Natural picture frame overlooking the Murchison Gorge
We had left Lucky Bay in high spirits on the Monday morning (12th
May) after spending three glorious days in Cape Le Grand National Park, but knew that the price we had to pay for our 'weekend in paradise' was a long (around 800kms) and relatively boring drive back to Perth, before we could start the second part of our trip - heading all the way up the West Coast towards Broome. Unfortunately it wasn't long before we realized that there was a problem with our campervan – it was swallowing fuel at nearly twice the rate it had done throughout the previous two weeks! And with a 40-litre fuel tank to start with this meant that we could only drive 200kms on a full tank of fuel!
When I called the roadside assistance line for Wicked Campers I was told that unless there was a fuel leak (which we could see no evidence of) then the most likely explanation was simply that we were driving into a strong head-wind! But this theory was dispelled when the fuel economy continued to linger at around 18-20 litres per 100kms (it had previously been around 10-11 litres per 100kms) even after we turned
Peering through the window
View of the Murchison Gorge from Nature's Window
north from Ravensthorpe towards Hyden on the monday afternoon; before encountering almost no wind whatsoever the following morning.
So after spending monday night at a caravan park beside Wave Rock – where Linda had her first try at rock-surfing the next day – we continued to empty our wallets at almost every service station we passed until we finally made it back into Perth on the tuesday afternoon. Much to our dismay, the mechanic at the Wicked Campers depot in Perth (where we had picked the van up fifteen days earlier) could find nothing wrong with the vehicle; but after making it known that we had no intention whatsoever of continuing to fork out money hand over fist for the next four weeks, we were then offered a choice: either we could accept a free upgrade to a much newer, nicer and more reliable van (though admittedly one with much less 'personality'!) or we could simply swap Jolly Roger for another van of the same model (and vintage).
And so, with the office at the depot about to close for the day and the guy in charge clearly not too keen on staying any later than necessary, we
Linda trying her hand at Wave Rock
(or according to Linda 'I') took the free upgrade to the newer van... which we only noticed AFTER we started loading it up with all of our belongings was slightly smaller and less 'camper-friendly' inside than it's predecessor. But with the office already closed by the time we had finished loading up the new van – and with only about an hour-and-a-half of sunlight remaining in the day - we had little choice but to accept our fate and hit the road north... though even this proved to be a problem when we spent the next hour stuck in a peak-hour traffic jam that extended through the centre of Perth and all the way along the freeway to the north of the city.
Our misfortune would continue when we wound up spending that night at a beach-side car park in the north-western suburbs of Perth that would seem to have been either a popular drug trafficking point or the epicentre of the local gay nightlife scene (or possibly both) – for hours on end car after car would pull off the main road, slowly circle the car park, pull into a parking space for a while, and then take
Only in Australia
A bushfire warning system where 'very high' is at the lower end of the danger scale!
off again. Linda may have been able to sleep through it all, but I had my worst night's sleep of the trip so far.
If anything good was to come out of the night, it was that when a police car did eventually come in and circle the car park – at which point there was no hiding the fact that both we and another backpacker couple nearby were intending to spend the night there (illegally) – they passed straight by us without paying us a second glance... though I couldn't be sure whether this was because they had more important things to worry about and were prepared to cut us some slack, or whether they were simply cruising for a blow-job as well! So for the second time in just over a fortnight we had barely made it out of Perth, in a van that on first impressions we were less than happy with, and were forced to try our luck spending the night in a busy car park - not quite the start to the northern part of our road-trip that we had been hoping for, but at least we were on our way!
The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park
morning after painfully negotiating Perth's sprawling seaside suburbs (most of which appeared to be new, expensive and utterly charmless) we finally found ourselves hitting the open road. But having made a late start to the day and then stopped off in the wind-surfing mecca of Lancelin for a beach-side lunch, we had only enough time to make it as far north as Cervantes (200kms from Perth) before we were forced to call it a day – though neither of us was too keen on having to fork out thirty dollars to stay at the only caravan park in town, which resulted in us taking an impromptu tour of the surrounding area scouring for potential 'rest areas'.
