Overnight stays: Palm Grove Holiday Resort, Broome (10 nights); Barn Hill Station, Roebuck (4 nights)
Traveling and booking accommodation don’t go well together. When you don’t have deadlines, you have pure flexibility to stay at places as little or as long as you like. We have made the mistake of booking a couple of places on this trip, only to muck us up as you then need to be somewhere by a certain date, which could mean you leave somewhere great earlier than you’d like, or you arrive before your booking.
I can’t tell you how many people had told us to book Broome. I lost count, but I reckon it was more people than who have been fired from Trump’s Whitehouse.
Flowing with the wind hasn’t let us down once on the Wombatical, and we can’t recall ever actually being rejected from a caravan park because we didn’t book.
So we stuck to our formula for Broome, despite the plethora of advice against it. And what do you know, we didn’t have a problem, again. We turned up and snagged a site at the park we wanted, a few hundred metres from Cable Beach, for three nights. That three turned to four, then six, then seven, and finally, ten – by far the longest we have stayed anywhere on the trip.
It was the shortest day of the year when we arrived, and what better place to watch the earliest sunset of the year at one of Australia’s most iconic beaches?
Every now and then you meet people who you know you’ll just hit it off with.
A week or two back, Liv made a friend in the pool, Primrose. We’re always encouraging her to reach out to other kids and to her credit, she’s become a master of self-introductions. And so her and ‘Primmie’ played a little, and we exchanged a handful of pleasantries with her family. This wasn’t particularly unusual, more a frequent occurrence, where you might never see the family again.
But on one of our first days at Cable Beach, we heard a small voice in the distance yelling, “Olivia!” And there was Primrose, racing towards Liv like a croc at an egret, ready to commence where they’d last left off. Here we struck up a bit more substantial conversation with Primmie’s parents, Dan and Ali, and their other two daughters, Leona (11) and Delilah (8).
We soon again parted ways, agreeing we’d see each other again at the following day’s races, but suspecting we had quite a bit in common and could become great mates.
As has become customary on the trip, whenever there are local races on, we attend. It also just happened to be Family Day with a bunch of kids activities on offer including face painting, jumping castles, and plenty of music and dancing.
Liv was in her element, playing all day with her new mates, the Clohesy girls, while we spent time realising how much we had in common with Dan and Ali, and finally backed a few winners, after a massive hiatus in the winner’s circle.
We were also lucky enough to meet some fellow Sydney-siders, Gareth, Ella, and their almost 2yo daughter Florence, in Broome on holidays for a week or so. Gareth works at CBA so Loz had plenty of bank chat up her sleeve. We exchanged numbers and agreed to catch up again whilst in Broome.
And so, as day turned to night and the beers flowed, we boarded the ‘Party Bus’, which was more oxymoronic than The Greens and fiscal responsibility – it was full of Grey Nomads, and the tunes were pumping more than setting up a tent only to realise you’ve forgotten your electric pump.
We met back up with the Clohesy’s for dinner and more drinks at The Divers Tavern, straight across the road from our caravan park. This place became our local over the next 10 days, and I reckon we actually spent more time here than at Cable Beach 😂.
Dan (Clohesy) had informed me at the races that he was booked on a fishing charter, which was something I was considering doing while in the area. Dan has since told me that you don’t get invited to an orgy (for the record, I don’t think he knows from experience, but reckons it’s a saying); some things you just have to invite yourself. So I booked in on the same boat, knowing full well I’d have a far better time if knew someone on the boat.
This turned out to be one of the best days of the trip, and I think Dan would concur it as one of the best of their lap of Australia.
It was a quiet start, with only a couple of fish onboard across the 8 fishers in 2.5 hours. But then we were on like a bat out of hell, one after the other reeling in all sorts of bottom dwellers. I was more excited than a political journalist coming up to the Super Saturday bi-elections when I landed my first fish, a barely legal Spanish Flag. I’d never heard of flags as fish before, but didn’t care – as far as I was concerned, this tiny fish had made my day, and the trip was worthwhile. Little was I to know the excitement was just beginning.
