We hadn’t really intended staying in Broome again. We had explored it a couple of times, marvelling at the rich pearls, ruthless prices, whacky races and disdain for tourists in self-contained vehicles who seek to top up their tanks (“Get thee to a caravan park!” is the snarling mental response cloaked in a brittle smile.)
I had a hankering for two things that had always escaped me on previous visits: the Staircase to the Moon and the Horizontal Falls. When we discovered the full moon and right tides for both events were only a few days off we bided our time fishing on the Cape Leveque coast.
We lobbed into the airport late at night to sleep in Isabel before reporting at 6.30am for our flight to the Horizontal Falls. A couple of hours before Friday the 13th dawned we were awakened by …. surely not spitting rain? No, spitting grit was being driven through Isabel’s screens as a blasting wind gained vigour.
Too late, we went into grit-proofing mode but the fine red sand and powder had done its work well.
We wondered about the strength of the wind but no one seemed too worried: the wind was only close to the ground and once in the air all was fine. Goodo.
The falls were a bit “Yeah, OK, seen that” but the panorama of King Sound below us, brilliantly patterned by the 10m tides, was above expectation. So was the Buccaneer Archipelago, where more than a thousand islands are scattered through an arc into the ocean. One could disappear in this far flung-out arm of Australia, except the tourist planes buzzing overhead would soon spot your camp.
We were to land at Cape Leveque for brunch. We had a new pilot apparently on probation and a more experienced flier as co-pilot. White tops of the waves below us were being torn off by the wind in horizontal streams. Like veils. Or shrouds. With Friday the 13th in mind I noted dubiously that not all the streams were going in the same direction.
Buffeting began as we approached the red dirt runway. Near tree height we lurched dramatically left, right up and down. “Full throttle!” ordered the co-pilot. We flapped upwards again.
In a slightly strained voice attempting to sound calm, the young pilot explained that a sudden gust had made the landing difficult so we were having another attempt. After another bumpy sweep over the ocean we wobbled again towards that little red strip between the trees. Again the winds tossed us in all directions. Close to landing we roared and staggered upwards again.
The pilots took a little longer and voices were a little more strained as they stated the obvious. We wondered if we would end up headed back to Broome but braced for a third attempt. After another rollercoaster approach we breathed a sigh of relief as the little plane finally bounced on to the runway.
Outside red grit was spitting horizontally. We scampered for the restaurant and a bountiful brunch, where we found most planes had had two or three attempts in the Kitchen Maid Mixmaster winds. Pilots up this way are pretty cool.
We declined the usual walk to the beach. Yes, we knew the beach was beautiful but we had been to Cape Leveque before. We clung to the lee of the building and let the others saunter down to get sandpapered ogling the famous red cliffs. They didn’t ogle for long.
Take-off and the home leg over the Cape Leveque coast – we have been camping there three times now but it’s in the bucket list of wanna-do-again – was a delight. At Broome we landed like a greasy butterfly on silk, went through the frustration of trying to find water in the unhelpful town and then lined up for the other reason we were still there.
Happily we hit a brilliant night for the Staircase to the Moon. We had a beer and coke for $19 at the best vantage point as a didgeridoo played and the glowing moon rose over low tide in Roebuck Bay.
Other towns in the north-west also have the Staircase to the Moon on those three nights every winter month but Broome pretty much has the market cornered. Maybe the same scene occasionally enchants people on the east coast, where we all look out across the sea at the rising moon, no one has thought of making it a tourist attraction. Maybe it’s because we have ample guttered mud flats but less reliable weather.
Broome did it on outstanding job of hauling the moon into a clear sky just after dark to create its Friday 13th Staircase to the Moon.
Been there, done that. Don’t need to go back to Broome but probably will. It’s like those charming, fickle friends who you know are there mainly when they need you but you keep up the acquaintance because you enjoy their company. As long as you don’t let them know you prefer freedom camping to caravan parks.