Our first stop after leaving Dampier was at The Whim Creek Hotel just over 100km away. We pulled in looking forward to a pub lunch at the quaint looking hotel. There were lots of signs advertising that the kitchen was open from 10-2, so when we pulled up at 1.30pm we had a look at the birds in the aviaries and used the outside toilets before meandering in to check out the lunch menu. We were not impressed when the charismatic girl behind the bar barked that the kitchen had closed 5 minutes ago. There were 5 in our party, 4 in another party that walked in at the same time as us and another couple of cars that pulled in just after us. So that would easily have been 10 – 15 people who were turned away during the hotel’s advertised lunch hour. Needless to say, we didn’t even stay for a drink!
From the hotel car park it was only a 10 minute drive to the Balla Balla Inlet free camp where we stayed overnight. The next morning we headed another 120km to Port Hedland, which originally we were just going to pass through. However, I had managed to chip one of my wisdom teeth and being unable to get a dentist appointment in Karratha I phoned ahead and made one in Port Hedland. I had just expected a temporary filling of sorts and didn’t expect that it would get pulled out! The funny thing is that Ben and Reardon have lost teeth since we have been on the road, Emma has a very wobbly one just about to fall out and now I am one tooth down – Paul is the odd one out. Mind you, if he doesn’t pack the coffee on our next tenting expedition he may well be missing a tooth too!
I hadn’t heard too many nice things about Port Hedland but we thought it was ok. It was clean, with a nice playground for the kids near the harbour and there was lots of sculptures and artworks scattered around. The Woolworths was huge, with a great selection of groceries at reasonable prices. It was here that we encountered our first restriction in the sale of alcohol, with cask wine only being available between 2-6pm.
There are a number of tours which can be booked at the tourist centre including; BHP Billiton Iron Ore Tours, Royal Flying Doctors Tours and visits to the Dampier Salt Lookout. We were time limited but did get up early the morning we were leaving and headed out to the local Bureau of Meteorology. This was great. There was no charge and we got to have a look around at all the instrumentation, used to record various things and we watched a weather balloon release. We learnt that balloons similar to the one we saw are released all around the globe at exactly the same time. This was definitely worth getting up early for.
So far Port Hedland has been our most expensive overnight stay at $80 (ouch) and when you add the $273 dentist bill, it ended up being quite an expensive ‘just calling through’ destination!
The next placed we pulled up was at the Stanley Rest Area, we travelled a total of 386km this day and were looking forward to reaching Broome the following morning and relaxing for our 3 night stay. Paul and I had decided on only staying 3 nights based on previous experiences. I am glad to say we were wrong in having average expectations and were pleasantly surprised with how much we enjoyed our time there.
It needs to be said that Broome is VERY much a tourist town with 2 or 3 international flights a week arriving in peak season and nothing is cheap. A local eatery was charging $12 for a plain hamburger! Cable Beach (named after the telegraph cable layed between Broome and Java) is a beautiful place with world-famous sunsets, although it is also known for the stingers that are prevalent between November and April. It can also be closed to swimmers on occasion when a croc has been spotted in the water. So, although it has a beautiful beach you may not always be able to swim in it!
A lot of money has also been spent on the beautification of the surrounding areas. There are lots of palms around giving it a very tropical feel but I was a little disappointed to learn that the Boab trees that can be seen around are not endemic to the area and have actually been transplanted from The Kimberley. I feel this is cheating a little.
Something we were looking forward to was a visit to the Willie Creek Pearl Farm. We were picked up from our caravan park by a bus to be driven to the pearl farm about 40km. You can save some money and drive yourself but we had heard that the commentary on the 40 minute bus ride was worth listening to and the corrugations on the road were quite bumpy. Bryce our driver was like a walking encyclopedia spurting all sorts of facts and figures about the area and its history. When we got to the farm we were given a talk about exactly how pearls are made. This was really interesting. We got to see the inside of an oyster and learnt about the different types of pearls. Did you know that freshwater pearls were from mussels and not oysters? Me neither! A lovely morning tea was then provided followed by a quick boat trip up Willie Creek, which has two resident crocodiles. Luckily they were nowhere to be seen. After getting off the boat we were shown how pearls are valued and invited to look around the showroom. The colour seemed to drain from Paul’s face when Emma tried on a necklace that was valued at $39,000!
Helicopter rides are also available and Paul, Reardon & Emma were keen to have a go. The cheapest ride was $60 for 5-10 minutes and we decided to splurge (2 minute noodles for dinner from now on). I am so glad we did. It was so exciting to watch them take off and land and the looks on their faces when they got off was worth every cent. Paul also managed to take some great photos of the view.
I am starting to get worried and think we may have peaked too soon. We are not even out of our home state and they have already swam with Mantas and ridden in helicopters!
Every weekend there are markets, with night markets taking place during Staircase to the Moon times. These were nice to walk around and have a look, with various entertainers and musicians spread amongst the stalls. We also headed down to Gantheaume Point to check out the dinosaur footprints. Of course, we missed low tide and seeing them but enjoyed scrambling around on the rocks and saw the funniest looking lighthouse.
We also called into Sun Pictures which is the worlds oldest operating picture garden, having shown its first movie in 1916. There are various bits of old cinema equipment on display and movies are still played there.
Broome has quite an interesting history and in addition to its pearling industry background, some people may be surprised to learn that it was actually bombed by the Japanese during WWII with approx. 100 lives lost. There are various monuments placed around town and if you have the time (and don’t have impatient children) you can spend a number of hours walking around town soaking up its vastly multi-cultural history.
We were really pleased on our last night in Broome to be able to watch a gorgeous Broome sunset with the Gill Family. Tony, Tanya and their children Charlie and Matthew set off from Rockhampton in Queensland around the same time as us, we first ‘met’ on the internet and have been swapping notes here and there. It was great to meet in the flesh and share a drink at Cable Beach. You can check out their blog from the link on our blog roll.
Safe travels Gills!
Broome, so far, has been the place where we have encountered the largest number of ‘grey nomads’ (GN) in one spot. They have some pretty amazing set ups and obviously head here to escape the winter. Can’t say I blame them really. Although there were lots of people in Broome – at the beach, caravan parks etc. it was surprisingly quiet in town with lots of the eateries virtually empty (could be those $12 hamburgers). It may well be that the plentiful GN’s are happy to while away the hours at their vans with fellow nomads or it may have been that tourist season hadn’t quite peaked yet.
In all we all enjoyed our stay in Broome and it would have been easy to spend another couple of days but were content to do as much as we could in our time there. We spent our final morning taking a fantastic camel ride along the beach. This went from being something I had previously thought was a little touristy and corny, to one of the things that I have enjoyed most so far.
Next time we’ll update our Kimberley adventures including Paul befriending some giggling German backpackers and blaming them for his first trip hangover!