THE NIGHTS WERE getting cooler as the first of the cold fronts was sweeping across the south-west corner of WA, and there was more of the same on the long range forecast. Our plan for winter was to head north to Broome, and the time to pack up and go had definitely come. Our route was to take us along the coast and, weather permitting, we planned to stop along the way to take in some of the beautiful places this part of the state has to offer.
HITTING THE ROAD
The Indian Ocean Scenic Coastal Drive was the first step. This all-sealed coastal drive is a much more scenic option than heading north on the inland route (Highway 1) towards Geraldton. We soon found ourselves at the famous Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, and what a wonderful sight: tall limestone spires seemingly frozen in time. The coastal run north from here takes in a number of delightful fishing villages, including Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Green Head and Leeman. We took our time looking around each of these small centres. All have facilities to get a cuppa or a snack to keep you going, as well as plenty of caravan park accommodation when it’s time to put your feet up after a long day on the road.
Continuing north, the twin towns of Dongara and Port Denison have plenty of interest, including historic buildings along an enjoyable heritage trail. Down by the water is a picturesque boat and fishing harbour, swimming beach, children’s playground and a caravan park right on the beachfront.
Not much further on is the historic village of Greenough, with a wonderful Pioneer Museum and the beautiful old Greenough Arms Hotel – all worth the time to stop and wander through. The area’s rich history is on display everywhere around this old centre.
PORTS OF CALL
The city of Geraldton is the rapidly growing commercial hub of the mid-west. With an active port servicing the mining and grain industries, a large commercial fishing fleet, a new marina and plenty of services and facilities, Geraldton is a good spot to stop and replenish your supplies (and yourself) before continuing north. Don’t miss the Maritime Museum and the splendid HMAS Sydney memorial to the 645 Australian sailors who lost their lives off the coast during WWII.
The next main port heading north is the coastal town of Kalbarri. A good bet is to turn off the highway at Northampton and swing towards the coast in order to take in the small fishing village of Port Gregory, and have a look around the nearby convict ruins at Lynton, before heading on to Kalbarri. Take in the dramatic coastal gorges on the southern approach into the town, including Eagle Rock, Natural Bridge, Pot Ally Gorge and Mushroom Rock.
In Kalbarri itself, Rainbow Jungle (an award winning parrot breeding centre) is a very worthwhile stop. You can also hire canoes to paddle up the Murchison River, go horse riding, take a scenic sunset flight along the coast and even charter a fishing boat. For food lovers, a seafood meal at the legendary Finlay’s is not to be missed. In the national park just out of town, walk and drive trails lead to the spectacular gorge country of the Murchison River. Don’t miss places like Nature’s Window, Z Bend and Hawks Head. If you’re in the area in the spring months, the wildflowers are quite amazing.
Just outside of Kalbarri, where the highway crosses the Murchison River at Galena Bridge, is a free 24-hour rest area right on the riverbank – always a popular spot for travellers. There are toilets here, but no other facilities.
As you continue north, the Overlander Roadhouse marks the entry to the region of Shark Bay. With the town of Denham as a base, this World Heritage-listed area includes such diverse attractions as the Monkey Mia dolphins, dugongs, turtles and other aquatic life, ancient stromatolites, a pearl farm, local star gazing tours and Shell Beach. For something a little different, the Francois Peron National Park, and its red sand dune cliffs that reach right down to the sea, is one of the wonders you only seem to find in this part of the world.
RIDING THE COAST
Back on the North West Coastal highway, it’s another 200km to Carnarvon, the main service centre for the Gascoyne Region. This area is also a large fruit and vegetable growing region with water supplied by the mighty Gascoyne – an awesome sight when in flood. With its tropical, tree-lined streets, Carnarvon is a busy commercial fishing port. Its usually warm winter climate is helping to make this centre an increasingly popular tourist destination.
While in Carnarvon, it’s worth checking out the town’s heritage precinct, including the famous One Mile Jetty (built in 1897), where you can take a ride on the quaint Coffee Pot train. And make sure you stock up on local produce.
