They make things big in the Kimberley
: immense fiery cliffs, extensive Indigenous rock art galleries, bulbous boab trees and towering waterfalls that peel off the vast, baked land to smatter pure whitewater onto outstretched arms. The feeling of being soaked to the skin brings as much joy as it does sweet relief from the toasty northern sun. Is there any better sensation?
The only way to loiter beneath the outpouring at King George Falls is to visit by expedition Zodiacs. The 80-metre-high walls from which the twin cascades fall are found at the end of a gently curving river, one that the Kimberley’s lusted-after expedition cruises always visit. Little wonder that tracing the mottled Western Australian
coastline and its beguiling inlets has become one of Australia’s top bucket-list experiences.
A 1,000-nautical-mile cruise
along the crust of the continent is more than just sightseeing. It’s an adventure of almost spiritual proportions. There’s something about travelling through the two-billion-year-old landscape, stained with an Outback rainbow of rusty reds, rhinoceros browns and cornflower blues, that stays with you.
A typical journey starts with plenty of wow factor as you glide north-west towards the King George Falls, WA’s highest single-drop cascades. Exiting via a curtain of red sandstone, cruises weave between isles lapped by translucent waters, stopping at Bigge Island to witness one of the most extraordinary rock art galleries
in the Kimberley. Hidden inside a time-sculpted cave are ancient human, animal and spirit figures, including an intimidating painting of a ghostly white Wandjina spirit, its arms raised as if to spook those who come its way.
Another day, Zodiacs trace the mesa-edged Prince Regent River to an opening that most would miss. Between the natural gap are terraced falls that froth into a crocodile-rimmed pool. From there, a significant, plus-sized attraction: Australia’s largest inshore reef. The tides that suck water away from Montgomery Reef each day create a waterfall of a very different kind. As turtles and fish swim for the edges, the reef appears to slowly rise from the spirit level-flat ocean.
Those same tropical tides
– some of the largest in the world – also create the famed Horizontal Falls. Torrents of water push and pull through gaps in twin ranges that lie parallel. The result is flat, churning water that steams like a waterfall.
It is much calmer once you reach the more than 800 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago
. Rock-rimmed waterholes give way to tropical greenery-topped landforms and footprint-free sandy stretches. With formations twisted over millennia, it’s here that you get a particularly keen sense of the Kimberley’s time-bending geology.
This is also where the Adele Island seabird breeding sanctuary is found. Migratory birds that have flown from China, Korea and Japan find refuge in this remote wilderness alongside their Australian feathered friends. Huge rookeries of lesser frigate birds and masked boobys exist alongside breeding pairs of red-necked stints and grey-tailed tattlers, as well as cormorants and pelicans.
From there, it’s a reluctant journey back to civilisation – luckily, beachy, easy-going Broome sweetens the return.
Images in the article are courtesy of Graham Werner, Iliuta Goean