Saturday, 9 June 2012

Australia Day 11 - Saturday 9th June

Today started rather sedately with breakfast a la carte in the restaurant. We were the only two in there – everybody else had had theirs up on deck, but we were too late as it finished at 9.00am, and now it was 9.15am. Not a problem – nothing is a problem on this ship.

We boarded the bus at 10.00am to drive to Kununurra, where we were going to pick up our scenic flight over the Bungle Bungles. We had a choice here today – either a flight or a cruise up the River Ord . Both looked unmissable, but we had to choose one, so the Bungle Bungles it was. The bus driver had verbal diarrhoea. He knew everything about everything, and continued for nearly an hour telling us all about the route we were travelling on. Stories like how they used to get camel trains to take supplies to the men who were working the mines. The camel trains were owned by muslims, who would not transport anything pig. The miners liked their tinned pork, and were not happy when they didn’t get it. So, all the labels were taken off, and relabelled tinned cheese. This was no problem – until one day one load fell off, some of the tins split open, and then all hell broke loose. The place where that happened is now called Tinned Cheese Creek. How do you know when you’re being led up the garden path??

We were given a packed lunch bag when leaving the ship. When we arrived in Kununurra, we went to a place called Celebrity Tree Park to eat our lunch. Several celebrities, when visiting the town, were asked to plant trees here, and each one has a plaque to say what it is, when it was planted and who planted it. Australian celebrities I think – didn’t recognise any of the names of the few that I looked at. We had to eat quickly – it seemed like we had only just finished breakfast. Oh yes – so we had! Most of it went back in the bag. What a waste.

We then drove the five minutes to the airport. As we went in we were all weighed – didn’t like to look at this stage of the cruise! This was to allocate the correct weight in each aircraft. We were called, and had to follow our pilot onto the runway, and go through a quick safety check. Not quite like BA first class! We boarded our twelve seater aircraft – I had already decided that the back seats looked the best to take pictures from, as it didn’t have the wing obstructing it. Paul pointed out that he had never been on a plane as small as this – I pointed out that it had only got one engine so our travel insurance probably wouldn’t cover us if there was an accident. It was a Cessner Caravan – I am reading a book at the moment that is about a cessner. I pointed out to Paul that, as I had discovered from this book, that it sits very low at the tail so the pilot can’t see out of the windscreen until he is airborne. I said he would have to weave out to the runway, so that he could see if there was anything in his way out of the side windows. I think this might have been where it all started to go wrong.

We whizzed down the runway, and there were birds just sitting at the side watching us take off. Better than being in the way I suppose. We got airborne, and after a few wobbles and dips and dives the camera got some good shots. I then noticed Paul wasn’t taking any photographs. I asked why this was – “I am not happy”. He spent most of the flight hanging on to the steps that had been tucked in just in front of him, and pouring water over his head, as the pilot had suggested if you feel queasy. Oh dear – he should have chosen the river cruise!

It was a fantastic experience. We were up in the air over two hours (the longest two hours of my life, from you know who!) and it was so good. We started off from Kununurra, and flew south over the Kununurra Diversion Dam that helps irrigation in the area. We flew over Lake Argyle, which is approximately 27 times the size of Sydney Harbour. There is over ninety islands in the lake – some looking like countries like New Zealand and Italy. We then flew over the Bow River diamond mine, which is now shut. We flew over a couple of “small” cattle stations – around 400,000 acres each. The biggest ones in the Kimberly are over one billion acres.

Wouldn’t like to rustle cattle up on them! Apparently, because of the terrain, they are herded by four wheel drives or even helicopters. Not like Hugh Jackman in “Australia” which was filmed in and around here, who did it on horseback.

We then flew on to the Purnululu National Park, which houses the Bungle Bungles, a spectacular landform of striking beehive dome-shaped sandstone towers and breathtaking gorges. It was formed some 360 million years ago, but only discovered and named in 1983. The most striking are those in the south, where the weather has eroded more of the “topping” so that the distinctive tiger striped rocks are on the outside. It has always had cultural significance to the aboriginals, but before it was discovered it was “only a heap of rocks that you flew over to get to Halls Creek”. The pilot very kindly kept banking steeply to the left, and then steeply to the right so that both sides could get good pictures. I kept feeling a flick of water every now and then. I was really thirsty, but didn’t feel able to ask for a sip! I felt it had a more immediate necessary use.

We then flew over the Argyle Diamond Mine on the way back to Wyndham Airport. Amazingly, this is the biggest diamond mine in the world. I thought they were in South Africa? They produce over thirty million carats every year, and about one quarter of the world’s natural diamond production. Perhaps we should drop in for some samples! It is the primary source of the rare pink diamond. They are shipped to Perth, where they are prepared for international sale by Rio Tinto Diamonds – the majority are exported to India. On the way back from here, we could see several forest fires below – it is very hot and very dry and the moment.

“Ten minutes to landing” says the pilot. “Thank god for that” says Paul. I somehow think today hasn’t been his favourite. As we bank round to land at the airstrip, there is a little kangaroo on the grass at the side just watching us go past. How bizarre. Everyone gets off the plane and says what a wonderful flight it was. Paul needs a couple more minutes to get some colour back in his cheeks!

The other two planes come in to land behind us – and one person had been sick on her flight. Well done Paul for feeling bad, but not making all the others in the plane feel worse!

It is only a short trip back to the ship. There is a shuttle going up to the Five Rivers Lookout Point, so I decide to hop on and get a few more photographs. Paul went to lie down in a darkened room. We had an aboriginal driver that took us up there, and was full of stories about the area. He told us how the producer of “Australia” had met with the aboriginals and asked to film on their land. They were welcomed in, as they were working with the aboriginals, and he had stories about meeting Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Hmm… He was very entertaining though. The lookout point was nice, but after what we had just seen was definitely a “couple of photos and go” place. The sun was going down, and the ship was meant to have sailed fifteen minutes ago. Whoops!

Not a problem – what did I say? Nothing is a problem. They waited for us, and I took a few more shots of a bird or two along the dock. I like taking birds. Paul came to find me – he thought the ship was sailing without me. No such luck!! We had a couple of glasses of wine on the deck, and chatted whilst we were sailing out and darkness came.

We were invited on a table of twelve for dinner on the deck tonight – they can seat around thirty people out there and anyone can book. It was a most entertaining table – stories that perhaps will not go in the blog! After dinner, the crew gave their own show. It was really entertaining, especially as we have got to know many of the crew on first name terms. They may not make Las Vegas, but charisma and enthusiasm they certainly do have. From magic shows to John Travolta’s Stayin Alive to In the Navy and Frank Sinatra, they kept us mesmorised for an hour or so. What a day!

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