Prince Regent National Park

The Prince Regent River District, declared WA’s 99th national park, protects many areas of scenic grandeur for which the Kimberley region of Western Australia is renowned. The Prince Regent River District is one of Australia's most remote and beautiful places. Spectacular features include Kings Cascades, Pitta Gorge, Mount Trafalgar, Python Cliffs and Prince Regent River, which runs almost straight for most of its length, often between near-vertical cliffs.

The headwaters of Prince Regent River rise in the Caroline Range near Mount Agnes then flow in a north westerly direction. The river enters and flows through the Prince Regent Nature Reserve and past Kings Cascade and finally discharging into Saint George Basin and Hanover Bay to the Indian Ocean.

St George Basin

St George Basin is a large flooded plain in the far north-west Kimberley region  into which the Prince Regent River flows and is home to one of the largest concentrations of Mangroves in Australia. The islands in the Basin create some interesting landscapes and photographic opportunities,especially in the early morning and late afternoon. The Basin is connected to the Indian Ocean via Brunswick Bay and at the time of rising sea levels, prior to 6000 years ago, the Bay and Basin would have been flooded, the islands formed and the Prince Regent River became estuarine for about 30 kilometres from its mouth.

Mount Trafalgar

Mount Trafalgar is one of Australia’s most remote attractions, with the only access by air or boat. There are no roads into the area and a permit is required from Conservation and Land Management for those wishing to enter the area. The top of the massive bluff can only be reached by boat or helicopter. A Kimberley region tourist company offers helicopter flights to the area which take visitors to the top of the mountain where they can enjoy a champagne breakfast as the sun comes up over the ocean.

The first Europeans known to gaze on this scene were the botanist, Allan Cunningham, and ship’s surgeon, James Hunter, in September 1820 on the survey vessel HMC Mermaid, under the command of Lieutenant Phillip Parker King. While the ship was undergoing emergency hull repairs at Careening Bay, the pair had climbed a prominent hill, which they named Mount Knight. From this peak, their eyes were drawn to a glimmering inland tidal basin, as well as a skyline dominated by a spectacular tilted mesa.

In the oral traditions of the Wororra, the local Aboriginal people, this mighty mesa, Ngayangkarnanya, had been carried in the Dreamtime from the north by a vast shoal of fish, sharks and crabs. The colossal weight of the load not only exhausted them, it squashed many flat – creating in the process both rays and shovel-nosed sharks. Unaware of these ancient legends, Phillip Parker King and the crew of HMC Mermaid ventured in to explore the basins and navigable lower river, bestowing British names with patriotic zeal.

The Prince Regent River was named for the Hanoverian prince, shortly to succeed his incapacitated father, George III, and reign in his own right as King George IV. The 391-metre mesa was named Mount Trafalgar by King, in honour of Nelson’s great naval victory of 1805. An adjacent lesser peak was named Mount Waterloo, after the Belgian village that witnessed the decisive defeat of Napoleon by the Duke of Wellington’s army.

As the landscape is dominated by the reddish hues of the sandstone bluffs the only contrast is provided by the sky or if you are lucky enough to be there early in the dry, there is still a lot of greenery present.

As the season progresses, all the green grass dries out and becomes yellow. Sometimes at sunrise or sunset the red light hits the cliffs and makes them positively glow, if you are lucky enough to get dark cloud in the background, the contrast can be spectacular. The tidal flows in the entrance to this basin have to be seen to be believed, places like Whirpool Reach can have currents of up to 10 knots and will throw large vessels around like toys. In the middle of the mayhem, dolphins are often seen calmly fishing.

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Kings Cascade

Its spectacular natural features include Kings Cascade, Pitta Gorge, Mount Trafalgar, Bonaparte Archipelago, lush rainforests, Python Cliffs and the Prince Regent River, which runs almost straight for most of its length, often between near-vertical cliffs.

This is real wilderness country, with the only access by air or boat. Visitors to the Prince Regent Nature Reserve can truly say they've been to a place seen by very few others. The area has more than half of the mammal and bird species found in the whole Kimberley region and more than 500 species of plants.

Mermaid Tree

Careening Bay was named by Lieutenant Phillip Parker King after his ship, HMC Mermaid, was careened (chad its hull scraped clean) there in order to repair a leak, during his first voyage of discovery in 1820. King was completing the circumnaviation of Australia commenced by Matthew Flinders 20 years earlier for the purpose of accurately mapping thw whole coast of Australia. Flinders never completed the mission - his reserach vessel, HMS Investigator, became increasing unseaworthy as the voyage progressed. He attempted to return to Britain to get a more reliable ship to complete the task with, but he was taken prisoner by the French in Ile de France (Madagascar) and was detained there for 7 years.

Perhaps because he had plenty of time on his hands while waiting for the Mermaid to be repaired, Lieutenant King had members of his crew inscribe a boab tree with the words ‘HMC MERMAID 1820’, to record his visit. The tree is still alive, and is today an important tourist attraction.


The area remains one of Australia's most remote wilderness areas with no roads and formidable tide-races and whirlpools restricting seaward access. The area is mostly accessed by air or by boat and has remained virtually unchanged since European settlement of Western Australia. A permit is required to enter the Reserve and can be obtained from the Department of Conservation and Land Management.

One of the best ways to explore the area is on a cruise. More than 30 expedition cruise vessels operate multi-day cruises between Broome, Wyndham, Darwin and Cairns, and most visitors to the park arrive on one of these vessels.

Brief history

The river was named in 1820 by the first European to discover the river, Philip Parker King and the crew of the Mermaid. The river is named after the Hanoverian prince, King George IV, who was shortly to succeed his father to the throne.

The first European to settle in the area was Joseph Bradshaw who established Marigui homestead along the river with his cousin Aeneas Gunn in 1890. In 1891 he discovered the Bradshaw rock paintings on his land. The pastoral venture was unsuccessful but Gunn later documented his memoirs of the time in the book Pioneering in Northern Australia.

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