Broome with a view.
Pinned to the Dampier Peninsula at the top of Western Australia, there’s a swash-buckling spunk to Broome, a last frontier spirit that infectiously sweeps you up, writes Mike Yardley.
No matter how you try and get here, it’s an epic trek – in my case, 16 hours from wheels-up in Christchurch till touchdown in Broome, via Brisbane and Perth. And I was only visiting Australia!On final approach to the airport, an epic camel-coloured sunset streaked the horizon, as the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean washed the bone-white sands of glorious Cable Beach. What a welcome, what a spectacle. As I soon discovered, Broome binges on spectacles.
Staircase to the Moon
So many aspects to its bewitching terrain harbour astonishing natural novelties that left my jaw regularly on the floor. In a serious stroke of good luck, my visit coincided with a big full moon, which sets the stage for the monthly Broome spectacle called Staircase to the Moon. This mesmerising illusion is a stirring phenomenon which occurs when the full moon rises over Roebuck Bay’s exposed mudflats. A clear night and a low tide allow the moon’s reflection to create an optical trick, rippling across the mud flats, like layers of light reaching up to the moon.It’s best viewed from the Town Beach or Mangrove Hotel, between March and October. The Dampier Peninsula has been dubbed Australia’s Jurassic Park due to the discovery of 21 different types of dinosaur tracks, over a 25km stretch of coastline. The easiest ones to see are just south of Cable Beach, at Gantheaume Point. At low tide, marvel at massive dinosaur footprints pressed timelessly into the red rocky reef, from where they walked the earth over 130 million years ago. The footprints are embedded in the sandstone, below the cliff. Some of the footprints are nearly two metres in length.Neighbouring the vast outback deserts, camels have been a regular part of the landscape in these parts for well over a century. At last count, Australia is still home to 500,000 wild camels, some of which are captured and sold to the Middle East, because these dromedary camels (one humped Arabians) are prized for their lack of disease. I joined a camel train on Cable Beach for a morning ride in the fresh air with Red Sun Camels, on the back of a very well-behaved Ned. Basking in the coastal embrace of a warm sea breeze, it was an irresistible way to start the day. Among the sights, our guide pointed out the luxe beach mansion, owned by Channel Seven boss, Kerry Stokes. Many of their herd have been rescued from circuses or nursed back to good health after incurring injuries in the wild. Loping along the soft white sands, with the breakers crashing on the rocks from the Indian Ocean, while learning about Australia’s enduring connection to these graceful creatures was an enthralling way to start the day. The sunset camel rides are insatiably popular, but the sunrise affair is a far quieter, less peopled experience. www.redsuncamels.com.au
Pearling is central to the story of Broome and the ensuing boom and bust cycle. Their European discovery in the 1800s fuelled a feverish wave of Asian migration to Broome, as epic as a gold rush. Pearl divers arrived in their droves to make their fortune, and that melting pot of multi-culturalism remains a key part of Broome’s character today.The town is home to Australia’s largest Japanese cemetery, where tragedy drips from every headstone. Many young fortune-hunters died from drowning, the bends or shark attacks, while diving for pearls. Over 900 Japanese are interred here. Broome is still home to South Sea pearls, among the largest and most coveted commercially harvested cultured pearls in the world. You can visit a local pearl farm including the acclaimed Cygnet Bay or Willie Creek, while Chinatown boasts a scrum of showrooms touting the little dazzlers for sale.A spectacular way to immerse yourself in the indigenous richness of Broome is to take a tour with Bart Pigram of Narlijia Cultural Tours. The young enterprising Yawuru man has developed some fascinating walking tours that thread together dazzling landscapes, dinosaur trackways, an ancient shell midden, storytelling and cultural insights, including a taste of Pigram family cuisine in the Runway Bar. His family have a long history in pearling and music.You’ll sample a range of bush tucker including gubinge, snowball bush, bird flower pea and tropical sandalwood.You'll love see Sun Pictures, the semi-outdoors cinema, which is celebrating its centenary. email@example.com
