LOVE TO WANDER
We visited a grand total of 24 National Parks on this tour and covered 7340 kilometres. The fuel cost for the trip came in at $822 AUD - about £450.
There is just so much to love about Western Australia:
Also - you really can’t help but love a country where everyone’s favourite TV programme seems to be Escape to the Country.
The questions I asked myself at the beginning of the trip have largely all been answered now:
Tips for Future Travellers:
Hindsight is always a wonderful thing and if you are reading this in advance of your trip to WA, then let me give you the benefit. We spent 32 days in WA. There was so much to see and do that I would have allowed an extra five days, if possible, with an extra night in each of Carnarvon, Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, Albany, Coral Bay and Monkey Mia and would have given Mandurah a miss. To save time, you could fly back from Exmouth to Perth and visit everywhere on the trip North, but this would incur additional charges with a one way drop off and may limit your luggage allowance too and the road trips did definitely add something to the overall experience I felt - it is part of what this huge country is all about.
Sundays are quiet days in WA - like the UK 50 years ago. It can be hard to find many places open for dinner and shops/tours often close up too - particularly later in the season towards the Summer.
It is definitely an early to bed, early to rise culture . Most restaurants close at 8 - 8.30 and breakfast starts as early as 6 in many places.
If wildflowers are your main interest, you need to come between mid August and the end of September to see the best show, but it may well be busier then and not as warm. If you want up to date information on where to see wildflowers in Western Australia, checkout:
You may want to consider having a GPS navigation device and satellite phone as reception is poor in many places and you can’t rely on a mobile ‘hone for either navigation or an emergency contact device.
What will I Miss?
Seeing something new every day - this was a really great trip for that.
Tim Tams - especially the mint ones.
Most of all though, I will miss the gorgeous light which gives everything such an intensity here. You can really live life in colour in Australia.
Verdict on Flight Centre/Round the World Experts
The arrangements all went to plan and cost no more than they would if we had booked directly, so my verdict on the Flight Centre is that it made great sense to use them. I did have to do my own research to find out which excursions to do though and to construct the itinerary - but that’s all part of the fun for me. I have booked our next trip through them too now. Thanks to Ant Convey for his help in customising the trip for us.
Souvenir I am glad I bought:
My emu sunglasses case - so cool and so useful. Unfortunately, I just couldn't fit in the cuddly koala.
Great trips are all about good team work and I am very fortunate in my travel partner. He spotted things I would have missed, sorted out the worn out tyres (Hertz did us no favours at all there) and drove us safely through all those kilometres.
We had such a great time, we are definitely going to come back to Australia, but next time, we are going up onto the far North West and down through the forbidding red centre There is altogether quite another adventure to experience up there - a journey beyond for sure. So it’s Goodbye and See ya Later!
Stay tuned for the next trip - Costa Rica - February 2020 …
We have stayed in three hotels in Perth during this trip and the Duxton was by far our favourite. This is the place we will stay when we return here. The room has all the usual comforts you expect of a good city centre hotel - including a bath and fast free wi-fi. What gives the Duxton the edge though is that:
The Duxton will need to keep on delivering though because there is growing competition in the Perth luxury hotel market. The Westin has just opened, the Ritz Carlton is about to open and the Hilton Doubletree is in the process of construction right on the waterfront ...
It was a real pleasure to return to Perth - the sunniest of Australia’s capital cities. We managed to book a table at C Restaurant in the Sky on St. George’s Terrace - a revolving rooftop restaurant which turns a full 360 degrees in 90 minutes with great views over the city. The 5 course dégustation menu with paired wines is $139 AUD or there is a 3 course à la carte menu for $99. The food is well prepared and the wine delicious - but don’t expect much dialogue about what you are eating/drinking - this restaurant is really all about the to-die-for view. We were able to book on-line for a mid-week evening table without a problem
A great way of spending our last day here was to drop off the hire car and buy a combo cruise/tram (commentated)/prison (tour) ticket for Fremantle (or Freo as they call it here). IT is lively authentic port with plenty of shops and rstaurants to explore and some interesting history to boot. Captain Cook Cruises run tours from Barrack Street. A combo ticket costs $85 AUD and saves you $7 on buying individual tickets. Cruises go at 9.30 and leave Fremantle at 3.45pm for a 5pm return. There are a number of options - check out the website below. It’s interesting to cruise past all the millionaire homes down the Swan River - one of which is owned by a former “ten pound tourist”. Over a million migrants came from the UK to Australia between 1945 and 1972 on this ten pound ticket. You can also see Carnac Island but you can’t visit it - it has 3 tiger snakes for every 25 metres square, so you wouldn’t want to anyway.
