Kimberley Kayak Expedition 1 (part 2) 1982
At the top of the ridge I had an amazing view of the inlet but more importantly a view of the whirlpools that nearly took my life. (Read part 1 for more details). They had now increased in size and it was interesting to see them grow as the tide got stronger. It was equally interesting to be able to see the route I had taken when I paddled into the inlet and how I avoided the centre of the whirlpools and possible death. It was an astounding scene and what an experience I had paddling into the inlet. I was so delighted and fortunate to be here that I couldn’t wish for anything more. It was an encounter that I will never forget. How could I! I returned to camp to reflect on the last few days. It had been a real adventure.
After 2 days of walking and studying the inlet and whirlpools it was time to move on. A departure on high tide was necessary but because I took too long to load the kayak the tide had gone out about 50 metres by the time I was ready. I now had to drag the kayak down the boulders and onto the slippery mud flats by using driftwood. Thirty five kilograms of the weight in my kayak was made up of water.
I knew the tide was going to fight my progress along the coast for the next two hours but I needed to move before the water disappeared altogether. With the tide moving in 6 hour cycles it was guaranteed I would be paddling against the current for some part of my day. Whenever possible I tried to work with the tide but because I always wanted to explore the country in the afternoon when the winds were stronger, I was often working against the tides in the calmer waters of the morning.
I moved over the wide stretch of currents entering Walcott Inlet without too much drama, passed Rankin Island and the spectacular headland of High Bluff. With the coastline supporting a magnitude from mangroves I expected to meet at least one crocodile, instead I only met drifting branches that looked like them. A large turtle floated effortlessly in my path, I made no diversion as I wanted to see how close I could get to it. Only when I crept within a paddles length did the turtle notice me. Its eyes were glazed with a gooey matter excreting from the corners. It looked sad.
At Eagle Point much of my energy was sapped. I needed a boost so I beached among some shallow reefs and ate rice pudding that I prepared the evening before. The short rest and food strengthen me for my last 11 km to Raft Point. The last couple of kilometres, paddling along the picturesque rock shore was a joy as the current aided my passage and I was flying. This was the benefits of working with the tide. The ocean was also a flurry of activity as shoals of mackerel leapt out of the water before me. As I glided around Raft Point I felt a sense of disappointment, as I had to leave the fast current and make camp. For once I had been helped along by the tide and it was great.
Foam Passage, a 4 km entrance into Doubtful Bay boiled with kilometres of standing waves. The Bay extended north-east for about 40 kms before it narrowed and formed the Glenelg River. The Glenelg River was an important find for Lieutenant Grey who explored the area in 1838. Kingston Smith, one of Australia’s famous aviators made an emergency landing in his plane on the mudflats at the entrance of the Glenelg River.
The entrance to the beautiful Sale River was also in Doubtful Bay and within 20 kms from Raft Point. I had thoughts about visiting it because it was supposed to have one of the most beautiful gorges in the area. To reach the gorge however I was told that I would need to paddle up the river on a really high tide. I was also told that there were some big crocodiles up there and there were few places to land. Thinking about my safety and the extra days and the effort needed to do the trip, I decided to give it a miss.
About 26 kms north west of Raft Point and out to sea lay the Montgomery Islands which were surrounded by the huge Montgomery reef. The shredding of water cascading off the reef was supposed to be one of the most spectacular sights to see, but again it was much too far out to sea and sounded too dangerous to visit in a kayak so I decided not to go. (In 1987 I met an Aboriginal women who lived in the area when she was younger and she told me that the Aboriginals used to paddle out to the reefs in their dug-out canoes. That made me feel like a real wimp.)
As soon as I beached at Raft Point there was a reminder of the human invention and a disregard for the wilderness which saddened me. The point was a stopping off place for boats from Koolan and Cockatoo Islands on their way to the Sale River, so rubbish was left at one end of the beach. There was a heap of beer bottles and even such things as big barbeque plates and cutlery stamped with a mining companies name. My isolated wilderness camp was ruined by the rubbish, but there was a smaller beach only metres away, wedged between two rocky headlands, so I camped on it and I didn’t have to look at the rubbish.
My camp had a magnificent and stunning view of the steep red vertical cliffs of Steep Island in the Bay. With the excitement of so much beauty around me I just had to go for walk. Walking conditions though never ceased to amaze me. When I had thought that I’d walked in the worst conditions I found places even worse. To walk 4 kms near the point took me nearly 4 hours in 38° heat, as I was climbing up and down crevasses, stumbling through spinifex, tripping over boulders and ducking under tree branches. You can’t believe how hard, but how enjoyable it was to be out here. It is so special to think I was one of very few people in the world to have walked here.
Bouncing from one rock to another a wallaby with the last foot of his tail being brown, shot off like world-class gymnast. I urged myself on wanting to see over the next ridge, around the next corner, over the next gully, until time had run out and it was time to return to camp. Below me was a large area of mangroves. I could hear life sing in a chorus of different tunes. A little bit closer a multitude of birds had gathered around the cliff top and in a deep green forest just below it. On the horizon, across Doubtful Bay I could see the high shores of the mainland and the way to the Glenelg River. About 1 km separated me from Steep Island. Way below me a high tide was flooding through kilometres of mangroves some pale green others deep green.
From my mineral stained rock perch I had a 360° panorama of the stunning area but my camera could only capture parts of it is. When I realised that I had forgotten my distress beacon I suddenly felt a little vulnerable. My hurried departure and my keenness to explore the area caused me to leave it behind. Thankfully I returned without incident.
Sleeping high on a ledge in my light canvas swag and thin camping mat gave me a grand view of the area and a safe place from the crocodiles. A beach stone-curlew waddled up and down the beach, agitated and seemingly talking to me or telling me to go. Its long legs made it look bigger than a duck but its body being roughly the same size. On other beaches I have always seen stone-curlews in pairs, so maybe this one had lost its love. Unfortunately I didn’t have the gift to communicate with it, to see what was wrong. In fact I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone at this time. I had no communications to contact anyone, so no one knew where I was. The only way to communicate with others out here was with a flying doctor radio which I didn’t have.
At times I felt it would have been nice to have someone come along to share my ordeals, to have a partner who also appreciated the country, but I wasn’t fussed, I was really enjoying being alone and the longer I was alone the better. I didn’t even have a transistor radio to listen to, but I doubt if it would work way out here anyway, so I had no idea what was happening in the world. But it didn’t really matter I had enough things happening around me to keep me occupied.
Within a few hundred metres of my departure point I became committed to crossing Doubtful Bay on the full force of the tidal flow. I soon had to compensate for the tidal currents as I crossed over a small rapid that was streaming around the point. Ahead several large boils and overfalls started appearing and moving my way. They came from nowhere erupting all around me. The real big ones were to my left in a long line and seemingly going out to sea. I couldn’t understand where they had come from but after looking at the shore I realized I was being swept towards them rather than the overfalls coming towards me. The current became too powerful for me to make headway, so I was losing ground. Now I knew why they called it Foam Passage.
After a kilometre or so the current eased and I was able to move in a more direct line although by the time I crossed the bay I had done a big S. Luckily there was no breeze but this just increased my perspiration problem. It was so hot and the salty sweat running down my face was blinding and causing me much anguish.
Once across Foam Passage I followed a few islands and tried to settle into a better paddling rhythm but the sun, the repetitive plop of the paddle, a sore bum and a full bladder got me a bit agitated and fidgety. I needed to relieve myself to get rid of the feeling, so instead of peeing in my cup which I usually did, I headed for the nearest beach. To stretch, to pee and wake up was a welcome relief. I had at least another 20 km to go before I intended to stop for the day.
Nearing Lizard Island I could see the High Cliffy Islands, which were on the edge of the massive Montgomery reef system. I didn’t realise it at first but I was paddling hard but moving really slowly and fighting an invisible current. The tide must have turned. The hard slog and frustration of getting nowhere had given me the willies again, and I desperately needed to go to the toilet for another pee, my third since leaving Raft Point. Getting the willies was definitely not caused by my liquid intake. It was caused more by the frustration, the tiredness, pressure on my bladder and mental strain of not getting anywhere. It felt that my bladder wanted to burst, but once out of the boat the pressure was eased and only a small portion of urine flowed.
I left the islands and Doubtful Bay and paddled around a point of the mainland with some difficulty as the tide was ripping into the bay against me. I had been paddling for six hours yet I had only achieved 22 kms. In most conditions I could paddle about 5 ½ km an hour, in this current I was only doing 2 km an hour, and I had no idea when the rocky shoreline would give way to a beach so I could make camp. Within the hour the most fantastic sight imaginable was before me, I could see a beach.
My first task, after trying to spear a shark in the shallows was to light a fire and have a hot drink. The sight of doves and other birds gave me an encouraging sign that water could be close. Doves need freshwater, although it still could be kilometres away. My Christmas had arrived again, 200 metres north of my camp a beautiful running stream flowed beneath the valley of green vegetation. I decided to move upstream and follow the source. A large grey kangaroo stood its ground and made a grunting sound. It took off, but stopped again making the same noises, then it eventually disappeared among the undergrowth. It was certainly a lot bigger than all the other kangaroos I had seen.
The sound of water trickling over rocks was fantastic, it was beautiful, soft, pure and clean and then the stream meandered through prickly bushes, dense undergrowth and pandanas palms. Small cliffs started to close in and for the kingfishers, the other birds and myself this was paradise. As I moved amongst a tranquil setting the Coast Watch plane flew overhead turning in a large arch and buzzing my kayak. The Coast Watch is there to find intruders, but this was only the third time they had spotted me.
When the stream faded away I moved onto the ridge and overlooked the ocean. In the distance I saw something black and large continually rising out of the water. It looked like a large black hand that kept coming up and disappearing just like a giant was drowning. I soon realised that they were not large hands but whales. I watched them for several minutes before returning. I came across an overhang that looked as if it was a favourite place for kangaroos and wallabies to shelter. There was a wallaby skull in the corner of the overhang. I moved on and several wallabies of all sizes and a 2 foot lizard crossed my path, making it one of the most habitable places I’ve visited. It was probably a good place to camp for a few days.
Washing in a fresh water stream amongst the sounds of birds, the croaking of frogs and the creaking of trees was exhilarating and invigorating. To be able to cleanse my body of salt and be able to liven my hair, and have soft clothes was just magical. My morning had started at 5.00am, and by the time I cooked dinner, wrote my diary in the light of the fire, it was midnight before I got into my hammock.
