Pearler of a ride
A waterborne adventure on Australia’s remote northwest tip is a real treat
AS you head into Broome, you’d do well to turn right. The Dampier Peninsula, home to Cape Leveque, James Price Point and One Arm Point, is a rarely discovered gem of Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
The area is distinguished by its empty, sublime beaches and the rich red road that defines the journey north like a kind of tropical channel. At the end of a 21/ hour drive along this mostly unsealed road is the tip of the peninsula, Cape Leveque and, around the corner, Cygnet Bay, home to Australia’s oldest operating pearl farm.
The delights of the idyllic location overlooking a sandy bay with safari huts and some old divers’ cottages, both remote and rustic, and the tour of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, which cultivated the world’s largest fine-quality round South Sea pearl, would suffice but there’s a bit to be done on the water.
The King Sound area to the east of the Dampier Peninsula features the largest tidal movements in the southern hemisphere, a mass of water sweeping in from the Timor Sea through a chain of islands into Derby and the outlets for the May, Fitzroy and Meda rivers.
The Horizontal Waterfall, a rush of water where massive tides attempt to squeeze through a narrow channel in the Buccaneer Archipelago, gets much of the attention around here.
But Chris Brown, descendant of the pearl farm’s founder, Dean Murdoch Brown, has introduced a far more accessible and fun outing that captures the majesty of the massive tides without the very long boat or seaplane trip.
The Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm is a longstanding and proudly local pearl operation that is assuredly expanding beyond its pearl manufacture into tourism. Its growing list of attractions includes a Horizontal Waterfalls Adventure, a leisurely five-day, four-night cruise on a luxurious catamaran around the Thousand Islands of the archipelago. The Giant Tides Tour offers a quicker sortie. The biggest tropical tides in the world have a transforma- tive effect on beaches, mangroves and bays here. Admittedly, at Derby it’s a little less noticeable unless you’re silly enough to drive onto what appear to be dry mud flats. The power and ferocity of these tides is even more remarkable while out on the water. You are strapped into one of two rigid inflatable boats powered by two 240hp engines ahead of what becomes a scenic voyage through Pearl Passage that lurches into a soft roller-coaster ride.
The boat alternatively careens and floats through whirlpools, clashing tides and shifting waters unlike any other tidal movement imaginable. Your captain will be sympathetic to his audience’s needs though; he pushes it hard and fast against rushing waters to impress our wideeyed son but takes it down a notch when our young daughter gets anxious.
At some points, the tidal flow can be so strong, even the two big outboard engines aren’t enough to get through. Yet this is nothing like the testosterone-fuelled inanity of jetboat rides.
One of the more memorable moments is just floating by the most unlikely of sites, a waterfall stretching at least 100m along the raised Tallon Reef.
The sense of remoteness — after all, you’re in a distant patch of water on the northwest tip of the country — only adds to the adventure.
Like much of any visit to this region, the Giant Tides Tour is an unexpected delight, delivering so many unique sights and experiences.
The Giant Tides Tour at Cygnet Bay on WA’s Dampier Peninsula