Last Updated: September 1, 2018
As I sat through my ‘Kimberley massage‘, courtesy of the bumpy, unpaved roads in Broome, I paradoxically felt a sense of danger in the untamed outback while feeling snug and safe in my chartered mini-bus.
That’s what Broome in Western Australia represented for me; a grand mix of wilderness with comfort. Scrap everything you knew about Australia through Melbourne/ Sydney as Broome presents a totally different lens to look through.
Many advertisers market Broome as a remote beach getaway, but let’s be real, there are plenty of beach options in Asia too. What Broome can offer though, is a remote hinterland to explore that’s complemented with long beaches. Red sands meet the azure sea for the large part with a urban population of around 14,000 excluding tourists.
Broome is still a town undergoing rapid development and although there’s not terribly many things to do, here’s some suggestions for all you wanderlust souls excited about exploring an obscure part of Australia that some claim to be the ‘authentic down under’.
Around the early 1900s, Broome was supplying more than 80% of the world’s pearl shells and dominated the market with their supply, which was made into buttons, hairclips and high-end jewelry.
Many buttons and even cutlery were made with pearl shells back before plastics came into prominence.
Sadly, the booming pearl shell industry was disrupted by World War 2 which saw many Japanese pearl luggers deported and trade grinding to a halt.
Around the 1950s, the invention of plastic buttons made sure the pearl shell industry that was already spiraling into decline never recovered.
These days the pearls from the oysters are much more prized versus the shell material used in the last century. Even pearl meat is more valuable.
There are now 19 pearl farms remaining in Broome and although a glimpse of its former glory, is still interesting to learn about through farm tours.
The Willie Creek Pearl Farm tour starts from AU$120 and lasts about 5 hours, including a trip out to sea to have a look at one of their nearer farms.
Willies creek also has a separate ‘Pearl Luggers‘ tour package (separate from the regular tour) that presents a piece of Broome’s history with its replica equipment and its restored pearl lugger ship. A more interactive way of learning about pearl shelling history definitely.
Willie Creek Pearl Farm: Willie Creek Road, Waterbank WA 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9192 0000 | Website
Established in 1946, Cygnet Bay has a much longer heritage and has been around since the inception of Broome’s pearling industry.
Experience live dissection demonstrations and learn about the anatomy of the giant Pinctada maxima oyster as well as how these seawater pearls are cultured.
Prices start from AU$35 for a 1.5 hour farm tour and an additional AU$30 to learn about pearl grading after the farm tour. Yes, quality pearls have a grading system (size, shape, color, luster, surface) just like diamonds which made me more aware of what the hundreds I spent on this little shiny ball was for.
Personally, I felt the rich and expressive heritage of Cygnet Bay made the tour more engaging and kudos to the guide too, but Cygnet Bay’s farm is way more out of the way versus Willie Creek. If you’re up for the long 2.5 hours ride up North to Cape Leveque, go for Cygnet Bay, if not stick to the more central farm at Willie Creek.
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm: Cape Leveque Road, Dampier Peninsula WA 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9192 4283 | Website
Strangely, camels were never native to Broome but camel-riding seems to be a well-known attraction along Cable beach. Camels were introduced to Broome in the late 1800s to transport goods, but like the pearl shell industry, the advancement of technology (namely motorized vehicles) has made these animals redundant as cargo-carriers.
Many camels were released back into the deserts where they (surprise, surprise) adapted amazingly well, while some were domesticated for these modern tours you see today.
I tried out a package with Red Sun Camels, with camel riding rates starting from AU$45 for a 30 minute pre-sunset ride, while sunset tours of an hour go for AU$95.
Sunset camel tours are now a signature Broome attraction with multiple operators along the beach. You might get a sore bum from the ride, but these gentle, docile creatures are too cute to pass up especially seeing the trainers treat them with a starburst candy. Oh and the sunset shots are to die for.
Needless to say, for a beach town like Broome there’s bound to be numerous beach resorts. I had the opportunity to try out two of the most luxurious and exclusive accommodations during my trip.
We stayed the first couple of days at Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa, which is styled with Asian and Colonial influences of Broome. Cable Beach Club also has the only L’Occitane spa in the whole of Australia.
Acres of lush tropical gardens abound with multiple wallabies just prancing around your room’s backyard. Minutes walk from Cable Beach, the Cable Beach Club Resort provides a haven for couples and families alike. Rooms start from around AU$350 a night.
Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa: 1 Cable Beach Road, Broome, WA, 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9192 0400 | Website
The second premium beach resort I had the luxury to cavort around was the Kimberley Sands Resort & Spa. There seems to be resort pools everywhere I explored around the estate.
With 72 rooms and suites, Kimberley Sands offers a more boutique feel, while The Deck Poolside restaurant was one of the better meals I had in Broome. Service isn’t amazing though and one should expect to lug your own baggage up the stairs (which we did). Room rates start from around AU$400 a night.
Kimberley Sands Resort & Spa: 10 Murray Rd, Broome WA 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9193 8388 | Website
Just 10 minutes away from Broome’s city centre, Gantheaume Point is a picturesque contrast of deep pindan red cliffs with the shimmering blue sea.
At extreme low tides, real 130 million year old dinosaur foot prints can actually be seen at the bottom of the cliff. The pictures I have here are replicas though as the tide wasn’t low enough to venture down further for a gander. You can settle for these fakes at the top of the cliff.
