Broome is a rough and ragged town at the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia, many, many kilometres from skyscrapers and the city’s concrete jungle. Broome was put on the map thanks to a thriving pearl industry in the late 1880s. Many Asians and Aboriginals had to put their lives on the line during the tough dives and many are now buried in the town’s cemetery. Pearls are still exported today but the work is now done on modern pearl farms. Tourism has increasingly taken over and Broome is growing fast. And that is not surprising. The surroundings showcase a wide range of different colours. Fine grained dust in ochre red, turquoise skies that seem to merge with the sea and milky white swamps lined with olive green mangroves. But also, exciting activities are tempting, such as camel riding at sunset, fishing or guided hikes where you can learn more about the area’s history.
Once in Broome (wotif.com/discover/australia/western-australia/broome.d6130647), you will discover that life is slightly different here in relation to the rest of Australia. Broome time is an expression that its inhabitants use with love. Because at these latitudes, the time has not quite the same meaning. It is useless to try to stress the locals who follow their own sense of time. The seasons also differ. In Broome, you do not talk about summer and winter. Instead there are two distinct seasons, one for rain and one for drought. The rainy season extends from November to March and is followed by a dry season that falls between April and October. The contrasts between these are as night and day. During the drought, the days are warm, the nights are balmy, and the sun is constantly shining. It is peak season and tourism is increasing exponentially. But comes the rainy season, and everything changes. Broome sees fewer visitors as the humidity rises. The rain is pouring down and can be likened to a monsoon that easily creates floods.
However, everyone is not happy about the growing tourism. The Kimberley area is one of the first places the Aboriginals settled on, and a fear of it being exploited by mass tourism is growing. Broome is basically a shy little town that has a hard time keeping up while the country’s development is accelerating. This is the outback in disguise. Although there are air-conditioned luxury resorts, the hot desert is only a few meters away as a quiet reminder of the forces of nature. This is no tropical paradise where you will go for having fancy drinks and ultimate comfort. Broome is all rolled-up-sleeves and sweat. You should be aware that this place still is a part of Australia’s wild West Coast, regardless of what the travel brochures say.
Sights and experiences
Discover and explore
Cable Beach is probably Broome’s most visited place and stretches close to 23 km. The beach is golden, flat and well suited for driving, but make sure that the car is equipped with a four-wheel drive, so you don’t get stuck. You can also get here for a small cost using the town buses, they run here all day with a half-hour interval. During the evenings, several companies arrange camel riding in the sunset. At Gantheaume Point, you can take part of ancient history. Walk all the way or drive the distance, which takes five minutes by car from the centre of Broome. During early mornings when the tide is low, you can climb down the slippery boulders to see dinosaur footprints among the rocks. Broome displays its magnificent colour-contrasts here. The deep red ground that meets the light blue sea is a remarkable sight.
If you want to see more of the Kimberley region, head to Cape Leveque, located at the tip of the Dampier Peninsula. It is secluded and isolated, which makes it feel like the last outpost. At the same time there is this remarkable peacefulness in a fantastic and unspoiled nature. The only way to get here is with a four-wheel drive car or airplane (visitbroome.com.au/to-do/tours/air).
A trip out to Horizontal Waterfalls is more about money than time, but if you have both parts you should book a trip with Horizontal Falls Adventures (horizontalfallsadventures.com.au). They fly from Broome and you can choose between a half or full day tour where you will see the spectacular waterfalls formed by the tide being squeezed through two gorges. The falls are well beyond Broome but are worth visiting if you are still in the area.
Art and culture
Every Saturday, Courthouse Markets (wotif.com/discover/australia/western-australia/broome/courthouse-markets.d6219248) is held at Courthouse Gardens, on the corner of Frederick Street and Hamersley Street. It is a large and popular outdoor market in the shade of the trees where local artists sell their works. Among other things, you can get handmade soaps, candles and textiles. You will also find a great variety of dishes here.
The world’s oldest outdoor cinema can be found in Broome. The Sun Pictures’ premises are in Chinatown and they show the latest films on a white screen placed outdoors in front of swaying palm trees. Sit back in one of the old canvas deck chairs with backs in fabric and watch movies as they did in the olden days (broomemovies.com.au).
