The Wild and Wonderful: Wildlife of the Kimberley
The spectacular wilderness of the Kimberley is home to a host of remarkable creatures. Whether swimming, walking, flying or crawling, they are the heart of this vast region and each one plays a crucial role in the eco-system.
The Kimberley is one of the best wildlife holiday destinations, particularly in the months following the wet season. After the tropical rains, and with abundant water and warm climate, birds and animals are at their most active.
During a Kimberley coast voyage, our Expedition Team and guests commonly spot renown Kimberley creatures such as the Saltwater Crocodile, the Eastern Osprey and the Short-eared Rock Wallaby along with a multitude of other birds, animals and marine creatures. Getting up close to these creatures is an awe-inspiring experience you’ll never forget – and the photographic opportunities never end.
The following list is just a summary of some of our favourite Kimberley wildlife, featuring photography from our Expedition Team.
Estuarine Crocodile (crocodylus porosus)
The world’s largest living reptile species, Estuarine Crocodiles (also known as saltwater crocodiles) can grow up to 6 metres long and weigh up to a tonne. This magnificent creature is a vital part of the northern eco-system. With their wide jaws, saltwater crocodiles have the strongest bite of any living animal, but they do not limit their diet to large prey. They will consume anything from small mammals and ocean fish, to large prey such as pigs, water buffalo and sharks. Preferring to hunt at night, they spend much of the time during the day basking in the sun or cruising in the water. Saltwater crocodiles have been known to spend weeks at sea and travel extensively by riding ocean currents. Commonly spotted on our Kimberley expeditions at Porosus Creek, Red Cone Creek and Prince Regent River, these intimidating apex predators are a good reason not to swim in most coastal waterways in the Kimberley.
Eastern Osprey (pandion cristatus)
This raptor’s wingspan measures up to a whopping 180cm. This species builds a large nest structure of sticks and driftwood, which remains their home for the years to come. Their diet consists primarily of fish, sighting prey from the air before plunging feet-first into the water to entrap their meal. The top predator of the skies in the Kimberley, the Osprey is often seen along the Kimberley’s rocky coastal cliffs. In September, you might be lucky enough to see the chicks leaving the nest and taking first flight!
Tawny Nurse Shark (nebrius ferrugineus)
This placid carpet shark rests during the day, piling together in sheltered areas. They hunt at night using suction to extract prey from inside crevices, particularly octopi and other invertebrates. It grows to a maximum length of 3.2 metres, and generally lives inshore along reefs, sand flats, or sea grass beds. Vulnerable in some areas due to over-fishing, the Tawny Nurse Shark flourishes off the coast of the Kimberley. We often spot them in Talbot Bay.
Short-eared Rock Wallaby (petrogale brachyotis)
The Short-Eared Rock Wallaby is found in low rocky cliffs, hills and gorges within savanna grassland, making the Kimberley coastline the perfect place to spot them. They use their brush-like tails for balance and their strong roughly padded feet and claws are perfect for grasping onto the rocky coastal ledges. This sociable wallaby lives in colonies around its refuges consisting of the cliffs, rock stacks and boulder piles that offer them protection from predators. While they are nocturnal, they can often be spotted sleepily peeking from the cliffs and rocks at Talbot Bay or around the King George River.
Pharao Flying Fish (cypselurus naresii)
These iridescent blue fish have a unique way of escaping marine predators – flying! The speedy fish accelerate up to 40km underwater before breaking to the surface and extending their ‘wings’. These wings are in fact enlarged pectoral and pelvic fins. These 20cm long fish glide close to the water’s surface and use their tail fin as a rudder, thrashing it in the water to ‘fly’ faster. This allows the fish to glide a hundred metres or more to escape predators below, with the iridescent blue colour of their backs camouflaging them from prey above the water. Although flying fish are common at sea (some sailors even tell stories of being woken up by flying fish striking the ship’s portholes), it remains rare to sight them in groups as seen in the photograph captured below.
Flatback Turtle (Natator depressus)
The Flatback Turtle, so named due to its flatter carapace with upturned edges, is endemic to Australia. Inhabiting shallow coastal waters away from reefs, they feed on sea cucumbers, soft corals and jellyfish. With adult Flatbacks weighing up to a hefty 90kg and growing up to 90cm long, their eggs and hatchlings are larger than most species of sea turtle. It’s shell is thinner than most sea turtles, meaning it can crack under the smallest pressure. With a small dispersal range across the shallow coastal waters of Northern Queensland, the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Kimberley, we often come face to face with this species on expedition – particularly at the Lacepede Islands. Taking care not to disturb nesting sites is particularly important during nesting season.
