September 3, Part 2

Derby is a wonderfully spread-out town, on the shore of King Sound. The streets are wide, the buildings low, and the dirt is red. There are lots of plants (including boabs, of course). It’s a strange, carelessly laid out little town that comes close to being quite attractive.

With a population just under five thousand, Derby is one of the three largest cities in the Kimberley (the others being Kununnura, which we visited earlier in the trip, and Broome, which is our destination this evening). Aside from boabs, the things for which Derby is most famous is its tides. The difference between low tide and high tide is 36 or more feet—the most extreme tides in Australia, and second only to the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

We did a little grocery shopping while in town. It was fun to see what a fabulously eclectic, cosmopolitan selection there was in the warehouse-like grocery store, from health foods to Asian foods to European delicacies. Remarkable. The town may be remote, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to eat well.

We enjoyed lunch by the shore, near the jetty. The jetty, which stretches out across the mudflats at low tide, is a popular spot for watching the water rush toward shore as the tide comes in. After eating, we wandered a bit, partly to explore and partly to stretch our legs before getting back into the 4WD. A huge, black cockatoo watched us from atop a street lamp. I photographed the sign that advises against swimming. Unlike those at Windjana Gorge, the crocodiles here are the massive, dangerous saltwater crocodile. Stay out of the water—and even on shore, keep your eyes open.

Then we strolled out along the jetty, to see how far the mud flats extended, and to see boats stranded by the absent water. I also liked the current patterns left in the mud by the tide.

Then we were off again. We stopped to see the famous “prison boab”—a boab so massive that, in the old days, prisoners could be held in its hollow trunk until other arrangements could be made. Then we continued on to Broome.

The tires hummed as we traversed the two hundred kilometers of blacktop to the outskirts of Broome, where we turned onto a red dirt road for the 15 kilometers drive to the Broome Bird Observatory. We’re not here at a high-migration time, but this is considered one of the best places on earth for bird watching.

When the brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean suddenly burst onto our view, it was stunning. The contrast of the deep-red dirt, white sand, and turquoise water was wonderful. As we drove, we saw a white-breasted sea eagle perched in a tree, surveying the water, looking for dinner. Glorious creature.

After putting up our tents, we walked down to the beach, stopping to admire a stick insect near the path. Wonderful to see how well its camouflage works. If it hadn’t moved, we would never have seen it. On the beach, red rocks and red sand bordered gray mudflats and blue sea. The red of the cliffs was brilliant, and it was set ablaze by the lowering sun.

The tide was on its way out and, though we had hoped for a bit of a splash, it was leaving too fast to catch it across the sticky mud and puddled sand. So we just hiked along the beach and enjoyed the scenery: the sun on the red cliffs, the turquoise of the water, the weirdly worn black, tan, and red rocks so reminiscent, but on a smaller scale, of the rocks of Windjana Gorge—the ancient seabed lifted up.

There were thousands upon thousands of seashells. I managed to limit my collecting to two token specimens: a couple of angel wings (and those who know me will know how hard it would be for me to limit myself when collecting seashells). Then, before sunset, we headed through the graceful, fragrant, short trees along the shore, back to our campsite, where our first hot shower in a long time was greatly enjoyed.

It was another amiable evening. We exchanged addresses and began talking about saying good-bye. Because of the trees so close about us, we had a much-reduced view of the stars, but the sound of the ocean waves and the breeze whispering in the branches was fine compensation.

It was a somewhat later evening than usual. Though we were all tired, we were reluctant to end this last night with all of us together.

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Filed under Australia, Geography, History, Nature, Travel

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