History and parks
At Broome Museum (broomemuseum.org.au), you can learn more about the history of the town. It is a small museum with helpful volunteers who happily will tell you about the area’s pearl industry, how Broome was affected during World War II and how people lived in the town in the olden days. The entrance is around 12 dollars.
Chinatown is the main street for shopping in Broome. A small area where restaurants, bars and cafés are scattered. Bland souvenir shops are located wall-to-wall with well-polished shops selling high-class pearl necklaces. Chinatown offers an odd mix of high and low. Shopping can be something of a treasure hunt where you get to wander the streets up and down to make a good deal.
If you ever wanted to buy pearls but never gotten to it, now is the time. You are in Broome after all.
Sports, entertainment and events
About three times a month between March and October you can experience the Staircase to the Moon. The moonlight is reflected in the tide which makes it look like it is forming a staircase all the way up to the moon. From Town Beach you can get a good view, but make sure to be here on time. It gets packed with people during the evening and it can be difficult to get a good spot. During these evenings, a market is often held next to Town Beach where you can buy local food or unique artwork.
Matso’s Brewery (matsos.com.au) is one of Broome’s prides. Their brews are well known and sought-after throughout Western Australia. They serve beer with a taste of chili, litchi, ginger and, of course, mango. If you like beer, this is a must. In their restaurant, tasty dishes are served at slightly higher prices. But it works just as well to order a bowl of crispy potato wedges as a snack. Buy six of their ginger-flavoured beers or some pale ale and use as a popular gift. Or why not enjoy it yourself later.
The Mango Place (mangowine.com.au) is located a bit outside the town. They make use of the area’s abundance of mango and sell a variety of products made from the fruit. Here you can buy different goods such as the immensely popular mango wine. During weekends, they serve baked pizza with troubadour music playing in the background. Also, make sure to try their ice cream. You will not regret it.
Studies and work
During dry season, Broome bursts with life and has about three times as many people walking its streets. And with an increased tourism, more work opportunities arise. Bars, restaurants and cafés always want to increase their workforce during peak season. In addition, a lot of fruit and vegetables are grown in the area around Broome, as the climate is perfect for exotic fruits such as melons and mango fruits. Harvest time is short but intense. If you can picture yourself staying for a longer period there is money to be earned here. The work, however, is heavy and hard, and you usually get paid according to how much fruit you manage to pick. Also remember that it can be difficult to get to work without a car. The public transports are not the best and the workplace can be far away. In addition to picking fruit, you can get other types of jobs in agriculture, especially if you have previous experience. Also work on pearl farms is available. Please contact the Visitor Information Centre at Hamersley Street for more information.
Good to know
The Visitor Information Centre in Broome offers brochures and maps that can help you plan your stay. During peak season there may be high pressure inside the centre, and it is not always easy to get personalized service because the queues can be long. The office is located at Hamersley Street. Activities with current prices can also be investigated via wotif’s website (wotif.com/things-to-do/search?location=Broome,%20Western%20Australia).
Warnings and preparations
If you want to experience more than rain and storms, make sure to come here during the dry season. In addition to pinpointing the best period for a visit, it may be worthwhile to book the accommodation in advance as it may be almost impossible to get hold of anything at a short notice.
Broome is a town that undergoes major changes. A lot of new things are built, but from the main thoroughfare it is only a few dozen meters to the wilderness. Don’t forget this when you walk through the town. Be vigilant and take no unnecessary risks. Do not walk home alone at night and do not have valuables visible. During peak season it is possible to swim in the sea, but between November and June you should stay away from the waters when the dangerous jellyfish comes in. Crocodiles and sharks are also found in the waters but are not nearly as common to encounter. However, please read the warning signs that are set up at the beaches.
