Horizontal Falls And Buccaneer Archipelago

‘One of the greatest wonders of the natural world.’

Sir David Attenborough

What is the Horizontal Water Falls?

Hold onto your hats, thrill seekers. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to witness and, perhaps even ride, the world’s only Horizontal Falls. Here’s why… 

Although called a “Falls”, the rapid surging of water at ‘The Horries’ (its nickname) is actually caused by tidal currents squeezing through a division in the McLarty Ranges in a maelstrom of whirlpools and turbulence – and what tidal currents they are! The Kimberley is well-known for experiencing tidal ranges of up to 12 metres with the direction of the flow reversing twice each day.

This tidal surge produces the effect of waterfalls “turned on their side”.

How was the Horizontal Water Falls Formed?

Gaps between the Ranges have created a gorge that runs parallel for about 300m. The smallest of these crevices is 10m wide and provides a challenging obstacle for the rising and rushing water to get past, creating the optical illusion of a waterfall. Unlike any other ‘waterfall’ in the world, the flow of water in the Horizontal Falls changes direction every six and a half hours, depending on an incoming or outgoing tide.

Where are the Horizontal Falls?

This natural wonder is located on the edge of Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago about 270km north-east from Broome.

You cannot access the Horizontal Falls by land.

How to see the Horizontal Water Falls?

Now, you’d expect that merely seeing the Horizontal Falls would be spectacular, but many visitors take it one step further by opting to ride a high-speed powerboat that zips between the gorges. Effectively riding the rapids, this is not the additional extra for those who prefer the sedate things in life. It is, however, just the ticket for those who love roller coasters and exhilaration!  For those who prefer the safer option of cruising near and around the rapids boats like ,Coral Adventurer and Coral Discoverer offer these options. 

When is the best time to see the Horizontal Water Falls? 

Although the waters flow all year round, those hoping to witness the Falls at their mightiest should discuss the best dates with a guide. As the waterfall is inaccessible by road, you need to visit by seaplane or as part of a cruise itinerary. A trip to “The Falls” will, in all likelihood, include seeing some more of the beautiful Buccaneer Archipelago. 

What is the Buccaneer Archipelago?

The Buccaneer Archipelago is made up of nearly 1000 small, rugged islands, most of which are surrounded by tempting turquoise waters. As attractive as these waters might look, there are Saltwater crocodiles in the area as well as sharks. Be vigilant.

In fact, nature abounds in the Buccaneer Archipelago with a boast-worthy number of mammals, insects and reptiles. On Koolan, one of the two major islands, there are thought to be 11 different species of snake, including the deadly Taipan alongside skinks, geckos and lizards. The Lacepede Islands are used for breeding by Masked Booby, Australian Pelican, Eastern Reef Egret, Silver Gull, Lesser Crested Tern and Crested Tern. Species that have been recorded in good number.

The wildlife isn’t the only deadly thing in the area. The high tides have also taken their toll on human lives with graves of early day pearlers scattered around the Archipelago. 

Where can I see Indigenous art?

Aboriginal artwork can be seen on many of the islands as well as evidence of the days in which communities lived and thrived in these areas, using rafts made from mangroves to travel between islands. Macassan fisherman also used this area and planted taco plants and Tamarind trees which still survive today. 

In its later history, the Buccaneer Archipelago has been used for mining iron ore with two plants located on Koolan and Cockatoo islands. Both of these sites have had as many closures as re-openings, with one on Koolan currently operating under strict marshalling and agreement of the indigenous people to whom the land belongs.


Jenny Flower is an expert in small ship cruising in the Kimberley and has completed four cruises on different vessels along this spectacular coastline. To book in a no obligation ‘discovery call’ about Kimberley cruising click here. If you are confused about all the different ships and itineraries in the Kimberley and just need some general information to start your research then download Jenny’s free guide to Kimberley cruising here.