Monday, June 29, 2015

5 Days and Nights in The Kimberley - Day 5 - Cable Beach Resort

This place has changed me. My breathing and my heartbeat have recalibrated. There is a new life-force in my lungs. It's as if I've woken from a deep slumber.
Our last day up here is spent relaxing at the hotel that put Broome on the tourist map - Cable Beach resort.
There was a time when this sprawling retreat, designed and built by Alistair McAlpine, was the only luxury accommodation in this pearling outpost.

Now, there are dozens of high-end hotels vying for the discerning tourist dollar. But after a recent $40 million upgrade the 30-year-old Cable Beach Resort is still my pick, offering unparalleled luxury.

Lord McAlpine selected a perfect location for his fantasy getaway; 26 acres right on the dunes of Cable Beach.
Influenced by McAlpine's love of Asian architecture and the local Creole-style pearl masters cottages, the resort's original layout consisted of a few central buildings with bungalows of corrugated iron and wooden lattice work scattered around them.

In cyclone country buildings have to be robust. A giant red Chinese pagoda greets guests at the resort's main entrance.

Replica terracotta models of ancient warriors stand guard. Dozens of Chinese artefacts and eclectic collectibles are dotted throughout the complex.

There are rooms and bungalows to suit every budget from simple suites to the Club Collection villas.

Try to book a room near one of the pools....

... under the frangipani blossoms...

You'll find it difficult to peel yourself off the sun lounges.
The gardens are lush and extensive featuring native and exotic plants collected over decades.
It's well worth joining a garden tour to explore the dozens of varieties of palms, boabs, frangipani and jacaranda. And look out for the locals wildlife - wallabies, Shaky Paw lizards, monitors and of course the dozens of varieties of birds.

And if all of that isn't enough there's the siren call of the Sunset Bar where all days begin and end.
Broome is in my blood now. Already planning my next trip...

Saucy Onion travelled with the assistance of Tourism WA
photographs by Mark FitzGerald and Indira Naidoo

Thursday, June 18, 2015

5 Days and Nights in the Kimberley - Day 4 - Broome Time

The heat in Broome in the Dry Season is hypnotic. It's like a constant gentle massage. My muscles are becoming like jelly. My steps are fluid. I feel like I am sleep-walking. This is what relaxation must feel like. Coming from the hectic inner-city mania of Potts Point in Sydney I am unused to just being.

The car is king in Broome. A combination of the heat and a dire lack of footpaths means everyone seems to drive to get anywhere. And I mean everywhere.

One enterprising company has capitalised on this cultural peculiarity.

The Good Cartel is a drive-thru coffee shop located unglamorously in a car park. It doesn't deter customers though. Cars queue around the block.

The Good Cartel is clearly onto something. This tropical urban cool cantina could just be serving the best coffee on the North-west coast.
Owner Kitty Kain and her business partner have managed to transform their mobile food-truck into a hip shop front. They now rent a small courtyard and kitchen behind the Sun Pictures Twin Cinemas and use a special extra spicy coffee blend from a coffee supplier in Perth. Delish.

Their breakfast menu is also worth a detour. Santa Fe meets Surf-is-Up. We tried the scrambled egg and bacon breakfast roll, their delicious version of a Huevos Rancheros served in a crisp tortilla bowl and a green smoothie. This is really good food with squeaky fresh ingredients.

Chilled Californian grooves are pumping from the sound system and kids from the nearby backpackers are streaming in. The Good Cartel is a perfect example of enterprise and excellence.

We explore a little more of the town centre before heading to our lunch destination.
We pass the Sun Pictures theatre in Chinatown which holds the Guinness Book of Records for the world's oldest operating picture garden.
It was opened in 1916 and still screens the latest cinema magic every night. And because it sits under the Broome airport flight path, patrons often have to pause from the film as a plane flies low overhead or when flashing lights hit the screen. There have even been tidal floods that have swamped the cinema during a screening. Unperturbed patrons apparently have taken it all in their stride.
We keep on walking kicking the red pindan dust under our feet. The dirt here gets its colour from the high iron oxide content in the rocks. It almost glows.
We make our way along Town Beach to 18 Degrees restaurant where we are having lunch.
Owner Ryan Henderson left a global career in music to start his first restaurant in his home state of Western Australia.
The upmarket but relaxed tapas-style dining has already garnered a multitude of accolades for the eatery which takes its name from the latitude that Broome sits on.
The food is clever and delicious. We try the signature fish cakes... 
and the dynamite crispy roast pork.
We'd come back regularly if this restaurant wasn't on the other side of the continent.
Another day in Broome is drawing to a close.You can't come to Broome and miss seeing one of its glorious sunsets.
The Sunset Bar at Cable Beach Resort - where we are staying tonight - has a box seat view through the palms and across Ocean Beach.
of course this calls for a cocktail....
...beautiful one day;still Broome the next.
Saucy onion travelled with assistance from Tourism WA
photographs by Mark FitzGerald and Indira Naidoo

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Days and Nights in The Kimberley - Day 3 - Pearl Obsession

We're not the first to be drawn to Broome by the allure of its pearls.

Over the centuries these lustrous orbs have driven men and women to do extraordinary things in their attempts to possess them.

