Well, this blog is a first, it is all about one day! But what a day! Bob and I had agonized about this for a few weeks beforehand as the trips are quite expensive due to the distances involved. We were travelling up to Broome, the gateway to the Kimberley region. Unfortunately most of the Kimberley is inaccessible to anyone who hasn't got a very decent 4WD. However one company offers tours from either Broome or Derby, a bit further on. The ones from Derby are cheaper but we had an insider tip, thanks to Rob and Paula who we first met in Fremantle and then again, bizarrely, in Kalbarri, a mere 600kms further on! They advised us to take the trip from Broome and do the whole day trip as it was 'only' $100 more than the half-day option but was much better value as it included a 4WD tour up to Cape Leveque and was 4.5hrs longer! As the drive to Cape Leveque was a 200km drive we figured this should be pretty good viewing so we bit the bullet and booked our trip!
We were picked up at 5:30am from our caravan park in Broome. Well, anyone who knows me also knows that early mornings and I don't go together well. Although brekkie was included on the tour it wasn't until 9:30am so I had to get up at 5am in order to have a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal before we left. That way I could at least function basically! We had showered the evening beforehand in case anyone was worried about our personal hygiene! The 4WD bus picked us up and we set off along the bumpiest dirt track ever - we nicknamed the drive as the Kimberley massage!! The rains of the wet season a few months ago had wrecked the track and parts were very bad. We stopped for early morning tea and biscuits at an Aboriginal community, Beagle Bay. This is remarkable for it's 100 year old Roman Catholic church where the altar is made from pearl shells. The area is known for it's pearl industry and the whole church is decorated with the shells. It was beautiful but seemed so out of place in the Aboriginal community. We even had our very own 'Beagle Bay Visitor's Toilet'! Then we 'bumped' on to Cape Leveque and the Kooljaman camp where we had a cooked breakfast. Boy, was I ready for that and I started feeling human again! We then drove down to the beach where we had a while to walk along and take photos. It was simply breathtaking - red sandstone cliffs, white sand and turquoise water. It was beautiful! We were so glad we decided to do Cape Leveque but we weren't finished. We then visited the Trochus farm where they farm these snails with mother of pearl shells. The snail meat is eaten by the locals and the shells are then sold abroad to make buttons. Some of the better shells were engraved by the locals and were on sale for $300 - $400!! Needless to say we didn't buy one but we did enjoy the tour of the rest of the 'farm' where our humorous guide showed us several species of fish, turtles and corals. He nearly lost his fingers on more than one occasion. It was testament to the spirit of the local people that all this had been destroyed in the last cyclone but they had rebuilt it, albeit it was just tanks under a roof but it worked! The toilet was something else though. I chose the left loo, thank goodness, as those that chose the right loo had a bit of a fright when they spotted the large frog in the toilet bowl!
And then onto the first seaplane flight - the locals called them floatplanes. Joe, our pilot, went through the health and safety, we donned our lifejackets and boarded the 14 seater plane. I was as nervous as usual and this wasn't helped by the fact we were taking off from a dirt runway! However, all went well and we rose quite steeply but levelled off at a low level so that we could appreciate the Buccaneer Archipelago. This is a series of beautiful uninhabited islands, surrounded by reefs, and it was amazing to watch but the flight was very bumpy because we flying at low altitude. I kept grabbing Bob's knee every time the plane dropped, lurched and bumped, which amused the woman next to me! And then we rounded a mountain, I felt I could touch the trees we were that close, and dropped down to do a sea landing on Talbot Bay. Oh my, that was something else but we were soon moored up at the floating pontoon where there was a floating hotel, helicopter pad, and shark cage! After refreshments we were introduced to the lemon sharks. If you were brave enough you could enter their shark cage, complete with snorkel, and view the sharks close-up through a Perspex screen. This was so clear that one man actually asked if the sharks could get through!! Bob went in and watched as Tom threw food in for them. I stayed above and watched but it was actually the best view and I could hear Tom's commentary about the sharks and their behaviour. He knew the sharks individually, from identifying marks and from their behaviour - they were not captive but lived freely in the bay.
Lunch followed - freshly caught Kimberley barramundi. It was awesome, not having the pellet fed taste of barramundi usually on sale in restaurants and fish shops. Then we boarded the speedboat for a trip up Cyclone Creek. This is named because of the high hillsides surrounding the creek, which are very protective. In a cyclone all boats moored in the creek are deemed to be safe! The vertical strata in the rocks was something else as was the wavy strata just nearby. It was hard to imagine just how these mountains had arisen from the seabed. After more refreshments back at the 'hotel' we were back off in the boat for the highlight of the trip - the Horizontal Falls. This is a natural phenomenon produced by the Kimberley tides and two breaks in the McLarty ranges (mountains), one 20m and the other 12m. Above each of these gorges are natural reservoirs 6-8km long, which fill and empty with seawater through the gorge openings. Water builds up faster than it can flow through these two gaps, resulting in up to a 5m drop as you go through the gaps. With each change of tide the direction of the falls reverses causing vast tidal whirlpools. Well, it was rather scary as we approached the larger gap and saw the white water dropping away on the far side. Then our pilot suddenly accelerated towards the gap, we all screamed and the boat 'bumped' its way through to the other side. Then we were speeding back through 'uphill'. It was such a thrill, the boat went so fast - it had 3 huge outboard motors at the back and was very manoeuvrable. Then we headed for the smaller gap. Waters swirled even more and the drop was bigger. People grabbed hold of the seat in front, cameras were raised and the throttles were opened. The gap was so small and the waters swirling so much that it was a rough ride through but so exhilarating. Given my 'love' for boats I was actually surprised that I was really enjoying this. Our pilot definitely was as he went through again and again. Then he held the boat in the middle of the smaller gap. Apparently we were doing 10 knots and that was just to hold the boat still. We did several more passes of both the small gap and the larger. As it turned out our floatplane had been delayed and I think he was killing time, but we loved it!
The floatplane arrived and we transferred ready for our flight back to Broome. For a takeoff on choppy waters it was remarkably smooth, although it seemed to take an eternity to get airborne. As we were flying directly back to Broome over the very featureless Roebuck Plains Joe climbed to 8000ft and we escaped the turbulence of the outward flight, thank God!! An hour later we actually landed on a normal, tarmac runway!
I really don't think my words are doing this trip justice so I will just leave you to look at the stunning photos!