David Attenborough once described Western Australia’s Horizontal Falls as “Australia’s most unusual natural wonder”. At the time, he also said that “few people have ever seen this spectacle”, but that was back in 2002 and, since then, a Horizontal Falls tour has become extremely popular.
There’s a good reason why! Visiting Horizontal Falls is one of the best things to do from Broome, with a trip combining a unique natural experience with a scenic flight across the Kimberley, plus a great meal and comfortable cruise. It’s about more than just the destination.
The Horizontal Falls are about 250 kilometres from Broome, in the Buccaneer Archipelago. There are no roads there and travelling by boat is impractical for a day trip (longer cruises along the coast do stop in, though). That’s why the only real way to do a tour to the Horizontal Falls is by plane… but that’s not a bad thing, because it’s best seen from the air anyway!
In case you’re wondering whether you should do a Horizontal Falls tour, I wanted to share a bit of information about what to expect. Although the short answer (in case you don’t want to read any further) is yes, you should do it – and you can book the tour here!
What are the Horizontal Falls?
First, though, let’s take a look at what the Horizontal Falls are because, although the name is apt, it doesn’t really describe what’s going on here.
You’ll find the Horizontal Falls on the edge of Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago. where there’s a 20-metre-wide gap in the tall red wall along the water edge, creating a 100-metre-long passage through to a lake. On the other side of this lake, the same thing happens through to another lake, meaning there are two passages in total.
You may’ve heard about the legendary tides of the western Kimberley, which can differ by up to ten metres in height between high tide and low tide. Well, these tides are the reason you get the Horizontal Falls.
As the water rushes into Talbot Bay from the Indian Ocean, it reaches these gaps in the cliffs and millions of litres try to flow through each second. It’s more than can fit, so a build-up forms on one side and the water level becomes higher than the lake on the other side. It’s created a waterfall – and a super fast one, at that!
What I think is particularly cool, though, is that the waterfall is always changing. At the extremes of the tide, it will be higher and faster. And twice a day, as the tides change, the water will flatten out and stop moving completely before a a new waterfall starts to form in the opposite direction.
How do you get to the Horizontal Falls?
There are no roads to this part of the Buccaneer Archipelago so most people get to the Horizontal Falls by plane.
The flight takes about 1 hour 15 min from Broome and about 40 minutes from Derby. It’s possible to go by helicopter, but most people choose the seaplane option.
Can you get to the Horizontal Falls by boat?
Going to the Horizontal Falls by boat is not practical as a day trip (or even an overnight trip). It’s about 12 hours one way from Broome and there’s not much along the way.
However, there are longer cruises that are going along the coastline past Talbot Bay, and some of them will stop here.
Are the Horizontal Falls worth the money?
The tour to the Horizontal Falls is not cheap but you get a lot for your money. There are the cruises in Talbot Bay, meals, some guided experiences, and the scenic flights to get there.
If you consider it to be a larger experience in the Kimberley – more than just simply visiting the Horizontal Falls – then I think it’s worth the money for something so special.
Why are the Horizontal Falls important?
The Horizontal Falls are important because there’s really nowhere else in Australia (possibly the world) where you’ll find this natural phenomenon.
It’s partly because the rocks are so old (up to 2 billion years old) and resistant to erosion that this is able to happen. And then, of course, that’s coupled with the huge tides you find in this part of Western Australia.
Although the Horizontal Falls have grown in popularity over recent years, most people in Australia have never visited. I wonder if they are actually better known by international visitors, who view them as one of the best places to visit in Western Australia.
But this is part of the adventure of visiting the Horizontal Falls – you’ll be seeing something unique that is still extremely remote. If it was easy to reach or near a capital city, it would be full of tourists every day, but you’ll get to experience it in just a small group.
What to expect on a Horizontal Falls tour
Although there are a couple of options for tour operators, there is really only one main operator I would recommend, and that’s Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures. You can see its two most popular tour options here.
The main experience the company offers is the Horizontal Falls Half-Day Seaplane & Boat Tour, and that’s the one I want to tell you about. It’s a great option and there are quite a few components to the tour.
The experience starts in Broome, where you’ll be picked up from your accommodation. The pick-up time depends on which tour you’re on – there’s a morning tour that leaves very early (normally around 5:30am) or an afternoon tour that leaves about 11:30am.
You’ll be transferred to the airport where you’ll board a seaplane. They are relatively small aircraft but don’t feel too cramped. There’s room for about 14 passengers.
From Broome Airport, you’ll fly east for about 250 kilometres, over the Dampier Peninsula, across some of the Indian Ocean, and then through the stunning Buccaneer Archipelago. The views from up here are amazing and the scenic flight is a highlight of the tour.
As you approach the destination from the air, the landscape of the archipelago looks like a giant brushstroke of ochre, solid and vibrant inland but fading out to thin tendrils and islands along the coast, the earth stark against the cobalt of the water. Bring your camera!
