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To Fitzgerald River and back

This trip was our first major journey with our newly acquired Toyota Coaster. We had been away for just three nights but this time we also had a bigger trailer on the back and it was the first time we had taken the vehicle up some decent sized hills.

For all those people who have been stuck behind a slow vehicle going up a hill, I can attest to the fact that the driver of that slow vehicle is every bit as frustrated as you are. The Coaster, pulling the trailer with all the gear on-board,comes in at around 5 tonnes. The relatively small 4 cyl diesel engine really struggles when it gets to hills and the speed drops off from its usual 85kph to anywhere as low as 30kph depending on the steepness and length of the hill.

 

Coaster and trailer
Coaster and trailer

 

After we had crawled our way to the top of the Darling Scarp we pressed on through the forests to the Albany Highway just past Boddington.

The fuel gauge had dropped alarmingly so we filled up at Williams and a bit further south took the turn off to Wagin.

Wagin is one of those towns I have been through many times without really stopping long enough to properly explore it. This time wasn't much different. We stopped to take a few shots of the 'big ram' (4 tonnes of steel and fibreglass) and then drove on to Dumbleyung.

 

Big Ram at Wagin
Big Ram at Wagin

 

Even though there had been some recent rains, the word was that the nearby lake was still pretty dry so there wasn't any need to go and photograph it. We had got those shots on the one and only previous visit to the town.

After a browse at the local art shop, snapping a few more shots around town and having lunch at the local rest-stop, we turned our nose east once more.

 

Dumbleyung
Dumbleyung Hotel

 

A short detour took us to Kukerin, where we drove around town, got some pics and pushed on again. This was the very first visit we had ever made to Kukerin and to be honest I was surprised at how big it was. We were still in the mind-set of 'get to the destination' instead of thinking of the trip as the journey, so we did skip over a few towns that we would like to have spent more time in. Kukerin is certainly one we will visit again and do more justice to on a later trip. We did also have a 2 week time limit to adhere to so that kept us moving along.

 

Kukerin
Kukerin General Store

 

Next stop was Lake Grace. This is a charming town, very well cared for by its residents and we took time to have a wander around and get some nice shots. As it was Saturday afternoon, everything had closed for the weekend - this is the old Australia out here - so without much else to do in town we kept going but now we were looking for an overnight stopping place.

 

Lake Grace
Lake Grace

 

So far, the number of decent rest areas on the route we had taken amounted to exactly ZERO! Considering we constantly see 'DONT DRIVE TIRED' signs on our travels, the lack of good rest areas on this route is an absolute disgrace. People need good rest areas to get well away from the main road and rest properly, even overnight if necessary. The silly little lay-bys we pass by the side of the road are really very inadequate and suitable only for driver changes.

Unable to find an authorised rest area, we had to make do with what looked like a Main Roads gravel storage area on the side of the road. There were a couple of tracks and we managed to get away from the road a bit but to be honest, this road was so quiet at night there was no real need to look for a site too far away from the road. We do like to tuck ourselves out of sight for the night and this was easy to do so it suited our needs perfectly.

We had a nice peaceful nights sleep and moved on to Newdegate where we found an interesting local museum that has been set up as an old-time store. Sadly it was closed and all we could do was take a few shots through the window but even that was quite interesting.

 

Newdegate old-time store museum
Newdegate old-time store museum

 

Next stop was Lake King and we did find one half-way decent rest area on the way to Lake King and one almost tolerable one after we had passed through the town but there really need to be more good stopping places on these secondary routes.

 

Rest area east of Lake King
Rest area east of Lake King

 

The best rest area we passed during the day was Overshot, a little to the north west of Ravensthorpe. There is plenty of room here but not much in the way of facilities.

There is a nice big IGA at Ravensthorpe and we managed to pick up a few items that we had forgotten to bring and then took the turn off to Hopetoun a little to the east of town. (Hopetoun now also has a good sized IGA so it is easy to keep your supplies up.)

