Just Another Day at the Office – the Kimberley by Helicopter
Michael ‘Tommo’ Thomson has probably seen more of the Kimberley than most. As a local helicopter pilot, he spends his day showing people the wonders of northern WA. Writer Lorna Hendry asked him which part he enjoys most.
It’s a common story in Broome. When Michael ‘Tommo’ Thomson arrived, he was only planning to stay for six months. Six years later, he’s still there. And no wonder: he’s got the best job in town.
Tommo is a helicopter pilot for KAS Helicopters who flies visitors over some of the most amazing scenery in the Kimberley. Even this extremely laid-back guy admits, “My worst day at work is probably still better than a lot of people’s best day. I haven’t got too much to complain about.”
His day starts with a thorough safety check of the chopper. After briefing the passengers, they decide what to do with the doors. “We give them the option,” Thommo explains. “If everyone’s happy we can take all four doors off. You’re still safely buckled in, but there’s nothing between you and the outside world. Then it’s in the chopper and away we go.”
And there’s no messing about. The entire 22km stretch of Cable Beach is immediately in view. “You’ve got the colours of the water, the beach, and the reds and yellows of the cliffs,” Tommo tells me. “Within 30 seconds, Broome is behind you. Then it’s clear sailing between Broome and Cape Leveque. And 99 per cent of it is secluded beaches.”
One of his favourite destinations is Horizontal Falls, 250km north-east of Broome. “You’ve got to get up there and have a look. It’s a pretty spectacular place.” After flying low over the Falls for a bird’s-eye view, he lands on the roof of a houseboat to let his passengers board a fast boat to race through the Falls.
But for Tommo the best is still to come. “North-east of the Falls you’ve got Montgomery Reef. Because it’s isolated, it’s remained something of a local secret. If it was easier to get there, it would be as well known as the Great Barrier Reef. It’s just an amazing spot and worth the effort for travellers.”
It’s here that Tommo, who is used to spotting crocodiles, sharks, and manta rays, along with humpback whales that breed and nurse in the area, got the surprise of his life last year. “I looked down and at first I didn’t think I was seeing what I was seeing,” he says. “Sure enough, it was a killer whale and its calf. I was pretty chuffed.”
Every day can bring a new experience, especially as Tommo’s passengers can design their own Kimberley tours. “Because we don’t need runways, we can essentially land anywhere we want. It comes down to the customer’s imagination.” He has taken people to deserted beaches and tiny islands, and landed at waterholes for a private swim and at remote waterfalls. “We can fly to places that you just could not access by foot or car.”
It’s not surprising that he describes his customers as “gobsmacked” when they fly with him. “They’ve probably always had getting to the Kimberley in the back of their minds, but it surprises them how something so wild and untouched can be so peaceful and beautiful at the same time. The coastlines are so dramatic. People are just amazed.