Tag Archives: Broome

Trip 3:Tuesday, September 5

Travel day.

I was up at 6:30, finished packing, had a cup of tea and a shower, and headed out the door.

Entrance to Broome Airport

Plane visible through the foliage.

The hotel provided transportation to the charming little Broome International Airport. I was amused to see flights written on a chalkboard just outside the front door–but then there aren’t a lot of flights going through Broome. I checked in and then walked the 20 feet to my gate.

The jet I boarded had a surprising amount of legroom. Sorry I can’t fly Sydney to LA with this much space! Taking off, we swiftly crossed back across the land we had taken two weeks to traverse.

Broome from the air


A lovely snack was served on the Broome to Kununurra leg of the journey (finger sandwiches with crusts trimmed off and chocolate chip, macadamia nut shortbread–could they possibly have made anything richer!), and lunch was served between Kununurra and Darwin (chicken breast and large, chilled shrimp–yum). No need to buy lunch at the airport.

The Darwin Airport is larger than Broome’s facility, but still small enough that passengers walk from their planes to the terminal. The plane was air conditioned, and after two weeks without A/C, it felt strange, and I felt more comfortable during the walk from my little Broome plane to the terminal. It is another spectacular, hot day. However, the airport was also air conditioned. I’ll adjust. The terminal was crowded, but was bright and comfortable.

The flight from Darwin to Adelaide was on a bigger jet, and it was really packed. I was a little surprised, but maybe it’s because it also goes on to Melbourne and Sydney, after dropping me off in Adelaide.

I’m sorry to be leaving this part of the country. I always feel like I’m on my way home once I leave the outback, even though I have two more weeks in Australia. However, I’m grateful for those additional two weeks, because I’m not ready to leave Australia yet.

I fell asleep almost while the plane was taking off and became conscious again forty minutes later, when beverage service came through. Below me, there was a whole lot of nowhere. The amazingly rugged landscape stretched to the horizon, with mountains, rivers, fault lines visible, but only rare signs of anything approaching civilization.

At least from up here, it’s evident that I’m somewhere specific. At most airports (unless they are little ones, like the one in Broome), it’s generally hard to tell where you are. No matter how much “personality” an airport has, in all but the smallest airports, it’s hard to feel like you’re anywhere but an airport, and all airports are in the same place—at the center of arriving and leaving. And at every airport, I’m doing the same thing, arriving, leaving, or waiting, usually with a view that consists solely of runways and airplanes.

The broad expanse of wild ruggedness below me has now turned from the brown and green of the Top End into the red of the Centre. A three-quarter moon hangs in the blue sky just to my left and forward. The fairly consistent clouds of the afternoon up north have given way to rare wisps. My view changed dramatically as we continued south, from red land to solid cloud cover. Still, from the air, even endless clouds are astonishingly beautiful. It’s one of the things I love about flying.

Then finally, partial clearing and the ocean shore, as we approached Adelaide. The pilot reported a temperature of 11˚C (roughly 52˚ F). It was 38˚C (or just over 100˚F) when I left Darwin. I’m glad I have a jacket.

The sun was just setting as we landed, which made even the airport splendid. Richard (Nikki’s husband) was waiting for me at the airport. He’d been in town for work that day, so it was quite convenient for him to pick me up. Saved me having to take a bus north.

The drive to Nuriootpa took just about an hour and 20 minutes. Nikki had dinner waiting when we arrived. Richard’s brother, Sandy, was visiting from Sydney, and the four of us dined and chatted and drank wine and chatted some more until 10:30. Then it was off to bed, to get a good night’s sleep before heading off on the next adventure.

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September 4, Part 2

After lunch, we did a little more browsing among the shops along Carnarvon Street. I bought a lovely little, locally collected seashell: a Cypraea cylindrica, which is indigenous to this stretch of coastline. Then we caught the 3:30 bus to Cable Beach.

Cable Beach is a long (22 kilometers), beautiful stretch of white sand bordered by red cliffs, graced with purple-flowered vines and palm trees, and dotted with eroded black rocks. The beach gets its name from the trans-oceanic telegraph cable that was strung from Australia to Java in 1889, allowing Australia to then communicate with the world more quickly than sending a message by ship.

We walked and observed and photographed. When Belinda and Athena perched on rocks to rest, I continued on my own. I picked up bits of coral and tiny shells, photographed a hermit crab and the sand balls surrounding the burrows of sand crabs. (The sand balls are created by the crabs, who roll up and rubbish after eating and eject it from their burrows.)

