Shark Bay to Cape Range
Once we passed through Northampton we were basically moving out of the more settled southern part of the state and entering a wilder more untamed area. Binnu is the last outpost of civilisation before you enter the real outback and a good overnight stop off can be found at Galena Bridge about 25km north.
We have almost always used Galena as our first or second stop on most of our trips to the north-west but these days it is getting very crowded during peak times and in future we may opt for less known and less popular rest areas a bit further north such as Nerren Nerren. Sadly there seem to be some very anti-social foreign tourists using Galena and they have no respect for other travellers who would like to get some sleep on the long drive north.
Our next stop was to be a campsite south of Denham and camping in this area is by permit only. There is a fee of $10 and generally only one night is allowed. We had special permission to stay longer as we were filming in the area. You need to contact the Denham Visitor's Centre to arrange a permit.
The first stop was in Denham to pick up our permit and then to re-supply at the local IGA supermarket.
It has been 18 years since we were last in this area but apart from a few more modern buildings, Denham is still the nice laid back little town it was all those years ago. I am very glad to see that it hasn't gone the way of Exmouth with unbridled development. If you want to stay in town there are caravan parks and plenty of hotel style accommodation options.
There are 4 possible bush campsites, Eagle Bluff, Fowler's Camp, Whalebone and Goulet Bluff. There are no facilities at any of the sites and all rubbish has to be taken out when you leave. Drinking water is available in Denham at the Water Authority depot (on Monkey Mia Road) from a dispenser where a fee of $2 per 20 litres is charged. The dispenser is automatic so you can visit at any time.
As we knew some bad weather was coming in we selected Fowler's Camp as it is a little more sheltered. There is not a lot of room at any of the campsites and you just have to find the best available spot.
We managed to get to most of the places of interest around Denham before the weather turned nasty but we missed out on Peron Homestead as the road was closed and sadly the dolphins were not at Monkey Mia because they come and go as they please and you have to be lucky to arrive when they are around.
Monkey Mia is a must see place if you are up on the peninsula. There is a resort and caravan park and of course there are entrance fees to the National Park. There are a number of boats here that take tourists on trips around Shark Bay so, if you have the money, it is possible to happily spend a few days relaxing and enjoying the picturesque coast. If you want to make sure you see the dolphins then staying at the Monkey Mia Caravan Park or the resort will be your best option as both are right next to the beach where the dolphins come in.
Due to the impending bad weather, we checked out the prices at Nanga (50km south of Denham) just in case we decided to pull out of our campsite before the rain arrived. Caravan sites start at $25 per night and the cheapest chalet style accommodation for the 4 of us was $140 a night. In the end we decided to 'tough it out' and ride out the weather at Fowler's.
As it turned out the winds were quite bad but the Jayco managed to cope but due to the rain the road out was closed and we had to stay put for an extra night. In the end we only just made it out as the rain started again as soon as we had finished packing everything up.
Anyone travelling north and not bothering to go up the peninsula to see Denham and the Shark Bay region are really missing out on one of W.A.s best scenic areas. The special nature of Shark Bay has been recognised by its World Heritage listing and the efforts to remove feral pests and re-introduce native species means that it is one of the few easily accessible areas where the flora and fauna are very authentic.
There are many secluded coves, inlets and lagoons and the combination of red rocks, white sand and turquoise blue waters make it a photographer's delight.
Shell Beach is one of the more unusual attractions. In this bay millions upon millions of tiny shellfish have lived and died. The result is a beach metres deep in tiny shells. Over time the shells get compacted by the weight of other shells collecting on top. The resulting material is both light weight and strong and has been used in the construction of buildings in the area.
On a pervious trip to the area we called in at Hamelin Pool. There is a caravan park and other accommodation available here and you can see the Stromatolites that live in the highly saline waters of the bay.
Our next planned stop was Gladstone but due to the rain, the road was closed, so on we went to Bush Bay. This is one of our old haunts and we were a bit concerned about how well the Jayco Swan would do here as the winds can be a bit extreme.
We got into the local town quickly and stocked up on fuel, food, water and a drop of booze - the 4 essentials of camping!
Carnarvon seems to be going through a bit of a hard time and a number of businesses in town have closed down. The Coles petrol station has gone, Retra-Vision has gone plus one or two others including Jaycar.
One new attraction that has opened in town is the new space museum up by the OTC satellite dish. The museum is quite small but has some interesting exhibits and the entry fee of $5 is very reasonable.
Water pick up is no longer at the cultural centre and has moved back to the old site at the info bay just before you turn right towards Exmouth.
