WESTERN AUSTRALIA TRIPPIN: PERTH TO BROOME
Australia. It’s massive isn’t it? When I moved here from the UK three years ago, I was a bit overwhelmed with how to possibly see every part of it with the limited amount of annual leave we get each year (much of which I also need to use for trips back home). However, I’ve since put a plan in place to do a chunk of it each year on a road trip – the original and still the best way to see Australia. This year was a big one: an 18 day, 4,000km journey through Western Australia from Perth to Broome during the dry season of May/June.
After months of planning with my road-trip buddy KJ, we finally find ourselves in Perth, picking up our campervan: ‘Victor’ the Britz Venturer, who quickly becomes our third musketeer for the trip. Victor is amazingly luxurious – he had air con, a fridge, gas hobs, BBQ, sink, toilet… you name it. It’s amazing the stuff they can fit in these things!
Given we had a relatively short amount of time to do a whole list of bucket list activities on the journey north, we decided to not spend much time in Perth so we could spent more time in the more remote parts of WA. First though, it would have been criminal not to visit the beautiful Margaret River wine region to stock up on wine ready for our trip. Our first couple of (cold!) nights in Victor are spent camping in Prevelly – a beautiful spot right by the wild Indian Ocean, where you can hear the waves crashing all through the night.
On our first full day we head off on a McLeod Wine Tour, which is definitely the best wine tour I’ve been on in any wine region in Australia. We kick-start the day with a coffee tasting at Jahava, and then go on to four wineries (Redgate, Watershed, Hayshed and Furmoy), a brewery, a cheese shop AND a chocolate shop, and finish the day off watching the sunset over the breaking surf at Gracetown – the perfect start to our holiday.
The next morning we set off early for our first long drive, firstly stopping in ‘Cow Town’ just north of Margaret River for breakfast and a chance for a picture with some of the 100 fibreglass cows positioned all along the high street!
Cervantes and the Pinnacles
It’s a five hour drive from Margaret River through Perth up to the Pinnacles, which are just inland from Cervantes. As we approach the Pinnacles late afternoon (the perfect time to see them due to the large shadows), the landscape became incredible – the ground is flat and scrubby, but with huge sand dunes sticking out like mountains.
The Pinnacles themselves are also an amazing sight – red, smooth stones that looks a bit like termite mounds stick up from the red sandy earth all across a flat desert. It really does feel like being on Mars here, especially with a beautiful sunset emphasising the colours and shadows.
After watching the last of the amazing sunset (the first of many), we spend the night in a Cervantes caravan park overlooking the ocean.
The drive from Cervantes to Kalbarri has a couple of interesting spots to stop and explore, one being the Pink Lake at Port Gregory. This is another place that makes you feel like you are on Mars – a huge lake dyed pink due to a certain type of algae present in the salt water. The water is so flat that the reflections of the moving clouds in the sky are incredible. After a bit more driving, we enter the beautiful Kalbarri National Park and stop off numerous times to take in the breathtaking views along the cliffs. It’s amazing how wild the sea is on this side of Australia – a completely different beast to the waves I’m used to seeing in Sydney.
Kalbarri town itself is charming – it sits right on the mouth of the Murchison River, and there is such an interesting contrast between the quiet river waters and the huge crashing waves of the ocean just beyond. In the morning we grab a coffee and walk down to the riverfront to watch the daily pelican feeding in the sun. It’s at this latitude where it begins to feel more like summer compared to the cold May temperatures of the Margaret River, and we enjoy the sun a little too much, both getting burnt by around 11am!
After leaving Kalbarri town, we drive in to the heart of Kalbarri National Park which centres around the breathtaking Murchison river gorge. Unfortunately Victor isn’t able to go down the unsealed roads, however we are able to access some of the main lookouts and go for a lovely walk down to the river bed where we spot some black swans. The climb back up gives us an opportunity to work off all the cheese and wine we’ve been eating since starting our trip..
