Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Horizontal Falls in the Kimberleys WA

Broome Half Day Tour Route (in blue)
Woke up this morning (still in Broome) to raindrops on the roof of the caravan and as the morning worn on they got louder and louder. Not a good omen for our trip to the Horizontal Waterfalls.

{An Aside - you would think that a town, Broome, that is smack in the Monsoon Tropics where they get heaps of rain in Summer, would have a good drainage system. No, with the amount of rain we have had, which in the scheme of things isn't that much, just consistent, the gutters here are overflowing and the water in town is right across the roads and any dirt roads are closed. How they cope in the wet season makes me wonder. }

However my morning was brightened up when I opened my emails and had a lovely YouTube birthday greeting (with an epic production of "Happy 68th Birthday Grandpap") that made my day no matter how it went from here on.

We were to be picked up at the van park at 11:30 am and by this time it was just sprinkling - the bus went around to the other resorts and van parks to pick up our contingent of passengers for the 12 o'clock flight, which pretty much left on time after we were given our safety instruction and yellow life jacket to put around our waist. Ruth and I said our prayers after breakfast, but the photo just happened to turn out as though that was happening at the airport, but we were really being told how to fit our life jackets.

Saying our prayers before takeoff
These seaplanes also have wheels so they can land and take off on ground or water. The first photo shows the route we were to take - the Broome Half Day Tour - so after a bit of a wait for another plane to land we then took off over Broome, out to the ocean and headed north to Cape Leveque named after the hydrographer of the French ship Geographe which visited there in 1803 - it is now owned by the local aboriginals and is important for the lighthouse stationed there.

Broome - the Circus setting up in town
Unusual sand patterns from the air
Cape Leveque
A lot of the way there it was overcast and rainy, but I managed to get a few good shots. We then turned and headed east as we flew over the Buccaneer Archipelago. The archipelago was named after the English buccaneer and privateer William Dampier, who charted the area in 1688, and consist of up to 1,000 islands across King Sound.

Some Islands of Buccaneer Archipelago
Beautiful isolated beach and shadow of our seaplane
By now the weather had changed from rain to scattered clouds with the sun shining through at times as we crossed some of the Kimberley coastline and approached Talbot Bay where we will land on the water. By now the sun was shinning so before we landed we did several passes over the Horizontal Waterfalls. There are actually two of them, the smallest opening is land-locked, but is the most spectacular because of the smaller opening of 6 metres into the bay, whereas the larger one of 12 metres, is not so spectacular, but is still quite a sight. 

The tides today were not the biggest, only 6 metres whereas the very large tides can reach close to 12 metres. but it was enough for us to see white water flowing. In case you don't already know - the falls are the result of the high tides up in this area flowing into bays through the narrow openings causing a quick flowing current going in, but there is so much water trying to get in that it mounts up and the height on the ingoing side is higher than it is on the inside causing a waterfall effect, then as the tide falls all of that water now trapped inside the bay only has this small opening to get out, so its like a stampede to see who can get out first and fastest causing the turbulence and opposite effect that's now know as the Horizontal Waterfalls. We saw the effect of the tide falling in our photos.
First photo of the Horizontal Falls
Closer view of the Horizontal Falls
View of both Horizontal Falls
After we had our fly-over of the Horizontal Falls the pilot got into position for his water landing, which was a bit hairy because there was quite a bit of air turbulence and he had to come very close to a cliff before his turn onto the landing area. The water was not smooth, had a bit of a chop so the landing was choppy also - however we made it and taxied to the pontoon where we were to disembark. When we stepped onto the pontoon it was like stepping onto one of those fair ground attractions where the floor is moving and tilting and throwing you off of balance. One poor lady, who was already feeling sickly after the landing, couldn't hold it in and let loose over the side and prematurely fed the sharks.
Our seaplane and pontoon.
I was a bit worried for Ruth as she didn't have any floatation device on and not being able to swim, with sharks in the water and no railings along the edge of the pontoons (which were connected by equally wobbly small bridges - which fortunately did have hand rails), but she managed quite well. We were directed to the top deck (under the helicopter deck) where we were met by a hostess who welcomed us and offered us water, cordial, tea or coffee - most went for the water and cordial, so we all must have had a bit of upset tummies.

They had two hostesses (gals) and three hosts (guys), who live and work on the houseboat for two weeks and then get three days off in Broome, where they have to find their own accommodation etc (I know this because one of the gals was having a bit of a complaint to us guests about it - especially because there is nothing to do in Broome - except get drunk - her words).

