Dinosaurs roamed the earth tens of millions of years ago, and you now can walk among their 1.7-metre-long footprints near Broome on Western Australia’s north-west coast.
By Fleur Bainger
The vast, unspoilt sands of Broome have made this getaway in the northern reaches of Western Australia a must-visit spot for local and international tourists alike. But now the famous beaches have to share the limelight with the largest and most diverse collection of dinosaur footprints in the world, turning the coastal resort town into an Australian version of Jurassic Park. Most recently discovered are 1.7-metre-long tracks – which is almost the height of the average Australian male – belonging to the sauropod. You can see those tracks, and many of the others scattered throughout the region, on tours led by Aboriginal Australians – as well as by hovercraft.
Australia's Jurassic Park
Beyond the endless sandy stretch and rustling palms of Broome’s famous Cable Beach are thousands of dinosaur prints estimated to be more than 130 million years old, making them the most ancient in Australia.
The latest prints to be discovered belong to the enormous sauropod, a four-legged herbivorous dinosaur that survived for about 100 million years from the early Jurassic period, and are the largest ever recorded. But it’s not just the sauropod that roamed the region: the only trace of stegosaurs in Australia are also found on the 25-kilometre stretch of the Dampier Peninsula, along with armoured species such as the ankylosaurs.
In total, 21 types of tracks have been identified, recorded during six years of research, leading the project’s chief paleontologist, Dr Steve Salisbury of the University of Queensland, to describe the area as the “Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti”.
Walk the Aboriginal connection
The tracks, which were created as heavy dinosaurs stepped on a river plain, compressing muddy sand that later hardened into rock, are not easily seen by the untrained eye. But once the footprints are pointed out, the trackways are mind blowing. A guided, nine-day walk along the Lurujarri Heritage Trail passes through Walmadan, commonly known as James Price Point, part of a National Heritage-listed area in which most of the tracks are found. The walk begins at Gantheaume Point, another footprint site. Only two walks following this ancient songline are planned for 2017, led by members of the Goolarabooloo community.
Dinosaurs and the Dreamtime
Aboriginal people have known about the dinosaur tracks for thousands of years. The coastal route taken by the prehistoric creatures are woven into an indigenous song cycle. Tracks made by a three-toed theropods are interpreted as the journey of a Dreamtime lawgiver called Marala, the Emu man. Local Yawuru man and leader of Narlijia Cultural Tours, Bart Pigram, has begun the new Beach to the Bay tour to connect visitors to secret areas of footprints while sharing Dreamtime stories, pointing out bush fruits and medicines and visiting Creation sites. The monthly tours coincide with the Staircase to the Moon light phenomenon, enabling Pigram to reveal the magical mudflat reflections by night.
Hovercraft to prints revealed by the tide
One unique way to reach a trail of dinosaur prints on a remote beach is with Broome Hovercraft Eco Adventure Tours. A large, canary-yellow hovercraft skates atop Roebuck Bay’s mudflats to the site, which is uncovered by giant tides at specific times. To a backdrop of flaming, rusty-red cliffs, huge, circular prints of a sauropod become visible as soon as they’re pointed out. Seeing their indentation push through layers of rock is astounding, and driver and tour guide Myles Penegar couldn’t be more passionate about the tracks if he tried.
Go on your own discovery tour
Only visible at low tide, the dinosaur prints at Gantheaume Point can also be seen at the top of the cliffs; replicas have been placed in a far more accessible spot. If you’re fit and able-bodied, you can try descending on reef rocks when tides are below 2.16 metres, with advice from the Broome Visitor Centre on safety and where to find the prints. But even then the tracks are difficult to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s perhaps better to join a tour that stops at the site, or head to the sandstone rocks near the boat ramps at Entrance Point car park, where tracks are sometimes uncovered by the tides.
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