I’ve spent the last decade travelling around the world and have experienced some truly wild things. I’ve camped with bears in Alaska, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and dangled my legs over New York City from a helicopter without doors.
But there’s one thing I’ve missed: exploring our very own backyard, which is low-key embarrassing. Australia is massive, approximately 32 times bigger than the UK, and I’m slowly trying to rectify this glaring omission. When I was offered the chance to explore North Western Australia, I jumped at the chance.
I travelled from Perth to Broome, and then through some smaller towns in the Pilbara. I’ve put together an itinerary for those looking to follow in my footsteps, but I don’t think you can go wrong if you deviate – the whole Pilbara region is delightful. From ghost towns to authentic Italian pizza, there’s bound to be something for every traveller.
Day 1: Arrive in Broome, the traditional lands of the Yawuru people
Technically, Broome is in the Kimberley area, but it’s a great starting point. There are regular flights from Perth, and the little town is home to around 15,000 people. It sits on a north-south peninsula and you’ll be greeted with some of the most stunning coastal views in the world. The town is known for producing the coveted Australian South Sea Pearls as well as its many tourist activities.
Grab a cocktail at The Mangrove Hotel
Kick your day off in style and with a cocktail in hand at The Mangrove Hotel. It’s a luxury hotel with ocean views, two outdoor pools and comfy seating surrounded by a tropical garden. There’s all your usual trimmings in the rooms, including AC and WiFi, but my absolute favourite part was the Bar at The Bay. There’s 24 cocktails and 4 mocktails on the menu – including some extraordinary concoctions, such as the Margarithai, using botanics usually found in Thai Green Curry – and the bartenders are able to help customise a drink to your liking.
Jump on a scenic flight to see the Broome Cliffs
I love seeing new places from above, so if you have the time, definitely take a scenic flight over Broome with Kas Helicopters. Keep an eye out for saltwater crocs as you pass over Cable Beach and Willie Creek, before getting the money shot of James Price Point and its Instagrammable red cliffs.
Dinner at Johnny Sausage
If you’re visiting during dry season, The Mangrove Hotel has the number one restaurant in Broome on site, called Johnny Sausage. It’s quite a unique name, but hey, you’ll never forget it! The Italian restaurant is extremely popular – it gets fully booked out every single night – and has an extensive menu. You’ll find mouth-watering dishes like bistecca alla fiorentina, duck ravioletti and cacio e pepe served from a cheese wheel on the menu. There’s also a range of dishes for our vegan and vegetarian friends.
‘Staircase to the Moon’ at The Mangrove Hotel
Depending on what time of the year you’re visiting, if you’re in town for the ‘Staircase to the Moon’, The Mangrove Hotel is the best place to see the natural phenomenon. If you haven’t heard of this magical moment, let me explain: when a full moon rises above Roebuck Bay’s exposed mudflats, it creates what looks like a staircase stretching from the moon to the ground. It takes place two to three days per month, and it’s best viewed during the dry season (May to October).
Day 2: Sunrise at Town Beach before grabbing brekkie
Broome can get pretty hot during the day, with highs above 32 degrees common for most of the year. I’d recommend walking down to Town Beach to catch the sunrise and snap some scenic photos before it starts to heat up. Once you’re done, you can take a dip in the pool at the hotel and have a delish brekkie.
You’ll find usual cafe fare at The Mangrove Hotel, including a hearty bacon and egg dish with a potato rosti, avo toast served with tasty corn relish, as well as pastries, a lighter granola bowl and plenty of other options.
Take a Willie Creek Pearl Farm tour
A visit to Willie Creek Pearl Farm is both fascinating and informative. You can travel out to their commercial pearl farm by coach, driving yourself (4WD is needed) or a scenic helicopter ride. You’ll learn about how the pearl is created and have a chance to view some truly incredible pearls at their shop. I held a $60,000 pearl, and while I have no way of actually purchasing a pearl of this value without selling a kidney, it was nice to pretend for a sec. There’s also a fun boat ride across Willie Creek to see the oysters doing their thing and a chance to try some homemade damper.
