Horizontal Falls is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.
It’s easy to see why natural history broadcaster and human treasure Sir David Attenborough was so enchanted by the gushing waters of Horizontal Falls. They are unusual, almighty and one of a kind. You don’t even need to tilt your head up and down to capture the full spectacle and scope of this natural phenomenon deeply hidden in WA’s top end.
How these remote falls were first discovered may baffle many – myself included. They are located off the Kimberley coast, buried within the rugged landscapes of the Buccaneer Archipelago and squeezed through two narrow gorges of McLarty Range in the azure waters of Talbot Bay. The only means to access these falls is by joy flight followed by a boat ride. I did say they were remote, didn’t I?
The waterfalls’ rare flow-on effect is a result of fast-moving tidal wave moments, forcing water into rapid-like torrents through the gorges’ twin gaps. Second to the Bay of Fundy, Canada, the Kimberley experiences one of the world’s most powerful tidal movements. The west’s greatest whirlpool can reach above 10 metres, and the direction of flow reverses twice a day.
If you like travelling on planes and like travelling via sea, a logical choice is to have the best of both worlds – well, transport modes – and travel via seaplane to Horizontal Falls. Tour operator, Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures, departs ex Broome and Derby – depending on tidal movements – for a double-dip adventure ride to the falls.
What’s it like to fly to Horizontal Falls
As the charter flight took off from Broome airport, it made me feel like I was in some adventure movie. It was all very Indiana Jones-esque with the plane travelling low over this slither of WA’s wilderness, getting a close glimpse of the earth below. And what an incredible display of colour it was.
So, this is what this region of WA is all about? I thought as I zoomed the skies, glued to my passenger window as did the dozen passengers on board, taking in vivid scenes of forest greens, remote pindan roads with weathered terrains laced with white sandy coastlines and embraced by brochure blue waters.
Cable Beach, Cape Leveque, Beagle Bay, Lombadina, Dampier Peninsula, Buccaneer Archipelago – all astonishing destinations observed on route. One of the many treasures near Broome, Willie Creek, home to one of Australia’s most celebrated family-run pearl farms was a bold sight. A thirsty image, the creek glistened with blues reminiscent of old school canteen-favourite Zooper-Dooper icy poles.
The ride lasted just over an hour before making a grand entrance into WA’s lost world, the McLarty Range. Turquoise waters a scenic runaway with the seaplane making a splash of a lifetime into one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Spoiler alert: it lives up to the title.
Experiencing Horizontal Falls
It was impossible not to feel small. I was amongst ancient ruins, a drowned coastline dating back 2500 million years. What stands today is towering red sandstone cliffs, embedded with oceanic wave formations from its underworld past. Looking around, I felt as if I was in Australia’s very own Jurassic Park. Lost in time, lost in the world and somewhere completely unbothered by human intervention – one of the last true wildernesses in the world. It felt so serene and calm. But only for a moment.
The calm before the storm, errm whirlpool, was a leisurely trip onboard a boat around the bay area, spotting cat-whisker looking Tully sharks in a sapphire sea. Then it was game on to the almighty Horizontal Falls.
Life jackets on. Enthusiasm in tow. Onboard the speed boat, we fast-tracked our way to see the natural wonder to get the sense of admiration David Attenborough felt. Our speed was never going to rival the falls, but our efforts to get there was swift.
It was a wild excursion to the falls. Think of it as a theme park ride, except in the wildest of settings, with twists and turns around glorious landscapes leaving you in a state of giggles and gasps, both for the thrill but also for the unimaginable surroundings.
Going the distance over Horizontal Falls
Then there she was – the first gap, wider than the first.
The captain did a few teasers, getting close to the first fall so we modern-day adventurers could get a glimpse up close and personal with the falls. The sounds of the water flow torrential. Loud. Constant and non-stop. And we are going to ride over this?!
The captain soon reversed out from the fall area to gain speed within the bay to make the nippy dash over the falls. The zoom factor kicked in. In true Hollywood blockbuster-style, the boat manoeuvred with great force. We made our daring crossing as if soaring over the Indian Ocean’s tight squeeze.
Nerves soon turned into laughs. It was epic!
Now for round two. A lot narrower than the first gap. It was tight, and there was no room for error. With the captain’s keen eye, speed and eye on the prize, we made it through another round, blitzing over the falls and into the calm waters of the bay. Exhilarating is an understatement. It’s amazing to think that the tide changes twice a day – fluctuating with great variation for this bucket-list ride through the falls even to occur.
Bon Voyage Horizontal Falls
The flight back to Broome was the comedown I needed.
High in the sky, we flew over Horizontal Falls for a flyby, a bid farewell to this lost world that well and truly lost. High above, the two gaps were in full view. But looking beyond the cracks, it’s hard to fathom how these falls were discovered in the first place. The Buccaneer Archipelago is vast, and with the 1000 plus islands dotting the Indian Ocean, the Horizontal Falls is a tiny feature in the scheme of things – and one that causes quite the stir.
Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures – Book your trip to Horizontal Falls with half, full day and overnight tours available ex Broome and Derby.
Julia was a guest of Tourism WA and all thoughts and opinions are that of her own.