2,389km (1,481 miles) N of Perth; 1,859km (1,152 miles) SW of Darwin

Part rough Outback town, part glam seaside resort, the pearling port of Broome (pop. 15,000) is a unique hybrid of Australia, Asia, and some exotic tropical island. Chinese and Japanese pearl divers worked the pearling luggers (for the pearl shell, to make buttons) in the old days, and brought some of their distinctive architecture. The result is Chinatown, with neat rows of corrugated iron buildings wrapped by verandas and trimmed with Chinese peaked roofs. Many Japanese divers also died here -- cyclones and the "bends" took their toll -- and their legacy is the Japanese pearl divers' cemetery, with ornate inscriptions on 900 rough-hewn headstones.

The wonderfully casual free-and-easy Broome is a marine oasis, mere kilometers from the Great Sandy Desert, with dramatic colors, swaying palm trees, and masses of blooming bougainvillea and frangipani. It's situated on a small peninsula that partially defines the broad Roebuck Bay to the east of the town. The mangrove-fringed bay is shallow and changes dramatically between high and low tide. At low tide, masses of mudflats are exposed, which at full moon create the impression of a Staircase to the Moon, while at high tide the water has a vivid milky turquoise color. It's stunning. (The old pearling luggers used to tie up here, and so this was where Chinatown developed.) On the western side, broad, gleaming Cable Beach  faces straight out on to the Indian Ocean, and many of the modern developments have taken place here.

For such a small and remote place, Broome can be surprisingly sophisticated. Stroll the streets of Chinatown and you'll rub shoulders with Aussie tourists, Asian shop proprietors, tough-as-nails cattle hands, and well-heeled visitors from Europe and America who down good coffee in Broome's trendy cafes. Broome's South Sea pearls are its bread and butter (together with tourism), but the old timber pearling luggers have been replaced with gleaming high-tech vessels.

It's kind of hard to explain Broome's appeal; there's not much to do, but it's like nowhere else in Australia and it's such a pleasant, relaxing place to be. It has generated its own laid-back style, epitomized by the expression "Broome Time," where nothing is ever urgent. Most people simply come to laze by the jade-green Indian Ocean on Cable Beach, ride camels along the sand as the sun plops into the sea, mosey around the art galleries and jewelry stores, and soak up the atmosphere. One experience not matched anywhere is an evening sitting in the deck chairs watching a film at Sun Pictures.

Broome is the main departure point for tours into the Kimberley, whether by boat or by four-wheel-drive along the Gibb River Road.