Saturday, November 19, 2011

Horizontal Waterfalls

in the tank.......
Mid October and it’s getting warm up here in the Kimberley. We’ve just spent a couple of days at Silver Gull Creek in the company of Phil and Marion, two Kimberley legends who set up camp down a creek 17 odd years ago and who have no interest in moving back to “civilisation”.  Mind you, they now have internet access, a flat screen tv and a satellite phone so they are not exactly doing it Bear Grylles’ style. We were there 7 years ago and things haven’t changed. Phil still wears his Rio jocks as standard attire whether or not there are 20 tourists swarming around from charter boats and he is still brewing and sampling his fine home brew. Marion still looks the same and still rolls the most perfectly thin rollies which seem never far from her fingers. It was hot and sticky and Squatter’s Arms has the perfect remedy. A spring somewhere back of their camp has been piped into a concrete tank that through a series of holes flows through and down the bank into the creek. It can hold 8-10 bodies and they have plastic chairs set up so you can sit in comfort as the fresh water flows over you. Once you are in, it’s hard to leave. While we were there, 3 burly barge crewmen emerged from the tank after a 2 hour session looking a lot like boiled prunes. We took our turn and finally emerged reborn and refreshed.
We said farewell after milking them for tips and advice on suitable bays, anchorages and basically where to go next. We got a bit carried away in Marion’s small jewellery shop and this may have been a mistake as we found out the next day. Next door is Dog Leg Creek where diesel can be bought for 3 bucks a litre. It’s a must do as you motor more than you think up here and we tied up the next day with thirsty tanks and, alas, slightly empty wallets. I would have loved to fill up but could only afford 80 litres. I asked if he took plastic and he gave me a curious stare, then turned his head slowly around the spinifex and sandstone backdrop and said in classic Kimberley tone “ Ahh no mate, we don’t do plastic, shoulda  come here before yous went to Marions.” Got that in one buddy! He recounted a story of a catamaran that pulled in and took 800 dollars worth of fuel and the skipper (Dad) had to raid the kids’ piggy banks to pay the bill.
 Anyway, we were three quarters full and we still had 80 lts in jerries. We anchored off for the night and planned our sail down to the Horizontal Waterfalls, thinking carefully about tides as our first hazard was going to be negotiating The Gutter. You all know what gutters do; correct, they catch water then channel it away. This channel was about half a mile wide and it ran between the mainland and Koolan Island and it carried a fair bit of water mid tide. It was going to be a quick run down between the island and the mainland but then the gutter took a sharp left hand turn through some smaller islands. We had been told to leave 2 hour before slack water so as to get the free rundown the island. We still had some flood tide with us as we approached the tricky bit among the islands and whirlpools started to appear and strange bits of foam began shooting past us. It was time to hand steer.
getting interesting
 I took the helm and was steering hard to starboard to keep our line through the islands when suddenly the whole boat slewed to port like someone had picked it up and set it on a different course. We’re talking 14 tonnes of boat pushed as easily as you’d move a leaf on a pond. It was a bit unnerving but it was nothing compared to what we would see tomorrow at the horizontal waterfalls.
approaching the gap
The horizontal waterfalls are interestingly named. If you think about it, most waterfalls fall vertically, that’s where the “water fall” concept obviously came about. How then do waterfalls work horizontally, where’s the gravity man?? It’s all to do with tides. There are two gaps in a rock wall through which water flows during flood and ebb of tide. Narrow gap, a heap of water to squeeze through (10-12m tides) and you have water flowing from one height to a lower height but essentially it’s a horizontal set up. The first gap is wider and so less spectacular. The second is about 10 feet and at peak flood or ebb it is seriously spectacular.  We took the Ron Jensen designed ultimate dinghy gingerly up to the entrance just to have a peek. There were whirlpools everywhere and Diana was on the verge on a major dummy spit if I went any further so we turned the thumping 3.3 hp outboard around and high tailed it back to the Doc. We would do it tomorrow with the tourists on board the specially designed inflatables with their twin 300 HP outboards. Luckily they did take plastic because we were broke and after 2X 55 dollars were transferred via sat phone we were on our way. The boat does a short tour of the nearby gorges and the guide is knowledgeable and provides information we would never have known. He took us through some mangroves and when I asked him if he saw many crocs in here he said in true Mick Dundee fashion, “ Mate, the only time you see a croc is when they want you to see them”........ummmmmm I thought...deep, very deep but what does he mean? Does it mean they need you to be visible as they line you up from the mudbank for a spot of lunch? We didn’t linger on the possibilities because the tour was over and it was TIME TO DO THE WATERFALL. We sped across the water at a speed that made The Doc’s 6 knots seem ridiculous and we were suddenly there, poised, just out of reach of the churning froth and bubble. When the tide is really roaring the drop can be as much 6 m, that’s 20 feet. Today it was about 5 feet and the operators are careful not to go when conditions are down-right suicidal. The most amazing thing as you go through the gap is the sheer push and pull of the water on the boat. The boat skews left and right, up and down and just when you think it’s all over and we are going under, the driver hits the throttle and the 600 hp blasts you out and through the maelstrom. This guy was good. He backed the dinghy down the drop and held us there with deft touches on the throttle while water roared all around. And then it was over. We motored back to the pontoon, the tourists disembarked, then embarked their float plane for their 1 hour flight back to Broome.
down we go............
hang on now!!!

A fish out of water?
 We stayed on and had a chat with crew who operate the whole show. They’re just a bunch of young guys who live and work in this remote spot in the Kimberley. They can have up to 80 visitors a day and that means serving brekky or lunch, taking them through the falls, greeting and meeting and being polite and friendly 12 hours a day. Hard work! Home is a floating shed down the creek tied to a cyclone mooring. They have a collection of pet Bat fish which have become part of the tourist agenda. We stopped next to their shed and the bat fish came swarming in. The trick is to get a tourist to hold a handful of soggy bread while one of the crew plucks a fish out of the water which then eats the bread from the hand of the stunned punter. 3 guys live on this floating shed and it’s  pretty close living. There is a female backpacker from Germany working there as well and she lives on the houseboat near the falls. The houseboat was moving to Broome as part of their end of season pack up and she was moving onto the shed with the 3 guys. Her main concern was the open air shower they have set up on the shed. The boys assured her she had nothing to worry about. She assured them she would be showering fully clothed. We packed up camp the next morning and caught the ebb tide north on our way to Red Cone Inlet.    
there's no place like home........

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