Experiencing Horizontal Falls in the Kimberley

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The creeks and rivers on the mudflats below look like limbs on a leafless boab tree. The hills and ranges are like tessellated lines across the landscape with remarkable regular buttresses and narrow gullies. What a visual feast this short journey is on the way to Horizontal Falls, one of nature’s true wonders.

Recently we made the journey up to the Kimberley Region in Western Australia, where we then flew to Talbot Bay which is where Horizontal Falls is located. There is several companies operating tours including Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures and Go Horizontal Falls.

Flying or boating in

A seaplane flight from Derby transported us into remote Talbot Bay. Flights also come from Broome or Cape Leveque. The only other way in is by boat. The bay is one of many in the Buccaneer Archipelago, a maze of between 800 and 1000 islands. There is no official count.

The seaplane lands gently on the smooth waters and taxis across to a large floating “houseboat” complex. This is surrounded by powerful boats and a number of helicopters. This is the platform from which we are soon to see the incredible Horizontal Falls.

Seaplane-loading-Derby

We caught a seaplane from Derby to the remote Talbot Bay. 

The phenomenon of Horizontal Falls

With massive tidal movements of up to 10m, water is funnelled from the bay through two parallel narrow gorges around 300m apart, which are part of the McLarty Ranges. The effect of all this water trying to go through the wide gap of 20m and the narrow gap of 10m is for the water to literally pile up on itself and create up to 4 or 5m height differences either side of each gap. This phenomenon is known as Horizontal Falls. The power and speed of the water really has to be seen to be believed. It is just awesome.

The twin gaps are part of the McLarty Ranges, which have two ridges running parallel approximately 300 metres apart.

Boats with up to 4 x 350 horsepower motors, piloted by very experienced drivers are used to take you to the falls, and if conditions are right, through one or both. The state and size of the tide means that sometimes only the wide gap is feasible, with conditions too dangerous to tackle the narrow gap.

When we visited, we stayed the night so were able to experience the incoming and outgoing tides, which meant we got to tackle the narrow gap.

Quieter-Time-Wide-Falls

A quieter time in the wide falls. 

The power of the water

In a demonstration of the power of the water, our skipper backed the boat down into the flow through the wide gap. He then held the boat stationary with the motors driving ahead against the current. He casually mentioned that the 4 motors were effectively running at 25 kilometres per hour to hold us there. With a quick nudge, we then surged forward out of the maelstrom and flew out onto the smooth waters of the bay.

A small, fast boat that takes you out to explore the falls

A boat that takes you through the gap in the falls. 

Of course, going up the fall on an outgoing tide means you have to come down to return to the safe haven of the bay. The drop when we went through was a bit over 2 metres and the adrenaline rush was, dare I say it again, awesome! This was heightened by the spinning whirlpools, bubbling eruptions and white standing waves that were constantly forming and foaming.

All this occurring in water 40m deep! The quantity of water involved is mind-numbing. Adding to the drama, there are times in each tide where the water is actually flowing in through the wide gap while water is still flowing out of the last bay through the narrow gap.

A quieter ride into the wide gap

Going through the gap is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. 

Helicopter ride over the falls

After a number of rides into the wide gap, our journey then took us to a small houseboat tucked away in the entrance to Cyclone Creek, a well-protected and secluded area off Talbot Bay.

During the heyday of the pearling industry in the 1880s, the pearling fleet used to use this creek to safely ride out cyclones. From here, we were taken on an exhilarating helicopter ride over the falls and the ranges.

This was at times a heart-pumping experience with the helicopter suddenly rising up over ridges and sneaking through gaps that looked way too close. Not only did we get a fabulous overview of the water pouring through the two gaps but also the bays and lagoons behind each fall.

Aircraft-at-home-platform

You can also go on a helicopter ride over the falls. 

Watching the sunrise at Cyclone Creek

The following day in the early morning darkness we clambered aboard a small boat and cruised further into Cyclone Creek to watch the sunrise. The cliffs surrounding us simply glowed in the dawn light. It was a beautiful start to the day.

Sunrise-over-Cyclone-Creek

We hopped into a boat to catch the sunrise here at Cyclone Creek. 

Riding through the narrow gap in the falls

After a much-needed breakfast and coffee, we were packed into a smaller, faster boat for another ride through the falls. This time things were quieter, so we were able to go through the narrow gap. In a word squeezy.

Even in the calmer conditions of the day, this was no place to get complacent about driving or the tide. There’s a scar on the wall which was a testament to the inexperience or inattention from the driver of a private boat years before. In that instance the boat was lost, but luckily no lives.

Small gap in the creek only can only be accessed by small boat

A smaller and faster boat takes you through the narrow gap in the falls.

Flying across the Kimberley to Derby

Shortly after, we sped across the smooth waters of Talbot Bay back to the home base. Here we loaded our bags into the pontoon of the seaplane and flew across the incredible Kimberley landscape to Derby. An end to an amazing and worthwhile adventure.

Seaplane speeding up to take off up off the water

When the adventure was over, we got back into the seaplane to get back to Derby. 

Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures

A number of extended Kimberley cruises take their passengers to see the falls but Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures provides the means for most people to access this area. They offer a wide selection of choices the traveller can make, depending on the budget.

It’s best to check in with the tour company if you’re interested in visiting the falls, the start of the tour season can also vary slightly. They’ll be able to tell you when the best time to see the tides is.

No matter how long you’re at Horizontal Falls, you’ll be blown away by the magnificent scenery and incredible power of the water.

Horizontal Falls is just one of the incredible places to visit in the northern part of Western Australia. Where else have you been in the Kimberley? 

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Joined back in January, 2014

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