The Kimberley, Western Australia: Six of the most spectacular coastal sights

KING CASCADE

The Kimberley coastline features thousands of kilometres of islands, gorges, hot orange bays and thundering waterfalls. King Cascade on the Prince Regent River is far from the mightiest of the Kimberley's features, but is so well arranged it almost appears to belong to a well-landscaped country estate. Refreshing water pours off a series of cubic sandstone rock ledges, flanked on either side by pretty vivid-green ferns and stands of eucalyptus trees. If your boat nudges forward enough, you can stand on the prow and get a welcome drenching as relief from the river's oppressive heat. See australiasnorthwest.com

MONTGOMERY REEF

Aerial view of the Montgomery Reef.
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

Australia's largest inshore reef, part of Camden Sound Marine Park, extends over 300 square kilometres and shelters dolphins, dugongs, a half-dozen turtle species and the remarkable epaulette shark, which can walk on its fins. But when the tide starts to fall, one of the world's most unusual spectacles is revealed, as water gushes down the sides of the reef, creating what resemble waterfalls in the middle of the ocean, some up to four metres high. Meanwhile a vast swirl of seabirds arrives to pick off a feast of creatures in the reef's now exposed pools. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

KING GEORGE RIVER

King George River Falls
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

If you take a cruise through the Kimberley, the Zodiac excursion up the King George River will be a highlight. This unimaginably old gorge – silent, sunburnt and brooding – changes from rust red to violent orange and the most delicate pink. Great sandstone cliffs rise like the landscape of a science-fiction planet, patterned with shadowy cracks and convulsions. Twelve kilometres upriver, the gorge finishes at spectacular King George Falls, where twin waterfalls tilt off the escarpment with a roar. The intrepid can scramble to the top of the waterfalls for an even more stupendous outback view. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

LACAPEDE ISLANDS

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These are barely islands at all, but rather precarious sandbanks clinging to coral outcrops and held together by good luck, grass and a few stunted bushes. The low landscape won't win any prizes – although the surrounding waters are deep turquoise – but the bird life is astonishing. Crested terns, silver gulls and aggressive frigate birds darken the sky, and the islands host the world's largest breeding colony of brown boobies. Wading birds strut and pelicans paddle, sedate as Spanish galleons. Don't forget to occasionally look down, since the waters are abundant in turtles, sting rays and baby sharks. See australiasnorthwest.com

HORIZONTAL FALLS

Aerial view of the Horizontal Falls, Talbot Bay.
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Photo: Tourism Western Australia

As the tide rises in Talbot Bay, vast volumes of water are pushed through a narrow gap in its escarpment, creating a five-metre difference in water level between the bay and the flooded valley beyond. Before the tide reaches its peak and the ride gets too wild, these rushing Horizontal Falls can be tackled on a Zodiac ride that will have your heart thumping. This unusual natural phenomenon apart, Talbot Bay presents a superb ring of buckled red cliffs slashed through with dark streaks of iron, skirted with mangroves and reflected in water in ever-changing orange ripples. See parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au

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BIGGE ISLAND

A Wandjina figure in a rock shelter on Bigge Island, about 20 km from the mainland at Cape Pond. Bonaparte Archipelago, Kimberley region, Western Australia, Australia. (Photo by: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) tra8-sixbest
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Rock overhangs on Bigge Island (Wuuyuru) in the Bonaparte Archipelago were once elevated and well inland, but millennia of erosion have now left them close to the Wary Bay shoreline. The rock surfaces are adorned with haunting Wandjina figures, likely representing lightening and cloud spirits of the local Wunambal people, and distinctive for their big eyes, lack of mouth and halo-like rings around their heads. They seem fresh and full of energy, although this artwork is older than almost any other human creation on the planet. Some newer rock art depicts Chinese and Dutch sailing ships. See australiasnorthwest.com

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Coral Expeditions.

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