Given we were in this remote outpost of the Kimberleys, I took the opportunity to go even more remote and joined a day trip to Cape Leveque, some 200+km north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula. The first 90km was over a bone-rattling, spine-jarring dirt road that is the only route in and out barring flying. The road occasionally widens to a conventional 4-5 lanes, which offers some opportunity to find the thalweg to lessen the jarring ride over the corrugation with the red dirt creating clouds of dust in the trail of the tour 4WD.
The peninsula is home to many indigenous communities, the prime ones centred around Beagle Bay and Lombadina, originally set up as missionaries. And as we travelled the peninsula, we pass through some native land and one huge cattle property.
Beagle Bay, our first stop, is home to the Church of the Sacred Heart – most famous for its mother of pearl features. The church was built from locally made bricks fired in a kiln built to erect the church, with the mortar created from crushed mother of pearl shell.
The altar is unlike any other you are likely to see anywhere, resplendent in a glory of shining mother of pearl shells brightened by the sunlight from the windows with clusters of other shells adding additional relief in the layout.
Our next stop was the town of Lombadina (Djarindjun), further along on the dusty track, where another church beckoned our visit. This time, however, you couldn’t have found a more contrasting structure from the church at Beagle Bay than the one here. Christ the King Parish Church, constructed of mangrove wood, and a roof of paperbark covered by corrugated tin, with unfinished verandahs on either side, offers an insight into the funding received originally by the missions in setting up their respective churches almost a century ago.
There is an arts and crafts co-op where locals not only create works using traditional methods, but also study and produce works in untraditional styles, screen-printing being an example we witnessed. On offer were polished shell bangles and necklaces, basket weaving, some bark paintings and decorated rhythm sticks.
Cape Leveque (Kooljaman) is located at the northern most tip of the peninsula, and is primarily a resort unlike any other you are likely to experience. There is the central building housing the reception, a ‘shop’ (of limited supplies), and a café/restaurant. The resort is spread out combining powered and unpowered camp sites adjacent to the reception building, with additional camp sites further away, each with their own split log shelter housing picnic table and benches. There are also a handful of well appointed huts which set you back a premium. However, all have wonderful views of the turquoise waters.
It was around the camping areas near vegetation regrowth areas that I laid my eyes on the bird flower – a strange little flower that do look like birds feeding from the bush.
The lunch break was along the northern beach away from the huts and campers, on our own stretch of pristine fine white sand. While Roger, our guide, prepped lunch, we were left to our own devices which were walking along the beautiful sands and snorkelling. Accompanied by some garfish, I snorkelled some 30-50 metres from shore and dove for shells as souvenirs for the tribe. By the time we had finished our lunch, the tide had receded some distance such that some of the area we snorkelled was now exposed beach and shells were ripe for the picking!
The highlight of the afternoon was a session of mud-crabbing amongst heavily clustered mangrove tidal flats towards One Arm Point. The location, within the local community meant we could only visit accompanied by an aboriginal guide (Vincent and some relatives). So off we went into the thick mangrove forest, shod in trés chic neoprene booties to ply our metal hooks into holes and between the exposed roots to capture us some succulent mud crabs.
The humidity in the mangroves is stupefying, obstacles are the roots that jut in all directions, a complex maze of tangled wood ready to trip a stray foot yet you clamber through to find those crabs as you are on a mission. Stand still just for a short time though, and you become a feedbag for the mozzies, yet you are compelled to stay rooted to a spot as you coax a crab from between the tentacled roots of the mangrove or attempt to hook one from its burrow.
It was through this experience that I now appreciate the high price to pay for crabs – testament to which I ‘collected’ at least 20 mozzie bites per arm as well as sweat buckets from the humidity.
In the end, we caught four crabs which were roasted on the open fire and shared between us. The tender fresh crab meat being our trophy for our troubles – and damn nice it was too! A tangy saltiness just cutting through the juicy morsels we feasted upon.
Once our crab barbeque was over, it was a quick dash back over the dunes and through the bush to join the road back to Broome – a three hour trip home. The journey in the pitch black darkness over the dusty corrugations was pretty uneventful apart from spotting an unidentified snake making its way across part of the road.
Uneventful on a dirt track is good mind you, as eventful includes wandering cattle that you don’t see until the last second in the high-beam that could be a life-changing experience if it doesn’t just mean a change of pants!