Cable Beach in Broome, Western Australia, is arguably the most beautiful beach in the world – especially when the camels hunker down on the sand at sunset
Whether or not it is definitively the finest beach in the world is open to four-wheel-drive question. Half an hour before sunset a bewildering array of vehicles and a convoy of 16 camels wound past us as we sat on the sand of Cable Beach Club Resort
on the northern coast of Western Australia.
Within a busy 30-minute period, an extraordinary mélange of humanity deposited itself at strategic 100-yard intervals along the first section of a pristine 50-mile strand that is one of the globe’s most inaccessible, and arguably the most beautiful, of all beaches.
Some brought picnic tables and chairs, champagne and ice-buckets. Others settled in the dunes with a cold ‘tinny’ of beer for a dress-circle view of the Indian Ocean. Most were locals, taking time out at the end of the commercial day in Australia’s boomtown (with its burgeoning 14,000 population) to remember why they came here in the first place.
Riding pillion on a camel is the Royal Box for viewing the going down of the sun, and something no Cable Beach Club Resort
visitor should miss. My three children certainly loved their swaying ride above the surf and the sands.
By day, a scattering of tourists toast themselves on the beach, and we were told it was safe to swim in the cerulean sea in the dry season between May and November, when the temperature is a bit like that in the South of France and there is a maximum of six days of rain.
Don’t bother bringing a book to read because the beach is so mesmerizingly beautiful that we found we just wanted to sit in a deckchair and stare at the scenery. When the tide was high the surfers came out to play and my children went out on their rented body boards. When the tide went out, my children joined others to build sand castles along the busiest stretch of sand in front of the Cable Beach Club Resort
, a hideaway of pagoda-style villas painted lacquer red, green and white.
But it is what lies beneath the surface of that sapphire sea that accounts for Broome’s wealth as well as its existence in the first place. Until the development of modern plastics, mother-of-pearl was an indispensable raw material for everything from buttons to cutlery handles. These days it is more often used to provide the lustrous paint finish to luxury cars and as an additive to the magnetic strip on credit cards.
In Broome’s heyday the pearl masters lived a life of hedonism in a plantation society of masked balls, horse races, and cricket matches. They drank champagne imported from Paris, smoked Dutch cigars, and sent their laundry by sea to distant Singapore. The legacy today is a sprinkling of charming old colonial houses that have survived the battering of a century of hurricanes.
Diving – these days for cultured pearls – remains Broome’s primary industry, but one that is being overtaken by tourism. Hippies who headed for the relaxed atmosphere of Cable Beach
Club Resort in the 1970s have been superseded by a new generation of tourists who chill out here on route to the remote gorges and cattle stations of the Kimberley, Australia’s last frontier.
The population has tripled in 20 years as Australians have left the stress of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to – as they say here – ‘slip into Broome time’, where nothing much matters beyond the time of the next high tide and whether the surf is up.
Seashells Resort Broome
divides into bustling Chinatown, which houses most of the shops and restaurants, and the seaside enclave of Cable Beach, a 10-minute drive away.
We stayed at Seashells Resort, set back from Cable Beach Club Resort
, which was perfect for families, offering comfortable self-contained apartments and a swimming-pool set among the tropical gardens. Nearby Cable Beach Club Resort
is the five-star alternative.
There is enough to do in Broome to keep most people happy for a week. We started with a personalised Broome sightseeing tour to get our bearings and learn a bit about the town’s colourful pearling history. Then we took a Spirit of Broome hovercraft ride around Broome’s coast, where we saw Reddell Beach and its amazing rock formations. My children preferred Redcliffe Beach with its Tuscan red sand and 30 million year-old dinosaur footprints embedded in the rock.
But most popular of all was the sunset camel ride with Red Sun Camels along Cable Beach and a visit to Broome Crocodile Park, where we learnt about both the saltwater and the safer freshwater variety. The owner, Malcolm Douglas, also runs a refuge for orphaned kangaroos and wallabies, and allowed the children to stroke and even hold some of them.
Another interesting stop was at Pearl Luggers, which is a shop and mini-museum where you can learn about the cruel history of local pearl diving. On display was a 21mm round white cultivated pearl valued at $100,000.
In Chinatown the opium dens, brothels and gambling haunts that once served the divers have vanished. In their place are art galleries, and shops that are useful rather than smart. The local cinema, the Sun, is the world’s oldest open-air movie theatre; it dates back to 1915 and still offers twice-nightly showings.
Broome is still changing: after a huge outcry against it, a McDonald's opened a few years ago. But then change has always been part of the exotic allure of the pearl capital of the world.