Ten days ago we flew out of Broome for a 10 day wet season photographic expedition along the Kimberley coast. Flying into Dugong Bay in a float plane with two concurrent cyclone systems swirling around northern Australia, we were unsure as to whether we’d be staying the full ten days, but as it happened we were ideally situated between the two cyclones as ‘Lua’ scooted off south to wreak havoc at Pardoo and the other degraded into a tropical low to the east. Between them, the two systems brought torrential rain to the Kimberley coast and massive amounts of water to the catchment as every crevice sprang a waterfall.
It’s almost impossible to put into words the epic nature of the landscape around this part of the coast. Huddled in Dugong Bay in the lee of a cliff we watched whirling storms dump solid walls of rain into the bay. From a photographic point of view the wet season is the best time to capture the purest colours of the Kimberley as storms flush dust from the atmosphere.
One of the most extraordinary wet season phenomena is the innundation of freshwater into the saltwater environment. Urged by Richard to taste mugs full of seawater at regular intervals (“sip, don’t gulp…”), I was astonished at how diluted the saltwater had become, and how far from the mouth of the creek the freshwater kept the saltwater at bay. A distinct difference in the colour of the water in Talbot Bay defined the confluence of freshwater and saltwater near the Horizontal Waterfalls. This freshwater innundation also flushes nutrients into the saltwater environment, making the Kimberley coast an area of high primary productivity.
Once the weather cleared, we steamed around to Talbot Bay, home to some of the most dramatic geology on earth – stunning anticlines in Cyclone Creek and the beautiful Horizontal Waterfalls, a pair of breaks in the McLarty Range and one of the icons of the Kimberley coast. At the eastern end of Talbot Bay vast red cliffs rise from an extensive mangrove system that separates the bay from the mainland near the Traverse Islands. Unimaginable walls of floodwater had bulldozed a swath through the mangroves, wreaking devastation as the floodwater carved a straight line from east to west, rather than following the curves of Poulton Creek.
SPV Odyssey, with 18 passengers, was the first charter boat on the coast for the year and for ten days there was not another boat in sight. We explored coastal inlets fringed by verdant mangroves hiding colonies of flying foxes, corellas, striated mangrove herons and the odd inquisitive crocodile, and swam under power shower cascades, filtered through sandstone.
I took two camera bodies on the trip – a Canon 5D mark 2 and a 1 Ds Mark 2, together with 14mm wide angle lens, 24-70mm, and 100-400mm. To ensure maximum sharpness with the camera handheld, I often crank up the ISO to somewhere between 500 and 1600. It can be deceptively dark on a stormy day. Three 16GB cards gave me enough room to handle video clips as well as stills, downloading clips every time we returned to the boat. We also trialled a GoPro Hero 2 attached to the front of “Homer”, Odyssey’s faithful tender, by a simple clamp. We were both extremely impressed by the GoPro with the proviso that the camera has to be level both vertically and horizontally, otherwise one ends up with a disconcerting bowed horizon which flexes with movement. We also had problems with condensation build-up inside the camera but this could be due to the extreme humidity in the Kimberley wet.
View the images and video.