Wild, Wild West coast – Perth to Canarvon

Ricky met me from the airport. It was exciting and lovely to see him again and it felt like a lifetime since I had been in Perth.

Ricky had been organising the next leg of our perth adventure and had been in touch with an Italian traveller, Luigi who had a similar plan to head north to Darwin and his own 4×4, looking for passengers. With this in mind we spent the following 3 days packing up our perth lives, restocking some clothes, washing the African dirt from my skin.

On Thursday night we met Luigi and Karolin, a German backpacker, for a beer and to discuss the upcoming adventure.

Luigi had done long distance drives in Australia before and was well prepared with camping gear so for us it was “car- check, tent- check, let’s go, Saturday at 8am.”

Day 383 – Perth to Jurien Bay

Auntie Ros dropped us at Midland train station car park, and in true bank holiday style it was tipping it down! Luigi was next to arrive why the truck, then Karolin and we headed off to stock up. We bought our food and fuel for the next few days and headed north from Perth.

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Our first stop was GinGin where we pulled in to a bottle shop to get beer. The rain probably didn’t do poor GinGin any justice as it looked a little sad and deserted and we pulled on to Lancelin.

Lancelin is the home of crystal white sand dunes. With the winds still high and a little bit wet we turned on the 4wd and pulled onto the dunes to have some fun. We followed the undulating tracks through to where the dunes met the sea, had a blustery few photos and retreated to the vehicle.

Our lunch stop was some peanut butter sandwiches in a park on the coast, sheltered from the winds and fending off some pesky seagulls, then we pressed on to the pinnacle desert near Cervantes. The pinnacles are thousand year old rock formations, protruding from orange desert floor. We parked up and walked the well trodden track through the juts of yellow rock admiring the surreal concentrations of these structures which one day will be completely covered by the moving sands.

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From the pinnacles we stuck to the Indian Ocean drive to Jurien bay. The wind had dropped, some clouds were clearing and we dipped our toes in the ocean, enjoying the first sensation of sand underfoot.

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As the afternoon drew in we made our way to a roadside rest camp to pitch the tents. The stop was a little layby site with toilets and Luigi started cooking spaghetti bolognaise for us to enjoy around the camp fire. The beers and get to know you travel stories defined the first night of our adventure.

Day 384 – Jurien Bay to Kalbarri

We set off to rejoin the ocean path quickly in Port Dennison. The ocean twinkled blue and we drove out on the port peninsula where fishermen cast their rods into the waters, most to our amusement were catching more rocks than fish.

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On the coastal barbecues we cooked up a treat of bacon and egg sandwiches overlooking the ocean.

In Dongara we walked alongside the Irwin River back to the ocean. The guidebook had said we might see pelicans and cormorants, and sure enough, our first sight of the river was a pelican and a cormorant sitting next to each other on a branch as if planned. The route back to the ocean was picturesque, we passed craggy rocks filled with bees hives and emerged to waves erupting fiercely, the natural beaches strewn with seaweed. We took in the scene before heading on to Geraldton. Being a Sunday lunchtime, the coastal town was sleepy although I’m not sure how much life is usually pumping through it. We took lunch, restocked on fuel and water and pressed on to Port Gregory.

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The scrub bush opened out into steep descents and suddenly opened up to reveal a pink lake, the Hutt Lagoon. We walked along the dried up salty bed, now home to lots of spider webs to photograph it’s subtle twinkle.

Back on the road we veered off to Hutt River Province which turned out to be a 60km de tour. The red track kept revealing new horizons until we finally pulled up at the Gate. Hutt River province is a farm owned by Leonard Casley, declared independent from Australia in 1970 due to a despute over wheat quotas. Since then the farm has been able to avoid taxes to the government, but also has it’s own passports, stamps and currency. As strange as this attraction is the first time, this is now my second visit having completed this stretch of the west coast in 2009 with the passport stamp to prove it. Last time we were greeted by self appointed HRH Prince Leonard, however this time Prince Ian told us about the land. I was sad to hear Princess Shirley has also passed away since my last visit.

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We made camp for the night on the borders of Kalbarri National Park, cooked some sausages and did several wood runs to keep the fire alight. The stars and crescent moon lit the sky.

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Day 385 – Kalbarri to Hamelin Pool

As we packed away our tents we spotted a small scorpion under the tent. Although being warned about them regularly this is the first one I have seen.

We packed up and made our way to Kalbarri town, driving 80km of red sand track to reach it. This coastal town was gorgeous with ferocious waves catapulting spray upwards. We parked to climb red bluff, a hill formed of layered rock. This is the sandstone left uncovered once the limestone which dominates most of the west coast has been eroded away. The path wound left along the coast and the view panoramic from the top. We walked on to find the mushroom rock trail which took us away from path and onto scramble rock. Mushroom rock stood on the edge being covered by incoming waves. It was a beautiful trail with intricate inlets carved out. On our walk back we saw a kangaroo bound out from almost under our feet into the distance.

