Lee Atkinson finds herself in a pearler of a place that's spectacular from sun-up to sundown.
For sheer spectacle, there is no better place to watch the sun go down than at Broome. By day, Cable Beach, where a turquoise Indian Ocean laps up against 23 kilometres of dazzling white sands, is breathtaking, but come sunset it's the place to be, whether driving your four-wheel-drive on to the sand for a picnic, sipping a cocktail at a beachside bar or swinging precariously from the back of a camel.
What it's known for
Broome began life as a pearling town, the lustre of the pearl shell luring thousands of immigrants to the town – the old Chinatown area and the largest Japanese cemetery in Australia are legacies of the industry's halcyon days before plastic made pearl shell buttons redundant. The industry may have changed, but it's still a pearl town. Take a guided tour of the museum and taste pearl meat at Pearl Luggers ($20, $10 kids; pearlluggers.com.au), visit a working pearl farm (two-hour tours start at $55, $30 for kids; williecreekpearls.com.au), cruise into the sunset on a restored pearling lugger (prices vary; broomelugger.com) and resist the temptation to bend the credit card at several jewellery showrooms.
What you didn't know
Broome is home to what is reputed to be the largest quartz crystal Buddha in the world, a 3.5-metre-high pink Buddha hand-carved from Philippines crystal. You'll find it in the Buddha Sanctuary across the road from the Cable Beach Club. The Sanctuary – a gift to the town from the owners of the resort – is free if you just want to go and chill out or meditate, and has daily yoga and tai chi classes (free to resort guests, $10 for non-guests). It's open daily from 7am to 10am and from 4pm to 7pm every afternoon except Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Broome's newest boutique villa resort in Cable Beach, The Billi, has just opened four luxury "Eco Tents", so you can glamp it up in style with an en suite with freestanding bath, a kitchenette and views over the resort pool. Tents from $120, villas from $180. thebilli.com.au.
It's touristy but is also one of the most memorable things you'll do in Broome. Almost every visitor to Broome takes a sunset camel ride along Cable Beach, but because it is so popular it can feel a bit like a circus act with three different companies walking their camel trains along the beach and most of the visitor population there taking photos. Go early in the morning and you (and your camels) will have the beach to yourself. Red Sun Camels is the only operator that does morning rides. They also do a shorter pre-sunset ride for about half the price of the sunset ride. Rides last about an hour and cost $30-$75, kids $30-$55, depending on the time of day. redsuncamels.com.au.
Where to eat
Given that the Japanese pearl divers and farmers played such an important role in the development of Broome, it's quite surprising that Broome has only one Japanese restaurant, Azuki Japanese Fusion. Classics are given a contemporary twist, such as chicken with organic noodle salad and tom yum aioli, and fried octopus dumplings. Takeaway is also available: what could be better than tucking into a platter of sushi while watching the sun go down on Cable Beach? It's open for lunch and dinner on weekdays but it's closed at weekends. 15 Napier Terrace, (08) 9193 7211. Also good is Matso's Broome Brewery, where bar snacks, burgers, steaks, fish and chips are served on the verandah or in the beer garden overlooking Roebuck Bay. The brewery produces eight beers and a dangerously drinkable ginger beer. 60 Hamersley Street, Broome.
Where to stay
Long-time favourite Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa, still the only resort in Broome right on Cable Beach, has just re-opened after a major refurbishment. There's a brand new Club Lounge Bar – which is reserved exclusively for guests of the resort – the popular Thai Pearl restaurant is now airconditioned, so it's great for those balmy evenings, and couples staying in one of the Pool Terrace Studios will enjoy a new decked terrace area overlooking the adults-only Ocean Pool. If you must work, there's a new Business Centre and free wi-fi throughout the resort. Rates start at $322 a double, a night. cablebeachclub.com.
How to get there
Broome is 2237 kilometres north of Perth. Qantas (qantas.com) has a twice-weekly direct flight to Broome from Sydney starting at about $1200 return. Virgin Australia (virginaustralia.com) and Qantas have daily flights from Perth.