Fremantle Prison was built in 1850 to house 100 of the first male convicts transported to Australia often for very petty crimes to act as a labour force to help build the Swan River Colony. Their first project was to build their own home. The walls didn’t need to be that high. If you escaped, you didn’t have much chance of getting far if you had no boat to tackle the ocean, no survival mechanism for the deep red outback or any ideas on how to turn the bush into productive land. Several men did escape and came back when they got hungry. The sentences weren’t long (7 -20 years) and some men never stayed in the prison - they were put to work instead. When you got out, you were Australian, because you couldn’ t afford to get back home even if you wanted to. The prison was decommissioned in 1991.
Fish and Chips at Kailis in Fremantle boat harbour. - they sell the freshest fish in the sea, so they say. It certainly tasted like it.
This hotel is a sister hotel to the Kalbarri Resort, so it felt very familiar when we arrived here. The accommodation has all the pluses of Kalbarri: spacious, washing machine, spa bath, swimming pool, Jumbuck BBQ and well equipped kitchen. It is a very short distance away from the Pinnacles and Lake Thetis and just a short drive from Mount Lesueur National Park. The restaurant here is way better than Kalbarri though. The seafood pie made with a fresh and local mix of dhufish, scallops and prawns in a creamy velour sauce served with broccolini, peas and leek chips was heavenly. The only downside is that there is no wifi in the apartments - only in the reception area. The Cervantes Tourist Information Office )located in the Newsagents) is also conveniently just a short walk away. There is some pretty cool artwork in the restaurant too.
Boh Djinoong Quabba - "Look way out from this high place and feel good about where you have been". This is really is an unusual place and may not have been here if the Coal Mining Development planned in the 1990s had taken place - public pressure saved the park, fortunately,
Mount Lesueur National Park is one of the world bio diversity hotspots as a result of of its severely impoverished soil and the unforgivingly low rates of phosphorous. 900 flora species grow here - 10% of WA's flora. These are the species that are known too - it is highly likely that others exist in the dense bush that no-one has yet found. It has seven species of Declared Rare Flora. In late Winter to Spring, it erupts into a rainbow of colour and you can see rare orchids and several varieties of kangaroo paw as well as many other beautiful plants. The best time to come is really mid August to the end of September. Even this late in the season though, there is still plenty to see. Allow half a day to explore the park fully and enjoy the walking trails.
The park has an 8km loop trail (wear covered shoes) and an 18km sealed loop drive. Look out for the signs when you drive a few kilometres north of Jurien Bay and turn into the Jurien East Road, then left into Cocklesh ellGully Road and look for a right turn to the trails. Don't follow your sat nav - it takes you to the end of the loop road instead of the beginning!
As well as the flowers, there are 52 species of reptiles (41 lizards and 11 snakes) - including legless lizards. I didn't think they existed - When is a snake not a snake - when it is a legless lizard?! I'm glad we didn't spot one. There are many birds here too, if you have eyesight sharp enough to spot them.
Pitstop: Lunch at the Centre Break Beach Stay Boutique Hotel in Greenhead was a delight - the freshest of smashed avocados, tomatoes and feta cheese with mint and lemon juice on sour dough toast was just the job..
Sandy Cape was a lovely place to stop off on the coast for a walk. this is a safe swimming/snorkelling beach and you can sandbord here too, if you feel like it.
Jurien Bay runs sea lion tours and has a sky dive facility for the really adventurously minded. It also has a Lobster farm and a restaurant called the Lobster Shack which I am told by fellow travellers is great - although expensive. We didn't have time to try it - yet another place where we cold have spent an extra day.
Glad I packed:
A fly net.
The road from Kalbarri to Cervantes is 378 kms (4 hrs 7 mins), but offers plenty to see on the way.
Pink Lake - Hutt Lagoon
Hutt Lagoon gets its red or pink hue due to the presence of the carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina which is a food-colouring agent and a source of vitamin A. The best views are found along the road to Port Gregory. The official lookout there has quite a bit of parking and is an elevated location so you can get great views of the lake. The pinkest views are between 10am and 2pm on a cloudless, sunny day. We arrived just before 10 and watched mesmerised as the colours changed, deepening from lilac to a very deep pink by the time we had walked the length of the lake.
Nambung National Park - showpiece the Pinnacles Desert - 10kms south of Cervantes. This spectacular desert landscape has thousands of limestone pillars rising from the sand. There is a 4km loop drive or you can take a 1.2kms walking trail - both are open round the clock, even when the visitor centre is closed. Either way, this eerie landscape feels like nothing on earth and is unmissable. The advice is to visit at sunset or dawn to get the best photos. These are such holiday unfriendly times though and EVERYONE goes then. We visited in the early evening, just before the sun set and found very few people there and some wonderful photo opportunities. There is an interesting Visitor Centre there to which opens between 10am and 4.30pm, but we visited early the following morning instead. It is definitely best to tackle the walk early in the day, before the heat rises.