With the morning and the outgoing tide, I managed to seek help from the current and soon arrived at Freshwater Cove, a place that Captain King found water in 1820. The cove was very shallow so I knew I had to hurry if I wanted to check the stream for freshwater. From where I had landed the creek was still 500m away. To greet me were many marsh birds, three ducks and a shark. I dragged my kayak onto the sand and ran towards the gully. It took me about five minutes to reach the creek and I was certainly ready for a drink when I got there. I discovered a pool surrounded by mangroves with a stream flowing into it. I would lose precious time if I tried to fight through the mangled mess of mangroves so I decided to risk it and waded across the pool. The pool was about 20 metres long and a few metres wide. Fish were swimming in the muddy water and mangrove roots jutted up like spikes from the sand making walking very difficult. I reached the water that cascaded from the mangroves into the pool. Satisfied of its sweet taste I rushed back to the kayak. (In 1988 when I stopped to get water from this stream a crocodile was waiting in the pool of water. Luckily I didn’t go in it that time.)
By the time I returned to my kayak the tide had gone out leaving my kayak about 20 metres from the water. Being fully loaded I had to drag it metre by metre to the water which was a struggle, but I wasted no time paddling out of the cove hoping the shallowing water and appearing sandbars wouldn’t trap me in. Once out into deep water I had a feed of rice which restored my energy.
Having the murky waters of Walcott Inlet well behind me the turtles returned in force and several times we were on collision course, but when they saw me they dived straight down. It was fun watching them. The currents and reefs along the coast caused several overfalls, but I cautiously steered around them. I passed the small picturesque inlet of Langley, where I was told freshwater could be found. At Prior Point I crossed over several more disturbed areas as I headed for Hall Point. Nearing the point I could see a white tidal stream extending right out to the sea. The wind was coming from the north-west and so was the current so there was no way I would get any assistance. The waves passing the point looked big, choppy and sloppy, just what I didn’t need at the end of a hard day. Because of the rough conditions, and the waves pounding the rocky shoreline, I put on my crash helmet. With opposing wind waves and current, the conditions played havoc with my balance, as the waves were bouncing from all directions. Many times the whole cockpit disappeared under water and with water resting on my spray deck I could feel it seeping in and dripping on my legs. I pulled out all stops, paddled like the clappers, but I still only gained a few metres.
For the first time on the trip I really thought I would have to retreat, as I was being thrown around like a ping-pong ball. I felt some movement of going forward, but when I looked at the large rock that I was passing, it was still beside me. This was far the worst stretch of ocean I had experienced on the trip, and I began to wonder if or when I would capsize. Being nearer the cliff was worse as waves rebounded off the walls and then exploded in the air. I moved further out and gained inch by inch, but I didn’t know how long I could keep on the power. I eventually started making some progress, but I couldn’t be too cocky because I still had another point to go around.
Coming up to the next point the surf pounded the rocks establishing more uncertainty for my safety. The large wind waves gave no mercy and continued to push me towards the rocks. Several times my whole cockpit disappeared under water. The sea was merciless, and it had no intentions of making my passage any easier. This was the Kimberley, it wasn’t the size of the swell, but its reputation for extreme tidal currents that was legendary. I eventually fought my way into calmer waters and only then did I know that my troubles were over, for today at least as there were two good beaches close by to choose from. I decided to pick the one furthest away because the reef didn’t extend as far out as the first and it would be a better beach to leave from in the morning.
Within 1 km of my destination, and as I was rounding a point that was the shape of a finger, I noticed some large black rocks that were moving. For a moment I was mystified, then a huge whale suddenly surfaced only 15 metres to my left. As it slowly cruised and bobbed up and down, I couldn’t believe it. I suddenly lost my tiredness and I excitedly turned my boat to watch its movements as a squirt of water formed a fountain. It moved slowly and effortlessly across to the point that I had passed but I couldn’t understand why half the whale was going down and another part at the back was surfacing. I started following it and although it was moving slowly and smoothly I couldn’t keep up with it, but then it stopped in the middle of the cove. It floated motionless and my adrenaline was still pumping as I quickly paddled towards it. I moved within 20 metres, it disappeared and I felt a little insecure but it surfaced again and my heart started to steady. This time it floated and as I edged myself closer and closer it squirted a couple of water spouts. Then I noticed something at its side, something smaller, then a calf eventually showed itself and two squirts of water went up simultaneously. The mother laid there, it looked like the calf was feeding, but I couldn’t be sure. I moved in closer, within a kayaks length and noticed some branding marks which turned out being large deep scars possibly made by sharks attacking it. Every now and then they would squirt a little spray and move their heads, but other than that they kept quite still.
I watched and took film of the whales with my 16mm movie camera. I kept thinking I could hear high-pitched noises but I didn’t think it possible as I was above the water surface. My tireness started to overpower my will to watch. I had been watching for over an hour so I paddled a kilometre back to a beach and camped.
I was deadbeat, I had only paddled 25 km but it was mostly against the current. I didn’t feel the urge to get out of the kayak let alone unload my gear. I vividly remember the last exciting whale experience I had. I was on a two-week scuba diving trip on the barrier reef and I dived with a blue whale shark and that is another story.
A stingray patrolling the shallows escaped my spear. I don’t seem to have much luck calculating the water refraction when spearing fish or stingrays. At 1.45pm I started a fire and my pains were forgotten after having two hot drinks. I was now ready for my daily walk to check a creek for water, but it was the satisfaction I got from exploring new territory which I enjoyed the most. I moved through a forest of small trees, hundreds had been uprooted by high winds and kangaroo tracks intersected the dry grass. Following a bounding kangaroo it led me into a paperbark hollow. Indications showed that it would be flooded in the wet. I left the hollow and headed towards the mangroves. Red winged parrots, kingfishers and doves all gathered around the mangroves and another kangaroo, as big as a small bullock feeding took off along the trial. I found no water in the gully so I returned home to cook dinner. Before retiring I consumed about 6 cups of coffee. At home I never take sugar but out here I added a spoon in every cup. I always enjoyed a milo last thing at night and my favourite sweet was rice pudding as that was all I had. Out here I’m well satisfied when I’ve had a brew and a bowl of sweet rice pudding. It’s like heaven.
I was still writing at 10.40pm and I wasn’t alone, an oyster catcher on the mud flats seemed to be having a great time whistling away to its heart content.
Last night sleep was absolutely awful I didn’t get to bed till midnight, I was damp and sticky, but the morning was cool so I woke up several times cold.
Thirty minutes after leaving I met a whale coming from the direction of Deception Bay. For several minutes I lost sight of it and became concerned of his whereabouts. Knowing that I may soon be riding on a whale’s back I headed closer to shore but then I spotted a shark so now I had two things to worry about. I finally heard a blowing sound, I saw nothing but a few seconds later the whale surfaced as it headed further out to sea. Now I felt safer so I continued my paddle across the entrance of Deception Bay. The sea then became very lumpy as I moved along the cliffs.
After 20 km and four hours of paddling I reached my campsite. It was nice to have a shorter day’s paddle. For once there was a tree that shaded my camp at the entrance of Sampson Inlet. My aim after having my usual cup of coffee and dried fruit lunch was to walk over to the creek 1 km north of my camp. It was tough walking, I nearly gave up but I pressed on reaching the creek. The better terrain allowed me to stride it out along the edge of the cliff and from a small cave a wallaby shot out and nearly took me with it. It gave me a fright. Having something rush at me like that isn’t good for my heart. The end of it is tail was dark and bushy. I followed the pleasant scenery of the shady cliffs and mangroves lining the creek. Birdlife became scarce but there were plenty of butterflies.
I left the creek and headed south across the difficult terrain towards Jackson Creek. Two Torres Straight pigeons, took to flight. They were pure white with blackish grey quills at the end of their wings and tail. I also disturbed a couple of coucal pheasants, which are a regular sight. I always remember reading Greys diary, he mentions that he shot several of them to eat. Reaching the tranquil setting of Jackson Creek two large pontoons, containing pearl baskets were anchored several hundred metres apart.
Returning from my three hour walk I still had ample time to write my diary and relax before it became dark. It was unusual but I was in bed by 7.30pm and up the next morning at 5:15am. The bay was calm only the small surf slapping against the rocks made any sound. Within one and a half kilometres I was rounding Battery Point and heading on my last leg into Kuri Bay. A decent sized fishing boat with a five or six men aboard powered over the westerly wind waves followed by an aluminium dingy driven by a speeding a Japanese man.
The high cliffs were darker at the base and lighter from the centre to the top. Boab trees grew on the darker rocks. The cliffs were impressive. By the time I arrived at Needle Rock, the rush-hour continued with yet another boat powering towards Battery Point. Needle Rock was a rock formation in the bay looking like a pinnacle, a tall narrow rock that stands, like a solid statue on a reef surrounded by water.
Needle Rock was 200 to 300m from the cliffs on the southern side of the south entrance of the Brecknock Harbor. It is impossible to miss when entering by the south channel. High cliffs lined the mainland, bays and coves. Rounding the corner to Kuri Bay stacks of old drums and wire baskets were scattered along the shores. I focused on a patch of flowers behind the rocks, they were yellow and looked like daffodils next to a grave, but as I got closer the suns reflection disappeared leaving a small bush and a pile of rocks.
I could now see buildings, boats, rafts and a small crocodile only a few metres ahead. The size of the crocodile didn’t worry me at all so I never thought about diverting. It slowly sank out of sight leaving me to focus on the small community at the end of the cove. I was amazed at the amount of buildings and boats before me, but I could see no activity.
As I tied my kayak to the jetty, I heard shouting and two Thursday Islanders walked out of the kitchen. They pointed to the manager’s small house and office. As I walked into the office two Japanese men were putting away a fortune of pearls. They were not keen to see visitors in this part of the world and after seeing all the pearls put in the safe, I could understand why. When I told them that I was canoeist they greeted me warmly and showed me a file of letters that I had sent. My food parcels had been there for 11 weeks so they had thought that I wasn’t coming and had been eaten by a crocodile. Within minutes they organised a room for me, but first it was smoko time, a cup of coffee and some biscuits in the mess. I met the only four Europeans working there, all the other workers were either Thursday Islanders or Japanese.
The Japanese boss said I could put my things in the shed and gave me a T.I. to help me. In fact I ended up with five of them helping. Bob Haddock, storekeeper and handyman showed me my room and gave me a rundown on the place. Hot showers, washing machine and a bed with a pillow, I hadn’t expected so much hospitality and generosity.
Long before I started the trip I was in contact with John Woodman in the Broome office of Kuri Bay Pearls and he had been most helpful and arranged my gear to be transported on their boat to Kuri Bay. Having this help save me hundreds of dollars. Without the help of Kuri Bay Pearls I would have had to hire a chopper to do my food drop. There was only two ways into Kuri Bay, by boat or by chopper. With those restrictions few people passed this way.