Broome’s history is defined by the presence of the ‘Pinctada Maxima’ – the world’s largest pearl oyster shell – discovered in Roebuck Bay in 1861. When they were discovered the giant pinctada shells caused a sensation overseas and soon a melting pot of nationalities flocked to the shores of Broome in the hope of making their fortune. Japanese, Malays and Koepangers joined the Aboriginal pearl divers, whilst the Chinese became the shopkeepers in town. Remnants of Broome’s exotic past are everywhere; in its food, people, architecture, and flora. Sadly there are also memorials to all those who died in pursuit of pearls.

White colonial pearl masters ran a brutal trade. Local indigenous and Polynesian divers were 'kanaked' or virtually enslaved to retrieve these precious jewels and their shells (Before plastics were invented all buttons were made from pearl shell because they could withstand being washed in hot water). Many divers died during the risky dives.  They fill the towns cemeteries.There's a cemetery in Broome with the graves of just the nearly 1000 Japanese divers who died from 'the bends' or from drowning.

The search for the perfect pearl is still big business today.

We're on a pearl tour of Australia's oldest pearl farm, the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, on the Dampier Peninsula surrounded by the Kimberley's King Sound waterway. It's a pristine environment almost untouched by humans.
Cygnet Bay is famous for producing the world's largest South Sea pearl. The pearl is kept under tight security at Cygnet Bay's Broome showroom so we didn't get to see it ourselves but apparently it is a magnificent specimen which took several decades to grow.

It measures 22.24mm in diameter and 70 mm in circumference. It glows white pink in colour and weighs 156 grams. A local wholesaler of South Sea Pearls, Rosario Autore, founder and CEO of Autore pearls, believes the pearl is 'priceless', and to his knowledge is the only one of its size and quality in the world. I wonder if we'll find a pearl today....?

Our tour guide has removed a Pinctada Maxima pearl oyster from the tank to show us how an oyster actually makes a pearl. As you can see, the oyster looks more like an abalone in size and in the shape of its internal organs.

The pearl we find in our oyster is beautiful to our amateur eye but apparently worthless due to its minute blemishes and imperfections. When determining the value of a pearl there are five 'virtues' the pearl farmer assesses - its size, shape, colour, skin and lustre.
Our pearl doesn't cut the mustard on any of these grades and will possibly be crushed up and reused as a starter nucleus for a new pearl in another oyster shell.

It can take up to 8 years for a Pinctada Maxima to create an oyster. Usually this randomly occurs in nature in every 100,000 oysters. You never know what quality of pearl you'll actually get - which is what makes pearls so rare and expensive.

At Cygnet Bay farm they use a cultured pearl technique which increases pearl production by 80% and takes a lot of the guess work out of the process. It's still risky though. The technique involves inserting a nucleus (usually a piece of oyster shell) into the new host oyster causing it to secrete a glossy white nacre around it over time - and giving us a pearl!

During their lifetime the oysters sometimes develop a symbiotic relationship with a local tiny pea crab. The crab uses the oyster as a safe home and in return acts as a security guard. If the crab senses danger it uses its claw to activate the oyster's muscle to close its shell locking out a potential intruder. How cool is that? Who knew there was a tiny crab in there running the show?

And it's not only the pearl that the oyster is valuable for.

It's abductor muscle or 'pearl meat' is a highly sought after seafood delicacy and can fetch anything up to $100 per kilo.

We were lucky enough to sample some pearl meat - served sashimi-style - as a starter at Cygnet Bay's newly-opened  'Shell' restaurant. It had an amazing texture similar to scallops and soft abalone. A wonderful carrier for Asian flavours such as ginger and soya sauce.

 Well the pearl part of our tour is over. It's now time for a little adventure.

The Kimberley coast has the biggest tides in the southern hemisphere. The difference between high tide and low tide can be as much as 10 metres.
These great surges of water create some extraordinary phenomena including the 'Giant Tides' which we are off to experience nearby.

Bet you've never seen a boat like this before? This amphibian craft with wheel extenders is perfect for manoeuvring up steep jetties to pick up passengers.

We zip through the clear deep waters at extraordinary speeds to meet up with our tour boat.

Once on-board our expert skipper jets us out to the bay so we can see these tidal whirlpools up close.

I feel the need for speed.
Due to the funnel-like shape of the King Sound the water gushes over the rock beds creating these long ledges of low-lying waterfalls everywhere.
With sea and salt through our hair its back on our light plane for our trip back to Broome.
A flight with Kimberley Aviation is the best way to see this breathtaking landscape. It's also the best way to see the Kimberley's most spectacular waterfall.
The Horizontal Waterfall is an awe-inspiring example of what water does when it is forced through narrow openings at great speed. Simply magnificent.
Can this landscape get any more spectacular?
Proof that nature was the original artist.
Such immaculate beauty. Tragic to be to be told there are iron ore mines on some of them.
Back safely at Broome airport and dazzled by another day in the Kimberley.
What could tomorrow have in store for us I wonder....?
Saucy onion travelled to the Kimberley with assistance from Tourism WA.
Photographs by Mark FitzGerald, Indira Naidoo and courtesy of Kimberley Aviation.