The Perth to Broome drive

Ah yes, I wonder who the dill was who made that original typo when he named the place.

We made it! Broome - 6

The run to Broome from 80 Mile Beach was 400klm or so. Our last long drive. What I liked about driving over there was that if it was 400klm, you knew it would be 4 hours driving. That never happens on the east coast where there are things to slow you down (and admittedly things to look at). There is nothing to look at on that road from Port Hedland to Broome. The seven or so cattle stations along that part of the coast are signposted and have homesteads well out of sight. There are two roadhouses. And that’s it. (As an aside, I can tell you that the parcel van was able to travel at least 34klms with the petrol warning light on.)

It occurred to me as I was driving that if I stopped the van, got out and walked east (I’d get the van bogged if I drove), it would be over 2,000 klms before I would hit another road. I would cross the Tanami Track, but it’s just a dirt road used by more intrepid travellers who for some reason are attracted to the idea of driving for days on corrugations across endless nothingness. One of the web sites that talks about the Track even says, ‘There are few highlights along the route to make this a specific destination‘. I was talking to a bloke who boasted about ‘doing the Tanami Track’. He would have been used to people saying to him, ‘Wow, what an amazing thing to do.’ He was a bit taken aback when I said, ‘Why?’ Anyway, the next proper road I would hit walking east would be the one that runs from Darwin to Alice Springs. Half a dozen European countries (and some really big mining pits) could fit into that big, empty space.

Broome is on a bit of a stubby peninsula pointing south – a bit like a sheep’s tail. The approach to the town is through the bleak and messy **** end, as is usually the case. On the left, of the peninsula driving down is the old town. And on the right side, about 5klm away, is Cable Beach and the flasher accommodation. At the tip of the peninsula is the Broome jetty.

All the caravan parks in Broome were full. People it seems book them months ahead. There are a couple of ‘overflow parks’ where dills who don’t book can stay. They’re not in great spots and don’t have great amenities. Towns provide them, otherwise people would camp in parks and shopping centre carparks and cause all sort of problems.

We spent the first night in the overflow park, and then Brett and I queued (on foot) the next morning to get into the council run park that doesn’t take bookings. I had another theory about the grey nomads that I wanted to run past one of them, and killing time in a queue was the perfect opportunity.

We had seen lots of grey nomads on the trip. There were the ones with big vans, and the ones with camper trailers – often off-road trailers. The ones with camper trailers were obviously more adventurous and we saw more of them in the national parks. Brett and I thought they were likely to be retired academics or teachers or architects or the like and probably lived in leftie, inner city suburbs with not enough space to store a large van. The ones with big vans, we decided, were retired accountants living in the outer suburbs on blocks of land big enough to get a van down the side of the house. So I ran the theory past a nomad I was chatting to. They had a 4WD and an off-camper trailer. She could see how the theory made sense, but said her husband was a retired director of a big company and she had been a dental nurse. The couple behind them (their friends) had a similar set up and background. Sometimes it’s best to not put theories to the test, I decided.

There was big mix of trees in Broome – scrappy gum trees and tropical trees. It’s as if the place can’t work out whether it wants to be a desert or a garden. It certainly wants to be a tourist town, though. In the old part of town there would be 100 or so shops, and lots of them sell mass produced touristy stuff. There is a lot of aboriginal stuff, but probably none of it made by any of the aboriginals around Broome. I bet most comes from factories overseas. The town must have a dozen art galleries selling mostly indigenous art, but you would need to know what you were doing to not get ripped off there. And of course, there were plenty of shops flogging pearls.

The number of Wicked Vans around Broome made it seem touristy. They’re the vans rented by youngsters – usually from overseas. They don’t venture all that far from the bigger tourist centres, though I saw one down the coast at Kalbarri. They had been out to see the gorges and were heading down the coast. I said, ‘If you reckon those gorges are good, you really have to go into Denham and see the stromatolites. They’ll blow your mind.’

