The pearling town of Broome is simple yet charismatic, its wide streets lined with huge, square weatherboard buildings with vast verandahs. Their steep corrugated iron roofs have no gutters so the enormous rainfalls of ‘the Wet’ flow into the streets rather than living rooms.
Wander through Chinatown to take in the pearl showrooms and retail outlets, before enjoying a break at the sidewalk cafes. Around town, you’ll see historical sites, notably commemorating the town’s ocean industry, from restored pearling luggers, and the old jetty and historic pearler’s quarters on Dampier Terrace, to
four life-sized statues on Carnarvon Street. The Japanese Cemetery, meanwhile, provides ample evidence of the dangers of pearling in times past. You can also check out the wrecks of Dutch flying boats bombed in World War II, and the nostalgic open-air cinema Sun Pictures.
The mangroves in the former port of Roebuck Bay form a fertile wetland where so many fish are spawned that they travel the south-flowing Leeuwin Current to populate the seas as far off as Tasmania. Three times a month between March and October, at low (king) tide, people gather at Town Beach to look over Roebuck Bay and watch the tiny gold sliver of moonlight appear on the black horizon. As it rises across the exposed shallows, it creates the illusion of light known as the Staircase to the Moon. So simple, yet so uplifting, the phenomenon unifies the community and visitors alike.
- At low tide, retrace 120 million-year-old dinosaur footsteps around Gantheaume Point and Reddel Beach.
- Grab a bargain at the courthouse markets on Saturday morning.
- Catch a barramundi on a fishing charter.
- Watch the Staircase to the Moon from the Mangrove Hotel or Town Beach.
- Try a chilli beer at award-winning Matsos Microbrewery.
- Ride a camel along Cable Beach, or watch them from Sunset Bar & Grill.
- Take a tour from Gantheaume Point and watch adolescent male whales at play.
- See an old-school pearl diver’s suit (and lift a lead boot) on the Pearl Luggers Tour.
- Sit back in a deck chair at the oldest operating outdoor picture gardens in the world – ignore the low-flying planes, they’re traditional.
- Experience an Indigenous adventure on the Dampier Peninsula.
For more visit scooptraveller.com.au/BroomePeninsula.
DO AND SEE
Cruise up the Kimberley Coast
A sea trip from Broome should be on everyone’s bucket list. The remote and untouched Kimberley coast stretches to the northernmost tip of WA, offering a unique beauty with its thousands of islands, reefs, gorges and waterfalls, and abundant marine and bird life. The Kimberley cruise experts in Broome can help book your perfect trip.
Have an Ardi experience
‘Ardi’ translates as ‘northeast’ in the traditional Bardi language, and signifies the journey to the Dampier Peninsula that people have travelled for thousands of years. You can travel it too: just head 220km northeast of Broome along the partly unsealed Cape Leveque Road to see this amazing native-title land.
There are six language groups on the peninsula – Jawi, Bardi, Nyulnyul, Jabirrjabirr, Nimanburru and Ngumbarl – each with unique customs. The groups run their own tours, and several have accommodation. One day is not enough on the peninsula: book yourself into an eco safari tent at Indigenous resort Kooljaman at Cape Leveque, then jump onto resident Brian Lee’s morning tour. Take in the spectacular scenery and meet some amazing locals while Brian shares his country and unique Aboriginal perspective – you may even catch a fish or mud-crab along the way. Bookings are essential; ask at the visitor centre.
The natural beauty of the peninsula is only matched by the depth of its culture: stop off in Beagle Bay and see the Sacred Heart Church. Its spectacular pearl-shell mosaic altar was built by local Aboriginal people and the Pallotine Monks in 1917. It’s also worth visiting Australia’s oldest operating pearl farm, at Cygnet Bay.
