What a pearler!
19.09.2010 - 01.10.2010
What a beautiful place and so different to our beaches. This is the mecca we have heard about on the East coast and it is indeed a very unique part of Australia. The heading of this blog is something quirky that stuck in my head. It is the name of a rental car company.
This blog is only part one of our very exciting time in the West Kimberleys. Wait until you see what happened in week 2!
Broome started as a pearling port in the 1880s. It was populated by people of many nationalities - mainly Europeans, Malays, Chinese and Japanese, as well as the Aborigines - who came to the shores of Roebuck Bay hoping to make their fortune from the pearling industry. The influence of the pearling industry, and its various cultures, has helped to create the character and charm of Broome. The town was bombed by the Japanese in 1942 and people were killed, many injured and caused much damage to the town.
The population of Broome is around 14,500 but triples that figure in tourist season. People (like us) come here having heard a lot about beautiful Broome but perhaps not knowing what to expect. For those of you thinking about coming here this author has summed it up well (if not then read on after the bold type):
"Tropical paradise and holiday hot spot with throbbing beach and night life, fun and adventure water sports, cafes, bars and nightclubs...
OR - Broome, Western Australia - a remote Outback post in an untouched wilderness, where nature and adventures beckon. The ancient Kimberley where the indigenous owners of the land still live their traditional lifestyle and have limited contact with white people.
Well, you actually can find all of the above in Broome. That's the problem. People usually prefer one or the other. If they are looking for a beach holiday destination they arrive with certain expectations. If they come to experience the vastness and solitude and "magic" of the Kimberley they arrive with certain expectations. In both cases chances are that they will be disappointed with Broome.
No aspect of Broome in Australia is as heavily marketed as the beaches. Actually, I should say as heavily marketed as Cable Beach. That's what all the brochures rave about.
The brochures also show flash resorts and fancy restaurants, lush tropical gardens, pubs and bars packed with people and so on. You know what to expect at the strip along the beach or the esplanade of any popular holiday destination...
Everything you expect from Broome is there. I mean, one or two of each... There is a resort at the beach. There is a bar at the beach. There is a cafe, and a pub. But there aren't dozens to choose from. (Mind you, there will be soon. They are building like crazy...)
Broome is a small place! You have to understand that there just isn't much there. "Where the red desert meets the sea" is one of the slogans used to market Broome. That's exactly it.
The desert on one side, the Indian ocean on the other.
Makes for great photos, but no brochure ever mentions that there is not much in between, and absolutely nothing above or below except more desert and ocean.
That's all there is to the coast of northern Western Australia, and to Broome.
And regarding the tropical flair: the temperatures are tropical, the vegetation isn't.
Sure, all the resorts, backpackers and many residents planted lots of palm trees around the place, but those gardens are like little islands.
Better think "Outback", not "tropical paradise".
Another complaint that comes up repeatedly is that it is so hard to find the things that are there. Not enough sign posts, not enough touristy infrastructure.
Probably true, and to some extent maybe even deliberate. At least wherever the locals have a say in things. Most of them aren't real happy about the way Western Australia tourism to Broome has exploded in the last few years. Not that anybody can do much about it. Basically, tourist numbers have increased a lot faster than Broome can or wants to grow.
Which creates another problem that upsets many people. To find affordable accommodation in Broome during the main season is near impossible, unless you book months ahead.
And this leads to the flip side of the coin. What about the people who aren't looking for your typical beach holiday? The visitors who come for the remoteness and Outback hospitality, the nature and the wilderness adventure?
Broome In The Western Australia Kimberley
The Last Frontier
Oh blessed be progress. It's not that long ago that it took the dedicated traveller many days on potholed or unsealed and corrugated roads to travel between Broome and other Western Australia destinations. Alas, today we can board a plane and be on the east coast or in Perth in a matter of hours. Great.
And people from the east coast can be in Broome in Western Australia in a matter of hours. Great?
It's good for business, and it's great for people who live far away and want to visit Broome in Western Australia. But the ease with which Broome can be reached now has not only increased the numbers of people visiting.
The type of people has changed, too. It's people who have money to spend and want to spend it, and who are looking for a lot more comfort, amenities, entertainment and service than the hardened Outback campers, who rocked up in Broome in their battered four wheel drives in the past.
And Broome has responded. Everybody wants a slice of the pie. "Commercial", "touristy", "rip off", those are the words used by people who dislike the change. It's just what you see happen in every place in the world that gets discovered by the tourism industry...
