The Dampier Peninsula is located north of Broome, its known colloquially as “the peninsula”. It’s the getaway for Broomies who love “going up the peninsula” for the weekend. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean to the west and north, and King Sound to the east. Its named after the mariner and explorer William Dampier who visited it. Derogatory comments about Indigenous people were recorded in his journal A New Voyage Around the World. However, there is evidence that these comments may have been at the behest of the publisher of the journal, to cater to public prejudice and increase sales. Dampier’s comments could be an early version of Fake News.
The peninsula is home to a rich heritage of Indigenous culture with up to 60,000 years connection to the country. The main road from Broome to the top of the peninsula is about 200 Kms long and until several years ago was an unsealed red dirt road prone to dangerous corrugations. The road was made famous in the song Corrugation Road, from the Jimmy Chi Musical of the same name.
At the top of the peninsula is the award winning Indigenous owned unique wilderness camp, Kooljaman at Cape Leveque. This wilderness camp has a range of accommodation options from camping, to self-contained Safari Cabins. It has a restaurant that offers a contemporary menu that features Indigenous ingredients. Ragui’s Restaurant at Kooljaman caters for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Being on the tip of the peninsula Cape Leveque has water on all sides. The eastern beach is a safe swimming beach with white sand and crystal azure water. It’s ideal for an early morning walk along the beach and your first of many swims for the day. The Western Beach, famous for its red craggy cliffs, white sand and blue water is the ideal location to watch the sun sink slowly into the Indian Ocean at the end of the day.
Kooljaman has a great range of Indigenous tours and experiences on offer. Most of these are tag-along-tours where you follow an Indigenous guide in your own 4 wheel drive. These tours often involve bush tucker experiences. There is nothing quite like consuming freshly caught fish, oysters and mud crab cooked on the hot coals while you hear stories that have been retold for tens of thousands of years.
The first Australian owned and run South Sea pearl farm is located at Cygnet Bay, just 20 kms from Kooljaman at Cape Leveque. This pearl farm is now run by James Brown, grandson of Dean Brown who founded the pearl farm in the 1940s. It’s one of only three commercial pearl farms still operating in Western Australia. The farm is located on the eastern side of the tip of the Peninsula and has a range of accommodation options and tours. From Cygnet Bay you can experience Sea Safaris Waterfall Reef, Giant Tides and Kimberley Island Explorer. There is a retail pearl showroom on site that has the shortest pearl supply chain in the world. Its literally only kms from where the pearls are gown to where they can be bought.
There are numerous Indigenous communities on the Peninsula all offering something unique for visitors to experience. At Lombadina/Djardjin there is the historic church made from local timbers and corrugated iron, while the Sacred Heart Church Beagle Bay is famous for its extraordinary pearl shell altar. The church is made from mud bricks, whitewashed with mortar and lime made from crushed pearl shell. At the very top of the peninsula is Ardyaloon community, home of the Bardi people many of whom have amazing shell carving skills. Traditionally people on the peninsula carved designs on pearl shells which became objects of great cultural significance. The designs known as Riji are made by carving into the smooth surface of the shell then rubbing red ochre into the carved lines. One of the more renowned Riji carvers is Bruce Wiggan, a Bardi elder of some renown. Bruce is the artist in residence at Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. If you are on the Peninsula you should seek out Bruce, he is always good for a story and if you ask him how much for his Riji, he’ll reply “one million dollars”. You can usually haggle him down from seven figures to three.
These days the road is sealed from Beagle Bay (the halfway point) to Ardyaloon. The state government has committed to sealing the rest of the road by 2021. Once completed the old corrugation road of Jimmy Chi fame will be just a memory.