Kalbarri National Park
Monkey Mia dolphins
Kalbarri quad biking
Shell Beach; Shark Bay
Road trip to the Coral Coast - Western Australia
Rain had started to fall in Perth and we were beginning to suffer the winter blues. To lift our spirits and avoid a Vitamin D deficiency we decided to head to the Coral Coast in search of some adventure and winter sun.
We drove north of the city along Wanneroo Road with a stash of snacks and road trip music and within an hour we were on the scenic new Indian Ocean Drive. With pure white sand dunes to our right and magnificent ocean views to our left, we found the new road to be as picturesque as it was easy to drive. With each passing kilometre of open road we felt the stress leave our bodies as we focused on blue skies, turquoise ocean and native bush land surrounding us. We were well and truly in holiday mode by the time we turned off the North West Coastal Drive towards the seaside resort town of Kalbarri.
As a young girl I remember visiting Kalbarri with hoards of other West Australian families, to explore the National Park, coastal gorges and the Murchison River running through the middle of the town.
Just south of Kalbarri we would stop to see the Pink Lake – every little girl’s dream! All these years later I discovered that the pink colour of the water is created by the naturally occurring beta carotene and even as an adult, I’m still as captivated as ever with this unusual but equally beautiful sight.
The journey to Kalbarri had us feeling a little peckish, so we feasted on a pizza and a glass of wine in the warm and balmy evening air of the alfresco area at the local watering hole before turning in for the night.
Yes, we were in holiday mode, but we were also keen to make the most of our time in Kalbarri, so the alarm jolted us awake at 6.30am the next morning. It was time for us to get up and get ready for our quad biking adventure! We jumped into the van that picked us up from our hotel and as we left Kalbarri and made our way down a bumpy, gravel road we saw bright red shiny quad bikes come into view. As soon as the van stopped we all scrambled out, eager to start the engines.
Board shorts and a cheeky smile were the uniform of choice for our enthusiastic guide, Steve. We were asked to tighten our helmets and set our quad bikes on to four wheel drive mode. I started off slowly and cautiously until Steve shouted: “Come on, Grace, you’re riding like a granny!” That was all the encouragement I needed to rev my engine and accelerate down Wagoe Beach, one of the Coral Coast’s most beautiful beaches .
For a moment, it seemed like Steve was going to ride straight into the waves, but instead he pulled up near the shore and picked something up from the water’s edge. We pulled up close by to hear what he had to say about the little sea creature in the palm of his hand.
“These are yummy little fellas. Can you guess what they are?”
“Oysters?” our group replied.
“You’ve got it, in winter the cold water laps over the oysters so they stay nice and fresh. Locals come to this area and pick them from the shore and eat them fresh from the ocean.”
I could imagine coming to the shore every morning in winter with lime and pepper in my back pocket and popping a couple into my belly.
After two and half hours of adrenalin coursing through my body and fresh air in my lungs, our awesome Wagoe Beach quad bike tour was over. We reluctantly rode back to the farm where we were greeted by the rowdy farm dogs that eagerly ran circles around the quad bikes. It was time to head north to our next destination, but not before visiting the Kalbarri National Park on the way out of town.
Kalbarri National Park’s most iconic landmarks are Nature’s Window and the Loop and no visit to the area would be complete without seeing them. Nature’s Window beautifully frames the rugged upstream view of the Murchison River below and the Z-Bend lookout features gorges 150 metres deep to the river below, where majestic river red gum trees provide a lush contrast to the earthy hews of the Tumblagooda sandstone. From any of the lookouts in the National Park you are surrounded by red earth, wildflowers and breathtaking views over the Murchison River.
We continued our journey north and after a few hours we turned into the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive. We followed the interpretive signage along the World Heritage Drive to learn about the area and why it had received World Heritage Area status – only a handful of places in the world have been recognised as such by UNESCO, so we knew it had to be a very special place. The first stop along the way was the Hamelin Pool stromatolites – this is one of only a few places on earth where living marine stromatolites (the oldest living organisms on the planet) exist. I couldn’t believe that these rocky looking lumps in the water dated back over 3.5 million years. The next stop on the drive was Shell Beach, a beach made up entirely of shells which stretches for over 120 kilometres. The water sparkled an intense blue as the sun hit the shells.
