Roadtrip through Western Australia Part I

We both breathed a sigh of relief when the plane took off from Denpasar airport and climbed up heading south to Perth, Australia. Not only had we made it through the gate with slightly more than the permited 7kg of hand luggage but also we were happy to leave South East Asia behind. Seven months and seven developing countries had been enough for us. Despite enjoying most of our time in Indonesia, we had been counting down days to Australia and being back in a western country.

Our flight touched down on time and at 10pm the border control staff were a bit bored and happy to see us. It was funny and felt great when a woman in the duty free shop welcomed us back home even though neither of us had set foot in the country before.
After our last flight with Jetstar we had expected a delay and therefore planned a night in the airport. After a late dinner and our first burger since Japan we settled down for the night. Sadly, it was fairly busy and neither of us got more than three hours of sleep before we hopped on the bus to the city.

Our first familar looking building in months

We had some time to kill before our hostel check-in time and ended up spending most of it in a laundrette. We also found a nice café for our first Aussi breakfast. We spent the rest of the day shopping in a health food shop with open/unpackaged goods, a supermarket and sorting out a few other things.

Day 1

Start: Perth
End:Moore river bridge rest area
Distance: 100km

Finally! This was the beginning of our long awaited camping trip. We picked our camper van up in the morning and headed for the nearest shopping centre. Although we had thought about meals we did not have a shopping list which meant more time in the shops. Apart from food shopping we took the opportunity to set up a joint Australian bank account for our medicare registration. All this and a recovery coffee meant we did not start our trip properly until mid-afternoon.
Matthias enjoyed the perfect roads and we managed to get some kilometres done before pulling into our free rest area.

The long long road through a huge country of contrasts

Day 2

Start: Moore river bridge rest area
End: Indoon lake rest area
Distance: 210km

Today, we stopped at Lancelin and the Pinnacles, Namburg National Park. Lancelin is a small coastal town surrounded by dunes and a long sandy beach. There are not really any options to visit and see the dunes. At the north end of town there is a huge area where people can sandboard or race over the dune with quads. We found the best dunes and picturesque beach at the South end of town and watched some surfers for a while.

Our echidna friend by the road in Lancelin

The Pinnacles were more worth stopping at. We opted to buy the four week holiday pass ($46) for national parks in Western Australia, which would save us money later on. The visitor centre had a small yet informative exhibition about the pinnacles so by the time we went to see them we felt well educated. Since our camper was not equipped with four wheel drive we could only go on the walking route. The track looked fine enough though and we saw plenty of two wheel drive cars on it. The area is covered with thousands of pinnacles; sand stone columns in all shapes and sizes (up to 3m tall). We enjoyed the roughly 1.5km long walk through the fields of pinnacles and were very happy not to be there in summer when temperature rise more than 50 degrees Celcius.
We stopped in Jurien Bay for water, but ran into difficulties which meant we had to drive on and leave the town and it’s beaches for later.

Ted taking a look at the pinnacles. Are they trees or worn down rocks?
The sun setting over the Indian Ocean

Day 3

Start: Indoon lake rest area
End: Galena bridge rest area
Distance: 274km

On our third day we came through Geraldton; the biggest town north of Perth on our route. We had a few things to sort out and this was the only place to do it. We hadn’t managed to get our water running properly again and so our first stop was a repair centre. The slightly grumpy owner and mechanic rummaged around for a while before retrieving a silicone seal from the water pump that had come off somewhere in the tank. This was our supposed ‘airlock’ that had stopped us from using all our water!
In the town centre, we finally managed to register for medicare, get some more information about national parks and stock up on groceries before hitting the road and arriving at our rest area in the dark (again). Apart from fixing the water the best thing we fixed that day was entertainment: fm radio along the highway is pretty bad and since we did not want to buy and carry around CDs, we were excited to download some music onto a usb stick to plug into the radio.

