Broome… and our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean

Important Travel Tips – Australia’s North West

Sensational Broome… where do we start!

Broome is a vibrant, beachy town at the base of Dampier Peninsular and surrounded by the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean and the creeks, mangroves and mudflats of Roebuck Bay… this is Yawuru country. 

Situated a mere 2240-kilometres north of Perth it sits on the coastline where the beautiful white sands of the famous 22-kilometre Cable Beach (named after cable that was laid between Broome and Java in 1889 for telegraph lines) offers a stunning backdrop for some of the most incredible ocean sunsets WA has to offer. It is also the southern gateway to the magnificent wilderness region of the Kimberley, and a town shaped by a romantic pearling history. 

Having visited previously, we settled into ‘Broome time’ pretty quickly, setting up our camp at beautiful Cable Beach Caravan Park where we had stayed before, then we headed for the water!  

We had quite an audience watching from various vantage points as we set up… and I’m sure those watching were thinking ‘surely they haven’t put a rooftop tent in between our vans’!

Broome is an extremely popular tourist destination mostly with visitors who fly in and backpackers and grey nomads doing the big lap of Australia… and this caravan park was Grey Nomad heaven!

Every year these ‘antique teenagers’ pack their bags and houses to head off on their road trip north… in convoy. They leave the southern states looking for warmer surroundings, and lots arrive here in Broome! Many come back year after year and, as in many other parks we had stayed at, some have claimed the park as their home away from home!

Broome is also filled with young backpackers and if you’re a backpacker, you’ll love it here! Some we met had arrived and never left!

The caravan park was just a short 10 minute stroll to the famous Cable Beach with its dazzling white sand and turquoise water. The surf was good, the last stingers reported in May, and after having followed the coast for many weeks, unable to swim in the ocean because of salties, it was good to hit the waves for a spot of body surfing. The only time you may want to avoid swimming at Cable Beach is during the ‘Wet’ season (November to May), due to the prevalence of jellyfish that populate the area.

Over the next week we walked the white sands of Cable Beach early each morning followed by a refreshing dip in the ocean upon our return, just what we needed to start each day. What we didn’t realise was that ‘north of the rock’ is a clothing optional’ part of the beach so it was quite interesting passing naked people going for their morning walks as we were going for ours… us with clothes on I might add! So if you are offended by nudity I would recommend keeping ‘south of the rocks’… and you’ll know what rocks I mean when you visit the beach!

In the days to follow, when the tide was right, we spent a lot of time in the surf until we were totally exhausted then we found a quiet stretch of dry sand to lay our towels down to enjoy  the sunshine! 

Sometimes we were happy just to lounge around the camp, swimming at the pool or just seeking out the shade of a tree to read a book or we hopped on our bikes and rode through the streets of Broome exploring some of the places previously visited along with some new ones. Broome has extensive bike tracks so getting around was fun and easy.

Just before sunset each day we rode along the beach to see the most talked about event and even though we missed the ‘Staircase to the Moon’ (only by a week), the sunsets and the moon rising were pretty spectacular!

If you are looking to see this phenomenon it only happens over 2-3 days of the month during March to October so it pays to check the times with the Tourist Information Centre or caravan park.

Watching the sunset is, of course, free, although it gets very busy at dusk with 4WDs allowed on certain parts of the beach and the camel trains making their entrance to parade up and down the shore but it was certainly the place to be at last light each evening!

You soon get hooked on this daily sunset event as the 4WDs stream in and line up along the sand dunes; complete with deck chairs, nibbles, beer, champagne and cameras… from sunrise to sunset there is so much to love about this beach!

Broome also has a history and culture as colourful as it’s landscape and it was great just soaking up the charm of the old and new Broome as we rode our bikes for kilometres finding interesting and exciting places.

We visited Roebuck Bay, well known for the Royal Dutch Air Force Flying Boats that lay half buried in the mud. The original wrecks that were bombed by the Japanese Navy Aircraft in March 1942 can be seen at very low tide and you can even walk the kilometre out through the squelchy mud to see these World War II flying boats.

