Located at the southernmost tip of the Kimberley about 18 degrees south of the equator, Broome was the first example we’ve seen of an Australian tropical town. Palm trees and boabs line the streets, birds of prey circle the skies and everyone walks around like they’re on holiday. The atmosphere is really laid back and after a while, you’ll learn about Broome time, which ticks at a much slower pace than Melbourne time. Monsoon season between October and March can make some of the more remote areas around the town inaccessible due to rain, so if you plan to visit and want the best weather, make it between April and September.
William Dampier was the first to visit the area in 1688 and Roebuck Bay on which Broome sits is named after his ship, the HMS Roebuck, but it wasn’t until 1883 that Broome was declared a town. The largest pearl shells in the world were discovered in Roebuck Bay, and this led to Broome’s establishment as a pearling town. People from Japan, China, Malaysia, Europe and the Philippines arrived to seek out the ‘Pinctada maxima’ shells, and while pearling was super-profitable for the pearling master (or as we see it, the pimp), the divers had it tough and suffered from the bends, shark attacks, cyclones and drowning.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Broome produced 80% of the world’s Mother of Pearl shells, but after the plastic button was invented and cultured pearls were introduced in the 1970s, they were only producing about 65% of the world’s stock. Paspaley is the largest and oldest pearling company in Australia and the producer of the most beautiful pearls in the world, and it has an outlet in town. Juz took it upon herself to try on some pearls; about $98,000 worth to be precise, and while we were there, we also learnt about how pearls are valued. They need to be smooth, unblemished, round and shiny, and there are different types of pearls that are available (black, white, gold, champagne and baroque). Baroque pearls are asymmetrical pearls that are made when the oyster tries to spit them out before they’re ready. The pearl ends up developing an irregular shape instead of a smooth spherical shape.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Broome during August/September, this is when they hold the annual ‘Festival of the Pearl’ called Shinju Matsuri. The town celebrates their history, the pearl harvest and their multicultural heritage, which includes all the Asian and European folk, as well as the local Aboriginal people. We were really happy to have a chat with a few of the locals, including a lady who was brought up by the Sisters in Beagle Bay, a super happy guy carving a boab nut in Chinatown, and another guy who came and sat down with us in the park while he waited for his mates to hurry up. They were all friendly, welcoming and happy to share their stories.
There are two movie outlets to cater for all sorts of weather – Sun Cinema, which is indoors, and Sun Pictures, the oldest operating outdoor cinema in the world! You can also enjoy the Staircase to the Moon at certain times of the month, when the full moon reflects on the mud flats and creates the illusion of a staircase.
So, whether you enjoy picking up some noodles in Chinatown, trying on expensive pearls or lazing on the beach, Broome has something for you.
POINTS OF INTEREST
The original commercial centre of Broome, Chinatown demonstrates the multiculturalism of Broome. While we were expecting more Chinese restaurants and tacky neon lights, we were satisfied with the Asian architecture on telephone booths and Johnny Chi Shady Lane, which mainly contained clothing outlets that sold colourful dresses, a café with a terrible soundtrack and lots of souvenirs. A great place for kooky food items is Yuen Wing Grocery Store…
A great spot to spend the day! There is a great little park with BBQ and picnic facilities, right near Pioneer Cemetery, and the beach is clean with safe waters and outdoor showers. We had lunch here with our travel buddies, Mark and Alexis before they hopped on a long bus ride to Darwin.
This beautiful beach that stretches for 22km is named after the underwater telegraph cable that links Australia to Indonesia. It is one of the most famous beaches in the world and is a great place to go swimming, play beach cricket, and watch the sunset. Be careful though – between November and April, box jellyfish and stingers like to hang about, and if you get stung by one of those, you’re gonna have a bad time.
If you go north of the rocks, you can get your kit off in the nudist section (yes – we did), which also happens to be the 4×4 section and the area that the camels are parked to advertise the tours.
We considered going on a camel ride, but after walking past a group on their pre-sunset tour, we decided against it. The camels stunk and we figured that we could get a much better photo off the camel rather than on top of it. We did appreciate that the camels had shit bags attached to their bums to stop poop from getting on the beach.
There are over 900 Japanese divers buried in the Japanese cemetery, which shows just how dangerous the early pearling days were. What makes the Japanese cemetery a beautiful place is the raw sandstone headstones that are inscribed with ornate Japanese text.
We got up nice and early on Saturday morning to check out the Courthouse Markets, which were just down the street from the Kimberley Klub YHA. The markets run from 8am-1pm every Saturday and are the largest art and craft markets in the Kimberley.
Stalls surround the courthouse, selling pearls, semi-precious stones, tie-dye t-shirts, hippie clothes, summer dresses, jewellery, exotic food and soap while musicians were dotted around with their hats out. One kid really stood out – long blonde hair covered his face as he smashed out wicked riffs on his electric guitar. He was totally grunge and had a sign out that said “Need money for a haircut” – what a cool kid.
