Tag Archives: Kimberley

Horizontal Falls -an exhilirating freak of nature

A Falls2A horizontal waterfall. The very concept is strange. How can water fall horizontally? It can and it does, provided you have the intersection of a number of factors. That combination occurs in the Kimberley in remote north west Australia. It’s rugged country, characterised by eroded, ancient mountains and thousands of tiny islands where those same eroded mountains were drowned when the ocean rose. Here, ten metres of water, the second highest tides in the world (after Nova Scotia) surge backwards and forwards twice a day. In some places, the water rushes through narrow canyons to flood a valley at high tide, and rush back through the gap at low tide. The phenomenon happens in several places – but none so spectacularly as at Horizontal Falls. Think of water going through a funnel and you’ve got a good analogy.

We started our day early. Pick up was at 0530 to catch a seaplane to Talbot Bay. The alarm went off at 3am, courtesy of a person who shall remain nameless, who set the alarm on a phone still on Australian Central time, which was an hour and a half earlier than Western time. What? Nobody’s perfect. And I’m sure I’ll never hear the end of it.

The sun was rising as the plane took off for the flight over the rugged Kimberley hills, the light glancing off mist-filled valleys lying between bare cliffs. Then we were descending into Talbot Bay. The pilot banked, performing a low level turn over the falls. Those gaps looked narrow from up there. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one feeling a prickle of adrenalin.

A both gaps

A narrow fallsA tide flowTrips through the falls are dependent on the tide and we headed out immediately. The first gap is twenty meters wide. The powerful jet boat raced forward, going up the flow, bouncing and pitching across the churning water. The skipper held the vessel at the point where the water looked smooth before it tumbled into chaos. Going back through was even more exciting as the boat literally fell off each wave top. We did the trip back up again and took a look at the second gap. To be honest, I was scared he’d take the boat through that. The canyon is only seven metres wide and some of those sticky-outy bits looked as though they were just waiting to eviscerate a boat that tried the trip. But our intrepid skipper didn’t relish the thought of all the paperwork if anything went wrong, so we headed back for breakfast, given a promise we’d go through when the tide had dropped.

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A reflections3A reflectionsWe went back during that hour when the tide has lost its power and the water in bays were at equilibrium before the great rush started again. The contrast is stunning. The boat ran easily between the cliffs, revealing bays ringed by red-gold hills, mud flats and grey-green scrub, all reflected in mirror-flat water under an impossibly blue sky. The only sound was the creaking of the boat and our voices.

We did other things on a very full day, but the falls were the highlight – as well as the flight over the Buccaneer Archipelago and its myriad of tiny islands. What a buzz. An unforgettable memory.A Buccaneer

Ord River buzz

A lake ArgyleThe highlight of our visit to Kununurra was a trip on the Ord River. After all, without the Ord River, Kununurra wouldn’t exist. The town was created in the sixties, when one of the visionary Duracks, who originally opened up the area, persuaded the Government to dam the river. If you’ve been following my journey, you’d know that year-round water is a huge problem up here. There’s the Wet and the Dry, and the Wet is very, very wet and the Dry is very, very dry. In between there’s fire, which clears the land ready for the next wet. But traditional crops like wheat, cotton and sugar cane don’t grow like that. So a dam was built and Lake Argyle was created. You can read all about it here.

It’s hard to give an idea of size when talking about lakes and things. I’ve often heard descriptions involving Olympic sized swimming pools and football fields. But sometimes even they become insignificant. In Australia we have our own term of measurement – Sydney Harbours. Sydney Harbour holds a big lot of Olympic swimming pools (don’t ask me how many) so we have an idea that’s an enormous amount of water. Lake Argyle holds about 15 Sydney Harbours in normal times. At the height of the 2011 floods it held 44 Sydney Harbours and the flow over the diversion dam that feeds the irrigation area is also measured in Sydney Harbours.

Yes, there’s irrigation, but the other use for all that water is hydro electricity, which requires steady water flow over the turbines. So the line of isolated waterholes that used to mark the course of the Ord River in the Dry is now a fast flowing, all year river.

That’s it for context, folks. Let the journey begin. We caught a bus up to the main dam, stopping for a scenic glimpse of the lake. From there, we piled onto a jet boat – very fast, with very shallow draft to get over the shallow, rocky bits, but able to drift very comfortably in the deep bits. And off we went. The very knowledgeable driver stopped often to let us take pictures of wildlife and reflections.

A rock wallaby3

A rock wallaby watches us from high on a vertical rock wall. They are very agile little critters.

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Red rock, blue sky, water. Gorgeous.

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We stopped for afternoon tea. This was taken from the river bank in late afternoon light.

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Paperbarks line the bank.

A pelicans

A pair of pelicans enjoy the sunlight

A croc

A Johnson river crocodile basks on a reed bed

Guys, this was the bestest trip. Loved the boat, loved the river, loved the red rock almost glowing in the sunlight, loved the reflections, the bird life, the crocs, the botany lessons. If you get a chance, go do it. And at the end, back at Kununurra, we watched the sunset from the boat.

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