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Wasteland? Paradise! The Other Side of Western Australia

In my last post, I wrote about how Penny Lewis, Metrohm Territory Manager for Western Australia, introduced me to the vast Outback of the state. A six-hour drive finally brought us to a small, populated enclave in the seemingly never-ending bushland: the small town of Broome. Broome is a popular holiday destination because of its beautiful beaches and the spectacular nature surrounding it. Here’s the other side of the vast state of Western Australia.

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Rocky start to an otherwise smooth ride

When we arrived in Broome after a six-and-a-half-hour drive, Penny and I headed straight to the picturesque Cable Beach. Cable Beach is famous for its blue water and white sand—and for sunset camel rides. We almost missed our camel ride because we’d lost some time in an adventurous search for a fuel station in the Outback. We had to make a run for it, but made it just in time. And who wouldn’t like to go for scenic run on Cable Beach …

Camels were imported into Australia in the 19th century for transport and construction. When motorized transport started replacing the camels, many were released into the wild. Camels are surprisingly comfortable to ride on, except for the standing up and sitting down parts, which are a little rocky. With their very long legs, standing up is quite an effort for the camels. They get up on their back legs first, making their riders tilt backwards, before they put up their front legs.

During our ride, Penny and I not only got to enjoy the sunset over the beach, but also learned about the personalities of the camels in our caravan. We were riding on Jabul, who apparently is «a bit bitey». So he gets tied to the camel in front of him with a short rope. This way he can’t reach the people riding on the camel in front—but it didn’t stop him from trying. Penny and I were quite happy to be on his back and out of the reach of his teeth.

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The Center of the Australian Pearling Industry

In the center of Broome, pearl shops line up on the streets. Broome is famous for its pearling industry, which started in the late 19th century. In its beginnings, the trade was founded on slavery. Aboriginal people were forced to dive for pearl shells without any equipment. Only when the shallow waters had been emptied of shells, equipment became indispensable to continue pearling. As a consequence, the demand for aboriginal divers decreased.

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Hard hats used by pearl divers in the past

Pearl divers now started wearing a hard hat and an airtight and watertight suit. The suit was connected to the boat at the surface through a hose for air supply. The crew on board had to constantly pump air down the hose so the pearl divers could breathe. Heavy boots and metal weights kept the divers at the bottom of the sea where they’d walk in the freezing water and collect shells. Returning to the surface too quickly is what cost many pearl divers their lives in the long run.

Hookah diving, which came up in the early 1970s, revolutionized the pearling industry. Modern pearl divers wear neoprene wetsuits and simple hookah regulators. Instead of walking underwater, they swim, so they can explore the seabed faster and achieve much higher shell collection rates.

Horizontal Waterfalls: A Surreal Sight

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0076.JPGExcept for Cable Beach and the pearling industry, there’s not much to see or do in Broome. Being frequented by tourists so much, I find it surprising that not more effort has been put into making the town more attractive.

But the Kimberley region, where Broome is located, is famous for its beautiful, rugged nature. Penny and I took a small seaplane to see the Horizontal Waterfalls, a natural phenomenon that is unique in the world. Although I’ve been spending a lot of time on planes this year, flying on a seaplane got me very excited—and a bit nervous even. On the way back, I even got to be the co-pilot, albeit a very useless one. Luckily all I had to do was sit in front, wear the headset, and keep my hands away from the control wheel.

HorizontalFalls3-5The area around the Horizontal Falls is famous for its steep cliffs and gorges, which are home to a diverse fauna, including sharks and crocodiles. In a shark-free cage, we were able to admire the sharks close up. They didn’t look particularly scary, but the daunting noise of their strong jaws snapping for food was a reminder to keep all fingers inside the cage.

The Horizontal Falls occur in between three natural, seawater-fed reservoirs. The reservoirs are separated by ridges, but narrow gaps in the rock allow water to flow between them. Tidal movements fill or empty the reservoirs with water. But the flow between the reservoirs is restricted by the narrow width of the gaps, making water build up faster on one side than the other.

The water levels between the reservoirs can differ by up to 5 meters, creating the horizontal waterfall effect. Every 6 hours, with the change of the tide, the waterfalls stop for about 30 seconds before reversing their direction. It’s surreal to see the difference in water levels between the reservoirs, which seems to be kept in place by an invisible wall. They Horizontal Falls are often described as a natural wonder. I’m afraid that the pictures Penny and I got don’t quite do their surreal beauty and raw force justice.

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