Whilst we were having our drinks the previous party was getting ready to leave on their jet boat ride to the falls (they had been delayed because the new bus driver had taken them to the wrong airport in Derby - thus putting the whole day's schedule out). So we were then asked if we wanted to swim with and feed the sharks, and one huge groper. There were ten in our party of guests but only five of us decided to do it - it wasn't all that scary as the cage where we swum was in the centre of one of the pontoons and the sharks who came for feeding were only gummy sharks, although the guy assured us that they could take a finger if not careful - he was more afraid of the groper than the sharks as its mouth was big enough to take his whole arm.

 I fed a gummy and swam under water to look at them from under the water but all I could see was their tummies because their heads were out of the water begging for food - I did see the groper, but it wasn't real clear because the water was a bit murky.
Bernie feeding a gummy shark
 After that I went into one of their swanky ensuites and had a quick shower and got changed and by the time I went to the upper deck everyone else was tucking into lunch of BBQ'd barramundi and salad. There was plenty and I even had seconds, as did Ruth. By this time the jet boat had returned with the previous guests and it was our turn.
The jetboat that took us to the Falls
Once again we had to don life jackets after being told not to inflate them unless you fell into the water - we wondered if this happened often. The seats on the jet boat were like the saddle for a horse only made of softer material and instead of a pommel they had a metal hand grip - which we found was an essential part of the seat when we took off at speed and turned almost back on ourselves and leaned over at about a sixty degree angle, also when we hit the turbulence caused by the horizontal falls. 

 Ruth and I were the second couple to board, the first couple took the back seat, so Ruth decided that we should take the front seats, which I was a bit dubious as I thought that they would be the most vulnerable to bow wave splashes, but we took them and yes we did cop most of the bow wave splashes, but not as much as I had imagined. First, he took us to the large falls and went straight through them without stopping to explain what he was going to do.
Approaching the large Falls
 There wasn't much white water there but it was certainly moving swiftly and the turbulence bucked and rocked the boat quite a bit and this is where we got wet because we went in against the flow, coming back through with the flow was quite smooth in comparison. He did this again and then paused right in the middle of the falls, but he was still registering that the boat was going 10 knots, so he was compensating for the outgoing flow of the tide.
Holding station at 10 knots in the large Falls.
We then went straight for the small falls but stopped short of going over them, much to everyone's relief, because they were flowing much faster and there was quite a lot of white water. He backed away and explained that these falls were falling about two metres at the moment and he wasn't allowed to risk it unless it was under one and an half metres - even at that I'm not sure I would have wanted to do it, I was quite happy just to go close to it and see it.
Approaching the small Falls
Small Falls - this far and no further, thanks!
After messing about a bit more and going back through the wide falls he took us for a bit of a cruise around the bay and into an inlet where an old dilapidated pontoon was moored, which he explained was his and his co-workers accommodation before they set up the new pontoons and house boat. He had some pet bat fish there which he fed with bread and they came right up and took it out of his hand. Here is where the I took the photo showing the two tide marks on the side of the rock face. The really dark mark is called the Oyster mark as this is where the high tide always reaches, but the lighter mark above this is where the bigger high tides reach and when they have the king tides at Easter and Christmas they reach another one and a half meters above that mark.
Notice the tide marks on the rock formations
We then went back to the pontoons and house boat where the next lot of guests had arrived - it was about 4 pm by now and these where the overnighters - we weren't allowed in to see the accommodation, it was on the lower deck of the house boat.
Pontoon, plane and houseboat
We had a quick drink and then left in the seaplane for an hour flight back to Broome - Ruth volunteered to be co-pilot going back and it made me think how vulnerable we were on this flight, if anything happened to the pilot (I sat behind him and he kept on cracking his neck), it would have been up to Ruth to land the plane - not. Also it was a single engine plane so anything happening to the engine would mean no back-up - glad I only thought of this on the way home!
Ruth flying us home.
Ruth managed to get a parting shot of the falls and the jet boat and I managed to get a couple of nice shots of the Kimberley's from the air, before we were in the clouds and then the rain for the rest of the way back.
Parting shot of the jetboat heading for the horizontal falls.
View of the Kimberleys from the seaplane
We obviously landed safely and were back at the van park by 5:30 pm where it was still raining and rained all night and in the morning and most of the way to Sandfire Roadhouse (315 Kms from Broome) where we are now staying the night and heading out for Port Hedland or Karratha tomorrow.