Northwest Western Australia
Western Australia is Australia's biggest state in area, taking up the entire left hand side of Australia. It's a vast area to travel (over 10,000km of coastline), and if you drove from Albany in the south of the state to Kununurra in the north of the state, it would be over 5,000km. So it's a big area to travel and as we found on our two week trip from Perth up to Tom Price and back, no amount of time is enough time.
It was our first trip in a camper van. Living in caravan parks, dealing with inquisitive emus, spotting dingos and learning how to use a dump station.
The trip got off to a good start for these two novices as we drove the camper van through the THL (Tourism Holdings Limited) car park over to our car to pack our Maui home. As Paul drove the van over to me, I heard a loud "crunch" and "pop", which was the power cord being pulled out of the plug that had been charging the mobile home ready for us to go. Yes, we had been told to unplug it before leaving, but the excitement of getting the van packed and on the road outweighed instructions. I rolled up the cord, shoved it in the side storage bin and hoped it still worked.We had a choice of different vans, but decided on the six berth.
Our first day on the road was exciting as we got to know our new home. We were high off the ground and it was pretty easy to drive. We were on a tight schedule to get to Tom Price to catch up with friends before they headed further north in their caravan, so we had a few big travel days ahead.
We stopped briefly at Hutt Lagoon on the way to take a peek at the pink lake. It's a salt lake with a pink hue due to the presence of the carotenoid producing algae, Dunaliella salina, which is a source of beta-carotene, which we use as food-colouring and it's also a source of vitamin A in cosmetics and supplements.
Our first overnight stop was Kalbarri (574km from Perth), where we stayed at Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park.
TIP: If we did it again with more time we would have stopped at Dongara or Jurien Bay along the way for a night to make it a shorter travel day.
We got to Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park just after dark, so setting up the van on our first night was fun! Getting the power and waste hose plugged in, filling the freshwater tank, turning on the gas etc. is not recommended in the dark (hence the tip to have your first night closer to home).
DAY #2 Kalbarri
We got off to an early start next morning to see what Kalbarri had to offer, working our way into Kalbari National Park to see the newest attraction Kalbarri Skywalk and Nature's Window both overlooking the Murchison Gorge.
TIP: RAC members, buy yourself a National Parks Pass for $30 (1 month entry to all parks) through the RAC website as each park you pass into costs around $15
We were both amazed at how well the Kalbarri National Park is maintained. Kudos to the rangers and parks authority for keeping this park in pristine condition. The road surfaces were superb. The facilities were extremely well kept.
Our first stop inside the park was Nature's Window. I had heard a lot of tourists go there, so I wanted to get there early. This natural rock formation overlooks The Murchison Gorge perfectly and you just can't help but get a pic. While we were there we witnessed an engagement proposal in front of Nature's Window. It's just a 500m walk from the car park.
Check out exactly how precariously Nature's Window is placed in the gorge with this flyover. It's like it was put there by ancient peoples.
The Kalbarri Skywalk at Inyaka Wookai Watju site is also simply amazing. Two cantilevered walkways which project over the Murchison River Gorge and red cliffs. It cost around $24m and opened in May 2020.
I had no idea that WA had huge cliffs along the coast. Seeing Island Rock and the Natural Bridge was just outstanding, but watching a dozen or more dolphins play in the ocean below us was one of the highlights of the trip.
DAY #3 Coral Bay
An early start was required again on Day 3 to travel the 671km past Carnarvan (stopping there on the way back) to Coral Bay, which is a cute little hamlet overlooking the Ningaloo Reef. We arrived around 4.30pm and checked in to the People's Park Coral Bay, right across the road from the beach, which gave us time to walk around and sit on the beach for sunset.
READ ABOUT THE PEOPLE'S PARK CORAL BAY HERE
We had dinner at Finns right next to the park (in fact about 25m from our van). I believe they serve great coffee there too, but don't open until 8am and we were on the road again next day by 7am, so didn't get to try it.
