If there is one thing you do in Australia besides Uluru/Ayers Rock, it’s the Horizontal Falls. Located at Talbot Bay in the Kimberley region of northern Western Australia, I don’t think there is anything quite like this anywhere else. For the Kiwi’s, this is like Doubtful Sound, remote, hard to get to, and uniquely beautiful. Unlike Doubtful Sound, though, it’s hot, and the water is full of sharks and saltwater crocodiles, so you don’t want to fall in!
There is one tour company operating to the Horizontal Falls called Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures: http://horizontalfallsadventures.com.au
Our full day tour itinerary was:
- 5:50 am pickup at our caravan park
- Beagle Bay Community and snack
- Cape Leveque and breakfast
- One Arm Point Hatchery tour
- Seaplane to Talbot Bay
- Swimming with the sharks and fish feeding
- Horizontal Falls speedboat
- Cyclone Creek cruise
- Horizontal Falls speedboat
- Seaplane to Broome
- Bus drop off at our caravan park just before sunset
As you can see it was a full day. I think the only thing more we could have asked for was a pearl farm tour which is available on some of the full day tours instead of the hatchery tour, but the hatchery tour turned out to my much more interesting than we expected so we really have no complaints at all.
I’ll warn you, it isn’t cheap. At AUD$895 per person for adults, this is the most expensive thing we did on our road trip by a long way. It was even more costly than our campervan hire for the entire time. However, before we made any other trip plans, this is the one thing that we decided to splurge on, and are so glad we did. Yes, it is expensive, but it is absolutely worth it. The trip is fantastic, and you are looked after so well by the team. There is nowhere else you can do anything like this. So if there is one thing you spend the extra money to do, make it this. I can’t recommend it enough!
Now, let’s get into the tour.
We were picked up right on time at 5:50 am with two other couples that were going on the same tour as us. There were already a few others on the 4WD bus and a few more we still had to pick up before heading out of Broome. The bus that picked us up is a big 4WD vehicle called Big Foot.
It is very similar to other 4WD buses, including those used as school buses in some of the more remote parts of Western Australia.
It is a vehicle that has been chosen for its ability to smooth out the rough dirt roads heading north from Broome.
Within moments of entering the dirt section of Beagle Bay-Broome Road, we appreciated the fat tyres and suspension a great deal.
Even with these features, the road is so corrugated that you are still bouncing around a bit. I imagine it would be a very rough, slow ride in a car. The car and caravan graveyard along the side of the road certainly makes me think bringing a car through here is not the best idea.
Since we left our campsite before sunrise, we got to see it rising from the bus.
The height gave us good visibility, but it was pretty harsh on the eyes with it flashing through trees.
Soon, the dirt road became a bitumen road, and before we knew it, we were at Beagle Bay.
Beagle Bay Community
We arrived in Beagle Bay Community bright and early, parking between Sacred Heart Church, also known as the Pearl Shell Church, and the only public toilet in the community.
Now, being the only public toilet in town and 24 or so people on the bus, there will be a queue.
Fortunately, between checking out the church and having some of the provided snacks and drinks, it is easy to space it out, then you aren’t standing in a line unnecessarily.
The Sacred Heart Church, also known as the Pearl Shell Church, was built in 1917 by missionaries to the region with the help of the Aboriginal community.
It got the pearl shell nickname because of the pearl shell used all through the church and its decorations.
It really is quite remarkable.
The snacks and drinks provided are a simple morning tea style snack before breakfast. Cookies and fruit to eat with tea, coffee and water to drink.
It’s not much, but enough to tide you over until your breakfast at the next stop, Cape Leveque.
Turning off the north-bound bitumen road, a rough dirt road brought us into Cape Leveque where we were greeted with a dirt airstrip and the Kooljaman Cafe.
The cafe seems to appear all of a sudden out of the trees, and beyond it is the ocean, bordered by vibrant red ochre cliffs and brilliant white sand beaches. Breakfast time.
The Kooljaman Cafe is owned by the Aboriginal community, with proceeds going back into the community.
It serves as a general store for the nearby campground, and as a very nice restaurant for travellers and locals.
