Kooljaman/Cape Leveque, WA

At Kooljaman/Cape Leveque we toured one of the pearl farms and watched this pearl being ‘born’.  All of the oyster is used: the meat, the shell and of course the pearls.

From Port Hedland we headed to Broome,

The landscape started to become greener as we travelled north.

At our lunch stop at Sandfire Roadhouse , there was a large population of peacocks, one in particular was more than just a little interested in our food.

Halfway to Broome we stopped for the night at  Goldwire free camp. It had a drop toilet and a dump point for the van toilet as well as picnic tables,  fire places and rubbish bins. It was a very popular spot.

We had one day in Broome at Cable Beach Caravan Park before leaving the van and heading to Kooljaman/Cape Leveque for a week. That happened to be the day an earthquake hit Broome, its epicentre 200km out to sea.  The 6.6 magnitude earthquake that rattled Broome on the weekend was on par with the largest ever recorded in Australia and was felt along several thousand kilometres of coastline from Darwin down to Perth and around to Esperance.  We were sitting outside the van when our chairs started rocking quite violently, as were all the caravans around us. It lasted about 1 minute, quite a long time. There wasn’t a great deal of alarm at the park as there are no high buildings here, however in the town people ran out of buildings and items fell from supermarket shelves, but damage to buildings was minimal. I wasn’t worried until a dear friend in Melbourne texted me a message with the word Tsunami in it and I started working out where the high ground was if we needed to flee. There is NO high ground here. So we decided it was a toss up between the caravan roof and/or putting on our snorkel gear and going with the flow. Thankfully neither was necessary.

200 km from Broome, including 80km of notoriously corrugated dirt road, is Kooljaman Wilderness Camp at Kooljaman/Cape Leveque. Kooljaman is the Bardi Aboriginal name for Cape Leveque. They are in the process of sealing the road, which carries a lot of traffic for such a remote road.

Kooljaman is an off-the-grid wilderness camp located on Native Title land sustained by solar power and local bore water. Our low-impact accommodation has been specifically designed to capture the rugged character and beauty of Bardi Jawi country, and reflects the Aboriginal values of caring for land and country. 

All the roads/tracks at Kooljaman are 4WD only, being very sandy. Our cabin was simple, basic, surrounded by bush and delightful. It had an ensuite and a fridge, a BBQ outside to cook and boil  the kettle, shutters on the windows rather than glass, the doors shut but didn’t  lock, there were mosquito nets over the beds and a bowl for washing dishes outside. It was peaceful and tranquil.

A bird bath outside our door was constantly full of birds, we filled it up several times a day.

Not sure what this guy was.

A beautiful and popular swimming beach was near our cabin. The local rangers told us that although crocodiles are not common here, we should keep an eye out, and went on to add that in such clear water we would see them coming.  So we made sure we swam in the sandy area away from any rocks. Stunningly clear, warm water. All the staff and locals swim here so we felt quite safe.

Dinka’s Café is near the beach where the local Bardi Jawi Rangers gave a talk about the country and their conservation projects, which was really interesting.

Behind the beach there’s a light house on top of the hill as well as the camp office, restaurant and information centre. We were able to get some internet and phone signal there, although it was quite dodgy.

The sunsets were stunning.

Every Wednesday and Saturday night they have live music and wood fired pizzas, which drew a large crowd.

A variety of tours are available at Kooljaman run by the local Aboriginal people. Mud crabbing in the mangroves, learning to spear fish in the creeks with traditional spears, and then cooking up the freshly caught crabs and fish. Also tours of the area learning about the history of the people and land, bush tucker and more. There are also scenic flights and boat tours.

Places we  visited on Kooljaman/Cape Leveque were Beagle Bay and its “shell church”, Cygnet Bay pearl farm, Ardyaloon Trochus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre at One Arm Point, and Willie Creek Pearl Farm.

Beagle Bay’s Sacred Heart Church is also known as the Mother of Pearl Church. “Sacred Heart is an incredible marriage of German and Aboriginal culture, forged through an accident of history… Ninety thousand bricks were fashioned by hand and fired. Mortar was made from the ashes of burnt shells. …Once the building was completed in 1917, a team of Aboriginal women worked under the direction of a German priest to decorate the interior with mother of pearl, cowrie, volute and olive snail shells, they had produced an art work that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, a sublime concoction of Christian symbols, European mosaic techniques and “saltwater people” totems: dingos, snakes, emus, fish, shields and spears”  From Traveller.com.au.

Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, where we went on a tour and learned about its history and processes. Australian salt water pearls are grown in Pinctada Maxima oysters, the pearls take 5 years to develop before being harvested. Mother of pearl is used for a variety of purposes including art, jewellery, watch faces, musical instruments and apparently, holograms in credit cards, although I can’t find any information on that.

We saw them harvest this shell and find a pearl inside. Nothing is wasted, the shell, pearl and meat are all used. The pearl was then offered for sale at a discounted price to anyone on the tour and we were lucky enough to purchase it.

Pinctada Maxima meat currently sells for around $200 a kilogram. This is how much each shell produces.

Ardyaloon Trachus Hatchery & Aquaculture Centre is run by the local Bardi Jawi Aboriginal community at  One Arm Point. It started as a research centre into Trochus Shell which had been depleted on the nearby reef in the 19th century when it was harvested for the button industry before plastic buttons were invented. The hatchery now supports various projects, including Trochus shell breeding to replenish the local reef systems (it takes 10 years for a Trochus shell to reach maturity).  Local artists make jewellery and polish trachus shells for the tourist trade. The hatchery also cares for sick or injured  marine life from the local area that are brought in, breeds various fish and sea anemones  for the aquarium trade, houses tanks  of barramundi for the local high school aquaculture course. When two rescued turtles where able to be released into the wild, satellite trackers were attached so the local high school and primary school could track where the turtles go. There are future plans to supply nearby barramundi farms with spawn. Here are some fun facts about barramundi. 

We met acclaimed Aboriginal artist Bruce Wiggins, who has a studio at Cygnet Bay Pearl farm where he works with mother of pearl.

Willie Creek Pearl Farm is on Willy Creek with some of the bluest, clear water we have ever seen.

The most astonishing thing about Willie Creek is it has a tidal range of 9 metres and as the tide falls the water rushes out at 30km an hour. This is second only to Derby, 200 km to the N/E, which has a tidal range of 10 metres, with speeds even greater, and has the largest tidal range in the Southern Hemisphere. We arrived just as the high tide was going out. Here are some photos taken about half an hour apart down at the jetty.

We are now back in Broome, rested and relaxed.

Till next time, cheers from Helen and Tim