Day 4

Start: Galena bridge rest area
End: Galena bridge rest area
Distance: 211km

This day we didn’t actually progress up the coast but went on a side trip to Kalbarri National Park. Located between the north western coastal highway and the town of Kalbarri on the coast, this area protects the Murchison river gorge together with plenty of surrounding land. There are two access roads leading to four viewing spots with walks and car parks.

Murchison river gorge

Firstly we visited the hawks head lookout, from there, we got grand views over the deep and wide gorge. Only a few kilometres upstream was the John Graham lookout. Named after a local headmaster who was very much into protecting the river, this was the first spot where could walk down to the river. At this time of the year water was very low and only just flowing. The wide and rocky bed made us imagine how big and wild it would become in the rainy season.

Natures window complete with a Zoë

The second access road into the park is closer to Kalbarri also has two points of interest: Z-bend and the loop/nature’s window. Z-bend is named after the shape of the river gorge. In this area the gorge is deeper than further upstream with near vertical walls. There is a nice viewing platform right on the edge at one of the bends from where we enjoyed impressive vistas. A second path leads visitors down to the river descending through a cut. It is a rocky path that even has some ladders to help crossing big boulders. Looking at the high rock faces from the bottom was a bit intimidating.

Climbing the mini gorge

Our last activity in the park was the loop. It is a 9km circular walk along a section of the river in which it flows around in a big bend and then doubles back on itself. Near the trail head is nature’s window: a hole eroded through a rock outcrop which was really cool. The first third of the loop follows the cliff edge before dropping down and following the river. The path is very well signposted and easy to follow. It was descriped as a strenuous walk, but we found it rather easy. Maybe it is only strenuous in summer when temperatures soar way north of 40 degrees. We enjoyed the walk through the valley and looking out for wildlife. At one point we nearly ran into a kangaroo and we found pied kormorrants, black swans and various birds of prey. Three hours later we arrived back at our camper and returned to the rest area.

A gorgeous walk

Day 5

Start: Galena bridge rest area
End: Whalebone Bay camping
Distance: 270km

A world before mobiles and wifi

This was the first of our two day side trip to Shark Bay. Soon after turning off the highway we reached Hamelin Pool. This place is tiny, but has a few interesting things to see and is worth a stop. To begin with it has an old telegraph station which used to amplify/relay messages on their way up or down the coast. It is now a museum, but we arrived way too early for the tour and were not very interested. Our main interest were the stromatolites at the coast of Hamelin Pool. Stromatolites are among the oldest living things on the planet. Started off by cyanobacteria millions of years ago by clumbing together small particles, they have grown to sizeable structures which now cover a long stretch along the coast. The first bacteria started to build a ‘shelter’ for themselves before other types of bacteria moved in. Over time more and more types entered the stromatolites and created a network of one bacteria feeding on the produce of another and all together contributing to the growth of the rock-like structure. We walked to and around the information path and admired these incredible structures.

These aren’t rocks, they are stromatolites responisble for ‘poisoning’ the earth atmosphere with oxygen so that more life forms could develop

On our way back to the telegeaph station we walked along the beach that was entirely made up of small white shells. These shellfish were one of the very few organisms capable of surviving in the hypersaline water of Hamelin Pool. Without any predators, over time the population grew so much that their shells formed an up to 10m thick layer. Near the shore is an old quarry, where this layer was cut into bricks used for building houses in the area.
With no free campsites or rest areas on the peninsula, we ended up booking a space at one of the cheap campsites along the coast. Thankfully, we had phone signal so we did not have to drive to the national park office in Denham. On our way there we had a quick stop at Shell beach; a large beach made up entirely by the same shells found near Hamelin. Leaving Denham and Monkey Mia for the next day we enjoyed the afternoon relaxing in the sun at the campsite.

