Broome: the Pearl of Western Australia

If, like me, you are from a modest-sized country where a six-hour drive to Scotland seems quite the ordeal, you will agree that the coastal town of Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia is the definition of ‘off the beaten track’. Broome is approximately a two and a half hour flight from its closest major cities, Perth and Darwin, and a staggering eight hour plane journey from Australia’s east coast. In this time, most European’s could have crossed oceans and reached whole other continents, never mind stayed within the same country. Yet, as with many secluded destinations, a visit to Broome is worth the lengthy journey.

The town’s history is a fascinating one steeped in the harvesting of oysters — a cultivation known as ‘pearling’. The industry is fruitful, however, prior to modern-day technological advancements, it was a dangerous job and one that was initially forced upon Aboriginal slaves who would dive hundreds of metres to the sea bed in search of the precious gems. When slavery was abolished, pearling in Broome was an occupation assumed by Asian workers who had arrived on Australia’s shores looking for a new and prosperous life. Nowadays, the industry has replaced these life-threatening dives with machinery, and Broome remains one of the primary centres for pearling in Australia.

This rich history, combined with breathtaking coastal scenery, makes Broome a thriving tourist destination despite its remote location. The town is hailed for being the gateway to the Kimberley wilderness, however, there is as much to see in Broome itself as there is in its surrounding area. The ambience in the town is relaxed and laid-back; the climate warm and tropical; the sights unique and varied. Its landscapes are also captivating; Broome is where the burnt orange of the outback meets the aquamarine waters of the Indian Ocean, and its offerings to visitors are as valuable as the pearls hauled from its coastal depths.

Cable Beach (Image source: www.markboyle.com.au)

Cable Beach is perhaps Broome’s most popular spot. The 14 mile stretch of rippling vanilla sand, set against a backdrop of striking ochre rocks, was named after the telegraph cable laid between it and Java in 1889. Cable Beach holds promise of sunset camel rides, the world-renowned ‘Staircase to the Moon’ phenomenon where the moon’s rays cast a stairway-like optical illusion across the ocean’s low tides, and dolphin and whale watching from Gantheaume Point. Gantheaume Point is an area of natural beauty located at the southern end of the beach, and is most famously home to 130 million year old dinosaur footprints — a rare and unforgettable sight. Travellers with a penchant for luxury will also find the stylish hotels and resorts that trim Cable Beach a welcome opportunity to combine relaxation with boundless sea views.

From the beach to the streets, Broome’s town is an eclectic jumble of cafés, boutiques, restaurants, bars, galleries, and pearl showrooms. Visitors can catch a film beneath a sky alight with stars at the oldest outdoor picture gardens in the country, Sun Pictures; or amble the weekend market and feast eyes on the mouth-watering artisanal food and lustrous pearl jewellery stalls. There is also a humming Chinatown (the consequence of the high Asian influx in the early 20th Century) where visitors will find original architecture and the Pearl Luggers Museum. The museum delves into a history as deep and dark as the surrounding waters with which it is concerned. Two restored pearling luggers can be explored, as well as cabinet upon cabinet of pearling memorabilia detailing Broome’s unique maritime history. Meanwhile, at the Japanese Cemetery, tourists will feel humbled by the 900 gravestones commemorating the divers who lost their lives in this dangerous line of work. Finally, for a truly exclusive Kimberley experience, visit the oldest Australian pearl farm, Cygnet Bay, which has been in operation since 1946 and remains an industry leader, offering tourists an insight into how pearls are cultivated and graded.

Broome Courthouse Markets (Image source: www.broomeandthekimberley.com)

If you’re feeling a little pearled-out, the wilderness surrounding Broome is abundant in outdoor opportunity. Experience the thrill of a helicopter ride over the parched red earth of Bungle Bungle National Park, or drive to the Dampier Peninsular and camp at Cape Leveque where blistering orange cliff faces glow against sapphire skies.

Whatever you choose to pencil in to your itinerary, Broome will almost certainly deliver a vacation that was well worth the travelling time!

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