With my sweat and salt water leaching into my clothes they were like cardboard and ready for a good wash, so it was great to have the washing machine. After the most beautiful lunch of cold meats, salad and heaps of cordial I started to sort out my gear. Maps that I no longer needed were sent back home, my new ones were stored in the kayak. I had lots of maps.
That evening when the TI’s returned from work they had speared a crocodile and were skinning it near the jetty. I watched with interest. The Aboriginals or the T.I’s are the only people who are legally entitled to kill crocodiles.
I sent a telegram to Jenny letting her know that I’d arrived safely at Kuri Bay. Instead of having dinner in the mess the three Europeans organised a barbecue at their quarters for me. They were saying that Paul Caffyn had briefly stopped there on his around Australia trip. He had left on the 9th and arrived in Broome on the 18th. It took him nine days to do what I had done in 11 weeks, although he took every shortcut possible and paddled virtually all the time as to achieve a record. I was more than happy to detour to places of interest and to explore as much country I was able. Paul finished up paddling around Australia in under 12 months which was an incredible feat and I doubt if it will ever be beaten. Somehow along the way Paul and I, who were going in opposite directions passed somewhere south of Beagle Bay. I must admit, after hearing how many kilometres he was doing in a day I expected seeing him come out of the heat haze walking on water.
To help my steak and salad go down I drank three beers, that’s more beers that I’ve had for years. One of the bosses who joined us after dinner talked about Kuri Bay. The agricultural department thought that fruit fly was coming over here from the Indonesian Islands. So they brought in traps in the attempt to trap them. Since that time they now have a fruit fly problem, before that they had no fruit fly. There were many mangoes being grown at Kuri Bay, but the ravens, which were in the hundreds ate them before they ripen. With no guns allowed at Kuri Bay there was no way of getting rid of these noisy creatures.
I spent most of my time messing around with my gear making improvements and fiberglassing the rear hull section where it had been worn down from dragging along the beach. It was like old times living and eating in a mess. When I worked at Camballin 80 miles east of Derby, Darwin and Port headland I lived in single men’s quarters and had meals in a mess.
The Japanese and the Europeans ate in one part of the mess, the Thursday Islanders ate in another part on the opposite side of the kitchen. Of course they both had different tastes of food so the Japanese cook had to please all three cultures. I had hitch hiked around Japan for four months so I was very familiar with Japanese food and with Japanese hospitality, so raw fish, rice balls, seaweed served in a mess was very welcome. Of all the countries I had been to, the Japanese people were the most hospitable and the scenery in Japan quite amazing.
Watching about 30 Thursday Islanders walk along the jetty and jump into the work boats looked more like a scene in Africa than Australia. They were quite huge people, strong and extremely friendly. Having spent 2 days at Kuri Bay I was eager to do a three day canoeing, exploring exclusion around Camden Harbour. My objective was to visit the old Camden Settlement, the abandoned Kunmunya Mission and explore Augustus Island before returning to Kuri Bay to collect my gear and some more 16mm movie film coming in with the mail boat.
In 1838 an explorer Grey ventured into the Camden Harbour area. He was the first to officially recognise the Camden Settlement potential in this locality. From these early reports, pioneers in search of new lands were encouraged to settle. In 1864 a group of interested settlers from the east of Australia formed the Camden Harbour Pastoral Association. With the capital they raised, a large amount of land would have been allocated. In November of that year the first ship, the ‘Stag’, set out. They arrived in December with a small amount of breeding stock, ample provisions and farming equipment. They were to be followed by other vessels, ‘Helvitia’, ‘Calliance’ and the ‘Jeannie Oswald’.
The first settlers faced horrendous conditions. The wet had not yet arrived so the land was dry and provided little feed for the stock. The animals began to perish quickly. The ‘Calliance’ arrived with her load of settlers and supplies on Christmas Day 1864. Having suffered some damage to the hull on an uncharted reef, the captain brought the ship close to shore to assess the damage. Unfortunately a sudden storm blew the ship onto rocks where it was wrecked. The wreck was sold to three men who sold the salvaged materials from the ship.
The settlement limped on, continuing to face many difficulties. By the time the official Resident Magistrate of the North District arrived, a quarter of the stock had died and three settlers had died. Problems, including insects, heat, humidity, tropical ulcers, sharks and crocodiles made life difficult. The settlers did not have any knowledge of local food sources and their relations with the local Aborigines, who could have helped, was not cordial, in fact there was conflict.
All the people of Camden Harbour had withdrawn from the settlement by October 1865. In the ten months of the Association, nine people died. Six are buried on Sheep Island. Those known are Constable Gee, Jimba, John Meadon, Baby Patterson and MJ Pascoe. The headstone of Mary Jan Pascoe, who died following childbirth is still standing today.
Breakfast of toast and honey certainly got my taste buds going, but it was back to muesli, rice and dried fruit as soon as I left there. Four TI’s gave me a lift down to the water with the kayak. It would have been great to have them along to do all the lifting. Within two hours I had crossed Brecknock Harbor and landed on a steep Shelley Beach of Sheep Island. Behind a boab tree lay the grave of Mary Pascoe. It was in perfect condition and the inscription on the headstone read Mary Jane Pascoe, died June 4th, 1865, aged 30 years. In fact Mary Jane Pascoe had died of an infection following childbirth.
Wasting no time I returned to my kayak and paddled a short distance across to the mainland with the intention of finding the old government camp. There was no beach, just rocks, most with oysters on. The tide was fairly high but out-going reducing my dragging distance. Without timber rollers the oysters would have ripped the hull apart. The long dry grass prevented me from easily locating the old town so it meant more walking across the tortuous country. Within five minutes I had found an old stone wall. There were four stone walls scattered around the site, a holding pen made of rocks forming a circle and a couple of walls standing alone. The holding pen was about 5 metres across and roughly 2 feet high.
I searched the area and photographed the ruins from all positions until I was satisfied I could find no more. I decided to climb the hill behind to get pictures of the bay and Sheep Island. Mule tracks were all over the country making it a little easier for me to walk over the rugged train. The tracks were like Perth bus routes though, the mule tracks went up and down the hills but never across where I sometimes attempted to walk. A mule suddenly blocked my way and stared at me. I didn’t know how to react or if it would charge me like a bull. This was the first feral animal I had seen on the trip so far so I was cautious.
Further up the hill six more mules looked menacing. I picked up a rock, but before I could throw it they took off over the hill like the wind and neighing as they went. I descended the ridge and crossed a small creek on the way back to the settlement when my bowels loosened up. I wasted no time, I squatted. There were millions of flies probably due to all the mule shit that scattered the landscape. I soon realised I had no toilet paper so I had no choice, but to use the dry coarse grass if I wanted a clean bum. It wasn’t pleasant.
I paddled back over to Sheep Island to camp the night. Apparently there were six people buried there and only one had a grave headstone. I took the liberty to tie my hammock from the bows of the boab tree next to the grave. I hadn’t slept in a graveyard before so I hoped there are no ghosts.
After admiring the sunset through the bows of the boab tree, losing the light and the millions of flies the night became damp. Despite camping in a graveyard I had a very good night’s sleep and my historical camp became a subject of early-morning bird calls especially the screeching from the parrots. The beach curlew that greeted me the previous day was again pacing along the shelly shore.
My journey through Rogers Strait heading to Kunmunya on a high but turning tide presented me with some opposition from the current, but nothing like I had been told by the locals. They said the currents could stop a powerboat. Only a few days before I arrived at Kuri Bay a yacht had hit a reef and became stuck in Rogers Strait. Kuri Bay workers and their powerful boats helped to pull it off the reef on a high tide. My nearest camping spot to the abandoned Kunmunya Mission was below the steep vertical cliffs of the Kunmunya Hill. It was a pleasant sight. There was no beach, only a rocky shore lined with mangroves. The high tide enabled me to slice through the mangroves onto a slippery rock ledge. I had no time to lose, once ashore I had to start my 15 kilometre walk to the old Mission and back before it got too late. There was a choice of two routes, the direct one over the hill or a longer route following a creek line. With my pack full of cameras and survival equipment I decided on the direct route.
The Presbyterian Church established their first mission in W.A. in the south eastern corner of Port George IV Inlet in 1912. After three years of struggle, the Port George mission was relocated to Kunmunya in 1916.
Building materials were transferred from the Port George mission site to Nhorgor Inlet. Additional building materials were brought up from Broome and a rough track was blazed through the hills and across creeks to link the landing at Nhorgor with the Kunmunya site, some 4 miles to the south-east. Over the next few years a church, a Mission house, other houses, store sheds, wells, tanks and gardens were established.
The Worora aboriginals, numbering over 300, embraced the mission. Kunmunya was eventually abandoned in 1950 and by late 1951 all persons and buildings, including the church had been relocated to Wotjulum.
I moved up the gully between Kunmunya Hill and another hill to the east, chasing a 2 ½ foot goanna lizard, with the last 6 inches of its tail being white. I can usually walk up the hills without stopping but this time it was too hot and too steep. Once on top of the ridge I set a compass course to the old airfield. Disturbed by my presence a wallaby with a bushy tail flashed off flying across the rocks and spinifex. I just wished I could run as fast. When I descended the ridge heading towards the old, now very overgrown airstrip a flock of parrots cheered me on. With nothing to see there I followed the mule tracks towards the settlement passing an old aircraft. A corrugated iron toilet with a large and deep hole formed in concrete was in good condition. Behind that there was an old stockyard with a giant clamshell and two old water tanks, which looked as if they were concreted around steel. A herd of cattle, with a bull that didn’t seem too impressed with my presence stood between me and the other ruins. A big wave with my camera bag and they were off.
My next stop was at the private toilet, it had no lid covering the large square hole, but it was still in good nick. Close by was a collapsed corrugated building with small rock walls. Other old sheds stood precariously, but an old stone fireplace really took my fancy. It had a tree growing through the middle of it, proof that it hadn’t been used for years. Other foundations, concrete water tanks, small bath, old wheels were still present, but the larger buildings had been dismantled.
I moved over to the lush pandanas palms and paperback trees that shaded pools of water. Stepping down into the water course a large kangaroos sprung to life and run a few metres to hide in the long grass. Topping up my water containers in the stagnant pools, polluted by cattle and donkeys I headed back over the ridge where I came across an old concrete dam wall that blocked off a creek. Walking pass the waterless dam, three more tin shacks formed the extended boundary of the mission grounds.
