THE ULTIMATEA to Z of WA
Damn. This was supposed to be simple. A to Z, 26 letters, and for each one a WA area, activity or attitude. How easy is that?
But, even at A, how can I include Augusta, as I should, and not mention Albany and Aboriginality, as I really want to, as well. B. Quite honestly, it’s too obvious and essential to include Broome. But what about the Wheatbelt towns of Beverley and Brookton, which are so enjoyable to visit in winter, and in anticipation of the wildflower season ahead? And Broad Arrow, in the Goldfields? And that “problem” is a result of the huge geography and remarkable diversity of a single State of this vast continent which not only covers 2.5 million sqkm, but into which France would fit four times, Germany more than seven times, and England over 20 as it spans from the rolling Southern Ocean, past golden beaches and red deserts to its tropical, tidal, mangrovey north.
A… If you lay your right hand on this page, palm down, spread your fingers and stretch your thumb so it curls downwards, somewhere on the tip of the nail is Augusta. That’s just how it feels like to me — a thumb stretched out into the spot near where two of the planet’s great oceans meet. Cape Leeuwin (along with Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope) brave the wind and currents that roll around the southern bowl of the planet, otherwise unencumbered. I like the unpretentious nature of Augusta, the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and its associated buildings; the superb still quite new marina; the gentle, east-facing beaches and the Blackwood Estuary. And further east along the south coast, of course, Albany mixes oceanscapes, granite outcrops, weird flora into epic views. It’s a living drama, as the light and weather oscillates all day.
Aboriginality. For authentic Indigenous experiences, head to the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome. But don’t miss Walu Garu Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures in Shark Bay, with its kayaking and 4WD tours and storytelling.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy has made a significant contribution to conservation around the State, including one of my favourite spots in WA, Mornington Station, where we can stay with them, on the Gibb River Road.
B… Turquoise ocean set against red pindan earth — it’s a colour code found nowhere else. And Broome still occupies a tropical spot in our hearts. Walk Cable Beach, buy an ice-cream in town and then just hang out.
Beverley & Brookton: Great Wheatbelt towns, ideal for wandering around in winter. Head for Beringbooding Rock, near Mukinbudin, with camping right by this big granite, in designated areas.
Broad Arrow, 40km north of Kalgoorlie. Sign your name on the tavern wall (next to mine).
Books. Bird identification book (Simpson and Day for me, and an old copy before changed printing distorted the colours). History books about the area (hesperianpress.com is a good source). Geology book (ie Discovery Trails to Early Earth, a traveller’s guide to the east Pilbara of WA, by Martin van Kranendonk and Jean Johnston). Yes, you can find some of this on the internet, but sometimes it’s more difficult than having it in one book, sometimes you don’t have a connection, and sometimes it’s difficult reading your phone.
C…The Cape to Cape Track might cover a superb, 123km of coastal landscape between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the South West, but you don’t have to do it all at once. And you don’t have to camp — stay in comfort and get dropped off and picked up each day.
Campgrounds are open again (both private and in the national parks around WA), and there are some beauties, from those with such a personal welcome, like Mt Magnet Caravan Park, to the well-run RAC Parks and Resorts in Exmouth, Shark Bay, Cervantes, Busselton, Margaret River, Pemberton, Esperance and Broome.
Produce, budget accommodation and surprisingly good beaches at Carnarvon.
Do more than drive through Coolgardie on the way to Kalgoorlie-Boulder. It’s where the gold rush started, and worth a stroll around the heritage buildings.
Following and retracing part of the journeys of David Carnegie, an explorer and gold prospector who, as a 25-year-old in 1896, led an expedition from Coolgardie through the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts to Halls Creek, in the Kimberley — and then back again.
D… Isolation and remoteness have become a distinct advantage, and with them comes distance. Yes, I know, we’ve all had kids complaining about a long day in the back of the car, but we now understand even better how fortunate we are to have a big-little world, borderless, unconnected, right on our doorstep and all around us. Just the smell of diesel puts my mind out on the road in WA. I’ve paid way over $2 a litre before now, but the current oil price (as long as it holds), will significantly reduce the cost of getting around WA.
But for specific “D” places, we absolutely can’t ignore Denmark, despite the rainbow banners and free-form flute music you’re likely to hear at the open-air market. Ocean Beach, Wilson Inlet, Denmark and Hay rivers, wineries, good produce — and a great pie shop in town. Brilliant.
Denham (a 10-hour drive north of Perth) is the gateway to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, but don’t just drive through it. It’s a friendly little coastal town, which was once a pearling port, with still, shallow waters good for swimming.
Dunsborough for Meelup Beach, Castle Rock, Geographe Bay and attractions like Eagle Bay Brewery.
And Dwellingup for a good pub lunch in Dwellingup Hotel Motel, its great visitor centre (full of history), the jarrah forest, Lane Poole Reserve camping and the Murray River.
Dust. When you’re cleaning up after a trip on unsealed roads, make sure you get all the red dust off rubber door seals (wipe with silicon) and use Jif or similar to clean it off the paintwork this touches. It squeaks.
