As important as it may be for Western Australia’s farming community (and by extension the rest of us), I struggle with wet weather. The mercifully brief winter rains in Western Australia bring with them – for me – a dark mood and the doldrums of the soul that only winter can brew. So it was that we loaded the car with in-laws as the sky darkened, and made for warmer, less miserable locales. Kalbarri lies about six hours drive north of Perth, allowing for a weekend jaunt when visitors descend on our little patch of western sand. Some might baulk at a 1600km round trip in over two days, but necessity in the form of ongoing gainful employment, sometimes dictates drastic measures – and when parents-in-law arrive to tile one’s bathroom, action must be taken. We took to the road on Friday afternoon along with a large percentage of the city’s population, and joined the queue draining the city. By dusk, we were passing Lancelin with no sign of the forecasted inclement conditions.
I enjoy driving at night, despite the ever-present threat of wayward marsupial incursions, I find motoring by moonlight more soothing and less painful than sunlit sorties. By 10.45pm we had left Geraldton and turned off towards Kalbarri National Park. It was here that we finally encountered kangaroos – much to the delight of our guests. The final 60km to Kalbarri town through the park was a series of braking manoeuvres as ‘roos indiscriminately hopped across our heading – still, on the plus side – no rain.
The next morning, however, it was a different story in meteorological terms and we awoke to alternating wind squalls and rain showers. Although we had expected rain, I still felt somewhat deflated and I had to consciously overmaster the rising depression that poor weather so often bring. The morning pelican feeding helped. If the birds were unperturbed from their morning rituals, I would overcome a few drops of rain too. Having hand fed the local population of feathered garbage disposal units, we turned our attention to filling our own stomachs, and then, to exploring the startling terrain for which Kalbarri National Park is renowned.
Opposite sides of the bluff a day apart.
The park surrounds the town, which is perched on the often tumultuous inlet of the Murchison River – the source of the impressive rock formations and gorges found the inland part of the reserve. Along the coast can be found impressive cliffs from which can be seen passing whales and surfers making the most of the windy conditions. It was towards the coast that we headed first, visiting the deceptively names Blue Holes, which were – in these rough conditions – neither blue nor holey. On fairer days, the spot is a brilliant place for snorkelling and swimming. On this day, however the coastline and swell made for more compelling viewing.
The 10 kilometres south of Kalbarri has multiple sights to see, and it was this way that we headed as the weather switched from overcast to wet and back again. We stopped to watch dolphins vie with the local surfers at the imposing Red Bluff and again at Jake’s Point where we were visited by passing whales. Our next Stop was Pot Alley, a secluded beach bashed by swell and hidden among the red cliffs. After climbing over the rocks for a while we travelled on past the sand dunes and turned inland towards the Hutt River Principality, which claims to be separate from the rest of Australia, and is a must stop for travellers. Here, you can have your passport stamped and tour the Principality’s capital, Nain, where Prince Leonard will personally take you on a tour of the articles of state and speak of his recently departed Princess, or his extensive research into the equation for life, the universe, everything (apologies to Douglas A. Adams). Having stepped back onto Australian soil, we turned north back towards Kalbarri National Park and – foregoing lunch thanks to a lack of suitable purveyors of sustenance – explored the borders of the park. We came across an old chimney stack on a hill (having followed the brown signs which, in Australia, denote a tourist site or scenic route) and it turned out to be the remnants of Australia’s oldest lead smelter. The detour was worth it in itself, but with the wildflowers in bloom, the view was all the more picturesque.
Once we’d exhausted the spoils of the surrounding area, we ventured – once again – into the national park and took advantage of the views at Hawk’s Head and Ross Graham Lookout, where the Murchison River cuts a deep bend into the red earth and western scrub. For those unable to make the journey as far north as Karijini National Park (a further 15 hours north), this area is a suitable taste of the majesty of West Australian landscapes. Moving on, we stopped at the Iconic Nature’s Window overlooking the loop hike around Z-Bend and Four Ways – an 8 km gorge walk, which time dictated would be saved for another occasion. After one final look at the Z-Bend and its wildflowers, we returned to town for dinner and an early night.
Sunday dawned brighter and clearer, and we ate breakfast overlooking a much calmer Indian Ocean before making our way south to Port Gregory where we ogled Hutt Lagoon, the striking pink lake beside the highway. The waters are tinted by a large colony of carotenoid producing algae, so it is well worth stopping for a photo (although perhaps not a swim). The site is also the largest micro-algae production plant in the world, and a producer of brine shrimp. Having done justice to Kalbarri’s sights, we turned south again and began the journey back to Perth ready for Monday’s return to work, but before relinquishing our hold on the weekend, we detoured at Lancelin (about an hour and a half north of Perth) to blast quickly across the dunes and get the adrenaline pumping ready for a week in the office – and hopefully a bit of sunshine!