There is a water pick-up point in Ravensthorpe for those who need to top up their tanks, it is located on the north side of the road opposite the first petrol station (when heading east). You might think it is the rest area with the huge water tank but it isn't that one, it is diagonally across the road from there.

Ravensthorpe has more rest areas around town than just about any other town we have ever been through.

 

Ravensthorpe
Ravensthorpe

 

Hopetoun isn't technically and end-of-the-track town but it feels like one and being located right by the beach, makes this little town even more attractive.

I had only been to Hopetoun once before and that was a very fleeting visit. This time we had a look around town, had lunch, took some pics and then went back to the Hamersley Road turn off to make our way out to the campsite.

 

Lunch in Hopetoun
Lunch in Hopetoun

 

There are some seriously steep sections of road on the way to Hamersley Inlet and the Coaster was down to crawler gear on a couple of them. Low gear going down a couple of big hills was also needed.

The campsite is almost at the end of the road although we did see another campsite near the beginning of the National Park. This would be more suitable for those worried about the 17% and 25% gradients you have to negotiate to get to Hamersley Inlet.

There are a variety of site sizes but nothing really big. Sadly there is no view of the inlet from the campsite and the picnic area is 600m away over the hill. The picnic area has toilets, tables, seats and BBQs but strangely no shelters of any kind.

We unhooked the trailer ready to do some exploring using just the Coaster the next day.

 

Hamersley Inlet campsite
Hamersley Inlet campsite

 

The campsite is near Hamersley Inlet but as seems to be usual in many of these places, it has been built in a spot where you can't see the water. Considering the huge amount of land available and the multitude of nice sites that could have been used, it was disappointing to be so close the the water but not to be able to see it.

Otherwise the campsite was quite good. Not for big-rigs but most caravans and medium sized motorhomes should be ok. It is set up more for vehicle based camping than tents and the two front rows are for caravans and the others moving back up the hill are for motorhomes and camper-trailers.

The toilets are nice and clean and there is a camper's kitchen with BBQs and even some tank water. There are NO bins so you have to take your rubbish out with you.

Pets are not allowed as this is in the middle of the Fitzgerald River National Park but strangely the campsite is operated by the shire and not by DPaW. This probably accounts for the lower camping fee of $10 per site.

There is still and entry fee to pay for the National Park though.

 

Hamersley Inlet
Hamersley Inlet

 

Our first full day at Fitzgerald started badly when we went down to the inlet to take pictures and I managed to crash the quad-copter. It wasn't a bad crash but it was enough to pull a wire out and pop the gimbal off its rubber supports.

Filming wise the day didn't improve as the GoPro played up and I lost a lot of footage and even the usually reliable Nikon suddenly switched to grey-scale near the end of the day and I didn't notice it so the last series of photos were lost.

Thankfully we were using two other cameras during the day so it wasn't a complete write off.

The kangaroos around the campsite are not at all afraid of people and we had a mother and joey feeding right next to our Coaster in the evening.

 

Hamersley Inlet campsite
Kangaroo at Hamersley Inlet campsite

 

It was time to move on as we had seen all we could in the National Park. If we had a 4x4 there would be a lot more to explore but the Coaster has limits on where it will go.

The road out of the campsite is VERY steep with a 25% gradient. We had to put the Coaster into crawler gear to get up the hill but it did manage ok.

We dropped in to the Hopetoun IGA before leaving to stock up on a few things and then went back to Ravensthorpe and re-fuelled before the rather long drive to Jerramungup.

There aren't any decent rest areas between Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe but if you watch the left (west) side of the road you will see a large flat area (looks like another Main Roads gravel dump) about 15km south of Ravensthorpe.

There is a rest area signposted just south of Ravensthorpe but there seems to be no prior warning and we missed going in so it isn't possible to comment on what it was like.

There are several rest areas in and around Rovensthorpe with another on the main road heading to Jerramungup.

