A unique natural phenomenon in the striking Kimberleys, Horizontal Falls is an underrated Australian wonder.
No photos can do justice to Horizontal Falls, the secret treasure of The Kimberleys that were so named by Sir David Attenborough himself, who also described them as “one of the greatest natural wonders in the world”. There’s no way to get here on your own, but there are several tour options to experience this incredible natural phenomenon (including a stay on a floating luxury houseboat) – from day trips to spending a few nights on a liveaboard.
Zoom through the Horizontal Falls on a jetboat.
What are the Horizontal Falls?
The Kimberley coast (and the northwest of Australia) has the highest tides on the continent, with a difference of up to 10 metres between low and high tide. These rapidly changing tides force themselves in and out of this large ocean inlet known as Talbot Bay, located around 250 kilometres from Broome, and consequently fights itself to rush through two small gaps (one 20 metres wide, the other only 10) in the Maclarty Ranges. The result? The Horizontal Falls. While not technically waterfalls, this rush of the changing tide does indeed mean that the water on one side is higher than the other, and that the water flows in different directions – something that is ever-changing depending on the tide flow. These aren’t the only falls of their kind in the world, but they are the deepest and most forceful.
See Horizontal Falls from above. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
They also hold strong cultural significance to the Traditional Owners of Dambeemangarddee Country, who have lived on this sacred land for 56,000 years. They named this place Lalang-garram: a Worrorra word meaning ‘the saltwater as a spiritual place as well as a place of natural abundance’. And tell of how much of this Country was created by the writhing actions of a female Woongudd Snake. Woongudd’s power is most obvious in the movement of tides and whirlpools in the region, such as at Garaanngaddim (Horizontal Falls). The power of the whirlpools is the constant, visible and real manifestation and reminder of the presence and potency of Lalai (Law.)
“The Lalang-gaddam Marine Park Joint Management Plan is a modern way for us to remember our elders and ancestors,” the Traditional Owners shared in a statement. The falls are on Aboriginal Reserve Land, meaning they have exclusive possession native title over the area. As such, local tour operators work with them to ensure visitors here are respectful, such as no longer driving speed boats through the middle of the smaller gap, as it, specifically, is sacred.
How do you get to the Horizontal Falls?
You must book a Horizontal Falls tour, all of which leave from either Broome or Derby. You’ll need to catch a seaplane or helicopter over the approximately 1.8 billion-year-old landscape for about an hour until you reach the falls and land in Talbot Bay. You can find direct flights to Broome from Perth and now Sydney as well. You can fly to Derby from Broome, book a Greyhound Australia bus during the week, or drive 2.5 hours.
Catch a seaplane from Broome or Derby. (Image: Kassia Byrnes)
The best time to visit Horizontal Falls
The tour season is from May to September (depending on the weather and the wet season), while the tides are at their highest and therefore the Horizontal Falls at their most spectacular. While this may be winter, with temperatures typically ranging from 20 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius, it’s actually the perfect time to be in Western Australia.
Horizontal Falls tours
Tour options range from half or full day in and out, to luxury liveaboard packages that include all food and activities. While you’re there, tour activities can include jetboats through the Horizontal Falls, swimming with sharks (you’ll be safe in a glass box), helicopter rides (unmissable), fishing, boat tours around the rest of Talbot Bay and more. Discover all your options at our comprehensive guide to Horizontal Falls tours here.
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Talbot Bay.