The Horizontal Falls tour includes a scrumptious breakfast here, and I’d say it’s almost worth doing the tour just to experience the delightful food and accompanying view!
We were served what I would describe as a cafe style “Aussie big breakfast” that included baked beans, scrambled eggs, a hash brown, bacon, butter mushrooms, grilled tomato and focaccia bread.
Meanwhile, we also had access to a buffet style continental breakfast that included amazing fresh muffins, cereal, pastries, and fresh fruit.
Drinks included water, juices and regular hot drinks. However, speciality drinks were extra.
Once we finished our breakfast, we had a little bit of free time to explore the shop, purchase souvenirs if we wanted, and take in the beautiful view.
The cafe is situated at the top of one of the ochre cliffs, so the dining area has a gorgeous ocean view, and the outdoor seating provides a great spot to sit and take it all in.
Back on the bus, our driver and guide took us past the cafe and showed us the campground and the beaches before taking us down to the water where we got out and had a bit of a splash.
Make sure you take a hat, and if you can, sunglasses are worthwhile too as the sun reflecting off the sand is intense.
The view is entirely different from the water edge looking up and seeing the white sand turn into red rocks and cliffs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.
Soon though we were back on the bus, with a cold drink in hand provided by our driver, and we are climbing back up the sandy track towards the main road and One Arm Point.
One Arm Point & Aquaculture Hatchery
One Arm Point was our next destination.
Here, as we made our way through the Ardiyaloon community to the hatchery, our driver told us a little about the history of the area and explained that it is run by the elders of the Bardi people with local laws enforced by the Aboriginal rangers.
It was fascinating to learn about.
We didn’t know what to expect from the hatchery.
It didn’t seem to us that fish hatching would be all that exciting, but to our pleasant surprise, it was fascinating.
The hatchery is divided by tanks.
Each aquarium contains different types of fish and sea life in various environments.
Our friendly and extremely knowledgeable guide took as around each aquarium, explaining to us what was in it, and what each of those things does that contributes to the biodiversity of the bay.
She explained to us how each of the sea creatures is caught or bred, why, and at what point they are returned to the ocean.
She also told us a little about why the hatchery was started and how successful they had been at breeding the trochus shell and re-introducing it to the surrounding reefs.
While the whole hatchery tour was fascinating, I’d say the highlight would have to be the archerfish.
These remarkable little fish spot potential prey outside of the water and squirt a jet of water at it to knock it in. Our guide showed us a few demonstrations of it, and these fish never missed – though the food in her demonstrations was already dead and unmoving.
Some that were there tried holding their hands over the edge of the tank and moved them around a little bit. The fish got them, even squirting one in the face!
After the hatchery tour had finished, a local craftsman was selling handmade pearl shell jewellery and sculptures, and we had some free time to browse the hatchery at our leisure.
Back on the bus, we made our way around to the One Arm Point airstrip where a pair of seaplanes were awaiting our arrival.
Our pilots went through safety and boarding instructions with us before we got on the seaplanes, and then loaded any bags we didn’t need on the plane into the floats. I took on my camera gear, but I wouldn’t want to carry much onto the aircraft at all.
Unless you happen to be the really tall person that gets the back seat with extra leg room (aka the exit row), there is not much space between each row.
Unfortunately for us, there happened to be one man that was taller than me on our plane, so he and his partner got that row.
The tiny space aside, the seats were comfortable, and the plane was quite nice inside.
So once we were all in and had our harnesses worked out, we took off from the airstrip.
The plane, while loud, was not so noisy that we couldn’t talk fairly comfortably, and enjoy the sights as we flew low over the hundreds of islands that make up the Buccaneer Archipelago as it stretches across King Sound.
Crossing low over the mountains to Talbot Bay was also stunning, and our pilot brought us in at such a low altitude that it seemed our shadow was getting perhaps a little bit too close!
Then we were headed over the Horizontal Falls and looped around a second time to get a good view from the air before coming in to land at Talbot Bay.
What an experience! We’ve never been in a seaplane before, let alone landed on water! It was breathtaking!
