Come, take a journey with me from the top of WA’s Coral Coast at Exmouth to the beautiful city of Perth – a journey of some 1,500 kilometres crossing the Tropic of Capricorn and the 26th Parallel – passing through amazing landscapes, pristine World Heritage sites and meeting some of the world’s most curious animals… on land and under the sea!
Ready? First of all, you’ll need a supply of sun block, insect repellent, a hat, a fly net and a bottle of water. I don’t ‘do’ hard treks, so I’m not taking you anywhere you’ll need swags, walking shoes or backpacks! A nice comfortable air-conditioned car, and an ‘eski’ (Australian for cool box).
Learmonth Airport is our starting point, and up to the North West Cape and Exmouth. It’s pretty deserted up here, but it’s a haven for fishing, boating – and for those seeking perfect isolation, Turquoise Beach is the place to be. I headed south to Coral Bay, passing a couple of emus along the roadside. They looked amazingly like a couple of hitch hikers! Coral Bay is just metres from Ningaloo Reef, so time your visit – this is the place to swim with the largest fish in our oceans – the beautiful spotted Whale Sharks – who pass daily on their migration from March to June. After that, it’s manta rays and humpback whales, and before that, the turtle hatching and coral spawning in February! Coral Bay is relaxed, easygoing and atmospheric – we are soon strolling on the beach at sunset, shiny brown faces and huge grins. Everyone here is on holiday! There are many boats going out in the Bay for fishing and snorkelling, but if you want to swim with the Whale Sharks you must book in advance. Licenced boats are only able to take limited numbers out each day, and it’s an experience not to miss. Ningaloo is different from the Barrier Reef – less crowded, less commercialised – and the reef covers over 5,000 square kilometres of ocean – shallow lagoons and deep water, bringing together beautiful corals and thousands of fish! Up here, away from the bright city lights, the night sky is a delight. Clear views of Orion and the Southern Cross, shooting stars and, we even watched a satellite traverse the sky while we sat outdoors over dinner!
Leaving Coral Bay was a wrench! But we joined the North West Coastal Highway at Minilya Roadhouse looking forward to our next stop – Monkey Mia and Shark Bay! The straight, straight road took us past Lake Macleod and Blowholes on the coast, with the Kennedy Ranges on our left. Stopping briefly at Carnarvon for a walk, not quite to the end, of Carnarvon’s One Mile Jetty – we saw some fishermen at its end, and we admired their energy! With a long stretch of road behind us, and another ahead, Carnarvon was a great place to have a little time out – historical and quaint. The desert reaches out to the sea at Red Bluff, and it’s surrounded by orchards and farms – fruit, vegetables, honey and eggs on sale every Saturday at Carnarvon Market.
Crossing the 26th Parallel and turning right at the Overlander Roadhouse unfolds what can only be described as the world’s most fantastic natural wonder: Shark Bay, and at its furthest point, Monkey Mia’s famous dolphins.
But before that, make sure you have some time for a couple of surprises! First, Hamelin Pool’s stromatolites. What on earth…? Lumpy rocks in the shallows of the shore, bubbling bubbles. They are in fact, the oldest living organisms on our planet and date back 3.5 billion years – their oxygen bubbles are the breath of all life made possible on earth. It’s an awesome walk on the viewing platform out over the water, as you read the story told by Stumpy, our stromatolite guide!
About 40 kilometres further is Shell Beach – what a curiosity! A beach 10 metres deep and stretching 120 kilometres of tiny countless cockle shells! In Denham, the closest town, there are houses and walls made of these tiny cockle shells, like the lovely restaurant where we had dinner that night.
Eagle Bluff completes the spectacles of Shark Bay. Pass kangaroos and emus on the dust road that leads to the scenic viewpoint at the top of a one hundred metre walkway – and the view, 360 degrees of coast and sky, will take your breath away. Far down below in the bay the clear water reveals sharks, rays and dugongs in the shallows. Our world, at one.
This part of our journey, from the Overlander Roadhouse to Monkey Mia, is a ‘World Heritage Drive’ and the technicalities of that apart, this is an overdose of scenery, views and colour.
Monkey Mia, at the end of the peninsular is everything it promises to be. Get there early, about 7am, as this will be your best chance to meet the dolphins. About 20 dolphins came to say hello to us, and as they gently swam up and down looking us over, we learned how they live, breathe, have families and generally enjoy the ocean! Afterwards we had a lovely cooked breakfast on the lawns of the Monkey Mia Resort Hotel while their resident emus and pelicans strutted the grounds. It’s a great place to chill or swim, but feeling energetic we followed a trail to the sand dunes, lookouts and finally to the beach!
Following my ‘seascape’ I was ready for the bush and the outback! Taking the North West Coastal south again, we diverted our route to Kalbarri National Park.
The Park is huge, but well signposted to its most famous sights: Nature’s Window and Z-Bend. Far below the lookouts is the Murchison River, the creator of the gorges and cliffs for over 400 million years. Red sandstone ledges, rocks and boulders and a huge, deep blue, cloudless sky epitomise the image of Australia. The walks are easy, boarded and marked, but still take your water and your hat. You can spend a whole day taking in the sights of the park, and when you get to the seaside town of Kalbarri itself, try some delicious shark and chips!
Have you ever seen a pink lake? Catch the sunset at Port Gregory on the way south out of Kalbarri. The colour of Pink Lake is something to marvel at.
We left the Coastal Highway shortly after Geraldton and its leaning trees, and joined the new Indian Ocean Drive that would take us to Perth. Our scenery was changing, civilisation springing up around us in delightful towns such as Green Head and Jurien Bay. Picnic spots, free parking and barbecues are everywhere… as well as sea lions! This is where they live and breed, and you can see them lazing on the beach, or go out on a boat tour to Fisherman’s Island with a guide.
And just when you think nothing more can surprise you, there is Cervantes and the Pinnacles. A desert of what? Limestone structures, a forest of shapes standing eerily for miles and miles. After a stroll among these ‘statues’ the visitors centre offers some possible explanations of how the Pinnacles were formed and when.
Passing through some blinding white gigantic sand dunes, we were approaching the city limits of Perth – and another adventure waiting to begin!
…and where else to start but on the ferry from Perth to Freemantle. This gives you the history and the geography in a nutshell! It’s relaxing and informative and the view of the skyline and the Bell Tower are just lovely!