Se­duced by sea and sand

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Claire Scobie

ON the tip of the Dampier Penin­sula in the far north­west, Kool­ja­man at Cape Leveque is a low-im­pact ecow­ilder­ness re­sort. It sits 220km north of Broome but it could be the fi­nal fron­tier. The com­bi­na­tion of flame­coloured cliffs bleed­ing into but­ter­milk sand and the star­tling blue-green of the In­dian Ocean is breath­tak­ing.

Owned by the lo­cal Bardi (salt­wa­ter) peo­ple, Kool­ja­man has won eco-tourism ac­co­lades and was a fi­nal­ist in the best in­dige­nous tourism ex­pe­ri­ence in The Aus­tralian ’ s 2007 Travel & Tourism Awards. Since its in­cep­tion in 1986, Kool­ja­man has de­vel­oped sus­tain­able prac­tices while show­cas­ing tra­di­tional Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture. The ac­com­mo­da­tion, all so­lar-pow­ered and built to blend in with the bush sur­round­ings, ranges from palm-frond beach shel­ters and mini-sa­fari tents to six rus­tic log cab­ins (two en­suite) and 14 lux­ury sa­fari tents.

We stay first in a fam­ily-sized cabin with a pleas­ant out­door set­ting be­fore mov­ing to Gid­wann sa­fari tent di­rectly be­low the 1911-built Cape Leveque light­house, which was au­to­mated in 1986 when the land was sold to the com­mu­ni­ties of One Arm Point and Djarind­jin.

Our tent sleeps four, with one dou­ble and two sin­gles, a bal­cony and bar­be­cue, en­suite bath­room, kitchen and large fridge. None of the ac­com­mo­da­tion can be locked: no need out here. Al­though the tents fac­ing east have the most spec­tac­u­lar view over pris­tine swim­ming beaches, they also face di­rectly into the sun. We pre­fer fac­ing north­east, still look­ing out across the Buc­ca­neer Ar­chi­pel­ago and on to shrubs fre­quented by a flock of red­backed fairy-wrens.

Kool­ja­man cov­ers a 10ha site and on ar­rival a de­tailed map is given with ad­vice on where not to swim be­cause of strong tides or, at Hunters Creek, the oc­ca­sional croc­o­dile. I am as­sured no crocs have been sighted on the swim­ming beaches. Nor are tourists al­lowed to go tramp­ing over the cliffs and dunes where Abo­rig­i­nal burial sites are lo­cated.

With a pool of Bardi guides to draw on, Kool­ja­man is some­where guests can be ac­tive ev­ery day— mud crab­bing, fish­ing or four-wheel-drive taga­long tour — or some­where to put up your feet. There are also flights over the ar­chi­pel­ago and the tidal ‘‘ hor­i­zon­tal wa­ter­falls’’.

The evening rit­ual be­gins with a chilled BYO beer on the West­ern Beach for sun­set. As the fi­nal rays spread, a deep blush trans­forms the land to rose-gold. Then it’s back to the tent for a bar­be­cue or to Dinka’s restau­rant, which serves re­mark­ably good dishes: cala­mari with wasabi may­on­naise, gi­ant steak on potato rosti fol­lowed by (some­what im­prob­a­bly, given the Oc­to­ber tem­per­a­tures are in the mid-30s) bread and but­ter pud­ding.

With net­ting on the sides, sleep­ing in the tent is as close to the earth as I want to be in this en­vi­ron­ment, with­out fear of crit­ters. Drift­ing off, I’m lulled by a warm wind rustling through the aca­cias and the swish of the ris­ing spring tide.

The Bardi peo­ple have lived for more than 5000 years by th­ese tides, the high­est and strong­est in the south­ern hemi­sphere. I ex­pe­ri­ence their tremen­dous force on the day- long Goom­bad­ing Scenic Boat Tour when, trav­el­ling at nine knots, we fail to move as ed­dies and whirlpools swirl around us.

Fol­low­ing the Moby-Dick theme, a hump­back breaches so close that its rank, fishy odour en­gulfs the boat. As King Sound is a breed­ing ground for hump­backs, sight­ings are com­mon. There’s noth­ing like be­ing up close with a 32-tonne whale for an in­tox­i­cat­ing high. At Kool­ja­man be pre­pared for a true as­sault on the senses.

Check­list

Kool­ja­man Cape Leveque, PMB 8, Cape Leveque via Broome, West­ern Aus­tralia 6725. (08) 9192 4970; www.kool­ja­man.com.au. Tar­iff: Sa­fari tents, $240; cab­ins, $140. Min­i­mum two-night stay; open April to Oc­to­ber. Get­ting there: A three-hour drive from Broome; four-wheel-drive ve­hi­cle re­quired. Air trans­fers avail­able from Broome for $190 one way (min­i­mum two pas­sen­gers); www.kingleopoldair.com.au. Check­ing in: Fam­i­lies and small in­de­pen­dent groups; bush-lov­ing cou­ples. About 80 per cent Aus­tralian and many re­turnees. Bed­time read­ing: DirtMu­sic by Tim Win­ton; Rab­bit-ProofFence by Doris Pilkington. Step­ping out: Drive north to the hatch­ery at One Arm Point to stroke a tur­tle; south for lo­cal hand­i­crafts at Lom­bad­ina. En route, stop at Bea­gle Bay to see the 1917 church with its al­tar crafted from mother-of-pearl shell. Join one of the many tours avail­able, in­clud­ing the Goom­bad­ing Cul­tural Scenic Boat Tour to Sun­day Is­land. Brick­bats: De­spite Kool­ja­man’s size, some of the sa­fari tents are too close if there’s a noisy fam­ily nearby; no tin-opener sup­plied; easy to get bogged in soft sand when driv­ing around the site. Bou­quets: Stun­ning land­scape; a gen­uine low-car­bon foot­print; rich ex­pe­ri­ence that makes in­dige­nous cul­ture ac­ces­si­ble with the bonus of lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Top spot: Sa­fari tent at Kool­ja­man

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