PLACES TO GO
The 22km stretch of white sand beach is renowned for its natural beauty, sunsets and resort lifestyle. The sky at dusk is dramatic – especially when there are a few clouds around. You can opt to admire it from a beachside bar or restaurant, or take your 4WD to a viewing spot on the beach (bring along chairs and eskies like the locals). Alternatively take a sunset cruise aboard the 111-year-old Intombi pearling lugger, which includes a welcome drink and nibbles, (08) 9192 7321. Cable Beach is also great for dog walking, sunbaking, swimming and surfing – you can hire beach necessities from Daryl at the Cable Beach Hut, in front of the surf club. He’s there every day and rents out surfboards, boogie boards and kids’ toys; the beach lounges with umbrellas are well worth it (they come with free sunscreen and cold water). If you’re planning on getting wet, the beach is patrolled by surf lifesavers during the peak season. Always make sure you read the signage, because there are stingers from December to April; long Lycra swimming gear during this period is handy. If you head north of the rocks, clothing is optional; it’s also where the renowned camel rides start from. Accommodation is plentiful at Cable Beach – there are luxury resorts as well as caravan parks, B&Bs and motels. Food options range from burger joints to restaurants serving topnotch cuisine.
At the very southern tip of Cable Beach is Gantheaume Point where, during very low tide, 130 million-year-old footprints that belong to five different types of dinosaurs are revealed. Plaster casts have been made and embedded into the rocks at the top of the cliff, if you can’t make the low tide. Be careful when exploring the area – the rocks can be slippery and steep, and sturdy shoes and a decent level of mobility are required. Although the footprints are an obvious feature, Gantheaume Point is worth a visit purely to marvel the bright red pindan cliffs against the turquoise hue of the ocean – the clash of colours is the reason why it’s one of the most photographed places in Broome (whales can also be spotted from here). Unfortunately bad weather during the 2013/2014 wet season destroyed another attraction, Anastasia’s Pool (a rock pool that was constantly refilled during high tide). Although nothing remains of the pool, the story behind its name is good to know and retell. The pool was modified by a former lighthouse keeper for his wife, Anastasia, who was crippled by arthritis. It was believed that the salt water that filled the pool allowed her some measure of pain relief.
Chinatown (Old Broome)
What was once a bustling pearling port is now a shopping and cafe district. See restored pearling luggers, the old jetty and historic pearler’s quarters on Dampier Terrace, and four life-sized statues on Carnarvon Street. You can shop around at the premium pearl showrooms, and see the world’s largest pearl along Dampier Terrace. Carnarvon and Short streets, Dampier Terrace and Johnny Chi Lane are the best places to go if you’re after souvenirs. Boutique clothing stores also line Carnarvon Street. Besides being the spot to spend up a storm, Chinatown is a good place to book tours, get a haircut or run errands. Catch a movie at Sun Pictures, the oldest picture gardens in the world – bring a pillow to prop yourself up in the deckchairs – or spend an afternoon pottering around the local art galleries along Carnarvon, Short and Hamersley streets. If you head just south of the town you’ll be rewarded with the pretty sight of mangroves against the unbelievably vibrant blue of Roebuck Bay (home to numerous bird species). The best place to soak up the scenery is undoubtedly Matso’s Brewery, an absolute must-visit when in Broome – try the new Lychee Beer. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, there are plenty of choices around Old Broome that are within easy reach of Chinatown; options include caravan parks, self-contained units and resorts that are often more affordable than luxury digs at Cable Beach. TIP A room with a view over Roebuck Bay is one of the best ways to enjoy the natural phenomenon that is the Staircase to the Moon.
Just a few hours from Broome, the experience here is completely different. This laid-back area is made up of a group of small Indigenous communities (Ngumbarl, Jabirr Jabirr, Nyul Nyul, Nimanburu, Bardi Jawi and Goolarabooloo) who have welcomed tourists. This stretch of unspoilt coastline enjoys stunning scenery and provides a real opportunity to get off the beaten track. With mangroves set against charred red cliffs, isolated beaches and ocean view campgrounds, it’s the ideal extension of a trip to Broome – especially for those looking for some adventure. Camp under the stars, go fishing, mud crabbing or snorkelling. Try kayaking, hire a dinghy, or head out on a fishing charter or tour. Many of the local Indigenous people run their own tours, and several also have accommodation on offer. There are opportunities to learn traditional hunting and fishing techniques, share cultural experiences, and hear about the special relationship between the Indigenous people and the stunning landscape. Remember this is Aboriginal land, and privacy should be respected. Visitors are asked to stay on the marked tracks, and no dogs are allowed. When entering a community, visit the local office because a small day fee applies. Bookings are essential (hosts are not always staffed if they’re not expecting guests). No alcohol is sold on the peninsula – check with your host to see what is acceptable.