Mules on my track gave the impression that they were going to charge me but after a few forward paces making one hell of a racket, they turned tail and ran away. Within a few minutes I had rounded up seven mules all going in my direction. Crossing the plain and the airfield the mules now nine galloped off bellowing their guts out. Following a small creek home gave me more shade and several pools of water and at the junction of two creeks a small running stream flowed but disappeared several times seeping under a bed of rocky boulders. The creek at times was steep with a few large drops and good swimming holes at the bottom of them. When the mangroves appeared a trickle of water was still dripping over the rock bed. The heat was intense and I could now feel the strain on my body.
Reaching the open, less vegetated coastline I could visually see my camp lying 1 ¼ kms straight across the bay. Unfortunately I had to follow the coast around so it was double the distance. Because it was low tide and with my energy sapping I tried taking short cuts across the mangroves but the oyster laden rocks and mud won out. I was hot, tired and millions of flies annoyed me and I couldn’t take a footstep without slipping or tripping on the rocks. My legs were now like jelly, a condition I have never experienced before. I started to get out of breath and my ears kept blocking. I was knackered, shattered and possibly on the verge of collapsing. Finally I had to stop as I staggered up the small grade. I relieved my back of the heavy burden of water and camera and sat for a short time replenishing my water intake. I think I was suffering from the first stages of heat exhaustion? With only half a kilometre to go I knew I had to take it easy but I really had no choice as I was exhausted and feeling giddy.
My kayak was exposed to the powerful rays of the sun and needing shade I stumbled under a mangrove tree nearby. The tide was 100 metres out and I had told Rod at Kuri Bay that I would return that afternoon. I had no chance of carrying my kayak over the slimy rocks and paddle four hours back to Kuri Bay, my superman strength that I usually had, had been completely sapped by the torturous walk and the burning sun. When I returned to Kuri Bay the following day Rod told me that I had walked the 15 or so kilometres in 39°.
Reflecting in the shade of my harrowing ordeal, twinges of cramps started forming in my legs. This had been the most exhausting walk that I have ever endured and after a short rest I made myself wash and cool my body. I drank lots of water and ate dried fruits and eventually I had the strength to light a fire to make a beautiful hot drink. My sweaty drenched cardboard stiff walking clothes had to be dried in the sun, they were my protector from the mosquitoes and sandflies that would attack me later in the day.
The extremely hot night and the lack of sleep didn’t enhance my enthusiasm to cart my gear over the green slimy rocks and paddle against the wind to Kuri Bay. Before reaching Brecknock Island a mystery object hit me hard on the stern. I checked behind to see nothing other than a ring of ripples. Of course I expected it to be a shark.
Brecknock Island was the first settlement for Kuri Bay but it didn’t last long. Only a concrete footpath is left visible to the eye. I left it and moved over to Augustus Island and checked a water course circled on my map. My information was right, there was water, so I tipped out my old water and topped up my container with cleaner water.
The vegetation on Augustus Island enticed me to explore another stream that I thought was likely to contain water. I had an ambition to explore as many water sources as I could which I hoped would help me to learn more about the fresh water creeks and the area. The small inlet and narrow mangrove channel posed a tricky entry. Two goanna lizards dived into the first stagnant pool about 20 metres from my kayak. Massive paperbark trees, the largest I had seen so far dominated the entrance to the chasm. The vertical chasm walls that narrowed and towered over my head, blocked out the sun from penetrating the cool depths. In the quiet of the gully I could hear the sound of trickling water falling over the rocks. Butterflies, not one or two but thousands, that were clinging to the cold rock faces took off and fluttered all around me as I approached. It was amazing, something that I have never seen before. It was just like being in a butterfly enclosure. I just wanted to sit in this serene setting watching the butterflies but I knew I couldn’t.
Having only spent minutes exploring the canyon the cunning tide had caught me out. I returned to find the kayak was left high and dry 15 metres from the deep water. The problem was aggravated by oyster clad rocks and mangrove roots that blocked the waterless channel. Dragging the boat over the oyster rocks was too damaging so my gear had to be taken out of the kayak and carried over the rocks and the mud to be loaded in deeper water. It wasn’t easy, my kayak weighed 40 kg but nothing is easy up here, you have to grit your teeth and just get stuck in. After returning for my gear I loaded and briskly got the hell out of the mangroves to the open water. Further along the coast I passed several pearling rafts.
The hospitality of Kuri Bay 7 km across the Brecknock Harbor was in my sights. But before arriving a whale surfaced less than 500 metres away and entered my serene setting. As I paddled closer I could hear the water boil before its body broke the surface. I stopped, looked and listened. I could hear noises like a cow bellowing in a high pitched sound. Being half way across the bay it could only be coming from the whale unless my hearing was playing tricks on me. For 10 minutes I was sharing this majestic land with one of the most magnificent creatures in the world but my peace was then shattered when a power boat skimmed across the water at high speed heading to Kuri Bay.
Pulling up at the jetty, many of the workers were busily cleaning shells on the rafts. John Woodman was there to greet me and offered his assistance with my kayak. When I had unloaded I noticed my left paddle blade was coming apart. The heat had delaminated it, so it had to be fixed before I could leave.
The mail I had been waiting for had arrived on the company boat, Marrinda Pearl. I had asked Channel 7, who was sponsoring me with16 mm films, to send me more 100 foot rolls. The film arrived, but it was all in 400 feet reels and my camera only took 100 foot reels. I radioed for our advice and found that I couldn’t use it so being low on film I was disappointed. With no time to wait for the right film I started preparing for my next leg around to Mitchell Plateau.
For the evening meal it was real Japanese-style. I even used chopsticks again. It was great. Returning to the quarters the other guys said they were having a barbecue later and the guys on the Marrinda Pearl boat will join us. Despite having already eaten I couldn’t disappoint my Australian friends so it was steak, veges and ice cream. Why am I leaving I thought?
One of the local dingoes, which sneaked around Kuri Bay at night came to grab some of the left overs. It was so tame you could just about hand feed it.
The deep scratches that the kayak received yesterday had to be filled with gelcoat and my timber paddle blades glued and fiberglass around the edges before I could leave. It was my last day in civilization, my equipment and myself had to be spot on for the most dangerous and remote part of the coast. The afternoon gave me time to explore the surrounding area and I followed a permanent running stream at the back of the community. It was the community’s water supply and very beautiful, green understory, pandanas palms, small falls and even two dingo pups appreciated it. Back at the wharf I watched the TI’s returning from a fishing trip. They certainly had better luck than me, having a catch of several fish on the end of this spear.
After a 5.00am shower I walked down to the mess for my last civilized breakfast, of toast honey and boiled eggs. My kayak was loaded with 30 days of food and 35 litres of water. It had to be loaded very carefully and evenly as it was bursting at the seams and I didn’t fancy taking everything out and starting again. At 10.00am when the tide was right, I said my goodbyes. I was now headed along the most remote and dangerous coastline.
I headed back through Rogers Strait passing Kunmunya Hill and into the wider more open waters of Port George 1V Harbor where the north-west winds stirred up the bay. My heavily laden kayak which virtually had no freeboard spent most of the crossing under water. By the time I camped on the mainland opposite Entrance Island I had paddled 28 km in four hours, that’s nearly 7 km an hour instead of my usual 5 km an hour. It was an extremely beautiful part of the coast and with the sun setting it produced many spectacular photographs. I was told of a freshwater spring gushing out of the sand on a beach so I checked it out. There was water gushing out of the sand, but I was soon disappointment when it tasted of salt.
As I erected my hammock in the trees four brolgas landed on the beach. When I went to retire green ants had established a strong hold on my hammock so nothing was going to force me to sleep in it tonight, not even the crocs, so I nestled beside my kayak on the beach for extra protection.
I left the relative safety of Port George IV Harbour and headed across the exposed Brunswick Bay to Cape Wellington. Pushing on in fairly good conditions I fell into a trance, my bum became sore, and suddenly I felt down in the dumps. The hardest thing can be leaving people and the safety of a community, but I knew from experience my mood would change once I got back into a rhythm.
At once I quickened my pace, I started singing and tried to shed my sleepiness. I was now in the path of the currents and I had no hope in crossing over the next channel against a tide, so I chose to beach on an island North of Uwins Island for a short rest and find my spirit.
When I left the lee of the islands and entered my last crossing to Cape Wellington the waves became violent. My full concentration was needed to avoid the breaking waves from capsizing me. At times they built up into a pack, breaking and bombarding me in quick succession. It was sometimes quite frightening watching the waves race towards me, and then sometimes break on top of the kayak. The roller coaster ride continued for 6 kms, my mood did change I was back in my element and fighting to stay afloat. Just before rounding the cape I paddled into calmer waters to put my helmet on. Rocky capes are always rough and bouncy and with the currents screaming out against the large north-west waves I had to prepare for any eventuality.
After conquering the cape, I noticed a beach and instantly I was happy. Finding good landing spots can be worrisome. Throughout the trip I haven’t really known where the next beach would be. When no-one can tell you about the country it is really like exploring an area for the first time.
Beach curlews greeted me and rock ledges provided me with a table and a bed. The rock retained a lot of heat so my back would be nice and warm throughout the night. Returning from a short walk around sunset, one of the beach curlews was screaming by my ledge. Mother curlew came running over, her long legs striding it out. Very excited and agitated she wouldn’t approach her nest. I ran around the corner to see what all the fuss was about and a quoll had a baby curlew cornered and started attacking it. My appearance saved the day as the quoll jumped up the ledge and disappeared. The young curlew was wedged between the rock, so I went to find a stick to help it out. But my return had been to no avail, when I returned the young curlew had been snatched. I felt helpless, mother curlew was going berserk stamping, calling and running up and down the beach.
Perched on my flat rock ledge I gazed into the moonlit evening watching the tide rise and lapping up the darken shapes of the reef. I could still hear mother curlew cry out for its young one as it paced up and down the beach. Apart from feeling sorry for the curlew I now felt a lot better in myself after falling into a mood this afternoon.
I needed to feel brighter as tomorrow morning I had a 70 km paddle to complete. It was possibly a dangerous trip up the Prince Regent River on an in-going tide on the hope to paddle up to a waterfall at the end of Camp Creek. The possibility of meeting crocodiles along the way was very real. A crocodile survey done in 1978 spotted 189 crocodiles of various sizes in the Prince Regent River, so I knew they were waiting out there somewhere! (In 1987, an American tourist Ginger Meadows was taken and killed by a crocodile in the Prince Regent at Kings Cascade. I was nearby on another trip at the time.)
My aim was to stay at Camp Creek for a couple of days before returning to Cape Wellington and because I was returning to this camp site I would leave 20 days of food here in the hope that the quoll or dingoes didn’t take fancy to it before I returned. Rod from Kuri Bay and coast-watch were the only people who knew of my plans, and because I didn’t know of any landing spots along the way I really had to try to reach the waterfall in one hit. I didn’t want to get stuck after sunset along a coastline full of mangroves or high cliffs and have no-where to camp.