Brown Booby (sula leucogaster)
The Lacepede Islands are home to many important bird rookeries and nesting sites, the most prominently seen bird being the Brown Booby. The islands are home to possibly the largest colony of Brown Boobies in the world (18,000 pairs spread out over the Lacepede island group). Brown Boobies couple for many seasons, laying blue eggs and hatching fluffy white chicks.
Humpback Whale (megaptera novaeangliae)
A species of baleen whale, the Humpback feeds in polar waters, then makes its way to tropical waters to breed. Arriving in the Kimberley from June to September, the whales nurse their young in areas such as Camden Sound and can be found playing together in Sampson Inlet and other warm coastal marine locations throughout the Kimberley.
Reef Manta Ray (manta alfredi)
These majestic creatures are known as the ‘bird of the sea’ due to their two triangular-shaped pectoral fins that resemble the wings of a bird. While the Reef Manta Ray cannot actually fly, they do enjoy leaping out of the water, which is thought to be a type of game or way to communicate. Reef Manta Rays travel in large groups and regularly visit ‘cleaning stations’ in the coral reefs, where small fish remove organisms from their skin.
White-Bellied Sea Eagle (haliaeetus leucogaster)
The second largest raptor in Australia, these spectacular birds form permanent monogamous pairs and build large stick nests. A skilled hunter, it will attack prey up to the size of a swan. It is at home along coasts and major waterways, with fish forming half of its diet. Much of the White-bellied Sea Eagle’s behaviour remains poorly known. They can be spotted on our Kimberley cruise nesting or hunting, and are always a magnificent sight.
Flame Fiddler Crab (uca flammea)
The bright-red Flame Fiddler crab inhabits the Kimberley tidal shorelines and mangroves. The Flame Fiddler has long stick-like eyes that it uses to peer over the top of its burrow dug in the muddy banks. Female crabs have two claws the same size, but the male crab has one large claw that it waves in the air to attract females. It is an amazing sight to drift towards a silted river bank and see the shoreline alive with thousands of these crabs.
Fall for the Kimberley
Our Favourite Kimberley Waterfalls
After the monsoonal rains of a tropical Australian summer, these waterfalls are roaring and cascading throughout the Kimberley, creating inviting plunge pools and enchanting oases for plant and animal life.
For those who have visited the Kimberley with us, we hope they bring back the thrill of riding the white waters of the world’s only Horizontal Falls, or the tranquillity of cascades surrounded by dramatic gorges millions of years in the making. If you haven’t travelled the Kimberley with us, now is the time to add it to your bucket list.
King George Falls
The King George plunges into tidal waters over sandstone cliffs 80 meters high! They are Western Australia’s highest twin waterfalls, with spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing. The jagged gorges we cruise along were carved by ancient freshwater river systems flooded after the end of the last ice age. The rocks are more than 400 million years old. The best time to view the roaring falls in full force is from March to May – we love the bonus thrill of waterfall soaking.
A famous corner of Koolama Bay, Tranquil Bay boasts cliffs of ancient orange sandstone, reflected in the emerald waters of this coastal lagoon. After the wet season, delicate waterfalls pour down the cliffs into the pools below.
This delicate waterfall on the Prince Regent River is a landmark of the Kimberley. The spectacular falls cascade over terraced rock formations.
Situated deep in the North Kimberley, Mitchell Plateau rewards guests with jaw-dropping views of wild escarpments, tropical rainforests and the tiered falls of Mitchell River National Park. Known as Punamii-unpuu to the Wunambal people, the falls were carved through sandstone by the waters of the Mitchell River, producing layers of mesmerising emerald water pools from which the waters tumble from one to the next. Please note that access to these magnificent falls are by an optional helicopter flight at an additional cost.
Red Cone Creek gently flows until it meets the small but stunning Ruby Falls. This delightful coastal creek has rocks like building blocks, great for climbing and exploring and at the end is several fresh water swimming holes and waterfalls.
Note: swimming at freshwater swimming holes is subject to group size and local conditions.
Not the traditional waterfall, this is a dramatically different kind of falls — the Horizontal Waterfalls. Here the ocean’s 10m tidal fall sucks huge volumes of water through a break in the McLarty Ranges. Seawater builds up faster on one side and is forced through the chasms in the red rock, creating a rushing waterfall effect. Riding through on our inflatable tenders is a highlight of our Kimberley cruise.
We couldn’t resist including Montgomery Reef. Every low tide, the ocean cascades from the reef top, creating lots of little rivulets that transform into rushing waterfalls as the reef rises from the ocean. This incredible spectacle also provides an opportunity to see loads of marine and bird life. The coral reef covers around 300 square kilometres, and is home to six species of marine turtles, Australian Snubfin and Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, dugongs, and numerous species of sawfish.
THE KIMBERLEY CRUISE
Explore Australia’s Kimberley region on an unforgettable small ship expedition cruise through an ancient landscape, where nature takes centre stage and Indigenous connections and exploration history abound.