Tourists coming to Australia visit icons such as the Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru. But you should consider the Kimberley, the least touristy part of Australia, for its rugged natural beauty. Broome, a port in North West Australia, is the gateway to this region.
Having holidayed in Broome, I encourage others to visit. Broome is packed with history, has idyllic scenery, and is a town without traffic lights -- perfect for unwinding! Here are other reasons for bucket-listing Broome.
1. A World Famous Beach Sunset
TripAdvisor ranked Broom’s Cable Beach seventh on its list of the world’s best beaches. Imagine 14 miles of silken white sand, lapped by turquoise waters, and blue skies. At sunset, the sun dips behind the Indian Ocean, and, as if a blacksmith’s hammering an anvil, there are sparks of red, orange, and yellow trailing to embers of rose, lemon, and lilac. Tourists sit at the Sunset Bar soaking up the scene over the rims of tropical cocktails. Children stop cartwheeling across the sand to gape in awe. Locals take their 4WDs into the shallows and down ice-cold beers from their eskies (Aussie for portable coolers) while sitting on their tailgates. No TV news broadcasts for this mob -- instead, it’s a nightly feature on the world’s biggest screen.
2. To Get That Shot
The famous photo of Cable Beach is of camel trains against the sunset -- their gangly legs reflected on the mirror of wet sand like a Sahara Desert mirage. Camels have earned their place on this famous beach. Shipped in from Arabia, India, and Afghanistan in the 1860s, explorers relied on them when charting the interior. Later, Afghan cameleers ferried supplies on camel trains to outback stations. When road transport replaced camels, they were released into the desert. Today, the world’s largest feral herd, some 750,000 camels, rampages in the interior.
Robyn Davidson famously wrote Tracks about her solo adventure leading camels across the desert. Inspired by Davidson’s journey, Abdul Latif Casey, an Australian convert to Islam, decided to walk a caravan of camels to Mecca. But after 900 miles of outback trudging, he halted in Broome, where he began offering Cable Beach tourist rides in 1987. If you’re not the family photographer, then clamber aboard for the ultimate sunset view. Camels bat their long eyelashes at you, and their gait is slow and rhythmic. Beware that when they first stand, it feels as if your stomach shot up on an elevator without you.
3. To Meet The Man In The Moon
Kimberley’s tides are the third-largest in the world, rising as high as a three-story building. Many of Broome’s unique experiences relate to this phenomenon. The Staircase to the Moon is an optical illusion that occurs on nights when the full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay. Moonlight bathes the mudflats, and they look like glowing bars or rungs. My son described it as “the Man in the Moon letting down a rope ladder so we can climb up the rungs to meet him.” Crowds watch from the Mangrove Hotel’s terrace, but soon hush, leaving only the sound of the didgeridoo player registering each new rung. But I prefer viewing from the terraced lawns where a local market coincides with the astronomical event. Grab a bowl of laksa and settle in for a private audience with the Man in the Moon.
4. To Experience The World’s Only Horizontal Falls
Tidal changes trap tons of water behind Broome’s rock walls, and this mass gushes from one bay to another, forming the Horizontal Falls -- a series of drops that reverses with the tide. Sir David Attenborough described them as “Australia's most unusual natural wonder.” Due to their remoteness, they can only be reached by joining a tour. Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures offers scenic flights over some of the 800 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago before landing on the calm surface of Talbot Bay. Then, during a thrilling boat ride during which experienced skippers steer through narrow escarpments, you’ll feel the immense power of the falls. It’s an expensive excursion but worth it.
5. To Learn About Pearling
Shinju Matsuri, the Festival of the Pearl, celebrates Broome’s pearling industry. The early industry relied on collecting giant, silver-lipped Pinctada maxima oysters. By 1914, Broome was called the Pearl Capital of the World as it met 80 percent of the world’s demand. Mother of pearl from Broome was used in pearl buttons and inlaid into cutlery, furniture, and even church altars.
Aboriginal divers were used as slave labor. Later, the invention of vulcanized canvas suits brought an influx of Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Filipino, and Javanese divers. Australia had a White Australia Policy from 1901 to 1973, but Broome was exempt because of pearling. Learn more about this history on a tour of a traditional lugger during which you can try on a heavy helmet used by the early divers. They regularly faced death from shark attacks or the bends.
Don’t dismiss a Broome cemetery visit to learn even more. There is a Chinese section, a Moslem section for the early cameliers, and the largest Japanese graveyard in Australia with 900 Japanese graves. Most were divers caught in cyclones that sank 100 boats and drowned 300 men.
6. To See The World’s Finest Pearls
Plastics replaced shell buttons by the 1950s, and Broome shifted to culturing pearls. The tides and pristine waters produced the largest and finest pearls in the world. Today, you can visit modern pearl farms including Willie Creek. At Cygnet Bay, you can stay in original pearlers’ shacks, indulge in a pearl meat tasting platter, and view the world’s largest pearl. At both farms, you can buy pearls straight from the source. Or visit the pearl showrooms in town to try on strands to suit your skin tone. Pearls symbolize wisdom gained through experience, so we deserve them!