Overlooking Roebuck Bay is a memorial that remembers residents who died during both World Wars and the Vietnam War and Town Beach at Roebuck Bay can be just as stunning as Cable Beach and plenty of people swim there… but last time we visited Broome they had to close this beach as there was a rouge croc, and although they’re rarely found here, you just never know… this is mangrove land. In saying this it really made us think about Cable Beach as it would have had to swim past us to get to Roebuck Bay

A famous Broome tale centres around Roebuck Bay also. Legend has it that William Dampier landed a treasure chest full of pirated pieces and buried it at Buccaneer Rock opposite the Mangrove Hotel and apparently his ghost can be seen there on a misty night with a lantern looking for the lost loot… what a wonderful myth to tell children.

We rode past the historic Streeter’s Jetty, which is the original Broome Jetty used by the pearl luggers and then headed towards Chinatown, once the bustling hub of billiard saloons, entertainment houses and Chinese eateries.

A walk along the Johnny Chi Lane Historic Walk allowed us to checkout a few of the retail outlets and took us to the Sun Pictures, the world’s oldest operating open-air picture gardens where we could see its excellent display of movie memorabilia and still catch a movie seated in a deckchair beneath the stars any night of the week. This unique theatre has withstood the ravages of war, cyclones and king tides.

From here we visited the life size statue of the Hard Hat Pearl Diver standing proud on the grassed area of Carnarvon Street in Chinatown. The monument pays tribute to divers involvement in establishing Broome as a centre in the world’s pearling industry of the early 1900’s.

These early Pearl Divers came from diverse cultural backgrounds and this resulted in Broome being exempted from the White Australia Policy. The Immigration Restriction Act or the White Australia Policy was enforced for almost 50-years from 1901 to the end of World War II and Australia used language tests to prevent undesirables such as prostitutes, paupers, criminals, non-whites and contract labourers from migrating to Australia. Exempt from this, Broome became one of Australia’s first multicultural towns.

Adjacent to the ‘Hard Hat Pearl Diver’ was the ‘Cultured Pearling Monument’ and standing proud were three life-size statues of pioneers from the ‘Cultured Pearl Industry’ in Broome.

We checked out the ‘Old Lockup’ and ‘Boab Tree’. The ‘Old Lockup’ was the original police station constructed in Broome in the late 1890s and early 1900s and it is believed the boab tree was planted in memory of Herbert Thomas, a police officer who died while on duty.  The ‘Courthouse’ and the original ‘Cable House’ were built in 1888. The ‘Cable House’ was where the Broome end of the oceanic telegraph cable from Java terminated.

10-kilometres along Port Drive we came across the Port of Broome deep-water jetty and just to the north the beautiful Reddell Beach.

The Port of Broome is the main deep-water port servicing Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This massive port services livestock export, offshore oil and gas exploration supply vessels, pearling, fishing charter boats, cruise liners and is the main fuel and container depot for the region but we could only have a quick look around as most of the area was a restricted zone.

Then after checking out Reddell Beach we rode back along Port Drive a short distance before detouring down a 4WD track where we followed a very sandy narrow track for quite a distance… and I was impressed with the excellent manoeuvring skills I displayed to stay on my bike in these sandy conditions. When Guy says we will go for a short ride, which is most days, I should know by now it is never short and never easy…but I have to say it is always well worth the effort! IMG_2420

Gantheaume Point is home of the ’Dinosaur Footprints’ that are over 120-million years old. The fossilized dinosaur footprints are a lasting reminder of Broomes’ prehistoric past and for the benefit of tourists a concrete cast of the Stegosaurus footprints have been embedded in the higher rocks so they are not hidden by high tide. The existence of these dinosaur footprints has only been known since 1952 and since then new sites have been found throughout the far north.

For over a 100-years this has also been the site of Broome’s skeletal lighthouse. The first lighthouse was built in 1906 along with the keeper’s quarters. It was a 47 foot steel tower with a kerosene light that the keeper would have to refuel and light but in 1917 a new lighthouse was built that used acetylene as fuel and as this automated the lighthouse it meant the end of Gantheaume Point’s short history with a resident keeper.

The keeper’s quarters later became a nun’s retreat then a meeting place for Girl Guide groups in the 1930’s. The quarters fell into dilapidation and eventually burnt down around 1970, leaving only the stone fireplace and chimney. The second lighthouse was replaced in 1984 by the current stainless steel tower and electric light.