Having decided against spending the night at a lookout on top of a hill not far from the highway, we eventually settled for a quiet dead-end road in what seemed to be a virtually-deserted housing estate on the ocean side of the highway. This led to a rather comical situation when we parked the van and then walked back up the street to see if it would be visible from the highway - only to encounter a strange box-like structure above the ground
Dynamite Bay near Green Head
pointing directly across the street and emitting some sort of red light. It's hilarious to look back on now, but at the time we couldn't tell whether this was some sort of time-lapse camera; a sensor used to detect the presence of law-flaunting backpackers in campervans; or a means of communicating with beings on a different planet... but whatever the case it had us well-and-truly freaked out!
With the night having passed uneventfully enough we back-tracked about twenty kilometres the next morning to Nambung National Park to see the so-called Pinnacles Desert – where thousands of rocky shapes resembling termite mounds rise up out of the sand looking like a miniature version of Cappadocia in Turkey. Where the Pinnacles came from is anyone's guess, with even the nearby visitors centre admitting that science has been unable to conclusively explain the process that formed them – though the prevailing theory seems to be that they are petrified tree stumps that have been buried underneath the sand on numerous occasions throughout the past few thousand years.
After our visit to the Pinnacles we then resumed our northward migration along the coast – playing hide-and-seek with the Indian Ocean as we
Monument to the Lost
HMAS Sydney II Memorial in Geraldton
went - stopping off at Green Head for a swim at the picturesque Dynamite Bay; before eventually pulling into Geraldton (the largest town between Perth and Darwin) where we took the opportunity to stay in a caravan park so as to enjoy our first showers in three days... though my search for a pub in town showing the AFL football was somewhat less fruitful than I had anticipated!
The following morning I dropped Linda off in the centre of town for some retail therapy, before setting off to explore Geraldton more thoroughly – starting with a trip up to the HMAS Sydney II Memorial atop a hill right near the centre of town, where a beautifully designed monument commemorates the 645 men who lost their lives on board the ship during the second World War; as well as offering wonderful views of the Geraldton foreshore. From there I basically followed the foreshore from the southern beaches all the way around past the busy port and back into town, before stopping off at a beach right in the centre of town for a most refreshing swim.
After meeting up with Linda at the beach, we headed to the local
View from Eagle Gorge lookout in Kalbarri National Park
Coles supermarket to stock up on supplies (not knowing when - or even if - we would see such a supermarket again) before tackling the two hour drive north to Kalbarri, a small town located at the mouth of the Murchison River and surrounded by Kalbarri National Park. Having stayed at a sheep farm whilst we were in Margaret River, it seemed only right that we should this time stay at a horse ranch – and so we headed straight to the aptly-named Big River Ranch to secure a cheap un-powered campsite, which would wind up being our home for the next three nights.
With a couple of hours sunshine still left in the day, we then headed back out of town the way we had come in to check out some of the coastal attractions that compliment the inland gorges within Kalbarri National Park. At places like Eagle Gorge and Pot Alley we had the perfect vantage point from which to appreciate the spectacular coastal cliffs for which this part of the coastline is renowned. And while to our eyes Mushroom Rock and Rainbow Valley were little more than evocatively-named car parks, Red Bluff proved to be the
View from the Z-Bend lookout in Kalbarri National Park
perfect spot from which to watch the sun slowly sink towards and below the horizon... as wave after perfect wave rolled in from the Indian Ocean to continue the process of erosion that has shaped this remarkable shoreline.
