Darwin to Kununurra to Broome
06.02.2009 - 06.12.2009 92 °F
Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia. Situated on the Timor Sea, Darwin has a population of 100,000 making it by far the largest and most populated city in the sparsely populated Northern Territory, but the least populous of all Australia's capital cities. It is the smallest and most northerly of the Australian capital cities, and acts as the “Top End's” regional center.
Over time Darwin has grown from a pioneer outpost and small port into one of Australia's most modern and multicultural cities. Its proximity to Asia makes it an important Australian gateway to countries such as Indonesia and East Timor.
The city itself is built on a low bluff overlooking the harbor. The region, like the rest of the Top End, has a tropical climate, with a wet season and a dry season. Thankfully our visit is during the “Dry” and the weather was beautiful. Darwin receives heavy rainfall during the “Wet“, and is well-known for its spectacular lightning.
We enjoyed the harbor during a sunset cruise which gave perspective about how big Darwin Harbor is [larger than Sydney Harbor] and emphasized the fact that Darwin itself is no more than a large town. The sunset was breathtaking due to the clouds and smoke from controlled burns around the Darwin area.
The original inhabitants of the greater Darwin area are the Larrakia people. On 9 September 1839, HMS Beagle sailed into Darwin harbor during its surveying of the area. John Clements Wickham named the region "Port Darwin" in honor of a former shipmate and famed scientist Charles Darwin.
Having been almost entirely rebuilt twice, once due to Japanese air raids during World War II and again after being devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, the city is one of Australia's most modern capitals.
Around 10,000 Allied troops arrived in Darwin in the early 1940s at the outset of World War II, in order to defend Australia's northern coastline. On 19 February 1942 at 0957, 188 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin in two waves. It was the same fleet that had bombed Pearl Harbor, though a considerably larger number of bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town. These were by far the most serious attacks on Australia in time of war, in terms of fatalities and damage. They were the first of many raids on Darwin.
On 25 December 1974, Darwin was struck by Cyclone Tracy, which killed 71 people and destroyed over 70% of the town's buildings, including many old stone buildings, which could not withstand the lateral forces generated by the strong winds. After the disaster, an airlift evacuated 30,000 people, over half the city's population at the time which was 43,000 people which was the biggest airlift ever seen in Australia's history. The town was subsequently rebuilt with newer materials and techniques during the late 1970s by the Darwin Reconstruction Commission, led by former Brisbane Lord Mayor Clem Jones. A satellite city of Palmerston was built 20 km (12 mi) south of Darwin in the early 1980s.
A few remnants of the old Darwin can still be found, including the ruins of the Old Town Hall, which stands as a reminder of the power of Mother Nature.
We then flew from Darwin to Broome via Kunnunura, Western Australia.
Originally founded in the late 1880s as a pearling port, Broome [population 11,000] markets itself as the southern gateway to the magnificent wilderness region of the Kimberley - a tropical seaside town which “simply oozes charm and character”.
No aspect of Broome in Australia is as heavily marketed as the beaches. Actually, as heavily marketed as Cable Beach. That's what all the brochures rave about - 14 miles of pristine white sand with clear tropical water. The brochures also show flash resorts and fancy restaurants, lush tropical gardens, pubs and bars packed with people and so on. You know what to expect at the strip along the beach or the esplanade of any popular holiday destination...
Everything you expect from Broome is there. At least, one or two of each... There is a resort at the beach. There is a bar at the beach. There is a cafe, and a pub. But there aren't dozens to choose from.
It also appears from the signage that you are forbidden from doing most things at Cable Beach and to perform due diligence when swimming when jellyfish are present!
Apart from the Beach [singular] Broome is a small place! There just isn't much there. "Where the red desert meets the sea" is one of the slogans used to market Broome. That's exactly it. The desert on one side, the Indian ocean on the other. Makes for great photos, but no brochure ever mentions that there is not much in between, and absolutely nothing above or below except more desert and ocean. That's all there is to the coast of northern Western Australia, and to Broome.
As for the tropical flair: the temperatures are tropical, the vegetation isn't. All the resorts, backpackers and many residents planted lots of palm trees around the place, but those gardens are like little islands. Better think "Outback", not "tropical paradise".
The town itself provides a stark contrast to what you find around Broome in Western Australia. Both the Kimberley to the east and the west coast below Broome are magnificent wilderness areas, nearly totally devoid of people.
Broome is basically a small town in the middle of nowhere, and in its heart it would rather remain a quiet, small town...
We stayed at the Mangrove Resort Hotel overlooking Roebuck Bay where we were fortunate witness the “Staircase to the Moon“, a natural phenomenon caused by the rising of a full moon reflecting off the exposed mudflats in Roebuck Bay at extremely low tide, to create an optical illusion of a staircase reaching to the moon. Most of Broome and surrounds descended upon the hotel terrace to witness this event - we were able to observe the moon rising in comfort from the privacy of our own verandah!
We also enjoyed a new Australian film release, Samson and Delilah, at Broome’s Sun Pictures, the world’s oldest operating open-air picture gardens. We sat on beach chairs on a verandah in front of the movie screen in the outdoor gardens (not sure we’d recommend the film - very depressing - although it is a story about the Aboriginal plight in modern Australia).
We took a whole day 4WD tour from Broome to Cape Leveque - the 256 mile round trip traverses the whole Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. The drive takes about two and a half to three hours, each way!. The turn-off to the Cape Leveque Road is only a few miles out of town, and only the first half can be really rough. Parts of the road are still unsealed, very sandy, and can be badly corrugated. There is a plan to have the whole road sealed by 2011, it looks as if the work will be completed even sooner, but at this stage you still need a 4WD to make the trip. Once you reach the Aboriginal owned country further north the roads improve.
We visited the Beagle Bay Aboriginal community, a regional heartland of Catholic missionaries and home to the Sacred Heart Church and its beautiful altar decorated with mother-of-pearl shell. The church was built, literally in the middle of nowhere, by German Palatine monks - extremely remote! The monks were later assisted by nine Irish nuns, The Sisters of St. John of God, who undertook, teaching, nursing, domestic and pastoral duties in the Beagle Bay and Lombadina Aboriginal Communities between 1913 & 1968.
At One Arm Point [also known as Ardyaloon] we toured the aquaculture hatchery which breeds turtles, fish, clams and trochus shells, which are cultivated for their mother-of-pearl. Needless to say, Rebecca contributed to the local economy by purchasing a trochus shell bracelet!
After viewing the impressive Buccaneer Archipelago and lunching at Cape Leveque,
we returned to Broome via Lombadina, another Aboriginal community. This was the first community on the peninsula to venture into tourism, over 10 years ago and the beach may be the most stunning on the whole peninsula. We also visited the unique church, an ingenious structure built from bush timbers and corrugated iron.
We fly next to Perth and then drive south to the Margaret River region. Our Australasian adventure is fast reaching its conclusion!
Trevor & Rebecca