The town itself provides a stark contrast to what you find around Broome in Western Australia. Both the Kimberley to the east and the west coast below Broome are magnificent wilderness areas, nearly totally devoid of people. Anybody who has been four-wheel driving, camping, fishing and camp fire cooking their way to Broome from Western Australia will initially experience it as a bit of a shock to the system...
I have to admit myself that after a few weeks in the bush I find it a bit hard to adapt to Broome. On the other hand if I shoot over on the highway (I'm in Kununurra) or fly, then I feel instantly comfortable there. Unless it is July (school holidays and peak season)....
Broome In Western Australia - Should You Go?
If you like places like the Gold Coast and are looking for something comparable then save yourself the time and money.
Everybody else should definitely go. But don't travel all the way to Broome for a beach holiday only. Do some research first. Explore the fascinating history of Broome. Find out what there is to see and do in Broome and around Broome in Western Australia, and be aware that most of the good stuff requires a (hired) four wheel drive or you have to join a tour or cruise.
Book early and avoid the time from mid June to mid August. And just accept the fact that this is a small town in the middle of nowhere, and in its heart it would rather remain a quiet, small town...
To people who absolutely can't handle the touristy aspects I can only say, don't bypass Broome!! Broome itself in the main season might be a bit busy, but as I already said, Broome is small. It doesn't take much at all to get away from people."
Okay, so back to our trip. We totally agree with the above author. We started our first day by doing a tour of the museum and how the pearling industry took off here. We even got to taste some pearl meat which was rather nice. They also showed us a huge pearl which was passed around and very expensive. We were surprised they didn't have the security guys around. Those guys in the big suits that look like astronauts were heroes. When you see what they had to put on and the weight of it all. You couldn't bend over to pick up the mother of pearl shells otherwise you couldn't get up again. Geoff thought he would have a go at it and find some pearls for his lovely wife.
Broome is indeed a very small town and at first we couldn't work out the shops. They are in tin buildings except for Coles which is in a small shopping centre. It also gets very hot here in the summer months, up to 45 degrees.
I had a day off from my 'pearl diver' and went to town and then I found all those little shops really interesting for 'girl shopping.' I also went to the markets one day and found some pearls for a very reasonable price. Guess what, they were freshwater pearls made in China!
I had to put in a bigger photo so you can see the pearls!!
Actually the town has sections one of which is called Chinatown. Not like you would expect at home and I wondered why Chinatown when the Japanese really started it all here. Well, when the Japs bombed Broome & Darwin they quickly changed the name to Chinatown. They now have a cemetery to honour all the pearl divers who mostly died from shark attacks and the bends.
We were sort of lucky to have the first week of windy days. Not really nice for the beach and swimming but good for checking out the place. Fortunately most of the tourists had left and we could get into the popular (and very shady) caravan park of Cable Beach. There was a beautiful resort style swimming pool as well for the hot days. It is one block back from the beach with resorts in front of it so you can't short cut to the beach. It is about 5 kms out of town. Every evening we would walk to the beach to watch the sun go down. Spectacular.
There were many more enjoying the same as us.
One day we went to the town jetty to see a P&O ship come into port for the day. They would have been in for a treat seeing the azure coloured waters of the Indian ocean.
Swimming at Cable Beach felt safe because they have life savers watching out for you but other beaches are not without danger of sharks or crocs lurking around the place!
In town they also have the airport with only one runway which they call an International airport, however there are no international flights yet. There are also lots of light aircraft taking off from the same runway. They also have the world's oldest, operating picture garden theatre. It has the usual deck chairs which looked rather uncomfortable and the planes take off and land right above the theatre. It was either too windy or too hot to go to the movies when we were there so I took the photos instead.
When we arrived it was explained to us about the huge tides they have around the place. Up to 11 metres high and about a week before they had one which went over the dunes and flooded the open plains leaving the pearl farm like an island.
I learnt all about the different pearls and how they make them and get them out. Very interesting. We also got damper, a cuppa and a boat ride to show us the clams in cages in the water.
On our final night here we had to do the iconic sunset camel ride. There are 3 operators here so it was hard to decide who would give us 'bang for our buck'. One backpacker Geoff was talking to at the caravan park had suggested that the 'blue camel ride' was the best. They were kind to their camels, all the women got pearl earrings and we got to feed the camel a carrot each. That was the winner!