The morning brought a low tide that had exposed a reef and coral which turned out being slippery, difficult and a dangerous job just getting the kayak and gear to the water. I was happy when I was afloat, knowing that I had lugged all my heavy gear across a reef which could have easily cut and carved me up if I had fallen.
In the early morning light and assisted by a rising tide, I paddled around the calm waters of Cape Wellington, one of the most remote capes in Australia. Then only 20 metres from the rocky cape something suddenly smashed into the back of my kayak like a raging bull. I gained my balance and composure and in horror I glanced behind expecting to see the ‘Incredible Hulk’, or the sea equivalent. I could see nothing but rings of disturbed water, but I just knew it had to have been a big shark or less likely a crocodile. I was hoping it wasn’t looking for breakfast?
I paddled away from the cape left wondering what the hell it really was! Being only inches above the water and no-where to escape to, I really wasn’t in a good place. With no follow up attack it was a relief to be riding a swift current towards the narrows near Uwins Island. Then I noticed a strange phenomenon occurring to my right. I could see a body of water (the tail-end of the outgoing tide) speeding closer and travelling in the opposite direction to the current that I was riding on. It was so strange (although I had seen it happen in the King Sound) to be riding on an in-going current and seeing an outgoing current pass by only metres away.
Like a speeding bullet I passed the islands at the entrance of St George Basin, conquered the tidal disturbances in the narrows and headed across the mangrove lined basin with the famous Mt Waterloo and Mt Trafalgar in the distance. In this area I was more concerned about crocodiles than sharks.
Prince Regent River was named in 1820 by the first European to discover the river, Philip Parker King and the crew of the Mermaid. The river is named after the Hanoverian prince, King George IV, who was shortly to succeed his father to the throne.
The first European to settle in the area was Joseph Bradshaw who established Marigui homestead along the river with his cousin Aeneas Gunn in 1890. In 1891 he discovered the Bradshaw rock paintings on his land. The pastoral venture was unsuccessful but Gunn later documented his memoirs of the time in the book Pioneering in Northern Australia.
After kayaking 63 kilometres from Cape Wellington I turned out of the mangrove, cliff lined Prince Regent River to paddle 6.7 kilometres along Camp Creek to find a camping spot at the end. Mangroves lined the junction of the two waterways, with a huge body of lush mangroves, a perfect crocodile habitat, in two wide gullies either side of the creek. It was perfect crocodile ambush area. I scanned the water for any movement and noticed a log near the mangroves on the left shore, but it moved, it was no log, it was a croc. Trapped inside the narrow creek with two mangrove forests either side of me there was no quick escape. I instantly took a wide berth, moving to my right but the croc swam closer and closer. My heart started to pound like an African drum as I was forced nearer to the thick mangroves lining the right bank. The croc stopped for a split moment, I sighed with relief but it gave chase again. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being pursued by a very unpredictable animal. I daren’t slacken off my pace as a split second might mean life or death.
My body was fixed on paddling hard to get away, but my mind knew that the croc was faster and was it coming to attack, or was just being inquisitive! It wasn’t worth stopping to take a photograph to find out. It was just too dangerous.
I knew that I was intruding into crocodile territory, so really I had to expect that I could be attacked and to never see home again. But it was a gamble worth taking, I was kayaking in one of the most beautiful and isolated places on earth and I knew of no other kayaker who has been here before me. Like an early explorer I thrived in being here in such a hostile environment where danger was part of the challenge and created so much excitement.
My ticker now raced much quicker than Big Ben. I was clipping the mangroves and paddling in a wide arch, trying to avoid those ugly looking nostrils bearing down on me. That nose, which had a slight resemblance to my own, finally started to slow. I began to feel a lot happier, but I couldn’t ease up, it might change its mind. The thought of having to return this way in two days’ time wasn’t a pleasant one.
Although this croc had stopped the chase I still faced several kilometres of thick mangroves where there could be more waiting, but I reached the end of the creek without incident. Here I could see nothing, but mud, mangroves and slimy rocks but just when I felt there was no hope and I may have to turn and go back, I noticed a narrow passage between some cliffs that led me into a pool and paradise. Before me were lush trees, beautiful fresh water streams, polished rock ledges, a cliff face and a waterfall a few hundred metres up stream. What more could a man ask for. Within minutes the tide had turned and the water allowing me to paddle into the pool was gone. Beyond my pool now downstream of me was just mud.
In 6.5 hours I had paddled 70 kilometres. That was my best achievement yet. Needing a rest and the enthusiasm to face the croc and the hostile world out there again I settled in for a 2 day break. People had camped here before as there were chairs made from the local timber.
Excited of being in such a beautiful place I just wanted to explore the country by foot as it felt much safer. I soon started my trek and a few hundred metres away I climbed around two waterfalls and followed the creek further into the interior. The creek was teeming with birds, lizards and wallabies but it was the scrub bulls, which were in a prime condition that I had to avoid. Being miles away from the nearest cattle station I expect the bulls hadn’t seen a human being as they stood their ground. For a moment I felt like a matador. I wasn’t scared of bulls as I had been brought up on a farm, but these heavy beasts weren’t your typical bull, they were frightened of nothing and were happy to give chase.
After several hours of walking I returned to wash, write and to relax. I had been paddling solo around the Kimberley for about 85 days and as my mind wandered, and the longer I relaxed and thought about home, the more I began to feel homesick. Up until now my trip had been action packed and I’d had no time to get homesick, the excitement saw to that. But now, as I washed and shampooed my hair in the sacred fresh water, sewed my deteriorating clothes and cleaned my equipment I had time to think about home and how Jenny was coping without me. Out here I had no way of communicating and letting her know where I was and if I was safe.
After the two day break I was ready to face the dangerous world out there again so at 2pm when the tide eventually reached my campsite I paddled out of my safe heaven, through the cliffs and along the corridor of mangroves. Within 200 metres I spotted a 6 foot croc sunning itself on a rock ledge. It was oblivious of my presence so I quietly paddled by it pushing hard against the wind and incoming tide heading back towards the Prince Regent River. Twigs and logs floated by. Most reminded me of a crocodile so I strained as I looked for those bony eyes and nostrils in the murky water.
After passing the point where the croc had previously given chase, I was able to relax. Once out into the main Prince Regent River, large wind waves, which had generated enormous power as they swept along the very straight, long river, tossed me around like a cork. Being back on the water to face such elements meant the excitement grew again and my feeling of home sickness soon faded as I realised I loved being out there. By nightfall, I had only paddled a few kilometres against the swift current, and I had no choice, but to find a camp along the unsuitable, mangrove, cliff lined shoreline.
At the first chance of seeing a way up a cliff to camp I manoeuvred my kayak through a line of mangroves and between two large boulders and anchored. I checked the water and mangroves around me with a keen eye before disembarking and trudging through the thick oozing mud and near impenetrable mangroves to get my gear above the high water mark and safely up the cliff. The sand-flies and mosquitoes wasted no time in attacking my exposed skin, my long pants were locked away in the bulkhead of the kayak.
The mangroves blocked my way to the cliff top so I had no choice but to chop a narrow path through them with my tomahawk. It was hard moving my gear from the mud, but it was more agonising lifting my 35-40 kilogram kayak through the mangroves and then climbing an uneven ladder of sandstone boulders to a height above the high tide mark to be a bit safer.
When I reached the top, the hard work and effort was well worth it, the view was simply stunning. One slip over the 20 metre cliff edge though, and I would find myself sharing a place with the mud, the mangroves, the crabs, crustaceans and the crocs. So it was best not to fall!
Up on the cliff I felt safe from all the dangers and my hammock was strung above the cliff edge between 2 trees overlooking the magical Prince Regent Reserve. I relaxed and watched rock wallabies bound off into the night and viewed a spectacular electrical storm in the southern skies. Oh, what a place to be! Lovely one day, perfect the next! Once more, I realised why I was here putting myself in danger.
I struggled down the cliff with my gear in the early morning and found myself knee deep in mud and water as I packed. As I moved with the swift outgoing current I tried to steal as many kilometres as I could before the tide turned. I soon left the main Prince Regent River and entered St George Basin and headed for a beach I had noticed on Marigui Promontory on the way up. As I approached St Patrick Island, I noticed a shimmering wave heading towards me. As I was still being assisted by the outgoing current, the mystery deepened as the wave closed in. It was a tidal bore without doubt, so I paddled at full speed and met the 2 – 3 foot high wave head on. With all my might, I tried hard to penetrate through the wave and avoid a free ride back to the Prince Regent River.
My mind and body became alive and alert as I jumped the wave and fought the opposing current towards the island’s extended reef 300 metres away. Suddenly the current had turned into a fast flowing river and a rapid had formed at the corner of the reef not far ahead. I tried to paddle against the current but it was too strong, and the standing waves that had been created were getting bigger with every minute that passed. With only 3 kilometres to go to reach the beach I fought like fury, but eventually my body gave up, I simply couldn’t paddle against it.
Exhausted, I retreated gracefully and headed towards the island’s reef. Unless I wanted to spend 6 hours on the reef I had only one other chance to get to my beach, and that was to pull the kayak up the rapid by walking along the reef. I didn’t hesitate, I attached a rope to the bow and I started pulling the kayak, but it didn’t work very well, the kayak kept crashing into the jagged edges of the reef. I tied on a longer rope and by using my paddle to keep the kayak away from the reef I was able to make slightly better progress.
It was all going well for a few minutes then suddenly the reef gave way, I lost my balance and ended up sitting on the reef. With a slack rope the fast current whipped away the bow of the kayak and it started floating down stream. Luckily I had kept a firm grip on the long rope, avoiding what could have been a most embarrassing situation – my kayak floating away with all my gear in it and me, on an island in the middle of nowhere!
Picking myself up, I desperately hauled the kayak around, pulling it hard and smashing it on the razor sharp reef. I had built it strong so there was no damage. For several minutes everything seemed to be going wrong as I was struggling to keep my feet on the fragile reef. Eventually my co-ordination and system of working started to flow and I was back in control again.
At the apex of the rapid, a small surf pounded the reef and violently pushed the kayak against the coral but once over the crux and into slightly calmer waters it allowed me to jump back into the cockpit and paddle away before being washed back down the rapid by the swift current.
I was relieved to be back on the water but for the next 15 minutes my success seemed doomed, as the current had an endless supply of energy, but after pulling out all stops I slowly crept towards the beach, taking 1.5 hours to paddle the 3 kilometres.
