Captain Phillip Parker King named the Buccaneer Archipelago to commemorate William Dampiers’ visit to the Kimberley coast in 1688. The Buccaneer Archipelago lies off a rugged part of the Kimberley coast covering 50 square kilometres and is made up of approximately 800 to 1,000 rocky islands with small embayments and secluded white sandy beaches. The area holds a rich history, with its strong ties to aboriginal culture, involvement in the pearling industry, its use during European settlement, mining, involvement in defence and the second world war and agriculture.and the scenery is arguably the most spectacular of any island group in Australia. It is part of a ria or drowned coastline with islands of ancient massive sandstones of Pre-Cambrian age (2,500 – 1,800 million years ago). The islands are rugged and sparsely vegetated with patches of rain forest in moist areas and a fringing of mangroves where silt has accumulated.
The area has huge tidal ranges up to 12 metres. These create such phenomena as the horizontal reversible waterfall in Talbot Bay. The falls are caused by the differential created when the tide flows between narrow island gaps. The tides and whirlpools caused havoc with the pearling fleets late last century. Many sailors and divers lost their lives. On numerous islands there are isolated graves, a testimony to the dangerous conditions.
There are secluded white sandy beaches, patches of rainforest, mangrove estuaries, plunging cliffs, indigenous rock art, fresh water swimming holes, waterfalls and reefs that litter offshore waters. The archipelago is renowned for its enormous tidal movement. The islands were created as a result of the rising sea, creating a drowned coastline approximately 19,000 years ago and a wide variety of fossils have been found all over the country. The rocks themselves are over 2 billion years old. The traditional owners have a strong connection with the land as well traditional rights to fishing and trochus. Situated 2,800 km north of Western Australia’s capital of Perth, the archipelagos’ distant location and difficulty of access has left this region practically untouched, pristine and ready for us to discover and explore!
Cone Bay is home to a pearl farm and an Aboriginal Community and has many springs, waterfalls and pockets of tropical rainforest. Cone Bay is famous for being the home to the hippy XNX, (who changed his name by deed poll) and spent a number of years camped out at this fresh water swimming hole with his harem, smoking hooch and finally come unstuck when he fired a gun across the bow of a police boat. Cone Bay, with tides of up to 11 metres twice a day, is fantastic for growing fish. Its ‘water circles’ are in fact polar sea-cages used to breed Saltwater Barramundi.
In 1914 the copper mine was abandoned due to flooding of the work area. In 1989 Warren Arms gained permission from Mowanjum Aboriginal Council to build a base camp at Copper Mine Creek for his Barramundi net fishing business. Warren completed the build on his camp and continued to use it as a base for the next 21 years. Warren sold his fishing operation in 2008, however his base camp structure is still there and used for a camp for keen fisherman. Giant black lipped oysters are plentiful in this area.
Crocodile Creek in Yampi Sound is a little paradise tucked away behind the sandstone walls. The miners from nearby Koolan Island iron ore mine used this spot as a getaway site. With the top pool cascading into the lower pool and then onto the creek below, it’s a delightful swimming hole with all the yachtie memorabilia left behind from passing travellers hanging from the shaded patio area. This spot makes for an enjoyable outing, keep in mind it is not called crocodile creek for nothing and the top pool is the only swimming hole to swim in.
Hidden Island and Silica Beach with its powder soft pure white sand and turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, Silica Beach is a resort destination in the making. Enjoy a refreshing swim at this pristine beach or take the time to climb up the sandstone rocks for some great photography.
Strickland Bay is huge and holds many surprises. There is a pearl farm, rivers, mangroves, reefs, beaches, islands, great fishing and has the massive “Graveyards” estuary on the northern side. The graveyard is so called because of the amount of pearl divers lost their lives and there are many shipwrecks in the area. You could spend a week in Strickland Bay alone without running out of things to do. Whirlpool Pass is the channel between Hidden Island and the mainland, the name says it all. Hidden Island has Silica beach that is as white and soft as flour; visitors here often spend a whole day just lazing around in the turquoise water.
Silver Gull Creek is a gem. It has a permanent spring and was once a watering point for the iron ore mine on nearby Koolan Island. Phil and Marion sailed in mid 1990’s and created an oasis, aptly named The Squatters Arms, surrounding the old water tank that is now a swimming pool. Sadly Marion passed away a few years ago and with Marion’s and Phil’s blessing, Scottie now resides on the island. Scottie maintains the pipe to the wharf so that vessels may pull alongside to wash down and replenish supplies. There is a small amount of handmade jewellery and souvenirs in the hut for those who hanker for some retail therapy. There is old BHP water tank which is fed by a fresh water spring a great place to refresh overlooking Silver Gull Creek. Scottie is always keen for company and eager to share his stories and tales over a cold beer.