TIP: When it's time to fill up, look for the "24 hour fuel depots", sometimes located just out of the towns (i.e. Coral Bay, Exmouth, Tom Price) as they are around 20 cents cheaper.
One of the things that hits you when driving in the outback is the "outback camaraderie" of waving at other vehicles as you pass. It reminded me of trips across the nullabor when I was much younger, where it was so rare to see a car, that you almost got out and introduced yourselves to people passing. But in outback WA, it's the polite thing to do. Cars wave to cars, caravaners wave to caravaners and motorhome drivers wave to motorhome drivers. Truckers don’t wave. My guess is that they just wait until they’ve passed each other and then grab the cb radio mic and tell each other what a nice rig they’ve got. It gets to the point where if you inadvertently miss a wave you immediately feel guilt and consider doing a u-ey to catch up to them to give them the wave you owe them. Likewise, if someone doesn’t give you a wave as they pass, you feel inclined to call the police and pass on their rego!
DAY #4 Tom Price
Another early start took us through the 547km up, then down and then inland through the Hamersley Ranges to Tom Price on the edge of Karijini National Park. Now the Hamersley Ranges are something to behold. I personally had no idea that this sort of outback Australia existed. Take a look.
The best way to get to Tom Price is via Parapadu. Once you leave Nanuturra the country side dramatically changes to stunning mountain ranges, vibrant red dirt and green shrubs and trees. It amazed us that we had so many mountains on our doorstep (well, 1,600km from our doorstep), that made the drive constantly stunning. There is a shorter road to Tom Price but it’s unsealed for 100km so probably takes longer in the end. Much better to go via Parapadu.
The Tom Price Tourist Park is at the base of Mount Nameless, which incidentally, just feels a bit lazy to me for such a monumental mountain. Our party got part way up the mountain for sunset drinks, but you'd need off road tyres to get all the way up the top. We spent three days here as we had caught up to our friends who had already been there 2 days. We highly recommend 5 days in this region.
TIP: Tom Price is about 80km out of Karijini National Park, which means you need to drive that each day in and out of the park. Or you could stay at the Karijini Eco Retreat which has a clamping set up. It looked quite good. Unpowered campsites are around $40 a night or you can get a deluxe eco tent with ensuite and kingsize bed for around $379 a night!
DAY #5 Karijini National Park
Karijini is WA's second largest national park and one of the most spectacular sights in the Pilbara. Our first full day in the park started off with a walk through Hancock Gorge and The Weano Gorge. Weano contains the Oxer Lookout and Handrail Pool, both which are a "must do". The signs indicate that most walks take longer than they actually do and each walk is posted with its severity, depending on your fitness. But push yourself to do whatever you can do otherwise you'll miss out on experiences like these...
TIP: Pack clothes that look good with red dirt on them and sturdy shoes (or at least a very strong pair of runners).
DAY #6 Karijini National Park
After breakfast we headed back into the park to Dales Gorge on the east side of the park. This is home to three of Karijini's highlights. Fortescue Falls, Circular Pool and Fern Pool. This is Fortescue Falls.
In Tom Price Tourist Park (and in fact most camping parks) there is a camp kitchen where people assemble at the end of the day to cook some meals and catch up. Each night we sat around outside our vans eating, drinking and laughing at the day's adventures. Everybody was positively lit about the experiences we were sharing.
DAY #7 Exmouth
After a couple of days in the one spot, we all split up with our friends continuing their journey north and us needing to start our journey home, so we drove west back through the Hamersley Ranges towards the coast, first down, then up, then down and then up again 570km to Exmouth. You soon learn that nothing is straight ahead in the northwest. By the end of the day we checked in to Exmouth Cape Holiday Park which is an RAC Park.
READ ABOUT THE EXMOUTH CAPE HOLIDAY PARK HERE.
TIP: RAC members get a discount at RAC Parks.