A fiesta at Papá Fuego for dinner
Surprisingly, you can get incredible South American food in Broome, of all places! Papá Fuego has a super fun vibe, with patterned wallpaper, interesting art and comfy booths. The empanadas here are to die for, and you should definitely try the rhubarb margarita. I spent four months backpacking through South America, and the meal I had here felt authentic, interesting and, well, let’s just say I had to roll out the door afterwards. Vegetarians and vegans are welcomed: try the charred corn tentacles or the papas a la huacaina – twice-cooked potatoes in a spicy cheese sauce.
Day 3: Fly to Port Hedland and grab a bite at Rays
Port Hedland is a coastal town that connects the Pilbara and the Kimberley. You’ll find the longest trains in Australia here transporting iron ore, fishing charters and commercial salt operations. There’s also a slice of paradise smack-bang in the middle of the Pilbara: Rays at The Hedland Hotel.
The Prendiville Group has jazzed up The Hedland Hotel with a multi-million dollar renovation, bringing a slice of Palm Springs to North Western Australia. The restaurant is perched in front of sweeping ocean views of Turtle Beach, with bright decor and a yellow neon sign. There’s a Southern-Californian feel to the place, along with a touch of Italy, and this is reflected in their menu.
You’ll find dishes such as baja fish tacos, an insane fresh seafood tower (with oysters, scallops, lobster, king crab leg and prawns), woodfired pizza and of course, there’s a large cocktail list. Head past the bar and there’s an area to play shuffleboard, like you’d find in many bars over in the US.
Pizza-making class at Rays
I had a sneak preview of a pizza-making class in the kitchen, and while I didn’t end up with the best-looking pizza, I was pretty damn happy with how it tasted. Joe, the Italian chef, showed us how to shape our dough into a pizza base with a crust. After choosing our toppings – I went for onion, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke – I picked up my pizza with a paddle and pushed it into the revolving pizza oven. I topped mine with some rocket and garlic olive oil: deliziosa!
Turtle monitoring and viewing
For a free and fascinating activity, consider watching flatback sea turtles nesting or hatchlings appear, depending on what time of year it is. If you’re interested in seeing turtles nesting (October to January) or hatching (December to March), get in touch with the Care for Headland Environmental Association for more info. There are guided tours available that follow the turtle watchers code of conduct, and by staying at The Hedland Hotel, you have easy access to Turtle Beach.
Day 4: Brekkie at Rays before exploring the ghost town Cossack
You may be stuffed from eating at Rays the day before, so grab a light brekkie or a coffee before checking out and continuing your adventure. Head to Cossack, a town that was abandoned after the 1940s. Most of the remaining buildings are on the National Trust Heritage Register and it’s now considered a museum town. Visit the free museum inside the Court House building and embark on the Cossack Heritage Trail.
Lunch at Luce Bar e Cibo in Karratha
This Italian restaurant is a highlight in Karratha, turning fresh WA produce into some flavourful and delightful dishes. The grilled shark bay tiger prawns with scampi butter were a highlight, as well as the Bistecca alla Fiorentina and the hearty Agnello roast lamb shoulder. Vegans and vegetarians don’t have to worry about finding something to order – the chef can help customise dishes for you – I’d recommend the pumpkin ravioli with caramelized walnuts.
After having lunch, why not continue the party with some cocktails? The restaurant is located in the Karratha International Hotel, and there’s a poolside oasis complete with a bunch of towering palm trees. You can’t go wrong with an Aperol Spritz or classic Negroni, the perfect way to cap off a fantastic trip.
There are flights direct from Karratha to Perth, so you won’t find it difficult to make your way back home. Or, if you want to continue your holiday, consider heading to the Gold Coast for a wellness trip.
AWOL was a guest of The Prendiville Group.
Imagery: Instagram/@saltywings, @cjmaddock, @kashelicopters, @williecreekpearls, @careforhedland and The Prendiville Group