Silver Discoverer arrives on Australia’s Hunter River
You know you’re expedition cruising when you’re up at a time in the morning that you’ve always considered purely theoretical. But the group of guests that made their way down to the Discoverer Lounge just after 05:00 aboard Silversea’s Silver Discoverercertainly weren’t upset about the early breakfast call; getting up early was going to allow us to be in the Zodiacs by 06:00 for a sunrise tour of the Hunter River.
Unfortunately, we were a bit delayed in getting to our anchorage, so our Zodiac disembarkation was pushed back to 07:00. No matter – I got to have the pleasure of watching the sun rise from the aft deck of the Silver Discoverer as she cruised toward our anchorage, all the while nursing a cup of hot Illy coffee.
Here’s some food-for-thought: the Hunter River is home to a dense mangrove system that is estimated to be more than two billion years old. As if that wasn’t enough to ponder over, the tidal fluctuations are just as pronounced here as they have been during the rest of our explorations in The Kimberley, reaching 6 metres in height at lunch time and dropping down to a paltry 1.7 metres by 18:25.
So why does that matter? On our Zodiac journey this morning, we began our trip up the Hunter River at a low tide of a little more than two metres. As you sail up the river, the tidal height is easily visible on the leaves of the mangroves, which are covered in brackish silt up to a certain height before resuming their normal, vibrant green colour. It looks like they’re dead, but they’re not: this is the overall tidal height.
Because of that, the landscape is constantly changing. At low tide, we saw dozens of Mudskippers darting about on the grey, clay-like shoreline left exposed by the retreating water. These ugly little lizard-like creatures camouflage themselves with their surroundings perfectly, resembling a muddy iguana.
The deadliest creature in the Hunter River, however, is the Saltwater Crocodile. The largest reptile in the world, the Saltwater Crocodile is the most aggressive of the crocodile species. They like to hang out at ‘periscope depth’ in the shallows along the shore, hidden by the murky waters and remaining so still that they could be mistaken for a branch or a bit of underwater mangrove.
At one point in our journey, we spotted a large saltwater croc sunning itself on the muddy bank. This brief sighting helped illustrate two important factors to us. First, in the five or so minutes we were watching the crocodile, he remained completely motionless. This allowed us to see how quickly the tide was advancing, as in that five minute span, his snout went from being above water to being fully submerged.
Second, despite their size (saltwater crocodiles can grow to be eight metres long and weigh in at over 1,000 kilograms), these things can move. When we got too close to it with our Zodiac, he moved like a bullet from a gun. One minute he was in front of us, and in the next he’s disappeared into the muddy waters, leaving only a splash in his wake. In our Zodiac, we’re safe. But you can appreciate the danger in this part of the world to the uninitiated who either fall overboard or decide to go for a swim. You can’t see them, but the Saltwater Crocodiles are everywhere.
Our Live Voyage Report from Silversea’s adventurous Silver Discoverer continues tomorrow as we set out on another Australian expedition from Swift Bay! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.