Once we had touched down our pilot brought us over to the Horizontal Falls house boats where we debarked our floating plane. We were given a quick run down on the houseboats, where things are, some safety guidelines, and an overview of the plan for the rest of the day.
Shark Feeding and Swimming with the Sharks
This was pretty cool. There are grey nurse sharks and huge batfish in Talbot Bay that are quite friendly and come to the surface for a feed along with a lot of other smaller fish.
Apparently saltwater crocodiles also come in for a feed sometimes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any while we were there.
From what I read and hear elsewhere about the impact of feeding wild animals, it does make me wonder whether this might affect them negatively if they get too used to it, but I guess these tours are not all year round so it may not be as harmful as places where it occurs all the time.
After the sharks and fish had a feed, there is one particular shark that is quite happy to be patted, so we were invited to give him a pat in the area instructed.
Then we had 10-15 minutes of time to get into the shark cages and have a swim with the sharks which was pretty cool.
Then it was time to feed the tourists! The menu, BBQ barramundi with assorted salads. The barramundi is morish, served in huge chunks that were moist and cooked to perfection. Possibly the best that I’ve ever had!
The salads were a little more hit and miss with the tomatoes appearing to have been frozen or partially frozen. I’m not surprised, though, with the heat up there, and the flight time to bring supplies in, it probably has to be at the very least kept almost frozen just to prevent it from spoiling. I wouldn’t let that ruin your day!
Onto the Falls
After a good feed and a bit of time to let it digest, we were taken to the speedboat, where we got life jackets and set off.
Our driver and guide was very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information about the falls as we were heading towards and through them.
The falls weren’t rough to go through, but the ride was exhilarating and provided a close-up view of the falls.
We went back and forward through the outer falls a few times before making our way to the narrower inner falls.
We went through them a couple of times as well and spent a few minutes with the boat maintaining its position as the water roared past. It’s a pretty amazing experience!
Back through the outer falls a few more times and then we were back to the houseboat for a drink of water and tea or coffee with some biscuits.
Then to our surprise, we were back on the speedboat for a scenic cruise up Cyclone Creek, the naturally protected creek used for weathering cyclones.
Our driver was hoping to spot a saltwater croc for us, but unfortunately, none wanted to be found.
He shared a lot of info about the creek and the unusual cliff formations that surround it before taking us back to the horizontal falls for another run through.
He took us through the outer falls and went to the inner falls but unfortunately they had gotten too shallow to go through safely.
So we went back to the outer falls and went through them a few more times before returning to the houseboat.
Back to Broome
We weren’t back for long before it was time to board our seaplane again for the flight back to Broome.
The flight itself was higher than the flight there, with less to see.
After a long day of excitement we were pretty tired anyway, but even so, it was beautiful to watch the wilderness passing below us with the sun starting to set in the distance.
It was still daylight when we landed in Broome, and we were transferred onto a mini-bus.
The driver was handing out DVD’s of the experience, not from our day, but of what we saw.
To our surprise the DVD’s were free! A very pleasant surprise when you usually have to pay for this sort of thing!
Now, if you are like me, you might be wondering what happened to the 4WD bus and driver? Well, there is a second tour that runs in reverse. So it flies straight from Broome airport to Talbot Bay, and then from the Bay to Ardiyaloon. After the hatchery, they take the 4WD bus down to Cape Leveque, Beagle Bay and finally arrived back in Broome around the same time we did.
Our driver had us back to our caravan park at about 6:00 pm, just before the sun went down and with just enough time to drive to Cable Beach.
We decided to head out to Cable Beach again to watch the sunset.
It was just as beautiful as the night before, and with very few clouds it was not much different at all.
In spite of the similarity between the two nights we were there, we would still watch it again if we go back. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful!
Broome Night Markets
On our way back to the caravan park we noticed something was on. It turned out to be the Broome Night Market!
We decided to stop in for a look and are so glad we did.
The markets were like a community gathering with food vendors and live music.
Most people were chilling on the grass with a meal and enjoying the atmosphere, it was great! We got a bite to eat since we hadn’t had any dinner yet, and spent a little while there experiencing the Broome nightlife before heading back to the caravan park and a well-deserved sleep.