Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Gidday from Broome, Australia's pearling capital, although these days this far-flung hamlet surrounded by a sea of red dirt makes its living from tourism, in particular the backpacker market. Pearls before swine, you might say.

It's a funny little place, Broome. It's civilisation, of a sort - there's mobile phone reception, supermarkets, a couple of decent places to get a bite and even some plush resorts if you've got the cash.

But it's the wild west, nonetheless, as perhaps befits a town that's still some 2000km from Perth and 1800km from Darwin. Everyone has travelled an awful long way to be here and they're determined to have a good time.

Broome has a wild past too. The colonials used to force aboriginals to dive for pearls because they were too scared to do it themselves, and grew fat off the profits. A lot of aboriginals drowned.

Nice to sea ya: A sunset dip in the briny at Broome's Cable Beach

Then the Japanese came along with a diving suit they'd invented and pretty much put the colonials out of business, much to the relief of the land's original inhabitants.

Broome ended up a mash-up of cultures and peoples seeking their fortune at the north-western tip of The Big Empty, as they call this part of Australia.

So don't be fooled by Broome's marketing as a resort town. True, it's 30 degrees in the middle of our winter and the sea is a beautiful aqua marine blue. But there's a strong local culture too - and by the way, we counted three large crocodiles just off the main swimming beach this afternoon, which you won't read in the tourist brochures either!

We got here by travelling 1000km or so from Kununura, where I signed off my last post, along the Gibb River Road.

Now, some of you may have heard of the Gibb River Road. It's billed as Australia's greatest 4WD adventure drive; the last truly remote frontier in the country in the 21st century, and a road upon which danger lurks beneath every pothole.

Bollocks.

Here's the truth: If you have any 4WD experience, or even if you just possess modest driving ability and a reasonably decent vehicle, you'll find it a highway. I reckon I could have done it in my nana's Mini.

It's a shame really, because the marketing department has really been allowed to run away with all the hyperbole spouted about the GRR. The reality will disappoint those really looking for a remote wilderness experience but delight those whose idea of roughing it is a few miles down a corrugated road and a bit of dust before retiring to a luxury wilderness lodge for the night with crisp bed sheets and full board.

If you want a real 4WD experience, try one of the deserts like the Simpson, or of course Cape York, where they measure corrugations by the foot and their idea of fine dining is a roadhouse mince and cheese pie.

An idyllic camp spot on the shores of Admiralty Bay

We managed to spice things up a little by driving some 250km north from the GRR along a back-road to Mitchell Falls, which are well worth the journey, and then down a pretty rough track until we reached the sea  at a place called Admiralty Bay - the first time we'd seen the big blue since leaving Darwin a month or so back.

We camped overlooking the bay, hundreds of miles from anywhere and all by ourselves, watching the crocs cruise up and down off the beach as the sun set. Magic.

Yeah, she's a big country all right

Also amazing although more touristy was Tunnel Creek, well worth a diversion off the GRR. Tunnel Creek is an incredible underwater cave system that runs beneath the Napier Range in the Kimberly. You can walk/wade all the way through to the other side if you've got a good torch and you're not scared of bats or crocodiles.

Seriously, we were wading through the river by torchlight and we came face-to-face with a croc. Fortunately it was a freshie, deemed 'mostly harmless unless provoked' but that doesn't calm the nerves much when you make its acquaintance at close quarters. I mean, has anyone told fresh water crocodiles that they're harmless? They still have big teeth.

We've had two days of recovery in Broome, and tomorrow we're heading up to Cape Leveque on the north coast to stay in an aboriginal-owned community campground before turning south to drive across the Big Empty to Port Headland.

Magnificent Mitchell Falls, off the Gibb River Road



From there it's briefly back inland to visit Karajini National Park before heading back to the coast for the final  1500km run down to Perth and the finish of our journey.

4 comments:

  1. Karijini NP makes it into my top 3 destinations in AUS. Aother one well worth visiting is Ningaloo further down your road. Look forward to the next update.

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  2. Most of the Broome being summed up here makes it very desiring to visit the place and personally experience the beauty and adventures of this small town.

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  3. Broome is really a small town yet it is granted with the most beautiful places to visit. I can't wait to experience the thrill in there.

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  4. Life is the time between arriving in your birthday suit and leaving in your dress suit.

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