With an area more than three times the size of England or roughly the size of California, the Kimberley is a sparsely settled northernmost region in the state of Western Australia. Situated at its western edge overlooking the Indian Ocean is Broome, a truly unique destination closer to South-East Asia than it is to the WA state capital, Perth.
Built on the pearling industry, Broome offers a fascinating insight into its past and a tempting array of attractions. From here you can also explore the broader Kimberley region by driving to Derby and taking the Gibb River Road – which is only partly sealed and accessible only by 4-wheel-drive vehicles – stretching 660 kilometres (410 miles) through the middle of the Kimberley wilderness to Kununurra, close to the Northern Territory border.
It’s unfortunate that many travellers insist on comparing Broome with east-coast destinations, often unfavourably. Broome is not worse or better than any of these, it’s just different. Still, it receives only a fraction of the visitor numbers to Cairns, Queensland, for example. But just before COVID, Broome began gearing up to compete more aggressively with its east-coast rivals. The WA Government and the local tourism industry launched a range of initiatives to drive up visitor numbers and cruise ship calls, including:
- A $15.3 million channel optimisation program, dredging the Port of Broome to allow round-the-clock access for cruise ships, and removal of rock mass to enable better access for cruise ships at all tides, eliminating some of the obstacles that cruise lines consider when deciding on destinations.
- I was last in Broome at around this time and the place was humming. An additional 500 travellers a week touched down in Broome after the extension of an affordable fare initiative, which enabled passengers – including international arrivals – to take up special Qantas weekend fares from Perth to Broome.
Here are some of the sights and activities you can enjoy during a few days in Broome:
Spectacular sunsets over the Indian Ocean.
Cable Beach – a 22-kilometre stretch of sun-kissed white sand, turquoise water and spectacular Indian Ocean sunsets. The beach is very much a part of Broome's history, earning its name from the telegraph cable laid between Broome and Java in 1889, connecting Australia's North West with the world. Broome’s most famous resort is named after the beach.
Camel safaris are firmly established in Broome and a camel ride is one of the most popular vacation activities. At least three companies (look for the different livery colours) offer tours along Cable Beach and you have the choice of morning, afternoon or sunset rides.
Chinatown has been the multicultural heart and soul of Broome since the pearling crews set up their first camps and corrugated tin sheds in the 1880s. Both a boutique shopping centre and a site of historical significance, it is a special place worth visiting.
Sun Pictures is the world's oldest picture gardens still in operation. Unlike most outdoor cinemas it screens multiple films per night, just like a regular cinema, rather than only one or two a week.
Matso’s Broome Brewery is the most remote brewery in Australia and one of Broome’s younger attractions, having been in operation since 2000. A family owned business, the brewery is known for its laid back atmosphere, food, and of course, beer, with intriguing labels such as Hit the Toad Lager and Copperhead India Pale Ale, as well as ginger and mango beer. There is live music in the courtyard on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons and Matso's Curry Hut is open seven days a week in the courtyard during the dry season, offering authentic Indian cuisine sometimes cooked with Matso's beers.
Gantheaume Point is a stretch of white sandy beach and red rock cliffs, about 10 minutes from the centre of Broome. The beach area adjoins Cable Beach and is a popular meeting place on the weekend for locals and visitors to launch boats or go swimming. One of the area’s main attractions is a set of dinosaur footprints about 125 million years old preserved in the reef rock. However, these can only be seen at very low tide so plaster casts of the prints have been embedded in the earth higher up on the cliff.
Where to stay
I have only ever stayed at Cable Beach Club Resort, which is charming and surrounded by lush vegetation, but there is a wide range of accommodation available in Broome including some in the town centre.
What to consider
Be under no illusions, despite its progress Broome is still a frontier town with a population of about 14,500 (which grows to around 50,000 during the peak tourist season). Although it will satisfy most travellers’ needs in terms of accommodation, dining, entertainment and shopping, it doesn’t do pampering.
Overseas visitors will want to see more than just Broome to make their trip worthwhile, and an itinerary that combines Perth or Darwin, Alice Springs/Uluru or simply a more in-depth tour of the broader Kimberley region would be logical.
When to go
Broome is in a tropical zone so it’s warm all year round at very least and downright hot in the summer, as well as wet. It has two distinct seasons, the dry season from May to October (late autumn, through winter to mid-spring in Australia) and the wet season from November to April (late spring, through summer to mid-autumn). The dry season is the best time to go but note that accommodation fills up quickly and early. For example the Cable Beach Club Resort is now fully booked until October, so it’s certainly not too soon to be thinking about travelling in the dry season of 2022. Qantas Airways will resume international flights in October this year.
Photos: Judy Barford