Overnight stays: Quobba Station, Macleod; Wooramel River Retreat, NW Coastal Highway; RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, Monkey Mia (5 nights); Hamelin Outback Station Stay, Hamelin Pool; Murchison Caravan Park, Kalbarri; Tenindewa Pioneer Well, Tenindewa; Moore River Bridge Rest Stop, Caraban
We left Coral Bay knowing that our swimming days were going to be numbered from hereon in. We tossed and turned about visiting the travellers’ favourite Warroora Station on our way south for a few nights, famed for letting punters park right on the beach. Sounds cool, but with more comments on WikiCamps about the quality of road in, rather than how good the actual campsite is, we agreed it best to keep going – as if we were going to get the WomBatmobile on sand anyway 😂.
We were, however, keen on some more station stays, so detoured from the highway, towards Quobba, home of the King Wave. I hadn’t heard anything about King Waves before arriving, but have since discovered that they are random, and can be up to ten times the size of regular waves in the area, catching unsuspecting punters by surprise, and sparadically taking lives in their path. The most recent was only a few years ago, where a tourist was picked up off the rocks by a King Wave, dead.
The first thing we noticed when we left Coral Bay was the abundance of wildflowers starting to emerge. We knew nothing of the wildflowers until some friends we met in Cape Range explained them to us. It was only the beginning of the season, but all along the drive, we could see fields of Everlastings sprawling pretty from the side of the road into the horizon. Colours of pink, white, yellow and purple dominated, as we stopped countless times to admire what would become the norm for the foreseeable future.
Liv loved picking and collecting them, providing us with a plethora of free flowers to have on display around the motorhome. It wasn’t until much later down the track that we were informed that picking the flowers is actually illegal, and comes with a hefty fine. Starting your schooling life in Juve isn’t exactly what we had in mind for our little Baby Wombat, so we have since stopped picking them 😬.
When we first arrived at Quobba it felt different. Until now we had been used to coastlines of sandy beaches on the NSW and WA north coasts, and gross mud-flats of Tropical Queensland. But this was wild, like Ranger Stacey totally wild.
Rocky cliffs with monster waves smashing into them, furious at the thousands of miles of Indian Ocean behind them. And an angry blowhole with more force and power than a Rupert Murdoch phone call, frequently tore holes in the air, spraying the Indian into a glorious mess of fear for bystanding Instagramers, looking for the perfect selfie moment, including us.
It’s rumoured that around 60-odd people have died in this part of the world, either taken by a King Wave or just getting too close to the force of the waves, that create a powerful waterfall effect as they retreat to the comfort of their home. It was glaringly obvious to us that this place with its rugged beauty was not to be messed with – those who fall in never return.
Only 10km north of the blowhole, we settled in at Quobba Station for the night, where, despite the strong winds, we sat around our little campfire toasting marshmallows and admiring the stars, surrounded by the scores of shells collected from the wild beach only metres away.
Red Bluff and Gnaraloo were other stations on our list to-do, but upon advice from the camphost at Quobba, we decided against dragging the WomBatmobile another 50km+ on gnarly gravel. Apparently these places are nice, but best suited to surfers more than anyone, so we didn’t feel we missed much.
Not unlike Cape Range, you couldn’t look at the ocean without seeing a pod of whales on our drive south. Before this trip I reckon I’d only ever seen a handful of whales before; like a few on a Patagonia tour, and the odd one here or there on the east coast. But this place (the west) is ridiculous – the Japanese and Icelandic ‘researchers’ would have a field day in WA!
We were super impressed with the little town of Carnarvon, known in WA for punching above its weight in fruit production. What was originally intended as a brief coffee and fuel stop resulted in spending the most part of the day wandering, shopping, playing and just soaking in the glorious winter weather, topping up winter clothes that had now become unavoidable.
Stations stays are awesome. They are cheap, usually on beautiful locations (beaches, rivers etc), and more often than not you can have your own fire. Wooramel was no exception, and had the added benefit of natural artesian baths, always a Grey Nomad favourite.
The wide river bed was completely dry, which worked in our favour, as all the best firewood was either halfway across, or on the other side of the river. My first priority was collecting firewood, so I set off in search straight away while the girls setup camp.
