Lost in Space: Australia's Kimberley

The Shipwreck Coast

Aug 9, 2001
Outside Magazine

Every explorer, given enough time in the Outback, begins to dream desperately of reaching the sea, with its promise of soothing breezes and sensual, lapping waves. But in the Kimberley, to stagger from the dry bush into the region's coastal capital, Broome, is to fight a powerful sense of anticlimax. It's hard to fault Broome itself for this, with all its Maugham-esque tropical bars on stilts, where bronzed young locals who look Asian or Polynesian but speak with broad Aussie accents watch blazing sunsets color the city's 14-mile-long beach. But when you're still shaking the Outback's dust out of your pack, Broome and its iced cappuccino culture can seem a bit too ... civilized.
So sate your water lust and end your Kimberley sojourn more appropriately at Cape Leveque, a little-known outpost on Aborigine-owned land about 135 miles north of Broome. When the English pirate William Dampier landed here in 1688, he dismissed the area as worthless, and its inhabitants as "the miserablest people on earth." He might reassess today. Cape Leveque's sands are creamy white, the Indian Ocean an extravagant blue, and the pandanus-leaf-covered shelters a kind of Platonic ideal of the beachfront cabana ($11; 011-61-8-91-924-970). Rent snorkeling gear so you can explore the circling reefs that protect this coast from crocodiles and sting rays.

For a touch of regional color, sign up with Vince, a local Aboriginal guide who leads mudcrabbing trips into the mangroves. You'll dodge stingrays and a few small grey nurse sharks just offshore as you search for that night's seafood supper ($40, including all the crabs you uncover). Later, raise a glass of Emu Bitter (bring your own; the community is dry) and watch the sun sink in the direction of Jakarta, Indonesia, the nearest city. The Outback is behind you, the carnivorous crocodiles somewhere off to the side, and your palm hut is cooling pleasantly in the evening's breeze. I'd nominate this as the most beautiful swimming spot in all of Oz.

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