The Horizontal Falls is a natural phenomenon located in the vast wilderness of the Kimberley, in Northern Western Australia. Accessible only by seaplane or chartered yacht, a trip to the falls is an experience you’ll be hard pressed to forget. I visited the falls on a day trip with Horizontal Falls Adventures in August 2017. This post describes the day trip from the 5:30am pickup to the plane ride back to Broome 12 hours later.
Day trip to the Horizontal Falls
I knew it was going to be an early morning, but dang, my alarm going off at 5am while on a holiday was really early!
Waiting outside my hotel in the dark for the 4 wheel drive bus, I started the day with no expectations about how the day was going to play out. All I knew was that it was the most expensive day trip I’ve ever booked, and I was going to be going on a seaplane at some point in the day. How bad could it be?!
With little to no expectations, I boarded the bus filled with a dozen or so other passengers. Leaving Broome, we headed north towards Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula.
While you can drive this route yourself, there’s a 80km stretch of unsealed road that is supposed to be very bumpy. Thanks to the early wake up call, I blissfully slept through the majority of the drive (and I hardly ever sleep in moving vehicles). So if you’re concerned about getting car sick on the bumpy road, I think the risk is fairly low!
Two hours after leaving Broome, we made a short stop in a small Aboriginal community called Beagle Bay. Our stop lasted about 20 minutes, which was enough time to have some morning tea (coffee, tea and lamingtons) and to see the local church, which is decorated in hundreds (thousands?) of sea shells. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. With a bit of caffeine, we were back on the bus.
The next stop was breakfast at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque. Our hot meal (scrambled eggs, sausage, hashbrown, tomato, with espresso coffee to purchase) was served at the restaurant on a large covered deck area. After breakfast, we had some time to watch whales right off the coast (not guaranteed of course!) and then onto the bus for the five minute drive down to Cape Leveque beach. This is the beach you see in the brochures – bright, rust coloured cliffs, white sand and turquoise water. Postcard perfect scenery and definitely a highlight (and a tick off the bucket list).
Since the purpose of the trip is to see the Horizontal Falls, our stopover only lasted 20 minutes or so. This gives you just enough time to quickly explore the rocks and have a dip in the ocean and then hop back on the bus.
Our final stop before the plane ride was a visit to the fish hatchery at One Arm Point. I can’t say I overly enjoyed this part of the trip. It was a large open workshop with a dozen or so water tanks with various fish inside. A young local lady gave us some background on the fishing in the area and the cultivating of shells for purchase. The shells used to be shaped into buttons before different, cheaper ways started being used to manufacture the fastener, and now are sold as polished decorative keepsakes. The overall talk was interesting, but for me was overshadowed by the time spent at the tank with an injured green turtle. The guide was picking it up and touching it, which then led to a number of the people on the tour touching it as well. Maybe it’s just me, but turtles are meant to be looked at, not touched. I say this recognising that the local people eat turtles, however I didn’t like seeing it being touched by numerous tourists.
Fortunately, the day was only going to get better. A whole lot better!
Back on the bus, we had a short drive to the airstrip where we would be taking a seaplane to Talbot Bay. The day trip operates with two groups. One group (or multiple groups) start the day on the bus, spend the afternoon at Talbot Bay and end with the plane ride back to Broome. The other group does the day in reverse. So as we were waiting at the airstrip, the other group was hopping on our bus.
After a brief overview of the safety procedures, we put on our lifejackets (not usually something you need to wear on a plane!) and then boarded the seaplane. Lucky for me, I was the only one in the group travelling solo, and the pilot needed a co-pilot, so I sat up front pretending I was in Top Gun for the journey (yes, I wore the headset, no he didn’t refer to me as his co-pilot). Unfortunately I’m too short to really get the most out of the front seat, but I had an awesome view out of the side! I was going to ask for a booster seat but I thought that might be pushing my luck. While I thought my co-pilot status meant I was going to do something helpful, under strict instructions I was told “absolutely do not touch anything”. Righto! 🙂
After starting up the propellers, we rolled down the bright red dirt airstrip and were soon up in the air. The flight to Talbot Bay passes over the Dampier Archipelago, a collection of 42 islands floating in turquoise water. RIght away I could see turtles down below (or at least I thought the black blobs were turtles …) and countless islands, bight red rocks and super turquoise blue water.
The flight only lasted 20 minutes or so before the falls came into view. The tour company has a large houseboat in the middle of the bay, which would be our base for the afternoon. With three planes landing, we had to wait our turn by taking another pass over the falls. This was definitely a highlight of the day!
Since I’d never landed on water before, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a very smooth. I’d say it was smoother than most airport landings I’ve ever had. Docking the plane up to the house boat, we disembarked and soon after boarded one of the speedboats to go check out the falls. The timing of the boat rides needs to coincide with the timing of the tides, so the whole day’s itinerary is timed accordingly.
The falls are pretty much rapids, caused by the changing of the tides which move 11m or so between high and low tide. Since the second bay is a dead-end, when the tide drops, all the water from the furthest and middle bays need to drain out, and with small passages, the water moves very quickly and causes the rapids. Then when the tide swifts, the water rushes back the way it came. In terms of natural phenomenon, mother nature is really putting on a show here!
After a few trips zipping through both falls, we returned to the houseboat for a barramundi lunch. It turned out that it wasn’t lunch time just for us, as there are some resident sharks that also come by the houseboat for a feed. The houseboat has a caged in area (for people) and an entrance from the water side for the wildlife. I’d ever been so close to sharks before, so that was pretty neat.
After a ‘swim with the sharks’ it was back on the boat for a ride down the creek. This was a beautiful ride passing under large cliffs and alongside mangroves. While I did my best to spot a crocodile, I had no luck. Someone asked the guide whether crocodiles are spotted in the area and it’s rare because of the limited options for the crocs to be able to get out of the water at high tide.
Before returning to the houseboat, we had another ride through the falls. This time the water was moving in the opposite direction. At one point, the driver had us in the rapids and we weren’t moving despite the motor running at 15 knots(?). Apparently that’s a lot of power needed to stand still. You could see how much power was in the water by looking over the side and seeing a ridiculously large amount of water passing by.
After a lot of fun, it was back to the house boat and then boarding on our planes for the return flight to Broome. This time the pilot had his own co-pilot so I was relegated to the back of the bus (plane). This was fine for me because it was once again nap time. I think I slept for half the flight back.
The landing was easy, and while disembarking I was thinking that I could get used to flying around in a charter plane like that. It felt very glamorous walking across the tarmac and then onto the bus on the other side. No commercial airports for this lady from now on!
So after spending $895 for a day trip, would I do it again? Yes. The falls themselves are a unique phenomenon, only seen in the area. And the Kimberley wildness is indescribable. You are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, with no one around for miles and the only neighbours being some fairly friendly sharks and perhaps the odd crocodile.
The entire day couldn’t have been better organised as the whole day was absolutely seamless. The bus driver in the morning was fantastic, having the right level of energy and enthusiasm for the early morning start and provided the right level of commentary as we were driving up to Cape Leveque. Our seaplane pilot was fantastic and an absolute pro and all the staff on the house boat were friendly, inviting and professional. It was definitely a five star day.
For more information on the Horizontal Seaplanes adventure tours, the official website is here – Horizontal Falls Adventures
Click here for the link to the company’s Tripadvisor reviews.
Have you visited the Horizontal Falls? Please leave me a comment below if you have any questions about the day trip!