CRUISING THE CORAL COAST
With only a rough plan to find somewhere to hide for the Western Australia School Holidays and Easter, we set off on the next leg of our journey
WORDS BY LORRAINE HOLLOWAY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN AND LORRAINE HOLLOWAY
Endless white beaches, turquoise waters, abundant and diverse marine life, towering cliffs, crashing waves, blowholes, sand dune drives – what else would greet us as we moved on from our house sit in Geraldton to cruise the Coral Coast? A region known for water based activities – fishing, snorkelling, diving, wind surfing and swimming – the door was open to us.
Not far north of Geraldton we found our way into Coronation Beach, a popular spot for RVers, campers and windsurfers. Clean long drop toilets are provided here, along with a dump point. Despite the benefit of being able to stay for up to one month, at this point we felt it was too early in the month to consider staying put. After an overnight stop we continued our search for another perfect hide-out.
A quick detour into Horrocks Beach for morning tea found us driving amongst neat rows of colourful fishing shacks, envying the children playing in the water in the shade of the jetty. However, our mission of finding somewhere to stay for the night was foremost in our mind, so the drive north continued.
We could vaguely remember news reports in the 1970s about a farmer in Western Australia who seceded from the commonwealth, forming his own republic, so out of curiosity we decided to visit The Principality of Hutt River. Met by HRH Prince Leonard on our arrival, we were offered a level unpowered caravan site with nearby showers and flushing toilets. While we had our passports stamped, the Prince explained in detail that when wheat quotas were changed back in 1969, the new quota would have taken him five hundred years to crop the same average amount of wheat that previously would have been harvested in twenty. To Leonard Casley, this was intolerable; the only resolution to him was to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia.
We toured his multi-denominational chapel, visited his museum, swam in his pool and hiked to Mt Secession, a pleasant 1.5km meander, where we saw the gates to paradise! Tourists visit in their thousands each year, and the province opens for day visitors between 9.00 am and 4.00 pm daily. With no other caravans here for the two nights we stayed, we decided to continue on towards Kalbarri National Park.
Nature’s Window in Kalbarri National Park has been on my bucket list for years, so despite having knee issues I decided to attempt the pilgrimage. Caravans cannot be taken into this area of the National Park, and despite a parking area for vans and trailers at the entrance, we decided instead to go into the Murchison Caravan Park in town. The park was clean and busy, full of nomads on their northbound migration. We had a pleasant happy hour with some neighbours, who had been fishing that day. They kept us amused with tales of catching tuna in the Murchison River – a tin of tuna!
Surrounding the town of Kalbarri, the national park covers an area of 186,000 hectares, and offers two distinctly contrasting settings. To the south, towering cliffs plummet to the ocean below, and most of the roads to the lookouts are sealed. To the east, the park’s rugged terrain follows the beautiful Murchison River, which started its journey near Meekatharra, some 500km inland. The river has carved out magnificent gorges, twisting and turning as it carves its way to the ocean at Kalbarri.
Some of the gorges and rock formations are as much as 400 million years old. The drive to Nature’s Window is sealed for the first 12 km, but the balance of 14km is gravel, and subject to closure in wet weather. The rock arch frames the Murchison River perfectly – the bucket list ticked, and certainly worth the class 3 hike to view it. For the more adventurous, The Loop, a class 4 hike, starts and ends at Nature’s Window. This hike of 3 to 4 hours winds through moderate to challenging terrain and offers spectacular scenery.
The Z-Bend lookout offers views over the gorge as it plunges 150m down to the river bed, and is accessible by a 1.4km return class 3 hike. Hawkes Head and Ross Graham Lookout are both accessible by a bitumen road, suitable for caravans and motorhomes, with lookouts, picnic areas and short walks available. It was not quite school holidays, and we still had time to find that perfect hideaway, so we hitched up again and headed for the North West Coastal Highway.
Galena Bridge, only 13km north of the Kalbarri intersection with the highway, was a freedom camp that came highly recommended. The Murchison River was flowing, and there were many campsites available. Suitable for big rigs, this 24 hour rest area has a dump point and toilets. We left the van here, and drove back to check out the Warribanno Chimney. An unsealed road of around 10km leads you to the site of the original lead smelter for the Geraldine Mine. Despite lying dormant for over 150 years, the mine is rich with history. The chimney remains intact, due to its solid stonework and foundations. If you want to continue to the mine site, it is recommended that you use a 4WD. This area would be a great place to visit during wildflower season; a great spot for a quick off-the-highway detour.
It was now becoming imperative that we find somewhere to tuck ourselves away for the school holidays, and we spotted Tamala Station on our Hema Map, 42km along the mostly unsealed – and unusually named – Useless Loop Road. Tamala Station is an active pastoral station, breeding goats for export. It was not mentioned in any of our camping and caravanning books, nor had it been previously recommended, but we decided to check it out anyway. We booked online for two nights, but on arrival, and after meeting Joke, our hostess, we decided we would stay for four. After that, she was booked out for the rest of the holidays. Our site was on Prickle Point, at The Huts, a small cove which we shared with no one, apart from two families of goats. There is no drinking water available on this property, so ensure you have enough for your stay.
