Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but Marilynne Paspaley has always preferred lustre over sparkle. Now, the former actress and daughter of Australia's most famous pearling dynasty, has given Broome what it's long needed — a new luxury resort at Cable Beach. Not surprisingly, she has named her hotel — Pinctada Cable Beach Resort & Spa — after the pearl mollusc, Pinctada Maxima, the source of her family's multi-million dollar fortune. And there's a plenty of lustre around her new resort, with its mother-of-pearl signage and detailing.
It takes grit to produce a pearl and Marilynne has it in spades. During the past three years, the "pearl princess" has made the discreet shift from the centre of the family's empire to become an independent resort owner.
With the five-star, 72-room Pinctada Cable Beach in the south at Broome and the Kimberley Grande hotel in the north at Kununurra, Marilynne now has both frontiers of this remote wilderness region covered.
Inside, the Pinctada Cable Beach Resort & Spa is an impressive piece of real estate — a luxuriant oasis on the edge of the desert. At its heart is a collection of landscaped water features — a reminder of the rock pools you find on the Kimberley escarpment. Many of the rooms overlook the main pool, but those around the elegant courtyard are the suites-of-choice that overlook a luxuriant garden and a gorgeous, vivid blue plunge pool.
Broome may be a sleepy tropical town, but it's emerging as a member of the chic club of Australian resorts that includes Noosa, Byron Bay Port Douglas and Palm Cove.
This is not a comparison Marilynne likes. "Broome is so much more special than other resorts," she says with passion, fingering a crucifix of magnificent pearls that hangs around her neck.
"Its charm comes from its history — it's a real place, it's not manufactured, and has an integrity that embraces all of its cultures."
It's a balmy evening and Marilynne, elegant as she is eloquent, is relaxing at the resort's Selene Brasserie, a restaurant has built a reputation for serving some of the finest cuisine on the north-west frontier — an achievement, when you consider the town's quirky cafes and stylish restaurants already have a gourmet reputation.
Broome sits on a peninsular. On one side are the turquoise waters Roebuck Bay, on the other is iconic Cable Beach, 22km of golden sand famous for its camel trains.
Natural beauty is a major drawcard, but for such a remote spot, there's a rich vein of romance, thanks to its pearling history, proximity to Asia and its indigenous culture. Its centre is still called Chinatown; there's a Japanese cemetery, the last resting place of many pearl divers; and in Old Broome, there are the beautiful heritage homes of long-gone pearling masters among the scented mango trees.
If anyone knows Broome, it's Marilynne Paspaley. Here, she talks about some of the favourite places in town.
Where to stay
Pinctada Cable Beach Resort & Spa, 10 Murray Road, Cable Beach, (08) 9193 8388 www.pinctadacablebeach.com.au. Naturally, it's Marilynne's favourite resort! She has, after all, had a say in every part of it — from the bathroom tapes to mother-of-pearl finishes. "The emphasis is not on showy glamour, so much as on simplicity and service," she says. A block back from the famous beach, it's a luxurious oasis on the edge of the desert with the best spa and brasserie in town. Excellent service, gorgeous bedding, beautifully appointed bathrooms and every facility one needs in the suites, it's an impressive first for Broome. Other features include 24-hour in-room dining, Brizo Pool Café and Bar, Nyx Cocktail Lounge, concierge, gym, and meditative garden zones, wired & wireless internet connectivity.
McAlpine House, 84 Herbert St, (08) 9192 3886, www.mcalpinehouse.com. A 1910 pearling master's house, it was bought by Lord McAlpine, the British baron, who made Broome his home and first developed it as a tourist destination in the early '80s. From the shady verandas and breezy outdoor areas to the Javanese furniture, every room and alcove has been thoughtfully decorated. The six air-conditioned suites are arranged around the central courtyard and pool. There's a kitchen, barbecue area and dining room for guest use, all set among tropical gardens.
Cable Beach Club Resort, Cable Beach Rd, Cable Beach, (08) 9192 0400, www.cablebeachclub.com. Also established by Lord McAlpine, this resort is right on Cable Beach. Famous for its tropical gardens, the rooms are fitted out in a modern interpretation of Asian-meets-Colonial-Broome style, with corrugated iron walls and polished floors. The Sunset Bar & Grill serves pub-style food and drinks. Best is the authentic Thai cuisine at the Thai Pearl and its colonial polished wood decor.
