Broome tides can be very challenging to get used to and they have taken many things from the unsuspecting. Amongst the biggest in the world, Broome tides can vary from low to high by as much as 10 metres. As Cable Beach is on such a slight gradient the result can be a difference of over 100 metres from when the tide is low to when the tide is high. There is a huge expanse of sand and beach at low tide. You almost have to take a cut lunch on your journey to the water’s edge. Then just six hours later the water is lapping at the bottom of the sand dunes and there is no beach, its just all Indian Ocean.
As the tides are influenced by the cycle of the moon they vary regularly just like clockwork in Broome. The biggest tides are called spring tides and occur twice a month. Once on the full moon then about two weeks later on the new moon. The halfway point between these two phases of the moon is the neap tide where the difference between low and high is often only a metre or two. Neap tides are favoured by owners of Broome’s tinny flotilla as they head to the reefs just offshore and fish the bottom for blue bone, coral trout, snapper and other local delicacies. It’s easier to get your line to the bottom on a neap tide. Fishing the reefs on spring tides requires heavier sinkers and can be more challenging to position the tinny when you often have to fight the tidal movement and wind directions.
Spring tides are favoured by those who like to hook for mud creek (muddies) as the creek beds are exposed at low tide for sufficient time to walk through and extract muddies from their holes under the roots of mangrove trees. This is an exercise for those who don’t mind getting covered in mud, because nothing that tastes as good as a muddie is easy to get. Spring tides are also favoured by those fishing for barramundi and threadfin salmon. Each spring tide in barra season you can see the tinnies in position at the mouth of Dampier Creek as the anglers wait for the barra or salmon to chase the mullet into the creek.
Twice a year Broome has king tides which coincide with each equinox. King tides are the biggest of the spring tides. On king tides you’ll find Broomies and visitors down at the historic Streeters jetty to witness the huge incoming tide submerge the jetty and continue its path toward Dampier Terrace. It’s a great time to get a shot of people who appear to be walking on water. King tides are also the best tides to walk out to the flying boat wrecks in Roebuck Bay from Town Beach, giving sufficient time to walk out, explore the wrecks and head back in before the tide turns and races you back in.
Broomies live their lives around the cycle of the moon and the tides. They know where on the beach they can leave their towel and belongings as they go for a swim down at Cable Beach. They also know how long those belongings are likely to stay above the high-water mark on an incoming tide or where they can leave their vehicle parked down at Gantheaume point after they have launched their tinnie. For the unsuspecting visitor to Broome this can be a challenge. Many leave their belongings on the beach, have a swim then go for a walk. If it’s a neap tide they’ll return and find their things about the same distance from the waters edge as they left them. However, if it’s a spring tide, they’ll often return some thirty minutes later to find their belongings floating in the Indian Ocean.
But its not just towels and iPhones that have been claimed by the spring tides. Many visitors (and the odd local on a bad day) have parked their vehicles on the beach and either gone for a long walk or headed out fishing in a tinny only to return to see the water halfway up the car doors. Locals are regularly coming to the rescue by dragging partly submerged vehicles from the water. This can seriously take the shine off what might otherwise be the perfect Broome holiday.
Unless you drive an amphibious car, always check the tides when you’re in Broome.
Feature Image by Abby Murray Photography