DAY #8 Exmouth
We were on the go early again to start exploring the Cape Range National Park. On the way there you pass the Vlaming Head Lighthouse at the tip of Exmouth and lots of little bays and beaches tat make up the top end of the Ningaloo Reef. Ningaloo Marine Park is a World Heritage-listed site found half way up the West Australian coastline. The crystalline water harbours the world’s largest fringing reef, a 260-kilometre long coral reef swarming with turtles, tropical fish, manta rays, humpback whales and the elusive whale shark. Nowhere on Earth do these majestic creatures reliably congregate in such large numbers as on the Ningaloo Reef.
Turquoise Bay was recommended to us, so we hit that one first and gave the snorkel and flippers a bit of a workout.
TIP: Ningaloo Blue Whaleshark was recommended to us to do the whale shark Boat tour where you can actually swim with the whale sharks, however because of school holidays they were booked out, so my advice is to book early before you land in town. If you're an RAC member, ask for a discount.
The great thing about a motorhome is that everything is always with you. So at any point you can head back to the car and have lunch, a sleep, or whatever. By midday lots of families had moved in to Turquoise, so we moved on and searched for another spot. We found heaven in Sandy Bay. Couldn't believe our luck with hardly anybody there and a beautiful white pristine beach. Thank goodness I took lots of photos that day because the following day we went back and it was full of families as the school holidays had well and truly kicked in.
DAY #9 & #10 Exmouth
Our final days in Exmouth was spent at the beaches again and taking a walk through the Yardie Creek Gorge which is literally at the end of Yardie Creek Road. We also took in the view of the SS Mildura which was wrecked close to the coast over 100 years ago. Quite a bit of it is still above water.
Each day we ended the day at the Vlaming Head Lighthouse for sunset. It's a "must do" if you're visiting Exmouth. Get there early so you can get a spot. Set up your chairs, take some drinks and nibbles and soak in the sun as it sets into the ocean. It's also a pretty good spot for sunrise as you can see east as well.
DAY #11 Carnarvon
We were sad to leave Exmouth, but needed to continue the journey home, so we travelled 364km south to Carnarvon. We stopped off at The Carnarvon Space & Technology Museum on the way in. You can't miss the giant satellite dish that helped transmit man's first walk on the moon across the world.
Buzz Aldrin officially opened the museum in 2013 and along the way owner, Phil Youd has collected bits and pieces from donors and other museums. It's great for adults and for kids. Everyone can try to land the space shuttle, have their photo taken on the lunar surface and try out lots of other exhibits.
DAY #12 Monkey Mia
This is a place that we've heard about for years, so we made a point of having Money Mia on the itinerary, which is 349km south of Carnarvon. The RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort was one of the best caravan park set ups we saw on this journey. Two pools, right on the ocean, lots of great beach front cabins that we want to head back and try and nice grassy areas for vans and tents and the odd emu walking through the park to entertain the kids.
READ ABOUT THE RAC MONKEY MIA TOURIST PARK HERE
This was our only night on an unpowered site (as there were not any other sites available due to school holidays, but we managed quite well making sure our devices stayed charged during the drive that day.
We sat on the beach for sunset watching the dolphins play in the shallows. It was quite surreal. Next morning we were up by 7am along with around 350 other people to line up (sigh) for way too long to see way too little of the dolphins coming in to be fed. Unfortunately the days of 20 or so dolphins coming in each morning are waaaay gone and there are now only 3 that come in. Nobody is allowed into the water to greet them. Several people are chosen by the volunteers to feed them a fish. My tip is sit on the beach and just watch them play in the water throughout the day. Much less formalised and much more fun and exciting as you'll see here...
DAY #13 Geraldton
Our second to last day saw us travel 431km to Geraldton, which surprised us as to how big it was. Nearly 40,000 people live here and it's a fairly sprawling city. We stayed at the Sunset Beach Holiday park, which was right on the beach, but not right in the heart of Geraldton. The following day was the final home stretch of 418km to Perth.