THINGS TO DO
In the centre of Chinatown, outside what looks like an old tin shed, a sign directs passers-by to The World’s Oldest Operating Outdoor Cinema Gardens. A visit to Sun Pictures is a must; when a movie is showing it resembles a giant sleepover – everyone pulls out their pillows and blankets brought from home (or from a hotel) to make the rows of deckchairs that bit more comfortable. There’s a candy bar in the cinema but the best thing to do is BYO food (the nearby kebab shop has excellent meat and rice dishes). In peak period, there are daily history tours at 10.30am and 1pm (entry is $5). TIP Don’t be put off if a plane passing overhead temporarily interrupts your movie; the sound pollution doesn’t last for long.
Broome’s modern settlement dates back to the early pearling days in the 1860s. Discover the close ties Japan established with Broome in the early 20th century by visiting the restored cemetery at Port Drive on the way to Cable Beach. The first recorded interment was 1896. A large obelisk marks those who drowned at sea during the 1908 cyclone, and many of the 707 graves have unusual headstones of coloured beach rocks. The Pioneer Cemetery at Town Beach (initially established as the Seafarer’s Cemetery) is now closed, and it serves as a commemoration site for many significant people in Broome’s history.
More than 300 bird species live in Broome – more than a third of Australia’s species. From late August and September, the famous migratory shorebirds start heading back to Roebuck Bay from breeding grounds in Siberia, North Asia and the Arctic Circle. Bush birds and shorebirds that are too young to fly inhabit Roebuck Bay’s vast mudflats all year round. It’s worth a visit to the local bird observatory, where a guide can take you onto restricted land for the best sightings. On the northern shore, high tide is the best time to visit the shorebird roosting sites. When you’re on the eastern shore (in the mangroves at the end of Crab Creek Road), you can look out for the mangrove grey fantail, dusky gerygone, broad-billed flycatcher and (if you’re lucky) a male white-breasted whistler. The freshwater lakes are home to ducks, ibis, grebes and freshwater shorebirds, and large birds of prey.
Broome’s waters are populated by species such as giant trevally, barramundi and tuna, but catching them isn’t as easy as you think… you’ll need to know where to go first (the massive tides will have a significant bearing on your luck). Get out on a boat as much as you can, but there’s also creek fishing, beach fishing and jetty fishing to be had. In the creeks, you’ll find barramundi, catfish, mangrove jacks and bluenose salmon (try Willie Creek in low tide, and use a shallow running lure when there’s not much tidal movement). Town Jetty is awesome in its own right – head up to the end on the left under the light (high tide is best). There’s giant trevally here but they’ll put up a good fight and free themselves (the fight is half the fun anyway). If the jetty is crowded, try the rocks on the southern side of the jetty. If you head offshore you’ll rarely be disappointed – the plane wrecks in Roebuck Bay are a good place to start, as well as Dampier and Crab creeks. In the open water, there’s mackerel, tuna (May to January) and sailfish (June until September).
When in Broome, pearls are a girl’s best friend. Learn more about how this mysterious gem is cultivated by taking a tour or driving to nearby pearl farms, where you can head out on the water and see the oyster beds close up, or take a chopper for an aerial view. Learn how oysters are harvested and hear how Broome’s pearling industry came to be. The farms will also teach about the pearls once they’ve been harvested, how to care for them and, of course, the ins and outs of purchasing them. Once you’re the full bottle, you’ll be well-equipped to browse the streets of Chinatown, which are lined with jewellery showrooms. Don’t be afraid to shop around and try on different strands to see which ones are best suited to your skin tone. If you are fascinated by the history, it’s worth visiting the Pearl Luggers grounds (in the heart of Chinatown) where you can see two fully rigged and restored pearl luggers.
With a diverse landscape and many scenic campgrounds, it’s no surprise camping is so popular in this region. Close to Broome, the Broome Bird Observatory offers a great chance to wake up in the bush among the local birdlife at Roebuck Bay ($15 per person per night, (08) 9193 5600. There are creature comforts such as toilets, hot showers, barbecue area and the Shadehouse (a fully equipped dining shelter with great views of the birdbaths). Further north, the Dampier Peninsula is undoubtedly awesome for camping, and has several free campgrounds with fantastic views. A 4WD to get around is advisable when travelling the peninsula (you might have a bumpy ride in parts if you’re towing a caravan) but you’ll be able to reach some sites such as James Price Point with a 2WD. With bright red cliffs that border the white beach, James Price Point is heartbreakingly pretty, and is a great first stop on the cape (camping here is free of charge). There are sensational views from the camping areas, and by the water there’s plenty of life in the rock pools. Another free site is Quondong Point, on the same turn off to Willie Creek Pearl Farm. Great fishing, campgrounds perched atop the cliffs, tide pools with fresh oysters (keep an eye out for octopus), and whales breaching are just a few of the things you’ll find. If you’re after more than the basics, Kooljaman at Cape Leveque boasts a restaurant and bar (only open in the dry season) plus safari tents and cabins. Bear in mind Kooljaman is incredibly popular in peak season, so bookings are a must. Middle Lagoon is always a good option for some peace and quiet – there’s great snorkelling (keep an eye out for clown fish) and you can fish for squid straight off the beach. There are also campgrounds at Barred Creek, Coulomb Point, Gnylmarung Retreat, Mercedes Cove, Pender Bay, Chile Creek and Goombading. TIP It’s BYO everything (and take rubbish with you) at several sites on the peninsula, including James Price Point and Quondong Point.
