Baobab trees, big skies, red dust. For a small town (with a permanent population of 14,000), Broome lives large.
When all its tourists and locals are in one place - the weekend markets, for instance, or Cable Beach at sunset - it's quite cosmopolitan, brimming with people from all over the world enjoying award-winning cuisine and luxury resorts.
Other times and places it can feel deserted, silent but for the cawing of a raven or the rattle of an empty Emu Bitter can rolling across the road.
You know a cafe has good coffee (in this instance, it's Giancarlo) when you see a group of MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra) leaning their road bikes against its corrugated iron walls before cleat-walking inside for a hearty breakfast.
Kool Spot Cafe on Broome's main street is all high ceilings, overhead fans and timber floorboards; there's also a shady patio out the front. Breakfast options include huevos rancheros (fried eggs on corn tortillas topped with salsa), banana and strawberry trifle, and toasted mango and coconut bread with ginger and lime marmalade.
Kool Spot Cafe, 12 Carnarvon Street, for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Phone (08) 9192 5512.
Local markets are a great way to take the pulse of a town, and the weekend Courthouse markets paint a picture of Broome as an inclusive place. Holidaymakers, mine workers, dreadlocked buskers, families with strollers - they're all here, browsing stalls selling baobab nut art, fishing tours, pearl shell spoons, solar chargers and bejewelled stubbie holders "for ladies" in the grounds of this historic courthouse.
Courthouse markets are on 8am-1pm Saturdays, and 8am-1pm on Sundays from April to October. See broomecourthousemarkets.com.au.
"Broome was built on buttons" goes a local saying. Pearl buttons, that is. In the days before zips and Velcro, pearls and pearl shells as big as dinner plates put Broome on the world map. Learn more on a Pearl Luggers Tour, where the guides use theatrical flourishes and props (you can try on a 30-kilogram copper diving helmet) to condense 150 years into an hour. The tour ends with a pearl-meat tasting (it sells for A$120 a kilogram) and a chance to hold the world's second-largest cultured pearl (worth A$100,000) in the palm of your hand.
Pearl Luggers Broome, 31 Dampier Terrace, has one-hour tours at 11.30am and 5pm daily for A$20. See pearlluggers.com.au.
For lunch, head for Matso's restaurant and microbrewery on the southern edge of town. Try the Bishop's Plate featuring house-smoked kangaroo, hummus and mussels, or Matso's fish and chips (a bit pricey at $30) - with a chilled glass of Matso's famous alcoholic ginger beer. The old bank building Matso's inhabits, with its wide verandahs overlooking Roebuck Bay, is an ideal spot to while away an afternoon.
Matso's Broome Brewery, 60 Hamersley Street, is open from 7am for breakfast, lunch and dinner. See matsos.com.au.
Beautiful Cable Beach is synonymous with Broome. Named after the submarine telegraphic cable that reached here from Java in 1889, it's 22 kilometres of white-sand-and-turquoise-water perfection. Take a post-lunch hike or mountain bike ride along the five-kilometre stretch that runs north from Gantheaume Point (with its "lighthouse" tower and 135-million-year-old fossilised dinosaur footprints) to the patrolled area of Cable Beach. If you're lingering there, rent a sun lounge and a beach umbrella - the sand is hard as concrete and if it's windy you'll be sand-blasted lying on a towel.
Broome Cycles hires mountain bikes for A$24 a day. See broomecycles.com.au. Cable Beach sun lounges with umbrellas cost $9 an hour, including free sunscreen and iced water.
For many, Broome is a Cable Beach camel ride at sunset. It might sound cheesy but the camels are characters and it's peaceful and photogenic. Beat the crowds by taking a pre-sunset ride so you get the classic experience and are holding a glass of something sparkling at sunset.
Red Sun Camels has morning, pre-sunset and sunset rides from A$30. See redsuncamels.com.au.
Not far from Broome's best-known attraction is its least-known: a pink, 3.5-metre Buddha, one of the largest crystal Buddhas in the world, across the road from the Cable Beach Club Resort. The Buddha Sanctuary is open to anyone seeking a little quiet time and there are yoga classes at 5pm on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Buddha Sanctuary is open 7.30-10.30am daily and 4-7pm every day except Mondays and Thursdays. Yoga classes are free for resort guests, A$10 for non-guests. See cablebeachclub.com.
Sundowners at Cable Beach are an institution, and Cable Beach Club Sunset Bar & Grill is arguably the best place for them. Arrive early to nab one of the high stools facing lawn that rolls down to the sand and sea, but don't be in a hurry to leave - the colour lingers in the western sky long after sunset. On full-moon nights, Environs Kimberley runs naturalist-led beach walks from the Sunset Bar to Minyirr Park, a Rubibi cultural reserve, where there'll be a campfire, indigenous stories and soup and damper.
Cable Beach Club Sunset Bar & Grill opens at 4pm, see cablebeachclub.com. Full Moon Beach Walks cost A$45, start at 5.45pm and end at 9pm, on June 23, July 22, August 20, September 19 and October 18. See environskimberley.org.au.
The best place to spend a tropically warm Broome night is either the Oasis Bar outdoor nightclub at "the Roey" (Roebuck Bay Hotel) or Sun Pictures, the world's longest-running outdoor cinema - where you can lie back in the deckchair-like seats with popcorn and a choc top in the other, trying to decide whether to watch the silver screen or the stars.
The Roebuck Bay Hotel is in Carnarvon Street; see roebuckbayhotel.com.au. Sun Pictures, 8 Carnarvon Street, has two sessions a night usually about 6.30pm and 8.30pm, tickets cost A$16.50 (children A$11.50). See broomemovies.com.au.
Louise Southerden travelled as a guest of World Expeditions.
- Sydney Morning Herald