Just over two hours north of Broome along a deep red, dusty road is a special place that will take your breath away. Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, famed for producing some of the world’s most beautiful pearls for generations, is now one of the must-do experiences in the Kimberley.
Arriving by road at Cygnet Bay you’re reminded that it is indeed a working pearl farm. Old buoys and boats decorate the driveway and it feels very authentic, because it is. Visitors come for the pearls, for a beautiful location to stay and for the ‘sea safaris’, two extraordinary experiences on the water.
We visited in early April as one of the first guests of the season. Tourists do not usually journey this far north until a few weeks later when the wet season is truely over. At this time of year, some roads might still be impassable due to flooding and the extreme heat can make it unpleasant. On the plus side if you dare to risk it, it’ll be likely that you’ll have many places to yourself.
The pearl farm stretches across a vast area of the Dampier Peninsular encompassing the stunning Cygnet Bay, many uninhabited islands and red earth that is bordered on either side by indigenous communities. Despite being the only non-indigenous place in the area, there is a strong relationship that bonds the Brown family, owners of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm and the local aboriginals from the area.
The first thing that struck us as we pulled up was the bright blue water behind reception. There really is nothing like the colours of this region and the sea was calling us but no visit to Cygnet Bay would be complete without first learning about pearl farming. To know that time, effort and good luck all come into play to create such beautiful pieces of jewellery make them all the more special. We watched as a pinctada oyster was opened to reveal a pearl – the only gem to be created by an animal.
What makes this area unique (and so good for farming pearls) are the giant tides. Depending on the moon, the time of year and other natural phenomenon, the tides can vary as much as 12 metres between low and high. On the day of our visit the stars were aligned and we got to see the full force of these tides on a sea safari.
The excitement started on land as we boarded an amphibious vessel to drive across the beach and into the water. We cruised to see a floating pearl shell cleaning station in action before our giant tide adventure really blew our minds. Witnessing the power of the tides was just incredible. We saw whirlpools the size of houses and our boat used its full horsepower to move against the rush of water.
We were also lucky enough to witness another incredible phenomenon due to the tides – ‘Waterfall Reef’ – which appears to rise out of the water as the tides drop.
We also visited ‘Shell Island’, only available at low tide but the perfect place to arrange something special. It’s a little sandy mound surrounded by the clearest blue water you can imagine and makes for a unique wedding venue, a pop up bar or a romantic picnic.
After our day on the water we were dropped off at the Master Pearler’s Retreat – our accommodation for the night – and with glass of champagne in hand as the sun set, we waved goodbye and watched the amphibious vessel drive back into the ocean. That night we dined on a chef prepared meal sampling the pearl meat found in the very same shells that produce the gems. It was the perfect way to finish what was an educational, thrilling and peaceful day all rolled into one.