Shell out for a Broome pearl
Broome is the home of the South Sea pearl, the finest in the world. Learn more about how this mysterious gem is cultivated by visiting a pearl farm at Willie Creek or Cygnet Bay, by helicopter, aircraft, bus or self-drive. Head out on the water and see the oyster beds close up, learn how oysters are cared for and harvested, and hear more of Broome’s amazing pearling history. If you’re staying in town, pop down to Dampier Terrace in Chinatown to discover some of the finest pearl jewellery in the world, including the world’s biggest pearl.
Witness the magnificent Horizontal Falls
This natural phenomenon – dubbed “one of the greatest natural wonders of the world” by David Attenborough – is located among the thousands of islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago beyond the Dampier Peninsula. The Horizontal Waterfalls are powered by the huge tidal movements of the Indian Ocean, moving through the gorges of the 1.8 billion-year-old McLarty Range in Talbot Bay. The scope of this landscape of green mountains, bays and islands among bright blue water is simply epic. You can drive to Derby, hop on a cruise, sail, or take a scenic flight with Kimberley Aviation. As well as the falls, you’ll take in the breathtaking islands, experience the amazing force of the standing waves and whirlpools of King Sound near Cygnet Bay, and land at the famous Cape Leveque for breakfast and a swim. Depart from Broome or Derby.
Have a whale of a time
Forget whale-watching in wild winter waves – head north like the whales do. Between June and August, more than 30,000 whales spend the winter in the warm, calm waters off the Kimberley Coast. They share the sea with manta rays, snubfin dolphins, turtles, dugongs and more. You can get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures on daily tours during whale-watching season.
Camels and Cable Beach
Cable Beach is a 22km stretch of sand named after the telegraph cable linking Broome to the rest of the world in 1889. You simply must join a camel train and ride along the sand on these gentle giants.
TIP Care for a swim? Cable Beach is patrolled by surf lifesavers during peak season. From December to April, a rashie is handy protection against the irritating stingers.
End the day with a romantic sunset
Broome is known its beautiful sunsets, and for good reason. The long, flat beaches give unhindered views of the sun setting over the Indian Ocean. Picnic, walk, or camel-ride across Cable Beach, and watch the fiery red orb sink beneath the horizon.
Fish for barramundi
After a huge Wet, locals expect a cracking barra season. Early April, (after the floodwaters have settled) is the best time to try your luck. As Ryan Mills, a pilot with Kimberley Aviation says, “When the mangoes are ripe, the barra are on the bite.” From June to August, it’s too cold for barra, then from late August until the end of October they get livelier again. If you intend on keeping your catch, barramundi must be between 55cm and 80cm, and the daily limit is two per person. Fishing camps, day charters and tackle stores are plentiful.
As well as barra, Broome’s waters are populated by giant trevally, tuna, bluenose salmon and more; catch them from the creeks, jetties and beaches, or from a boat. Ask at the visitor centre and tackle stores about when, where and how to snag them.
Malcolm Douglas Wilderness Wildlife Park, a short drive north of Broome, is great for kids of all ages. View some of the largest crocodiles in captivity, plus other native Australian animals. You can even hold a baby croc. Get there at 3pm for the daily feeding.
DROP IN ON THE LOCALS
Amanda Cordner, membership manager
The local’s best-kept secret is just an hour north of Broome. Hop in a 4WD and explore a spectacular stretch of pristine Kimberley coastline, places like Barred Creek, Quandang Point and James Price Point, where you’ll find the locals camping most weekends. If you don’t have a 4WD, you can discover this special part of Broome with Amazing Kimberley Tours & Charter.
Head to Eco Beach. At just over an hour’s drive south of Broome, a weekend at this spectacular eco wilderness resort will leave you feeling like you’ve been away for weeks. Stay in one of the luxury safari tents or villas, and dine with an ocean view in Jack’s Restaurant. There’s lots to do, from helicopters, fishing, yoga, and bushwalking to just relaxing on the beach. Divine!
