Kimberley trip: Horizontal Falls and Pearls

The Kimberley is a vast region, more than three times the size of England. And it has been occupied by Indigenous peoples for between 45,000 and 60,000 years. So, it shouldn’t surprise visitors that there is a long list of ‘must see’ natural and cultural sites.

One of those sites is known as the ‘Horizontal Falls’. It is located about 250km north-east of Broome, so most visitors make the journey by light plane. This is the plane we booked ourselves onto.

The Horizontal Falls are phenomena caused by a unique combination of topography and tides. The setting is shown below. The two parallel coastal ranges closest to the ocean each have a narrow gap through which seawater can pass. Tides in this region average around 13 metres!

As the tide rises, seawater flows through the first gap but the flow is sufficiently constricted that the water level on the ocean side becomes higher than that of the first inlet. As it does, the water ‘falls’ through the gap.

Meanwhile, the water level in the first inlet rises above that in the second inlet because the gap between the two is narrower than the first gap. (This probably reflects variations in the rate of erosion over millions of years.) So, a second ‘fall’ is created.

After the tide has stopped rising, the water level in the two inlets eventually reaches the same height as the ocean. However, soon enough, the tide starts to go out, creating another pair of falls.

When we flew around the site, it was an ebb tide. The tide movements were below average that day but it was still a spectacular sight.

From the falls, our flight path took us over part of the Buccaneer Archipelago, which takes its name from William Dampier, a British chancer who explored the continent’s NW coastline.

Then we flew over Cape Leveque, the northern tip of Dampier Peninsula which lies between Broome and Derby. The peninsula is home to communities of Bardi and Jawi people.

A few minutes later, our plane landed on the airstrip of Cygnet Bay Pearls, located on the eastern side of the peninsula, where we would enjoy a guided tour of the pearl farm’s land-based operations, followed by a lunch of grilled Barramundi.

The story of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm is remarkable in several ways, including its relationship with local Aboriginal men. If you click here, you will find the history of the farm and the wider story of pearling in the Broome area.

During our tour we saw these two pieces of ‘mother of pearl. The piece on the left has been carefully cut from a whole shell in order to be decorated to become a modern example of the ‘Riki’, as shown in the second photo. Traditionally, Riki were carved and painted, then threaded onto a string and worn below the waist by local Aboriginal men who had been initiated.

In nature, only one in every 10,000 pearl oyster shells contains a pearl. The seeding technique, known to just a select few, enables pearls to be produced much more readily. These pearls are known as cultured pearls.

On our tour, the guide opened one of the oysters and there it was!

Remember Dampier the buccaneer? There’s also a street named for him in Broome, lined with pearl shops. One is the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm outlet, which we visited the next morning. In one section of the shop, the history of Broome’s pearling industry was set up as you would find in a museum. In the other section, there was a display of pearls for sale, on their own and or set in pieces of jewellery.

The photo on the left shows the world’s largest ever cultured pearl, grown at Cygnet Bay. It is more than 2cm in diameter and it is NOT for sale! However, we were more than happy to purchase a more modest pearl for Maggie, set as a pendant, which she has attached to a chain we purchased at the Gold Souk in Dubai several years ago. The shape is known as Kenshi, and its quality was classed as Grade A

Rick Grounds


About rmgtravelsandfood

Maggie and I were both born in the early 1950s and we live in Melbourne, Australia. This blog is mainly devoted to our shared passions for travel and fine dining at home. Recently, I added Australian politics to the scope of the blog, inspired by the election of a Labor Government at a national level. Rick Grounds
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