Broome or Barn Hill?

I think most people around the world have heard of Broome, the pearl region of north-western Australia that guarantees a stunning sunset. But as we headed here, so many travelers told us about Barn Hill, that we changed our plans. Our memories of Broome, that it was almost dead in late October but had some fabulous beaches, had been tarnished by the reports this year, of overcrowding and price rises due to Covid-19. As it was the beach we most sought, we decided on a shopping stop in Broome and then to travel the 110km to Barn Hill Station,  a cattle station that offered a campsite on a cliff over the beach.

Broome was actually lively, with varied shops open and people moving about purposefully. We decided to do our grocery shopping first and then sit for a coffee, where we could get internet and search a few of the locations we were hoping to visit in the future, but hadn’t quite decided on, or booked for that matter.

I rang our sons to let them know where we were (why were they not the least bit concerned?) and when Alan returned from his obligatory secondhand book hunt, we went  to Barn Hill, the last stretch of which involved a 10km dirt road that was a little corrugated but softened by the red dirt.

It is a great campsite, a little ramshackle and with basic amenities, but we had power and water for half the price of Broome, and a short walk down to the beach, with its red cliffs and layered rock formations.

We were expecting the water to be warm, but it was cool and had a strong pull into the ocean. Earlier, the neighbours said that there had been a small shark sighted that morning and everyone had to get out of the water. It made me a bit nervous, and I kept looking around for a fin, while resisting the undertow. I saw a brown jellyfish, the size of a large bowl and that had me exit for the day. A late afternoon walk brought us to some great rock formations, some scuttling crabs that hurriedly dug holes (and some are way too big to think about), and a beautiful sunset.

On our return, we saw people sitting in readiness for a show of some kind. Apparently, the entertainment was a no-show, so they contacted two guys who played the previous night, and they stopped their fishing and put on a show. It was quite good, really, with mostly 70s soft rock/LA sound stuff. Lucky for us, we got a good seat.

The next morning I went for a walk to the beach and thought that this coastline was a lot like Aldinga, in South Australia, with the sandstone cliffs. In fact, I’m beginning to think most of Australia’s coastline e is sandstone. But this place has had a lot of erosion, creating pillars of rock and sand, along with familiar rock pools and exposed reef.

We had our morning café then strolled to the market, where clientele were selling their wares in stalls erected in the community gathering area. There are always pens for goats and horses and children who aren’t kept busy with this or the ocean are on the few items of play equipment.

This is a very relaxing campsite, with entertainment, a bar/café that can provide occasional internet and all the environmental features you’d get in Broome. The facilities are basic but very clean and the hot water in the shower is reliable. There are washing machines that work and the sites are shaded and large. There is the choice of powered or unpowered, but the unpowered seemed to have little shade.

Have a little adventure and come to Barn Hill, with your hat, sunscreen and fishing rod.

Broome

Iconic Broome, Western Australia, with its much-photographed sunsets, Cable Beach and pearling history, draws many people to it, each year.

After travelling on the Stuart and Victoria Highways for several days, we had seen a lot of desert. The sight of the turquoise waters of Broome was such a relief and we had the good fortune to secure a site in the Cable Beach Caravan Park. Straight to the water we went, only to discover that it was like entering a hot bath. The shock had barely registered when we had to turn around and race back for our cameras, as sunset was approaching.

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The sunset dash happened every night, where people rushed to the shores like moths to a candle and took up various positions to get THE selfie, or shot of the brilliant red orb majestically morphing into the water. I have hundreds of photos of sunsets and it really is in a league of its own. The resemblance to the Aboriginal Flag is unmistakable, too, although upside down, I realise.

Cable Beach, itself, is very long and has good sand. The surf has a strong undertow so if you are not a confident swimmer, stay close to shore. This may prove difficult, as it can deepen quickly and the current drag you in.

 

The facilities along the shore are good, with restaurants and more casual dining on offer. We ate at Zanders and had great food with superb views of the sunset. There is a good path along the foreshore if you have a bike or want to jog on concrete. Cable Beach is named after the historic 1650km long submarine cable that was laid from Java to Broome in 1889. This extraordinary feat, performed in 10 days by a ship, saw the cable come ashore on this beach – hence the name. It enabled greater communication between Europe and the East. There are other beaches around Broome, notably Town Beach, with it’s Japanese artwork.

Gantheaume Point is a dramatic and prehistoric site where you might see dinosaur tracks, if you get there at low tide, but if not you will be hypnotised by the colours and the contrasts and you may see ospreys nesting in the lighthouse. The rocks are sandstone and form that typical layered structure so common in the north of Australia.

It is a well-equipped sprawling town, with service stations, shopping centres, schools and all the mod-cons. It is renowned for its markets, but we must have been there in the down season, as many shops were closed and the market seemed small and unremarkable.  The town provided another quirky sign for southerners who were travelling in potential cyclone season.

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We visited the banks of Roebuck Bay where the history of pearling, which put the town on the map, was told at Cygnet Bay Pearls. Originally, Aboriginal people collected pearls when they presented themselves at low tide and used these when white people came, to trade. The first Australians were sometimes imprisoned and At one time in the early 1900s Broome provided 80% of the world’s pearls. They are not farmed in the old way any more, using divers to collect and prise open the shells, but generally are artificially inseminated in farms. The historical equipment and stories around the room, along with the largest pearl harvested, were very interesting and a good way to pass the time until our talk began.

We watched as two pearls were ‘harvested’, using instruments that made the similarity to IVF very close. It was spell-binding and we held our collective breath as the prize was taken away, weighed and had its diameter measured. I thought I’d been at a birth. The first was a class ‘C’ baroque and was very lined. The second was a class ‘B’ , 113mm in circumference, valued at $1930. It was passed around the room and we all held it and looked for the discerning features that had been pointed out. The owner reduced the price to $1400 and the elderly couple behind us bought it, as it was her birthday the next day. Clearly out of my league, I headed to the discount display and bought a black pearl ring for my friend back home, at $20.

There are acquaintances who travel to Broome regularly and take the tours out to the horizontal falls or the tidal shelf. I will definitely try to see the horizontal falls some time, and will probably go back to Broome one day but, at the risk of being shouted down, I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about.