A turn-off around 20km north of Carnarvon leads to the Blowholes and Point Quobba. You can check out the spectacular blowholes, tall coastal cliffs, try some balloon fishing and get a look at the huge Cape Cuvier salt export facility. Further north you can see the beautiful waves that roll in at Red Bluff – a mecca for surfers. There are shire campsites and station stay accommodation along this part of the coast.
Next is the beautiful Ningaloo Reef, which stretches around 260km along the coastline (south of Coral Bay to Exmouth). In many places the coral can be seen metres from the beach. There are wonderful diving and snorkelling spots and plenty of good fishing (beach or boat). Cape Range National Park has lots of beachfront campsites, some spectacular gorge country, plenty of bushwalking and a delightful cruise up Yardie Creek. For the especially adventurous, there is also the opportunity (between March and June) to swim with the huge whale sharks and manta rays that inhabit these waters at that time of the year.
Returning to the highway via Burkett Road, the next coastal detour is the small town of Onslow. On the way into town you can’t help but notice the hundreds of termite mounds standing up to 2m tall on the undulating countryside – quite a sight. This quiet township has two caravan parks and good fishing, and the historic ruins of the old Onslow townsite are worth a visit.
Having come this far, you are well into the Pilbara region, with colourful rocky outcrops, spinifex covered hillsides, creek beds and large river systems, including the Fortescue and Robe rivers. Colourful Sturt desert peas and mulla mullas can also be seen in later winter months.
Robe River has a free riverside camping area, which is popular for overnight stays. A little further on is another popular camping and fishing spot at Forty Mile Beach overlooking the water – very busy in winter.
The modern, rapidly-growing hub of Karratha has a wide variety of services and accommodation. Nearby Dampier has an attractive palm-lined coastal foreshore. Tours of the huge Dampier Salt operation and iron ore port facilities are available. Still on the Burrup, don’t miss the beach at Hearson’s Cove – a popular swimming spot and a great place to watch the “staircase to the moon”, when a low tide coincides with the rising full moon. The Burrup is also the site of many ancient Aboriginal rock art engravings. More Aboriginal art can be seen in murals on buildings, pavements and rubbish bins in Roebourne. This historic centre has plenty of old buildings and the old prison, which dates back to 1866, is the home of the town’s tourist centre.
Further north the terrain soon becomes mostly flat and open cattle grazing country. The busy mining town of Port Hedland is another place offering interesting tours of its industrial operations. The town also has plenty of services and several shopping centres – the last place to top up on supplies before heading to Broome, 613km away.
As the highway swings east and then north-east towards Broome, this could be called the least exciting section of the trip, but it does represent a chance to make up some time likely lost during your side trips.
There is a free overnight campsite beside the DeGrey River (81km from Port Hedland). For those keen on fishing, Pardoo Station and Cape Keraudren are popular angling getaways right on the coast. The well-appointed Eighty Mile Beach Caravan Park around 10km off the highway and 245km from Port Hedland, is a popular spot for an overnight break. Although for some, it is home for several months during the southern winter. There is good fishing, swimming and a number of long beach walks.
Further on, Port Smith and Barn Hill are both popular spots. Access to Barn Hill, a station stay experience, is via a sandy track, but it is suitable to all vehicles and is one of our favourite places in the area. There is a ‘rustic’ caravan park, beautiful beach, scenic cliffs and beachfront outcrops, good fishing (beach and boat) and a lovely swimming beach. There is even a small lawn bowling green and regular happy hours.
From here, Broome – The Port of Pearls – is just 130km away. As you drive into this appealing multi-cultural town, it is like entering another world. The beautiful blue waters of Roebuck Bay, the tropical laid back feel of the place and the many tourist attractions available will keep visitors busy for quite a while.
PICS: The ancient Pinnacles in Nambung NP; roadside wreath flowers; rugged Charles Knife Gorge and Exmouth Gulf in Cape Range NP; camping at Cape Range NP, near Exmouth.
Source: Caravan World May 2011.