The river bed sand was looser than aged care regulation, which made every step an effort, like a step machine set to the hardest setting, and the peddles made of jelly. The river bed was also deceptively wide, and naturally all the closest wood had already been salvaged, so every sandy step towards the collectable wood was another sandy step back to camp.
I was pooped by the time I arrived at a delicious looking log, with sweat beading from my forehead. I began to drag what looked like a reasonably-sized chunk of wood through the dry sand until I ventured about 70cm and realised I was in way over my head, this thing weighed about 1,000kg, and at my current drag rate, would take 3-4 months to get back to the fireplace. Time to implement Plan B…
So I trudged back to camp to pick up my handsaw, returning to the log, determined to win the battle of man v tree. First I cut it in half, sweat now starting to refill the river-bed from every pore in my body. But this was only the beginning. The two halves were also too heavy – damn it! So I sawed each of them in half again, and was able to drag one of the quarters about 50m before falling in a heap. Okay, I had a plan – I would carry a piece as far as I could, drop it, and double back to grab the next bit, using the return journey empty-handed as respite for the hard-slog of tree-carrying.
This continued for the next 40 minutes until the last piece of log was next to the fireplace. With my arms and legs shaking from exhaustion, it was a race against the clock to get things going before dark. Unfortunately the pain wasn’t over, as each quarter log was still too big for the fireplace. So I sawed and sawed until we now had enough wood to build a new town, and just enough to get us through the night.
Once it was up and going and I had cooled to a reasonable temperature, I joined the girls who were now chilling in the natural spa, like a warm mossy bath – as relaxing as it is slimy and gross. But these sorts of novelties are the little things we’ll miss when we return to civility next year – nature at its finest.
We then joined all the other campers around the communal fireplace for a drink and few laughs, where we ran into Ken and Kaye, whom we had met at Cape Range. Circling Oz is like that – you run into so many people more than once, and you share stories of where you’ve been since you last met, and where to next. We were merely passsing through Wooramel for a night, but they were in their element, and could well still be there I reckon, over a month later.
Once Happy Hour finished we returned to our now established fire, where I stubbornly spent most of the night, with every ember reminding me of the blood sweat and tears that went into its creation.
Another thing that we love about station stays is their little quirks. In Barnhill is was the bowling green, in Bullara it was the donkey shower, and here it was the bathrooms, that were built inside old corrugated iron water tanks. It’s these sorts of things you seem to remember, and what make your stays so unique and distinguishable from one another.
Wooramel was definitely one of the best, but we were in a moving mood, so continued on our way souththe next morning, through the wildflowers, towards Shark Bay.
Google ‘Best beaches in the world’ and you’ll get more hits than Powderfinger’s career, one of which is selected by the respected National Geographic, the publication that began for fascination for whale-shark swimming. And just like every other magazine and his dog, they put out a top beaches list sporadically, or regularly, who knows?
Anyway, one of the beaches they have had in their Top 10 in the world at a period of time is Shell Beach, set on the southern end of Shark Bay, facing the north. Unlike most beaches where sand dominates, the ‘sand’ part of this beach is entirely made up of shells, like millions and millions of them.
Once you get past the original kind of ugly mini shell-dunes that I reckon could be an extension of the car park, it becomes quite a pretty beach. And because of the lack of sand, the water is super clear, tempting everyone, despite the air temp hovering somewhere in the mid to high teens.
Knowing I was never coming back or not at least for 30 years or so, I succumbed to the water’s temptation, for a salty yet satisfying dip in water that remains shallow for as far as can be seen.
Denham is ideally placed on the turquoise waters’ edge on the southern shores of Shark Bay, and the mainstay of most of the region’s visitors and residents alike. We contemplated staying here as the caravan parks looked great, but we had our sights on Monkey Mia, whom despite a swarm of advice not to stay there, had only recently reopened after a $30M renovation; so we were willing to take a punt on it.
