An insider's guide to the exotic pearling town of Broome
The gateway to the Kimberley is a surprising mix of cultures and contrasts.
It’s a favourite with visitors who want a relaxing break in frangipani-scented surroundings before or after their wild Kimberley adventure."
Broome visitors may be surprised to learn that there’s more to this gateway to the Kimberley than its natural beauty. Many locals are descendants of Japanese, Malay and Filipino pearl shell divers who searched for pinctada maxima oysters, which produce the sought-after South Sea pearl. With this mix comes a town with a United Nations of menus, festivals and music.
“Even the businesses in town are different and interesting,” says artist Sobrane Simcock, the owner of Gallery Sobrane who came to Broome on a whim in 2012.
No wonder this one-of-a-kind holiday destination sits high on wanderlust wishlists. It’s a favourite with visitors who want a relaxing break in frangipani-scented surroundings before or after their Kimberley wilderness adventure.
One of the best ways to get your bearings in Broome is with Narlijia Cultural Tours, run by Bart Pigram. No one encapsulates Broome’s multicultural history in living form more than Pigram. A descendant of the Yawuru people and part of the musically gifted Pigram family, he uses historic maps on his “town tour” to take you on a journey through Broome’s early days.
On his “mangroves tour”, he explores the mudflats around the centrally located Streeter’s Jetty, where wooden pearling boats docked over 100 years ago. “Obviously there’s a natural beauty to Broome – that’s why it attracts so many visitors – but for me and my family it goes a lot deeper,” Pigram says.
Chinese merchants established Broome’s Chinatown, where there were once opium dens, brothels and pearl sheds. Now there are art galleries (don’t miss Aboriginal art shop Short Street Gallery), clothing boutiques (Wearart is a standout with its hand-dyed materials) and a sandalwood gallery.
On Dampier Terrace, there’s a string of world-class pearl jewellery shops. Behind them are deep-green mangroves where you can go mudcrabbing. One block over sits the 100-year-old Sun Pictures, the world’s oldest operating outdoor cinema. There was a time when moviegoers needed to lift their feet to keep dry as the tide seeped in. Fortunately a levee was built in 1974, so locals and travellers can watch films without getting their feet wet.
While Broome is now buoyed by tourism, it was originally “built on buttons”, as a local saying goes. Broome supplied the majority of the world’s mother of pearl, which was used for buttons, hair combs and cutlery, before the development of plastic devastated the industry.
Visitors learn more at Pearl Luggers on Dampier Terrace, where they will see two original pearling boats and try pearl meat, which sells for $120 a kilogram.
If they want history with a beer chaser, they can visit boutique brewer Matso’s, which is in an old bank building. Its slogan is “a little bit different” and it’s not wrong – the mango, lychee, ginger and chilli beers are delicious and out-of-the-ordinary takes on craft brewing.
When it comes to food, Zenzai at Cable Beach Resort plates up scrumptious Japanese dishes using local seafood. If visitors want to dine outside, Bali Hai Resort serves Asian-inspired dishes at tables set around a curvaceous boab tree.
A window into Broome’s stomach, the Courthouse Markets has stalls selling everything from gubinge tea (Kakadu plum) to Thai fish cakes.
“I love the Good Cartel for breakfast and the Lock Up Cafe because they’re funky and I painted murals there,” says Sobrane. “We take visitors to Town Beach Cafe as that’s fun because there are outdoor tables and you can look out over the turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay.”
Sobrane’s partner, Greg Quicke, runs Broome’s Astro Tours. The astrologist quit his studies in Queensland to try pearl diving in Broome 35 years ago. “The Zookeepers Store near Cable Beach is my favourite,” he says.
While Quicke serves up hot chocolates and biscuits on his evening exploration of the skies, a bucket-list five-star meal is best savoured in Broome during Shinju Matsuri (Festival of the Pearl) in September. A highlight of the nine-day festival is the Sunset Long Table Dinner, where 450 people dine on top-class food with their toes in the sand.
Also unmissable is the free finale concert where Broome musical royalty, such as the Pigram Brothers, regale a super relaxed mob. Listening to the “Piggies” on a tropically night with a Matso’s beer in hand, it’s easy to see why Sobrane and Quicke were happy to stay in Broome.
Exploring extraordinary places and creating memories that will last a lifetime – it’s just another day in WA. Western Australia boasts a diversity of landscapes and experiences waiting to be discovered. With so much to explore, choose a long weekend break or a week long escape. Now’s the perfect time to book your trip to WA with Qantas.