Horizontal Falls at Talbot Bay is one of the most unusual of the attractions of Western Australia’s Kimberley region. The falls are not a waterfall in the strictest sense, but to call them horizontal falls is perhaps the only way to describe them. This unique geographical feature is formed by the massive tides in the Buccaneer Archipelago, north of Derby where the Horizontal Falls are found, which rise at such a speed, large volumes of water are trapped behind the rock walls. The water is released again when the tide turns, causing the ‘waterfall’ to operate in reverse.
One way to see this phenomenon is to take scenic flight from Derby or Broome, timed to see it at its best. Alternatively, it is possible to ride the falls in a power boat from Derby.
Tides are the periodic rise and fall of sea level resulting from the gravitational interaction and motion of the Sun, Moon and Earth acting on ocean waters. Tidal patterns are modified by other influences such as the shape and depth of oceans and the weather. The combination of factors is complex and causes local tides to vary greatly from one site to another.
The Kimberley Coast of Western Australia experiences some of the highest tides in the world. The town of Derby has Australia s highest tide of any port in Australia. The Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada, has 15m tides. Other high tides occur at Bristol (UK) 14.6m, Mont Saint Michel (France) 12.3m, Puerto Gallegos (Argentina) 13.2m and Bhaunagan (India) 12.2m. High tides in Western Australia are Derby 11.8m, Yampi Sound 10.9m, Broome 9.8m and Wyndham 8.4m.
Storm conditions can cause higher tide levels than predicted. Tides can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy from analysis of long term tide records. The tide predictions provide the time and height of high and low water for a particular day at a particular place. Spring tides occur every 14 days at the new and full moons. Neap tides occur every 14 days at the half moon.
Large areas of Talbot Bay behind the Horizontal Waterfalls dry at low tide, and the high tide covers many jagged reefs and rock bars. These sights and challenges make Talbot Bay a special place. The bay also hosts the Paspaley Pearl Farm.
Talbot Bay is a prime habitat for dugongs and one of the world’s best sites for commercial pearling on the way you can view the spectacular panorama of Cockatoo and Koolan islands and the rest of this wild, rugged coastline.
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.
Another phenomena caused the local high tides, 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.