Western Australia Road Trip
I met Emma at The Fremantle Hostel I was staying at after I returned from my Thailand adventure. I went about my days with a new found confidence from my Asia travels; Thailand had given me a spring in my step and made me feel self-assured and totally carefree. It had also left me mercilessly penniless so I was eager to head up to a place named Broome on the West Coast. Not only was it supposed to have brilliant weather all the time but it appeared as though it would also have ample job opportunities. Emma and I were in the same room so it wasn’t difficult to start up a conversation and soon discover that we both wanted to head up north where it was warmer, as by this time Perth was starting to get mighty chilly indeed.
Next on the list was finding someone who had a car and who ALSO wanted to travel up north. Being the lucky person that I am, I quickly found Matt on gumtree. He said he was looking at travelling to Kununurra (a town north of Broome) to look for some farm work. Brilliant! He could drop us off on the way. I made plans to meet up and we soon decided he was the guy for us! Matt didn’t have a 4×4 but I had heard that we wouldn’t necessarily need one.
Being girls, we came with rather a lot of baggage but Matt suppressed his shock at our enormous collection of stuff very well and we bundled everything in to head on our way. We left drizzly Perth for our first stop, The Pinnacles, ancient desert limestone formations just a couple of hours north of the big city. The clouds had already broken on our way up the coast and gave way to this beautiful expanse of jagged rocks in the desert.
I think we stayed at a campsite in the next small town. I remember being the coldest I think I have ever been that night. I already had on all of my layers in the evening so nothing could warm me up in the tiny, flimsy, $12 tent from target I shared with Emma. Stirring from the cold damp ground the next day, we vowed to stay at a hostel the next day and until the weather got at least marginally warmer.
Kalbarri National Park was next on the list, made famous for its ‘Nature’s Window’ – a natural rock arc that frames the view of the gorge it sits on top of. It’s a good few kms from the centre of town, including some time on a dirt track, (which managed to shake our battery screw loose on the car) although the view is of course worth the hike. However, I actually thought the gorge itself was more stunning than Nature’s Window. There’s a nice walk you can do at the other end of the park – it takes you down to the centre of the gorge and is quite steep and adventurous.
Back on the road, we strayed slightly to visit The Stromatolites of Shark Bay – so called ‘living fossils’ which are rock-like structures built by microbes. The ones at Shark Bay are 2,000 – 3,000 years old but are similar to life forms found on Earth up to 3.5 billion years ago. The Stromatolites were actually very beautiful, especially against the afternoon sun and the clear blue shallow water. The only downside of visiting this location in particular was the sheer amount of pesky FLIES that would attack you as soon as you stepped out of the car, although they are found in abundance up and down the west coast. We soon wised up to the fact that after getting into the car we would have to drive for a few minutes with the windows down in order to flush the flies out. Something you just had to get used to!
We were undecided about heading up to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia. I had heard good things but I also knew that it was probably mostly a tourist trap and therefore wasn’t too enthralled about spending my time with all the hundreds of other tourists that would no doubt congregate there. Emma was keen to go but Matt didn’t mind missing it out. Monkey Mia also sits on the top of a small peninsula so it would mean driving several hundred kms there and back to the original highway. In the end we decided we couldn’t miss it out and made the trip. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the resort – we stayed at the local hostel which cost us all of $22 a night – the cheapest place I’ve stayed since Mission Beach!
We had a nice evening of staying up late, ordering in pizza and getting ample shut-eye in a nice cosy bed before getting up early to see the inquisitive, opportunistic, wild bottlenose dolphins who come for a feed each day up to three times a day. Audience members are picked from the crowd randomly (well, with bias towards the little’uns) to feed one fish each to one dolphin. The empty buckets are then dipped in the water to be washed out and the dolphins get on with their day before no doubt returning for more later on. The experience is free although I think they ask for a donation if you aren’t staying at the resort.