As one walks along the worn tracks toward the cliffs, you’ll pass the iconic stainless steel lighthouse and old quarters that used to belong to pearler Patrick Percy and his wife Anastasia before it burnt down around the 1970s and was eventually rebuilt.
Strange tales about the estate include Patrick building a concrete rock pool for his wife to relieve her arthritis, as well as Anastasia’s ability to break wind at will.
Gantheaume Point is serviced by one bus per day during dry season (April – October). The bus arrives at 7.57am, allowing visitors to walk back along Cable Beach.
Matso’s Broome Brewery can be a very busy venue with seating hard to come by. Matso’s has had a colorful history from being a gym to a studio and eventually to a restaurant. This is probably the most isolated Australian microbrewery you can find in the region.
Matso’s carries an interesting mix of craft beers with flavors adjusting according to the season. The famous mango beer wasn’t as sweet as expected and made for a great balanced beer, but the ginger beer for example came off with way too much bite – It’s a mixed bag of beers and to each his own.
Other than beer, you can enjoy a delightful casual lunch with treats such as this Wagyu Beef Burger (AU$30). Be warned that waiting times can get pretty long at Matso’s so do be patient.
Matso’s Broome Brewery: 60 Hamersley St, Broome WA 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9193 5811 | Website
Dating back to the early pearling days in the late 1800s, Broome’s Japanese Cemetery is the largest of its kind in Australia. During the war in the mid 1900s, many Japanese workers were sent back to their country and most of the Japanese heritage was lost during this period when they were too poor to return.
The first recorded burial from 1896 still stands today and the cemetery is testament to the close ties between Broome and Japan in the early 20th century.
The black headstones are donated by Japanese shipbuilders to replace vandalized or stolen headstones, which shows the racial conflict despite Jap-Aussie symbiotic relations in the past.
In the cemetery, there are 707 graves with 919 people buried within, alongside a large stone obelisk to commemorate those who drowned during the 1908 cyclone.
Japanese Cemetery: 1 Port Dr, Broome WA 6725, Australia
Broome’s Chinatown can be considered the heart and soul of Broome and is also the city centre serving as a hub for residents. Since 2016, the government has allocated AU$10 million to revitalize and reinforce the significance of Chinatown.
Broome’s Chinatown was home to several Asian and European cultures alongside its Aboriginal traditional owners. It served as the commercial center for Broome’s popular pearl shelling industry in the 1880s and is the genesis where everything started.
I’ll be upfront; despite its strong history Chinatown is not terribly exciting, with a litter of knick knack stores scattered around.
The post office, banks and supermarket are also found here. Interestingly, Broome’s residential homes do not have individual mailboxes and letters have to be collected from the central post office.
If you’re looking for pearls or souvenirs to buy, lazy Chinatown’s the place.
For the fervent shopaholics though, I’d recommend driving a couple minutes away to Broome Courthouse Markets, which are held in the beautiful Broome Courthouse gardens. The night markets are more vibrant too.
To the north of Broome lies the Dampier Peninsula, where many of the indigenous tribes lie.
Beagle Bay community is one such medium-sized aboriginal tribe on the western side of the Dampier Peninsula and is also the gateway to communities further north.
Many Catholic missionaries arrived to convert the aboriginals and the first Beagle Bay community was established around 1890 by Trappist monks.
I visited during the weekday on a guided tour, which well, was surprisingly empty. I’m guessing the natives were all out but my guide wasn’t very proficient in explaining the situation.
There are various other tours you can book for such indigenous experiences and the more authentic ones are lead by local aboriginals on walking tours such as Narlijia Cultural Tours. Although I didn’t get the best native experience, I’m sure there are more qualified sources.
The oldest outdoor theater in the world is located right here in Broome, Australia.
And yes, Sun Pictures is still operating with multiple modern film screenings a night unlike other outdoor cinemas that probably screen one or two shows a week.
Converted from a general Asian store, 1916 was when Sun Pictures showed its first silent film after being purchased by master pearler Ted Hunter.
Despite bombings, tidal floods and even cyclones, Sun Pictures has miraculously stood the test of time.
Even the old canvas deck chairs look like they were from the last century. Enjoy a movie under the stars, or even on the grassed areas at the front of the screen.
Adult ticket prices start from AU$12, but bulk pricing is also available for groups.
Sun Pictures: 27 Carnarvon St, Broome WA 6725, Australia | Tel: +61 8 9192 1077 | Website
It’s one thing to see Broome up close and a whole new world when you’re up in the air. What better way to round up Broome with an aerial view to tie every location together? KAS Helicopters has got your aerial tour covered.
I tried the 30 minute scenic flight tour which brought us overhead the world famous Cable Beach and then making a beeline for Willie Creek Pearl Farm. On the return path, experience the captivating views of the Broome Peninsula, Fantheaume Point and Chinatown.
A 30 minutes ride in the Robinson R44 helicopter from KAS helicopters will set you back AU$289 per person (min. two adults to fly).
KAS Helicopters: Hangar 5, Airport Drive, Derby WA 6728, Australia | Tel: +61 487 977 794 | Website
If you’ve been enamored by Broome, sadly there’s quite some challenges getting there. There are only seasonal direct flights via Silkair from Singapore (which takes 4 hours) operating every few months.
Catch y’all down under!