The Horizontal Falls is a natural phenomenon created by the large tides experienced in the Kimberley and the unique geography. Extreme tides (the second largest in the Southern Hemisphere) force huge volumes of water through two narrow gaps, creating the illusion of a waterfall that is flowing horizontally.
Location of the Horizontal Falls
The Horizontal Falls are located in Talbot Bay in the Buccaneer Archipelago, which is in the southern part of the Kimberley.
This area of the Kimberley is the Lalang-garram/Horizontal Falls Marine Park and it is a protected area. The Dambimangari (Dambeemangarddee) people are the traditional owners of this region and they call the Horizontal Falls, Garaanngaddim.
The Two Gaps
The McLarty Ranges have twin ‘fingers’ that jut out from the mainland, comprising very hard-wearing sandstone.
Over time, two gaps have formed through the sandstone fingers. The Wide Gap is about 20 metres wide, and the Narrow Gap is about 10 metres wide.
The Horizontal Falls Effect
The Horizontal Falls are formed by the ocean waters being pushed through the two sandstone gaps. Millions of litres of water are rushing through the very small gap. The water flow builds up and creates the horizontal waterfall effect. The centre embayment (between the two fingers) fills up, and another Horizontal Falls effect is created in the second gap. After the top of the tide, it is like someone has pulled the plug out. The flow reverses as the water drains out. Horizontal Falls can be experienced at both the incoming and outgoing tides.
The Geology of the Horizontal Falls
The area itself is quite significant in terms of geology. Some of the oldest sandstone strata in the Kimberley is found in the McLarty Range. Aerial dissections of the sandstone show the age increases by millions of years as you get further and further out. In order of age, there’s Slug Island, then the first finger and then the second finger. This is a fascinating place in terms of the age of the sandstone and the significance of that in terms of the age of the Kimberley region.
The Horizontal Falls by Boat
It is possible to navigate – with suitable boats – through the Horizontal Falls while they are in flow. On The Great Escape, after anchoring the boat nearby, guests will board the tender boats. Safety procedures and life jackets are essential. Travelling through the Falls at a suitable point in the tide lets people experience the exciting turbulence of the water. The power of nature is quite humbling, and there’s a lot of water movement.
The Horizontal Falls By Air
Guests also have the opportunity to experience the Horizontal Falls from a helicopter, if they choose. Flying over the region gives a broader perspective of the beauty of that area. You’ll see that typical Kimberley red sandstone strata rock, really blue water, and bright green flora. This is the Kimberley colour palette. By the time guests get up in the helicopter, the tide is usually rushing with a lot more force at that point. They’ve experienced it in the tender boats, and then they go up to see the Falls when they are even more forceful. It’s has a wow factor. From the air, there is a fresh perspective on all that water pushing through the gaps. I think most people visiting the Kimberley have heard of the Horizontal Falls, and they want to include this destination in their cruise itinerary if they can.
Horizontal Falls are a natural phenomenon created by the largest tides of every month. What we call the Spring Tides are the largest tides and these are experienced over the full moon and the new moon every month. This is when the Earth’s rotation and the gravitational pull of the sun and moon is at its greatest. This generates the big difference between high and low tide, creating the Horizontal Falls effect. On the days between the full moon and new moon and vice versa, there’s just not much difference between high and low tides, so this location is a lot calmer. We refer to these as Neap Tides. There’s hardly any water movement at the Horizontal Falls during neap tide days, and it’s almost flat.
The exceptionally large tides experienced in the Kimberley surprise many visitors to the region. We can experience up to 12-metre tides, whereas in most other destinations, even around Australia, you’d be lucky to experience a 2-metre tide. This place is a unique global tidal phenomenon.
The Great Escape crew love going through Horizontal Falls. It is definitely a highlight for the deckhands because it requires first-class boating skills and safety awareness.
Horizontal Falls is such a loved destination that we created our sister company which specialises in day trips to this stunning location, Go Horizontal Falls.