Whirlpool passage divides Chambers and Hidden Islands in the Buccaneer Archipelago. A scenic stretch of water is a dramatic experience as the Oceanic sails through whirlpools. When there is peak tidal movement and tidal flows in excess of 10 knots, these sometimes violent whirlpools are created, however get there at the turn of the tide and it looks like a millpond and is spectacular viewing.
The Horizontal Waterfalls (“Horries”), as the name suggests, is a horizontal waterfall located within the Buccaneer Archipelago. A fast paced tidal flow moves between two closely aligned gorges of McLarty range in Talbot Bay. The direction of the flow alters as the tide changes. As the tide variation in the Kimberley can reach 10 metres the water level on either side of the gorge is substantially different and accordingly we use the local fast boat operator for this tour and the cost is $55 per person, cash to the operator direct or you can prepay on credit card.
One of the wonders of the Kimberley coast, Montgomery Reef is a spectacle to behold as the entire reef appears to rise from the ocean on a falling tide. With tidal differences of over 10m over a single spring tide cycle, nearly 5m of reef gradually emerges from the ocean, as water cascades down numerous channels. The reef which covers an area in the region of over 270 km², is some 80 km long and Australia’s largest inshore reef, containing large areas of shallow lagoon, seagrass beds and colourful corals. With abundant marine life including sponges, crabs, cushion stars, turtles and octopus, when the water is clear snorkelling is available (big tides the water is not as clear) Outside of the reef there is fishing available and your catch could include Barramundi, Coral Trout, Red Emperor, Trevally, Snapper, Tuna, Spanish Mackerel, oysters and enormous mud crabs.
Walcott Inlet is further east again and is a massive estuary that is home to three large rivers which are the Calder, Charnley and Isdell Rivers. The Charnley Rockbar is one of the most famous spots to land a Barracuda.
To the north is Doubtful Bay and the fabulous Raft Point rock art site. The huge bluff that is Raft Point is an example of the ancient, much-weathered sedimentary layering of the King Leopold Sandstone underlain by a massive intrusion of Carson volcanic basalt, all of which is between 1.83 and 1.78 billion years old. A 150m climb up a steep hill reveals a cave that overlooks the mass of Steep Island. This site has many quality Wandjina figures amongst other depictions of marine and wildlife and is some of the Kimberley’s most well preserved Bradshaw Paintings. It is also home to Vinneys Creek that has great fishing, Red Cone Falls, Glenelg River and the Sale River which can be navigated 15kms up the gorge to a freshwater sandy beach and rainforest walk and spring. To the north is also Cascade Bay which has a couple of springs and a waterfall cascading down onto a beach. Hells Gate is the entrance to Cascade Bay and aptly named. The tide rushes through the islands and creates many whirlpools, overfalls, rips and is an awesome sight. Cone Bay is home to a pearl farm and an Aboriginal Community and has many springs, waterfalls and pockets of tropical rainforest.
Sale River flows into the North East side of Doubtful Bay and has cabbage palms, Kimberley rose and boab trees in abundance. There are rock bars restricting access unless you are on spring tides. With big tides you can make your way to the freshwater flows over a small cascade with a sandy beach. Behind the beach and up behind Red Cone Hill is a series of billabongs, great mud crabbing and fishing in the streams and leads to a monsoonal rainforest and a great freshwater swimming hole. Just up the gorge is some rarely seen rock art. About 8kms up Red Cone Creek is the magnificent Ruby Falls. Straight our a movie set this stunning creek has rocks made up like building blocks, great for climbing and exploring and at the end is a number of fresh water swimming holes and stunning waterfalls.
Wandjina is in the heart of Western Australia’s Humpback Whale breeding grounds (proposed Camden Sound Marine Park) and where possible we will do a tour with them. We are likely to come across a Humpback Whale or two. Peak season for whale watching is from July to September so bear this in mind if you wish to visit during the calving season. Wandjina is lucky to have several well-known Wandjina artists amongst its staff. A purpose built “Artist’s Shelter” has been established where guests can come and sit and talk with the Aboriginal artists. Watch them create their art, talk about their Wandjina culture and the importance of their art and culture in their everyday lives. You can purchase high quality Aboriginal Art on country, direct from the artist. Commissioned works are welcome.
