The vigorous hand-shake from Skipper Dan once the helicopter touched down on the top-deck helipad was firm and welcoming. His next comment, “We are going to set some crab pots, do you want to come?” set the tone for an action packed, week long, adventure of a lifetime. It was as if we had stepped aboard a boat with a bunch of mates.
Earlier that morning we had been collected from our accommodation for the 1½ hour flight from Kununurra to Mitchell Plateau. At the Plateau we climbed aboard the chopper for our first “doors off” helicopter ride over the top of the cascading Mitchell Falls then down the river to the 26m adventure catamaran, the Great Escape, our home for the next seven nights.
Fishing and crabbing on this trip was an added bonus, the real focus was photography. With Nigel Gaunt (Red Dirt Photo) and Sheldon Pettit (Sheldon Pettit Photography) we had two of Australia’s best landscape photographers to encourage us, inspire us and to share their knowledge of landscape photography and the Kimberly region. They were quite simply, fabulous.
As the remaining guests arrived we schooled in the art of setting and retrieving mud crab pots. It’s very similar to catching sand crabs and blue swimmers but remember to loop the line and buoy over a high branch in case a croc takes a fancy to the bait and hopefully it won’t be able to pull it away. Throughout the afternoon we gathered enough crabs to feed everyone for entrée at the evening cook-up on the beach while we were photographing the sights of Steep Island.
Catch of the day...Mud Crabs
We met the rest of the crew who would look after us so brilliantly during our time on board. Chef Amanda, who cooked three hot meals a day sometimes while we were steaming to the next location, each meal a gourmet delight worthy of any fine dining establishment. Aly and Nina who cleaned our cabins, washed our clothes and served the meals with smiles and good humour. Ben and Michael who along with Dan drove the three tenders to get us to the best photography spots before daylight and until dark and then took us fishing and bird-watching in the middle of the day. David (Dicksy) Dick, at one time, the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world alone, now helicopter pilot extraordinaire. The places Dicksy can land a helicopter would blow your mind.
Heli-taxi to the top of Eagle Falls
Our fellow guests were mostly Australian. They came from Kununurra, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Arnham Land and Adelaide and two Americans from Delaware USA. We all shared a passion for photography and got on well.
Day two saw us at Jar Island where the chopper taxied us to the top of a fall for a swim and to photograph Eagle Falls before happy hour.
Day three was typical of the first few days with a 4.40am alarm call, coffee and a light breakfast before heading out to photograph limestone outcrops until the light became too harsh. A visit to one of several Indigenous Art Sites where some of the work has been dated at more that 18,000 years old is an eye opening, even emotional experience when you consider the indigenous people creating these drawings/ stories in these remote locations so many centuries ago and those that came after adding their own stories.
Nigel and Sheldon provided presentations as we steamed to the next location, which included the wreck of a DC3 plane from 1942 – fortunately all survived.
On day three while some guests took the option of a chopper flight to Kalumburu we opted to go fishing and returned with a good haul of Mangrove Jack, which were cooked up for the evening meal. I have to say, they taste as good as King George Whiting!! The afternoon shoot was sandbars and mangroves while keeping an eagle eye out for any unwanted participants in the form of saltwater crocs.
Time to play with Mangrove Abstracts
The following day was a steam around Cape Londonderry and the end of wet season “knock-em down winds” meant that the Timor Sea was choppy and some battled sea-sickness for a couple of hours. Anchoring in the Drysdale River we were in company with a yacht and a power-boat also enjoying the safe anchorage. Sunset shoot and drinks were at the stunning Glycomis Falls.
After dinner the boat moved to Gumboot Bay so that our morning-shoot was a short tender boat ride and short but intense scramble over some rocks to Gumboot Falls. The rocks were quite large but the crew helped with backpacks and tripods, which was absolutely fantastic for some of us who found the going with 10kg on our backs a bit harder. After photographing the falls we were able to have a refreshing swim in the waterhole before heading back to catch bait for the days fishing. The bait is caught with a throw net and when on the first throw half a bucket on mixed fish where pulled in, we thought – “that would do us”. If we were home we would have cooked “the bait”.
Throwing the bait net
The next stop was the scene of Fran’s fishing triumph. Michael, who just happens to be a marine biologist as well as a top crewman, cast out and handed her the rod with instructions to let the line run for the count of two and then lock it off and pull it in smoothly. Never for a minute did Fran expect to be pulling in a 56cm Barramundi but that she did. The catch was made even more special when Chef Amanda served it for entrée sharing it with everyone and then later, when Michael presented Fran with the longest Dorsel Fin Spike tied with string as a necklace. It will be brought home and shown with pride.
An afternoon fishing
The afternoon saw us make the long trip into King George Falls. Wow what fantastic scenery. The giant red and orange cliffs tower 300 feet above the river and the weather has carved amazing structures that just have to be seen to be believed. It must truly be one of Australia’s most spectacular locations.
We spent a day and a half at the falls photographing them from every possible angle. Both sides were flowing but our early morning heli-taxi to the top was somewhat dampened by thick smoke filling the area from nearby burn-offs. It meant we didn’t really get the shot we had expected but there was no shortage of photographic opportunity and it was still totally stunning.
King George Falls
After a final bonfire on the beach at the entrance to King George River the boat steamed 10 hours back to Wyndham. We enjoyed our last gourmet dinner on board, a presentation of photos and video from the trip put together by Dicksy, you know - the heli pilot , dish washer and round the world sailor - was enjoyed by crew and guests alike. It had been an amazing 8 days. As with all things that come to an end, there was a celebration of sorts involving a few drinks and a bit of a sing a long for those that still had the energy.
You know it’s been a good trip when the tears appear on final goodbyes to the Crew, to Nigel and Sheldon and to your fellow guests. That was certainly the case for us.