The advantage of flying in a seaplane is that you’re able to land right on the water at Talbot Bay. The tour operator has a large houseboat-style pontoon complex here and this will be the first stop. As well as being a comfortable place to relax, this is where you will get your meal – a cooked breakfast for the morning tour and a barramundi lunch for the afternoon.
The exact order of activities changes for each group but you will do two different boat tours while you’re here, and these are the main experiences of your time here on Talbot Bay.
One of the boat tours will be into the heart of the Horizontal Falls. The falls are made up of two channels that are separated by a narrow lake. The first channel is wide enough to safely drive a boat through and this is exactly what will happen – at high speed.
With the outboard motors roaring, you’ll hurtle through the passage, bumping uphill or downhill (depending on the tide that day), along the waterfall. It feels a bit like whitewater rapids and it’s exhilarating! The speed continues as you enter the lake, in a high-velocity arc until you’re back facing the falls and ready to go again.
The other channel is too narrow to safely take a boat through at speed, but this offers an opportunity for another fun activity. This time the skipper will back the boat into the torrent of water and run the engines hard enough that you’ll stay there without moving. You’ll get a close-up view of how strong and fast the tide is here.
The second boat tour you’ll do on Talbot Bay is much calmer. This time you’ll cruise around to see more the geology, learn about the flora and fauna, and perhaps spot a few special formations in the rocks that have been here for an incredible two billion years (that’s about half the life of the Earth)!
The birds rule the roost here because the cliffs are so steep, it can be hard for other land animals to live in this landscapes. But occasionally there are rock wallabies and even dingos, so keep your eyes peeled.
Back on the pontoon, there’s a swimming pool where you can take a dip – it’s got a cage around it to protect you from sharks and crocodiles. But that doesn’t mean the local sharks won’t come up to check you out. They’re harmless but they sometimes get fed here – and you can be in the water when that happens!
After all the activities at Talbot Bay, the Horizontal Falls tour is almost at an end. The last thing is to head back to Broome, taking to the skies in the seaplane again for another scenic flight with sweeping views of the land and water beneath. It’s quite interesting to see how different some of it will look with the change in light.
In total, the Horizontal Falls experience is about six hours long, with more than two hours of that in the plane, and about three hours on the water. I think it’s a good length of time – you never feel rushed, but you’re also ready to head back when it’s time.
Horizontal Falls tours from Broome
Broome is the base for a lot of the exploration in this coastal region of the western Kimberley and most people will do a trip to the Horizontal Falls from Broome. You’l have a few options to choose from.
The first tour option is the one I’ve just described. This is the half-day Horizontal Falls tour that includes return flights from Broome and all the activities on the water.
Another popular option adds Cape Leveque to the trip and makes it a full-day tour. This combined Cape Leveque and Horizontal Falls tour starts from Broome in a 4WD and drives for about two up to the the cape at the northernmost point of the Dampier Peninsula.
Cape Leveque is a beautiful spot, where the turquoise coastal water meets the bright white sand on the beach, lined with red rock cliffs. The cliffs have been eroded by water and wind, forming peculiar shapes that catch the sun and glow in the afternoons.
On the combined tour, you’ll have a meal here and have time to walk around and explore the beach and the cliffs. Then you’ll also get a tour of the nearby aquaculture hatchery that’s run by the Indigenous community at One Arm Point. From here, you’ll fly to Talbot Bay on the seaplane and begin the half-day itinerary.
Horizontal Falls tours from Derby
Derby is a town about 2 hours’ drive east from Broome and, although it’s small, it’s quite a popular spot for people to stop when they’re doing a longer drive through the Kimberley. It’s also much closer to the Horizontal Falls, so you can do your tours out of there, if you’re passing through.
There are two types of tours from Derby to the Horizontal Falls that you can do. The first is the standard half-day tour that I’ve already described. The only difference is that you’re flying in and out of Derby, rather than Broome.
But the other option is a bit different – it’s an overnight stay on the houseboat pontoon on Talbot Bay. The overnight tour from Derby has most of the same elements, but you’ll have added experience of seeing the sunset, the sunrise, and the bright night sky – plus the fun of hanging out on deck.
Although there are lots of things to do in Broome, many of the real treasures lay beyond the town’s borders, in the natural landscapes of the Kimberley. The Horizontal Falls may not be any more beautiful than some of the others, but it is unique – and that makes it extra special.
Getting to Broome and the Kimberley is normally an adventure in itself. While you’re here, it makes sense to add on an experience like the Horizontal Falls tour. It may seem like quite an expense, but it will be one of the highlights of your trips to the region.
The half-day Horizontal Falls tour I’ve recommended is excellent – it’s very well run, there is a great variety of activities, and there are no attempts to cut corners to maximise profit. I’m sure you’ll be happy with the operators and amazed by the sight of – and ride through – the amazing Horizontal Falls here in Western Australia.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BROOME
There are two main areas to stay in Broome and it takes about ten minutes to drive between them. Staying at Cable Beach puts you close to the water, while staying in town means better access to shops and restaurants.