Local Broome guide Bart Pigram of Narlijia Cutlural Tours, has heritage that dates back to the first filipino missionary settlers and the Yaruwu Indigenous tribe. “It’s a melting pot,” he says. “Sometimes we take it for granted, but we’re lucky.”
On his walking tour, Bart tells many fascinating stories around Roebuck Bay and Broome, including the history of Dampier Creek and the rich pickings in the mangrove forests and the jabalbal (mudflats). Bart went to his elders to learn the oral history of the tribes, and has taught his own kids the stories and customs, as well as how to hunt for mud crab. “Also salmon – they come in whduring, the windy season, when the cool desert air blows in.”
Here are some useful words from the Yawuru language:
Narlijia True for you
Ngaji Mingan Hello, how are you?
Liyan Spirit, or feelings
For more, download the Yawuru Ngan-ga app by Nyamba Buru Yawuru.
A TASTE OF BROOME
With cuisine experiences, music and pictures created around the distinctive Indigenous culture of Broome, this monthly dinner and show will enrich your visit. Dry season.
PINCTADA CABLE BEACH POLO
The extraordinary sporting spectacle is free to watch on the beach, picnic-style, but VIP marquee tickets are also available. May.
BROOME HORSE RACES
Embrace the racing season and watch the horses tear up dust in the Broome heat, before catching a free bus service home for the evening. Highlights include the Kimberley Cup, Ladies Day, and Broome Cup. Aug.
SHINJU MATSURI- FESTIVAL OF THE PEARL
This spectacular ten-day festival includes a long-table dinner, floating lantern events, stage shows, dance and more. Sep.
Mango mania hits Broome for four days of madness, with mango juices, fresh mangoes, mango cakes, cocktails, jams and more. Nov.
EAT AND DRINK
Broome is bustling with hotels and resorts – most have at least one restaurant. The Japanese restaurant at Cable Beach Club is excellent, and eateries dot both the beachfront and bay side, with tapas and seafood offerings. There’s a lovely Italian restaurant in town, as well as cafes and pubs, and burger joints. If you choose to dine out, book your table, and cab or pedicab in advance.
Danielle Hart & Justin Wiebrecht, owners
“Tongs Chinese on Napier Terrace is a third-generation Chinese family restaurant. Kevin Tong – Kev – is a gem. Even the local Catholic bishop eats there. The decor hasn’t changed in 30 years, though. Also, the Mexican place opposite Tongs does great breakfast burritos.”
The drive from Perth to Broome is 2240km along sealed roads. Integrity Coach Lines departs from Perth for Broome on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and travels along Indian Ocean Drive and Coastal Highway. To return, you can catch the coach from Broome to Perth on Thursdays and Saturdays. As Broome’s mentor, Lord Alistair McAlpine, once said, “Basically the north-west is held to ransom by the airlines. Why should it be cheaper to go to Bali, which is further than Broome?” Well, it’s worth every penny to fly to Broome, with daily flights from Perth. Once there, however, it’s all about driving or tours.
Old Broome is within easy reach of Chinatown – accommodation options include caravan parks, self-contained units and resorts. A room with a view over Roebuck Bay is a great way to enjoy the Staircase to the Moon, and accommodation is plentiful at Cable Beach – there are luxury resorts as well as caravan parks, B&Bs and motels.
WHEN TO GO
The Yarawu people identify six seasons, but in a nutshell, Broome activity is defined by the dry season (May to October) and the wet season (November to April). In the Dry, skies are blue and temperatures range from 20°C to 30°C, with low humidity. From mid-June to mid-August is peak season; all attractions are usually open but make sure you pre-book any tours.
The wet season brings heavy, short downpours in the afternoons or evenings, and high humidity. 4WD tracks close, and many businesses scale back. But there’s plenty to love, including cheaper accommodation. Watch the storms roll in from the clifftops at Gantheaume Point, and take a scenic flight or hovercraft tour to see rivers become inland seas.