Bonaparte Archipelago

The Bonaparte Archipelago in WA's remote Kimberley region, is a maze of islands, inlets, peninsulas and rivers. Its colour and scale conspire to take ones breath away. Its diverse coastline is timeless but far from static with 11 metre tides (the second largest in the world). Staggering quantities of water flood it, and empty from it, twice daily with the tides.

In the wet season the land is awash and teeming with life. It's an awesome wilderness and no description can do it justice. Distance and size are hard to judge here, as are the colours to comprehend. The islands of Bonaparte Archipelago are visited by coastal cruise vessels.

Like the Buccaneer Archipelago to its south west, the Bonaparte Archipelago is a stunningly rugged area off the Kimberley coast in Western Australia. Its distant location has meant it has remained an unspoilt and remarkably pristine location to explore and experience. The islands are located roughly offshore from Hall Point to Montague Sound, an area that is largely uninhabited except for a few tourist camps.

Bonaparte Archipelago is generally considered to consist of all the islands and islets that are located along a 150 km long stretch of coastline opposite the York Sound and Montague Sound areas of the north-west Kimberley. The islands in the Admiralty Gulf region (at the northern end of the archipelago) are also sometimes treated as being part of the Bonaparte Archipelago.

Often, the southern limit of the islands is taken to include the large islands of Augustus and Darcy (and their numerous surrounding islets) that lie in the Brunswick Bay and Camden Sound area, because their composition has never been clearly defined. Most of the islands - several hundred in number - are small islets or emergent rocks of less than 1 sq. km. The region also contains numerous submerged banks and shoals.

Whereas Buccaneer Archipelago was named in commemoration of the British adventurer William Dampier, who visited these coast in 1688, Bonaparte Archipelago honours French First Consul, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Its name was bestowed by French explorer Nicolas Baudin, who charted the coast and explored the islands in August 1801 as part of a major French expedition of scientific discovery around the shores of Australia.


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It is an interesting fact that there are more Bonapartist names in Australia than in France: as well as Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, there are Mounts Josłęphine in WA and SA, a Murat Bay in SA and Point Murat seven kilometres north of the Harold E. Holt US Navy Communication Station in WA. Napoleon's victories in 1797 and 1799 are commemorated by Rivoli Bay in SA, Rivoli Island in WA and Cape Jaffa in SA. The Montebello Islands celebrate General Lannes' victory in 1800.

Earlier Dutch maps of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf showed only the barest outline of where the land was estimated to be and none of it was named. Baudin spent weeks in two separate visits producing detailed charts from North West Cape to the Bonaparte Archipelago. Scores of French names are still in use all along the Kimberley coast.

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