Eco Beach Resort, (08) 9193 8015, www.ecobeach.com.au. An hour-and-an-hour south of Broome, this isolated outpost with its 25 solar-powered villas makes for an extraordinary escape, perfect for Robinson Crusoe types. Located on top of sand dunes, it's a retreat in every sense of the word. Arriving in Broome from Sydney is an incredible escape, but driving from Broome to Eco Beach is like arriving on an undiscovered planet. The villas have solar air-conditioning, king-sized beds and luxury fittings with beach-facing verandas and out-door showers. The 30 safari-style eco-tents are simple, but comfortable, and connected by a kilometre of wooden boardwalks. The stylish restaurant has delicious food, and ocean and pool views. About 20 minutes walk away are some spectacular rock formations, a mini version of the famous Bungle Bungles, that met the beach. There's a catamaran for whale-watching trips and kilometres of spectacular beaches. The staff are dedicated, love what they do and are great fun. Early morning yoga followed by breakfast and bush tucker walk to the mini-Bungle Bungles is highly recommended, as is bird watching and mud crabbing at Jack's Creek.
Coco Eco, Lot 9 Williams Rd, Coconut Well, (08) 9192 3103, www.cocoeco.com.au. If you're here to experience the natural beauty of the area, a stay at this B&B — about 20 minutes drive from Broome and perched on a hillside above Cable Beach — is a must. Owners Helen and Simon Bradley opened a year ago, after building from scratch their stunning architect-designed, solar-powered home with three guest rooms. The clever, eco-friendly design allows for both cooling cross-breezes and the best ocean views enjoyed by any holiday accommodation in the area.
Bali Hai Resort, 6 Murray Rd, Cable Beach, (08) 9191 3100, www.balihairesort.com. Five minutes walk from Cable Beach, this is a good self-catering option. The 31 rooms and six family rooms all feature private courtyards, barbecues, kitchens and TV with in-house movies, some with baths.
Where to eat
Selene Brasserie, Pinctada Cable Beach Resort & Spa, 10 Murray Road, Cable Beach, (08) 9193 8388, www.pinctadacablebeach.com.au. "You'll never forget the Cardamom and honey roast duck breast with Persian pilaf," said Marilynne. And I haven't. Nor will I need reminding about the Melting salmon with shaved fennel and feta salad. And the hummus is silky and the baba ganoush is smoky and the chickpea battered oysters with a la greque dressing are superb. Selene serves flavours from all around the world and does it impressively with a magnificent wine list.
Aarli Bar, Shop 2/6 Hamersley St, (08) 9192 5529. "Warm, lovely and very professional in that Australian way," says Marilynne. It's a calm, shaded, open-air eaterie, where imaginative breakfasts (chargrilled figs on toast with spiced ricotta, or a bacon, scrambled egg and caramelised onion wrap) and great lunches are served. But, at night, with the candles under the old frangi-pani tree, magic awaits: tapas (lamb cutlets or the divine king fish tempura) or dinner (Thai red emperor or chilli mud crab).
Black Pearl, 44/63 Robinson St, (08) 9192 8425. "Go for the barra burger for lunch," says Marilynne. "It's a simple place with fresh flavours, but it's opposite the Broome Historical Museum and has views of Roebuck Bay and Boab trees."
Wharf Restaurant, 40 Port Drive, The Port, (08) 9192 5700. "Excellent seafood in casual, relaxed surrounds," says Marilynne. "Gets lovely cooling breezes when it's hot. Good for lunch, but best for sunset."
Cafe Carlotta, Jones Pl, (08) 9192 7606. In a quiet corner of Old Broome, you'll find the best Italian food in town. Its standards have slipped a little since original owner Charlotte sold up. Its famous woodfired pizzas can be a little flaky, but the pastas are still pretty damn good. Dinner only.
Noodlefish Roku, Shop 5/26 Dampier Terrace, (08) 9192 1697. You won't forget this Chinese, Japanese and South-East Asian fare. Japanese marinated fish salad, twice-cooked Szechuan duck with citrus and beetroot sauce and grilled threadfin salmon with spicy green pawpaw salad rule supreme. The lime tart dessert is sublime, even though the service can be curt. Dinner only, Mon-Sat.
The Club Restaurant, Cable Beach Club Resort, Cable Beach Road, Cable Beach, (08) 9192 0400. A million-dollar view of Cable Beach and the evening camel caravans. Inside the restaurant, the Old Broome-style interiors are hung with a Sidney Nolan, but this doesn't make up for plain, uninspiring pub food.
The Old Zoo Cafe, 2 Challenor Drive, Cable Beach, (08) 9193 6200. Originally built by Lord McAlpine as a zoo to attract tourism to the area, this pleasant spot just back from Cable Beach serves good-value, modern Australian dishes and an inviting Kimberley Taste plate of crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi, camel and pearl meat. My lunch of char-grilled chicken, cashew nuts, avocado, sun-blushed tomatoes and greens was divine.
Where to drink
Matso's Broome Brewery, 60 Hamersley St, (08) 9193 5811, www.matsosbroomebrewery.com.au. "You've gotta have a beer here," says Marilynne. "Not only does it have such a great view of Roebuck Bay, but it's a great spot to watch the Stairway to the Moon phenomenon."
