Broome and the Dampier Peninsula

Well here we are in Broome, the tourist capital of north-western Australia, gathering place for grey nomads fleeing the cold southern winter, European backpackers seeking adventure, groups of Japanese tourists and luxury -weekend getawayers, and even the odd local – this is an eclectic mixture of people.

Broome is also an odd town, or is it two towns; the old original centre, more sedate, steeped in history, or a few kilometres away, the uber-touristic Cable Beach pitched at the young and the beautiful – clearly an oversimplification, but Broome does seem to have two distinct characters. We prefer the natural to the artificial and, consequently, found ourselves a very pleasant spot to stay in a caravan park on the shores of Roebuck Bay.


Tide's in at Roebuck Bay

The colours of Roebuck rocks

From here we could look out at the intensely blue water of the bay as we ate our lunch and then watch it slowly creep away and change colour as the outgoing tide revealed the mudflats that line this shallow body of water.

A curious light at low tide

Spur-winged plover


There was time to enjoy the passing parade of local birdlife; a pair of pelicans in a synchronised feeding and swim-by, an osprey fossicked in the flats, a tall jabiru strode slowly by, a variety of small waders probing for food as the water receded. At low tide, the waterline was several hundred metres away, enabling us to wander out and check out the curious fauna of that inhabit this intertidal zone and then watch the tide flow back in again. Its a hard life in Broome!

Synchronous pelicans

An osprey checking out the flats

Jabiru in flight

Curiosities of the mudflats

Five men on a boat

Ship moored out on the bay

Roebuck Bay sunset

As we sat on our deckchairs looking across the beach sipping our evening beer, we were provided with a spectacle of everchanging pastel colours of sea and sky as clouds drifted by, the sun set and an almost full-moon grew bright in the twilight. This is a place that could grow on you.

Cable Beach Walk

Today was "explore Broome day" and we decided to do it by bus – purchasing a day pass, we caught the first bus of the day, which dropped people at Gantheaume Point at the far end of the peninsula on which Broome sits. From here we planned an early morning 8km walk back to Cable Beach.

The bus actually dropped us near the racecourse, so we walked a kilometre down a red sandy road to Gantheaume Point (also known as Minyirr, a sacred place of rebirth for the local aboriginal people). From the lighthouse, we found a route down the low cliff-line of jagged sandstone blocks and began our walk. This cliff-line is a photographer’s dream, deep red Pindan soils, yellow, tan, pink and red sandstone, blackened blocks and conglomerates, pale white sand and azure sea – it is a riot of colour and form.

Looking northward across the silvery sea from Gantheaume Point

Heading to the beach across the rocks of Minyirr

The pastel shades of the shore of Gantheaume Point

Fairly quickly though, the cliffs merged into a long-line of sandy dunes and the wide expanse of Cable Beach began. It would not end for 22km northward, though we weren’t going quite that far.

Sand plovers and a tern

Osprey in flight

Silver gull with barnacles (almost still life)

Our walk along this beach reminded me a lot of Fraser Island on the east coast – for on this southern section, the locals had driven down onto the firm sand to fish or just enjoy a fine Saturday morning.  However, a couple of kilometres further north, it was just us and the seabirds. The pale sand was intriguing, firm underfoot when dry, it turned to soft plasticine when wet by the rising tide.

The fair Nello on Cable Beach

Crab beach art

It was pleasant walking along this magnificent stretch of beach, a cool wind from the east, the odd wave, an old pearl lugger anchored offshore and patches of crab sand-art slowly being erased by the incoming tide.

When we reached the Surf Lifesaver’s Club, which is Cable Beach as most people know it, we joined the masses for a swim in the clear waters of the Indian Ocean – there was even the odd wave large enough to do a bit of body-surfing.

the touristy section of Cable Beach

It was a very pleasant start to the day, after which we caught the bus back to town to visit the Courthouse Markets. That evening we again headed out to Cable Beach for the ritual of watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean in a spectacular display of golden-orange light. I remember that the last time we visited the western coastline of Australia, this became an evening ritual – I doubt that we will ever grow tired of it.

Pearling lugger at dusk

Cable Beach sunset

Dampier Peninsula

Not having time to travel all the way up to Cape Leveque, the following day we set off to explore the closer parts of the Dampier Peninsula just north of Broome. The area is known as the northern beaches, and is accessible by the Manari Road, a wide red strip of dirt with some interesting sections of sand and corrugations, but generally pretty accessible.

First stop was Willie’s Creek, a large estuary and home to a Cultured Pearl Farm, lots of barramundi and mudcrabs, and a few saltwater crocodiles. So, despite the beautiful clear turquoise water of the 8.5m high tide that peaked as we were there, there was no swimming.

Instead we joined a tour of the Willie’s Creek Pearl Farm to learn about the pearl industry from seeding to selling, and enjoy a boat cruise on the lagoon where rafts of pearl oysters were strung in netting trays from floating lines. Interesting stuff, but at $1800 for a single pearl, we snuck out at the selling stage.


The dusty red Manari Road

The mud crabs grow big here

Hgh tide in the aqua waters of Willie's Creek

Brahminy kite by the creeks' edge

From Willie’s Creek, we headed north on the red sand road to James Price Point. Here the Pindan clays that give the road its colour, form low dark earth-red cliffs that rise out of an almost white sand beach. Coupled with the intense blue of the sea, it makes for a surreal colour scheme that almost verges on the unnatural. As the cliché goes – a photographer’s delight.

A landscape of red pindan clay

View north from James Price Point

Another reason for visiting James Price Point is that it may well be a vanishing landscape, so if you want to see it for yourself, don't take too long to do so. Imagine a massive Liquefied Natural Gas processing hub (liquefying plant and associated port facility) on the photo above. Not pleasant - well, if the off-shore gas companies and state government have their way, that is what soon will be there.



View south from James Price Point



Landscape in red, white and blue - a sweeping panorama of the Dampier Peninsula coastline

Eroded pindan cliffs

However, our visit to Price Point came at a price; only a few kilometres on the way back, a bearing in the fan pulley of our HiLux broke, throwing the pulley off its axle and shedding the fan belt. Suddenly we found ourselves broken down on the side of the road outside the range of our mobile ‘phone. But as often happens in this part of the world, a good Samaritan appeared by the name of Grant. He drove me 30km back to Willie Creek so that we could organize a tow, and then brought me back to the HiLux, where his fiancé had stayed to keep the fair Nello company. The bush spirit remains alive and well – thanks Grant!

The incredibly intense colours of the Dampier Peninsula

A rather ignominous return to Broome

This explains why we didn't see any more of the northern beaches and why our camper ignominously  returned to Roebuck Bay on the back of a pick-up truck. Fortunately, the part was available in Broome and we had the vehicle back and fixed by the end of the next day. While waiting, we were obliged to catch a bus out to Cable Beach to laze in the sandy shade and occasionally get up and have a swim in the Indian Ocean. There are definitely worse places to break down than Broome.

Late afternoon view from Gantheaume Point

The rocks of Minyirr

The Staircase to the Moon or .....

Waiting for the moon

We were lucky not to be delayed for more than a night – in fact we were doubly lucky, for that night we took our deckchairs and cold beers once again down to Town Beach on the edge of our Campsite, to join the hundreds of people awaiting the rising of the moon. It was “Staircase to the Moon” night in Broome – a coincidence of a full-moon rise and a very low tide. The light of the rising moon reflects on the wet mudflats of Roebuck Bay exposed by the low tide to produce a narrow band of rippled light that gives the illusion of a ladder from earth to moon – a beautiful effect and a fitting finale to our stay here.

.... just a cosmic barcode?