Shark Bay and Monkey Mia
The next leg of our journey takes us up in to the Shark Bay peninsula, which has a number of spectacular sights. First off, we arrive at Hamelin Pool – a tiny outback posting with probably only 10 or so residents, which looked untouched since about the 1950s. Here stands the oldest remaining Telegraph Station from the 1800s – again, it looked untouched since the days it would have been used…
After grabbing our first holiday Magnum ice cream from the tiny shop, we walk out through an old shell quarry to the beach. The water here and along the peninsula is hypersaline (i.e. very salty) due to its location, and as a result there is some quite unique sealife living here. The first obvious impact of this is the billions of tiny shells which make up the beach, due to a certain type of mollusc which lives in this type of water. A few decades ago, these shells were compressed and used as building materials (hence the shell quarry present here), but this practice is now forbidden. The second key organism living here are ‘stromatolites’ – no better way of describing these than slimy bacteria living just beneath the water surface, just offshore. Whilst they looked fairly insignificant, we discovered that they were some of the first lifeforms of earth, and were responsible for creating much of the oxygen in the atmosphere as we know it... quite impressive for a few lumps of slime!
Driving on up the peninsula, we come across more and more different types of wildlife – emus, kangaroos, cows, sheep, and wild pigs and goats (invasive species which are having a massive impact on the indigenous wildlife). After a near-miss with some emus, we arrive at Shell Beach (so-called due to all of those shells I mentioned above) which quickly becomes our favourite spot of the trip so far. The wide expanse of shelly white beach and the flat water reflecting a complex sunset was a breathtaking sight. Being the only ones here along this huge stretch of beach makes it even more special.
After dragging ourselves away from Shell Beach we continue our drive up, through Denham, and finally to Monkey Mia where we camp for 2 nights. At Monkey Mia, it’s finally warm enough for us to cook and eat outside, and we cook the first of our many epic road trip BBQs on the communal BBQs whilst chatting to other travellers.
The next morning we head down to the beach to watch the daily dolphin feeding – an amazing sight to see wild dolphins swimming up so close to the shore. After a beachside yoga session we spend the rest of the day in holiday mode, sunbathing on the beach and watching the dolphins swim by from time to time.
We set off early from Monkey Mia for a long day of driving out of the peninsula and up to Coral Bay. The roads along the coast are very monotonous to drive along – very straight, completely flat, with no scenery to look at except for the occasional kangaroo road kill – but we make the journey more interesting by digging in to our iTunes archives and singing along to Sean Paul.
Coral Bay is tiny but absolutely gorgeous – a real hippy spot where people come to enjoy the beautiful beach, sea life and to completely chill out. The reef begins only a few metres off the beach, so it’s a perfect spot for snorkelling and diving, plus the beach has no waves due to the reef protecting it from the harsh swell beyond.
We stay here for 3 nights, and on our first full day we take a boat day-trip with Ningaloo Reef Dive out to swim with whale sharks. It’s not the warmest of days, and we soon regret not bringing warmer clothes with us on the boat. We stop within the reef first for a drift snorkel, and then out in to the open ocean to find some whale sharks. The swell is big, and the journey lasts a couple of hours before we find any whale sharks, so many of our boat buddies get very seasick. Finally, we get a radio message from the seaplane spotter overhead that we are close to a whale shark, and it’s all systems go to get wetsuits and flippers on ready to jump in the water. Once in the water, the first glimpse I got of our first whale shark was very humbling – such beautiful and majestic creatures, swimming gently and gracefully just under the surface of the water, doing their own thing and seemingly unfazed by the crazy colourful people swimming alongside them. We get about 5 swims altogether, with 2 different whale sharks, and we can’t get enough of it – swimming alongside these huge beasts out in the open ocean is just an amazing experience, I can’t recommend it enough. On the way back to shore we spot a seasnake, a couple of humpback whales, and a tiger shark just to round off the day nicely. In warmer times of year, you can also spot dugongs here but sadly the water was a little too cold for them when we were there.
Our second and third days in Coral Bay are spent relaxing and snorkelling on the beach, catching up with some camping chores, and generally chilling out.
