Way up on the north-west coast of Western Australia, 1600 kilometres north of Perth, Broome is more than just the gateway to the Kimberley. It's most popular during the Dry season when its tropical warmth, white-sand beaches and impossibly turquoise water make it the perfect winter escape, but there are advantages to visiting in the Wet season (November-March): fewer people, lower room rates and inclusions such as car hire and pearl farm tours. And it doesn't get as much rain as, say, Darwin in the Wet. To get your bearings, remember Broome is on a peninsula with the town on Roebuck Bay, facing east; Cable Beach, 7km away, on the Indian Ocean side.
"Broome was built on (mother-of-pearl) buttons," as a local saying goes, so a pearling tour is a must. Pearl Luggers in town has one-hour tours where theatrical guides bring 130 years of pearl-diving and -farming to life; you can even try on a 30-kilogram diving helmet and taste pearl "meat". Or do a half-day tour at Willie Creek Pearl Farm to learn all about pearls (who knew one oyster can produce four pearls in its lifetime?) and take a boat out to see oyster leases.
Broome is possibly more multicultural than any other small town in Australia, with a dining culture to match. Carnarvon Street has cafes (and shops) in spacious old corrugated-iron stores, such as Kool Spot Cafe and Green Mango Cafe. The best place for lunch is Matso's where you can try their famous alcoholic ginger (or lychee, mango or chilli) beer on the verandah or under swirling ceiling fans inside this beautifully restored 1910 former bank. At sunset, Cable Beach Club Resort's Sunset Bar & Grill is the place to be. In town, the Mangrove Hotel has sunset views across Roebuck Bay and one of the best restaurants is the Asian-fusion Aarli Bar in Chinatown.
An iconic Broome experience, and a local favourite, is watching a movie under the Kimberley night sky at Sun Pictures, the longest-running outdoor cinema in the world, which celebrates its centenary in December. During the day, visit Gantheaume Point to see the 135-million-year-old fossilised footprints of nine kinds of dinosaurs.
If you do only one thing in Broome, see an Indian Ocean sunset, preferably from the back of a camel (Red Sun Camels has the longest, most photogenic, camel trains). Or have a sunset picnic on the grass under the palm trees in front of Cable Beach Club Resort. Another must is the new Indigenous walking tour of the town led by Bart Wigram, a Yawuru man who runs Narlijia Cultural Tours.
The sprawling 234-room Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa (cablebeachclub.com) put Broome on the tourist map in the 1980s and is still going strong, having completed a massive refurbishment in May this year ; it's also the only accommodation right on Cable Beach. Also in the Cable Beach area is the Billi (thebilli.com.au) which has self-contained villas and luxury safari tents, while in town the self-contained Moonlight Bay Suites behind Matso's have front-row views of Roebuck Bay (moonlightbaysuites.com.au).
Cable Beach is just as beautiful in the early morning as at sunset, not to mention cooler and less crowded. If you don't have a rental car (you don't need one in town), the best way to get to Cable Beach is by bus; it's $10 for a one-day ticket, see broomebus.com.au.
Louise Southerden was a guest of Tourism WA and Australia's North West Tourism.