Friday, 5 June 2015

Pearls, Crocs and Rajah

Broome, Western Australia

Winter has officially cometh and for us Melbourne-types, it effectively means we’re screwed and be wanting of hotter climates. Fortunately I happen to know of a rest in the north-west that can solve this problem quite easily; the coastal town of Broome. Thanks to some stories told by the travelling auntie and uncle I’ve since made the trip twice, first in 2010 and then in 2011.

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

Founded in 1883, Broome’s a place that’s got a lot going on. Known as a gateway to the Kimberley, the town has a rich pearling history and isn’t shy about its ethnic fusion; Aboriginal, Japanese and Dutch, just to name a few. Broome is situated on the traditional lands of the Yawuru people.                                                                                                 
In getting there, there are several means so choose wisely; the flight from Melbourne (with a stop in Perth) lasts about 3-4 hours but I’m told there’s a direct option on Thursdays. That’s a choice I’m happy to explore given where I live. However, if coming from Darwin the drive will last for 1871 km (leave your fruit, veg and honey at the border crossing), but if coming north from Perth it’ll be 2240km. There used to be a Greyhound service Tim Winton described as the ‘death trip’ (I think) in his novel Dirt Music; having regretfully done this but in parts, I was happy to learn the bus service was no longer running. If you are coming from Ningaloo though, fly from Exmouth (which’ll last an hour at least) or do a detour via Karijini which I’m told is very rewarding.

Accommodation wise, Broome is an easy stop made by the droves so book well in advance. For my first visit (a layover before heading south to Ningaloo) I stayed at the hostel, Broome’s Last Resort, and was quick to learn that it is the last resort. The shotty conditions were enough to send me over to the Kimberley Klub on my second stay, another hostel with a tropical vibe which was a significant improvement (they do come with a lot of rules). Had a few good nights and met some people I wasn’t like to forget; there was one German girl who was forever grateful for me making her McDonald’s toy work correctly. I’ve been Facebooking with that dear imp ever since.

With those essentials out of the way I want to list a few highlights; a few days is all you’ll need to get them in. First on my list are the Chinese and Japanese cemeteries, the latter being the resting place for 919 pearlers who drowned in the pursuit. A little difficult to find (some local kids helped me out) but walking amongst the fallen did have a hallowed feeling about it which I believe is just.

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

These were some of the places my aunt told me about and appreciative of foreign cultures, I made it a priority to visit. This was no regret. Add to that, every year Broome celebrates Shinju Matsuri, ‘festival of the pearl’, which brings to light the town’s Asian influences.

SHEEP NOTE: I’m only very ‘anorexic’ (aka thin) in both Chinese and Japanese so I’m hoping I’ve posted the correct photos. If I’ve stuffed up, the mistake will be fixed ASAP.

Now, my family have always been fans of camping (my youngest nephew might disagree though) and additionally, we like to watch the travel docos. The late Malcolm Douglas was a favourite of ours; his insight into the Australian wild always shut us up and we did consider him to be better than Steve Irwin (it’s just an opinion). So, I made a stop at his crocodile park which in all honesty came with its share of thrills. Some notable Aussie wildlife is on display, along with American alligators which was a first for me, but the massive apex predators are, first and foremost, the drawcard. 

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

The crocs on display, both freshwater and estuarine, are massive and were very much bringing back memories of watching Peter Pan as a boy. Some might snap their imposing jaws, which jumpstarts the adrenaline, whilst others will just lie around caring nothing for those who might be dangling their cameras over the fence for amusement (seriously!).

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

What I found interesting was the nursery of crocs with birth deformities; there were two that could not survive in the wild because one had a messed up tail whilst the other had none at all. It was a satisfying afternoon, amongst which a feeding tour is on offer, but be sure to get your timing right. For the fans of Malcolm Douglas, this is one stop you must make.

Those done and dusted, Cable Beach is the final highlight I’d be liking to share. An easy bus ride out of town, this is where just about everybody goes for a day trip. When I rocked up they had a polo competition on (not my thing but everyone’s different) and many others going at their own pace. Having to wait for my real plan to unfold I just ate fish and chips and read my copy of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Kinda blissful.

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

Cable Beach is nice to walk along (crocs and box jellyfish do like to hang out in those parts so be cautious in the water and at night) and let rip with the 4WD, as some ‘woo-girls’ were doing. I for one liked the rocks that the crabs were scuttling over (added some character) and if you happen to go far enough (this wasn’t the focus of the day and no I didn’t get pictures) you might just find a few folk with their talents on display. Looking out at the Indian Ocean I did see a Chinese junk boat (dunno why I didn’t get a shot of that but you may judge), and if one comes at the right time they may witness the Staircase to the Moon cometh the evening; just another example of traveller’s regret.

Now, many a folk and some great panorama shots will tell you that riding the camels along Cable Beach are a huge must, so that’s what I did. Ships of the Desert, the company I rode with was more than rewarding, but it’s my understanding they’re no longer operating. I was upon Rajah’s hump for about half an hour and it was money well spent. Whilst the fellow backpackers were lurking about, this is very much a family affair also; the youngest riding was a toddler. The camel handlers were good conversations had and they provided photo proof of the day which they truthfully described as the ‘cheapest souvenir in Broome’. They really did give the best hump on Cable Beach.

Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)

And so that’s what can be had. Broome is refreshing and worth the steps taken across the continent and the world. Go there if you can. 
Broome, Western Australia (taken 2011)



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