It’s funny the things you notice and enjoy when you become parents. In our previous lives we would’ve driven through Denham, admired the view and prettiness, sat down for a coffee or beer overlooking the water, and moved on for a relaxing arvo. But the first thing we noticed and got overly excited about in Denham was the awesome playground. Oh how times change! We labelled it the best playground of the trip so far, but apparently we have some rippers coming up – exciting times ahead 😂.
There are places you hear about before and on your travels that set your expectations, either sky high or gorge low. One of those is Monkey Mia. Whenever we made mention of Monkey Mia, people, mostly Grey Nomads would advise against staying there as it was expensive and run-down, and to simply day-trip from Denham. But if we insisted on staying, the advice would be to book a year or so ahead, otherwise we wouldn’t get a site.
We took the second part of the advice, and booked in fear. You see, in a motorhome it’s far easier to stay in your destination, rather than day-trip like caravanners. Because once you’re home is also your transport, it’s far easier to be where you want to be, rather than pack up everyday and drive there, like you would with a caravan and car.
On arrival we knew we had made the right decision – this park was incredible. The $30M revamp invested by RAC was abundantly obvious, with a brand new pool, cafe, campsites, and just a ‘new’ feel to everything. We immediately extended our single night stay to three, knowing this would be an awesome place to chill for a few days, especially with water views from our site.
(Im)Perfect Nature Cruise
Another thing we had booked before arrival was a couple of cruises on Aristocat 2, a local yacht that takes visitors out on the water from Monkey Mia, offering ‘perfect nature cruises’. This excursion was recommended by a few different people so we weren’t going to miss it, and our expectations were sky high.
Better still, when you booked the main wildlife cruise, you got a free sunset cruise. We took it up on the day of arrival and boarded the yacht with winter woollies in-hand, not really knowing what to expect. After spotting a few dolphins and a turtle we quickly enough became curious what this actual tour was. There was no context given by the crew, we were just seemingly sailing around Shark Bay at sunset, chilling. Sounds ideal, but it felt just a tiny bit weird, and the uncertainty added a weird sense of anxiety to all onboard.
After our nice but slightly weird sunset tour, we really didn’t know what to expect the following morning when we reboarded Aristocat 2. After the same scripted, slightly comedic safety demonstration, we were back on the water, cruising for reasons unknown.
More dolphins spotted, and finally it became obvious we were looking for dugongs. These elusive mammals of the weed can be tricky to find, especially over the cooler months, of which we were bang in the middle of.
After a while looking for something that didn’t seem to be there, the crew spotted some rustling a,omg the weed ahead, dugong time. The problem is, as with most wildlife, they tend to be spooked by boats, so he or she was off like a female Liberal pollie, out of sight. This eme dominated the next hour or so, as we circling, seeking dugongs until we finally got close enough to get a glimpse of one blob coming to the surface for breath. I must say, despite the big build up, it really wasn’t that impressive. Not only do they surface infrequently, but they don’t show off like dolphins and whales; they simply sneak their face above the water, and retreat again – pretty boring stuff really.
The $100 per-adult price tag on this cruise is pretty ridiculous. Especially when you compare it to the likes of Yellow Water in Kakadu, where you don’t know where to look because of the plethora of wildlife. It definitely goes down as our worst value tour of the trip, unfortunately 😔. I guess you can’t pick ’em all.
Although… I will give credit to Greg, the skipper, whom we got to know a little over the next few days. He knew Loz was volunteering with the dolphins, so invited Liv and I to cruise again for free, which we did to pass the time one morning.
The single reason people visit Monkey Mia is for the dolphins. Every morning for the past few decades, local dolphins come into shore looking for easy grub. Without the dolphins Monkey Mia would be a tiny fishing village, forgotten to the outside world.But these invaluable dolphins know no other way but to come in to the village for brekkie each and every day, making it one of those unique places that has to be visited on an Aussie lap.
On our first morning we lined up along the beach, alongside 240 other onlookers, admiring the mammals so close you could touch, but couldn’t. It was pretty special, that these completely wild animals have made interacting with humans part of their daily ritual. The mutual trust between wild animals and humans is admirable, and unlike the confines of SeaWorld or parliament, where animals are trained and lead by humans, rather than the other way around that occurs here. The dolphins control the show – if they don’t show up, there is no show.
