Here's our check list of the seven greatest wonders of Australia's Kimberley Coast. When planning to go Kimberley cruising, see our hand-picked list of the best expeditions then give us a call to help you choose the cruise that is right for you, and includes all the must see icons!
Mitchell Falls is perhaps the most photographed of all of the Kimberley’s wonders. The waters of the mighty Mitchell River cascade over four tiers, with a total drop of over 80 metres. There are a number of other falls in the area well worth seeing, including Little Mertens and Big Mertens, but Mitchell Falls is the main drawcard.
The Mitchell River below the falls is not navigable by expedition ship, meaning that you can’t cruise directly up to the base. Instead, you’re going to need to 'chopper in'. Two expedition ships - True North and Great Escape - carry their own private helicopters, whilst other ships call in HeliSpirit (a local operator based near the Falls) to provide scenic flights. Typically a two hour excursion, including scenic flight from the ship across the Mitchell Plateau to the falls and back, and an hour to swim in the Mitchell River (above the falls - no crocs!) and take photographs will set you back about $500 per person, but it’s well worth the expense.
Mermaid Boab Tree
When Phillip Parker King (that’s a name you hear a lot in the Kimberley) careened his vessel the Mermaid for six weeks of repairs during his coastal survey in back in 1820, his carpenter carved details of their visit into a small boab tree. His inscription read:
HMC Mermaid 1820
The beach where King successfully carried out Mermaid's repairs is known as Careening Bay, and today - almost 200 years later - the twin-trunked boab tree is now twelve metres wide, the letters huge.
Legendary naturalist and documentary-maker Sir David Attenborough describes Horizontal Falls as ‘one of the greatest natural wonders of the world’ and we couldn’t agree more! Located deep in Talbot Bay, massive tidal movements create a waterfall effect as water banks up against one side of the narrow cliff passage, to be repeated again on the turning tide. The tides in this area have a ten-metre variation which occurs over six and a half hours from low tide to high tide and vice versa. The effect of the waterfalls is created by the tide building up in front of the gaps faster than it can flow through them and there can be a four-metre high waterfall between the bays.
Most expedition cruise operators offer you the chance to have an adrenaline-filled inflatable zodiac ride through the falls, a real thrill and a highlight of any Kimberley cruise.
Imagine being anchored 20 kilometres offshore, surrounded by endless blue waters, with just a speck of the far-off horizon in the distance. Then, try to imagine the tide turning and the sea levels dropping by ten metres to expose Australia’s largest inshore reef system, Montgomery Reef. Covering 400 square kilometres, Montgomery Reef is located adjacent to Doubtful Bay and is truly Australia’s greatest marine spectacle.
Transferring to the excursion tenders, as the tide ebbs up to four metres of reef is exposed and thousands of cascading waterfalls are created, each with sufficient power to make it hard work for the tender’s engines to push through. You’ll be amazed by the array of marine life, from sea turtles to sharks, manta rays, black tipped reef sharks and dugongs. Thousands of migratory wading birds keep watch for a tasty morsel as they circle overhead.
After a few hours exploring the rivers and valleys of the reef system, the tide once again turns, concealing the reef. You would hardly believe what lay beneath if you hadn’t seen it for yourself.
Most expedition cruise ships time their visits to this area to coincide with the twice-daily 'reef reveals', and after all my visits to the Kimberley, experiencing Montgomery Reef at low tide never disappoints.
Prince Regent River
Not all expedition cruises feature a visit to King Cascades, as some of the bigger 100+ passenger ships are too large to be able to ferry their guests the 27 kilometres up the Prince Regent River to the base of the falls. That’s a real pity as King Cascades is one of the most scenic locales in the Kimberley. The waterfall itself is around 40 metres tall, with the flow cascading down tiered rock formations. The falls are also spring fed, meaning water will be flowing year round.
If you’re feeling energetic, a hike to the freshwater pools above the falls for a dip is well worth the effort, but whatever you do, don’t swim in the river below the falls! Back in 1987 American model Ginger Faye Meadows famously took the plunge from a private cruiser and was tragically taken by a monster saltwater croc - who some say still patrols the Prince Regent today!
Contact us to find out which Kimberley cruising options include exploration of King Cascades.
The Bradshaw Paintings
East Kimberley & Raft Point
When Kimberley cruising you’re bound to come face to face with lots of rock art. it’s everywhere you look; on cliff faces, rock overhangs and in caves. You’ll learn that there are two types of art found in the Kimberley. The more modern (around 5,000 years) and prevalent is the Wandjina art, easily recognisable by the pale, circles spirit faces drawn without mouths. The second type of art you will see is a major drawcard for many travellers – the mysterious Bradshaw Paintings, known as ‘Gwion Gwion’ to the locals.
Named after pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw, the first European to record this distinctive style of art work back in 1891, the origin of the Bradshaw Paintings is contentious. Dating back at least 20,000 years, some experts suggest that the paintings were drawn by the forefathers of the current local indigenous people, whilst others opine that the art has an Indonesian influence, and may have been produced by early traders. Whatever the origin, these luminous, ochre figures - often decorated with tassels and ornate head-dresses are a sight to behold.
One of the best places to view both Wandjina art and the Bradshaw Paintings is at Raft Point, a spot visited by most expedition ships these days. A short hike leads up hill to a rocky overhang, where fine examples of both varieties of art can be viewed.
King George Falls
King George River
If you’ve seen Baz Luhrmann's epic 2008 film, Australia, you might recognise King George Falls. Located in the Northern Kimberley close to the town of Wyndham, some of the shorter ‘Southern Kimberley’ expeditions don’t have time to visit these imposing twin falls, however if you travel aboard True North, Coral Discoverer or Coral Expeditions I the journey down the King George River is bound to be a highlight. The best time to experience these falls is at the start of the cruising season, between March and May, when the water flow is at its most powerful. After travelling twelve kilometres up river, surrounded by towering sandstone escarpments on either side, the sheer volume of water flowing over the falls creates a distant roar that grows in volume as you approach. On some expeditions the active can also join a challenging hike to the top of the falls for outstanding panoramas and photo opportunities.
If witnessing the Kimberley’s waterfalls at their absolute best (right after the wet season) appeals to you, each March the Great Escape offers a nine day Waterfall Safari expedition that includes Mitchell Falls, King Cascades and King George Falls.
And another thing….
If you’ve travelled all the way to the Kimberley it would be a pity not to spend a few days exploring Broome and venturing inland to discover the East Kimberley’s Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle), Ord River and El Questro Station. We’ve put together some great packages designed to be combined with your cruise for the ultimate Kimberley expedition adventure! Ask us for more information when you book your Kimberley expedition.