No-one is completely sure how the Pinnacles were formed. My preferred theory is that they are a petrified forest. At some point way back in time (25 - 30,000 years ago), the wind blew the soft dune sand around here into the trees and it covered them up and the trunks gradually turned to stone. There is a limestone layer beneath which would have supported a forest, so that is a big clue.
The Aborignis where scared of the pinnacles. Their dreaming (mythology) preached that the pinnacles were the fingers of men who had sunk into quicksands and perished. All their young men were told never to go there.
It is interesting that no-one really knew the Pinnacles existed until the 1960s when people began to start visiting them in a caravan or two which led to the area being gazetted and turned into a National Park to protect it for future generations.
Glad I packed:
A fly net.
Apart from Pink Lake and the Pinnacles, which are absolutely unmissable:
We saw a little prickly Echidna slowly making bis way across the road in front of us not he way to the Pinnacles.
We have seen many kangaroos oaths trip, but the group lazing in the half shade at the entrance to the Pinnacles Desert offered the best photo opportunities so far and gave me one of my favourite shots of the whole trip - very special.
Just south of Cervantes there is a turn off for Lake Thetis, which has a number of living stromatolites on the shoreline. They are interesting, but nowhere near as good as those at Hamelin Pool (see earlier in the trip). Lake Thetis is a great place to visit after dark to see the Milky Way. We tried our luck but were disappointed - the moon came out and stole the show. The Milky Way photo is still very much on my wish list.
Give it a Miss:
Hutt Principality was ceded from Australia as an independent sovereign state in 1970S. You can have your passport stamped here and have your photo taken with the King. It is maybe sort of interesting, if you have loads of time to spare, but really just a tourist trap. Lots of the Aussies we spoke to en route advised us not to bother with it.
An excellent place to stay in Kalbarri. The resort is operated on a timeshare kind of basis, so owners come for 4 weeks a year and rent out their apartments for the remainder of the year, paying a management fee. The apartment we had was very spacious with a well equipped kitchen, large gas Jumbuck barbie on the patio, a washing machine and a good sized spa bath. There is also a swimming pool in the grounds. The Tourist Office is just a short walk away as is the beach and a really good little supermarket. Unfortunately, the Edge Restaurant is not at all good The service is absolutely dreadful and the food not good value for money - - give it a miss! There are a number of better options in town, within walking distance. The wi-fi is good here though, which is always useful to know.
It is 443 kms from Carnarvon to Kalbarri - 4 and a half hours. We get off early and broke the journey at the Billabong Roadhouse - familiar ground from earlier in the trip, but this time, I stopped to take a quick photo of the funny flier for kangaroo burgers and a joke you can get hard copies of for free on request - you just have to love the great Aussie sense of humour. The temperature had dropped a bit today and the wind had picked up, but they told us it often reaches 49 degrees on Christmas Day here and tops out at around 53 degrees in January - definitely a place to avoid in our winter then.
We saw several feral goats on the road in - they are such a nuisance here that they round them up and kill them to prevent damage to the bush. We arrived at Kalbarri National Park by early afternoon, allowing just enough time to explore some of the lookouts/easy walking trails through the tawny-red tumblagooda sandstone. Driving 11 kms east of town brings you to the first park turn off. At the T intersection, turn left to reach West Loop Lookout and the Loop Lookout, which leads to "Nature's Window" - a natural arch perfectly framing a stunning view over a gorge. Bring lots of water if you want to walk the Loop Trail (9kms return) though and start really early. Summer temperatures reach over 40 degrees here and people have actually died trying to walk this trail (they started out at 9.30 am).
The roads and paths surrounding the Murchison River gorges are clothed with a wide variety of pretty wildflowers. It is getting late in the season now, but we still saw carpets of everlasting and smoke bush flowers as well as gold banksia. To see the show at its absolute best, visit between June and September.
A skywalk offering spectacular views is not yet open - it was supposed to open in the second half of 2019, but was promised in 2017 - everyone is still waiting. I am sure it will be a great attraction when it is finished.
CLICK ON READ MORE TO SEE WHAT ELSE THERE IS TO SEE IN KALBARRI AND SEE MORE PHOTOS...
All in all, this was an unexpected mini highlight of the trip. For a room 1/6th of the price of the luxurious Sal Salis Resort we had just come from, we had a comfortable bed, bathroom and all you would expect from a decent motel room. The bonus though was great local company in the bar during happy hour (the beer is very cheap here at $6 a pint) - we cried laughing at some of the good humoured banter. T
This was followed by a great steak in the "Hot Rocks" restaurant. You cook your steak just to your liking on a hot lava rock at your table. There are no photos, unfortunately, as I was expecting an ordinary motel meal here. The desserts are cooked on hot rocks too, I later discovered from the exceptionally friendly and helpful receptionist - so we missed out there I think. All in all a great choice for an overnight stop to break the long journey to Kalbarri - hats off to the team there. There is quite a bit to do in Carnarvon too - we could easily have spent two nights here rather than one - and got to try those desserts. Hindsight - is a wonderful thing.