Sunset was approaching as we reached Denham so when we reached our accommodation we sat on the balcony with a drink in hand as the horizon turned a striking combination of orange and pink over the stunning landscape of red dirt and aqua ocean.
In Shark Bay my morning caffeine fix happened to be at an ocean-view coffee shop. As we waited for our mug-sized cappuccinos we sat down on large wooden seats under the rooftop fans and enjoyed views of the turquoise ocean, white sand and the big boats heading in from early morning fishing.
On our way out of Denham we stopped at A Little Shop Well Worth a Visit, for a juice and to have a nosey at the pottery collection and handmade items. Owner and artist, Mahala took us into her studio where she spends hours spinning her creations into perfection. I came out with three beautiful small bowls of white clay with delicately painted blue stripes. After a long yarn with Mahala we said our goodbyes and promised to come back one day. We continued our journey to Monkey Mia (45 minutes from Denham) with a couple of stops on the way.
A must-see destination on the way to Monkey Mia is the Little Lagoon. You can see the lagoon as you drive along the coast - the river feeding water into the blue-green coloured lagoon. It was irresistible – we just had to stop and test the temperature of the water. When we reached the lagoon the sun was sparkling over the shells and the water was like a bath. We rested our feet in the turquoise water for half an hour before giving them a work out exploring Francois Peron National Park.
This National Park covers 52,500 hectares of arid shrubland, rolling sand plains and spectacular coastal scenery. We were dazzled by the striking colours on display - rust red sand dunes alongside brilliant white beaches and a crystal blue ocean.
We continued on to the Peron Homestead for a glimpse of life from 1950’s when the park was a working sheep station. We walked along the self-guided path through the precinct and were taken back to yesteryear with the interpretive signs telling the homestead’s stories.
After a full day of exploring the Shark Bay area, we arrived at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, which is right on the shore of where the famous wild dolphins come to feed every morning. We checked in and enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the beach where we bumped into the locals – a mother emu with three baby emus following behind.
The next morning at 7.30am, we huddled with a group of about 15 people on the foreshore anxiously awaiting the arrival of Monkey Mia’s famous dolphins for their daily snack. As the dolphins appeared, one after the other (there are now three generations of dolphins that visit most mornings) the young dolphins put on a show revealing their pink bellies as they sky rocketed out of the water. Afterwards, we jumped onto the Monkey Mia Wildsights yacht to eye spy on the myriad of marine life that Shark Bay is known for; including dugongs, manta rays, turtles, sea snakes, more dolphins and the list goes on. We donned a pair of special sunnies to help us catch a glimpse of the marine life – which we saw in abundance on our three-hour tour.
We crammed in as much sightseeing as possible before commencing our journey south towards Geraldton the next day, we hit the road and stopped on the way to fill up with petrol and pick up some icy cool drinks at the Billabong Roadhouse. After five hours we made a beeline for the Geraldton Visitor Centre to get directions and advice on the best seafood restaurant in town.
Like most people who visit Geraldton, we made our way to Mt Scott, overlooking Geraldton, to pay our respects at the HMAS Sydney II Memorial. The memorial commemorates the lives of 645 Australian sailors who met their fate in an infamous World War II battle in 1941. A statue of a bronze woman gazes out into the ocean views looking and waiting for her love that never came home. As you stand by the woman you look out onto sweeping views of Geraldton’s working port, which got us thinking about the city’s lucrative seafood industry.
It was time to eat, so we stopped at a restaurant for some fresh local produce: the elusive Western Rock Lobster - a perfect meal to celebrate our memorable Coral Coast road trip.
On our last morning we took a stroll along the marina and the Geraldton Foreshore before stopping at the Point Moore Lighthouse on our way out of town.
Sadly, our Coral Coast adventure was almost over and it was time to head home on the last leg of our journey back to Perth, but not before stopping in at the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. The Pinnacles Desert is the most unique landscape I have ever seen, with thousands of golden limestone spires standing up to three and a half metres tall, towering over my petite stature of just under five feet. Once we reached the end of the Pinnacles driving trail we made our way back onto the Indian Ocean Drive to head home after six glorious days in the sun, sand and sea to get us through the rest of winter.