Why You'll Love Kalbarri

28 June 2010

Be seduced by Kalbarri’s magnetic charms

When I was about 10 years old, in 1966, we went on a family holiday in what even back then was an old Kombi. Early in our holiday from Perth to Broome, we ventured down a long, dusty corrugated road that branched off the Great Northern Highway. At the end of this bone-rattling track was a tiny rock-lobster fishing village located at the mouth of the Murchison River. Kalbarri back then wasn’t much, but must have left an impression for I have been back many times since. It is easy to see why Kalbarri has drawn me back countless times since.

Just the setting alone is a major attraction for many thousands of West Australian holidaymakers every year. The now bustling little holiday and fishing village of 1400 people nestles along a wide estuary where the Murchison River meets the sometimes tempestuous Indian Ocean.


When you combine the wonderful winter climate along with great fishing and surfing, you already have compelling reasons for holidaying here. But wait, there’s more, as the old cliché goes. It is one of the few places I know of where, within a half an hour’s drive, you can explore spectacular coastal and river gorges. Separating the open sea from mostly tranquil river waters is a narrow gap between Chinaman Rock and Oyster Reef. When the swell is up, fishing boats and pleasure craft have to play a dangerous game of judgment when entering or leaving the river. Many a boat over the years has suffered a swamping trying to do so. For the fishing folk, the gamble is well worth it for there are rich pickings out there.


But for the vast majority of visitors, Kalbarri is simply a picturesque and restful holiday place where risk taking is confined to gentle walks, swimming, fishing or sipping cocktails at sunset. That said, Kalbarri caters for anything from extreme sports enthusiasts to families with toddlers. Without a doubt, the major scenic attractions in the Kalbarri area are the gorges.




Driving along the Ajana Kalbarri Road into town from the Great Northern Highway, it is hard to imagine that there is much out there. Although there is a spellbinding display of wildflowers in spring, for most people all that seems to be out there is scrub. But, drive down a gravel road that starts not far out of town and be prepared for a surprise.


The gravel road can be a bit corrugated but is fine for 2WDs; although, leave the caravan behind. It is well worth the dusty 26km trip each way.


The Murchison River, which flows down with flooding force every five years or so, has gouged out a series of meandering gorges. In fact, at a location aptly named the Loop, the river almost bends back on itself. Bush walking is a favourite activity in these gorges, but hikers should be well prepared as temperatures can soar into the 50s during summer. You should avoid hiking during hot days in summer, anyway.


Our favourite walk is at the Loop, an 8km loop trail that involves some rock scrambling, so it is best suited to experienced hikers. The hike can be hot going even outside the summer months, but you can cool off with a dip in the river. The walk takes you through continually changing landscapes that reveal the erosive forces of the Murchison River in fascinating detail. If you are not the type who enjoys a good hike, you can take a shorter walk to Natures Window for fine views of the Loop through a large hole in a rock. Possibly the most spectacular view of the gorge system that only involves a short walk is aptly named Z Bend.

Although there are sheer sections where abseiling is the only way down, you can follow a steep track to the river and enjoy a swim or relax on fl at rocks. Most people just stand at the lookout and marvel at the dramatic sight out front. Other locations such as Hawks Head and Ross Graham are also popular locations to view the gorges. Although walking is the main activity in the gorges, the more adventurous can undertake rock climbing and abseiling at Z Bend. There are adventure tours available, so contact the visitors centre for details.



Just when you thought there could be no more sheer rock cliffs, take a drive south of the town along the coast. This is the beginning of the Zuytdorp Cliffs that continue all the way to Shark Bay. Evocative names like Red Bluff, Pot Alley, Blue Holes, Eagle Gorge, Mushroom Rock, and the Natural Bridge describe the rock formations that are this time forged by the sea.

The best way to see this spectacular coastline is to drive to the designated lookouts and get the boots on and go for a walk.

For a short amble, Mushroom Rock is a beauty. For a longer walk, the Bigurda Trail is 8km one way. With deep water surging right up to the cliffs, there are parts popular with rock anglers. But this is a very dangerous activity as king waves that strike without warning are a common occurrence. For a great sunset over the Indian Ocean, head to Eagle Gorge Lookout.

The coastal cliffs light up in a rainbow of colours. When not looking at the cliff colour, don’t forget to lookout for the telltale spray of water signifying the migration of humpback whales. This is usually between June and November.



The drive into Kalbarri can be one of the highlights of the trip if you arrive in wildflower season. Depending on the amount of winter rain, the flowers can be almost overwhelming. Elegant yellow grevilleas line the drive and the sand plains are covered in every colour of flower imaginable.


Frankly, the gorges are good enough on their own, but at 8:45am on the river foreshore, prepare to learn all about pelicans. The local Kalbarri pelicans glide in for a feed and an expert is on hand to tell the gathering throng (without dogs) all about them.

Jacques Point is an institution for local surfers. The surf break rolls in alongside a rocky point, so spectators get up close and personal as the surfers pass by. On a big day, waves can be 3m or more.


Hiring or bringing your own kayak is yet another active way of enjoying Kalbarri. You can paddle around the estuary or the gorges. Again, you can hire kayaks or canoes out of Kalbarri or go with professional tour guides. Swimming is possible within the estuary where there are protected beaches. Strong tidal movements and water flow after rain can make swimming risky, so take care.

Kalbarri is also known for its breeding programs. Rainbow Jungle is an Australian parrot breeding centre. The beautiful, landscaped gardens are aflutter with the wings of colourful parrots. The walkthrough facility is the biggest free flight aviary for parrots in Australia. The other breeding centre is a bit more unusual: sea horses!


Head north from Geraldton to Northampton on North West Coastal Highway then: Option 1: Turn left to Port Gregory and follow coast to Kalbarri. Option 2: Drive north on North West Coastal Hwy until the sign to Kalbarri. This comes in via the river.


•The Loop
A track for experienced bushwalkers; lookouts of the Murchison River gorges.


•Natures Window
A shorter walk to a fine lookout.


•Z Bend
A spectacular lookout spot.


•Zuytdorp Cliffs
Many lookouts and walks. Drive south along the coast.


•Eagle Gorge Lookout
See the spectacular sunset, as well as whales.


•Kalbarri riverfront walk
Walk or cycle and see views of the sea.


All year, July to October for wildflowers. Summer is often very hot, especially in the river gorges.

Kalbarri Visitor Centre
Allen Community Centre on the foreshore
Ph: 1800 639 468



Murchison Caravan Park
91 Grey Street
Ph: (08) 9937 1005


Kalbarri Tudor Holiday Park

10 Porter Street
Ph: (08) 9937 1077
[email protected]

Kalbarri Anchorage Caravan Park
168 Grey Street, Kalbarri
Ph: (08) 9937 1181

By Michael and Jane Pelusey