As sunset approached, a couple of strings of camels were led down onto the beach. Riding a camel along the beach at sunset is one of the “things to do” in Broome, and sunset-lit camels appear on a high percentage of the souvenirs in town. I photographed the camels and then rejoined Athena and Belinda, who had been joined by Mim, Hazel, Shirl, Graham, Leslie, and Don from our recently completed tour. We exchanged notes on what we’d seen and what we would be doing in Broome, then said good-bye again.

Athena, Belinda, and I climbed a nearby hill to await the disappearance of the sun. By 5:30, the huge, golden orb was well on its way towards the water. There were not a lot of clouds, so the sunset was not quite as stunning as in some photos we’ve seen, but it certainly seemed far larger than usual, perhaps attributable to our proximity to the equator.

Once the sun had set, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I did a quick load of laundry, hung the wet clothes all over my room to dry, changed clothes, and rejoined Athena and Belinda for a quick taxi ride back to Chinatown. We stopped at a fish and chips shop with a surprisingly impressive menu (salmon, snapper, shark, squid), but we just bought chips (fries). Then the three of us headed for Sun Pictures, “The Oldest Picture Garden in the World.” (Are there others?) By picture, they mean movies. They would have been showing silent films back when this place was built in 1913. The façade would lead a passerby to believe Sun Pictures was a relatively normal theater. But behind that façade, the roof only extends for a few feet, to cover the ticket office and a bit of wooden lattice work, and then ends. The “theater” is a broad, green yard framed by palm trees, completely open to the sky. Rows of deck chairs are lined up in front of the large outdoor screen. It’s quite wonderful. The movie was actually incidental to the experience. The heat of the day faded into what seemed cool in comparison. The air was fragrant from all the flowers. Stars were splashed brilliantly across the sky overhead. Absolutely delightful. The place was packed, with locals far outnumbering tourists. Great fun. Highly recommended.

We caught a taxi back to the hotel and said a final farewell. I stayed up another hour, ironing my clothes and organizing my luggage. But by 11:30, I was too tired to do any more, so I went to bed. (It was not just the fifteen days of camping that have worn me out; I’m still hurting a fair bit. Definitely think I broke a rib or two back in Kununurra.)

Anyway, it was a fine last day to this part of the adventure. And tomorrow, onward.

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Trip 3:Monday, September 4, Part 1

Up at sunrise. A moment’s excitement upon discovering a tarantula in the loo. There was a grasshopper, as well, but that was less daunting.

Headed alone to the beach for as long a walk as I could manage. I had until 9 a.m. at my leisure, but the tour was scheduled to end at 10, and we still had to drive to town. But that gave me a couple of hours to enjoy my surroundings. I was joined by wading birds, an egret, and sea eagles. Mud hoppers skipped across the mud. (Also known as mud skippers, these are fish that can actually breathe air.) Snails emerged from their shells and explored for food. Red rocks, black rocks, gray mud, blue water. Beautiful morning.

Mud Hopper

Layered Rock

Snails, large and small

I lingered on the beach till the last possible moment, then headed back to camp, to climb into the 4WD one last time.

Most of the gang was dropped off at the posh Mangrove Resort, but Athena, Belinda, and I continued on to the more modest, less expensive, but still very nice Tropicana. The yard was filled with flowers, particularly the wildly fragrant frangipani, so the place smelled heavenly.

We allowed ourselves half an hour for settling in and showering, and then the three of us met up and set off to see the sights. Our first stop was at the nearby Broome Historical Museum. It was a wonderful little museum, filled with relics, photos, and documents from Broome’s earliest settlement to the glory days of pearling through the devastation of World War II (Broome was bombed by the Japanese), and up to the present. There were artifacts from all the many peoples who have inhabited (and do still) the region: Aborigines, Europeans, Japanese, Malay, Indonesians. Delightful place, and astonishing history.

Leaving the museum, we walked on the road bordering the mangroves and beach. We continued to be amazed by the brilliance of the turquoise water and stopped frequently to photograph it.

We visited an art gallery and an upscale jewelry store (this stretch of coastline is famous for its huge, exceptionally white pearls, and they’re worth seeing even if they are too costly to consider), then continued toward Chinatown. The gum trees along the road were in bloom and were wonderfully fragrant. Ibises wandered on the court house lawn, and kites (the birds) soared overhead. We all commented that this was a good place to ease ourselves back into civilization, as there was enough of the exotic to make us feel that this was still an adventure.

