Cruising the Kimberley: WW2 plane wreck & Bradshaw art

The Reef Prince drops anchor in Vansittart Bay at 3am on Day 8 of our cruise and we wake to another glorious sunrise.

At 7.45am, the tender takes us across to a shell-scattered beach and we walk over the dunes and a salt flat to the wreckage of an airplane from World War 2, which coincidentally crashed at the same time as Darwin was bombed in 1942, hampering rescue efforts.

David Donald Ian Campbell and his mate Jack Lyons were passengers on the plane. They both worked as telegraphists and were on their way to Darwin to work with an Army Signals unit.

They were marooned on the beach for a couple of days and used some pipes from the aircraft to distil drinking water from salt water.

The plane is remarkably well preserved, with its aluminium hull and wings glistening in the sunlight. We are relieved to hear from Tour Director Paul that everyone on the plane escaped unharmed and survived the five days until they were found.

Then we relocate to Rocky Cove to explore the thousands of examples of indigenous art hidden under virtually every rocky overhang. They vary from 400 years old to around 19,000 years old and include Wanjina (above) and Bradshaw art (below), sometimes painted over the top of each other.

The Bradshaw art is almost ethereal, with the long, slender figures seeming to float across the rocks, boomerangs in hand, it is vastly different to other forms of indigenous art found in the region.

As the Bradshaw Foundation explains: “The remote coastline of north western Australia was probably the first landing site on this continent, as groups of our early ancestors crossed by boat from Timor up to 60,000 years ago.

“The Journey of Mankind Genetic Map can prove when this event occurred, but it can only point to what these early settlers did on reaching the Kimberley region; at some point, they began to decorate the red sandstone rocks with exquisite and detailed rock art, now referred to as the Bradshaw paintings, or Gwion Gwion. Wandjina paintings, a rock art of a very different style, are also endemic to this area of Australia. 

“The number of rock art sites in the Kimberley region, both for the Bradshaw paintings and the wandjina paintings have been estimated to be over 100,000 in number, but only a fraction of these have been recorded.”

We wander back through the wildflowers to the beach to be ferried back to the boat for a lunch of tomato and coconut soup, cauliflower and blue cheese tarts and salads of soba noodles and avocado, and smoked salmon and pea.

After lunch the fishermen head out to do some trolling. Chef Jayden is keen for more fish. Fritz says there’s a chance of tuna if they play their cards/rods right. The boat returns with two coral trout and a queen fish. Not quite enough for dinner. We have a Thai red curry of prawns instead.

Before our delicious meal we gather on the back deck for complimentary cocktails, accompanied by a giant cheese board filled with antipasto. The sunset is magnificent and stretches 180 degrees in front of us across the ocean.

During and after dinner we cruise around Cape Londonderry, which is nicknamed Cape Laundry due to its often tumultuous seas. Fortunately, the seas are kind to us and only toss a little. We are getting our sea legs and the tossing of the boat doesn’t prevent us drifting off to sleep.

The Thirsty Travellers booked their adventure on the Reef Prince with Expedition Cruise Specialists.

YESTERDAY: Exploring crystal beaches

TOMORROW: King George Falls

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