"Tango, Foxtrot, Whisky, Bravo over…" I heard muffled snatches of pilot Ryan Mills' radio chat through my huge headphones as the propeller began to spin and the engine roared to life. "Ok, close the door" came a voice in my ear. Nervously I reached out and pulled the red lever, swinging the cabin door to. Ryan gave it a push to check it was secure. As copilot this was my only task, besides keeping my feet and hands tucked away from the pedals and controls so we wouldn't nosedive into the sea.
Ryan handed out mints so our ears wouldn't pop, then checked off myriad tiny dials and gadgets in a little book. His khaki safari suit added to the effect that we had surely stepped back in time, as the plane took off over the Broome coastline, and he pointed out pearl and crocodile farms.
North we flew across the wide open Roebuck Plains as the morning fog ("Kimberley Rain") lifted. For a while there was flat red earth beneath us… apparently a huge bushfire had swept through a few years ago – despite back burning of the undergrowth in the early dry – only stopped by a few dirt roads.
The further we went the higher we climbed, but the ride stayed smooth as we drifted over a mountain range and Mount Jowlenga. Ryan told stories of explorers stranded up to their necks in mud, driven Catholic missionaries, mad millionaires marrying on crocodile infested Valentine Island; and the SAS officers who are dropped to find their way out of this never-never land in the wet. This was a wild, untamable place.
We approached the King Sound where gigantic 12 meter tides, second only to Nova Scotia's, rise and fall twice a day. One tiny red road reached the Disaster Bay coast, on the end of which three or four tiny tin roofs indicated an indigenous community. The mangrove-lined beaches were met with clear aqua water flushed through each day, but out deeper the harbour was striped with grey mud sucked back from the flats. Ryan said "that's a good sign, the falls will be full."
Before us in the massive Sound lay massive bays and massive islands, surrounded by the massive Kimbolton Ranges. Nobody in sight. This was the north west tip of Australia, 27,932sq km of land and sea country belonging to the Wanjina Wunggurr Dambimangari people.
We flew toward the world's only Horizontal Waterfalls… Two long, high green peninsulas jutted out of the mainland, with deep crevasses where the tides pushed back and forth, flooding millions of liters – Sydney-Harbours'-full of water – per day like waterfalls through the rock. Simply beautiful, and yet I could not believe my eyes.
Ryan flew over and around the falls, dipping first to the right and then to the left, and leaning back politely so I could see past him and down into the sparkling water.
We flew out over the Archipelago, 800 or more beautiful green islands in clear waters like a fantasy landscape… Some rocky and flat, some mountainous. We all fantasized over which would make a good home, and which ones could be for our friends and family… "Mum you can have that one all the way over there," someone joked. Ryan said that some of the islands were occupied, but it depended on fresh water and permission from the traditional owners. I couldn't see a living soul…
We flew over a series of white-capped waves, out in the deep water curling over and over and over themselves in a row that would never reach the shore.
Now we approached Cape Leveque and looped around over yet more islands. "Can you spot the runway?" Ryan asked. There were no tracks on the islands but on the headland was a red stripe… and a few huts! We descended over the most exquisite curving white beach and a forest of low-lying trees. Ryan made for the airstrip, landing the tiny plane like a dragonfly on a twig.
It was hot in the little tin box and we were soon out on the tarmac posing for pics, all six passengers grinning from ear to ear.
It felt like 4pm but it was barely 9am. To our great surprise we found ourselves in a civilised oasis, ordering espresso and sitting down for a delicious cooked breakfast in the open restaurant overlooking the beach. After dining, we changed at the campsite – yes there's camping on Cape Leveque plus luxury cabins by the sea – and headed down a red dirt track between a moonscape of jagged red cliffs to Kooljaman beach. Ryan warned us not to walk on the rocks as they are sacred to the native tribes.
We stepped down onto two glorious kilometers of sparkly white sand and calm green water. Everyone ran down and leapt into the gentle waves. The water was salty and cool but far from cold. After splashing about I lay on the long, wide beach to cool off. Before too long I felt the sun begin to singe… our time in paradise was up.
Back on the plane, we looked for whales and saw their silvery backs breaching and splashing in the sun. In shallow Pender Bay Ryan pointed out a white catamaran stranded in the mud flats since full moon, "He's missed the tides, he'll be here for a week." I envied the lucky castaway.
We skirted bay after stunning bay and Ryan told the story of a plane wreck where a Broome local discovered a package of diamonds then handed them out to his mates. We flew over the mission town of Beagle Bay where the film Bran Nue Day was shot, and the Christian and non Christian Aborigines can talk through a wall but not see each other.
We passed James Price Point and everyone craned to the left to photograph the very lucky piece of land which narrowly escaped becoming a mine site when the people of Broome rallied against it.
Amanda from the Broome Visitor Centre pointed out a cliffside in the middle of nowhere – "That's Barred Creek – we go camping there. It's a great spot for Barramundi fishing and you still have phone reception."
Ryan chimed in, "It's almost Barra season. Have you heard that local Kimberley saying, when the Mangoes are ripe, the Barra are on the bite?
"I'm not in Kansas anymore" I thought. Indeed in that moment I was Dorothy, Pippy Longstocking and Peter Pan all rolled into one.
Far too soon Ryan radioed in to the little airport outside of Broome, and we descended over Willie Creek, and the endless sands of Cable Beach stretched before us again, dotted with the campers and 4WDs of fishermen. It was only when he fished – "not a bad landing?" – that I realised we had touched back down to Earth.
Days later I was still walking on air. This was food for the spirit that will leave most adventures for dead.
Anna was a guest of Australia's North West Tourism and Kimberley Aviation.
For more information, visit www.australiasnorthwest.com or kimberleyaviation.com.au/air-safari/irresistible-islands/