Chinatown was a real shock. When I first visited, it was a quiet, sleepy area, even though it’s the center of town. The broad streets then were covered in red dust but otherwise featureless. There were no sidewalks. The cars parked somewhat randomly down the center of the street tended to be rusting, practical, and sporting protective bars to minimize damage when encountering kangaroos or water buffalo. The stores were very basic tin-roofed structures that were generally Chinese owned. Now, though still open and amiable, the area is very upscale, with nothing more than a couple of Chinese restaurants to give validity to the name “Chinatown.” Carnarvon Street now has sidewalks and a parkway covered with grass and dotted with palm trees. The street is lined with posh boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, health food stores, nail salons, tour operators, and delis serving quiche and mocha lattés. Wow! What a disappointment. I had so looked forward to the funky, rustic, multi-lingual Broome that I had been telling Belinda and Athena about before we arrived.

That said, at least it was a convenient disappointment. We browsed through a few shops, where both Belinda and Athena found gifts to buy for folks back home. Then we popped into the comfortable (air conditioned!!) and apparently popular Bloom’s Gourmet Deli, where I had iced coffee and the mixed salad plate (Greek, pasta, and potato). Athena asked if any of us had any sense of being in a remote corner of the Australian Outback. No. Well, at least not until we went to the restroom, which is a corrugated iron shack at the far side of the hot, dusty backyard.

One thing on Carnarvon Street that had not changed from my previous trip was Sun Pictures. I photographed it in the daylight, and we agreed to return this evening.

(For more on the changes in Broome, check out my earlier post on Broome Old And New. There, you can see contrasting photos of what I saw during my different visits.)

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September 3, Part 2

Derby is a wonderfully spread-out town, on the shore of King Sound. The streets are wide, the buildings low, and the dirt is red. There are lots of plants (including boabs, of course). It’s a strange, carelessly laid out little town that comes close to being quite attractive.

With a population just under five thousand, Derby is one of the three largest cities in the Kimberley (the others being Kununnura, which we visited earlier in the trip, and Broome, which is our destination this evening). Aside from boabs, the things for which Derby is most famous is its tides. The difference between low tide and high tide is 36 or more feet—the most extreme tides in Australia, and second only to the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

We did a little grocery shopping while in town. It was fun to see what a fabulously eclectic, cosmopolitan selection there was in the warehouse-like grocery store, from health foods to Asian foods to European delicacies. Remarkable. The town may be remote, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to eat well.

We enjoyed lunch by the shore, near the jetty. The jetty, which stretches out across the mudflats at low tide, is a popular spot for watching the water rush toward shore as the tide comes in. After eating, we wandered a bit, partly to explore and partly to stretch our legs before getting back into the 4WD. A huge, black cockatoo watched us from atop a street lamp. I photographed the sign that advises against swimming. Unlike those at Windjana Gorge, the crocodiles here are the massive, dangerous saltwater crocodile. Stay out of the water—and even on shore, keep your eyes open.

Then we strolled out along the jetty, to see how far the mud flats extended, and to see boats stranded by the absent water. I also liked the current patterns left in the mud by the tide.

Then we were off again. We stopped to see the famous “prison boab”—a boab so massive that, in the old days, prisoners could be held in its hollow trunk until other arrangements could be made. Then we continued on to Broome.

The tires hummed as we traversed the two hundred kilometers of blacktop to the outskirts of Broome, where we turned onto a red dirt road for the 15 kilometers drive to the Broome Bird Observatory. We’re not here at a high-migration time, but this is considered one of the best places on earth for bird watching.

When the brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean suddenly burst onto our view, it was stunning. The contrast of the deep-red dirt, white sand, and turquoise water was wonderful. As we drove, we saw a white-breasted sea eagle perched in a tree, surveying the water, looking for dinner. Glorious creature.

After putting up our tents, we walked down to the beach, stopping to admire a stick insect near the path. Wonderful to see how well its camouflage works. If it hadn’t moved, we would never have seen it. On the beach, red rocks and red sand bordered gray mudflats and blue sea. The red of the cliffs was brilliant, and it was set ablaze by the lowering sun.

