We stayed four nights in Broome – the longest we’d stayed anywhere since Sanur Beach in Bali. Broome is a popular holiday destination for Australians, particularly those from the south who go to enjoy the warm winter climate. By British standards a very small town, it is one of the biggest in Western Australia: the biggest we had seen since leaving Darwin, ten days and one thousand miles earlier.
Most of the buildings in Broome – like those in other north Australian towns – are of corrugated iron. This is not the most beautiful material, but it is practical in a country where bricks are unnecessary and wood would be attacked by termites. And who cares about the buildings when the town is surrounded by great scenery: pristine white beaches (Cable Beach, the most famous, is just one example), green mangroves and rocks in the most amazing shades of red. Under a bright blue sky, the colours are so vivid, the contrasts so strong, that you can only gasp in wonder at the effect.
One day we took an organised tour to Cape Leveque, at the end of the Dampier Peninsula. We visited Aboriginal communities on the way there and back, but the highlight was the beach at the far end. We swam on the East Beach (yes, the water was warm enough even for Sandie!) and walked on the West Beach, where the scenery was even more amazing.
One evening while in Broome we visited the Sun Pictures outdoor cinema (an interesting building, corrugated iron, of course). Another say we took a ‘sunset cruise’ on a traditional pearl lugger, but that was disappointing – and the journey to/from the ship, in a ‘tin tray’ boat on the open sea, was frankly terrifying.
On Sat 29th Aug we left Broome and did a long drive (600 plus kilometres) to Port Hedland. En route we managed to break the journey with two short detours, to 80 Mile Beach (seemingly endless pure white sand with loads of fascinating shells, but hardly anyone there!) and Cape Keraudren Coastal Reserve (more white sand, and pointed rocks in a variety of colours).
Port Hedland is an industrial town – there is nothing for tourists, and for us it was just a convenient overnight stop. The next day we went inland to Tom Price – a mining town, of no great interest except as the base for visiting nearby Karijni National Park. We did this on an organised tour with 8 other people, as most of the roads are unsealed. The main natural features here are gorges, cut deeply through bright red sandstone. We saw a number of these from overlooks perched on the cliff edge, and walked down into a couple of gorges. Going into the gorges was great, with waterfalls and in one place a pool where you could swim.
As well as Karijini NP, we visited Mount Bruce, the second highest in Western Australia and walked part of the way up, with some amazing views. Another interesting experience in Tom Price was to have dinner in a mine workers’ canteen, open to the public, where we had a great all-you-can-eat meal very cheaply.
Our long road trip ended at Exmouth, near the top of the North West Cape. We’d been there before, in 2005, and spent another pleasant day exploring the beaches and walking through (yet another) red sandstone gorge. We also saw large numbers of kangaroos and some emus. Then we left our trusty hire car, after 4432 kilometres, and flew down to Perth.
The contrast between the unpopulated empty spaces of the north-west and the big city was quite startling. On arrival we collected another hire car, and spent the afternoon touring the western suburbs; this included a steep zigzag scenic drive (formerly a railway line) with some fantastic views over the city. In the evening we celebrated our return to city life by visiting a theatre where the audience sat at cabaret-style tables and enjoyed wine and nibbles while watching mother-and-daughter actors perform a series of four entertaining monologues.
The next day we walked round Perth city. The weather was sunny, though not of course as warm as further north. We spent some time in the botanic gardens in King’s Park: we’d been there before, but it was well worth a repeat visit as the spring flowers were wonderful. We also took a ferry trip over the river to South Perth. At sunset we rode a big wheel on the waterfront, before having our final Aussie meal at a place rejoicing in the name of Bobby Dazzler’s.
In our guidebook, we discovered that Western Australia (a third of the continent, many times the size of the UK) has a total population of 2 million, of whom three quarters live in Perth. Most of the rest live south of the city. The fact that there are so few people is the vast area north of Perth is consistent with the enormous empty spaces we had experienced, but is amazing nevertheless.
Here are a few more (personal) statistics. During our 4 weeks in Oz, we:
Visited ten national parks
Went on eight boat trips
Took four organised tours, and
Slept in18 different beds.
It was quite a trip!