We wake on Day 9 of our Reef Prince cruise at mouth of King George River and eat an early breakfast while we wait for high tide so we can cross over the sandbar.
Larger cruise boats can’t get over the sandbar and send tenders up the river instead to the famed King George Falls. The Reef Prince is small enough to slip over and we cruise down the river, with dramatic ochre cliffs towering over us on each side.
The river was named in 1911 in honour of King George V and the landscape surrounding it is suitably grand. All the passengers crowd onto the front deck to gaze in awe at the lush, dramatic vista.
We turn a corner and see the famed double set of falls tumbling down the cliffside into the 60-metre-deep water below. King George Falls caught the eye of director Baz Luhrmann, who featured them in the opening credits of his 2008 film Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
Two tenders are launched for the swimsuit-clad passengers who want to be doused by the rushing water. Our shouts and laughter fill the air as the small boats nudge under the thundering water. We have missed seeing the falls at their wet-season peak, but they are still a gorgeous, bucket-list sight.
We spot a water monitor perched on the rocks and cruise in for a close-up, then head up the river exploring the nooks and crannies of the river. We also stop in Dugong Cove, but unfortunately its inhabitants aren’t home. A little further down the river we spot a crocodile basking in the sun before sliding into the water to check us out at closer range.
Then it’s back to the Reef Prince for lunch. The chef has crumbed our fish catch from yesterday into small fillets and paired them with potato salad.
After lunch, we sit on the back deck for one last glimpse of the falls before the Reef Prince makes its way back to the mouth of the river.
We motor over the sandbar at high tide and anchor in Koolama Bay, which was previously known as Calamity Bay. It got both its names from a ship called the Koolama, which sheltered there after being bombed by Japanese aircraft during World War 2. The Koolama was carrying a cargo of army trucks and earthmoving equipment, plus 180 passengers and crew and a small contingent of soldiers.
While the captain sent a distress signal to Darwin, he received no response, as 188 Japanese aircraft had attacked the town the previous day. The Koolama was again attacked in Calamity Bay, with the bombs creating serious damage to the boat and leaving it in danger of sinking.
The Captain gave the order to abandon ship, except for a handful of volunteers who remained aboard to help beach the boat, and a camp was established on shore. A second mayday call was heard in Darwin and the nearest community, the Kalumburu Catholic Mission, sent a small sailing boat to rescue the wounded, women and children.
A party of passengers walked to the mission, while the ship was eventually repaired to the extent that it could sail to Wyndham, where it was caught in another Japanese air attack and sank. Amazingly, the only loss of life during the dramatic series of events was the ship’s radio operator, who collapsed and died of a heart attack on the way to the mission.
We climb into the tenders and head for the beach, where the survivors disembarked to seek shelter. We have an afternoon dip and drinks at the waterhole that provided them with fresh water while waiting to be rescued.
An amazing way to end another incredible day aboard the Reef Prince.
The Thirsty Travellers booked their adventure on the Reef Prince with Expedition Cruise Specialists.
Main image courtesy of Kimberley Expeditions.
YESTERDAY: Exploring crystal beaches
TOMORROW: Farewell dinner under the stars