I enjoyed the act of being up close and personal to such beautiful creatures but I wasn’t too concerned with the idea that this had undoubtedly increased tourism sales in the area. In the end, I suppose it is human nature to exploit animals to gain profits, and as far as the treatment of captive animals goes in the world, this had very little to do with that issue at all.
Leaving the cruisey sanctuary of Monkey Mia, we made our way up to Coral Bay and Exmouth. This part of The Coral Coast is well known for its abundance of coral located just a few metres from shore. The trip up was rather a boring drive I thought – the same view for miles and miles on end – everyone raves about the west coast and I took that as the views on the highway would be magnificent, with red dirt as far as the eye could see. Quite the opposite is true however – there’s just a lot of NOTHING – all scraggly bushes and normal coloured dirt. What’s more is that the road rarely hugs the coastline so most of the time is spent literally staring at a straight road, occasionally breaking the monotony by seeing another vehicle. We took our time exploring Coral Bay’s amazing underwater wildlife, got surrounded by hundreds of jellyfish (luckily not the stinging kind except we didn’t know that initially – you can imagine our sheer terror!), made some friends with the locals and chilled out at the beach. (OH when on holiday!)
The water was pretty chilly although the weather had warmed up by now. I think I spent the whole time wishing I was back in Thailand’s bath ocean. Turquoise Bay was a real treat though – part of The Cape Range National Park, it is of course known for its crystal clear turquoise waters, also heaving with beautifully exotically coloured fish, reef sharks and rays just a few metres from shore. There were several tour companies advertising reef adventures which I would have liked to have done if I hadn’t have been penniless at the time. A few friends said that the shark and ray tour was perhaps one of the most amazing things they had experienced so I am sad to have missed out on that. However, I was not deflated seeing as I had such a fabulous day on The Great Barrier Reef; I couldn’t help compare the two experiences but decided they were both brilliant for different reasons.
Karijini National Park sits south of the main highway once you approach a place named Port Headland. It’s around another 300kms to get to the entrance of the park, which gives you some sense of scale. As we trundled on towards the national park we made a few friends along the way. One of them included a guy in his mid-thirties named Nick. I originally met him at a truck stop when we stopped for a break and we caught up with him after a gorge walk in Karinjini. Nick camped out with us during our time there and also afterwards, until we made it to Broome. He was great to have around, especially after we had exhausted a lot of our own topics of conversation haha.
Karijini was easily my favourite place on this road trip – its spectacular gorges, fresh swimming holes, marbled rock tunnels, cool rock pools and waterfalls were second to none. We spent 2 full days here exploring and marvelling at its array of beauty. My favourite gem being Hancock Gorge, famous for its pool at the very end of a steep and narrow walk, passing 20 metre high walls with just a bit of space to put your feet, through shoulder-deep water and a gloriously adventurous chasm aptly named ‘the spider walk’, where the walls get so close, you have to pass through it with your arms and legs left and right, with water beneath you. Surrounded by the deep gorge, you reach Kermit’s Pool for a chilly plunge before turning back.
Another favourite was Dales Gorge with its Fortescue Falls and the Circular Pool. There’s water all year round here and we took a big dip in the gorgeous Fern Pool right at the end despite having seen a snake in the water moments before, (When in Oz!)
On the way to and from Karijini we found this sweet little campsite off the road that we had all to ourselves. The big road trains passed by every few minutes with a bit of a thundering sound but apart from that we all enjoyed the stop off here. A fire was built and we shared stories with Nick whilst we ate dinner and watched the stars. By this time the nights were getting very warm and it was a pleasure to sit out late, especially with the fire keeping away the mozzies.
The rest of the trip consisted of another campsite stop over on the way to Broome, and then just before we arrived, a stop off at 80 mile beach to get our first glimpse of beach paradise. Broome was quite frankly a metropolis after two weeks in the bush and we got our first taste of civilisation in the form of a sit-down lunch. I was enormously happy to be in 30+ degree heat again although the daunting idea that I had to get a job in less than a week hung over me like a grey cloud.