the weather was expected to continue to be fine for the next three days. So with that in mind, we changed our cruising plan from following the coast, to cutting straight across the Bonaparte Gulf. The Gulf earnt the nickname ‘Blownapart Gulf’, due to the winds it regularly gets, so we were very happy to hear there was a weather window to go straight across. There was nothing between us and Darwin that we really wanted to see and ‘the cat and I’ were getting tired. On to Darwin…
Way Points and anchorage information from the Kimberley Coast Cruising Yacht Club member’s website. Become a member and download the information you need before leaving civilisation as there is no internet here.