We fished and swam in the clear turquoise waters, and used our time to explore the peninsula and the rest of the Useless Loop Road. The drive out to Steep Point, Australia’s most western point on the mainland includes around 30km of sand dune driving, and 70km of sand and gravel roads. Allow a full day for this excursion, and don’t forget to reduce your tyre pressure to at least 20 psi before you start over the dunes. Take your lunch and plenty of water with you, there are no hamburger joints out there – or any other facilities for that matter.
Part of the proposed Edel Land National Park, Steep Point was named in 1697 by Dutch seafarer William de Vlamingh as Steyle Hock, meaning Steep Point. Many people now include this westerly point as part of a pilgrimage to visit all extreme points of the compass on mainland Australia.
We could not stay any longer at Tamala, and needed to head into town to catch up on shopping and washing. We headed into Denham, 130km to the north, not really thinking we would be able to secure a site. To our surprise, the Denham Seaside Tourist Village was able to offer us an unpowered site in their overflow area. After getting up to date on washing and topping up the pantry and fridge, we headed out to explore parts of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area.
While in the area, we checked out Shell Beach for its amazing pure white beach, created naturally from hundreds of millions of tiny sea shells. We walked the Eagle Bluff boardwalk to view marine creatures in the shallow waters below where you may see rays, turtles, sharks or if you are lucky, a dugong. If you have the opportunity, venture out to Francois Peron National Park to experience the natural beauty of Shark Bay. Enjoy a coffee or a meal at the Ocean Park Aquarium, after you have attended an hourly shark feeding or one of their Ocean Park guided tours. Squid fishing under lights on the jetty is a popular evening pastime in Denham. It is important to note that Denham does not have ready access to fresh water, so bring as much as you can, and don’t expect to be able to top up your tanks while in town.
Earlier in our trip, our car fridge had started playing up. Having located an authorised dealer in Carnarvon, we now needed to find somewhere close enough to travel back into town, but not too close to the busy, crowded Carnarvon caravan parks. A quick look at the map found us heading towards Quobba Blowholes, approximately 75km north of town on a sealed road. Point Quobba is a Fish Habitat Protection Area adjoining the Quobba Blowholes. The sheltered lagoon offers a safe environment for snorkelling; in calm conditions an excellent place to gain awareness of the marine environment. Beach and offshore fishing is popular on the surf side, and off the rocks.
The rugged coastline at Quobba has produced a spectacular set of blowholes, with some of the waves producing waterspouts some 20 metres high. Remember, though, king waves do crash over these rocks randomly. This coastline needs to be treated with caution and respect; lives have been lost here by the unsuspecting. Over Easter, the camp sites were busy, but we managed to secure a “pad with a view” and a track down to the beach, spending our time fishing from the beach, snorkelling in the natural aquarium and baking hot cross buns (it was Easter after all!) Many of the fishing shacks, owned by locals from Carnarvon, were inhabited for the long weekend but the entire location was still peaceful. To camp here, you need to be self-contained, (free water is available at the information bay in Carnarvon) and have your own chemical toilet (dump point on site). Some fellow travellers on long service leave from the east, Monica and Graham, shared their camp fire with us. Amazingly, it turned out that Monica works with my son, back on the Sunshine Coast! Big country, small world!
The fridge, finished and ready to go, was duly collected from Carnarvon after we stocked up on groceries and water and did a few of the obligatory touristy things in town. The Carnarvon Heritage Precinct, a heritage park at the base of the One Mile Jetty, features the Carnarvon Tramway, a Lighthouse Keepers Cottage Museum, Railway Station Museum and Shearing Hall of Fame.
We left Quobba Blowholes after waking up to a storm, and arrived at our next freedom camp that afternoon in the midst of another, the first of several that were to affect the coast to our north.
Our arrival at Warroora Station in the storm helped us decide whether to camp on the beach or on the dunes behind. Not sure if tidal swells would inundate the sites along the beach, we chose a quieter spot away from any potential floods.
Warroora Station (pronounced ‘warra’) is a family-run sheep and cattle station, adjacent to the Ningaloo Reef coastline. They offer wilderness beach camping and station stay accommodation. While there are several options for camping, we chose 14 Mile, the only wilderness camp site accessible for 2WD vehicles – and the only accessible campsite that weekend due to the storms.
The beach sites, filled with seasoned campers, fisher folk and nomads who return year after year, are on the calm protected waters of the Ningaloo Reef. As with most of the wilderness and freedom campsites we experienced along this coast, you must be fully prepared with plenty of water and a chemical toilet.
Our final destination on the Coral Coast was to be Exmouth and Cape Range National Park. Due to the storms we experienced, and subsequent rain in the days following, unfortunately the roads to Exmouth were closed, as was the National Park.
With the holidays now over, it was no longer imperative to hide from family holiday makers. Instead, we joined the ever-growing grey nomad pilgrimage north. We left the coast and headed inland for our next adventure. The Pilbara was calling us, peeking out from behind its red, iron clad horizon.