I love animals, and dolphins are cool, but I had no idea how much people obsessed over these magnificent creatures until we were here on the water’s edge. When it came time for the feeding, with the volunteers in blue bibs having to choose just a handful of punters of crowds from the almost hysterical hundreds, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for them, about to break a hundred hearts with one single point of the finger. And so they chose a select few lucky punters to feed the dolphins that chose to eat that day. Much to our delight, little Liv was picked as one of the feeders, where she grabbed the fish out of the bucket, and dropped it into Kia’s (the dolphin, not the car) mouth.
Loz’s love Surprise
Loz was in love. She was totally entranced with the connection between human and dolphin, and with Liv’s feeding giving her a taste, she was still hungry. She had taken specific interest in the blue-bibbed volunteers and made immediate enquiries – how do I get a bib?!
One easy conversation and she was locked in for four days of volunteering, starting tomorrow. Time to extend our stay, again 😜.
And so, every morning for the following four days, Loz with a great sense of purpose, went to work, preparing fish, manning the inquiry desk, and breaking hearts by picking feeders, three times a day.
It took one day and she had fallen properly in love. One of the oldest dolphins, Surprise, had won Loz’s heart 💓. I think the clencher was when Surprise nuzzled up to Loz’s leg, melting Loz like I could never do.
Loz speaks of her time in Monkey Mia with a sense of pride, honour and admiration. She feels incredibly lucky to have spent so much time building relationships with animals that stole her heart. It’s one of those ‘life moments’ you hope to create, but don’t know it happens until it’s over – a memory she’ll treasure for the rest of her life.
Our time in Monkey Mia was an absolute highlight of the Wombatical – a unique slice of developed paradise where wild animals rule the roost.
On our way back out of Shark Bay, there were a few boxes we had to tick. First was Eagle Bluff, a lookout famed for spotting sharks and all sorts of underwater wildlife from above. I was pretty pumped about this spot, having once read of a family who spotted a shark eating a turtle for lunch there – wowsers! Anything short of this sort of activity would be a disappointment for me; talk about high expectations.As is to be expected when expectations are dangerously high, we saw absolutely nothing – doughnuts. Albeit the view was pretty special, and the weather was behaving, so it was a lovely spot for a general admire and cuppa.
One of the key differences between young and old travellers is the things they find interesting. That, and the fact that Grey Nomads drive no more than 3,000 rpm and 250km per-day. Not unlike Grey Nomads themselves, Stromatolites are ancient things that don’t move much in the water, and tend to only exist in pockets on the coast.
The key difference between Grey Nomads and Stromatolites is that Grey Nomads are interesting. Whereas Stromatolites are quite possibly the least exciting ‘thing’ we’ve seen in our lives. So uninteresting are they, that in a world of digital photography where everything is disposable, we could not justify taking the camera out of its case for this ‘attraction’.
The Stromatolites are one of those things a Stromatolite, I mean Grey Nomad, will tell you not to miss on an Aussie lap – like the Prison Boab Tree, or every lighthouse in the country. I would suggest your time is better spent clipping toenails or predicting Australia’s next PM.
Back on the wildflower track, we had the hot tip to detour via Kalbarri for some spectacular sightseeing.
I’ll be totally honest here – it’s hard to be impressed with gorges when you’ve been to the likes of Karijini and Lawn Hill. So much so, that for our first couple of stops, we hopped out of the car, took the short walks to the viewpoints (Ross Graham and Hawks Head), and I wouldn’t have taken the camera out of the bag had it not been for Loz’s encouragement. The views were pretty, but when you’ve been spoilt with the best, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you act like the privileged traveller you are and just don’t appreciate things for what they are – you find yourself comparing.
Nature’s Window was far more impressive, with a natural erosion of rock forming the perfect photo frame for Insta goodness.
Z-Bend was also pretty cool view, with a gorge spanning in a z-like(ish) pattern.
A tyring drive
Many months ago, I talked about the design flaw inside-facing valves on our outside rear tyres. In Exmouth I finally found a solution, one I hoped would solve all my white-collar worries for the remainder of the trip. I bought some flexi-valves that bend around, allowing you to easily attach any hose to inflate and deflate to your heart’s desire.