There isn't another good rest area until you are about 35km east of Jerramungup. It is on the north side of the road and is signposted as a shared space with trucks.

 

Jerramungup
Jerramungup

 

We stopped for lunch at Jerramungup and took a few photos. There is a nice park (with fake grass) and shelters, BBQ and public toilets.

From there we kept on going to the second Bremer Bay turn off and then a little further along the Bremer Bay Road we turned into the unsealed Millers Point Road.

Millers Point is a nice campsite near a large inlet. Fees are $7.50 per person per night - this makes it a bit on the expensive side for more than 2 people but it was nice and quiet so we ended up staying 3 nights.

There is a toilet and bins but no other facilities. It is popular with people who like to fish and we have seen some nice bream caught there.

 

Millers Point campsite
Millers Point campsite

 

Our next brief stop was at Wellstead to refuel. We dropped in to the local Community Resource Centre and found out that this website was down due to a bandwidth attack. This was clearly a deliberate attack on the 16th of February that used up all the bandwidth for the month. It took us 5 more days before we could resolve it as internet was not available at most of the places we stayed during the trip.

Went to have a look at Cape Riche campsite but at $9 per head per night we decided it wasn't worth it and moved on to East Bay nearer Albany. There is an onsite caretaker at Cape Riche but there was nobody in attendance when we were there an no signs to direct visitors what to do.

 

Cape Riche campsite
Cape Riche campsite

 

Although we have been to East Bay many times, we have never actually camped there. There isn't a lot of space and you have to be lucky to find a site. We pulled in just as someone was pulling out so we got a good spot and ended up staying three nights. East Bay doesn't have any fees which is a real bonus and there are toilets available. The bay is very beautiful and is a popular swimming spot. People also fish from the rocks but we didn't actually see any fish being caught.

Despite the fact that it was the weekend it wasn't all that busy and not very noisy which was a bit of a pleasant surprise.

There is a day use parking area BUT a couple of other Coasters decided to park there all day and overnight. I can't say we were all that impressed as this sort of behaviour is what gets sites like this closed down. All it takes is the locals to come down and find no parking and then complain to the local council and great places like this will be lost.

 

East Bay campsite
East Bay campsite

 

The Albany area is famous for a number of reasons including the beauty of the scenery and the changeable nature of the weather. This was demonstrated very clearly on the evening of our last night at East Bay when huge thunderstorms rolled in and the rain started. Hard to believe when you see the clear blue sky in the photo above but by that evening the weather had changed completely.

The house batteries on the Coaster were playing up, so on our way through Albany we had to pick up a new one and we also took the opportunity of re-stocking food, fuel and water.

Our next stop was Lowlands Beach (off Denmark South Road) but on the way we dropped in to Cosy Corner East to have a look at the campsite. If we could have fitted the Coaster in to one of the sites we would have stayed but this campsite is only for smaller vehicles and tents.

Another option would have been Shelley Beach but I wasn't brave enough to try and get the Coaster down the steep unsealed road.

The weather was still wet and windy and with no other options available we stopped overnight at Lowlands even though it isn't technically a campsite.

 

Lowlands Beach
Lowlands Beach

 

On the way out next morning the Coaster began tilting to the left and the steering became very sluggish. I knew what was wrong but there was no way we could stop on the section of road we were on and had to keep going to a safer spot.

Of course by the time we stopped the front right tyre was flat as a pancake and was completely stuffed. Anyone who has had to crawl under a vehicle in the pouring rain on a red dirt road will know what sort of dark words were occupying my thoughts but there was nothing for it but to get the spare wheel out and get the front tyre changed.

All was well until it came time to remove the wheel nuts. Looking at the studs it was obvious that the left hand wheel had left hand threads (there are little 'L's on the top of the studs). Try as I might there was no way I could budge the wheel nuts so there was nothing for it but to call the RAC. Within half an hour the tow-truck operator from Denmark arrived. He had a nice long metal fence post as a lever and the wheel nuts were off in a jiffy. I will have to pick up one of these posts at a salvage yard to make sure we don't get caught again.