A beach made entirely of shells from one species of shellfish

Day 6

Start: Whalebone Bay camping
End: Edagee rest area
Distance: 324km

The next morning we got up super early because we did not want to miss the dolphin experience at Monkey Mia. We even postponed breakfast! After roughly an hours drive we arrived just minutes after the first show started. One of the staff told the visitors all about the dolphins in shark bay while slowly walking up and down in knee deep water with one of the dolphins swimming alongside her. At Monkey Mia they feed only five selected female dolphins from two families (the males are too aggressive). We learned that male dolphins swim long distances together with other males, while the females stay in the area they where born and raised. For the feeding part of the experience five volunteers brought a bucket with fish each and selected three people from the crowd to feed these beautiful and sleek marine mammals. The chosen ones got to hold a fish by its tail, put it in the water where the dolphin would then take and swallow it in one swift motion. Just in time for this (most important part) another dolphin turned up making it one for each volunteer. Numbers vary wildly: at most they had 26 dolphins at one show (for a rather small crowd), but another time they had over 700 people wanting to feed two dolphins!

Three of the semi-wild dolphins

We hung around after the first feeding to watch the pelicans and look for marine life from the nearby pier before joining the second feeding. This time the crowd was a lot smaller but with the same dolphins as before. We were super excited when Matthias got selected and Zoë joint him to share the feeding experience first hand.

‘hunting’ the silver bucket

Day 7

Start: Edagee rest area
End: Lake MacLeod rest area
Distance: 261km

The next town on our list was Canarvon in the Gascoyne region. Farmers in the area produce huge amounts of fruit and veg; most notably bananas. Their sweet bananas are famous all over the country. After walking along a part of the water front we crossed the old bridge and followed the tramway path through the salt marshes to the 1 mile jetty. There is a museum about the railway and one in the old lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

Carnarvon jetty railway and ex-whaling station

We had obtained the tide table from the tourist info and were in a bit of a hurry to reach the Quobba blowholes further north at high tide. This meant leaving out the museums at the jetty and in town. It didn’t stop us from a delicious fish’n chips lunch.
We reached the blowhole carpark right at high tide, but we needn’t have worried. About 70m from the parking waves have eroded tunnels and caves into the rocky coast and in a few places these end in exhaust holes to the open air. If the timing between waves is right and they are high and big enough then the result is jets of foam and sea water shooting up to 20m into the air. It was spectacular to watch the ‘king waves’ crash against the rocks and send jets sky high.

Ted and Matthias trying not to get wet at the Quobba blowholes

Feeling like a bit of a cooldown we ventured a bit further along the shore to a sandy beach protected from the waves by a small island and rocks. It was chilly but not too cold. Refreshed we boarded our camper again and hit the road.

When the rain turns red in the outback

Day 8

Start: Lake MacLeod rest area
End: Ningaloo Lighthouse caravan park
Distance: 293km

The highlight of our last day of getting to the Ningaloo reef was certainly the weather. On our way north between Coral Bay and Exmouth we hit a massive sand storm. It lasted nearly an hour and reduced the visibilty to 10m at times. The strong gusts hit the van diagonally and Zoë had work fairly hard to keep the camper between the white lines on the road. Our fuel consumption and nerves were the only things that suffered any strain and soon we emerged on the other side.

Driving through a dust storm

In Exmouth we gathered some leaflets in the information centre before filling up water and visiting the local dive shops. We were keen to explore the reef more closely, but due to the storm front all boats were cancelled the next day and routes redirected to the Muirin islands the days afterwards. The next trips to the reef would not leave until the day we intended to head back south. Based on that, we decided to rent masks and snorkel and explore the reef from the shore before booking a dive trip.Most people go on one of the many whaleshark watching/snorkelling tours, but they are quite expensive and as much as we wanted to see one of these biggest fish in the ocean, we felt chasing them down with boats and planes was not very good from an ecological point of view.

We had left booking accomodation too late so all the sites in the national park were full. Our next cheapest option was the lighthouse caravan park. At least we arrived early enough for a stormy walk along the beach before enjoying our first hot showers since Perth.

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