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Australia’s Kimberley coast is one of the world’s true wilderness regions with its rugged coastline making it a popular small ship cruising destination. Waterfall season is particularly spectacular but, in reality, the Kimberley with its 2,500-odd islands is extraordinary no matter the season.
Some 20 million years ago, the Kimberley waterfalls emerged with the tectonic uplifting of the region, when steeper slopes and faster flowing rivers carved the deep gorges seen on the Berkeley and King George Rivers. The unusually straight channel on the Prince Regent River was also created by water, a result of weakness in the rocky landscape caused by a geological fracture line. The mammoth Kimberley tides result in deep rivers emptying leaving behind beds of mud, and offshore reefs rising above the horizon, creating unique natural phenomena.
From about March onwards when the wet season changes to dry season, the Kimberley landscape is radiant with new growth and freshwater swimming holes are filled by gushing waterfalls. April is the start of the Kimberley cruising season which is when waterfalls are at their most magnificent after seasonal rains. Many waterfalls flow year-round but the best time to witness the Kimberley waterfall spectacle is generally from April to early June.
Depart from either Broome or Darwin with Coral Expeditions onboard Coral Adventurer or Coral Discoverer to cruise Australia’s remarkable northwest coast and see the Kimberley waterfalls.
Fed by the King George River draining across the Gardner Plateau, King George Falls are the most impressive Kimberley waterfalls thanks to twin falls that plunge over 80m down vertical sandstone cliffs. Before reaching the mist-like spray rising from the base of King George Falls, we cruise through steep-sided gorges carved by a flooded river system that carved a swathe through the landscape 400 million years ago.
King George Falls is Western Australia’s highest twin waterfalls and a Coral Expeditions visit to these falls are undisputedly one of the highlights of a Kimberley expedition cruise.
“The crew were exceptional on our Kimberley voyage. Full marks to the Captain, the Chef for feeding us so well, and the Xplorer team for doing everything!” Trip Advisor
King Cascade is a classically beautiful terraced waterfall that is one of the most photographed waterfalls in the Kimberley. Falling from a considerable height and around 50m across, water tumbles down a staggered terrace of Kimberley sandstone. Layer upon layer of ochre-hued and blackened rock sprouts grasses, mosses and ferns in a sort of lush hanging garden.
King Cascade is reached via the steep-sided Prince Regent River which snakes down through the Caroline Range and is a remarkable anomaly as it runs dead straight along a fault line.
The falls were named after himself by Lt. Philip Parker King, who also named nearby Careening Bay and the Mermaid Boab Tree. Seeking to replenish his water stores, King noted in his journal, “At a distance of 17 miles from St George’s Bank we were surprised by hearing the noise of a fall of water. But distrusting our ears we were not convinced of the fact until an opening in the mangroves exposed to our view a cascade of water 160 feet in breadth falling from a considerable height.”
“Everything was amazing on the Kimberley Coast – the staff, the excursions, the onboard entertainment, the food and the other passengers” Trip Advisor
Tumbling down the Mitchell Plateau in a series of tiered waterfalls and rock pools, the Mitchell Falls are the photogenic poster child for the Mitchell River National Park. Accessible only by a scenic helicopter flight (additional cost), the Mitchell Falls are fed by the Mitchell River.
The parks tropical savannah and wild escarpments are home to significant numbers of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and bird species which are lured by a year-round water source. Sandstone terraces beside tiered rock pools make a terrific viewing platform from which to savour the serenity of this ancient landscape.
“We choose Coral Expeditions because it is an Australian company and therefore had a depth of local knowledge and experience. Expedition staff went out of their way to help everyone on board achieve as much as they wanted in terms of participation in activities and it was all done with a smile and encouragement.” Cruise Critic
Despite the formidable name, Crocodile Creek and its Pandanus-fringed billabong fed by a small waterfall are one of our favourite swimming holes.
The popular Yampi Sound swimming hole can only be reached at high tide as the recedes on the falling tide leaving the access creek nothing but a muddy seabed. After negotiating an easy scramble up the ladder secured to a sandstone wall and you’ll be rewarded with a cool dip in a freshwater swimming hole.
“We just finished a Kimberley Coast expedition. Fabulous experience! Extremely well organised. Interesting and inclusive activities. Friendly, cheerful staff. Delicious food. Knowledgeable and entertaining guest lecturers. Highly recommended.” Trip Advisor
Red Cone Creek flows gently downstream until it meets the small but impressive Ruby Falls. Named by local mariner Capt. Chris Trucker after his daughter, Red Cone Creek is carved through rock formations stacked atop each other like building blocks.
These rock walls are great for climbing and clambering over before reaching a series of freshwater swimming holes and waterfalls. The falls may be a gurgling torrent or a gentle trickle, depending on the time of the year.
“We feel very privileged to have explored the Kimberley on Coral Adventurer. The crew were fantastic – bright, courteous, helpful and professional. Nothing was too much trouble!” Trip Advisor
Far from a regular waterfall, Montgomery Falls appears twice a day as the sea recedes in mammoth 11-metre tides. As the tide falls, Montgomery Reef rises from the Indian Ocean in a cascade of rushing water revealing a flat-topped reef pockmarked with rockpools and rivulets. Opportunistic birds take advantage of the emerging reef, feeding on marine life left exposed in rock pools. Turtles, dolphins, dugongs and sawfish too are also attracted to feeding opportunities as the ocean recedes.
The ocean is awash in a swirl of eddies and whirlpools as the moon’s gravitational force takes hold. Then, a few hours later the entire water-borne drama is reversed as the tide comes in and Montgomery Reef disappears below sea level.
“Coral Adventurer was specially built for cruising the rugged Kimberley coast. The two Xplorer tenders were very comfortable, a breeze to get onto, with protection from the sun and a toilet on board- that was a bonus!” Cruise Critic
Another waterfall unique to the Kimberley coast, Horizontal Falls are also a result of the massive tides the Kimberley is renowned for.
Naturalist David Attenborough described the Horizontal Falls as ‘one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.’
The Horizontal Waterfalls are created as the ocean is sucked through a narrow channel squeezing through two headlands of the McLarty Ranges. Water builds up on one side and is forcibly pushed through the bottleneck, creating a rushing horizontal waterfall of swiftly flowing seawater. Riding the rapids on our Zodiac inflatable tenders is one of the highlights of our Kimberley expedition cruises.
“We chose to cruise the Kimberley coast with Coral Expeditions because it is the only way to see this beautiful and unique part of the world. We wanted a small ship that would allow us access to the best areas and a crew that included people with expertise in all aspects of the region. Nothing was too much trouble!” Cruise Critic
Visit Kimberley waterfalls as Coral Expeditions 35th Anniversary Circumnavigation of Australia celebrates the small ship expedition company’s 35th year, takes a pioneering voyage along with Australia’s west coast with Ningaloo & the Bluewater Wonders of Australia’s West and on ten-night Kimberley voyages between Darwin and Broome.
Note: swimming at freshwater swimming holes is subject to safe group size and local conditions.