The wonders of Broome and why you should add it to your itinerary!
If you’re cruising The Kimberley, chances are your cruise will either start or finish in Broome. Many people are so focussed on The Kimberley cruise itself that they will fly in just in time to board their ship or, if finishing their cruise in Broome, will disembark and head straight for the airport. But if your trip to The Kimberley is likely to be a one-off, why not add on an extra night or two and experience a place you may not see again?
Home to Indigenous people for 30,000 years or more before the arrival of Europeans in 1688, Broome exploded onto the global map in 1861 when the pearl oyster Pinctada maxima was discovered in Roebuck Bay. At the time, “mother of pearl” was highly sought after for use in buttons, knife handles and more, and the Pinctada maxima was the largest pearl shell in the world. Within 3 years, 75% of mother of pearl came from Broome – the pearls themselves were actually just a bonus, it was the shell that was wanted.
Unfortunately, the pearl industry came at great cost to the Indigenous people who were treated extremely harshly. Rounded up and chained, they were crammed into boats in atrocious conditions and forced to dive for the pearls. Many were brutally beaten and many more died until the shallow waters had been plundered and pearlers had to move to deeper waters, requiring equipment rather than slave labour.
Although Broome officially became a town in 1883, there wasn’t much to it, except a few desolate camps. But in 1889, a submarine telegraph cable was laid to connect Java and Australia (hence the name Cable Beach). This was followed by a jetty, customs house, police station, hospital and gaol.
By the turn of the century, the town was host to a fleet of pearl boats and 3000 or so immigrants from Malaysia, China, Japan and the Philippines. Suddenly the town was booming albeit somewhat lawless. Chinatown was chaotic with opium dens, brothels and gambling houses full of workers who had been at sea for 6 months and had money burning holes in their pockets. Needless to say, alcohol-fuelled violence wasn’t uncommon.
It was dangerous work, however, with many (especially Japanese) losing their lives to drowning, the “bends” from diving, sharks and cyclones. You can visit the Japanese cemetery - a resting place of hundreds of men from this era.
After World War I, Broome’s pearling industry took a hit during the depression years and before it could recover, World War II began. The Japanese crews all went into the army and a large portion of the population went south to Perth. Broome suffered the second worst air raid in Australia’s history when the Japanese destroyed 15 flying boats, shot down a plane carrying wounded that had just taken off and 24 aircraft on the airfield. You can still see three of the flying boats in the bay when it is very low tide.
After the wars and the introduction of the plastic button – which severely reduced the need for mother of pearl – Broome’s pearly industry changed to the cultivation of the pearls themselves. While mother of pearl was no longer in demand, Broome pearls mature in half the time of other pearls and are twice the size. The town quickly became the major producer of pearls and remains so today. Another good reason to stay an extra day in Broome!
While we’re talking history, here’s something else you have to check out while you’re in Broome. In the 1960s, dinosaur footprints were discovered out to sea at Gantheume Point. These tracks can only be seen at very low tide and are thought to be from the Early Crustaceous period (approximately 130 million years ago)!
As well as lots of historical sites, there’s plenty of other things to see and do while in Broome. Cable Beach is a great place to unwind before your cruise or to eek out an extra couple of days of relaxation after your voyage. Of course, the famous camel treks at sunset on the beach are sure to be a highlight too.
Fishing trips and helicopter sightseeing trips are also on offer, or you may prefer to spend the day checking out the artefacts in the museum. A visit to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park and Animal Refuge is well worth the effort – you’ll find some good sized crocs as well as dingos, cassowaries, alligators and various species of birds. For a spot of last minute shopping, you can pursue the markets for some good bargains.
As Broome is a long way to go for just a few days, the obvious way to see it is to include it with a cruise to The Kimberley. Various cruise lines operate in the area for several months of the year from Darwin to Broome or vice versa. One of our favourites is Ponant Cruises – small, elegant and luxurious, they offer fully inclusive itineraries so that excursions, meals and beverages are all included. Plus, Ponant’s newest ship, Le Laperouse is now sailing this route and you can experience the innovative Blue Eye lounge where you can view the underwater world from the comfort of your chair. You can find out more information about Ponant’s Blue Eye here, and you can check out their Kimberley itineraries here. Alternatively you can request a call from one of our Ultimate Cruising experts by clicking here.