The weather was precarious when we got to Gunatheaume Point (which Juz called Guantanamo Point because she couldn’t pronounce ‘gan-thoom’ point). We walked past the kooky lighthouse to see the dinosaur footprints, but unfortunately, the tide wasn’t low enough. It has to be at VERY LOW tide (1.3m or lower) before you can see the real footprints, so the concrete mould at the lookout would have to suffice.
We did climb down the cliffs to check out Anastasia’s Pool, which was built by the former lighthouse keeper for his arthritic wife, who found relief in the warm salty water.
FOOD & DRINK
The first place on our list of places to go to was the Matso’s Brewery. This award-winning full mash hand-crafted brewery created the Smokey Bishop, a dark larger that was awarded Australia’s best dark larger during the 2006 Australasian Beer Awards. If dark ale isn’t your thing, there are fruity beers, hoppy beers, refreshing light beers and ciders, so there is something for everyone. Matso’s Brewery is open 7 days a week from 7am until late, and they also offer tours on Wednesday and Fridays. http://www.matsos.com.au/
We spent the afternoon in the awesome beer garden drinking and chatting with our new mate Billows, who works for the local radio station. The beer garden has a small stage for live acts, as well as the Curry Hut, which is run by an Indian chef that makes his own authentic North Indian curries.
- Hit the Toad Lager – 3.5% yeasty and fruity with a hint of lime and minimal hops. Very refreshing! The beer was named to support the Stop the Toad Foundation, which works to raise awareness about the cane toad invasion across the WA/NT border.
- Monsoonal Blonde – 4.7% a cloudy wheat beer with a fruity, floral taste and no bitterness. Very easy to drink.
- Pearlers Pale Ale – 4.5% rich and heavy, full malt beer that is smooth and hoppy.
- Smokey Bishop – 4.9% full bodied, dark, caramel and toffee flavours, deliciously smokey.
- Mango – 4.5% sweet enough to be a dessert beer, it was fruity and tropical, very smooth with a hint of hops.
- Chilli – 4.5% not for the faint hearted. Juz’s lips were burning as soon as they touched the foam! A great chilli flavour in a light, refreshing brew.
- Chango – 4.5% Juz’s favourite! half chilli beer, half mango beer. The sweetness of the mango was great to diffuse some of the chilli burn. A beautifully tropical beer.
- Lychee – 4.0% smells very much like lychee but the first taste is like a light, refreshing beer with a fruity aftertaste.
- Ginger Beer – 3.5% not as sweet as expected. Herbaceous and smooth without any ginger spice.
- Mango Lime Cider – 4.0% a clear, light green cider with lots of fruits flavours and a smooth, buttery finish.
We headed to the Broome RSL after Matso’s Brewery and on the way out, we spied a raised up, 4WD HQ station wagon. Dave creamed his pants…
The first thing we noticed was the yellow lights, which were probably installed to deter the insects. The Broome RSL is a friendly, welcoming place full of happy locals having a great time with other happy locals. We were there on a Friday night and took advantage of the $10 meat pack offer. The meat pack contains two sausages, a chop and steak that you cook yourself on the BBQ. The RSL provides salads and veggies to accompany the meat you’ve cooked up. What a great feed!
Before we entered the Broome RSL, we met a great lady outside walking her three tiny dogs. She was an aboriginal woman of the Stolen Generation who grew up in Beagle Bay with the St John of God Sisters. She told us about her dogs and her upbringing before inviting us back to her house for more chats. We told her that we’d love to come over after a few drinks at the RSL but unfortunately, the more drinks we had, the fuzzier the directions to her house became. After wandering around in the dark for about 20 minutes, we admitted defeat and went back to the hostel.
A short walk from Cable Beach will bring you to the Divers Tavern, a nice place for a meal and a drink, until they turn up the volume on the footy so you have to yell at your friends just to have a conversation. We went here with Alexis and Mark after a few hours north of the rocks at Cable Beach.
They have a few meal specials, including a $20 schnitz and chips that we couldn’t overlook. We ordered a serving with mushroom sauce and within 10 minutes, it was presented in all its deep-fried glory. The chips were fairly average and the sauce was basically gravy with mushrooms, but the chicken schnitzel was crispy and hot. Juz sampled the quesadillas and they were actually delicious and great value at $4 a serve.
Popular with the locals, the Roebuck Hotel is a cool place to catch up with mates for a drink in the Asian-style beer garden, adorned with red lanterns hanging off the ceiling. Dave’s cousin Tony met his wife here back in the day – they were both shitfaced and it was love at first sight.
We met Tom and Bella here to catch up and have something small to eat. We shared two sides because we weren’t super hungry – the chips were delicious and well seasoned and the onion rings were crisp and tasty but not the best. Later on, Billows turned up and we were happier and with our mouths open!
INFORMATION & ACCOMMODATION
The Broome Visitor Centre is located on Broome Road, right in the town centre. Their phone number is08 9192 2222.