As Dan was reeling in his first biggie for the day, working harder than the WomBatmobile’s rear outside tyres, still impossible to inflate, his line went dead, and the pull became unbearable, until SNAP! His line broke off, and the deckie informed us a shark had taken Dan’s pride and glory straight off the hook. We vaguely believed this version of the story until we then witnessed the shark shoot to the surface, do a barrel roll out of the water, and descend to the depths of the Indian Ocean. It was as if he was showing off that he had Dan’s catch, and really was something you don’t see every day, let alone in a life time.
This greedy and lazy shark behaviour became a common occurrence throughout the day. As soon as we had a fish on the line we had to reel like crazy to land it before the circling sharks took our dinner. Amazing stuff, and it all added to the entertainment for the day.
Still satisfied with my Spanish shrimp of a thing in the bag, you could only imagine my excitement when I reeled in the biggest fish of the day – an 85cm Giant Trevally. He fought harder than One Nation do keeping Senators, and beat the sharks onto the boat, while I jumped up and down and squealed like a schoolgirl. From this point on, it didn’t matter what else happened for the day.
The skipper spotted a swarm of birds flapping about in the distance, so set sail for the bait ball that was building below – tuna for days. More tuna than isle three at Aldi was splashing around so the deckies threw a couple of trawling lures in and it was only a matter of seconds before Dan was reeling in a beauty. Then the line was back in and it was the next person’s turn to land a big fish, blunted to death with a baseball bat (seriously, apparently that’s the most humane way to kill them – brutal yet thrilling to watch). Finally came my turn to cast a trawler in, and low and behold, a bite quicker the RSL dinner queue on bingo night, but this bite was big, bigger than the rest – either that or I was incredibly weaker than all the other punters on board (probably a more likely scenario). Just when I thought I was making progress, the line went dead and then snapped like a twig – a damn shark had taken the lure instead of our intended tuna. Oh well, I hate the taste of tuna anyway.
As the hours passed, beers flowed, and more and more fish joined us on deck, with as many thrown back due to size, bag limits reached (in Dan’s case), or us just being fussy with what we wanted to take home. I couldn’t believe that my second biggest catch of the day, another Giant Trevally lived to see another day – we seriously had too much fish to possibly eat.
Dan managed the catch of the day when he reeled in the most beautiful fish I think I’ve ever seen – a Coral Trout, described by the crew as ‘The Hilton of fish’.
This fishing charter was one of the best days of the trip, which is a hard thing to say when I wasn’t with my beautiful girls, who were checking out the sites of Broome and lapping up Cable Beach.
After a debriefing drink at Divers Tavern, the Clohesy’s joined us for a fish feast for dinner, delectable Giant Trevally and Coral Trout.
Throughout our travels, we have only really stepped foot in a handful of pubs. We haven’t been drinking huge amounts this year, so it hasn’t been top of mind.
This all seemed to change in Broome, as the Diver’s Tavern became our local for a solid ten days. It was only a shark’s barrel roll from our caravan park, halfway to the beach, served a ripping schnitzel, and had three giant to screens behind the bar, bigger than Nigel Farage’s Brexit backtrack. This was convenient with the soccer World Cup in full swing, the State of Origin second game, and Swans v Tigers (Dan and Delilah’s team) all on while we were in town.
We lost track, but I reckon we spent more money there than we did on groceries in the past month, and more time there than the incredibly scenic and delicious Cable Beach.
After extending our stay several times, we finally found enough time to chill and enjoy the awesome Cable Beach for a few days. The weather was predictably perfect, and the water warm and clear. The biggest downside was the distance to the water at low tide. The extreme tides here meant there was an acceptable amount of sand available to plant your tushie at high tide, and and over abundance of about 500m of sand at low tide, leaving you puffed and and sweaty for your well-earned swim.
As expected, the sunsets were iconically beautiful, and there were no signs of crocs. We hadn’t swum at a beach since Fitzroy Island, months before.