For saturday morning we had booked an abseiling trip – partly for the opportunity to check out one of the national park's more famous attractions (the aptly-named Z-Bend at Murchison Gorge); partly for the rush of dropping down a 35-metre cliff-face attached to nothing more than a length of rope; and partly as practise for the adventure tour that we had already booked for Karijini National Park in the final week of our trip... which at $275 per person would be an extremely costly exercise in wishful thinking if either of us was to back out of the opening 40-metre abseil down Weano Falls!
But though Linda chose to calm her nerves by having a practise run on a 4-metre training wall at the bottom of the gorge to start with, she was soon moving onto the 20-metre wall that I had started out on. And with a couple of goes each on that wall under our belts, we were
The striking red cliffs where we went abseiling in Murchison Gorge
both then ready to tackle the 35-metre overhang that would be our final challenge of the day. And if the abseiling hadn't provided enough of a thrill, then finishing the tour with a refreshing swim in the muddy brown (but otherwise very refreshing) waters of the Murchison River certainly did just that... though in an interesting post-script Linda decided that the abseiling hadn't been as exciting as she had expected; and subsequently chose to cancel her place on the Karijini adventure tour so as to put the money towards a dive course in Exmouth instead – though that's a story for another day!
Returning to Kalbarri in the early afternoon, we decided to reward ourselves for our earlier exertions with some rest and relaxation at a nearby surf beach, where the rocky reef formed a tranquil little lagoon of sorts. But with no snorkel gear with which to explore the little rock pools further we soon switched locations to another beach on the banks of the Murchison River - near to where it enters the sea – for another swim; before heading to a nearby lookout at the mouth of the river to indulge in another beautiful West Coast
High above The Loop
Taking a breather above Murchison Gorge on The Loop hiking trail
My plan for sunday involved driving back into the national park to check out The Loop - where the Murchison River bends back on itself forming an almost complete circle, surrounded by steep cliffs virtually the whole way around - but with the route into The Loop following the same unsealed road for about ten kilometres that we had bounced our way along on the way to Z-Bend on the abseiling tour (and with the memories of our Stirling Range ordeal still fresh in Linda's mind) Linda had decided to give it a miss in favour of a lazy day back at the horse ranch.
I had no such qualms with bouncing my way along the dirt road however, and was more than willing to break the 'no dirt roads allowed' rule in our trusty rental campervan. After checking out the view from the western lookout I then headed to the main car park at The Loop, from where it was only a five minute walk to the number one tourist attraction in Kalbarri National Park – Nature's Window, where thousands of years of erosion has produced a perfect natural picture frame (the actual shape of which
Not your average riverside stroll
Impressive overhang on The Loop trail
bears an uncanny resemblance to Austria!) in the rock, through which the magnificent Murchison River Gorge can be viewed far below.
After savouring the picture postcard view for a while, it was time to set off on the 8-kilometre Loop hiking trail. Following the cliff-top for about the first three kilometres, the trail offered outstanding views of the river far below; before reaching a sharp bend in the river where the trail suddenly dropped down the side of the gorge to a lovely little sandy beach facing a sheer cliff, which provided the perfect opportunity for a refreshing (and scenic) swim.
From there the trail negotiated a section of beautiful weathered rock immediately above the river – where a couple of tricky overhangs added a dose of excitement to the proceedings – before eventually rounding another bend in the river where the gorge started to open out somewhat, allowing the first cooling breeze of the day to blow through. It was along this part of the trail that I spotted a number of black-footed rock wallabies, each of whom would first engage in a staring contest with me (as if to say “what on earth are YOU doing
The reason they call it the Sunset Coast
Watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean from Red Bluff
down here?!?”) before promptly bouncing away into the bush.
Eventually I made my way back up to the top of the cliffs to complete the circuit back at Nature's Window, and after once again stopping to admire the magnificent view of the Murchison Gorge, it was time for me to head back to Kalbarri to join Linda for one last night at the Big River Ranch. Though the week might have gotten off to a shaky start, it had finished with another memorable weekend. And while Kalbarri might not have been the first amazing place that we would visit on the West Coast, it would also be far from the last...
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