Just like in the rest of the Australian desert, a four-wheel drive is more of a rule than an exception. If you want to go somewhere outside Broome’s town centre, it is a must. There are daily flights between Broome and Perth (wotif.com/Flights). Qantas also takes you to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne at a higher price. You can also fly with Airnorth to Darwin and Kununurra. The airport is very centrally located within a walking distance of the town centre. If you are planning for a longer stay or have time to spare and money to save, take the Greyhound bus to Darwin and Perth (greyhound.com.au). The Kimberley region is worth a longer stay.
Accommodation is key when it comes to visiting Broome (hotelscombined.com/Place/Broome.htm). The bookings should be done well in advance in order to make sure that you get something. Prices follow the demand and rise markedly during peak season. In the low season, the opposite happens. Hostels and hotels close up since it is too expensive to stay open with only a few visitors.
There are a few hostels to stay at in Broome. The standard varies greatly but you can stay cheap if you look around, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. However, make sure to find out if they are open during the time you plan your visit. Kimberley Klub YHA (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Kimberley_Klub_YHA.htm) is a good budget option. It is centrally located and features a private pool and a bar. Has a large kitchen and many beds. They also organize nights out. However, the bathrooms, as in most hostels, can be a bit shabby. Beaches of Broome (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Beaches_of_Broome.htm) is a tad more expensive hostel located a short walk from Cable Beach. Perfect for those who want to get away with a reasonable price but at the same time stay better than the low-budget travelling backpacker. Most necessities are available at this hostel, which is more like a budget resort.
There are campsites in a few different places. Those near Cable Beach are the most popular ones but also the noisiest. Broome Vacation Village (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Broome_Vacation_Village.htm) is located a few kilometres outside the town but has a bus stop right outside. It is a quieter area that suits families and those who want to be able to relax. With regard to Broome’s crème de la crème choice of accommodation, Cocos Beach Bungalows (hotelscombined.com/Hotel/Cocos_Beach_Bungalows.htm) rent out luxurious bungalows. They have eight spacious and fresh one-storey villas fully equipped with everything you could possibly need. And they are air conditioned, which is a big plus on hot days. It has a swimming pool and is close to the beach.
A Saturday in Broome
08:00 – Footsteps of the past
Get up early to catch the tide. Walk the six kilometres or drive out towards Gantheaume Point to see the footsteps of the earliest inhabitants of Broome, the dinosaurs. 130 million years ago, they walked around in this area, and footsteps from at least nine different species are clearly visible in the rocks down by the sea.
11:00 – Energy-rich brunch
Finally, it’s time to grab a bite to eat. Return to the town to enjoy brunch at Shady Lane Café on Johnny Chi Lane. You will find this little café located in the shade of the canopy in the middle of Chinatown, perfect for days when the temperature rises early. Fill up with energy in the form of fruit smoothies, coffee drinks and a whole lot of fried eggs.
13:00 – Pearls and gadgets
After lunch, it’s time to have a look around in Chinatown. Stroll along the streets and peek into the shops that sell a mix of luxurious pearls and knick-knackery. At 31 Dampier Terrace you can see the ship, San Male, which was used during the early days of the pearl diving. They also have old diving equipment on display. If you have time, you can join in on an hour’s guided tour where you will learn more about the history of the pearl industry.
16:00 – Enjoy your own Broome Time
Take the town bus to Cable Beach, the well-known and extensive sand beach of Broome for some relaxation. Put on your swimwear and cover yourself in sunscreen for an afternoon by the sea. Walk along the beach to find your own place. Read a good book and run down to the water when you need to cool off. If you feel like visiting a nude beach, you should get to the northern area where clothes are optional.
18:00 – Camels in a golden sunset
Stay on the beach for the night’s adventure. As the sun start to get low, you meet the rest of the participants. Together you will ride on camels along the beach at sunset. A moment to slowly enjoy, you being located this far up in north-western Australia (visitbroome.com.au/to-do/tours/camel-tours).
20:00 – Local beer tasting
After a large dose of sun and a bumpy ride on the camel’s back, you head back to the centre. Stop by at Matso’s Brewery to taste the local brews. Try a beer with a hint of chili along with crisp potato wedges. Order a meat pie if you are hungry and cool off with a pale ale while the room fills up with noisy visitors.