Kalbarri National Park

29th August – 2nd September 2017

Tuesday 29th
It rained or hailed (small, thankfully – no damage to Priscilla) all night. The sandy road out was OK – still some water across the road, but the base was firm. I think it might have filled in the corrugations a bit – they didn’t seem so bad on the way out.
We headed to the coast to stay at Kalbarri. Kalbarri National Park has an inland section and a coastal section. The coastal section has many points of interest you can drive in to from the main road to see the striking coastline. We stopped at Rainbow Valley and did the 3km loop walk to Mushroom Rock. Lovely walk as it took us down to ocean level.

Mushroom Rock. Hmm maybe not ‘that’ outstanding, but a lovely walk to see it all the same.

After checking in to the Murchison Caravan Park we got the bikes out and went for a ride along the foreshore. Great walking/cycling paths Kalbarri – thank you.
Sunset was glorious.

Cycle up to the Zuytdorp Lookout at Kalbarri. The monument tells the story of the Dutch East Indies ships that ventured down this far. Apparently to make the best use of the winds they would come as far south as the 26th parallel, which happens to be about here, before turning. However, some came a bit close to these treacherous shores and many ships were lost. The Batavia foundered in 1628. The Zuytdorp in 1712. It carried a rich cargo of 248,000 freshly minted silver coins along with 200 passengers. Hundreds of coins have been recovered from the famous ‘carpet of silver’ in and around the wreck. The precise circumstances of the wreck remain a mystery, because no survivors reached Batavia (Java) to tell the tale. Some did live for a time in Shark Bay, where they were helped by local Aboriginal people. This contact with Europeans was probably the first ever made by Australia’s Indigenous people to last longer than a brief encounter.

Wednesday 30th
Today we’re doing the Bigurda Trail in Kalbarri NP which follows the coastline for 8km from Eagle Gorge to Natural Bridge – a 17km return walk. The walk started about 50 metres from the cliffs walking through flowering ground covers of so many different types. It was a sensory delight. Then the path curved in to follow the cliff edge.

Walking along the Bigurda Trail.

The humpback whales have just begun returning south. They travel from the Antarctic in June/July to the warm waters of the Kimberley’s where they either breed or give birth. A whale pregnancy is 12 months long. From September to November they return to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic, the female whales either newly pregnant or with a calf.  We saw so many whales about 100 metres offshore breaching, slapping their pectoral fins, diving to display their tail flukes and just generally having a whale of a time (hee hee). It was pretty cute when the calves breached.  In the protected cove beneath where we sat for brunch was a mother and calf resting – maybe 10-20 metres offshore. The calf drinks about 240 litres of milk a day – no wonder the mother needs a rest!

Mother and baby whale, resting.

Stopping so frequently to be delighted by whale antics it was a slow walk out. The return walk was faster – there were fewer whales and they performed less frequently, and besides we were all ‘whaled out’ by then. “Oh it’s only another whale breaching.”

Natural Arch – the turning point of our walk.

Back to Priscilla and the caravan park and a hot shower and I discovered I’d picked up a tick in my cubital fossa (google it!).
Fish and salad at the tavern and an early night for us. Hope my arm doesn’t drop off overnight – I think the head is still in it!

Thursday 31st
Arm still intact (I’m sure the head is still there! – arm-dropping-off is just a matter of time), we grocery shopped and had a last sit on the beach in Kalbarri before heading into the River Gorges section of Kalbarri NP.

Breakfast on the beach at Kalbarri.

The Murchison River has cut an 80km swathe of gorges through beautiful reds and creamy white sandstone to form quite spectacular scenery.

Just look at the beautiful rock layers. Z-Bend Gorge, Kalbarri NP

Today we went to Z-bend Lookout and walked the Z-Bend River Trail. It’s called Z-Bend because the faults in the sandstone caused the river, and subsequent Gorge, to form a big Z. I won’t rave on about how beautiful it is, just check out the photos. The River Trail was only 2.5km return, but it did take us down (and then back up again!) over huge rocks, sandy boulders, narrow crevices and several ladder climbs to the river. Definitely worth every slippery step!

Descending the ladder – that definitely helped the descent, and ascent a lot! Kalbarri NP, Z-Bend

Tonight we’re camped at a very pretty spot on the banks of the Murchison River at the historic Murchison Station ($25/n unpwred), along with about another 20 vans! Murchison Station is a working farm – they round up feral goats and sell them!

