We had arranged an AirBnB for the holidays in Broome, but arrived a bit earlier than planned so also had time to explore Cape Leveque for a few days first.
Broome, Part 1
We spent our first couple nights in Broome at the Cable Beach Caravan Park, mainly because we needed to get our car looked at as the radiator was leaking a bit (thankfully it was a super easy fix). It was the first “big” city we had hit in a while so we spent most of our time hanging out at Macca’s, eating ice cream, and stocking up for our trip up to Cape Leveque.
Broome is famous for its pearl industry and resultant Asian population, so we strolled around town looking at the pearl shops and Chinatown for a bit as well. Back in the day, the Aussies enacted a whites-only immigration policy, but because the Malay, Filipino, and especially Japanese pearling crews were so good at diving exceptions were made for them. Apparently Asians can stay underwater for longer (it’s because we are superior).
The town is pretty small but cute. Broome is also the launching point for plane rides over the Kimberley. That combined with the pearl industry means that I think a lot of its cuteness is a result of the fact that it attracts a big luxury traveller crowd.
We also visited the famed Cable Beach, of course. You can drive up the beach, which was exciting because it was our first time beach driving!
As the beach is pretty wide and flat it was an easy drive. It’s also nice and long, meaning it’s easy to find a patch of empty beach to hang out on, even though at sunset it seems like everyone with a 4WD heads to the beach. Lots of people also seem to bring their dogs along (as the part of the beach that allows driving is also the part the allows dogs), which is cute.
Kooljaman at Cape Leveque
After Broome we headed up to Cape Leveque! It’s quite remote up there, as it’s only accessible via a long, very sandy 4WD road. This, plus it being summer time and thus low season (due to the heat) meant that there were very few other visitors around.
We stayed at Kooljaman, an aboriginal run eco resort at the tip of Cape Leveque. When we arrived we were the only campers, which was pretty sweet because it meant we had the whole cliff top campground to ourselves. Temperatures were hot but since we were right on the ocean the breeze made it actually pretty comfortable at night.
There are two beaches at Kooljaman. The eastern one is good for swimming and snorkelling, although you have to go at the right time because you can only swim at high tide and snorkel at low tide. Unlike most of the other northern beaches, Kooljaman is (supposedly) crocodile and jellyfish free.
We took full advantage and spent a couple mornings and afternoons snorkelling, swimming, harassing hermit crabs and burying Chris in the sand. You can drive you car right onto the beach up there too, although it is VERY VERY SANDY. Chris had to dig our car out a couple times on the way in, even with very low tire pressures. At one point the engine temperature started to rise as we fought through some deep stuff, giving Chris a heart attack, but no harm was done.
The western beach is where the sunset is, and is super cool because it’s bordered by sacred (to the Aboriginals) pindan red cliffs, which make for nice photos. The water is too rough for swimming though.
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm
At the end of Cape Leveque is Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, the first Australian-owned and oldest operating pearl farm in Australia. We went on a short tour to learn how pearl farming is done, as since the chances of just finding a natural pearl in an oyster are 1 in 10 000, and the chances of finding a gem-quality pearl are 1 in 100 000, no one does it that way anymore. It’s a long and involved process to seed the oyster (with a little mother of pearl pebble) and then let it grow the pearl for several years (you have to constantly pull the oysters out of the ocean to clean them and such), and even with the best of care you never know what quality of pearl you are going to get. It’s thought that the big tides (thus constant influx of fresh seawater) around Broome are what help to produce such good pearls. An oyster can produce up to 3 pearls in it’s lifetime, but only the good producers are used to create multiple pearls. The pearl farm cultivates its own algae and oyster lines to produce optimal pearls. As part of the tour we got to see a new pearl extracted from an oyster (the tour guide graded it and estimated its worth at about $800 AUD) as well as look at a lot of fancy jewelry we couldn’t afford. Pearls are graded on size, shape, colour, lustre, and clarity, with bigger, rounder, whiter/pinker, shinier, and unmarked pearls being the most desirable. I think our biggest takeaway was that we are too poor to afford any (at least any round ones).
We also spent a couple nights camping at Middle Lagoon on the way back to Broome. It was also empty at this time of year, save for one group of guys who had come up to go mud crabbing. They drunkenly invited us for dinner but we declined, mainly because we were basically asleep from getting so much sun during the day. The lack of other campers meant we could camp right by the beach here as well. That turned out to be super exciting because the beach was full of hermit crabs! As we discovered, they are mainly nocturnal, so at night our car was surrounded by them. Chris put a dish of water outside after reading that they drink fresh water, and we had a lot of little visitors during the night.
There is supposedly good snorkelling at Middle Lagoon, but the water was too rough while we were there so we settled for hanging out in the waves. We also built a pretty impressive sand castle, which Chris enjoyed watching get eventually swept away by the tide.
Broome, Part 2
We got back to Broome for the week of Christmas and were excited to get settled in and vegetate for the holidays. So nothing too exciting to blog about because we honestly spent most of the week eating Christmas cookies and watching Netflix, in addition to various cheesy holiday specials on TV. We bought A LOT of food, and Chris made a pretty impressive stove top Christmas dinner. We also made a gingerbread house, which we later ate.
