Saturday, 1 September 2012

1-8 September 2012 - Broome WA

As Broome is popular with grey nomads in winter and caravan parks are often booked out and expensive, we initially camped at Roebuck Roadhouse Caravan Park about 30km from Broome. We offloaded the van and went for a drive around the town. Saw Cable Beach and drove through Chinatown and the commercial areas. Our initial thought was that we wouldn’t live here if we were paid to! The place didn’t seem to have much character, was very flat and spread out and not at all the tropical oasis we were expecting. Sure there are plenty of resorts full of palm trees and green grass, but often just next door there are a couple of houses that are, well, dumps really. Poorly maintained, rubbish everywhere, littered gardens, and lots and lots of red soil. I think we might have been expecting a smaller version Cairns, with lush surrounds, and a similar beach development to the Esplanade. Even Cable Beach is just a manicured grass area with one bar/coffee shop, limited seating and a single file pathway.

We moved our van into the yard of some friends we met in Tassie last year. We probably spoke for 10 minutes at the time and ended up living on their small acreage block for 3 weeks! Natacha and Bruno and their kids, Maeva and Joris are well travelled and have made Broome their home after leaving Switzerland! The kids were all around the same age and had a great time together.

The main reason we were in Broome was that my parents flew in to spend a fortnight with us. They stayed at the Mercure which has a wonderful large pool which the girls loved and of course, a big attraction was a TV in their motel room! At first we thought 'what will we do for two whole weeks?' but I have to say there was something to do/see every day (we did school work in the morning and saw Mum & Dad in the afternoons/evenings), and the place really started to grow on us!
Girls with my parents in front of an old pearl lugger.
Cable Beach is a wide sandy beach backed by sand dunes and you would barely know motels and accommodation even existed anywhere near the beach. By comparison with the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, it’s completely undeveloped, and yet it is highly developed, just without any high rise apartments. In fact, I think 3 stories might be the highest we saw of any building in the whole town. Of course, Mum and Dad wanted to do a sunset camel ride and took Elizabeth & Kate with them. Larry and I had been on camels years ago around the pyramids so didn't feel the need to go again. It was actually nice to have a whole hour to ourselves just sitting on the sand waiting for them to return.
Girls camel riding with their Nan and Pop
During our time in Broome, Sinju Matsuri (aka Pearl Festival) was on, so we had plenty of ‘extra’ stuff to do including art exhibitions, mardi gras, fireworks, street parade and night time entertainment.
Sammy the dragon featured heavily in all festival events
The open air ‘Sun’ picture theatre was a real treat and dates back to the early 1900’s. We saw the feel good Aussie movie The Sapphires. Highly recommend it. Only a few seconds after one of the movie scenes depicting an air raid during the Vietnam War, a huge jet roared over the theatre about to land at nearby Broome airport. It couldn’t have been timed better! In fact, I never got used to the sound and sight of the planes, I was certain they were about to crash into the main shopping area, that’s how close they seemed.
At the Sun open air theatre. Love the canvas sling seats and yes, it got chilly during the movie!
We also learned a lot about pearls! The early pearling history is fascinating, although not a lot of original buildings exist (thanks to cyclones, white ants and development). Interestingly, while the pearling industry was largely based around Japanese hard hat divers, there is no Japanese community to speak of remaining in Broome. The Japanese cemetery is immaculate and a few Japanese festivals are still celebrated, but basically after the pearl shell industry failed (primarily due to the invention of plastic buttons in the 1950’s), the Japanese simply packed up and left Broome.
Kate holding a $100 000 pearl!

Girls removing a real pearl from an oyster.
Pearl diving boots. We could barely pick them up.

Elizabeth modelling a pearl diving hard hat.
We were here during 3 nights of Staircase to the Moon, but thought this was pretty overrated. Lots of tourists, but it was almost impossible to get a good photo unless you have a tripod and professional camera gear.

So all in all, Broome gets the thumbs up! It’s certainly not as ‘pretty’ as we expected and it must be hot as hell here in summer, but it definitely grew on us during our 2 weeks here.

Travel Tips: It gets to the mid 30’s here even during winter. Courthouse markets are better on the Saturday (more stalls, including fruit and veg). The Surf Club at Cable Beach is open on Fri, Sat & Sun nights and has much better priced drinks that the nearby cafĂ©/bar. Roebuck Plains Roadhouse Caravan Park (30km from Broome) is much better priced than the Broome van parks if you don’t mind the drive each way. Don't be too concerned if your trip doesn't coincide with Staircase to the Moon. Buy a postcard instead!
Young buskers at the Courthouse markets. They were about 3m off the ground. Not sure where their parents were! Notice the 2 year old in nappies on the left, sitting on a 6inch shelf.

Mum and I had a day of pearl shopping. Fortunately Kate brought her book along.

Of course, a visit to Cable beach wouldn't be complete without some stunning sunsets.

A dragon boat regatta was part of the Pearl Festival. Rotary runs the event, so of course, Larry worked all day in the bar.

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