Things had gone swimmingly to-date, and I had patted myself on the back numerous times; just such a handy bloke 🤪.
But in Kalbarri things started to turn for the worse. On our final viewpoint stop I noticed the left rear outside tyre was more deflated than the Australian public was when we thought Peter Dutton was going to be PM. Lucky I purchased a compressor only weeks prior, so was able to get it back to optimum pressure and get us into town to suss out what was going on.
When we rolled into the town of Kalbarri the tyre was flat again, and the Flexi-valve appears to have completely snapped off, so I called Steve the tyre guy (despite the advice to Kalbarri 😂), and booked in for the following morning.
Kalbarri is another nice little coastal town, despite the adverse weather that appeared just as we did. Its biggest claim to fame is the daily pelican feeding down by the water, of which Liv was again picked for the following morning. Admittedly the foul weather turned most people away so there wasn’t much competition.
I was able to get the tyre fixed quickly and we were back on the road, excited to check out the numerous viewpoints along the Kalbarri coastline.
Sadly, the weather was about as off as putting a needle in a strawberry, and our sightseeing day was slightly soured. But with lookouts seemingly every 10 metres, we persisted and got a taste for this wild part of the coastline. The combination of drizzle and steep cliffs reminded us of the north-east coast of Ireland, specifically the time we visited the Cliffs of Moher with Deb and Stu and made entertainment by attempting to poncho up in sideways rain and strong winds.
Our excitement level for seeing the Pink Lake that so many travelling families rave about was about a one out of ten. We had already seen one or two pink lakes along the way, which was worth a quick stop and photo, but nothing more. With the added deterant of miserable weather, and heavy rain smashing our windscreen, we saw the sign and kept driving. Our theory is that it would’ve looked grey today anyway, and really, the best view would be from the air. Unfortunately the flying feature of the WomBatmobile hasn’t been unlocked, so that wasn’t going to happen.
Impressed with the introduction to wildflowers we had further north, we were pretty pumped to head slightly inland for a bit to find some more one of RAC’s recommended wildflower routes.
To be honest we were a little disappointed with the breadth or lack thereof on this drive. The bright yellow canola fields were awesome, but we had expected sprawling fields of wild colour, that didn’t really eventuate. Also, the two places most recommended either had road closures or super sketchy gravel, so we didn’t make it as deep as we would’ve liked.
The absolute highlight of this wildflower drive was the bakery in the tiny town of Mingenew, population 240. The place was buzzing and the 2% of the local population were struggling to keep up with demand. Their coffee and caramel slice were the best on trip, without question. So good, that we even ordered a second round. This is extraordinary when you think about it. As a general indicator, population size is closely aligned with quality of coffee making, but the Mingenew barista was the best in the business 👍🏻.
The squeaky drive shaft doesn’t get the oil, yet
Approximately 6,000km prior, when departing Darwin, we ordered a couple of vehicle parts that needed repairing. We weren’t keen to stick around in Darwin for another week to get things fixed, so we arranged to have them delivered to the closest VW Service Centre, in Geraldton (that’s a bloody long way to drive with a squealing drive shaft, but we made it 😀). We had no ambition whatsoever to stay in Geraldton, and once we discovered we’d have to wait a week to get repairs, we instead arranged to pick up our parts and keep driving, destined to get the car fixed in Perth.
As we neared Perth, our excitement for a change of scenery increased. The only must-stop along the way was The Pinnacles, which feel like they belong in Utah USA, a long way from a few hundred kms north of Australia’s most remote capital.
Effectively they are a bunch (tens of thousands of them) of rocks poking out of the ground, some as high as a few metres. Sounds reasonably lame, but they are actually surprisingly cool, and the perfect spot for Loz to get her pose on 🤣.
Summing it up
The Coral Coast stretches much much further than it should. I reckon all the places south of Red Bluff, where Ningaloo Reef ends realised they didn’t have their own identity, so they latched on to the whole ‘coral’ thing, even though they have less in common with coral than Carlton do with a premiership.
Whatever the case, it’s a diverse and impressive part of Australia that we absolutely loved.