True to form a nice big storm rolled in and hammered us for most of the second night but despite getting precious little sleep, we did survive.
Campsites along the mangroves are only suitable for about 2 weeks of each month as they flood regularly where once they only flooded once or twice a year on spring tides.
It is still possible to get a bit of a seafood feed at Bush Bay and in the first day we got a chopper tailor, some whiting and a few crabs.
As the road from Bush Bay to New Beach got very wet we were stuck for a few days but it was the kind of stuck we really don't mind all that much.
Commercial crabbing in the area has been suspended for a few years and the results have been dramatic. Where once we had to scour the sand flats for hours to get half a dozen crabs, now 40 minutes out near the seaweed at low tide produces a dozen or more.
We hadn't intended to spend more than 2 or 3 days at Bush Bay but despite the strong winds at night that kept us awake, we still ended up spending 8 nights. There was one bad storm that came through that closed the road for a day or so but by the time we left everything had dried out.
Sadly there are no longer any functioning black water dump points at Bush Bay and there is no rubbish collection so everything you take in has to be removed when you leave. To read more of our experiences at Bush Bay you can read our Travelling North blog.
Our next destination was Exmouth which, from Bush Bay is almost 400 kilometres. As we drove on the weather became progressively hotter and more humid. The drive, including a stop at Carnarvon to re-load supplies and Minilya Roadhouse for lunch took most of the day and we arrived too late to get in to the national park to camp.
We also stopped in at Coral Bay to have a very brief look around. It is gradually changing and becoming too developed as greed overtakes good sense. Once these sort of places become too commercialised they lose their original charm and character that attracted people there in the first place. The coral reef near to shore is by far the main attraction here as you can snorkel out a few metres from shore and be surrounded by fish and beautiful underwater scenery.
A trip out on the glass bottom boat is one of the best ways to see the reef and the marine life.
Severe rainfall across the cape a couple of weeks before we arrived caused the Yardie Creek Road to be closed at 4:30 pm each day and despite arriving at 4:27, it had already been closed. We had no alternative but to check out the nearest caravan park which was Yardie Homestead. As it turned out this was a good thing as Yardie Homestead has a very nice swimming pool and after the long, hot, miserable drive we were more than ready for a refreshing dip.
National park fees ($10 per head up here) meant that for 4 of us we would have to fork out $40 a night on top of the entrance fee of $12. Yardie Homestead charges $56 for un-powered sites so the difference was hardly worth bothering about. Throw in proper toilets, showers and access to drinking water and Yardie Homestead seems like much better value if 4 or more people are travelling in the same vehicle.
Cloud continued to build the following day and we knew we were in for some more rain. Even so it held off long enough for us to get down to Yardie Creek and start filming the coast.
Yardie Creek had broken through to the sea so any access to the tracks and campsites further south was cut off. This is worth noting if you ever intend to camp south of the creek because it is a very long drive to get out via one of the station tracks to the south.
We spent the day exploring as many of the attractions and campsites as possible. Some areas were still closed after the heavy rains and there was no sign of anyone doing anything to fix things despite the main tourist season being just 2 weeks away.
The coast was, as usual, magnificent. Thankfully development on the west side of the cape has not occurred and it remains exactly as we remember it from many years ago.
The rain held off until the following day and literally bucketed down as we were heading into Exmouth town. We re-stocked yet again at the two IGA supermarkets and found that prices weren't all that bad.
Exmouth has changed almost beyond recognition in the past decade and canal developments, big houses and 'resorts' now dominate the place. It has been well and truly 'found' by the tourist hordes and as a result has lost all of its 'end of the track' character.
We were limited to just 4 nights at Yardie station and plan 'A' had been to keep heading north to Karratha and then head back to Perth via the inland road. This plan came unstuck as we were attacked by swarms of sandflies and midgies and the gas fridge started to have problems due to the heat and humidity.
So it was that we turned south again and decided to spend some time at Quobba. This is about 50 kilometres off the main road and 75 km from Carnarvon. Fees at Quobba are currently $11 per vehicle per night, which is quite reasonable as there are toilets, bins and dump points provided.
Quobba was our last main stop before the long drive back to Perth. Although we managed to complete most of the filming we had set out to do, the trip had been dogged by continual rain and a few sleepless nights due mostly to high winds but in one case due to thoughtless French tourists who seemed intent on making other camper's lives miserable.
It certainly wasn't the best trip we have had along the coast but hopefully the photos and film we have taken will help others appreciate what the area has to offer. If you can travel in better weather than we did there is no doubt your trip will be very memorable and enjoyable.