Travel Story On the trail of ancient giants

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Discover Broome’s dinosaur footprints.

I never realised I was a dinosaur enthusiast until I came to Broome. Taking an early morning walk down Cable Beach I found myself picking through the rocks exposed by the tide hunting for dinosaur footprints. And in the dinosaur footprint capital of the world, it’s likely I may just find some.

My newfound passion for palaeontology stems back a whole 24 hours ago when I was skimming across Roebuck Bay on, naturally, a hovercraft.

Encased in the yellow air-conditioned cabin of the 13-seat Spirit of Broome (the 24-seat Big Bird hovercraft only comes out of the shed during peak season) our pilot and guide, Lancashire-born Myles Penegar, is skirting the tide line of Roebuck Bay’s green-blue water heading for Red Cliff.

Wader birds (there are 49 different species found in Broome) scatter before resuming their feeding in one of the most biodiverse bays in the world. Feeding needs to be a concerted effort for the birds, who will migrate back to Mongolia and Russia in their thousands to breed. They travel 85-90km/h using the jet streams to make their way back to Northern Hemisphere breeding grounds, losing half their body weight on the journey.

We quickly reach Red Cliff beach, Myles sliding the hovercraft parallel-park style on to the salmon-pink sand.

We are here to see the 120-million-year-old footprints of the 80-tonne, 12m tall sauropods. For those not up with their dinosaur-lingo, it’s like the one that sneezed on the girl in the first Jurassic Park.

Myles takes us to the ancient rocks scattered on the beach. Innocent looking enough. He points to a big circular imprint on a rock. This, he says, is our footprint.

Myles then points to another, and another. We are standing in the prehistoric trail of a mother sauropod and her juvenile.

Myles re-enacts the trail, raptor-style, prancing from one print to the next where millions of years ago the dinosaur’s massive weight imprinted deep into the clay floor of the then fern and conifer forest.

He shows us the side profile of a footprint, the horizontal sediment lines of the rock running straight before dipping, compacted, under the weight of the dinosaur. Miles then points to more.

What once seemed like pretty rocks are now alive with ancient footprints.

There are many different types of dinosaur prints to be found along the Broome coast, including the three-toed prints of carnivorous theropods, or marrala (emu man) which the Yawuru people have been telling Dreamtime stories about for aeons.

As the world epicentre for dinosaur footprints, and with more being discovered as the relentless tides transfer the sand, you can’t help but leave Broome with an awakened and ongoing enthusiasm for palaeontology.

Fact File

Disclaimer

Angie Tomlinson was a guest of Australia's North West tourism.

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