Karijini National Park
After leaving beautiful Coral Bay, we head inland to the Pilbara region and the incredible Karijini National Park. The landscape becomes much more interesting here compared to the coast – hills and mountains appear, as do creeks and rivers (although most are dry at this time of year). The ground seems almost luminous red, and the air becomes much more hot and humid than by the coast.
Given the length of the drive from the coast to Karijini, we camp for one night at a bizarre roadhouse at Nanutarra, which feels a bit like something out of Wolf Creek. After sleeping with the swiss army knife close to hand, we survive and set off early the next day to Tom Price, the largest town near Karijini. The Pilbara is true mining country, and it’s bizarre to see so many signs to mines or to ‘mining villages’, presumably where the mining FiFo workers stay during their shifts.
We decide to climb up Mount Bruce (couldn’t pick a more Aussie name if you tried!), the second largest peak in WA, on our first afternoon in Karijini. Mount Bruce overlooks the massive Marandoo Mine Site which is an incredible and slightly unsettling sight, especially with the huge, driverless trains which transport the iron ore up to Port Hedland for processing and export. They let out sinister, ghost-like horn noises which, along with the moody weather we have on the day, make our climb very atmospheric. Unfortunately the weather closes in and we decide to head back down after getting about half way up to avoid getting stuck in a storm.
After a night in Tom Price, we spend our next day exploring the incredible Karijini National Park gorges. Again, we couldn’t reach some of the famous sights (e.g. Handrail Pool) due to our lack of off-roading capability, however we have one of our best days of the trip exploring some of the more accessible areas of Joffre Falls and Dales Gorge. Luckily it had rained the day before, so we get to see the waterfalls in their full glory. Dales Gorge is particularly special – we scramble down in to the gorge to visit the spectacular turquoise Circular Pool, and then walk along a 2km-ish track along the river bed to Fortescue Falls. It’s a fun walk, with us having to take our runners off a few times to wade through the shallow water and jump over stepping stones. The trail ends at Fortescue Falls, but we walk a few minutes further to reach the idyllic Fern Pool, a special place for the local indigenous people. Here we reward ourselves with a quick dip before driving off to our next camping spot.
Eighty Mile Beach
After camping at another weird roadhouse, we get on the road early the next morning and set off for the Eighty Mile Beach campsite, just a few hours south of Broome. After 5-ish hours of driving, we take the turn off towards the campsite and realise there is a 12km-long unsealed road between us and the campsite. Victor’s heart sinks. It takes us 30 tense minutes to finish it but eventually we reach the absolutely idyllic campsite intact and I instantly decide that this is where I’d like to retire. The campsite is full of amazing caravans owned by ‘grey nomads’ (retirees who camp around Australia – sounds good doesn’t it!) and is right next to the practically untouched, white expanse of eighty mile beach.
After settling in at our pitch, we chuck our bikinis on and head down to enjoy the afternoon sun and the absolutely amazing view of the beach. The beach is covered in tiny, beautiful shells – many of them housing hermit crabs and sea snails – which keeps me entertained for a while. At sunset, everyone comes down from the campsite with a glass of wine in hand to watch the show, and afterwards we finish off the day with another excellent BBQ whilst sharing travel stories with other campers.
Unfortunately the next morning we are greeted with rain, so with a heavy heart we decide to leave Eighty Mile Beach after only one night and drive during the bad weather for our final leg of the journey up to Broome. It feels very strange reaching our final destination which signals the near-end of our trip, as neither of us are in any way close to wanting it to end.
Broome town itself is fairly underwhelming after all of the spectacular places we’ve been, and we find ourselves preferring the area of Cable Beach – another beautiful beach, however in my opinion Eighty Mile Beach was better. We spend our last couple of days chilling out on the beach and feeling a little sad that it’s all over. After an emotional goodbye with Victor, before we know it we are on the plane back down to Perth for a final night in Freemantle.
If you want to see the real Australia, I can’t recommend this journey enough. Road-tripping allows you to see so many different and varied landscapes, and different sides to Australia. It’s one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and has only increased my love of this country and thirst to explore every other corner of it.