You can’t miss the Wicked vans. They have airbrushed designs all over them trying to look hip and groovy in a slightly manicured and contrived way.

On the back, they all have corny, risqué boasts and promises, which I bet make some of the hirers feel uncomfortable. I saw one that had on the back the hopeful line, ‘I’m not a gynecologist, but I’ll take a look.’ It was being driven by some Swedes, so they probably didn’t understand it.
Another read, ‘XXXX made me do you.’ Given XXXX is the Queensland state beer (the state that finds spelling challenging) that van was a long way from home. It probably needs to be back in Queensland, because anybody coming from overseas would not know that XXXX is a cheap beer unless they saw some on sale.
Then there was the obscure, ‘Don’t assume I’m not into cheap, meaningless punishment.’ Germans would probably like that one.
‘A girl’s legs are her best friend. But all friends must part one day’, was an especially lame one. That last one was on a van I saw in Broome. It was being driven by three nice English girls. I put on my stern dad voice and said, ‘Do your mothers know what is written on the back of your van.’ They looked at me wide eyed, either embarrassed or worried I was a nutcase.

Broome was okay, but I don’t think it lives up to the hype. I’ve got a theory about it, and I would prefer to not have this theory tested, thanks all the same. I reckon everybody who makes the effort to traipse all the way over the other side of the country to Broome, either by road or air, needs to come back and say it was amazing. Otherwise they look like dills for going all the way there.

(It’s a bit like the Dubbo Zoo 4 hours drive from Sydney. People come back from there and talk about what a profound experience it was seeing animals in the wild. The problem is that animals in the wild don’t often want to be seen, so the buggers hide in the grass, or snooze down the back of their paddock, which sort of defeats the purpose.)

Forty years ago, Broome would have had a bit of a frontier feel to it, but it lost that long ago. Lots of the old town looks pretty new – rebuilt after cyclones I imagine. And all the pearling stuff happens up north now. There is a little place in town with a couple of old pearling luggers high and dry on display and some books and token bits of pearl memorabilia for sale at tourist prices, but that’s it. I was walking along the street in part of the old town on our last day there and a couple came up to me and asked where the ‘old Chinatown’ was. They were American, which took me by surprise, but they live in Perth now and had flown up for a holiday. I didn’t know where the ‘old Chinatown’ was, but they had a map and the three of us eventually worked out that we were standing in it. I could tell they were a bit disappointed, so to cheer them up I told them that at 5pm every evening the local tourist authority bring in a couple of bus loads of authentic Chinese people who they keep in a camp on the outskirts of town. According to the guidebook they had, where we stood was ‘once a bustling hub of pearl sheds, billiard saloons, opium dens and brothels’. They agreed with me that what Broome really needs is a bustling hub of pearl sheds, billiard saloons, opium dens and brothels.

It struck me that Broome is very similar to Port Douglas. Broome has The Kimberley and Cape Leveque, while Port Douglas has The Daintree and Cape Tribulation. They both have a weekend market with some good local stuff and resident hippies. There would be some interesting people in both places, but you’d need to live in them to tap into that. Port Douglas has much better food, but it doesn’t have a Chinatown – unless when I’ve been there I’ve also stood in it without realising it. Both places do have in common jellyfish that can kill people, though. In Port Douglas there is a big netted enclosure on the beach that people swim in during stinger season. At Broome, they’re a bit more cavalier about them. They just had a small note on a sign near the beach saying, ‘last stinger attack May 12’.

One amazing thing I learnt about Broome – from a plaque on a small monument in a park - was that the town was bombed by the Japanese in 1942. They killed 70 people when they attacked a fleet of flying boats in the bay. I had never heard this. It would have made things a bit uncomfortable for the Japanese pearl divers living in Broome at the time.

