Thursday morning we headed off at 6:30AM to drive to Cape Leveque on the Dampier Peninsula. This is 215 kilometres from Broome, a return trip of 430 kilometres of which half is sealed road half sand. Our first destination was the community of Beagle Bay which is just over half way up the peninsula and the end of the dirt road as the road is sealed from Beagle Bay to Cape Leveque.
The dirt road was in pretty good condition, specially considering the amount of traffic that use it. There were patches of corrugations, some pretty humongous holes, stretches of soft sand but mostly good driving. We averaged 60kph but other drivers flew past us, hardly any drove with their lights on in the dust which because of the reduced visibility is really dangerous.
Beagle Bay is famous for its Catholic Church. Constructed between 1915 and 1917 by German Pallotine Missioneries who were under house arrest during WW1. The church is lavishly decorated with shells including mother of pearl, cowries, volutes and olive shells gathered locally and used in mosaics. Recently there has been some major restoration work as the bell tower collapsed in 2001 and had to be rebuilt and the altars have undergone restoration. Whilst the building itself is beautiful and the decorations are magnificent I think that the real beauty lies in the fact that the church was constructed using local materials to make the mud bricks to build it and local shells to decorate it. With sunlight streaming into the church and being reflected off the shells I think it leaves the great cathedrals of Europe far behind. It is not a museum but the centre of a vibrant parish. If you have seen the movie/musical “Bran Nu Dai” then you will have seen the church as it is featured in it.
Leaving Beagle Bay we continued north on a sealed road until it ended at the Bardi Community of One Arm Point. There is a charge of $10 per person per day just to access this community which we thought was pretty steep but that fee did include access to the Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery and Aquaculture Centre which we really enjoyed. The Bardi people have a licence to export 15 tonne of trochus shell per annum. This goes to Italy for use as buttons etc in high fashion garments. They grow trochus in this hatchery until it can be used to seed the reefs and left to grow until it is large enough to harvest. They have large tanks containing barramundi, mangrove jack and other assorted fish as well as tortoise. Vicki hand fed a large barramundi but it was too quick for me to get a photo, all I got was the splash as it retreated into the water.
We then went to one of the community beaches to have lunch. We didn’t swim as there were warnings about a recent sighting of a crocodile at the beach. These are magnificent beaches, not quiet as good as the pacific island beaches I was used to in my younger years but still great, well apart from the crocodiles anyway.
We then backtracked to Cape Leveque. This was a bit of a disappointment as to get to Cape Leveque you need to enter Kooljaman Resort, an upmarket resort owned by the local indigenous people. With signs up saying all visitors must report to the office we decided to take a couple of photos and leave as we did not intend paying another expensive day entry fee. The road into Kooljaman Resort is only about 3 kilometres but it is narrow with deep sand. I had to manoeuvre out of the way of a rented Thrifty vehicle as he was intent on sticking to the middle of the road. I had to wave him to come past and he was very hesitant about this but eventually came past with a look of grim determination on his face and window closed tight. No wave or thanks in sight!
A little further south we went into the community of Lombadina for a look around. We did not have time to investigate the many possible camping areas in the north of the peninsula if we wanted to make Broome before dark so after this we set off south. The Cape Leveque road is not recommended for caravans which seems strange as half is bitumen and the other half is pretty good so for an off road van it is an easy drive.
It had been a very hot day with the temperature in the car reaching 45C so a cool shower was very welcome when we returned to our camp in Broome. I also opened a couple of green coconuts, delicious. We had scrounged a dozen or so nuts when Vicki had spied a crew cutting them from trees down at Cable Beach. They were only too happy for us to take as many as we liked as otherwise they take them to the tip. In Broome all the coconuts are cut down before they are ready to fall as if one fell and injured or more likely killed a tourist this would be bad for business!
We had had an interesting trip to Cape Leveque but decided next time we visit Broome we would probably camp at Quondong Point as this seemed as nice a camp as the camps further north yet was close enough to Broome for a supply run.
Broome – Friday 23/09/2011