- Go birdwatching at Roebuck Bay
- Grab a beer from Matso’s Brewery
- Explore the Dampier Peninsula
- Watch a movie at Sun Pictures
- Try your hand at mud crabbing
- Watch the Cable Beach Polo
- Learn about Broome’s pearling history at a pearl farm
- See the dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point
- Head to the Courthouse Markets
All these and more at scoop.com.au/thingstodo
Cape Leveque | The bordering cliffs and sandy beaches at Cape Leveque are an exhibition of earthy colours against the ocean, making the site popular for photographers. The cape is home to Kooljaman Indigenous Wilderness Camp, where you can embrace the local civilisation and book a cultural activity. Flexibility is key, especially in the wet season when there are fewer visitors and the activities are run by demand.
One Arm Point (Ardiyooloon) | The welcoming Aboriginal community has embraced tourism and the locals are happy to show visitors how to fish, trap mud crabs, and live off the land. You can also tour Australia’s only trochus hatchery, where there is intriguing one-of-a-kind art and jewellery on sale.
Buccaneer Archipelago | Consisting of up to a thousand islands at low tide, the spectacular scenery of the archipelago is littered with rainforests, beaches and reefs, with a diverse aquatic ecosystem. The powerful tides create horizontal waterfalls that can be viewed by tour boats and planes, and the ancient rock art of the Aboriginal people who inhabited the islands for thousands of years can still be found today.
Cygnet Bay | Australia’s oldest operating pearl farm, which is still family owned, has plenty to offer visitors. For accommodation, the safari tents will keep you in touch with nature, but are more luxurious than a standard tent. The Giant Tides Tour on a high-powered boat is an exhilarating experience; don’t expect your hair to stay expertly groomed during the journey. For a more relaxing boating experience, there are tours that explore the surrounding archipelago islands and oyster beds.
Beagle Bay | Experience a little outback spirituality at the quirky Sacred Heart Church, which boasts an altar encrusted in a mosaic of tiny shells and mother of pearl. Make sure you show your appreciation with a small donation, and bear in mind that the visitor areas are only open on weekdays.
Lombadina | The local Aboriginal community owns a flourishing tourism
business, which covers accommodation and ocean-orientated tours, such as snorkelling, kayaking, mud crabbing and boating charters. Remember to respect traditions at all times, and if you aren’t sure if a route or destination is open for
visitors, it’s always best to ask.
A Taste of Broome
Experience unique multi-arts performances, and cuisine created around the distinctive Indigenous culture within Broome’s multicultural community. Broome, various dates.
Shinju Matsuri ‘Festival of the Pearl’
The festival recognises the many different cultures that have existed in Broome through a whirlwind of colour, sound, taste and smell. Broome, Sep.
Mango-mania hits Broome for four days of madness, with mango juices, fresh mangos, mango cakes, cocktails, jams and pretty much anything that you can add mango to. Broome, Nov.
Pinctada Cable Beach Polo
The extraordinary sporting spectacle is free to watch on the beach, picnic-style,
but VIP marquee tickets are also available. Broome, May.
Broome Horse Races
Embrace the racing season and watch the horses tear up dust in the Broome heat. Hit the gaming tables or try a spin in the Two Up ring after the races, and catch the free bus service home for the evening. Broome, various dates.
There are daily flights from Perth to Broome (from there, it’s all about driving or tours).The trip from Perth to Broome is 2240km along sealed roads. Integrity Coach Lines depart from Perth for Broome on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and travel along Indian Ocean Drive and Coastal Highway. To return, you can catch the coach from Broome to Perth on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Broome experiences a wet season (November to April) and a dry season (May to October). Everything is open in peak season, and Broome is buzzing, but if you like your space (the population of 15,000 swells to 30,000) the off-peak period is a good time to visit. Bear in mind that the wet weather can be limiting for some of the attractions, due to flooding and road closures.
- If you’re keen to try pearl meat, you can’t go past Cygnet Bay. Their annual pearl meat degustation menu (during peak period) is to die for. It helps that the head chef has trained in Nobu, Noma and Fat Duck!
- Heading to Willie Creek? Keep your eyes peeled for brumbies on the way, and there are brolgas to spot as well.
- Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park is great for families (both adultsand kids will love it). Get there at 3pm for the daily feeding, and you can alsohold a baby croc.
- If you’re keen to kick up your heels, The Roey (Roebuck Bay Hotel) or Divers (Divers Tavern) are the places to go.
- The best day to visit the Courthouse Markets is on a Saturday when all thestalls are open (it’s not quite as busy on a Sunday).