7. For Melting Pot Dining
Asian divers married into the local Aboriginal community, and Broome developed a multicultural food scene. Japanese, Malaysian, and Indonesian flavors are paired with fresh seafood and native ingredients such as crispy skinned barramundi with wattle seed aioli, and the local delicacy: pearl meat (a cross between abalone and scallops). Enjoy precision-cut sashimi at Zensai at Cable Beach Club or chili mud crabs at the Wharf Restaurant.
At local markets, enjoy traditional Japanese shaved ice, Kakadu plums, green mango pickles, and lumpia (Filipino spring rolls). One of my favorite places is Matso’s Brewery. There, you can enjoy Indian curries under tropical palms washed down with unique beers such as chili and ginger or mango. Broome drips with mangoes -- kids pick them from street trees on their way to school. A Mango Festival occurs every November.
8. To Visit A Unique Chinatown
Cashed up pearlers once poured into Chinatown’s opium and gambling dens. Today, Chinatown is Broome’s laid-back commercial heart with a mix of colonial buildings, corrugated iron shanties, and Asian architecture. In 2019 and 2020 nearly $26 million was spent on revitalising Chinatown whilst preserving its history. Grab a map from the Visitor Centre or book a bar tour that involves canapes, drinks, and history. Join Yawuru man Bart Pigram as he shares the area’s indigenous history. Or wander into galleries and admire works by the Kimberley's celebrated Aboriginal artists.
Nagula Jarndu is a social enterprise where you can chat with textile artists and browse their beautiful fabrics. Sun Pictures (circa 1916) is the world’s oldest operational outdoor picture garden. Join a historical day tour during which you’ll learn about the segregated seating of the past and how patrons lifted their feet during high tides and fished from their seats. Enjoy nightly movies on outdoor deck chairs. You’ll be under the flight path to the airport, so look up at the underbellies of planes, which will look like gigantic insects with hundreds of flashing eyes passing above. It would be frightening if the movie were Pearl Harbor or you lived in Broome during World War II (more on that below).
9. For World War II History
The bombing of Pearl Harbor brought Australia into the war against Japan. Like Pearl Harbor, Broome was attacked. On March 3, 1942, Japanese fighter pilots swooped, killing at least 88 people. Many were women and children -- refugees from Java escaping the Japanese invasion. They were trapped in seaplanes on the harbor awaiting refueling. A B-24A Liberator loaded with wounded U.S. military was shot down off Cable Beach. At least 19 died, and one survivor swam nine miles to shore over 36 hours. At low tide, you can walk out to the remains of the Dutch Catalina flying boats. The sloshy 30-minute walk requires a reasonable level of fitness. There’s a free audio tour and heritage trail (PDF). Or join a hovercraft tour during which passengers can alight at the site. Broome Historical Museum displays excellent material on the raid.
10. To Walk With Dinosaurs
Gantheaume Point is a stunning red rock area with rock pools you can sit in like baths with ocean views. The Smithsonian Magazine listed this scenic spot as one of the eight best places in the world to see dinosaur footprints. At low tide, trails lead to sandstone rocks where you can see the 130 million-year-old prints. The Visitor Centre can give you advice on the tides, but the reef is slippery. Thankfully there are a couple of plaster casts of the footprints embedded in rocks on the cliff top, so you can compare your tiny foot with one of the giants’.
11. Because Broome Is The Gateway To The Kimberley
You could easily spend four to seven days in Broome alone. But Broome is also the gateway to the Kimberley. Catamaran cruises depart Broome for the untouched Kimberley coast’s islands, reefs, gorges, and waterfalls teeming with wildlife. Or take an outback tour or rent a 4WD. Kooljaman at Cape Leveque is a 100 percent indigenous-owned wilderness camp and Raugi’s, their fine dining restaurant, offers native ingredients with a French twist. Accommodation includes cabins and beachfront palm frond shelters. Learn about Aboriginal culture on a bush tour during which you’ll tuck into freshly caught fish, oysters, and mud crabs cooked on hot coals while listening to Dreamtime stories.
Other road trips include the ancient landscapes of Karijini National Park and one of the last true outback adventures, the Gibb River Road to view the beehive-shaped Bungle Bungles. Despite its remoteness, the Kimberley offers luxurious accommodations where you can reconnect with nature and enjoy creature comforts. Broome shows the world is your oyster. And these are just some of the pearls to thread into your travels.
Visit Broome in the dry season from May to October. Temperatures (in Fahrenheit) range from the lower 60s to the high 80s
Accommodation is either in town or near Cable Beach -- the areas are three miles apart. The Cable Beach Club Resort across from Cable Beach is a popular choice.
Explore Boome cheaply with the Broome Explorer Bus. It stops at most accommodations.
Broome has an airport with flights from Perth and other Australian cities. Or visit Broome on a road trip from Perth to Darwin with stunning stops along the way.
Visit the Broome Visitor Centre for further assistance during your visit.