I am in the habit of starting these blogs with a map of the route to our next stopping place along the Western Australian coastline. This is the first time I have used a weather forecast map to illustrate such a journey. The trip from Denham to Kalbarri was probably one of the easiest trips of our holiday and we arrived at Kalbarri in the early afternoon after the 374 Kms drive. However before our holiday we thought we might have to leave Kalbarri off our list as it sat directly in the path of Cyclone Seroja in April. This devastating cyclone had started off terrorising Indonesia and Timor and statistics at the time had recorded over 100 people had died in these countries as a result of cyclonic winds and rain. The cyclone drifted out into the Indian ocean before barreling back to the Australian coastline with Kalbarri directly in its path. It passed just to the south of the centre of town and it caused havoc in its passage. The town was closed down for a couple of weeks but when we arrived on May 17, it had opened up again, but the scars were still very evident in all parts of the town. The images below of damage at Chinamans Beach are just one example of the evidence of the cyclone’s destructive path through Kalbarri
After we turned off the Northwest Coastal Highway onto the Ajana-Kalbarri Rd, it was a lovely drive into Kalbarri. Our home for the next three nights was recorded online as being the Murchison River Caravan Park. The first Caravan Park we pulled up at was simply called the Murchison Caravan Park. When I went into the office, I asked the receptionist if this was the Murchison River Caravan Park? She said it was. I replied, “What happened to the ‘river’ in the title?” She smiled, but the guy out in the back office called out, “We couldn’t afford the extra word!” I knew I was going to enjoy this Caravan Park, particularly as I had read it was opposite the pelican feeding spot on the bank of the river where these birds were fed each day by volunteers. There weren’t that many pelicans around that afternoon as the sky had turned dark and we were treated to the first rain-storm of our holiday.
Apart from occasionally being in the path of cyclones, Kalbarri has a lot going for it as a place to visit. Its main street runs alongside the Murchison River, the longest river in Australia, as it finishes its journey to the sea. If you were a boatie or a fisher, just this one aspect of the town’s situation has a lot going for it. If you had not long before been to Karajini National Park and were looking for more red gorges, the National Park behind the town had them in spades. If sheer sea cliffs were your preferred option, you really couldn’t have found a better place for such breath-taking scenery. Underlying it all, if you were interested in the European arrival in Western Australia, this town reveals some of the great stories of this part of Australian History’
Our first full day in Kalbarri was devoted to exploring the extensive sea cliffs that Kalbarri is famous for. Given the nature of cliffs, we didn’t think that the recent cyclone could interfere with our inspection of such ancient landforms., but human infrastructure is a different matter. The first problem the recent cyclone caused cliff-visiting tourists was to blow over many of the signs pointing towards our sightseeing spots along George Grey Drive. The important turnoff to Shellhouse Grandstand, Island Rock and Natural Bridge was still completely bent and twisted over so we sailed right past it. We realised 10 km later that we must have missed the turnoff. The quality of these three scenic spots made us quickly forget the delay. As usual, the quality of the Information Boards impressed us; the National Parks authority clearly has some impressive artists and designers working for them to ensure visitors knew exactly what they were looking at. There was a well maintained car-park with a 1.2 km return stroll along the boardwalk to view the Natural Bridge. While we were at the viewing platform, another bonus feature of having a fabulous lookout on the Kalbarri cliffs appeared…the sight of whales breaching out to sea.
It was a beautiful sunny day and the rain from the previous night had passed away as we strolled the impressive boardwalk along the edge of the cliff to the next natural feature, the Island Rock. This sea-stack reminded me of our trip to the Twelve Apostles off the coast of Victoria many years before. Like the sea-stacks off our southern coast, the Island Rock was once part of the coastline as the unceasing pounding of the Indian Ocean bashes away at it, looking for weaknesses in the rock face.
Our next walk was to the Shellhouse Grandstand whose name is owed to the imagination of early fishers along this coast who decided it looked like a shell-shaped house on the side of a cliff.
We headed back to the car sensing that if our first three sea-cliff sites were anything to go by, we were in for a great morning of cliff walking. However, the cyclone of the previous month was intent on limiting our day as when we headed back towards Kalbarri town, the next turnoff to Eagle Gorge was closed by council barriers. Our next turn off was to Pot Alley and we were delighted when its access was open.
The original local fishers can be blamed for the name of this site. Apparently the local cray fishermen gave it the name after losing many of their pots to this hazardous cove. After parking the car, the first option was to check out the view of the coastline looking south as four headlands reach out into the Indian ocean. But perhaps the best walk of the morning was when we turned down into what looked like a miniature gorge heading down towards the cove we could see below. This walk was magical, with the rock valley’s formations being amazingly ornate and the great view of the surf beckoning us to Pot Alley.
I have never seen colours in the sand like those we encountered at the back of the narrow beach here as can be seen in the image below right. It didn’t look like a swimming beach to me as the swell surged into the cove at an angle to the beach, smashing against the left side of the small headland; I am not sure how you would get off the wave before you hit the rocks.
When we arrived back at the car-park, we passed a couple on the way down to Pot Alley and the guy was carrying flippers, mask and snorkel. I nearly said to him, “I don’t think you will need that gear down in that cove, Mate!” He looked like a solid guy who knew what he was doing so I held my tongue. I hoped he decided against entering the water.
As seemed to be the pattern for our morning tour, when we reached the next turnoff to Rainbow Valley and Mushroom Rock, we found this entry road closed as well.
We had nearly made it back to Kalbarri and our last chance for a walk and sea views was the Red Bluff turnoff. We were relieved to find it open. This was a longer access trail than the others we had walked this morning, but we were pleased to find that there were a number of Interpretative Signs along the walk that gave us some of the intriguing history of the bay in front of us. It was here that George Grey was exploring when he was shipwrecked in 1839. His journal of his walk back to Perth gives us some of the first accounts of the life and culture of First Australians in this area. The final panorama was of mouth of the Murchison River and views of the distant Zuytdorp Cliffs
Apart from the information board below telling the story of Captain George Grey, there were also other boards telling the tale of the wreck of the Dutch ship in 1712, the Zuytdorp, which ran into the cliffs north of Kalbarri and gave its name to the long line of cliffs that run all the way to Dirk Hartog Island. We encountered this story again when we visited the impressive Museum in Geraldton; the details can be accessed here.
On the way back to Kalbarri we passed the turn off to the Blue Holes beach and decided we should check it out tomorrow.
One of the advantages of our Caravan Park being opposite the Murchison River and looking west to the horizon is that it gave us the perfect spot for taking photos of sunsets.