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We drove back through the park stomachs rumbling and into the famous area of Kalbarri where natures window can be found. After a bite of lunch we walked down into what resembled a canyon with the Murchison river running through. The ‘window’ is formed of a frame of rock looking out into the dramatic valley.

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We climbed into the gorge to walk the sandy river bank and even braved a splash and a swim in the cool water before returning to the top.

The road on to our night stop was unfolding before us like a never ending straight path and we weren’t sure where we would make it to in time to stop for sunset. It was a race against time to avoid the kangaroo playground which is night time. We got fuel at the billabong roadhouse, some 150kms of straight road from the national park, and then refuelled 47kms later at Overlander roadhouse. This stop marked the turning to Shark Bay Nature area and the next camp was 25 kms down this westerly facing track. Driving into the setting sun at 6:05 was a group effort and we pulled into Hamelin just in time for the sun to disappear beyond the horizon.

Hamelin Pool was a facilitated camp, the first stop we paid for and thus, first shower of the trip so far. Burgers were dinner, and a windy night lay ahead of us.

Day 386 – Hamelin to Eagle Bluff

We survived the night and made a good start for the Stromatolites just 2km away. These are living mineral formations in the sea, they look suspiciously like rocks but are actually the oldest life form on earth today at 1900 years old. The boardwalk takes you from the sea to look at these shallowly submerged formations. They are formed on microbial mats which exist in the ocean here and comparable bacteria take up residence and make favourable conditions for other bacteria. It’s a hotspot of microscopic life down there! With extreme heat and salt conditions these hardy formations are safe from predators.

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On the west coast are two peninsulas, one of Denham and Monkey Mia, and one more westerly of this with no real settlements on it. It is aptly named Useless Loop, however this 350km round trip was our destination for the day. We set off along the road, which has no mention in the lonely planet or travellers guide book, and sure enough the road quickly ran into sand track. We sailed along for 171kms, spotting 2 dead kangaroos on the way.

At the end of useless loop road, the sand underfoot got looser and it was 4wd only. At points it was loose sand, steep climbs and some fun corners but the most breathtaking scenery I think I have ever come across. The sand was crystal white with some vegetation. Lizards and butterflies visited but no cars in sight, a true gem, undeveloped to the nth degree.

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It must have been 50km before we got to a ranger station, informed her of our wherabouts and when to expect us out, paid the national park fee and set off down plunging depths. The beautiful purple windflowers subtly infused the vegetation the same as a Scottish thistle, but the crystal blue water contrasted with white sands cannot be described in words which recreate the awe.

At the end point their was a few campers who were in for a week to fish off the craggy rock. They were hoping to catch Spanish mackerel so had their bait on the surface being kept atop using a helium filled balloon allowing the bait to dance realistically. Luigi set up a line and caught a small fish, but threw it back as it was too small to eat. Lurking in the water was a huge grouper, maybe 2metres in length, and we also spotted a pod of dolphins. Karolin and I made cheese and salad sandwiches, racing against time so as to not get sand in the mayo and prevent the bread from drying too much. It was a famous five moment.

We took a photo at Australia’s most westerly point and headed back to enjoy an empty beach and crystal clear warm waters. The only slight interruption on paradise was a the sand being pelted at us so once we dried we retraced our steps out along the amazing trail.

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We stopped for petrol at a settlement which looked like a dusty town from a movie with old fashioned petrol pumps. Despite having a nice camp we pushed on 20km to be closer to Monkey Mia for our morning excursion and make use of the last bit of sunlight. We pulled up at Eagle Bluff and were almost blown off the cliff as we got out. We moved to a different spot, half sheltered by a sand dune but were still battling with the wind to put our tents up and had to use backpacks and heavy equipment to weight down the ropes.

Dinner was carbonara, cooked by Our resident Italian chef, washed down with Rum before an early night, on a slope, with the wind battering the tent side.

Day 387 – Eagle Bluff to Francois Peron National Park

When we rose there was an array of footprints telling tales of movement in the night. A lizard track ran nearby as well as a snake following a rodent.

We rose early to set off for Monkey Mia to see the dolphins. Here wild dolphins come in to interact, they are fed a small amount of food if they come in. They only feed females and young so at the moment there are 5 who they can feed, and up to three times a day IF and WHEN the dolphins come in. Usually the first feed is pretty much guaranteed but second and third are less common. We arrived after first feed but pretty quickly spotted the small bottle nose dolphins frolicking. They enjoy the waves to dance and play in. After a short while, three we in sight, and by the time they prepared the feed, six dolphins we re present. They swam close as we were knee deep in the water, turning onto their side to look at us inquisitively. A few people were chosen to feed them, and then they moved off. We also spotted turtles in the water, poking their heads up for air.

