The tropical tides of the Kimberley provide some of Western Australia’s greatest sights. Simon Webster takes a closer look at these astonishing natural spectacles.
Montgomery Reef rises out of the sea, countless waterfalls cascading off its back. Turtles and fish tumble off the reef into the safety of the ocean, as sharks feed and seabirds swoop in to feast on the bounty that is being delivered their way yet again. At high tide, the reef is completely submerged. At low tide, it sits four metres above the water.
Time and Tide
The gravitational pull of the sun and moon create our tides (with the moon exerting the greatest influence because it’s closer). But the effect varies massively, depending on where you are. In the middle of the ocean, for example, the difference between high tide and low tide is a mere 18 centimetres. But for the people and animals of WA’s Kimberley region, tides are transformative. Water levels rise as tides reach land. And the particularly wide, shallow continental shelf in north-western Australia makes the ocean rise dramatically – by up to 12 metres – during extreme tides at King Sound, Derby.
The Kimberley is one of the world’s great marine refuges. Its relatively untouched coastline, wetlands, mangroves and inlets are home to an astonishing array of animals, from cockatoos to crocodiles. For this wildlife, the region’s massive tides present opportunity and challenges, exposure and protection, and provide a relentless rhythm to each day’s life-and-death struggle. For tourists, tides show nature at its most spectacular. Here are two outstanding Western Australia examples that can be seen on our 10 Day Grand Kimberley Coast tour.
Everyone loves a waterfall, but few people get to experience a horizontal one. Technically a tidal current rather than a waterfall, Talbot Bay’s Horizontal Falls appear twice a day when a surge of water bursts through two narrow gorges of the McLarty Range. It’s an unforgettable sight for onlookers, who can sometimes go right through the falls on fast boats for a breathtaking close-up look at what British wildlife broadcasting legend Sir David Attenborough once described as “Australia’s most unusual natural wonder”.
Covering more than 300 square kilometres, the astonishing Montgomery Reef is another natural wonder that puts on an extraordinary performance thanks to the Kimberley’s huge tides. As the tide falls, the reef seems to rise out of the ocean like a villain’s headquarters in a James Bond movie. Any wildlife in danger of getting stranded does its best to jump overboard, while other animals move in to enjoy the rich pickings. With dugongs, saltwater crocodiles, sea eagles, dolphins and six species of turtles among the creatures in on the action, it is an unforgettable spectacle.