There were a few harmless jellies around for a few days, but easily avoidable, and the beach did shut down one arvo because of a shark sighting – apparently chasing a ray jumping out of the water. All part and parcel of life in The Kimberley, we assumed.
Best of all, because of the extraordinary length of the beach, and the ridiculous amount of sand at low tide, it was always quiet, with plenty of space to kick or hit a ball around.
Our last experience riding camels was horrendous. It was in Dubai last year, as part of a day tour, where everyone was given a token camel ride in the desert – part of ‘authentic’ Arabia. We struggled with the terrible treatment of the animals, who were clearly treated horribly.
We came to Broome with this front of mind, deciding we wouldn’t do the cliche Cable Beach camels. But after a few days of seeing the camels treated humanely, and seemingly enjoying their daily stroll on the beach, Loz and Liv booked in for an arvo ride with the Clohesys.
I followed with a camera, eventually giving up explaining to surrounding Grey Nomads that I wasn’t afraid of riding a camel, I just didn’t want to.
The girls and Clohesy’s loved it, and our sour taste of animal treatment was sweetened nicely.
Watching everyone react when the camels lift and drop them was by far and wide the most entertaining part. As expected, Loz didn’t disappoint with her reaction.
Staircase to the Moon
On the road we have found there are a few things that bring Grey Nomads together: Happy Hour (with an often hilarious strict 6pm cutoff); discussing how often they babysit their grandkids; the ‘healing properties’ of thermal baths; worrying about how many stairs there are at a recent or upcoming attraction, swimming hole, or gorge; and The Staircase to the Moon.
For three days each month, around the full moon, there’s a phenomenon where the moon rises over the mud flats, giving the impression of a staircase rising to the beautifully orange moon. It is visible from only a few places in the world, one of which is Broome’s Town Beach.
It brings every tourist in town together, gazing for a glimpse as the stairs disappear as quickly as they appeared.
It also gave us a chance to once again catch up with Gareth, Ella and Florence, who were due to fly out the following day. We ended up spending a few awesome nights with them at the pub throughout our stay, and agreed to catch up again when we’re back in Sydney. Brilliant the friends you meet along the way!
A couple of nights before, Loz took Liv and the Clohesy girls to the movies, allowing Dan and Ali to have an overdue date night. We jumped at their return offer, so after the Stairway to Heaven, left Liv with them, the happiest girl alive (she loved the Clohesy girls more than Aussies love a heartstrings drought story every few years), while we wandered down to Matso’s Brewery for our first date in months.
The food was good, the alcoholic ginger beer the best in the world, and the company as good as it gets. Had we not been on a travellers budget, we would’ve bought them out of every case of ginger beer they had – a tough prospect at $95 a pop!
Barn Hill Station
It seems you cannot visit WA and not do Station stays. Stations are effectively just massive farms, and it seems a plethora of them in the West diversify and offer varying forms of accommodation – not a bad way to hedge against a lifestyle that depends entirely on weather in a predictably dry climate.
These stations seem to attract travellers of all likes, particularly western retirees migrating north for the cooler months, just like the NSW and Victorians who migrate to Queensland annually.
Barn Hill Station was our first introduction to station accommodation, and with almost 270′ ocean views and our closest neighbours 50m away, we realised it was something we could easily accustom to.
This place was a Grey Nomad’s paradise… a bowling green, daily Tai Chi, the biggest Happy Hour we’ve ever witnessed, and cheap ice-cream cones. I know a certain mother-in-law who would’ve done her best to deplete them of their stocks 😉.
Below the red cliffs where we camped for four nights was a nice long stretch of beach spanning north towards Broome, allowing swimmers, fishers and walkers to mingle or privatise as they pleased.
Best of all was possibly the best rockpool we’ve ever been to – nestled amongst the rocky formations exposed with an outgoing tide, you could happily sit and enjoy the water splashing in from the sea.
A wind-down at Barn Hill was just what we needed after our stay at Broome. We left feeling relaxed and excited for what lay ahead, knowing The Kimberley was going to be tough to beat.