Brett and I went fishing off the Broome jetty one evening. I had been told by a few people that I had to do that when I got to Broome. It was a blowy night, but not cold. There are big tides up there and the water was a long way down. The bloke in the local bait shop told me that handlines are best because it’s too hard to bring in a big fish with a rod when the water is 10 metres down at low tide. A young Asian bloke walked past us to fish further along the jetty. We weren’t having much luck, but I saw him haul in a huge fish as long as his arm with a handline. It was flapping around on the jetty and he dived on it. I wandered over to see what it was and watch him wrestle it. I said to him, ‘You’d be Vietnamese then?’
He said, ‘How did you know?’
‘Because you’re practically fishing in a tropical fish tank and you managed to catch the catfish.’
He was pretty pleased with himself.

Now, for Cable Beach. The problem is that Aussies are spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. Most of us live on the coast not far from a beach, so it takes a pretty amazing beach to impress an Aussie. Cable Beach isn’t bad, but it’s a bit flat and has a big tide which means hundreds of metres of wet sand at low tide. There isn’t much swell, either, but that’s great for little kids and European tourists.

It does have camel rides, though! You don’t see that on other beaches. It’s the question everybody asks when you get back from Broome, ‘Did you have a ride on a camel?’

Cable Beach is really long – maybe 20klms. At about the 5klm mark down the south end there is some low rise holiday accommodation, a car park, change rooms and some food places. The beach at that point has some rocky outcrops on it. They form a divider. So it’s swimming to the south of the rocks, and camels to the north. Also to the north, are 4WDs. I don’t understand why people are so enamoured with the idea of driving onto a beach. Maybe it’s because there are no lines marked? Sure, if you’re fishing and you’ve got lots of stuff and a fair way to go, it makes sense to drive. But the people on Cable Beach in their 4WDs weren’t fishing. They were just sitting there. They weren’t even getting out of their cars. And they hadn’t even driven far along the beach. So they drove onto the beach, sat in their vehicle, then drove off. Some of them were just in family sedans – that would have annoyed the off-road gang. It’s an afternoon thing in Broome – people going down to the beach to watch the sun set. It’s just that lots of dills do it from their cars.

And they all park where the camel rides happen. On the day we were there, I counted 84 cars parked on the beach. So the camels walk along the back of the beach for maybe a kilometre, then do a U-turn, and walk back closer to the water. Where the cars are. They weave through the parked cars. None of the camel ride brochures and websites showed that. I would have felt a bit disappointed if I had paid for a camel ride through a sandy carpark.

We had three sunny days in Broome. The warm weather was good for us, but not so good for the bouillabaisse mix in the van. The shark tail was the biggest culprit, so it was time for it to go. Now, there is some contention over whose idea this was. I’m convinced it was mine. Lisa is equally sure it was hers (and if it was, I’m proud of her). Mimi doesn’t want to take sides, but loved the idea. Anyway, I’m writing this, so I’m taking ownership of it.

So I said to Mimi on the second last day, ‘That shark tail is getting pretty smelly, Mimi.’
I could tell she was ready to pin the blame on farts in the parcel van, but I quickly ran my idea past her. ‘You know what I reckon we should do?’
‘What dad?’
‘Mail it to one of your friends.’

We all liked the idea for different reasons. Lisa was probably most keen to get the smell out of the van (and not have it accompany us onto an airplane). Mimi liked the idea of sending one of her friends a pretty unique present. I liked the mental picture of a kid (and hopefully a mum) in Sydney pulling a smelly shark tail from an envelope. So into the post it went.

The last morning in Broome was spent packing. I spread the annex on the ground and tossed everything out of the van onto it. There was no other way to tackle it. It looked like there had been a terrible accident with a courier van.

Then we jammed everything into bags. We had the nine towels to pack – most of them unused. There were Lisa's three cameras – and Mimi’s one. A tangle of redundant gadget charging and connecting cables. Lisa’s laptop needed to be packed. I guess we’re lucky it was the lighter of her laptops, and luckier still that she didn’t bring a desktop computer. There was a mountain of clothes – most of them unworn. I found the three hot water bottles! Then there was the bouillabaisse mix. It had to be packed carefully so that the starfish and sea urchins didn’t break. It took a bit of negotiating, but I managed to get the girls to leave out some of the larger rocks they had collected - the one supposedly shaped like a dingo’s paw and the one shaped like Western Australia were not part of the negotiations.