The tide was on its way out and, though we had hoped for a bit of a splash, it was leaving too fast to catch it across the sticky mud and puddled sand. So we just hiked along the beach and enjoyed the scenery: the sun on the red cliffs, the turquoise of the water, the weirdly worn black, tan, and red rocks so reminiscent, but on a smaller scale, of the rocks of Windjana Gorge—the ancient seabed lifted up.

There were thousands upon thousands of seashells. I managed to limit my collecting to two token specimens: a couple of angel wings (and those who know me will know how hard it would be for me to limit myself when collecting seashells). Then, before sunset, we headed through the graceful, fragrant, short trees along the shore, back to our campsite, where our first hot shower in a long time was greatly enjoyed.

It was another amiable evening. We exchanged addresses and began talking about saying good-bye. Because of the trees so close about us, we had a much-reduced view of the stars, but the sound of the ocean waves and the breeze whispering in the branches was fine compensation.

It was a somewhat later evening than usual. Though we were all tired, we were reluctant to end this last night with all of us together.

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Broome Old and New

When I first visited Broome, it was a wonderfully rustic and yet still vaguely exotic place with multi-lingual street signs that reflected the multi-ethnic population. There was no landscaping other than what nature provided. Shops tended to be either Asian-run, incense-scented establishments with fans turning lazily overhead or open-air venues where barefooted and often shirtless artisans cranked out trinkets made from local materials, most notably sea shells, with particular emphasis on mother-of-pearl.

On my third trip to Australia, as I made my way across the top of Western Australia, I told my traveling companions about what a fun, funky place Broome was, and I looked forward to seeing it again. Ooops. Well, not everything was altered. The low-slung architectural style of Broome had been preserved, and the town’s movie theater still consisted of a bunch of lawn chairs in the open air, but things had definitely changed. The pearl business was booming, and elegant stores offered Broome’s huge, white pearls in stunning settings, all presented by skilled and well-dressed sales personnel. The streets were beautifully landscaped. There were day spas and nail salons. The lunch room was serving quiche. What had happened?

Well, what had happened was someone figured out that a place with miles and miles of pristine beaches and a couple hundred days of sunlight each year might be a nice place for a resort. The resort was built, and Broome went upscale. All very attractive and probably much nicer for the locals (at least some of them), but a huge disappointment for those of us who fancied the more rustic Broome.

The photo on the left is Carnarvon Street the first time I saw it. The photo on the right is the same street the second time I visited Broome. Fortunately, the wild rugged areas are still close by, and the surrounding area is considered one of the world’s great birding sites—a feature we enjoyed very much on that second visit.

Old Broome Newer Broome

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Around Broome

I spent my first day in Broome seeing some of the sights. Stuart took me first to the Japanese cemetery. Because Broome has long been a center of the pearling industry, Japanese pearl divers arrived fairly early in Broome’s history. Unfortunately, no one knew about “the bends,” or diver’s paralysis, when pearl diving was in its infancy, so many of those in this elegant little cemetery met this unfortunate end.

Next stop was Gantheaume Point, where I got my first view of the Indian Ocean. You can’t see the white sand in the image below, which adds another degree of contrast to the fabulous colors here, but the red rocks against the blue sea still make a pretty vivid color combination.

I don’t think it’s hard to see why Broome delighted me.

Broome\'s Japanese Cemetery Indian Ocean from Broome

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Waking up in Broome

It’s funny the things you learn after a book comes out. When I arrived in Broome—late at night after 21 hours on a bus—Stuart had said that “we put up your tent for you, as we reckoned you’d be tired after your trip.” I assumed “we” was him, and that’s what I wrote in the book—that he had thoughtfully put up the tent for me. As soon as she’d read this in the book, Nikki e-mailed me from Australia to say that it was, in fact, she and Jo who had put up the tent for me. Nikki and Jo, who I would not meet until the morning after my arrival, were the two people on this trip with whom I would maintain long-standing friendships—with whom I am in fact still friends. Nikki thought it seemed we were fated to be friends, since we had in a way connected even before we’d met. And thanks, Nikki and Jo—I was tired, and I did appreciate having the tent ready for me.

As I noted in the book, my first view of the camp was through the tent flap just before dawn, the next morning. The hint of silver in the sky didn’t lend itself to natural light photography, but I took the shot anyway. So below, my first view of the campsite near Broome, upon awakening that first morning in Western Australia.

Tent-flap dawn in Broome

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