With 3 hours to spare before riding the outgoing tide back to Cape Wellington, I decided to walk up to the distant ridge to see the magnificent view of Mt Trafalgar, Mt Waterloo and the whole St George Basin. Not only was the view magnificent, the thought of myself being the first person to climb that ridge and being totally alone in this unique wilderness was very special.
When the tide was right, I had 2.5 hours to paddle 26 kilometres to Cape Wellington, which I knew was touch and go. With no time to spare, I faced the turbulences again through the narrows and the islands near Uwins Island. I was fighting hard to get to shore before dark and with 5 kilometres to go, I was rammed by something very big on my rear left side. I didn’t see it, but I suspected that it was most probably a shark. The fright encouraged me to paddle with a higher arm action to prevent my hands skimming the water, but in reality that wasn’t going to help, if the shark was serious nothing would stop it attacking.
After passing through a section of standing waves created by the tide and opposing wind and still with 2 kilometres to go, the sun completely vanished and I found myself paddling in the dark. It wasn’t a good idea to be paddling in the dark in this region, but I could do nothing to get me to shore any quicker. To save some distance I headed for the south side of the cape. By the time I hit the beach I had paddled for 9 hours, walked for 2.5 hours and loaded and unloaded for about 2.5 hours, and I still had to cook my meal! Happy to be on firm ground I cooked my meal, relaxed, looked into the night sky and reflected back to the last few days. It had been such an amazing journey and so many things had happened, it had truly been an adventure.
Cleaning my breakfast bowl a few feet from the water’s edge a three foot reef shark started splashing and charging towards me. For a moment I thought I was under attack, but it was chasing a fish in the shallows.
The receding tide was exposing more of the mud and the reef every minute making me work quicker to pack. Pushing off into the murky shallows my heavy kayak was stopped within minutes by an exposing reef leaving deep scratch marks along the hull. After rounding the exposed reefs of Cape Wellington I headed north-east towards Bat and Coronation Islands. In 1819 Captain King made an excursion from Careening Bay to Bat Island where he found a cave with bats inside, hence the name.
I was told of a water point on a beach nearby, but how reliable it was I didn’t know. My mind was convinced that it would be there but with the sea being extremely bouncy I didn’t know if I should chance going ashore with such a pounding surf. Getting closer I could see a spring bubbling out of the sand. With the need to keep topping up my supplies I decided to risk going ashore. My surf landing was successful but the weight of the kayak only allowed me to drag the bow up the beach, leaving the stern being pounded by the surf. With the rising tide it meant I had to drag it up a little every few minutes or the kayak would be swamped. The spring water had a strong taint of salt and certainly undrinkable. The lush vegetation behind the sand dunes hid three deep holes. I dug down about 2 feet to see if I could find water, but the constant caving in of the sand and the energy expired in digging was an uphill battle. I quickly checked the area, only to end up fighting through a tangled mass of vines.
My time was running out, if I wanted to check the area properly I needed to unload. After fighting my way back through the vines I returned to find my boat on the verge of being swamped, so I immediately tried leaving. This was easier said, than done. By the time I managed to enter the cockpit it was half full of water, the weight making it sit even lower than before. I wasn’t happy with my rushed departure, my kayak was even more unstable so decided to land again on a calmer section of the beach instead of using my pump to bail out.
My eyes had deceived me, the waves were even bigger than before. As I came in on a wave the boat was then dragged back down into the trough to be battered by the next wave. The boat was now completely full of water making it truly impossible to drag it from the ocean. I bailed out with my large mug being hampered and bashed by the waves. When the majority of the water was out I was able to drag it slightly up the beach to empty it fully. My next problem was to turn the boat and face the bow out to sea. Success was short lived as even bigger waves of the rising tide started breaking. With only 2 to 3 inch freeboard it didn’t take long for the water to start filling the kayak up again. As I desperately tried to control the kayak, the waves and backwash had the upper hand. I was becoming the target and a battering ram as a kayak repeatedly pushed to and fro by the waves and then sucked back on a wash to hit my legs. My shins soon became bruised.
If I wanted to carry on kayaking my options were now limited. The only hope I had was to enter the kayak full of water and pump it out, when at sea. The kayak was unbelievably unstable with all the water in and it was like riding a one wheeled bicycle. It took me several minutes for the pump to clear the cockpit of water but I was extremely pleased it was out and I was on the road again. Rounding Bat Island, the wind, the waves, the tide, and the cliffs together posed another threat. The waves rebounding from the cliffs caused havoc and the uneven wave patterns thundered towards me in all directions. The kayak was like jelly wobbling in a shaking bowl.
Around the next point the water looked a lot more sheltered, but as I headed towards Careening Bay the rough following sea was more difficult and energy draining than I expected. Coronation Islands to the north failed to give any shelter. The 10kms of severe conditions took its toll on my left shoulder. The soreness was adding to the frustrating task of keeping up-right. With 1½ km to go the rocky shore, the tide effect and the wind made the sea such a muddle. The beach didn’t look far away but it might as well have been a million miles as I was fighting for survival. Waves broke over the rear deck and then buried my waist and cockpit area to eventually shed off before another wave swamped me again.
It was such a relief to feel the beach beneath my feet knowing that the day’s work was done and I could rest. I then unpacked, washed and had a short rest while eating nuts and dried fruit.
Careening Bay was part of our history. In 1820 captain Philip Parker King careened his boat Mermaid here to do repairs. His men scarred the area by carving the ships name, HMC Mermaid 1820 into a boab tree which now was quite huge.
It only took me a few seconds to notice the tree. There it was, the trunk bigger than a complete elephant and with the words in large bold letters carved into it, ‘Mermaid 1820’. With the beach only 100m away I decided to carry my kayak over to the tree for a photo session.
If you ever watched Guy Baskin’s film, Wonders of Western Australia he visited the tree some years later and he said that you needed to walk several kilometres by compass course, fight your way through a jungle of rainforest and watch out for wild pigs, to reach the tree, yet it was only 100m away. Journalist’s license!
As I busily clicked photos the sky suddenly filled with black clouds and the wind started howling. Within seconds a downpour started. My gear which was sprawled out was soon wet, so was my camera. I rushed over taking a garbage bag from the kayak and placing everything in it. I was getting drenched, I had no wet weather gear and only a jacket that was stored away. With only a towel to keep the chill out I was wet and cold and had nowhere to hide from the storm. Finding two shallow holes I place plastic bags in them to catch some water. They were steadily filling up but within half an hour the storm had blown over.
Just before dark I tied my hammock on the branches of Kings giant boab tree. I laid back in my hammock protected from the mosquitoes by my clothes, but sweating from the heat. It was pitch-black, clouds were overhead and it again threatened to rain, which I wasn’t looking forward to. In fact it didn’t rain and the 45 minute downpour I had earlier was the only rain I had in 100 days. With so much to write about that evening I didn’t get to sleep until midnight.
It was 4.45 am, dark, but I was keen to get on the high seas whilst it was calm. Crossing the entrance of Port Nelson the receding current ensured me a push to Hardy Point 14 kms away. Two hours had passed, so before rounding the point I decided to beach, stretch my legs and have a leak. In the open water around Hardy Point the easterly winds were having a ball making my passage to Cape Torrens something to remember. In a sheltered spot before Cape Torrens I un-strapped my cup off the front deck, put it between my legs and had a leak. I knew I couldn’t paddle the next 12 km without having a pee.
Everything was now sweet, I moved out of the lee of Cape Torrens and into the adverse conditions and rough waters of Prince Frederick Harbor where I was thrown around like a yo-yo. Luckily the waves were coming straight at me. About 1 km out I heard a giant splash close to my rudder. I glanced behind to see a circular mass of turbulence, but again there was a worrying sight of nothing. With the exposed crossing just begun I was ill at ease for the remainder of my passage, and the slapping of white caps that broke around me didn’t help.
After 35 kms and six hours of paddling I lost all concentration, I was feeling buggered and I couldn’t wait to hit the beach on Anderson Island. In a semi-trance, knackered and with a sore bum I had to work quickly once I hit the beach as the tide was coming in. The best thing to freshen up was to have a wash, a cup of coffee and some dried fruits. Usually after I’ve been through this ritual I became human again and felt on top the world and ready for anything. As I walked down to the water I saw an animal bigger than a rat, but slender with a long tail. It swam through a pool of water to get away from me. I didn’t recognise it but it was certainly wasn’t a quoll.
It was extremely warm in the night but when I rose at 5.00am it had cooled down. There was already an easterly breeze which hit me side on for 21 kms until I rounded Augereau Island. It was 2 ½ km before Augereau Island when I heard another loud splash behind me. I turned and saw a circle of white water and about five seconds later it splashed again, followed by a gurgling noise. A few seconds later I saw the shape of shark just below the water.
My next destination was Cape Pond, and I was heading into the wind and waves which were increasing in height and making my progress extremely slow. After 33 km and with 1 km go to my campsite I felt much safer as a waves died down. Then, crunch, something hit my side near the left rear hatch. The bump dislodged my bow on the back deck which I thought was extremely secure, but it now hung in the water dragging by the side the kayak. The bump and the splash it created indicated to me that it was very big shark. Being so tired this was the last thing I wanted. I paddled much quicker, keeping my hands higher than usual, reaching a beach that I felt like kissing. I had been paddling for 7 ½ hours and the extreme heat, the conditions and the invisible sharks were draining.
On my walk around the small island I came across a hornets nest. They always say where there are hornets water is close by. When it got dark I spotted two lights over on the mainland and at first I thought they were people, but then I realised the orange lights were the tail end of a bushfire.
As I took off at 5.40am the sea was calm and with it being neap tides there shouldn’t be as much current to slow me down. As I paddled through Scott Straight, Bigge Island was over to my left, looking barren and nothing to get excited about. My maps which have been very reliable, although not perfect, now missed a few rocky outcrops. Tuna were leaping in the beautiful calm waters and a bushfire was raging in several pockets on the mainland as I passed Capstan Island heading north-east into Montego Sound. I had been paddling for six hours with only a slight breeze to worry me. In that time I allowed myself only two drinks but after a few hours I munched on dried fruit every 20 minutes. This kept my mouth moist and took the yucky taste of the water away. Water was now very scarce so I had to be very careful not to waste any. It was Tuesday 12th of October and getting extremely hot in the north. The hills and islands around me were barren with stunted trees, spinifex and lots of rock. There were still many high ranges and cliffs. It was a different kind of beauty and the barrenness made it feel that more isolated. Ten days out from Kuri Bay and not the sole, or a boat to be seen. This was my world.
