Spend the night at Horizontal Falls, WA.
Cruising down Cyclone Creek aboard the open powerboat Full Throttle, I’m enjoying the low-throttle end of a huge day on Dambeemangaddee Country. A theatrical sunset lights up the ancient red escarpments of the Kimberley coast and filters through the mangroves, offering up picture-postcard shots. Birds twitter, insects flit and somewhere, I know, saltwater crocodiles lurk. But the tide is going out and pre-dinner drinks await aboard my home for the night, the luxury houseboat Jetwave Pearl, which is moored at the mouth of the creek. Guides and boatmen Tommy and Tyler are just beginning to rev up the motor when what had seemed to be a floating log swings itself about and swims directly towards us. It’s a crocodile, nearly three metres long, and as it approaches, someone, maybe me, asks nervously, “Do those things jump?” They do but it didn’t. In any case, Tommy and Tyler, who wear safety consciousness like a badge, were never going to let it get close enough to try.
The 24-Hour Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventure I’m on begins with a 65-minute scenic flight from Broome. As a Cessna 208 Caravan takes our 12-person group 270 kilometres northeast to Lalang-gaddam Marine Park, our pilot, Yindi, flies low enough to catch mesmerising views of the Dampier Peninsula, King Sound and the rows of serpentine ranges that characterise this part of the Kimberley.
Before splashing down by the main pontoon in Talbot Bay, Yindi dips a wing to give us our first look at the area’s central attraction: Garaangaddim. Two sets of rocky limbs reach towards one another across the turquoise waters of the bay. The tides here rise and fall over 11 metres and the huge volume of water that pushes through the two gaps creates the dramatic eddies and sideways torrents that give the place its English name: Horizontal Falls. It’s easy to see why Sir David Attenborough has called it “Australia’s most unusual natural wonder”.
Tommy and Tyler greet the plane at the pontoon and we board Full Throttle to d rop our overnight b ags at the newly refurbished Pearl, the 26-metre, 10-cabin houseboat (20 guests maximum) that will be our base until Yindi returns to collect us the following morning. Each cabin has a stylish ensuite with hot showers and luxe amenities. My room, the smallest of the three types, is little bigger than a double bed but I’m not going to spend much time in it as there’s too much else to do, including a ride over the falls in an open helicopter that takes two guests at a time and an enjoyable if unproductive fishing trip. (“That’s why it’s called fishing, not catching,” says Tommy, laughing.)
Later, submerged in the caged pool at the main pontoon’s marine viewing platform, I have a conversation with a couple of snub-nosed tawny nurse sharks, a non-aggressive breed that feeds by sucking octopi and crustaceans out of crevices into their small, sharptoothed mouths. One climbs atop the other to study me through the protective wire mesh; I stare back, keeping my fingers well out of sucking distance.
Although some of these activities are available in half- or full-day tours, staying overnight on the houseboat takes the experience to another level. Add the comfort of the boat with its enthusiastic crew, open bar and the spectacular meals (including a sublime lunch of locally caught barramundi with beurre blanc and a more-ish berry tart) conjured up by resident French chef Thibault Villanueva and it’s not so much a day to remember as 24 hours I’ll never forget.