The Buccaneer Archipelago is a stunningly rugged area off the Kimberley coast in Western Australia, consisting of up to 1000 islands. The scenery is perhaps the most spectacular of any island group in Australia, with secluded white sandy beaches, patches of rain forest, mangrove estuaries, plunging cliffs, indigenous rock art and hidden reefs that litter offshore waters.
The islands of the archipelago are mostly small with the largest being Koolan Island (27.1 km2), Hidden Island (19.7 km2), Irvine Island, Long Island (14.8 km2), Sunday Island (13.3 km2) and Lachlan (12.9 km2).
Situated approximately 2800 kilometres north of the Western Australian capital of Perth, the archipelago's distant location has meant it has remained an unspoilt and remarkably pristine location to explore and experience. The archipelago's name commemorates the first sighting of the islands by British navigator William Dampier and his companions in 1688.
The warm weather, water and remoteness of the archipelago have created an incredible breeding ground for a huge array of wildlife including crocodiles, snakes, birds, bats and most importantly fish. Visitors to the Buccaneer Archipelago find the fishing here exceptional and many species habitat the region in abundance. Your catch could include Barramundi, Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Trevally, Snapper Tuna and Spanish Mackerel, as well as oysters and enormous mud crabs.
Aboriginal people have lived in the Archipelago for thousands of years and their rock art can be found on many islands and the adjacent mainland. Using rafts of mangrove logs and canoes, tribes travelled between the islands. Indigenous groups today still visit their traditional sites and communities are established in the area.
Tides here are up to 11 metres and are among some of the biggest in the world, and certainly the largest in Australia. In some places they are treacherously strong and unpredictable, surging up rivers and ripping through inland passages. These tides create such phenomena as the Horizontal Waterfall in Talbot Bay. Here the tide rushes through the gaps in the cliff which are only a few metres wide forming the effect of a horizontal waterfall. At the peak of the tidal inflow or outflow the difference in levels is some four metres, which creates an astounding picture.
Another incredible sight resulting from the high tides of the region is Montgomery Reef. Arriving by charter boat or by tourist cruiser to the area at high water, you drop anchor in what appears to be an endless ocean. As the tide falls right before your eyes, along a navigable channel running deep into the eastern reef, a stunning horizon of white water rapids is created. Suddenly, a loud, raging torrent of water erupts around you as Montgomery Reef appears to rise out of the ocean.
You find yourself in a narrow channel sinking slowly below the horizon. Contained by reef walls on both sides all you can see is the 'rooster tail' effect as the water cascades off the reef to the river forming below. What started out as a nice spot for a cuppa becomes a raging river as the waters rush past your vessel to battle its way out into open water.
To the north is Cascade Bay which has a couple of springs and a waterfall cascading down onto a beach. Hells Gate is the entrance to Cascade Bay and aptly named. The tide rushes through the islands and creates many whirlpools, overfalls, rips and is an awesome sight. Cone Bay is home to a pearl farm and an Aboriginal Community and has many springs, waterfalls and pockets of tropical rainforest.
Strickland Bay is huge and holds many surprises. There is a pearl farm, rivers, mangroves, reefs, beaches, islands, great fishing and has the massive "Graveyards" estuary on the northern side. You could spend a week in Strickland Bay alone without running out of things to do. Whirlpool Pass is the channel between Hidden Island and the mainland, the name says it all. Hidden Island has a beach that is as white and soft as flour; visitors here often spend a whole day just lazing around in the turquoise water.
Edeline Island is famed for its siltstone rock formations that resemble sculptures. The islands are known locally as "The Graveyards", as they contain 19th century graves of pearl divers; three unmarked, one with an inscription (dated 1891). Cone Bay, with tides of up to 11 metres twice a day, is fantastic for growing fish; its 'water circles' are in fact polar sea-cages used to breed Saltwater Barramundi.
This narrow gap separates us from Cone Bay and makes for a helluva ride on spring tides. The force of the tide either coming into the King Sound or receding back to the sea makes for some turbulent water with impressive whirlpools and back eddies to get the heart pumping.
Whirlpool Passage divides Chambers and Hidden Islands in the Buccaneer Archipelago. A scenic 3 mile 'S' bend tour is characterized at times of peak tidal movement by large metre deep whirlpools and tidal flows in excess of 10 knots. Passing through the passage when the tide is running is a dramatic experience as your vessel negotiates the violent whirlpools. However, get there at the turn of the tide and it looks like a millpond and ever so peaceful.