It is Broome's only micro-brewery and serves its own award-winning, handcrafted beers on tap, including Smoky Bishop dark lager, River Rocks lager, Monsoonal Blonde, and an alcoholic ginger beer. There's also an all-day menu, bar snacks and a wine list.
The Tides Bar at The Mangrove Resort Hotel, 47 Carnarvon St, (08) 9192 1303. A favourite among the locals, this resort bar has a prime waterfront spot, where you can sip a cool beer or white wine while watching the sea eagles and ospreys circle over Roebuck Bay. Pub grub includes burgers and chilli salt squid.
Where to shop
Courthouse Markets, cnr Hamersley and Frederick sts, Saturdays. "Everyone visitor to Broome has to visit this eclectic market," says Marilynne. You'll find all the local artisans and even snake removal experts!" The local growers at nearby 12 Mile bring some of the region's best produce here.
Aboriginal art galleries in Chinatown. Marilynne's favourite is the Gecko Gallery, 9 Short Street, (08) 9192 8909, www.geckogallery.com.au.
"It has such integrity and deals directly with the artists." Collectables from emerging and established artists also grace the walls at Short Street Gallery, 7 Short Street, (08) 9192 2658, www.shortstgallery.com.au; and Monsoon Gallery, 48 Carnarvon Street, (08) 9193 5379, www.monsoongallery.com.au.
Kimberley Bookstore, 4 Napier Terrace, (08) 9192 1944. "It's not huge," says Marilynne, "but the selection is riveting and I spend hours there. There's an excellent selection of local history and I would highly recommend John Bailey's pearling masterpiece, The White Divers of Broome: The True Story of a Fatal Experiment.
Roebuck Seafood, 953 Port Drive, Broome, (08) 9193 5109. Considering it's surrounded by water, there are few options in Broome to buy fresh seafood. Shop here for barramundi, jewfish and lesser-known species, including the white-fleshed threadfin salmon, and tripletail perch. This is a must-visit for people in self-catering accommodation.
Pearls, Dampier Terrace, Chinatown. Every visitor to Broome toys with the idea of splashing out on South Sea pearls, and Dampier Terrace in Chinatown is the place to do it. If you're serious, head to Paspaley Pearls, 2 Short St, (08) 9192 2203; Linneys, No. 25, (08) 9192 2430; Kailis Australian Pearls, No. 23, (08) 9192 2061.
Things to do
Sun Picture House, 8 Carnarvon St, Broome, (08) 9192 1077. Pull up a stripy deckchair at Australia's oldest open-air cinema and watch a cinema classic or the latest blockbuster.
Camel train rides at sunset Three operators, visit: www.broomevisitorcentre.com.au. The iconic Broome sight is when a camel train and fiery red sunset are reflected in wet sands of Cable Beach. The camel rides leave in the late afternoon from the beach below the Cable Beach Resort.
Ride the rapids at the Kimberley's Horizontal Horizontal Falls Adventure Tours, Hangar 5, Gus Winkel Rd, Broome Airport, (08) 9192 2885, www.horizontalfalls.com.au "This experience should not be missed," says Marilynne. "Not only do you get a bird's eye view of the spectacular Kimberley coastline, but a dress-circle seat on one of the region's extraordinary natural phenomena." There are half-day or a full-day tours that visit the Kimberley wilderness on a seaplane, over the Thousand Island Coastline of the Buccaneer Archipelago to Talbot Bay, where huge volumes of water squeeze between narrow gaps in great rock formations creating a horizontal waterfall effect. The turquoise and white water and brilliant red rock makes this a colourful and adrenalin-fuelled experience. The half-day (from $645) tour includes a visit to spectacular Cyclone Creek gorges, where boats head for shelter during storms, while the full-day tour (from $790) visits the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm.
Whalewatching — from Eco Beach Eco Beach Resort, Broome, (08) 9193 8015, www.ecobeach.com.au. Cruise on a luxury catamaran for a half-day cruise on the Indian Ocean, home to humpbacks, dolphins, turtles and manta rays.
Whalewatching — from Broome Sentosa Fishing Charters, (08) 9192 8163, www.sentosafishingcharters.com. Hear whale song via a hydrophone on a custom-built 27-seater boat on a three-hour cruise. Whales pass by Broome between June and October.
Staircase to the moon Mudflats, Town Beach, Roebuck Bay; broomevisitorcentre.com.au. Visit the Broome at full moon and see this extraordinary optical illusion: moonlight reflecting in puddles on the mudflats at low tide look like a ladder climbing into the sky. Happens best between March and October for two or three nights a month. A night market coincides with the event.