Northern Australia’s Big Wet Season Expedition Highlights
The Summer season in remote northern Australia is replete with tropical heat and humidity, drenching rains, and thunderous storms; but it’s not without its advantages! For a traveller with a love for the extraordinary that nature has to offer, a small ship expedition cruise across Australia’s Top End in January can be an awe-inspiring adventure filled with remarkable natural encounters.
From November to April, the northern half of Australia enjoys the annual “big wet” and explodes with colour. The green season, as it’s been dubbed by the destination marketers, is a time of magnificent skyscapes, dramatic rainstorms, and vigorous rushing waterfalls. It is also a time of celebration as the summer rain, the life force of the tropics, revitalises plants and animals which have been lying dormant or enduring the dry season. For many, the perception is to avoid the wet, but for locals and those in the know, it is the best time of the year by far.
Our new expedition adventures spanning the vast arc of the top end coastline will offer a small number of adventurous souls the rare chance to gain access to this natural environment at a time few have ever experienced. Travel in comfort and gain unprecedented access to this natural phenomenon aboard the state-of-the-art vessel Coral Adventurer. Our expert Expedition team will lead the way and are truly excited to be a part of this new season.
To whet your appetite, the following are some of the key experience highlights that await us.
#1: A Birders’ Dream
Highlight: Birdwatching at some of Australia’s most vibrant Important Bird Areas such as the Lacepede Islands and Adele Island for sightings of rare seabirds
Birds love a good drenching and can be found lapping up the moisture in puddles across Australia’s North during January. In addition to spotting endemic local species, the wet season is an ideal time for birdwatchers to tick off some rare species migrating to and from Asia via the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. This is an important link in one of the world’s greatest bird migrations when each year, millions of shorebirds leave Alaska, Siberia, North China, Mongolia, and Japan after breeding in the northern tundra’s and flying to Australia for the summer.
The Lacepede Islands and Adele Island are both A-class reserve’s and are recognised internationally for their importance as seabird breeding sites. Many of the islands here support large breeding colonies of seabirds, marine turtles, and complex coral reefs with an extraordinary diversity.
First encountered by Nicholas Baudin in 1801, these islands were named in honour of French naturalist, Compte de Lacepede, because of the large number of birds and wildlife observed on the islands. Our landmark Across The Top voyage from Broome to Cairns and v.v will coincide with a favourable high tide at the Lacepede Islands, with ideal conditions to access the lagoon where brown boobies, terns, plovers, egrets, noddies, and oystercatchers converge. Expedition Leader, Steve Cox looks forward to spotting plenty of migratory birds from the ‘Japan cycle’ who land here to rest up during January
Coral Expeditions host expert naturalists (and ornithologists on select departures) have binoculars and field guides for guests to use, as well as a comprehensive database of species spotted by staff and guests.
#2: Waterfalls in Force
Highlight: Experience the thrill of riding the tidal rapids through Horizontal Falls aboard a Zodiac and feel the power of majestic King George Falls in full flow in the wet season.
The pinnacle of Australia’s waterfall season takes place early in the year, between January and April when waterfalls that slow to a trickle from the lack of water in the dry season explode into a thundering cascade!
The rain swells the rivers and waterways of King George River and Berkeley River, and you will get up close to witness the power and majesty of these mighty landscapes. Accessible only by ship or air, these remote Kimberley waterways boast multiple waterfalls along their course during the wet season. We will explore these secluded systems by Xplorer tender, soaking in the refreshed landscape with its blossoming foliage. The king of the falls, King George, is a 100m-high twin waterfall and one of Western Australia’s most astounding spectacles. Experience the exhilaration of getting close to the waterfalls by zodiac and feel the cleansing power of the water mist wash over you.
A visit to Talbot Bay during our voyages provides the chance to ride the sensational rapids at the Horizontal Falls, a phenomenon caused by the largest tidal movements in the world pushing water through narrow passages carved through the McLarty Ranges.
