Kalbarri - Western Australia
It had been a few years since we had visited Kalbarri so when the opportunity came up to spend 4 nights there in June we booked a unit at the Seafront Vilas and packed up our little car.
I still have vivid memories of travelling to Kalbarri in the 1960s as a young child. Back then there was no coast road and the only road in to the town was about 60 kilometres of corrugated gravel. It was a great place to visit then and remains so today.
The trip now is not only much more comfortable but offers a host of different things to see along the way. It is a simple matter of joining the freeway and following it north to where it ends. Turn right on to Burns Beach Road and turn left at Joondalup Drive. The next left at Wanneroo Road puts you on the coastal route north past the towns of Yanchep, Guilderton, Seabird, Lancelin, Ledge Point, Cervantes, Jurien Bay, Green Head, Leeman and finally you re-join the main road north south of Dongara.
Following Highway One you will pass Greenough Hamlet and then enter the large regional centre of Geraldton. Continue north to Northampton where you swing west towards Port Gregory. If you have time there is the option to visit Horrocks Beach but if, like us, you are running to a schedule, you will press on past the old convict depot of Lynton, Port Gregory and on to Kalbarri.
This journey is about 600 kilometres and by the time we arrived we were wishing we had split it in to two sections. In fact this is what we did on the way home. As it was we arrived in Kalbarri quite late after stopping to have a look at the Pinnacles along the way.
Our chosen accommodation, Kalbarri Seafront Villas, is right by the Murchison River in town and it turned out to be a good choice. The villas are well equipped and we were in a 2 bedroom unit on the ground floor but not facing the river. (The riverfront villas are a bit more expensive). Everything was nice and clean and the furnishings were pleasant.
As the unit we were in was self contained and had its own kitchen, we were able to prepare meals and save a bit on food that way.
The beds were comfortable but some of the pillows were a bit on the hard side and could do with replacing. The units are air-conditioned but we were staying in the cool time of the year so we made use of the column heater instead. There is also a pool but again we didn't make use of it due to the cool weather.
Hot water was good but should be checked by adults if you have young kids as it could get quite hot.
The units are well located, but then Kalbarri is small enough for everything to be in walking distance in the town.
You can access the internet but only from the office area. We would like to see wifi extended to the units as these days everyone wants to be on the net.
One bonus is a couple of small row boats available free of charge for guests to use. We took one out and actually caught a few fish in the river and were so encouraged that we took a hire boat out the following day and caught some more.
We had wanted to visit Z Bend and Nature's Window but unfortunately for us the road was being up-graded during the time we visited so we had to make do with Hawk's Head and Ross Graham Lookout where the roads had already been sealed. The road upgrade will be great news for future visitors because the old gravel road could get a bit bumpy at times.
The drive out from Kalbarri to Hawk's Head is an easy 36 kilometres to the turn off along the original access road from Ajina.
At Ross Graham Lookout there is a 300 metre trail leading down into the gorge and there is a longer trail taking you through the gorge along the river. This is a very picturesque area and is highly recommended for anyone with at least an average level of fitness. This is the easiest access you will find to any of the gorges in this area.
A short drive from the Ross Graham Lookout is Hawk's Head. This offers great views along the canyon and there is a wheel chair accessible path to the main lookout.
After a lunch break at the shelter near the car park we re-traced our route to Kalbarri and then headed south along the coast to explore some of the amazing scenery that this coastline has to offer.
We decided to head to the area furthest out and work our way back towards town so our starting point was Island Cove and Natural Bridge. There is a walking trail along the coast from this point but we decided to do our exploring by car so we only went a short distance along the path.
Natural Bridge isn't quite as spectacular as the feature with the same name in Albany but the rocks here are a very different composition to those on the south coast.
There is a shelter and toilets at this location.
From here we travelled north to Shellhouse and Grandstand, Eagle Gorge, Pot Alley (where you can drive down and park near the gorge) and finally to Rainbow Valley where a longer trail leads down to the multi-coloured rocks below. The trail is a bit rough in places so a reasonable level of fitness is required if you intend to follow the trail all the way down. The 'rainbow' rocks are different layers of sediment and although they can hardly be compared to a real rainbow, they are interesting enough to justify the walk.
Even though it was technically winter the blue skies and bright sunshine brought out a bit of a sweat while we were walking. We were glad we had packed some cold water in the esky before heading out because by the time we had walked down to the next attraction (Mushroom Rock) we were sorely in need of some refreshment.
By the time we had reached Red Bluff we were worn out and decided to come back the next day to finish off our coastal sight seeing.
Before we were completely through for the day we managed to summon up enough energy to take out one of the dinghies available free from Seafront Villas. Although the rowlocks left a bit to be desired we did manage to row out into the middle of the river and put our lines out for a while. We got a few bites and actually started to catch some fish when the wind decided to come up and as we had no anchor we had to give up for the day.
The next morning we went down to check out Red Bluff. Driving in we noticed that the old caravan park has now closed down leaving only three van parks in town.
Some fishing was going on from the rocks but the only fish we saw being caught were garfish. An inquisitive sea lion was watching the fishermen but as no hand outs were forthcoming it decided to find dinner on its own and swam off.
From Red Bluff it was only a short drive to Blue Holes (a snorkelling location) where we sat in the beach shelter watching some jet-ski powered surfing. Our last stop was the lookout at the mouth of the Murchison River where you may get to see the local fishing boats navigate the rather dangerous river entrance.