Now plans had changed and instead of heading further west along the coast, we had to re-trace our steps to Albany and get a new tyre fitted. As soon as we took off there was a 'tick tick' sound coming from the spare wheel we had just put on. Had a look but couldn't see anything wrong. Continued into Albany without further trouble but the tick-tick sound remained. At the tyre fitters we found out that the valve on the spare wheel was missing a clip designed to keep the valve away from the brake mechanism. The gap is very small and the valve had been progressively chopped into by the brake housing. If it had gone on for much longer the valve stem would have been cut through and we would have had our second flat tyre for the day.

The wet weather was still persisting so once we had sorted things out we turned north towards Mount Barker.

We had a look at the Mount Barker Visitors Centre and discovered a new lookout had been constructed near town. We needed somewhere to stop for lunch so decided to head out there after using the dump-point at the Visitor Centre and topping up the water tanks. For those who aren't familiar with Mount Barker, the Visitor Centre is just off the main highway at the old train station. If the centre is open, it is worth going in and having a look round.

 

Mount Barker Lookout
Mount Barker Lookout

 

Our stop for the night was Lake Nunijup located north west of Mount Barker in the shire of Cranbrook. Nunijup has a community centre, toilets and some seats and tables. We have stopped there in the past and always wondered if it was ok to do so. This time the local Ranger came by and ignored us so it apparently seems fine to overnight there.

The community centre has a nice long covered verandah and in wet weather we have always made use of this to get out and relax. This time we also got the BBQ out and cooked dinner.

 

Lake Nunijup
Lake Nunijup

 

We could have stayed another night but we knew there was an authorised campsite nearby at Poorrarecup Lake. We had visited briefly once before but this time we wanted to stay overnight.

There is quite a bit of space at Poorrarecup and facilities include a day use area with seats, tables, a shelter and a playground. There are toilets with cold showers and the lake has a nice sandy beach. There seem to be no fees for camping here so as we usually do in places like this we decided to spend some money in town as we passed through.

These lakes used to be used for swimming and water skiing but water levels are falling over the years and even the new extended boat ramp now only just reaches the edge of the water.

Most of these lakes are no longer suitable for water contact activities but they are still a pleasant place to spend some time.

 

Lake Poorrarecup
Lake Poorrarecup

 

Time was now starting to run out and although we would have liked to stay another night, we had to move on.

Our lunch stop was Frankland River. This is another town I have visited once before but barely remembered. My memory of the place was of a town with very little to see, so I was surprised to find an attractive place that now seems to have a lot going for it. There are a number of wineries in the area and the town has a nice rest area and picnic facilities for travellers.

There is a caravan park that has been vastly upgraded from what I saw on my last visit and there is even a small Op-Shop to check out.

The local store has been rebuilt and expanded so this was where we decided to spend some money.

 

Frankland River
Frankland River

 

We were now looking for a place to stop overnight but were in un-charted territory. The map showed a Lake Unicup west of Frankland so off we went to have a look.

The lake was easy enough to find but seems to be administered by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. This probably accounts for the small turning circle and posts everywhere. On top of this the lake was bone-dry so there really wasn't any point in stopping for the night.

There was once a water skiing club at this lake but I would be willing to bet that no one will go skiing there any time soon.

 

Unicup Lake
Unicup Lake

 

Not knowing quite where our next overnight stop was going to be we just headed in the direction of Manjimup. This meant going south via the unsealed Unicup Road to Muir Highway (Highway is really overdoing it when describing this road) and had a look at the million dollar 'white elephant' at Muir Bird Observatory.

There is a good rest area at the north end of the lake just off the main road. There are toilets and picnic tables but nearby sits one of the biggest wastes of public money we have seen on our travels.

