THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

THE VACANT KIMBERLEY
AUSTRALIA 2013

TRUE NORTH

Coming in to the helideck on TRUE NORTH.

Mitchell Falls

The phenomenal waterfalls way upstream on the Mitchell River.

High Up

Pilot Rob worked the Eurocopter for hours every day, dropping us in inaccessible but spectacular spots.

Discovering Cave Drawings

Checking out the pre-ice-age cave drawings.

Evening Return

Returning just in time for dinner after a cocktail party on the beach.

Tiger costume

Tiger getup for costume party night.

menuboard

The day's fare is posted, decorated with well–done reproductions of cave art.

The Cliffs

Jagged, spectacular gorge walls with the only cruiser we encountered.

More Cliffs

The rockpile-like cliffs look like walls built by a giant bricklayer with a drinking problem.

Pushing through the Mangrove

Pushing through the mangrove. We are reminded of so many other mangroves around the world.

Saltie

A dread "Saltie", efficient estuary predator. Stand well back from the shoreline!

Montgomery Reef

Montgomery Reef from the helo. Our boat is a speck, and the water is pouring from the ledges as the tide ebbs.

Kings Cascade

Skipper Greg poked the bow into the King's Cascade and Clare and John couldn't resist a splashy smooch.

helicopter

The chopper readies to take us back to the TRUE NORTH.

The Kimberley coast of Northwestern Australia is an extremely isolated corner of the planet, where the Sea of Timor meets the Indian Ocean. There are no roads to the coast, which means that a visit can only be made by boat or by helicopter.

Our platform for this exploration was the 163-foot TRUE NORTH, a posh motor yacht. We were 24 passengers and a crew of 17, floating along the deserted coastline for almost two weeks. It was speck of a ship navigating a vast, vacant, and majestic landscape of rugged sandstone cliffs, washed by a sparkling blue sea, and indented every so often by gorges carved by deep rivers with unfamiliar names (Drysdale, Three Ways, Prince Regent, Mitchell, among others).

Swimming was strictly off-limits, as aggressive, man-eating saltwater crocs rule the coastal waters and the estuaries. Scouting of the islands and rivers was done via high-speed runs in the ship’s croc-proof, double-hulled aluminum tenders, with a few white-knuckle moments when boat handler Curly would take a sharp, blind bend between towering cliffs at wide-open throttle!

Helicopter sorties to visit inland points of interest showed the harshness of nature behind those impressive sandstone cliffs. We came across a handful of really hardy campers, but no Aborigines, so inhospitable is this land. A strange contrast with a couple of elegant picnics put on by the crew on the banks of shaded inland pools – everything moved by shuttle trips of the helicopter and elaborate fare prepared by “the lads in the galley”.

The culinary opulence is another point of pride with the TRUE NORTH, and we were treated to elaborate hors d’oeuvres in the main lounge at cocktail time and every meal was preceded by an elaborate description by Chef Nik of the fare being served. This conforms to the TRUE NORTH’s motto, which is “Go Wild in Style” and was perhaps best expressed with one evening’s “Carpaccio of Kangaroo”.

At the outset, we found that our shipmates were somewhat less than warm toward us – and it turns out that Yanks are viewed with a certain wariness until they demonstrate their fitness for social interaction. Kathryn, who can start a conversation with a brick wall, quickly provoked a general thaw, and we were soon good friends with all of the naturally convivial Aussies on board.

That left just two British couples with a bit of aloofness toward everyone, probably a vestige of their views about “colonials”…. And, in fact, we bonded very closely with a delightful couple from Fremantle, Clare and John, with whom we have spent much time since.

The wildlife, aside from the dread saltwater crocs, was also pretty sparse. We watched hundreds of mudskippers (strange, bug-eyed fish that spend a lot of time out of the water) and mud crabs compete for food on the mudflats, and Kathryn went out on a couple of fishing expeditions which came back with barramundi and mangrove jacks (names that conjure images of bootleggers, in my mind), both of which showed up on our dinner plates.

Other strange species (tuskfish, queenfish, chinaman) apparently weren’t suitable for the table. Bird life was sparse, again underlining the inhospitability of this part of the planet – only a few cormorants, a lone anhinga, and a couple of cockatoos.

To us, possibly the most amazing feature of the entire coast is Montgomery Reef, completely submerged at high tide, but bone–dry when the tidal range drops to its full 30 feet. As the tide ebbs, these huge waterfalls develop in each little notch in the reef and make for a landscape unlike any other.

The gang

There they are – Kathryn, Lucy and Clare in the stern and Jim and John as we return from running the Montgomery Reef cascades.

Route Chart

There is hardly a soul on the coastline between Wyndham and Broome.



The Kimberley is unlike any other place on Earth, and this was another “bucket list” item we are very happy that we checked out.