Bonaparte & Buccaneer Archipelago Cruises 13 days cruises (ex Broome) Guests will cruise and visit some of the destinations of the Buccaneer Archipelago as well as the Bonaparte Archipelago. Potential destinations in the Bonaparte Archipelago are Camden Sounds, which boasts the largest population of hump back whales in the world, some 22,000 as well as spectacular wildlife such as dugongs, sea turtles and dolphins. Sheep Island is also at Camden Sounds with 19th century ruins of the settlement still in place that lasted less than two years. This settlement endured harsh conditions, the graves of these early pioneers are a testament of the remoteness . We visit the pristine sands of Hanover Beach slightly further north. It is here, in 1838, where Lt. George Grey unloaded his Timor ponies and began the first land based expedition of North West Australia, in search of the great inland sea. The journey soon ended when he was speared by Aborigines. Despite this, Lt Grey reported back positively describing the area as ‘lush and fertile’ and hence was the catalyst for the settlement at Sheep Island. We enter Prince Regent River and see the mighty Kings Cascades Waterfalls and when time permits we go as far as Bigge Island and Hunter River.
Bigge Island has a sheltered bay called Wary Bay and it is famous for rock art and are located in “mini gorges” in the rock cliffs at the south-western end of the beach. The photo of the Kaiara face below from the Wary Bay gallery is probably one of the most spectacular and frequently published photos of aboriginal rock art in the Kimberley. Below Bigge Island is rainforest ravine. There is the sensational bloom of lavender flowers amongst the sandstone boulders and a dense cover of herringbone ferns. Further upstream the scenery just gets beer with clear pools of water owing gently over the rocks and leading to deeper and deeper pools.This just has to be the most beautiful area of untouched rainforest on the Kimberley coast. Hunter River is The entrance to the Hunter River through Prince Frederick Harbour is awe-inspiring to say the least. The Hunter Falls are some 80 to 100m high and have a large deep pool at the base. Donkin Falls is about the same hight and also has a deep pool at the base.
Augustus Island, which stands as a divide between the islands of the Buccaneer and Bonaparte Archipelagos, is the largest island off the Kimberley coast; to its east is the site of the first, in this case ill-conceived, attempt at white settlement in the region. we sail to this area only on the Broome to Wyndham, Wyndham to Broome cruises in late February to March. This was at Camden Harbour in 1864, and nine people died in the attempt. Located in Camden Sound Marine park this beautiful blue place is a mecca for some of Australia’s most spectacular wildlife such as dugongs, sea turtles and dolphins. The estuaries around Camden Sound provide critical nurseries for sawfish and saw-toothed rays and the region has massive tides that range up to 11 metres! Its shallow embayment is a haven for pilot whales, pygmy killer whales and recently described snub fin dolphins. Even mighty blue whales pass through this cetacean paradise. Camden Sound is also a critical calving and nursery site for the largest population of humpback whales on the planet (around 22,000 individuals!).
The Buccaneer Archipelago’s warm weather, water and remoteness have created an incredible breeding ground for a huge array of wildlife including snakes, geckos, monitors, lizards and dragons, bats, sea snakes, rock rats and crocodiles. The archipelago is inaccessible by car, and although you can see it by flying over it, by far the best way is up close and personal
Broome to Wyndham & Wyndham to Broome. This is the ultimate cruise incorporating all of the Kimberley Coast between Broome and Wyndham known as the Buccaneer, Bonaparte Archipelagos and Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. This is a one way cruise. In between Cape Leveque and Wyndham there are approximately 2000 islands. We explore all three Archipelagos during the late wet season where the Kimberley is renowned for summer storms, spectacular light shows, thundering waterfalls and swollen billabongs. Fishing, swimming in fresh waterholes, beach combing, exploring aboriginal art and hiking are all on the menu in some of the remotest parts of the Kimberleys. Places we visit will include the Horizontal Falls a must do, other places on the proposed itinerary may include but not limited to Montgomery Reef, Silica Beach, Fresh Water Cove, Camden Sound, Kings Cascades, Bigge Island (Aboriginal Art), Vansittart Bay, King George Falls, Berkley River Falls and the Helby and Lyne River. Each adventure will be different according to tides and weather.
The Bonaparte Archipelago in WA’s remote Kimberley region, is a maze of islands, inlets, peninsulas and rivers. Its colour and scale conspire to take ones breath away. Its diverse coastline is timeless but far from static with 11 metre tides (the second largest in the world). Staggering quantities of water flood it, and empty from it, twice daily with the tides. Its distant location has meant it has remained an unspoilt and remarkably pristine location to explore and experience. These islands are located roughly offshore from Hall Point to Montague Sound, an area that is largely uninhabited except for a few tourist camps. In the wet season the land is awash and teeming with life. It’s an awesome wilderness and no description can do it justice. Distance and size are hard to judge here, as are the colours to comprehend.