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We moved on quickly to Denham to get the starter motor looked at. It was a simple fault to fix and we pressed on into town to do a grocery shop. This little peninsula was pricey and shampoo was $10. Here the waters were crystal clear, the sand white and a BBQ station played host to some bacon sandwiches now with the addition of BBQ sauce. As we cooked, Luigi shouted for the kitchen tongs and ran off into the shallow ocean waters. He had spotted a large blue swimmer crab and grabbed it with the tongs. He placed it on the cooking station and ran out in search for more. He returned with a second, larger and more angry and began boiling the water where they would meet their end. After a crab snack lunch, fuel, food and alcohol restocked we headed to Francois Peron National Park.

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On the way we spotted an Emu with two babies, and just inside the park another stood its ground as we drove past.

At Francois Peron national park we deflated the tyres and began the very sandy 4wd trail into the far point of the park, Cape Peron. We got a warning from the ranger for taking the tracks too quick as we bounced around to the 4wd soundtrack, AC/DC.

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The beach at Cape Peron was stunning. The red sand from the track culminated in red craggy rock, contrasting with white beach sand, and then bright blue waters. The lines were so clean cut with just a few porous rocks strewn on the beach. Save for two others we were the only ones on the beach, the sand had a crusty upper layer, like a creme brûlée, where no footprints had broken the surface in a long time. Walking down the length of the beach we scrambled the rocks at the end to discover a small secluded bay where you could honestly believe you were the only people for miles.

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We walked along to enjoy Cape Peron’s high lookout over the ocean. Cormorants and sea birds were the only other obvious life forms in sight.

We drove back through the park to the Big Lagoon where we were going to camp the night. With tents pitched the boys took the fishing rod to the water, and I boiled water for an eagerly anticipated cup of tea.

As the sun set, the boys determinedly fished on, and I started cooking. When they returned empty handed we had some lamb steaks barbecued, a makeshift fork and string combination keeping the parks broken button in place. Cheap wine was the evenings drink of choice.

Day 388 – Francois Peron National Park to Canarvon

We awoke and the boys went out for a morning cast, however were still unsuccessful. Leaving Peron national park we stopped at the Artisan bore hole, a hot tub boasting 40 degrees natural water being pumped from 540 metres down, the lifeblood of the community living here 80 years ago.

Leaving the Cape Peron peninsula we stopped at Shell Beach, a 120km stretch of coastline where white cockle shells make up the beach entirely, in places 10 metres deep. The white beach is stunning, the shells rather ugly name is the Fragum Cockle, the hardy organism which can survive this extremely salty water as very little fresh water penetrates into this part of the peninsula.

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We drove on out of Cape Peron Peninsula, back to the Overlander roadhouse where we had been 2 days earlier for a refuel of us and the car. The long 200km stretch between Overlander and Canarvon was a straight road with little of interest, in fact we all spent most of it asleep, except Luigi!

We pulled up in small town Canarvon with its picturesque waterfront and called in to see Gary, a boat mechanic friend of Luigi who let us set up camp in his garden.

Ricky and I walked into the town, a few banks, a surf shop and a groceries store were pretty much all the amenities to peruse. The locals were friendly to strike up conversation.

In the evening we visited a friend of Luigi’s for a gathering of backpackers around the world culminating in Canarvon. The majority were Italian or French with a few German and English, and stories were swapped about the ‘character building nature of regional work’ and life on the west coast.

Petrol stops;
$1.44 Midland, Perth
$1.59 Geraldton
$1.78 Kalbarri
$1.85 Billabong roadhouse
$1.75 Overlander roadhouse
$1.75 Nanga
$1.74 Denham

Time of first beer record; Steep Point 9.51am, record holder Ricky.

Total showers: 2
Dead kangaroo count: 4
Live kangaroo count: 3
Emu count: 6

Spent so far (between 4); $1,109.60
Kilometres covered: 1602km
Distance from Perth: 850km

One comment

  1. Ahh this brings back memories. I think we travelled more slowly and definitely gathered more red dust on the way. There are things I’ll never forget; Natures Window; Shell Beach (I have a little bit of it in a jar here, sshh don’t tell); Roadhouses with their overpriced stock; Pinnacles; Monkey Mia (although we didn’t experience Dolphins as it was too expensive to visit that spot back then); Carnarvon, the main thing I recall from here was discovering the delight of eating frozen bananas covered in chocolate; the stunning arid beauty of the region with the backdrop of endless blue sea. It is breathtaking and so unspoilt and unpopulated.

    There are also many things you’ve mentioned that I don’t remember, either because we didn’t experience it or I’ve forgotten it. Having s four wheel drive gives you access to more and it sounds as though you’ve made the most of that. It is an area unique in its barren beauty. I love the photo of the Pelican and the Cormorant posing as if positioned by the WA tourist board.

    Thank you for such an interesting, colourfully descriptive blog that has stirred many memories for me. Xxxxx

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