Blending staggering coastal scenery, awesome natural wonders and an origin story that demands investigation, the Western Australian town of Broome has a lot going for it.
Broome’s modern story begins with the pearling industry in the 1870s.
The local abundance of pinctada maxima oysters created a pearl-diving boom, as well as Australia’s first genuinely multicultural district.
Broome’s Chinatown today is a mix of Asian restaurants and glittering jewellery shops, and is home to the world’s oldest open-air cinema.
The coast around Broome has a huge tidal range of 10 metres, causing incredible natural phenomena like Staircase to the Moon, and Horizontal Falls in the nearby Buccaneer Archipelago.
1. Cable Beach
It’s no exaggeration to call the 22-kilometre ribbon of perfect white sand on the west side of Broome one of the best beaches in the world.
Cable Beach’s spotless sands are trimmed with low, ochre red cliffs and washed by mostly gentle turquoise surf.
There are campgrounds and resorts all along the Broome section of the beach, but there’s ample space for everyone especially at low tide and even during peak season from May to October.
When it comes to activities there’s fishing, kayaking in the light surf, swimming and camel rides (more later). This last activity normally takes place late in the day when the sunsets on the west-facing beachfront are a thing of rare beauty.
Between October and February the beach is a nesting site for sea turtles, while the beach and the reserve at Minyirr Park are crucial to the local Aboriginal as Broome’s dreamtime birthplace.
2. Pearl Tours
We’ve seen that both the past and present of Broome are anchored in the lucrative pearling industry.
Some of the finest pearls on the planet continue to come out of this town, and for a sight of these riches make for the glitzy jewellery showrooms in Chinatown.
The trade has weathered the Second World War, when the entire pearling fleet was burnt, as well as the advent of plastic as a cheap alternative to genuine mother of pearl for buttons.
To truly get a handle on the pearling industry in Broome, you have to see a farm in person.
You can do this with the Willie Creek Pearl Farm Tour through the online tour platform GetYourGuide.com.
You’ll travel by air-conditioned coach to the lease, set on a sheltered tidal estuary, learning every stage of the pearl-making process, from seeding to harvesting.
You’ll also get to see just how tricky it is to extract a pearl from an oyster, and will embark on a water tour of the farm.
3. Horizontal Falls
One of a couple of extraordinary natural phenomena to be witnessed close to Broome is Horizontal Falls.
This takes place in a set of twin canyons in the Buccaneer Archipelago, north-east of the Dampier Peninsula.
When the tide is just right and seawater builds up faster on one side of the gaps than the other, the waters surge through the two openings at high speed literally horizontal waterfalls.
The spectacle has been praised by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest wonders of the natural world”. There’s no way to get to Horizontal Falls by road, but listed on GetYourGuide.com is the “Horizontal Falls Half-Day Seaplane & Boat Tour“. After a brief seaplane flight from Broome to Talbot Bay, you’ll board a high-speed boat for an adrenaline-pumping ride through the falls.
Afterwards you can unwind on a cruise through the archipelagos creeks and bays, and can bathe in a massive protective cage safe from crocs or sharks.
4. Gantheaume Point
While mapping the coast in 1801, the explorer Nicolas Baudin named this promontory after French naval officer Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume.
You can find it just minutes out of Broome at the south end of Cable Beach.
There’s a beach area on the north-east side, an embarkation point for fishing charters and kayak trips.
The promontory meanwhile is adored for its medley of colours, in the blazing red of the pindan cliffs and the turquoise and white of the Indian Ocean.
At very low tide you can walk out to find dinosaur footprints preserved in the reef rock for 125 million years.
Plaster casts have been made, and you can see them on the cliff top at other times.
Another endearing detail is Anastasia’s Pool, a kind of natural jacuzzi, carved decades ago from the rock by a lighthouse keeper to alleviate his wife’s arthritis.
5. Sun Pictures Cinema
The world’s oldest open-air cinema still in operation can be found in Broome’s old Chinatown.
Sun Pictures opened its doors in December 1916, having been converted from a Noh theatre that belonged to a Japanese family and opened three years before.
This weatherboard building was added to the Western Australia Heritage Register in 1996, and in 2002 an indoor cinema opened next door so you can watch a new release or Hollywood classic in any weather.
Movies are screened in double bills, and the schedule is posted on Sun Pictures Facebook page.
One quirk of the outdoor cinema is that it sits under the flight path of Broome Airport, and it’s a tradition for the audience to clap when planes pass overhead.
6. Staircase to the Moon
If you’re planning a trip to Broome, check the calendar to see if you’ll coincide with a wonderful natural phenomenon that occurs just three times a month.
Staircase to the Moon happens when the full or nearly full moon rises above the exposed tidal flats in Roebuck Bay.
This creates a kind of notched shaft of light resembling steps, and is a beautiful sight to behold.
You can pack a picnic and watch the show from the newly refurbished terraces behind Town Beach (more below). The first two nights of Staircase to the Moon each month are also accompanied by the Staircase Markets, while the Mangrove Hotel Resort puts on live entertainment every staircase night.
7. Whale Watching
Every year, tens of thousands of humpback whales make the long trip up from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the warm Indian Ocean off the Kimberley Coast.
Arriving around June and staying to October, these humpbacks visit to mate and calve in the sheltered waters around the Bonaparte and Buccaneer Archipelagos.
Whale watching tours, taking you close to this inquisitive and acrobatic species, set off from Broome between July and September.
One company, Broome Whale Watching, has guaranteed whale sightings on every trip since its first voyage in 2008. Outside whale season you can also head out into Roebuck Bay to sight the snubfin dolphins native to Australia’s northern coasts.