I was told of a water hole in Mudge Bay although I didn’t see it as being a reliable source. The country was so barren and hot and the peninsula was not much more than a kilometre wide. It also meant a 13 km detour, but my water stocks were getting low so I needed every drop I could collect. I have been very careful with my water since leaving Prince Regent just in case this reliable spot that I was told of was dried up. I moved along the beautiful range of hills heading south towards the creek in Mudge Bay. Somewhere between all the rocks was an entrance to a small creek. I couldn’t see it for the life of me until I got very close. It was between large boulders, then there was a sharp right turn to get up into the creek. At the end of the creek I had to leave my kayak on the mud at low tide. It was hard to imagine that any water could be here, the catchment area was only a few hundred metres long, but I noticed doves so they inspired me to climb a fairly sheer ledge up into the gully. The gully was one mass of spinifex, fallen trees and rocks. I was only in my canoeing gear so the spinifex played havoc with my bare legs. There was no obvious signs of water, only kangaroo poo. The spinifex covered big holes between the rocks that I fell down. It was hot, my thirst was killing me as I clambered higher and higher up the gully. Reaching the top of the gully I retreated very disappointed. Walking through the spinifex I felt a sharp bite which I instantly thought was a snake, so I immediately checked my leg to find a sharp twig stuck in it. Blood trickled but it was nothing serious to worry about.
Further down the gully sitting in a stone basin under the shade of a rock cavern I noticed two pools of water. It was brown and looked revolting. I tasted it and spat it out straight away. It was kangaroo urine.
I thought I had been poisoned. The taste in my mouth was indescribable and the smell of it was even more horrific. Just the thought of drinking it made me think of spewing up and it took hours for the taste to go. I’ve found two more yucky pools, but I wasn’t that desperate to taste them again. I was wasting my time and energy on this goose chase so I returned to my kayak even thirstier. With the doves and the other birds around there must have been water somewhere unless they were surviving on the heavy due that I’ve experienced every night. From my map there were 3 or 4 other rivers within 20kms with a much bigger catchment and a better chance to have water. However it meant having to paddle right up a narrow waterway lined with mangroves in the hope there would be water at the end and that there would be no crocodiles to attack me. There would be no escape in such a place if there were.
I didn’t have the time to go on another goose chase, and I didn’t fancy tackling the crocs as it was getting closer to their breeding season when they are the most aggressive, so I decided to carry on to Mitchell Plateau. I left the small inlet and the birds to the kangaroo urine and paddled 6 km across the rolling sea to an island. After 39 kms of peaceful ocean, a large splash, a gurgling noise and a circle of white water sounded behind me.
I thought, oh no this can’t be true, not another but then it splashed again. This time as I glanced behind I could see a 2-3 metre shark just behind my tail. Oh Lord, what’s it going to do! I cried out a few choice words to give me added strength and to let it know it wasn’t wanted. But as I peered behind again and again it was still following. My concern was multiplying every minute. Divert closer to the island I thought might help, but it wasn’t such a good idea, the waves were rebounding from the rocks making my passage very rough. I finally shook the beast off as I pulled up to a beach. To greet me was another beach stone curlew. It seemed a friendly fellow. I was certainly happy to see its chirpy face.
On my afternoon walk I came across a large, steep gully, which was too vertical to climb down. An owl darted off leaving a chick and an egg on a small ledge1 metre down from the top.
My water supplies had now dwindled to 15 litres. I expected it would take me four days at least to reach Mitchell Plateau where I was told I could expect to find a water source. I usually used 5 litres a day but the last few days I had been trying to use less. It was time to start distilling my own water. I had been carrying two home-made stills which were made up of aluminium Sigg bottles, with a three metre aluminium tube that was coiled and tightly sealed to the bottle. The biggest problem was trying to achieve a constant heat as the wood I collected was dry and burnt quickly, which meant I had to tender to the fire constantly. The heat from the fire and the sun made me feel thirstier than usual. I had to be careful how full to have the seawater in the bottle. If the bottle was too full of seawater and the fire burnt too hot it could cause the seawater to boil over and filter through the pipe which I didn’t want. I needed the sea water to condense and turn into steam producing fresh water. My still wasn’t perfect and I must admit I would build a better one next time I did a trip, but I did produce 3 cups of water in an hour. Unfortunately though it did have a slight taste of aluminium, so it was best used when cooking and not drinking straight. At dark a docile beach curlew came over and enjoyed a piece of my damper.
I was awoke to find a calm sea and today I expected to reach Cape Voltaire about 7 hours paddling away. It was Wednesday 13th October rather the Friday the 13th so things should go well. I spoke too soon. Within ten minutes of leaving the beach, gurgling sounds and splashes from two 3 – 4 metre sharks started to tail me. They continually criss-crossed my stern like it was some sort of new game, but I couldn’t share their enthusiasm. I was feeling uneasy and waiting for the kill, and although I was now becoming more used to them and less afraid who’s to say they wouldn’t strike. I just needed eyes in the back of my head so I could watch what they were doing. I was truly in suspense and waiting for the guillotine to fall, well more so a bump that would capsize me. My hands skimmed the water with each paddle stroke, my body sat only inches above the water, so the only real place to be safe was to be on land.
Passing Wollaston Island with its high range and steep cliffs I lost sight of them. My relief didn’t last long once I hit deeper water again, another smaller 2 – 3 metre shark started following but I was much less concerned. Then a little later another big splash from a larger shark had me wanting for a pee. I pulled onto a beach on an island just off Katers Island with a small shark following. I had a quick leak, a jump around to wake me up and I was off again wasting little time.
The sea became sloppy with waves hitting me broadside. My mind was focused on Cape Voltaire and the need to get around it that afternoon. Waves started hitting my rear deck which startled me, as each crash I imagined them being sharks. But a bigger splash turned out being a 3 metre shark which was tailing me. I turned my head repeatedly checking for the shape shimmering just under the ruffled blue sea. The sun was in the perfect position to see it. Then I thought my mind was playing tricks when I saw two, another 3 metre shark had joined its friend and now they were both tailing me and crisscrossing behind my rudder like it was some sort of new game. Again I couldn’t share their enthusiasm.
As soon as I slowed down to a near stop they disappeared, but they appeared again when I paddled at full speed. I was bursting for a pee, but I think it was the frustration, the hard yakka and the psychological effect of the sharks and ocean conditions that were making me want to go so badly.
I had no alternative to stop and have a leak. I couldn’t do it inside the kayak and let it trickle down my leg so I had to use my cup. With the sloppy seas however that was going to be a test of my co-ordination, my balance and a slice of good luck. I first had to take off my spray deck, untie the cup, take out my penis and hope the cup is squarely placed and then try to pee. It was often not easy to pee sitting in a seat with pressure on your bladder. You must try it one day. It made it worse in these rough conditions as I had to hope that water didn’t get into the cockpit or the waves didn’t capsize me before I was able to put the spray deck back on, which was quite a tricky procedure. I managed it okay.
The sharks didn’t give up their game, they continued to chase me and test my patience. For 6½ hours today sharks followed as I fought the rough seas. My concentration started to fade as the hard yakka took its toll. Nothing was easy in the Kimberley’s hostile environment and this was just one more of those days. To lift my enthusiasm I ate some dried fruits which performed a mini miracle. I became energized again.
In the far distance I could see a beach which looked very inviting and with my hopes now dashed of paddling around the cape, because of the rough conditions the beach became my focus. I finally reached the safety of the blistering hot beach which was probably the most important beach I have ever landed on. I wrote in my diary that night – ‘I live another day’.
You can’t believe how nice it was to be roasting in the heat on firm ground after such testing day. I thought to myself, today was like Russian Roulette, but at least I was safe. My life saving beach didn’t have the appearance of a paradise beach, as it had been contaminated by a film of oil, but I didn’t care, I was alive. A small oil slick had formed close to the shore and moving along the beach with the tide.
For an hour after erecting a shade I laid down and relaxed. I can’t remember too many days that I’ve actually sat down and relaxed, usually I’m off walking. I must have been tire but I needed to distill some water so I had to collect plenty of wood. The beach sand scorched my feet as I paced up and down collecting as much wood as possible to keep the still going. It’s hard to imagine how beautiful a cup of coffee tastes after a draining day.
As my stills were in full operation I started sewing some tape to make two water bottle holders that would attach my water bottles to my belt. I will need them when I walk 40kms from my landing spot at Mitchell Plateau to the mining camp. It took time but when my stills produced two cups of water I used them to cook my evening meal. I was having macaroni, peas, chick peas, and soup mix. Believe it or not it tasted delicious.
As I awoke there was a howling wind that had been blowing all night. It was quite a surprise as usually its calm at night giving me a few hours of flat seas in the morning. I was hoping for a calm passage around the cape but it looked as if I didn’t get my wish. Surely though nothing could be as mentally exhausting as yesterday.
Climbing the high rocky mound the wind gusted from the west creating one hell of a messy sea. I was hoping to check the sea conditions north of the point but it was impossible to see the other side. Instead I found an eagle’s nest with one solitary egg sitting in a jumbled heap of branches on a high rock.
With the conditions far from favourable the choice to leave my camp with a thousand ants wasn’t eagerly decided. Fresh from a good nights’ sleep my chances of safely paddling around the wind tossed cape was much higher than yesterday.
The surf dumped every few seconds leaving me with the impossible task of entering the cockpit. My only hope was to walk further out from the breaking surf and try there, but my first attempt failed as a large wave dumped filling the cockpit. What fun I’m having I thought, as I painstakingly bailed out the kayak. The cockpit of a Nordkapp is very small so it is impossible to get into the kayak in deep water without using the paddle for support. That makes entering a lot more difficult than if the cockpit was larger like kayaks are nowadays.
My second attempt was more successful, only a couple of litres of water entered, which I pumped out at sea and continued my adventure. Leaving Montague Sound and the sight of the 152m Sharp Peak, I rounded the tricky and unwieldy Cape Voltaire, my last troublesome point before Mitchell Plateau. As I passed Krait Bay and entered Voltaire Passage I was stunned to see the frightening sight of the sea crashing violently onto an extended reef. My passage looked completely blocked. I paddled on finding a passage between the reefs and as I did the water calmed and became magical as I could see the reefs, coral, sand and weed below through the crystal clear water. Colourful fish excepted me as no threat and fed on the coral and weed below, but a 2 – 3 metre shark had to destroy my tranquil moment with the sensitive environment. It started ramming my rudder. It wasn’t very big, but it was having fun, the cheeky brat nudged it time after time however it was too small to worry about.
Heading south-east I passed Lavoisier Island without the shark. Bigge Point, in the distance looked very uninteresting and flat. I paddled on and then it struck me, with the power of a bull. My kayak was lifted and I was thrown off balance. I quickly regained my composure and turned to see the large shark that had just rammed my rear left side.