Friday 1st September

Back to the River Gorges this morning to walk to Nature’s Window and do the Loop Hike. The wildflowers along the drive in are beautiful – a whole field of smoke bush looked ethereal.
Nature’s Window is a pretty amazing geological formation and we did the tourist thing and posed in it.

Looking through Nature’s Window to the Murchison River, below. Kalbarri NP

Onwards from here the 8km Loop Trail took us along the ridge before a steep descent to the river. This is a Class 4 walk and, yes, the descent was challenging. However at the base, as we heaved a sigh of relief having descended safely, a sign met us stating that the next 5 km would be a lot more strenuous and to turn around now should we not be ‘experienced’ bushwalkers. Did that deter us? Not for a second!

View of the river and countryside from the cliff top we followed for awhile.

There were some very tricky parts I’ll grant you. Firstly walking along a narrow ledge at the base of the cliff just above where it plunged into the chilly Murchison River, then a little further on it was ‘crawl on hands and knees’ along the narrow ledge, under the overhanging rock, above the river. Great fun really – once we’d successfully negotiated it!

Ahh now I see why they say it’s difficult. Here I’m attempting to go to a lower level so that should I fall in I wouldn’t hurt myself too much. However … that came to a dead end. See the protruding ledges just above my left shoulder – that’s the trail!!

Anyway, all in all, a great walk with amazing views of the weathered cliff faces and the river winding through the Gorge.

A close-up of the beautiful cliff face on the other side of the Murchison R to the Trail. These layers remind me of the Thousand Layer Cake (kek lapis) I ate in Malaysia.

There was some wildlife along the way too – euros (a type of kangaroo), black swans, herons, numerous other birds and tiny fish in the river.

A white-necked heron looking for tiny fish in the Murchison River. Loop Trail, Kalbarri NP

A quiet night back at Murchison Station camp beside the now tamed Murchison River.

Saturday 2nd

As we left the Kalbarri region we stopped in at two more Gorge lookouts in Kalbarri National Park – Hawks Head and Ross Graham lookouts.

Murchison River from the Hawks Head lookout. That protruding rock on the upper right is meant to be the hawk’s head – a little imagination helps.

Continuing north and more wildflowers – this time a field of bright yellow-flowering acacia bushes, all about a metre high.
A detour took us to the Warrabanno Chimney – constructed in 1858 for a lead smelter.

Behind me is a void. Must have been built up like this to create a draft.

A long drive (for us) – nearly 300 km today to finally arrive at Hamelin Pool Caravan Park in the Shark Bay World Heritage Region.

To see more photos from our time in Kalbarri CLICK HERE.


Whale Sharks and Ningaloo

23rd June – 1st July 2017

Friday 23rd (Happy birthday Gill)

Today we’re swimming with whale sharks! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the oceans, thankfully plankton feeders. We met our boat and the other 18 excited tourists and 5 crew at the Tantabiddy boat ramp – Whale Shark n Dive is our tour group. There are 5 groups do the whale shark tours but I don’t reckon any of the others were as good as ours. Our boat, Kialla, is a 50ft dive boat which means there’s heaps of room in the wide, flat stern, hot freshwater showers, nice big toilets and broad ‘steps’ forming the ‘marlin board’ to easily enter and exit the water. The crew were all very professional, educational and fun. And the real ‘barista’ coffee we started the morning with was a great kick-starter.

We were outfitted in wetsuits with snorkels, goggles and fins, though Steve and I had our own brand new ones. Snorkelling first – the coral bommies we snorkelled over weren’t very colourful but had a great variety of fish.

The spotter plane tells the boats where the whale sharks are – they’re solitary animals, always swimming alone. On the way out to see them and several other times during the day, we paused to watch the humpback whales swimming north, blowing plumes of water, saw their tail flukes and Steve saw a really spectacular whale breach (I was looking the wrong way – sad face).

Classic photo – fluke of a humpback whale

We had 6 swims of 5-10 minutes each time with the whale sharks and I can honestly say it was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever done! These massive fish swim just underneath the surface at an easy enough pace that you can snorkel alongside them watching them. We went in in groups of 10 (no more than that permitted) and Steve and I both felt we had pretty amazing swims right beside the whale shark. If you get the opportunity to do this, don’t pass it up!

