If you’ve just arrived and want to dive straight into Broome’s fascinating history, head straight for Chinatown, the town’s main shopping district. This area has an eclectic mix of colonial and Asian architectural styles reflecting Broome’s multicultural origins.
Broome's Chinatown is a great starting point
Walk down Johnny Chi Lane and read the wall-hung placards that feature stories about Broome’s early years. In the dry season, market stalls set up here every Sunday. However, even on non-market days, there are plenty of interesting little souvenir shops and quality pearl showrooms that will keep you occupied. There is also an excellent collection of indigenous art to peruse in the outstanding Short Street Gallery a few minutes’ stroll away.
On Dampier Terrace, don’t miss the Pearl Luggers, where you can tour vessels once used in the pearling industry, watch rare archival footage of deep sea divers at work and even taste pearl meat, a local delicacy which retails for something like $120 per kilo.
A short walk from Chinatown is the Broome Courthouse, site of a large, vibrant market where you can pick up everything from handmade candles and tie-dyed sarongs to barbecued chicken wings. The building itself is worth a look for its distinctive architecture. Originally built as the official cable house for telegraphists, it was later converted into a courthouse when communication traffic began bypassing Broome for Perth.
Close to pretty Town Beach is The Broome Heritage Centre, housed in the Old Convent, featuring a beautifully curated collection of old photographs, short films, storyboards and heritage items that tell the story of the town, the Aboriginal and European pioneers who built it.
If you happen to be at Town Beach at very low tide, you can see the Flying Boat Wreck, tragically shot down in March 1942 during the Japanese air raid of Broome, which was responsible for many civilian casualties. This beach is also a fantastic place to see the “Staircase to the Moon” natural phenomenon, which occurs when the full moon rises over the mud flats of Roebuck Bay creating the illusion of “steps”.
Along Port Drive, which runs between Broome and Cable Beach, is the immaculately maintained Japanese and Chinese Cemetery – largest of its kind in Australia. A little solemn, but the hundreds of colourful headstones do impart a real sense of what divers were prepared to sacrifice for a handful of lustrous treasures from the sea.
The Japanese Cemetery is a grim reminder of lives lost in pursuit of Broome’s world-renowned pearls
In the evening, join the exodus as locals and visitors alike flock to the coast to watch the famous Broome sunset. 22km-long Cable Beach is the vantage point of choice for most, from a comfortable spot on the warm sands or on a camel’s back. Another popular place to see this daily spectacle is Gantheaume Point around 6km south. This photogenic red cliff has an old lighthouse and is home to dinosaur footprints thought to be 130 million years old that you can view when the tide goes out.
After dark, head over to the oldest operating outdoor cinema in the world – Sun Pictures – to catch a movie under the stars. Take a blanket with you and mosquito repellent. You should also be prepared to experience planes approaching quite closely above the trees as this charming cinema sits in the flight path of jets landing at Broome Airport.
Prepare for close encounters with commercial jets landing at Broome Airport
Attractions Farther Afield
While the pearl boom may have ended, Broome is still one of the world’s premier pearl producers, having perfected the process of culturing these priceless orbs. For a deeper understanding of the modern pearl industry, jump in your Broome hire car and head straight to the highly awarded Willie Creek Pearl Farm, approximately 40 minutes’ north of Broome. Learn about the process of seeding, view oyster panels in their natural environment and be taught how to care for pearls. You can also take in the wonderful scenery of Willie Creek on a cruise or from a helicopter.
Enter the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park at your own peril
For close encounters with native wildlife, visit the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park and Animal Refuge about 15 minutes’ out of town. Entry to this wonderful facility is via a giant fibreglass saltwater croc’s head – interesting to say the least! Feeding time is very popular, whilst there are plenty of other creatures such as wallabies, kangaroos, emus and dingoes to observe in this sanctuary.
If you just want to see what’s out there beyond Broome, the closest settlement resembling a town is Derby 200km away. The self-proclaimed “Home of the Boab Tree”, Derby is where you’ll find the storied Boab Prison Tree. It also has the highest tides of any port, with the wharf being the prime place to soak up sunset. Derby is also full of interesting historic sites from an old gaol to a School of The Air. This facility is one of five operating in Western Australia – the other four are scattered throughout this vast state in places as far away as Kalgoorlie – and offers an insight into how children in remote communities receive an education.
Derby’s Prison Tree is believed to be 1,500 years old