Mind the gap!

A day trip to Horizontal Falls

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we tend to post more about our life on the road and our observations of it than detailed accounts of where we’ve been (you can find our day-to-day updates on our Facebook page and Instagram). But a couple of days ago we did a day trip to Horizontal Falls (we’ll call them HF from here) in the Kimberley region of Western Australia with Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures (HFSA) and it’s worthy of a special write-up because we used some money for the trip that we’d been given as a gift on the condition that we blogged about what we’d done with the money! The money was given to us by Karen’s fellow freelance ELT editors as a going-away present, and as our motto for our whole trip is Brave But Not Stupid, the money was to be used specifically for A Slightly Risky Experience and some Food With A View. We’ve debated using it several times already – the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk? An up-close-and-personal crocodile adventure? Lunch on a yacht in the Whitsundays? But having heard a number of rave reviews about this trip we were pretty sure it would cover both, so we went ahead and booked a couple of weeks before arriving in Broome.

What you don’t want the night before a trip to HF is wind. Not the curry-induced type, but the type that rattles your awning so you’re up in the pitch black winding it in, then tossing and turning for the next few hours wondering if the trip’s going to be cancelled because it will be too gusty for the little seaplane or worrying that you’ll sleep through your 4.45am alarm. None of the above, thankfully. We were ready and waiting for the 4WD truck pickup in good time and joined 23 others on board for A Big Day Out.

You can take a trip to HF with HFSA from either Broome or Derby and several options are available. We’d opted for the full-day drive then fly option, with a stop at Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, so we set off from Broome and were soon on the dirt road heading north. Everywhere we go on this trip we see 4WD vehicles, often caked in red dirt, and wonder what it would be like to swap the bitumen-only comfort of Della, our 8-metre 2WD motorhome, for something a bit grittier, and now we know. It feels a bit like being in a massage chair that you can’t turn off when you’ve had enough and 90km in the back of the truck was probably just about enough!

A couple of hours after being picked up we’d reached Beagle Bay where the shell-decorated church built by Catholic missionaries was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Unfortunately the wind was still gusting and it didn’t look as though the seats that had been set up for the celebrations later in the day would be very comfortable, but the sun shone as we enjoyed a coffee and biscuit break and commented that it looked like something we’d have expected to find more at home on a Greek island than in a remote community on the Dampier Peninsula. Then it was back in the truck and on to Cape Leveque for breakfast.

The organisation of the whole day was very slick, as you’d expect for the cost, and our full cooked breakfast was served as soon as we sat down on the Kooljaman deck overlooking Cape Leveque beach. It would have been great to have been able to enjoy more time on the beach but the wind was whipping up the red and white sand and making a second cup of coffee more appealing than exploring further on foot. We climbed back aboard the truck and were driven around the beach in the relative comfort of that instead! Then it was on to One Arm Point (we forgot to ask how that got its name) and the aquaculture hatchery run by the small local community there before heading to the airstrip at Cygnet Bay.

We watched the two seaplanes that would take our group over to Horizontal Falls land and as we donned our life vests the pilots refilled the tanks with the supply of fuel we’d carried up in the truck. This seemed like an appropriate time to bring out the Slightly Risky Experience card! Things got slightly more risky as Chris was offered the chance to sit up the front in the co-pilot’s seat, which he jumped at! He was strapped in and given strict instructions not to touch anything while the rest of us got settled in for the flight over the Buccaneer Archipelago. (He was amused by a switch directly in front of him – the ELT switch, which sadly seemed to be inoperable!)

It’s impossible to describe the colours and contours of the islands and water we flew over but we did our best to take them all in – and took loads of photos to look back at – and soon we were flying over the Horizontal Falls themselves (the pilot considerately flew round so whichever side of the plane you were sitting on, you got a great view). The Falls are not actually waterfalls but gaps in the rock range where the water builds up and creates a waterfall of up to five metres. Every time the tide changes the direction of flow is reversed and swirling whirlpools are created. There are two gaps in the rocks, one slightly narrower than the other, and the thrill of speeding through them in a motorboat was the highlight of the day.

But first lunch. Freshly grilled barramundi with a selection of salads was served as we arrived on the HFSA houseboat, and this was definitely time to play the Food With A View card. With the seaplanes and tranquility of Talbot Bay behind us, it was a spectacular setting. No sooner had we finished our lunch than it was lunchtime for some local sea life. We jumped into the safe cage and watched as a number of sharks and fish dropped in for a feed. All the while, the tide was building and the crew knew exactly when to get us into the boat for our trips through the falls. We had a slow meander through some other bays in the area to look at the wave rocks and fossilised seabed that now form gorge walls, then it was on to the main event, speeding first through the Narrow Gap (approximately 10m wide) while the tide was safe, then when that became too dangerous, back to Big Gap (close to 20m wide) for a few round trips until it was time to head back to the houseboat for a final drink before getting back on board the plane (same seating arrangements as for the outward trip, much to Chris’s delight) for the hour’s flight back to Broome airport. Flying in over Cable Beach where we’d watched the camels at ground level the night before was a fitting end to the day. Half an hour later we’d been dropped off back at the caravan park where we’d started 12 hours earlier. Time for an early night!

[Note from Karen: Huge thanks again to all the ELT Freelancers who so generously contributed towards my going-away gifts. 😘]

Our 4WD truck
The 100-year-old church at Beagle Bay
Pearl detail inside the church
Red, white and blue at Cape Leveque
Cape Leveque lighthouse
Chris pretending to fly the plane!
One for the ELT editors!
Fabulous colours and views
Horizontal Falls
Not a bad view
Feeding time
Narrow Gap
Big Gap
©️Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures


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