Forget all about Postman Pat - this epic delivery route has crocs and dinosaur footprints.
The white sand beach glimmers in the distance, a tantalising prize for whoever is prepared to walk there in the ferocious heat with no cover. On the way, there are the Kimberley's prodigious ten-metre tides, and possibly a croc or two to battle. And the landscape is an ankle-breaking minefield of knobbly red-rock cliffs.
The view from Kooljaman at Cape Leveque is a marvellous snapshot of the Kimberley's entwined ruggedness and beauty. Once home to just a lighthouse, it now hosts a plucky indigenous-owned eco-tourism operation. But we're not here to camp – we're here to deliver the mail.
Cape Leveque is one of those places that's a bit of a nuisance for Australia Post. It'd be entirely uneconomical to cover within normal operations. There's an awful lot of driving and not much mail delivering. Therefore, the mail run is contracted out to whoever can do it reliably on the relative cheap. In 2014, Ahoy Buccaneers – which launches its Kimberley cruises from Cape Leveque anyway – thought the run dovetailed with its operations and won the tender.
The previous contractor had done a bit of dovetailing too, acting as an unofficial transport service for people from the remote communities on the Cape. Ahoy Buccaneers took this one step further by letting tourists pay to come along for the ride.
The result is a rather weird and tiring day out. It's not exactly a tour – more a case of tagging along in a 16-seater, four-wheel-drive bus while the boys do their rounds.
It kicks off in Broome at 5am, then ploughs 220 kilometres up the Cape Leveque Road. It's not long before the bitumen disappears, replaced by a furiously red dirt track. In the wet season, it can be under water. In the dry, it can be massively corrugated and potholed. The pleasantness of the drive depends almost entirely on when the grader last went up. But the outback intensity of the scene through the windscreen is A-star.
After what seems to be an eternity of groggily waking up, the deliveries start. First up, it's the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. Then the bus continues round to the indigenous community at One Arm Point. Kooljaman is third on the list, before the "cop shop" – a corrugated shack with the Australian and Aboriginal flags flying proudly outside. The police have quite a substantial patch here as the "police station – 103km" sign on the way up illustrates.
Nearby is the Lombadina, where the ghosts of the past echo through the layout of the town. Formerly a mission settlement, it is essentially two villages in one. Djarindjin is mainly home to an Aboriginal community that wanted its own space outside the confines of Catholic Lombadina, which has Europeanised as much as a remote Kimberley settlement is likely to. Houses may be made from the ubiquitous corrugated iron, but their occupants have resolutely insisted on having little gardens attached. Big trees have been planted, sprinklers work hard and there's a small church next to the grassy green central oval.
The church was built in 1934, and sits on wooden poles – this is not about flood protection, but keeping it safe from termites which would happily demolish it. From the outside, the roof is iron. But the original remains in a dilapidated state inside. It was crafted from paperbark trees, and the peeling wooden strips of the roof mimic those of the trunks in the wild.
As churches go, however, it's not a patch on the one at Beagle Bay.
The Beagle Bay community was originally set up by French Trappist monks, and later had a darker role as a place where significant numbers of the Stolen Generations were sent to. But the church looks ludicrously out of place, modelled on one from the Bavarian countryside, made from tens of thousands of bricks and painted bright white.
Inside, the stained glass windows let light bounce off one of the most bravura altars ever likely to be seen in a place so small. It is covered in cowrie shells and mother of pearl, merging local indigenous motifs with Catholic symbology. For the posties, however, it's the man who preaches there they want. Octogenarian Father Dan comes to collect, then the job's done – and the big red dirt road back to Broome gets bumped and clattered along again.
Qantas offers seasonal direct flights to Broome from Sydney and Melbourne. See www.qantas.com.au
The quirky, historic Pinctada McAlpine House in Broome offers rooms from $125 a night. See www.mcalpinehouse.com.au
SEE + DO
Ahoy Buccaneers runs the Cape Leveque mail run three times a week, costing $140 a person. It doesn't have to be done in one day, and en-suite stays can be arranged at Cygnet Bay and Kooljaman for from $170 a night. See www.ahoybuccaneers.com.au, www.cygnetbaypearls.com.au, www.kooljaman.com.au.
David Whitley was a guest of Tourism Western Australia.
FIVE MORE UNUSUAL BROOME TOUR OPTIONS
INDIGENOUS FISHING AND CRABBING
At Kooljaman, Brian Lee runs trips to Hunters Creek, packed with both traditional Bardi stories, and tales of characters who have arrived since white settlement. That's all an aperitif for the fishing and crabbing, though. Half-day tours cost $98. See kooljaman.com.au
THE HORIZONTAL WATERFALL
Horizontal Falls Adventures also heads up the Dampier Peninsula in a 4WD to Cygnet Bay, then takes a seaplane for a scenic flight, and a fast boat adrenalin ride through the Horizontal Falls on the Buccaneer Archipelago. The waterfall effect is caused by the tides. The day out costs $845. See horizontalfallsadventures.com.au.
HOVERCRAFTING WITH DINOSAURS
Broome Hovercraft Adventure Tours heads out to remarkably well-preserved brachiosaurus footprints in the rocks on the beach. The $185 sunset tour takes prime position on the tidal flats for the big orange sky show. See broomehovercraft.com.au.
KAYAKING WITH TURTLES
The Broome Kayaking Company runs $75, three-hour kayaking tours from the bottom end of Cable Beach. Go on a low tide to uncover secret beaches and caves, or high tide for turtle-spotting. See broomeadventure.com.au
Broome plays host to a large variety of seabirds, and Kimberley Birdwatching runs $150 day tours around the area. See kimberleybirdwatching.com.au.