8. Broome Historical Museum
You can bet that a town like Broome has some riveting tales to tell, and the Broome Historical Museum has a host of different rabbit holes to go down.
One is the series of deadly Japanese air raids on Broome in 1942. One of these attacks destroyed more than 20 aircraft, the wreckage of which can still be seen at low tide off Town Beach.
There’s background on Broome’s multicultural origins, as well as the pearling industry that has supported the town for generations, as well as the complex Aboriginal culture that predates everything else.
Even the location is significant, as the Broome Historical Museum is housed in an old general store that opened in the 1890s
9. Broome Bird Observatory
Set on the north side of Roebuck Bay , the Broome Bird Observatory was established in 1988 as a base to study and appreciate the amazing birdlife that flocks to this part of the coast.
More than 300 species have been recorded around the rich mudflats of Roebuck Bay, among them an incredible variety of shorebirds.
The best time to come is between August and April, outside the period that the migratory shorebirds spend breeding across Asia and Siberia, but many thousands do remain behind on the bay as they’re not ready to breed.
August to October is spectacular, when the birds return to the bay, many still in their brilliant breeding plumage.
The facility is set in the pindan woodland common to Dampierland, and offers self-guided walks and guided tours to day-trippers, but also multi-day courses, with campsites and air-conditioned accommodation for people staying overnight.
10. Dampier Peninsula
For some people, the prospect of traversing this sparsely inhabited and naturally beautiful peninsula north-east of Broome will be too enticing to resist.
This is a red-tinted land of pindan bush, far-reaching tidal flats and totally unspoiled beaches.
Offshore the waters are packed with dugongs, tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins and humpback whales during calving season A diversity of Aboriginal communities (Djarindjin, One Arm Point (Ardyloon), Lombadina and Beagle Bay) can be found on the peninsula, sharing the land with remote pearling camps.
To experience the Dampier Peninsula, head to the Broome Visitor Centre, which can put you in touch with a guide who will give you an Aboriginal perspective.
You’ll discover the craft of spear-making, catch mid crabs and try traditional bush tucker.
Hardy travellers can also explore the peninsula under your own steam in a 4WD, and the visitor centre will help you hire a vehicle and prepare for your adventure responsibly.
11. Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park
This animal attraction just out of town on the Broome Road upholds the legacy of the documentary maker, crocodile farmer and conservationist , Malcolm Douglas (1941-2010). Entered via the gigantic fibreglass jaws of a saltwater croc, the park is home to some of the largest crocodiles on display in the world.
You can get a sense of these reptiles’ incredible power on a daily feeding tour, while the park contains a wealth of other wildlife, including all sorts of birds, snakes, wallabies, kangaroos, emus and a cassowary.
At the shop you can retrace Malcolm Douglas’ 40 years as a documentary filmmaker and purchase a variety of saltwater crocodile products.
12. Broome Town Beach
As well as being the perfect place to witness Staircase to the Moon, this stretch of waterfront facing east towards Roebuck Bay has been transformed in the last few years.
With the reconstruction of the terrace and revetment wall, there’s an inviting, landscaped green space on the foreshore, complete with a new kids’ water park, shaded by colourful canopies.
Check the tide times and you can head out into the tidal flats for a long walk, passing the remnants of WWII-era Catalina flying boats destroyed by Japanese raids, normally concealed by the ocean.
Next to the Water Park and Town Beach Cafe is the Pioneer Cemetery, with 11 gravesites, the oldest of which goes back to 1883, the year Broome was gazetted as a town.
13. Camel Tours
The endless sands and vast tidal range of Cable Beach set the scene for a captivating experience at sunset.
You can saddle up on a friendly camel for a trek across the tidal flats as the low sun illuminates the beach.
The various hues of the ocean and sky, and the sight of your caravan reflected in the mirror-like sands will stay with you long after you’ve gone home.
You can access your camel from a platform, and your guide will be happy to take photos from the beach.
You’ll also have lots of opportunities to interact with the camels and will find out their habits, diet and history.
The three companies providing sunset camel tours on Cable Beach are Red Sun Camels, Broome Camel Safaris and Sundowner Camel Tours.
14. Kimberley Cruises
Horizontal Falls is just one of an overwhelming assortment of natural wonders ready to be discovered on the Kimberley Coast.
To see them, there’s a directory of tour operators and charter companies with packages to suit your plans and pocket, like Kimberley Coast Cruises, True North, Go Beyond Broome, Coral Expeditions, One Time Charters and Kimberley Expeditions.
Some cruises even offer helicopter flights so you can witness this scenery from the air.
For just a taste of some of the splendour in store, there’s the vast Montgomery Reef, which seems to rise from the sea at low tide, the terraced falls of King’s Cascades, the sublime Aboriginal rock art at Raft Point and the majestic , 80-metre King George Falls.
15. Broome Courthouse Markets
Dating back to 1889, Broome’s functioning courthouse was initially used as the town’s cable station, before being converted into a court in 1921. Every Saturday all year, and every Sunday from April to October, the heritage-listed gardens put on a bustling market with well over 100 stallholders.
With live music in the air, you can potter around for seasonal fruit and vegetables, handmade fashion, jewellery, leather goods, homewares, arts and crafts, cosmetics, books, plants, flowers and a lot more besides.
Bring an appetite too as there’s always a lineup of food trucks and stands for Thai, kebabs, burgers, Filipino cuisine, arrosticini, lumpia, ice cream and crepes, to name but a few.