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Climb an outback staircase to the moon

An incredible natural phenomenon and a spectacular festival of culture are shining a light on the romantic pearling port of Broome.

By Simon Webster

Locations don’t get much more romantic than Broome. The tropical beach town in Australia’s north-west Kimberley region is a heady mix of outback, ocean and multiculturalism – and home of the Staircase to the Moon. This photogenic natural phenomenon might be a relatively rare occurrence, but it’s just one part of the town’s long-running Festival of the Pearl, a nine-day celebration of Broome’s culture and history with music, food and art events.

Take the staircase to the moon

Staircase to the Moon, Broome, Western Australia

Every full moon, from March to October, something special happens in Broome. As the moon rises, its light reflects off the exposed mudflats of Roebuck Bay, creating a “staircase” leading up to the moon. The optical illusion is a bewitching sight, says Jo Durbridge, marketing manager at Australia’s North West Tourism. “The tide goes out and the moon peeks slowly above the horizon. It’s quite amazing.”

Locals often watch from the open-air bar at the Mangrove Hotel, which offers an excellent vantage point from its position on a dune overlooking the bay. The lights are dimmed, the music is turned down and a didgeridoo is played as the shimmering moon rises, while everyone gazes at the sky for the duration of the 10-minute phenomenon. Elsewhere, people roll out their picnic rugs at the nearby night markets of Town Beach and watch in a family-friendly, festival atmosphere, with live music and food stalls.

Embrace Broome’s pearling past

Shinju Matsuri, Broome, Western Australia

In the late 19th century, Aboriginal, Malay, Chinese, Japanese, European and Filipino cultures combined to make Broome the pearling capital of the world. That multiculturalism survives to this day – as does the local pearling industry – and the two are celebrated in Shinju Matsuri (Japanese for “Festival of the Pearl”). The festival, held annually in August/September, includes arts music, cultural and food events.

“Many of the events have a carnival feel, but equally the festival is educational and informative, and great for teaching tourists about Broome’s history,” says the festival’s sponsorship and marketing manager, Tiffany Watson. “We’re a unique, multicultural town. Shinju Matsuri brings all the cultures together and celebrates their unique identities.” Many events are free, too.

See history come to life

Floating Lantern Matsuri, Shinju Matsuri, Broome, Western Australia

During the Shinju Matsuri festival, Broome really comes to life. There is live storytelling, cultural performances, and films projected onto various buildings as part of the program.

There are opportunities to explore Broome’s Indigenous culture through food and music, or you can take a short Yawuru Language Course. And for a poignant and unforgettable evening, decorate a lantern, write a message and cast it on the water in the Floating Lantern Matsuri. You can buy a VIP hamper, including lanterns, dinner and drinks. “It’s really quite moving and a lot of locals embrace it,” Watson says. 

From a Dragon Boat Regatta to Opera on Cable Beach, Shinju Matsuri offers a program as eclectic as the people who have made Broome such a remarkable place in such an unforgettable location. People sink into “Broome time” as soon as they get off the plane, says Durbridge. “The colours blow people away. The red dirt, the white sand of Cable Beach and the aqua water. It’s a beautiful town.”