The spotter plane also spotted a group of manta rays feeding, so the boat headed there next and we swam with them for a while – beautiful, graceful animals.

On our way back to the jetty we also spotted a couple of dugongs (two-gongs, hee hee – Frankie, our skipper’s joke. He said last week they spotted five of them – penta-gongs!).

For more photos of our wonderful time with the whale sharks, whales, manta rays and dugongs CLICK HERE.

Back on shore we headed further south down the western coast of the Exmouth Peninsula and into Cape Range National Park. Very fortunately for us about 10 days ago another camper told us you have to book early to camp here. We wanted to stay for a week but even then weren’t able to book one site for that length of time. However there are lots of National Parks camps all along the beach so we booked two nights in each of 4 camps. Tonight we’re at North Mandu which only has room for 5 campers where we capped off a fantastic day sitting on the pebble beach with a scotch watching a perfect sunset.

The pebble beach at North Mandu.

Saturday 24th – Friday 30th (Happy birthday Kimberly)

The World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef at more than 300km long is the largest fringing coral reef system in Australia. As a keen snorkeller of coral reefs I’ve been looking forward to being here for many years. The reef varies from about 200 meters – 400 metres offshore in the Cape Range NP section where we’ll be camping. Inside the reef is a partially protected lagoon. Within this lagoon there are coral outcrops which can be accessed from the shore. The Oyster Stacks is recommended as a top spot so we went there on the first day. The entry into the water is difficult with jagged, weathered limestone rocks to negotiate.

The Oyster Stacks. The bommies just offshore are where the fish and corals are.

The coral can’t compare to the beautifully coloured corals of the Great Barrier Reef – occasional areas of green, blue and purple staghorn corals, but on the whole it’s a dull brown. In its favour though are the abundant and beautifully colourful fish – and lots of schools of quite large fish too, trevally maybe. We returned here on our last day and I enjoyed a lovely swim with heaps of fish and a very graceful turtle.

Turquoise Bay. Beautiful sandy beach. We did the ‘drift’ snorkel.

Another day we snorkelled at Turquoise Bay. This beautiful white sandy beach bay has a drift snorkel area where you start at one end and the current sweeps you down to the other end – taking care to stop though before being swept out to sea through the reef! As mentioned a really beautiful bay, but the same brown sponges and corals and not as many fish as Oyster Stacks, though we did see a very large turtle crunching on the coral.

The next couple of nights we spent at North Kurrajong campsite. Here the national parks have provided a covered picnic table on the foredunes behind which we’re camped. Sundowners while watching for whales at sunset is de riguer. We saw plenty of whales just on the other side of the reef and half a dozen dolphins playing in our lagoon. Lots of kangaroos, a few dingoes and even echidna call this park home.

Enjoying sundowners at North Kurrajong campsite

On to Osprey Bay campsite which is huge, covering about 3 acres, all campsites level and well-spaced. Here there are no foredunes so views are directly to the ocean. The beach at one end has low, weathered cliff edges, the other end lovely and sandy.

Walking along the beachside from Osprey campsite

Snorkelling along the edge of a rocky shelf about 100 metres offshore found the most fish – schools of all sizes of beautifully coloured fish and those great big trevally again – some would be a metre to a metre and a half long. A couple of turtles languidly floated on by and stingrays camouflaged themselves pretty well in the sandy bottom.

The downside has been the wind making it uncomfortable to sit outside, and one evening it blew so strongly all night that the motorhome was rocking. Tent campers and those who left annexes out overnight had a pretty rough time.

At the far end of Cape Range National Park is Yardie Gorge which has been carved out by Yardie Creek. We did the 2.5km Class 4 rock scramble up the sides of it to view from above one day. Like the other gorges we’ve seen it has striking high red cliff edges and is quite beautiful.

Yardie Creek at Ningaloo

The next day we put the kayak in and paddled up the creek. The water is so clear – and cold! We went to the far end, paddling against a gentle current and a strong wind in places. The Gorge is a rock wallaby protection zone. The return trip was a very pleasant drift sitting back admiring the cliffs, rock wallabies and nesting egrets – altogether a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.

Yardie Creek Gorge

Click here to see our photos of Ningaloo campsites and snorkelling.