Western Australia's Buccaneer Archipelago
On a nautical chart, the thousand or so islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago, Western Australia, look shredded from the continent and strewn across the turquoise Timor Sea.
At sea level – from a six-metre open boat on a perfect, windless day - the perspective seems benign. But the largest tides in the southern hemisphere create hidden whirlpools, and unmarked rocks and reefs can – and have – wrecked many more robust craft than mine.
It’s one of the remotest places on the planet: there is no tourism infrastructure and the only way to get around is by helicopter, float plane, private yacht or expedition cruise ship. I’ve hitched a ride with Aboriginal traditional owner, Donny Woolagoodja and fishing camp operator, Peter Tucker – and I’m very glad for the local knowledge as I cover 300 nautical miles of imperfectly charted sea.
Freshwater Cove is one of the most remote fishing camps on the Australian mainland and consists of a bough hut, mosquito nets, a fridge full of beer and fishing tackle: all you need to hook into some of the best sport fishing on the planet.
Donny runs cultural tours in conjunction with Pete, utilising a chopper out of Broome. We fly over the islands and inland to a pristine waterhole on the Sale River, which has carved its sinuous way through some of the oldest rocks on earth. We clamber up to the craggy, red-rock overhangs and I gasp as a gallery of exquisite Aboriginal rock art is revealed – and I realise I am one of only a handful of people to have ever witnessed it.
Forty-thousand years of Aboriginal history are painted in similar rock galleries across the Kimberley. This thought transports me and, amid the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings, I feel overwhelmed and humbled by the immensity of time and scale that uniquely characterises the Kimberley. This is, unmistakably, a wild and ancient land.
A day later, I’m astride a white vinyl seat on a purpose-built fast boat, ‘shooting’ the horizontal waterfalls – a natural phenomenon created when the sea is forced between a narrow gap in the cliffs as the huge tide rapidly drops. It’s an undeniable adrenaline rush, but it feels like a theme park ride. For me, the Kimberley’s wild unpredictability, remote vastness and ancient spirit furnish a far more meaningful adventure.