On the northern coast of Western Australia, a 2.5-hour flight from Perth, Broome is well- known for its sunsets (and golden-hour camel rides along Cable Beach), its pearling industry and as the western gateway to the Kimberley region. But there’s another attraction, one that’s made every month by Mother Nature and requires a little planning to catch. Here’s everything you need to know about Broome’s Staircase to the Moon.
What causes the Staircase to the Moon?
As with aurora australis or the annual whale shark migration, this natural phenomenon is all about timing. At Roebuck Bay, which stretches south from Broome, the tide rises and falls between eight and 10 metres. During low tide, several kilometres of mudflats are exposed so when the moon is full, its bright light reflects on the bay in such a way that it resembles a narrow golden staircase extending from the shore across the flats to the horizon.
When to see it
Think of this lunar wonder as a simple equation: full moon plus clear skies plus low tide equals Staircase to the Moon. There are only two or three nights per month to see it, when the moon is full or very close to it, between March and October. For the best display, you’ll need to be there on a clear night without too much cloud cover. Plan your trip with this handy calendar of dates.
Where to see it
Luckily for Broome locals, Roebuck Bay is the only place in the world where the Staircase to the Moon occurs. And since scarcity breeds desire, the prime viewing spots get busy early. Bringing Broome’s laid-back lifestyle in line with its unique celestial drawcard, the Staircase to the Moon night markets are held when the lightshow is on. Head to the Town Beach Precinct to check out stalls selling everything from local crafts to souvenirs, coffee, pizza and laksa. The Bay Club at the Mangrove Hotel looks out over the shifting tide and has live entertainment on viewing nights. To secure a table on the lawn under the palm trees you’ll need to arrive mid-afternoon and settle in for a bit of a wait (a plate of spicy salt and pepper squid and a cool drink will help).
Five tips for taking the best photo
Local photographer Pamela Jennings leads small-group tours and workshops in Broome, including one focused on the night sky. Here are her tips for capturing the best shot of the Staircase to the Moon:
- You need a zoom lens with a range of 150 metres or more, otherwise the moon is a small speck in the sky.
- Put your camera or smartphone on a tripod to stop movement and blur.
- Most phones and cameras have a way to delay the shutter opening – this stops camera shock and reduces blur. Try a couple of seconds delay.
- For manual cameras, put your setting on Shutter Priority at around 1 second and let the camera choose your aperture. You may need to increase your ISO to around 400 or so.
- Under-expose your shots so the moon isn’t a big white blob with no detail.