On the last day in Kalbarri we decided to hire out one of the boats from Kalbarri Boat Hire and try a bit more fishing. The boat hire is located right on the riverbank in town so is easy to locate. They hire out all sorts of water craft but we wanted a boat with an engine. It cost $100 for 4 hours which is not too bad these days.
It is possible to take the boats 6 kilometres up the Murchison River but we were more interested in fishing than sight seeing so most of the time we stayed around the town and jetty areas.
Fishing is an unpredictable past time and so we spent the better part of 3 hours moving around looking for where the fish were hiding. Finally the fish turned up but it was only about 30 minutes before we were due to take the boat back. In the end we did catch a few and it was good fun being out on the river.
Now that the new road has been completed you can drive south along the coast and visit Port Gregory, see the Pink Lake and have a look at the old convict depot at Lynton that was established in 1853. Just around the corner from Lynton is the heritage Sanford homestead, old mill and stables.
Lynton Station offers farm stay accommodation as well as campsites, caravan sites and big rig access.
Another interesting place to visit in the Kalbarri area is Hutt River Province. Officially the Principality of Hutt River is not part of Australia as it declared its independence and the Australian government has never really done much to object or take any serious action against the Principality. The story of Hutt River is covered both on the official site (above link) and on our own Hutt River page. We say long live such independent spirits!
If you are lucky enough to visit this area from August to October you will be treated to an amazing wildflower display. Wildflowers in W.A. are one of the main tourist attractions and this is certainly true of the area around Kalbarri including the national park.
Whatever time of year you visit Kalbarri you will find somewhere good to stay, some good spots to eat and plenty of things to enjoy.
Updated June 20th 2013
A year on from our last trip we found ourselves back in Kalbarri again. This time we took our boat up and needed accommodation with enough space to park it. We settled on Riverfront Budget Units which, at $89 a night was great value.
This is one of the older styles of unit accommodation in Kalbarri and is located in a position where you can see views of both the Murchison river and the ocean and cliffs to the north.
If you are used to 5 star service and accommodation and don't mind paying 5 star prices then perhaps Riverfront Budget Units may not be for you but if, like us, you just want a comfortable, neat and clean place to stay, that has all the self-contained facilities that budget minded people need then you will be very happy here.
There are only 6 units so booking is essential during peak times as these units are ALWAYS booked in advance during school holidays.
Each unit is slightly different but all are of a fibro construction and each has it's own fully equipped kitchen.
Kalbarri tends to be warmer than Perth during the summer and can be a little cold in the winter months so air-conditioners and heaters are provided.
Ok so there are a few things that could do with a little attention, especially the bathroom, but overall we found the unit we stayed in to be very comfortable and pleasant.
The location is what really makes these units stand out. It would be difficult to find anywhere in town with a better view. To enjoy the sparkling river and the ocean swells crashing into the reef at the mouth of the river you don't even need to step outside (well if you are lucky enough to be in one of the three front units that is).
The bed was nice and firm and even with my lousy back I had no problem sleeping. We did wonder if traffic noise would be an issue in the front units but it wasn't so our suggestion is get the view if you can.
The kitchen was equipped with everything we needed but if you don't want to pay extra, you do need to take your own sheets, pillow cases and towels.
All the units are large enough to accommodate 6 people, some look as though there is room for even more. The basic price covers 2 adults and you will pay more for each additional person but considering the already low price that isn't much of a problem.
If you aren't overly fussy and don't mind older style accommodation then these units are a good place to try. If we are up in Kalbarri again we will certainly go back there.
Our main aim on this trip was fishing but despite all our best efforts we didn't do very well. We limited ourselves to fishing in the river and we can say with certainty that if you persist, you are likely to catch estuary cod, tailor, bream and some big mulloway if you are lucky. Our luck didn't hold and although we did get a nice big mulloway up next to the boat, it broke the line before we got a landing net over its head.
On our previous trip the road out to Z Bend and Nature's Window had been closed for resurfacing. So far the job is only half done but the unsealed section wasn't too bad. The main aim was to get some shots of Nature's Window and this we finally managed to do after missing it on every other recent trip.
Updated June 29th 2014
THINGS TO DO
For the more adventurous there is Skydive Kalbarri where you can jump out of a perfectly sound plane and plummet towards the ground at break-neck speed before your chute opens and you float down to a safe landing on the beach.
Kalbarri is well known among the ardent anglers in W.A. and fishing can be great both from the shore and from boats. There are boat hire facilities in Kalbarri including Murchison Boat Hire and Kalbarri Boat Hire. Whether you want to catch a nice bream in the river or a huge Spanish mackerel in the ocean, you can find a suitable boat at one of these businesses.
If you would prefer to join a charter boat and be taken to your destination by an experienced skipper, then Reef Walker charters may be a batter option.
On the more sedate side is the parrot breeding centre at Rainbow Jungle. Whether or not you are a bird fancier, this is an interesting place to visit and includes a whale watching tower and an outdoor cinema.
Located in the heart of town is the Kalbarri Family Entertainment Centre. You can play mini-putt, have a go on the trampolines, hire a bicycle or play in the amusement arcade.
There are many other activities in and around Kalbarri including sand boarding, surfing, 4 wheel driving, swimming, hiking, abseiling, whale watching (in season) and canoeing up the Murchison River.
There is plenty of good accommodation including three caravan parks for those who come equipped with their own home away from home.
So far Kalbarri has resisted the lure of major development that has somewhat spoiled other towns like Exmouth further north. It retains an old fashioned charm and quiet peaceful character that has been lost by other towns. We only hope that it manages to stay this way for a long long time.