I was horrified, the shark was at least 1 – 2 metres across, but I couldn’t determine its great length as it faded under the ocean. Oh no, there were two! A 2 – 3 metre shark looking like a midget compared with the other one was directly behind my rudder. I stopped. The closest land was about 3 kms away. I needed to get there, but dashing off could make my position worse. As I powered forward again a large shape suddenly came into view. The big beast was leading the field so I braced myself for the worst, maybe another hit, but nothing happened.
The waiting game was nerve wracking. I knew the shark could overturn me like a matchstick and my chances of doing the Eskimo roll before it started chewing at me were pretty slim. I imagined them going into a complete frenzy and tearing my head off as I capsized.
I couldn’t bear it, the thought made me shudder and I immediately stopped to put my helmet on! I attempted fastening the buckle with one shaking hand, my other was firmly grasping on the paddle keeping my kayak stable and ready for any action that might evolve.
My trembling hands failed to do the strap up, so risking a capsize I let go of my paddle and used two hands. I didn’t know what good the helmet was going to do, but somehow it felt safer!
Extending the paddle I slowly pulled it through the water trying to avoid any big splashes. With hands clearing the water the kayak was on the move. I paddled slowly and it seemed to have worked, the sharks were not in sight. I increased my speed, but hell the 2 – 3 metre shark had returned. I stopped again. There were beaches fronted by reefs, but I found a beach a little further at Bigge Point. My shark situation seemed to be getting worse, was it my rudder or the white hull that was attracting them? Repeatedly I stopped, but the shark always returned when I speeded up. Was it because the rudder was bouncing up and down like a lure? Tomorrow I would try without it.
To erect a shade and distill more water was top priority. From my first boil of the two stills produced a litre of water. Before retiring I had collected 2 ½ litres, but it had taken a lot of sweat.
It was getting to the stage that at the end of each day I would be thankful that I lived another day and again today was no exception.
It had been a disastrous night, the heat made my thirst chronic, but I had to ration what I had. The mosquitoes attacked me like it was their last summer and no tomorrow. I was restless, hot and tired and my mind was full of thoughts. As I laid in my hammock surrounded by mangroves, mosquitoes and night noises I sneaked a sip of water before trying to sleep, but the water from my still tasted like aluminum.
At the start of the new day I was wondering what things were in store for me today. I had been bothered by mosquitoes all night and now I was being attacked by sandflies as I walked my kayak and gear down to the beach in the hazy morning light. To see if it was the rudder that was attracting the sharks I took it off.
I paddled around Bigge Point wondering, watching and hoping that my passage across Walmesly Bay was going to be a safe one. I had been away ninety three days. Only but a handful of those days have I been with people.
Without the rudder to help steer my long, heavy, slightly unstable kayak it became another challenge for my body to cope with. Crossing Walmesly Bay was a painfully frustrating affair. The wind hit broadside making me paddle more on one side to keep the kayak straight. Many of my muscles I didn’t know I had started crying out for mercy. Heading south also made it harder for me to see any sharks that were following as the sun was in the wrong direction.
After conquering my last exposed crossing I beached at Pickering Point stretched my legs and had a leak before starting my next 6km crossing. So far my luck was in, I saw no sharks only a coastwatch plane over in the distance. The appearance of three dolphins broke my spell of loneliness. They gracefully swam parallel to me, their pale grey leader showing scars of previous fights or attacks from sharks.
With the wind blowing harder, my uncontrollable kayak was driving me crazy. I had to sweep and paddle on one side repeatedly to keep the kayak straight. Even leaning the kayak failed to help it track. The increased strain on my body soon buggered me and gave me the willies but when a black tipped shark began to follow I now wish I hadn’t taken off the rudder blade.I had thought it was the rudder attracting the sharks.
I was so frustrated with kayaking without the rudder that I decided to beach and put it back on. Now my steering problems were suddenly over so I could concentrate on paddling. The difference it made was incredible, I made a remarkable recovery and felt much better.
Moving into Crystal Creek Bay I discovered a beach just around the corner in the shelter of the point. I was hoping to paddle up Crystal Creek but the tide was dropping fast and it was surrounded by some unfriendly mangroves. Instead I decided to walk to it after I had unloaded and made camp. At 12.30pm and in the crippling heat I started the 4km walk over the mud flats. For 45 minutes my feet sank deeply into the sand and slippery mud. The flats were dotted with oyster laden rocks, which took some traversing.
The tightly woven mangroves that had tentacles that grew through the mud like spikes and hard to walk through, were backed up by sandstone boulders and outcrops that encouraged thick grass and spinifex to grow. A small mangrove creek created another problem and walking around it was just too much to take in the unbearable heat. With only 3 litres of water left I couldn’t afford to waste any more sweat on what could be a wild goose chase. Should I go on or not? Energy depleted and light headed, created by the scorching sun I decided that returning to camp to distill water and rest was much more sensible. I had been told of a creek with running water near my landing spot at Walsh Point, a day away, so I took the gamble and returned to camp. I arrived back taking only two sips of water, I really needed more, but I couldn’t spare any. My body was in desperate need to cool off. I’m sure doctors would put my present position and suffering in the first stages of exhaustion or hyperthermia.
For 10 minutes I dosed myself with salt water and a slight breeze, combined with the water cascading down my body cooled my body a little. I kept a look out as small reef sharks patrolled along the shallows, seemingly waiting for me to go in deeper. The refreshing shower had revived my ailing body, giving me the energy to erect a shade, do some sewing and get the stills boiling. After distilling for several hours my fresh water supplies were increased to 4 litres. Not a good amount of water considering how hot it was and that I didn’t know for definite if the creek at Walsh Point was still running. Due to my water situation I had to sacrifice my usual nightcap.
With the food packs low and water virtually exhausted it didn’t take me long to load the kayak and escape the menacing mosquitoes. I was really remote, the weather was extremely hot and getting hotter, I was being chased and hit by sharks, it was harder to find water so I was ready to call it a day at Mitchell Plateau, rather than carrying on to Wyndham. I had been away from Perth for four months and I estimated it would take about 6 weeks to finish the trip if I carry on. This meant it would be December before I reached Wyndham. The wet season was due, and the heat was becoming unbearable. Also the crocodile breeding season was imminent and I had been warned that this was when they were at their most aggressive. I could have hurried to finish the distance, but the whole point of the trip was to see and do as much as I could in whatever time I had. I just knew it was time to pull out, but I promised myself that I would return to finish the expedition next year.
My pull out point which was only a few kilometres away encouraged me to paddle quicker around Crystal Head. At this point I could see Warrender Hill and a bay with several sandy beaches and further around MacGregor Point, high hills, cliff faces and then a big bay with mangroves took my divided attention. I was just hoping to land without any more shark hits or crocodiles chases. The end didn’t look that far from here.
By the time I reached Walsh Point at Mitchell Plateau nearly 100 days had passed since I had left Broome and now it was all over. What an unbelievable, amazing trip. I pulled ashore to see a trickle of water filtering along the creek. With only 1 litre left I was overjoyed that I was saved. If the creek hadn’t been running I would have been in deep shit. I was pretty happy, although I was sad to be at the end of my journey.
An old shed with only a handful of tin sheets on its roof was standing precariously near the track not that far from the water’s edge. I carried my gear across to it and made myself at home.
My plan now was to store my gear in the kayak and walk to the Mitchell Plateau mining camp in the hope to get a mail plane out to Kununurra at a later date. The next morning my luck was in after starting my walk. A four wheel drive vehicle drew up and offered me a lift to the camp. I didn’t argue as it was 40 kilometres away.
I was overjoyed to have reached the mining camp, although the last 100 days had been great I was now feeling it was time to go home. I had been communicating with the camp up until 4 weeks ago, as they had agreed to hold a food parcel sent there, but by the time I arrived the camp had been closed for 2 weeks leaving only a caretaker to look after the camp. I walked into the mess room and met the caretaker and his wife. They had been farmers in the wheat belt and now looking after the camp. I expected a good welcome as they wouldn’t have met many people who had paddled the Kimberley coast and when I told them about the sharks hitting me it still didn’t seem to impress them or give me any sympathy. When I suggested that I wanted to wait around until Thursday to get the mail plane out to civilization, he told me that I couldn’t wait at the mining camp as it was private property. I was shocked. I was in the middle of nowhere and ready to give up my trip, and they tell me I couldn’t stay. I then told them I would camp down at the creek and wait there, but he said I couldn’t because it was private company property as well. Now I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could any decent person turn me away!
I asked if my food drop was there, but apparently it was involved in a vehicle accident and never arrived, but he did offer to give me some left-over food left in the mess to get me to my next food drop in Kalumburu. He also offered me a single men’s room, one of about 40 vacant ones in the camp. I made myself at home with the unbelievable thoughts that I was being sent back into the wilderness to face the sharks, crocs and the on-coming hot wet season. I wasn’t happy.
There was a library of videos in the room so I watched Charles Bronson in Death Hunt. It was a good film but I was saddened by the fact that I was now not going home. I had to get my mind back to accepting I wasn’t.
Morning brought no good news. The caretaker hadn’t changed his mind, but he did give me some rice and old dried fruit to keep me going for the next 10 days. He also offered me a lift to the weather station some kilometres towards the coast, which at least saved me a few kilometres of walking.
I started my walk towards my kayak on the coast. At least it was downhill a lot of the way and it gave me time to get in a better frame of mind and except that I was returning to the ocean and soon be on my way to Kalumburu. By the time I reached the kayak I was ready physically, mentally and actually happy that I was heading out. After one more night in the shed and with all my gear packed in the kayak I was ready to head out on the morning tide.
The tide was well out when I walked down through the mud 50 metres from shore. I was completely packed and sitting on my kayak waiting for the tide to reach me when a couple in a small Suzuki 4 x 4 shouted to me. The caretaker had told them what he had done and they were so angry with him and couldn’t believe it. They were there to offer me a lift to Kununurra. Now I was in a dilemma. I had convinced myself to go on, now I had this offer. What do I do?
The lifeline was too good to let go, so we carried all my gear back to the shed and dug a big hole to bury my kayak. It was too big and heavy to load onto the small Suzuki.
We didn’t stop at the mining camp on our way through as we didn’t want anything to do with the caretakers. I was dropped off in Kununurra before hitch hiking back to Perth taking 10 days.
The kayak was dug up 6 months later by an acquaintance living in Kununurra and I returned to finish the trip a year later.
In the meantime my friends who offered me a lift out complained to the mining company about the caretakers and when I arrived back at the mining camp a year later after finishing a trip from Wyndham to Mitchell Plateau, the caretakers chased me out of the camp.