Also at Gantheaume Point is Anastasia’s Pool, carved out of the rock by the former lighthouse keeper to allow his arthritic wife the opportunity to bathe in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean at high tide.

Silly us, we then decided to ride our bikes what seemed like kilometres back along the beach.  We forgot to check the tide first and only a few kilometres into our little venture… we were bogged! There’d been quite a few very high tides lately and as a result no hard sand left for us to ride on – just very deep, soft sand resulting in us having to push the bikes all the way back. Lucky for us we had our swimmers, otherwise it would have been clothes and all… so we just stripped off and headed for the water! We were on the wrong side of the rocks for the ‘Nudie Beach’!

It pays to remember here that there are incredible tides and at certain times during the year there is up to a 10-metre difference between low and high tide. It’s a long trek to the Indian Ocean to find the water when the tide is out and we knew we really needed to plan our adventures accordingly… some sights are good to see at low tide and some are not… and even though the tide wasn’t right out, riding our bikes along the beach was definitely not a good idea! 

The history of Broome is quite intriguing when you think it was bombed by the Japanese in World War II, yet they were also an important part in establishing the pearling industry here and a visit to the Japanese and Chinese Cemeteries to reflect on the early days of diving is a ‘must do’ if you are visiting Broome.

Japanese labour was highly valued in the pearling industry and many lives were lost while gathering the shells. This is the final resting place for hundreds of pearl divers, thousands of kilometres from their families. Their sandstone headstones delicately inscribed with Japanese characters. 

It is also the final resting place for many of Broome’s Chinese community with headstones adorned with traditional logographic Chinese writing.

Nearing the end of our stay at Broome we decided on a sunset camel ride along Cable Beach and ‘The Team in Red’ certainly ensured that we left with a memorable experience! 

Our leisurely hour walk aboard our camel, gave us a pristine view of the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, the distant sands of Cable Beach and the famous red sun-set of Broome… and of course everything else that was going on around us!

If you don’t already know, Cable Beach plays host to one of Australia’s most famous nudist beaches – located north of Cable Beach and stretching right up to Willie Creek and to add to our camel ride experience we were treated to a ‘full moon experience’ rather more than just the ‘sunset’ we had came to see, as a couple oblivious to all that was going on around them… eagerly collected shells!

It was a strange feeling when we climbed aboard our camel. They are so tall they have to kneel, unlike a horse that just stands there for you to climb on. When they stand up their back legs go up first and you feel as though you are going to face-plant into the sand. Then their front legs straighten and you’re even again. They lurch from side to side as they plod along over the earth; through creeks, over rocks or in thick sand…. on and on they go. It was a long way up the beach then back again and it was a great ride that we thoroughly enjoyed. They really are amazing creatures… obedient and majestic. It is so easy to make memories while travelling that will truly stay etched in your mind forever. However, riding a camel along Cable Beach will be one I know I won’t forget in a hurry.

One of the guides told us stories as we walked. The camel we rode ‘Wun’ was one of the younger camels and had come from Alice Springs. He along with two other camels were walked across the Tanami Track and when they arrived in Broome he said they looked more like horses than camels – they had lost so much weight they didn’t have any humps…  and apparently the poor guy who walked with them didn’t look much better!

The guide also told us of a man who had walked three camels from the furthest point on the east coast-Hervey Bay, to the furthest point in the west coast-Carnarvon. When he arrived instead of having three camels he had 3½. Unbeknown to the guy, one camel was expecting and he was surprised with the birth of a baby camel some distance into the trip. To be able to continue the trip he rigged up a sling for the mother to carry the baby until it could walk on its own. The man and all the camels received medals.

On the way home we passed the camels on their way to bed and chuckled to ourselves as a ‘poop’ picker followed close behind picking up the occasional droppings the ‘poop bags’ (that hung under the camels tail) failed to catch! The last camel even had taillights and indicators and the leading camel a headlight and indicators; they were certainly serious about moving the camels around at night. 

To finish our stay in Broome we couldn’t depart without a long stroll along Cable Beach and dip in the sea and it wasn’t until it was time to leave that we were told that only a few months earlier there had been a large ‘salty’ seen swimming in the waters… so Broome most definitely has the odd croc or 2! 

It was now time to leave Broome but we were excited about what awaited us further up the road… we are heading for the Dampier Peninsula!

 

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