E… Let’s go south first, to Esperance. White sand, kangaroos on the beach, much improved camping at Lucky Bay (book first) and lots of accommodation around town. It’s an extraordinary place — a sort-of island town, cut off from the world, with a great museum, flora, and brunches.
The whale shark season is on in Exmouth — the world’s biggest fish usually visit, in numbers, and the chances of swimming with a whale shark on your first tour is about 95 per cent with some operators between now and late July. But they’ll be around until late August; perhaps into September. But there’s more than whale sharks in Exmouth, on the Ningaloo Reef. Snorkel over coral and kaleidoscopic fish, and enjoy the juxtaposition of the reef and Cape Range.
And let’s further go north and shed a tear that El Questro Wilderness Park, on the east end of the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley won’t open at all this year (even though it may state the opposite on its website). The station opens again on April 1 and Emma Gorge on May 1, 2021.
F… Food and wine. It should probably be written as one word (foodandwine), because it has certainly become its own category in travel. We are blessed with clean air that either blows south-west off the ocean, east from the deserts or, in the winter from the north as weather systems push through. In the “south west land division”, particularly in the Swan and Ferguson valleys, the Great Southern and Margaret River, we are blessed with productive land. In Carnarvon and around Broome and in the Ord River, we have other produce. We are close to source. (And, at every pie warmer, we are, thankfully, close to sauce.)
Flies. You can’t get round it. We’ve got them. It’s often amazed me that I can be in the middle of the desert here and besieged by flies, and a week later in India surrounded by rubbish and homes with very little sanitation and there’s not one. But this is a good time of year to travel east — the flies tend to get worse with the warmer weather of spring. And keep faith — they always vanish with the sun.
It just got a brief mention, but Ferguson Valley (drive 15 minutes from Bunbury to the town of Dardanup), deserves a little more explanation, as this is a community that has been working together to develop tourism. There’s food, wine, art and accommodation and head to Crooked Brook Forest for a stroll.
I know for sure that no other travel supplement has ever published a Fitzroy CrossingGuide. But we did, and it was easy. From the crossing itself to Danggu Geikie Gorge (full of freshie crocs) and Windjana gorges, Mimbi Caves (home of the gogo fish), Indigenous tours and with great accommodation at Fitzroy River Lodge, I can easily spend a week there. I’ve proved it.
G… I know that no other travel supplement has published a GeraldtonGuide, either — but we did and it was easy, too. Geraldton had a resurgence in accommodation, restaurants and cafes, and lives in a sunny little spot (it’s weather pattern is different to Perth), with great beaches. Fish, surf, visit the HMAS Sydney II memorial, the Museum of Geraldton with its Shipwrecks Gallery and Geraldton Regional Art Gallery. The foreshore’s been rethought and given a new life.
Take the paddle craft up to Moore River at Guilderton, 65km north of Joondalup.
While beginners stick to Huzzas, North Point can get huge. And while Gracetown, 35km south of Dunsborough, draws surfers of all levels, this cool bay is a just a great place to hang out.
Gwalia Ghost Town and Museum, 230km north of Kalgoorlie, for its Goldfields history. It has a historical precinct, museum and Hoover House, the reconstruction of the historic timber headframe and 22 well-preserved traditional miners’ cottages. No wonder the Shire of Leonora won the 2019 Heritage Award for its five-year, $3.3 million Gwalia upgrade project.
The Great Central Roadtakes us from Laverton to Uluru — a red highway through unfenced, ungrazed land to the heart of the country. But work to seal it is starting, with the first, $20 million contract placed for a 41km stretch. For me, adventure awaits only until the red turns grey.
H… Way south, Hopetoun is the gateway into the best part of Fitzgerald River National Park, on the south coast near Esperance. Hopetoun itself is a nice little place, set on Mary Ann Haven beach. Head east on the Southern Ocean Road, with amazing coastal scenery and lookouts, stopping at Two Mile Beach, Five Mile Beach, Twelve Mile Beach and Starvation Bay. And, of course, to the west, drive in to Fitzgerald National Park, with its royal hakea (that’s another good H) and other extraordinary flora.
Way north, Halls Creek marks the northern end of the Canning Stock Route, but its deepest roots are Indigenous and first contemporary ones are set in gold, not cattle. The town on Great Northern Highway between Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra is named after prospector Charlie Hall who, on Christmas Day 1885, found a nugget of alluvial gold weighing nearly 1kg (28 ounces). Visit the white quartz China Wall, near town, Old Halls Creek, and then range further afield to Wolfe Crater and the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park.
I like having HEMA maps of WA in my phone — the same good maps, but with a moving red dot, which is you.
I… I drive the flat plane out of Kununurra to Ivanhoe Crossing, as I have many times before. But today’s a good day. The Ord River is running strongly, across the concrete causeway of Ivanhoe, but still passable. And so the vehicle eases in, creating a wave, driving the big curve. There are barramundi in there, Johnson freshwater crocodiles and, of course, downstream there are salties and sharks. The other side of the crossing, I drive on to Valentine Springs, Black Rock Falls and Middle Springs.