Fancy a sun-splashed Broome break with all the frills? Cable Beach Club Resort is a hospitality show-stopper. Founded by the eccentric British politician, Lord Alistair McAlpine, he turned his dream into a reality, after buying the land with a contract signed on the back of a beer coaster in the Roebuck Bay pub.Opened in 1988, the sumptuous resort, liberally swathed in tropical gardens and magnificent art installations, is a decadently dreamy spot to wallow in the beauty of Broome. Bonus points to the resort for concertedly training and employing dozens of young, local Aboriginals, who are unfailingly charming and personable. As I was being transferred from the airport, the charismatic charm and typically dry Aussie humour was in fully cry from Ed, the resort's shuttle driver, who wasted no time sharing his golden rules with us. Crocs were spotted in the water recently, so Ed made us promise we'd swim between the flags.Throughout my stay, he was a trusty font of worldly advice and insider tips. This indulgent oasis is what distinctive holiday resorts are all about and you won’t go hungry, with four superb on-site restaurants. I particularly enjoyed the Italian eatery, Cichetti, where the meals are all about heart and flavour, with scrummy share plates accentuating the sociability factor. But whether you’re staying in-house or not, as the sun lowers to the west, make a beeline to the Sunset Bar & Grill.Grab a ring-side seat, order up a cocktail and bask in the show – locals, tourists, loping camels and a blistering sunset setting fire to the Indian Ocean. www.cablebeachclub.com
Qantas across the Tasman
Operating over 250 services between New Zealand and Australia each week, Qantas has just launched a refreshed on board dining experience for customers travelling in Business. On Tasman flights, Qantas now updates its Rockpool-inspired menus in Business cabins every week, accentuating the focus on in-season ingredients, and offering more variety with its personalised dining experiences. And I do like how the cabin crew now cook and plate the meals. The new menus feature dishes inspired by Neil Perry’s restaurants such as the prawn, lemon aioli and fine herb brioche roll, and the Chinese red braised beef with blistered beans and fragrant rice, swooned over at Neil’s Spice Temple restaurants. I also sampled the Turkish-style spiced lamb pizza, which was sensational. The extensive range of beverages is equally impressive, with premium Australasian wines and champagne if you’re feeling effervescent.In addition to the sublime new dining offering, Qantas has rolled out mobile check-in and digital boarding passes for Trans-Tasman travellers. The new technology allows eligible customers to finalise check-in and passport checks online and head straight to the lounge or boarding gate after passing through immigration and security – all with the digital boarding pass on your mobile device. Express Path services for qualifying customers will be embedded into digital boarding passes. If you have checked baggage, use the dedicated online check-in bag drop to expedite the airport experience.The new benchmark in business travel has spread to Western Australia, with the Qantas Domestic Business Lounge in Perth proving to be a big hit. It’s bright, it’s innovative and its extra-roomy, with seating for over 350 people. Whether you’re dining, wishing to work or chill out, the distinctly designed zones are tailored to your needs. The design elements are inspired by the WA landscape, with terracotta and metallic feature walls celebrating the mineral-rich soil. If you’re travelling through the lounge, be sure to savour the next generation dining concepts - a state of the art Italian pizza bar with a pizza chef, and a wine bar where you can sit and enjoy barista coffee and freshly made croissants in the morning, or a glass of wine and canapés in the evening.There’s a ‘make your own’ juice station, a generous assortment of fresh hot and cold buffet offerings, while the Rockpool Mixology team have crafted the designer cocktails for the weekday happy hour, between 4 and 5pm. Now that’s flying in style.Qantas operates daily B737-800 services between Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. www.qantas.comBroome and Darwin bookend AAT Kings’ Wonders of the Kimberley Tour. Begin with a spectacular Cable Beach sunset then enter the rugged Kimberley to cruise down rich waterways teeming with wildlife on AAT Kings’ 11-day Wonders of the Kimberley guided holiday. Visit a remote Aboriginal community and tour through Argyle Diamond Mine. Experience the Ord Valley's gourmet produce at a unique private dinner and top off your trip in tropical Darwin. Departure dates from May to September. Priced from $5,975 per person twin share and including accommodation, transport, sightseeing, many meals and the services of an experienced Travel Director. Aatkings.com, 0800 456 100 or see your travel agent.