We were staying at a super cute apartment off AirBnB, which was an extension of the owners home. It came with cute bikes that we rode to the beach on Christmas, where we built some sandmen (in leiu of snowmen). The Australian way to celebrate Christmas seems to involve a BBQ, the beach, and a lot of drinking. Australians don’t seem to make as big a deal about Christmas as North Americans do, I think because Christmas here happens in the middle of summer, when it’s 35 degrees out and everyone’s already two weeks into summer holidays? We also learned that based on the amount of stuff that was closed between Christmas and New Years (i.e. almost everything) they don’t really do Boxing Day shopping over here so much.
Since we didn’t buy each other Christmas presents (our car does not need any more stuff in it), we decided to instead take a couple tours in Broome and went for a sunset camel ride on the beach and a dolphin cruise in Roebuck Bay.
Cable Beach Camels
There are several camel ride operators on Cable Beach; we went with the camels in blue (Broome Camel Safaris) mainly because that’s the one the lady at the visitor info centre suggested. They are the longest running camel business in town I think, plus I got a free pair of pearl earrings, so it was a good choice.
Since neither of us are huge we got to ride on a camel together. He had a best friend camel in the group, and they always had to walk side by side. They were best friends because they had walked all the way from Alice Springs to Broome together (over 1000km). We strolled up and down the beach as the sun set and also got to feed our camel some carrots at the end. Turns out you can’t really control camels like horses when riding them because their necks are too long, so basically all the camels are tied in a line, with a specially trained one in the lead. They are VERY TALL, so you get on the camel while it’s sitting and then it stands up, which is very exciting. Most of the riding camels are male (but castrated), because they are larger so they can carry more stuff.
The riding camels are all from the wild. Australia’s camels originally came from Afghanistan to help build the Ghan Railroad. Then a bunch of racist stuff happened and the Afghani owners released their stock into the wild. There are over a million wild camels in Australia; they did pretty well in Australia’s climate because they can go for 6 months without water. They also have big squishy feet so they can walk on the sand, and also to help pump the blood back up to their body. Wild camels occasionally get rounded up with cattle on the stations, which is how they end up on these camel farms. Since the bloodline of the wild camels in Australia is so pure, they are also often sold back to the Middle East.
Broome has a number of tour boat companies because whale watching tours are quite popular. As it wasn’t whale watching season, the boats were doing dolphin watching tours of Roebuck Bay instead. We decided to take one (with Broome Whale Watching) because this is one of the only places you can see snubfin dolphins. Roebuck Bay has just been turned into a marine park because of this and is the newest park in Australia. Snubfin dolphins were only “discovered” (i.e. identified as a new species, they were originally though to be Irrawaddy River dolphins) in 2005, and are super cute and hilarious looking because they have round faces, lacking the pointed noses that most dolphins have. This makes them look extra adorable. A lot of people get confused and call them snubnose dolphins instead of snubfin dolphins because of this. Snubfin actually refers to the fact that they also have a much smaller dorsal fin compared to other dolphins.
Not much is known about them because they are so new that they haven’t really been studied yet. Their round faces mean that they can’t swim as fast as other dolphins, so they have a unique way of catching fish by spitting water to scare them into their mouths. This has never been caught on film, so they are currently in talks with a film crew who wants to come and try to document it. With David Attenborough!
The dolphins live in small family pods, of which there are several in the bay. We found one on our cruise, in addition to a pod of regular bottlenose dolphins. The two dolphins species are similar enough that they can interbreed, as they have found (what I can only assume are hilarious looking) hybrid dolphins. We also saw some dugongs feeding on sea grass, and a couple turtles “jumping” out of the water. Apparently this is a learned behaviour only found in turtles in this region, because their main predators are hunting Aboriginals.
On the cruise we got to ride in a pretty nice boat. To get out to the moored boat you ride in this sweet boat-car thing. It’s basically a boat with automatically retractable wheels so you can drive it right onto the beach and then back into the water without missing a beat. Chris was fascinated.
One of the other things Broome is famous for are its dinosaur footprints. They are found at Gantheaume Point and are only visible during very low tides. On the drive to the point we also visited Reddell Beach. Both the beach and the point are made up of these cool red rock formations.
At the top of Gantheaume Point they have some easily accessible casts of the footprints. The real dinosaur footprints are actually quite low on the coast, and there is no path or signage because they don’t want to encourage people to scramble down the rocks and look for them in case you get washed away by the tide or something. But of course we did anyways, since we timed our visit just as low tide was approaching. The footprints are pretty hard to find since the whole coastline is made of weird shaped rocks, and we really only saw some because another family on the rocks managed to find them. We did find an octopus and a lot of big crabs though, which was pretty exciting.
Since we were on the theme of dinosaurs, we decided to go see The Good Dinosaur at Sun Pictures, the outdoor movie theatre. It’s the oldest running picture gardens in the world (circa 1916), so it’s pretty kitschy and cute. Being newbies we didn’t know you can basically bring anything you want into the theatre, and were pretty jealous when the locals showed up with pillows, blankets, bean bag chairs, and takeout food. Oh well. It was a Pixar movie, so I cried, as usual.
At the end of our visit to Broome we were a bit sad to leave our air-conditioned apartment, but excited to head to the Coral Coast!