The Natural Wonders of Broome
Broome has always been something of a remote outpost of Australia, which is half its appeal. The other half? White-sand beaches, unusual waterfalls, striking landscapes, and bucketloads of history. There’s a lot to love.
Pearling is what put Broome on the map, and the industry fuels Broome’s economy to this day. While always set somewhat apart from the rest of Australia, in its heyday Broome supplied up to 80 per cent of the world's buttons made from pearl shells. This boom in interest and economy led to a rich, yet contentious history that the town’s museums and tours dive into. Thankfully times have changed since the pearling industry boomed in the 19th century, and the once displaced Yawuru people are recognised native title holders, and the pearling industry is tightly regulated. Work conditions have much improved, though as a tour through the Willie Creek Pearl Farm displayed, harvesting pearls is still quite a slog.
The Banfield family, which owns and operates Willie Creek Pearls, is one of a handful of commercial pearling license holders in Australia and produces Australian South Sea Pearls, cultured in the Pinctada Maxima oyster. The nutrients and minerals found in the warm waters off Broome lead to the development of what is considered the largest and finest quality pearls in the world.
The process is intricate and fascinating – from the oysters first spawning to the more manual care of regular cleaning of the shells – and well worth a tour so that you can truly appreciate the high price tag of a cultured pearl.
Broome’s turquoise Roebuck Bay is a designated and up to half a million waders and more than 100,000 other migratory shorebirds frequent the area. There’s also plenty of marine life, including the world’s only resident population of snubfin dolphins. Unlike their gregarious bottlenose cousins, snubfin are shy and slow, and their stubby snouts and beady eyes almost look cartoonish.
Talbot Bay, another of the Kimberley’s famous bays, is located a little further away – but well worth the 200km drive to see the Horizontal Falls. Arriving at the stunning Cape Leveque, we boarded our 14-seat Cessna seaplane to make the 30-minute flight to the falls, one of Australia’s most unique natural wonders. At 2000ft we can truly appreciate the Buccaneer Archipelago and get a memorable birds-eye view of the two ‘horizontal’ waterfalls.
The Kimberley’s epic tides are responsible for Talbot Bay’s Horizontal Falls – with water coming in faster than it can make its way out, creating a waterfall effect with a drop of up to four metres. What makes the falls even more fascinating is that they’re reversible. Every six hours, with the changing of the tide, the falls stop dead, then gather speed as they start rushing in the opposite direction.
In contrast to the wild water feeding the falls in Talbot Bay, nearby Cyclone Creek is pleasantly calm, named for its reputation as a safe anchorage in stormy weather. Towering orange cliffs contrast the turquoise water, their diagonal, wave-like ripples the result of sedimentary rock buckling and folding under the weight of millions of years. It feels like a special, hidden corner of Australia and one that’s a privilege to visit.
Broome has countless pin-up images, but one that should not be missed is the ‘staircase to the moon’, best viewed from outside the Mangrove Hotel. The lunar phenomenon takes place when a full moon rises over the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay and casts a dramatic stepped reflection on the ripples of the ocean. This occurs two to three days per month between March and October (check the Broome Visitor Centre for dates and times).
If you’re looking for some places to eat and drink, you can enjoy an Asian-inspired lunch at The Aarli, creative craft bears at Matso’s brewery, or a pizza at the famous Roebuck Bay Hotel – better known as ‘the Roey’ – which was founded in 1890 and became the local haunt of Broome’s pearling crews. Zanders is a good option for a seafood platter after a camel ride on Cable Beach.
<Subhead> THINGS TO DO
There are a variety of tours on offer for the Narlijia Experiences, including the Town Tour, Mangrove Tour and Bagul Bagul Tour, each hosted by owner Bart Pilgrim, a Yawuru man from the West Kimberley region, who belongs to a long tradition of pearling workers and musicians, and has many rich and fascinating stories to share.
The Ardi Cultural Drive is a six-day tour where you can learn all about the land and culture of the people of the Dampier Peninsula. Join local guides to explore Bardi and Nyul Nyul country and learn there is more to this area than scenic beaches and turquoise waters.
Family-owned and operated, the Willie Creek Pearl Farm Tour delves into the history and industry of pearling in Broome, with a visit to Pearl Luggers Museum or even the opportunity to harvest your own pearl in Perth at Elizabeth Quay.
You can drive to Broome from Perth in around seven days, taking in Nambung National Park, Geraldton, Kalbarri, Monkey Mia, Carnarvon, Coral Bay, Karratha, Port Headland and Eighty Mile Beach.
Broome gets some torrential rain during the wet season, so it’s best to visit between April and November.
There are several caravan parks in Broome, including Cable Beach Caravan Park, RAC Cable Beach Holiday Park, Discovery Parks – Broome, and Tarangau Caravan Park.
Free camping with 4WD access is available north of Broome at Wirrkinymirre (Willie Creek), Gallie Rock, Wilbar and Nurriwar (Barred Creek).