#3: Magnificent skyscapes
Highlight: Step ashore and stand at the tip of Australia on Cape York to enjoy a sunset or sunrise toast
During the wet season, it is uncommon to see extended periods of monsoonal rains. Most days are hot and humid with clear weather that steadily builds up to spectacular twilight storm bursts that fill the horizon. At the end of the day’s adventures, sit back with good company and marvel at nature putting on a light and sound show like nothing else on earth. At sunset, the sky lights up with a magnificent display of purple, pink, blue and orange hues. As the thunderstorms build, the clouds pile up along the horizon and lightning strikes electrify the skies. These spectacular lightning shows offer hours of entertainment, and it’s worth noting that most rain is localised, short-lived, and comes down heavy. It is often preceded by cooling winds that are very refreshing and welcome. Look out for the unusually long and rolling Morning Glory cloud formations that make an appearance in the eastern region during the summer months. The rains breathe newfound energy into the landscape and usually timid and dormant flora and fauna spring to life. A chorus of frog croaking fills the air. As the rain subsides, rare birds of many species call out to one another and openly forage for food.
#4: Explore hidden worlds on the Great Barrier Reef
Highlight: Dive with sharks and diverse marine species at Osprey Reef – one of the best dive sites in the world
From November to April the south-east trade winds ease, meaning that the waters of the Great Barrier Reef are calm and tranquil during much of the summer months. Calm waters mean a perfect time to enjoy snorkelling and diving with great visibility! Rain doesn’t matter when you’re in the water. In fact, Master Reef Guide, Daniela Matheus-Holland says one of her favourite things to do while scuba diving in summer is look up at the surface when it is raining and admire the tapestry of tiny droplets hitting the surface of the waves. The Coral Sea is wonderfully warm at this time of year, with water temps peaking at around 29C in January.
It is also the time of the coral spawning and breeding season for marine life on the Reef and when the natural world is most active. You will likely spot green sea turtles mating or grazing on the plentiful moon jellies that ride in on the warm currents. It is most likely that conditions will allow a visit to Osprey Reef. This dive site features a deep and wide natural lagoon area and a deeper reef which is the top of a towering underwater mountain, which creates a habitat ideal for large pelagic species. Pinnacles, swim throughs, and overhangs are draped by huge gorgonian fans and corals of all types. Both divers and snorkelers will enjoy close encounters with schools of giant trevally, huge potato cod, green turtles, moray eels, octopuses, and a variety of sharks are all but guaranteed. Otherworldly discoveries made at Osprey Reef include gardens of plant-like creatures, some new to science, including stalked sea lilies and glass sponges that would have dominated the ocean tens to hundreds of millions of years ago.
#5: Mingle with the locals
Highlight: Meet traditional elders and share storytelling and sacred rock art sites at Stanley Island and Groote Eylandt
Since most people tend to visit the north in winter, you will find the regions far less crowded in the summer, and you will be able to mix and mingle more with locals. It’s a great time to connect with the world’s oldest living culture, Australia’s First Nations people who look to nature to determine the time of year with their six-season calendar marking the changes in their environment. The indigenous people of the region in Arnhem land call the wet season Kudjewk when the heat and humidity cause an explosion of plant and animal life. With an intimate knowledge and deep respect for nature and its cycles, our guests will learn about plant use, bush foods, and the importance of the wet season to the local Indigenous people.
Along the way, we will visit ancient sites of great cultural significance. The rock art of north-western Arnhem Land is world-renowned and represents one of the world’s most enduring artistic cultures that date back between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. You’ll find ancient traces among rock art showing depictions of Macassan prau (who collected and processed trepang, or sea cucumber) and forged the very first cross-cultural contacts in the history of Australia. Paintings of sailing vessels, smoking pipes, firearms, domesticated animals, and other exotic items dot the landscape in Arnhem Land, often overlaying earlier works established in hidden natural galleries.
Visits to art centres and Indigenous communities are subject to community requirements and cannot be guaranteed.
Many locals and experienced travellers believe the tropical wet season is the best time to visit because it’s when the land truly comes alive. With expert guidance from our Captain and expedition team who know northern Australia’s nuanced terrain intimately, you’ll encounter a land of hidden treasures, lush beauty and impressive natural activity.