If I want to impress people from other countries about Australia’s great beauty, I tell them to find a way to get to the far north west’s Cape Leveque. It is the one of most spectacular parts of Australia’s coast line. Everyone has heard of our Uluru but I found that this area is not so well known even by Australians.
We hired a Toyota four wheel drive from Broome for the drive north to Cape Leveque. If you don’t want to drive yourself, you can take a group tour from Broome in a four wheel bus. This did not suit us as we wanted some independence. However there’s another option that is particularly useful if you have limited time and don’t want to drive at all. In Broome you will find there are a couple of tourist companies that specialise in light aircraft tours in the region, and they will fly you up for the day. They usually stop at Kooljaman resort’s airfield where you can have lunch and then take off again for sightseeing over the breathtaking Buccanaeer Peninsular.
The road to Cape Leveque is deceiving, at first it looks flat but the surface changes constantly and it was a challenge keeping the car upright. We had to make regular stops to let the tires down once the surface changed to kiddies sandpits. For two complete novices at this kind of driving it was just short of a nightmare. How many more ambitious nutters like us hire a 4 wheel drive and cut their teeth on 200 ks of the most difficult unsealed roads. For international travellers who have never experienced rough roads, I am sure they would be terrified. But having said this we would not have missed travelling this route.
Three and a half hours later we arrived at the Kooljaman camping ground, a well run venture operated by the local aboriginal community. We had pre-booked one of the luxury ‘safari tents’. The tents are set permanently on a platform, and have running water, a shower and kitchen and as many mod cons as is possible under a tent. We are not campers and with little experience of 4 wheel driving this was breaking new ground for us. At Kooljaman’s office we discovered that we could book a flight from there in a light aircraft to see the Buccananeer Peninsula. Having made it that far we did not want to waste the opportunity.
But I should not forget to add a highlight on our way up to Cape Leveque. We called into the town of Beagle Bay, a community of about 350 people.
It is not a place you can stay as there is no accommodation but it’s well worth to call in to see its Sacred Heart Church built by monks with handmade bricks, and it is well known for its beautiful altar decorated with mother-of-pearl shell.
Beagle Bay has the first Catholic school in the Kimberley and was established by the Trappist Fathers in 1892. The Pallottine fathers and brothers took charge of the mission in 1901. The St John of God sisters arrived in 1907 and taught in the school until the 1970s. Later, Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, Infant Jesus Sisters and The Our Lady of the Mission Sisters taught in the Sacred Heart School.
We visited the well tended graveyard and saw some of the nuns’ graves along with the locals. All graves are uniquely decorated with large shells or memorabilia once belonging to the deceased. The Mission ceased to operate in the mid 1970s and the Beagle Bay community has been self determining since, governed by an elected Community Council. However at that time, the community invited the church to continue to provide priests and a school. Over the past decade there has been a transfer of leadership from religious orders to that of lay leadership.
The church construction strongly reminded us of Spanish and Portugese churches and not only should you see the altar but the the Stations of the Cross paintings are excellent examples of naive art. If you need some refreshments there is a general store cum supermarket and plenty of wholesome snacks made daily.
Cape Leveque has a dramatic red rock lined coast and the Buccaneer Peninsula is breathtaking from the air. We decided that a return trip to the region should include chartering a sailboat or a joining a small cruise yacht to explore it further. Photos Roz MacAllan