Our last day at Sal Salis started early as we had a 4 hour 38 minute drive ahead as we head slowly back down to Perth with a first stop at Carnarvon. The temperature had climbed to 40 degrees by 10.30. It was the sort of heat that would have your dog hanging its tongue out - for a VERY long time. This sort of heat makes you want to do very little indeed - so thank goodness for air conditioning in the car for the drive ahead. It is the end of the season here. Sal Salis closes next week and reopens in March/April time. It would be way too hot to stay on, so just as well we are heading back South and it gets gradually cooler as each 50 kilometres clicks up.
Tips for Future Travellers:
Fuel up at the Shell station 5 kms out of Exmouth - much cheaper than the sleepy little town of Exmouth itself.
Pre book marine interaction tours to avoid disappointment- especially towards the end of the season.
Useful website for self-guided itineraries etc. Www.australiascoralcoast.com
We were sad to leave Sal Salis and to start what is the last leg of our trip. We are already planning to return to Australia - it just has so much to offer. We could have flown back to Perth from Learmonth (35kms from Exmouth) but the road has been very much a part of the experience here and I think we would have missed out a bit if we had just flown back and incurred one way drop off charges too.
My first sight of the pristine Ninglaoo Reef - it truly is out of this world and just a short distance from the shore. All that colour and diversity of marine life under the big blue - who knew?! Even just a walk waist high in the ocean just short of the reef yielded sitings of green turtles (the nesting season has just started here) and blue spotted stingrays without needing to swim.
Coral reefs are the biggest and most spectacular structures made by living organisms. They are built by the coral polyps : animals consisting of a mouth surrounded by numerous tentacles, a simple body cavity and a limestone skeleton. Reef building corals can only grow in shallow waters where they can obtain most of their food from the algae through photosynthesis.
The black flanked rock wallabies at Mandu Mandu Gorge in the Cape Range National Park. They run with such impressive, sure footed agility along the rocky slopes of the gorge. They have to - they have several predators including dingos, eagles and snakes which makes them a threatened species.
There are only three Australian mammals that can live without water - kangaroos, wallabies and the little black flanked rock wallabies. They get all the water they need from the vegetation they eat.
Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn en route.
The Carnarvon Motel - and sharing good humoured banter with the locals (see Accommodation Review).
POHM - Prisoners of his Majesty. Early settlers were transported to Australia as a punishment and became known as POMs for short - i.e. - Englishmen.
Trying to master snorkelling for the first time in a very fast current over a shallow reef. I was very glad to have some one-to-one tuition from Nick at Sal Salis. Without his help, I don’t think I could have experienced the overwhelming beauty of this delicate marine kaleidoscope. It was much harder than I thought and I need much more practice to gain sufficient confidence to search for the good photos underwater - but I made a start!
It’s beautiful for sure, but there are rip tides, stonefish and other nasties here, so you need to exercise caution.
The creative vegetarian specialties at Sal Salis - especially the roasted cauliflower - thanks Luke! I have the recipe - another thing I am looking forward to practising.
Berry Cooler - Sal Salis
2/3 ginger ale, 1/3 soda water mixed with freeze dried red berries. So refreshing on arrival at Sal Salis after a long drive.
Hot Rocks steak - Carnarvon Motel. Very highly recommended!
Glad I packed:
Prescription mask (an absolute essential for me!)
Underwater camera (see What I’m Packing for brand). It performed really well - very easy to handle. It’s only limitation was my fledgling snorkelling ability. With practice, this tough little camera is definitely capable of delivering so much more.
Wish I had packed:
A rashie or (waterproof sun shirt with factor 50 protection). I bought one in Exmouth for future trips.
Learning the Lingo:
Poachies - yep - you guessed it: poached eggs.
Nude nut - a balding head.
Carnarvon was the first location in Australia where bananas were grown and produces 70 per cent of WA’s fresh produce. These days, Carnarvon is recognised as the place that grows the Sweeter Banana. What makes them so sweet? The unique arid desert climate mean the bananas grow very close together, which protects them from the summer heat and sea breeze and from the nasty bugs that plague bananas elsewhere. Sweeter Bananas don’t need to be chemically treated for pesticides.
Carnarvon Tracking Station was built in 1964 to support NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. For 11 years, it was the last station to communicate with astronauts before leaving the earth’s orbit and the last voice they’d hear as they headed for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. We take live TV for granted these days, but on July 21st 1969, the live coverage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon were transmitted from Carnarvon and formed an indelible memory for all those watching around the world. (See What I’m Watching - The Dish). You can visit the Museum here to find out more if you are interested.