Sandplain, woodlands, vegetated dunes, beaches and a rocky scarp come together at Israelite Bay, on the south coast. It’s an out-there spot to arrive by four-wheel-drive on the Fisheries Track and Telegraph Track from Esperance in the west (it can be a bit tricky), or from Balladonia (on the Balladonia Track and Gora Track) in the north. The National Trust owns the ruins of its telegraph station, which date back to 1876. This was part of the Intercolonial Telegraph Line between South Australia and Western Australia. Camp in the Shire of Esperance Recreation Reserve.
J…Jurien Bay, may be just 200km from Joondalup, but it’s a classic WA beachside town. You’ve gotta love a place where there are tractors in driveways, to haul boats in and out. There’s accommodation and good fishing — from the shore, mostly tailor, whiting and herring. From the jetty,snapper, mulloway and samson fish.
Surrounded by jarrah forest, as its name might suggest, Jarrahdaleis one of WA’s oldest settlements, and one of my favourite “pleasant places” to visit. It’s an hour south of Perth and 30 minutes from Armadale and Rockingham. Walk in the bush and picnic. When it’s open again, the Jarrahdale Heritage Society, which is based at the Old Post Office museum and run by a fine band of volunteers committed to preserving the natural and manmade heritage, sells maps of the many walk trails.
K… Climbing down the gorges in Karijini National Parkis like descending through the millennia. It’s as close as we may get to time travel. About 2500 million years ago, the surface here was seabed, and the gorges of Karijini National Park are a slice into time. Lots are easily accessible, there are campgrounds, or stay at Karijini Eco Retreat. It’s worth the two day drive to stay there (up Great Northern Highway, breaking the trip at Mt Magnet). Don’t think Kalgoorlie is just a big mine site. Not only is it set in the world’s biggest temperate woodland, but it is the receptacle of so much of WA’s history, from the 1880s gold rush. Leave early, drive Great Eastern Highway, and be there comfortably mid-afternoon. Kal is worth a week, with day trips to the Inside Australia sculpture installation near Menzies and a look around places like the old town of Kookynie, 120km north.
And don’t think of Kalbarri as a turn-off that you may or may not take on the way to somewhere else. A day’s drive from Perth, it’s got everything — gorges, river, ocean, coast, fishing and pelican feeding.
There used to be a sign at Kununurraairport in the East Kimberley which read “The Last Frontier”. It always feels like that. It’s always a thrill arriving there, and there’s always the surprise of all that fresh water from Lake Argyle which themes the place in green against the surrounding red rock. (And, just privately, to see my boab tree in Celebrity Tree Park.) Take the flight over the Bungle Bungle Range in Purnululu National Park, dip in to the east end of the Gibb River Road, just to stand and look up at the Cockburn Range from the Pentecost Crossing.
L…Local produce is one of the great soothers of the Great Southern. At the weekly Saturday Albany Farmers Market, for example, depending on seasons, visitors may find local avocados, macadamia nuts, vegetables, herbs, bread from freshly milled wheat, up to 13 varieties of apples and local free range pork. There are other markets from Bunbury to Busselton, Vasse to Dunsborough and Margaret River to Denmark.
Don’t just drive past the sign to Ludlow Tuart Forest— stop and pause. This national park, a strip of tuart trees that links Capel and Busselton has a nice 1.5km, one-hour walk. The volunteers of Ludlow Tuart Restoration Group are working to promote the tuart forest as a tourist destination, including Ludlow forest settlement.
The thrombolites at Lake Clifton, less than 50km down the coast from Mandurah might look like rocks, but are living structures of micro-organisms that resemble the earliest forms of life on Earth. Don’t just gawk from the boardwalk — take the 5km, two-hour walk trail around the edge.
As we have written in these pages, Lancelinis a great holiday spot if you treat it a bit like Rottnest. Take the dogs and bikes, park the 4WD on the beach, fish from the jetty, and muck about in the Lancelin dunes. And it’s one of WA’s most dog friendly towns.
I’ve got an “I Love Laverton” sticker on my vehicle bumper. Why? Laverton to come.
M…Margaret River region is, of course, the big M in WA. No getting round it. Wineries, good food, galleries, walks, forest and surf beaches. Not all the businesses are open yet, but the place is busy.
But for many, Mandurah is the big M. An hour south of Perth, perhaps its big asset is the Peel-Harvey Estuary, pouring into the Indian Ocean. Take the paddle craft, boat and fishing rods, of course. The rain will flush black bream downstream and into the open waters of the inlets and round the canals.
Magpies. Offhand, I can’t think of anything more engaging in the bush than the sound of magpies warbling — at dawn, at feeding times, at night, when it’s said they do it to keep warm.
Mt Meharry, 160km from Newman in the Pilbara, is WA’s highest peak at 1253m, and there’s a track to the top.
Perth Mintis not only a good place to take visitors when they eventually come again, but a good family visit.
I cross the “eucalypt-mulga line” around Mt Gibson on Great Northern Highway and feel the shift, from the eucalypts of the South West bioregion to the red dirt and tough trees of the mulga country. And I love it.