Of course, we also had 3 kilos of coloured sand, but that was mine so I didn’t complain about it.

The girls’ carry-on backpacks were so big that walking behind them, all I could see were their little legs and little arms sticking out beyond their backpacks. They looked like very colourful turtles walking upright. As for me and Lisa, you know those photographs of dishevelled families leaving disaster zones with everything they own piled onto a trolley? That’s what we would have looked like at the airport.

On the plane, Lisa would have looked like a bag lady. You’ve seen those people who shamelessly struggle down the aisle with more luggage than you checked in? I’m married to one of them. I think she had four bags on her that time. I disown her in these situations and join all the other passengers in looking at her scornfully. Of course, with four bags of stuff, there were plenty of things to intermittently lose during the flight – even just sitting there not moving, Lisa’s ‘cycle of loss’ was in full swing. I was glad she didn’t have a window seat, though, otherwise the watercolour paints would have come out.


  • IMG_5504.jpg
    50.8 KB · Views: 107
Wish I could tell a story like you. Great posts all the better since I have traveled the same roads as you.

We ahve also done the Tanami - we didn't find it boring at all as we talk a lot to each other.

Scott you might like to look up the Canning Stock Route as that is a hard trip.

Good on ya

We had pre-booked in at Broome!
Brilliant! Thank you for sharing your adventures. I love that your girls used the coloured sand you collected and carted home. :)
I still have a jar of sand from Port Hedland, I lived there for years as a kid, it was a wonderful time of my life then.
Thankyou Scott...tell us what happened when the sharks tail arrived please... I am still giggling over that...

I really enjoyed your journey

You obviously didn't drive far enough along Cable Beach to where it becomes the nudist beach.....most of the cars driving up and back are just checking out the nudists! Sadly, (depending on your inclination I suppose) they are mostly older people who have seen waaaayyy too much sun judging by the dark brown, prune-like skin.

Last time we were on Cable Beach "taking a drive" (hubby driving...I suspect he was hoping to see some of those Wicked van chicks :rolleyes:), we saw a very old, brown, wrinkly man doing his stretches with a 6ft the nude. Took a little explaining to the 4y.old. A lot of very dangly loose skin.....I'm sure I don't need to explain further :eek: Good on him I say! Though I think he enjoyed the attention almost more than the sun....

Anyway, we really enjoyed Broome, for a place with little kids...but i don't think I'd fly or drive half way across the country to visit

I think the Canning Stock Route sounds a little too intrepid for me, Sheryn. But I'm keen to the trip from Broome to Darwin via the Gibb River Road.

The girls didn't quite understand the sand thing when I explained it to them over there. They just thought I was a nut. But when we got home and did them together they had fun. Hasn't that 9 year old of mine got the most amazing eyebrows. They're like an appendage. I've told her that people draw eyebrows on themselves to create that look. I'm teaching her how to raise one eyebrow at a time.

Chrispy, I'm not sure which house the shark tail lobbed at. I haven't been accosted by a parent at school yet. I can imagine the conversation when it arrived.
Mum: What's that?
Kid: A shark tail.
Mum: What? Who on earth sent that?
Kid: Mimi.
Mum: That'd be right.

I reckon Broome is a good place to spend a few days at the start or end a trip. Our three days there were a nice end to the trip. Nards, we didn't drive onto Cable Beach at all. Though if we had taken the parcel van onto it the 4WD guys who have got really miffed.

We covered 4,303 klms all up. And because there is no traffic, it was all pretty leisurely.

Most stops were 2-3 nights, which was the best way to do it - packing up and moving every day would have been a killer.

Next time I'll get a 4WD and tow the accomodation behind us. I reckon the Jayco off-road pop top is the way to go. Also, having some pushbikes would be ideal.

Glad you all enjoyed the journey.