Broome is a town of about 15,000 people on the northwest coast of Australia, in the Kimberley region. I’d never been to Broome before, but as my sister and brother-in-law moved here 6 months ago, it was my next stop. My other sister happened to have a work trip to Broome while I was here, so we were all together for two days – very fun! There was slackroping at Cable Beach and at the weekend Courthouse markets, and some really good food. Carla and I had dinner at a great restaurant – we had apple/mango/lime cider, and I had fresh yellowfin tuna.
It is now peak tourist season in Broome – meaning the current population is over 40,000. Winter (June-August) is the dry season here; the colder sea means no jellyfish (a sign at the beach said the last sting was in May) so Cable Beach is the place to be. The beach is a wide swath of smooth sand and the turquoise water is crystal clear – even over my head I could see the bottom without trouble. We went swimming several times, which was wonderful! There were plenty of tourists swimming (and taking camel tours) but the beach is so big there was plenty of room for everyone. The entire stretch of Cable Beach is 22km long.
You can drive onto the beach in several places. Gantheaume Point Beach is a popular spot for “sundowners” – driving out onto the beach with drinks and watching the sunset go down. My sisters and I drove out one night with folding chairs in the boot (and a plastic milk crate for a table), and feasted on cider, crackers, vegie sticks, hummus and beetrop dip. It was wonderful!
I delighted in both expaneses of blue – the sky and the ocean. The sky was amazing. I couldn’t believe the smoothly graded blue, and the rich field of stars at night. On my last night, Natasha and I went on an “Astro Tour” – 2+ hours of stargazing, both with the guide pointing things out in the sky using laser pointers, and also through a selection of binoculars and telescopes (I think the largest was a 16 inch). I really enjoyed looking at the double-star of Alpha Centauri; Natasha really liked the “jewel box” cluster of stars. A highlight for everyone was seeing Saturn – yes, the planet – complete with rings. It looked so perfect, brightly lit by the sun, that many people made jokes about it being a sticker on the lens ;)
I was staring up into the bright blue sky on my first morning when saw a group of three birds of prey wheeling in slow circles as they rested on air currents. Later a shadow flew across my book and I saw they’d come a lot closer – they weren’t big, but the wings, tails and hooked beaks were distinctive. I enjoyed watching them lazily loop around above me. Looking into the distance I saw another group of three far off. I was surprised – I don’t think I’ve ever seen 6 birds of prey at once! But it turns out that there are lots of birds of prey in the Broome area – eagles, buzzards and kites among them. Later while at a cafe with my sister, I saw a group of at least 15 of them wheeling around each other high in the sky – which she said wasn’t at all unusual. I did get up close and personal with one bit of wildlife – a green frog that popped into the bathroom one night! Apparently it’s pretty common during the dry season (now) to find frogs in toilets and even tea kettles, as they come inside looking for a moist spot to hang out.
One feature of Broome that didn’t surprise me was the red-earth colour of the town. The sandy red earth is found everywhere. In the Kimberley they call it “pindan” and the iron oxide that gives the red colour also stains. It is deeply ground into concrete all over town, especially the footpaths. Red sand forms a LOT of Australia. On the trip from Perth we flew over both the Little Sandy Desert and the Great Sandy Desert – at least half an hour of vast red sand dunes beneath us. Together, these two deserts cover over 380,000km2 (150,000 sq mi) – about the same space as the country of Zimbabwe, or the US state of Montana. That seems like a lot, until you realise that the state of Western Australia alone is nearly 2,600,000km2 (980,000 sq mi) – about the same size as the nation of Argentina and nearly four times the size of the US state of Texas. The Kimberley region itself is about 420,000km2 (160,000 sq mi), making it three times the size of England, with a population of only 41,000 people. Only 3 towns in the Kimberley have populations over 2,000.
Other things that caught my eye in Broome were boab trees and corrugated iron. About 5 years ago Natasha did an internship in Derby, only 200km away from Broome. She brought back necklaces for me and others modeled on the distinctive shape of the boab tree. Apparently, since the trees are protected, if you plant one in your backyard you can never get rid of it! The use of corrugated iron got my attention because it was everywhere! I’ve always associated it with rural housing, especially farms – like the corrugated iron roof on the farmhouse my mother grew up in.
This trip was all about REST, and spending time with Natasha and Dante – seeing where they live – and of course, playing with their beautiful kitties. There is SO much to see that I didn’t bother trying to do it all. Things I missed seeing included fossilised dinosaur tracks (visible during low tides at Gantheaume Point), the “stairway to heaven” caused by a full moon reflecting on mud flats, and of course, all the natural beauty of the Kimberley itself. Obviously, I’ll just have to come back another time…
Tonight I’ll fly back to Perth, where I have another 10 days of restful holiday (and retail therapy!) before I go back to Beijing.