Talking to the locals last time we were in the area, we were told that the price tag for the observatory was around 1 million dollars. The infrastructure is lovely, a nice long timber and metal walkway with a big impressive entrance, lots of informative signs all lead to a lovely raised sitting area with a shelter and more pretty painted signs.

Only pity is, there is no lake and no water birds and there haven't been for many years. Even when this obsevatory was being built, it would have been blindingly obvious that the lake was drying up and the whole thing was going to be a huge waste of money.

 

Lake Muir Bird Observatory
View from Lake Muir Bird Observatory

 

Although we could have stopped for the night at the rest area, we decided to push on to see what we could find.

Eventually an unsealed side road not far from Manjimup lead to a place called Dingup. We found a small historic church and nearby a lovely old hall that looks as though it is still very much in use. We also found a quiet secluded spot to park for the night which was just as well as we were pretty worn out from the days driving.

 

Dingup Church
Dingup Church

 

Next morning we made our way into Manjimup. 'Manji' is one of biggest towns in the area with all the main shopping facilities including Coles and Woolworths. We spent some time taking photos, doing some shopping and wandering around before moving on again.

This is one of the towns we really need to come back to and explore properly. There are a lot of different places around the town to visit but on this visit we just didn't have the time.

 

Manjimup
Manjimup Hotel

 

We continued north through Bridgetown without stopping. We had been there on many previous trips and had already taken quite a few pictures.

We were heading for Greenbushes to find some spots we had missed on previous visits.

The main objective was Greenbushes Pool that is only a couple of kilometres from the town. It is a great swimming spot with good picnic facilities, toilets, drinking water and even a 500 metre walk around the pool.

It was an ideal place to stop for lunch but one thing we noticed had changed since we left Manjimup and that was the weather.

From Albany to Manjimup we had actually been quite cold at night but as soon as we left the Manjimup area, the temperature started to climb rather dramatically.

 

Greenbushes Pool
Greenbushes Pool

 

Greenbushes is a very attractive little town with a nice collection of historic buildings. There is a Discovery Centre and a mine site lookout. Many people just drive by as the town is a little off the main highway but it really is worth the effort to go in and have a look around.

We had heard of a free overnight campsite at Greenbushes but we were unable to find it. Whether we just didn't look in the right place or whether it is no longer available, I am not sure. In any case we knew that Grimwade was close by so we went on through Balingup and then turned east into Grimwade Road.

It was quite a haul for the Coaster to get up some of the steep hills but we finally found the old sealed road on the left side of the road past the Grimwade-Kirup Road.

The nice sites by the dam were taken but we found a spot in the large parking area and settled in for the night. It turned out to be a very hot and uncomfortable night so any thoughts of staying longer were abandoned.

 

Grimwade
Grimwade

 

We were now on the last part of the trip and dropped in to Donnybrook. Although we have been to this pretty little town more times than I can remember, there was one place I had never seen. We were recently told that just behind the row of shops on the main street is a river and park lands. This came as a huge surprise when I was first told about it and I made a note to stop and have a look next time we passed through.

Sure enough, there it was, a lovely spot that until recently I had no idea even existed. There is a walk bridge across the river and on the other side some walk trails and a park.

 

Donnybrooks hidden river
Donnybrook's hidden river.

 

Next came Boyanup. We had actually stayed in Boyanup for a couple of nights on a previous occasion but for some unexplained reason took very few pictures. We set about rectifying this and found a lovely rest area at Settler's park, another rest area just along the same road and a railway museum that sadly wasn't open at the time.

There are times when I wish we really did have more time to explore these small towns but there are always limits to what we can do on each trip and we only manage to get a clearer picture of various places over many years.

 

Boyanup
Boyanup

 

The weather was now stinking hot and without a cab air-conditioner in the Coaster we were starting to cook. We decided to have a look at Herron Point campsite to see if it was cool enough and if there was room to camp. The answer to both was an emphatic 'NO!' I have never seen the campsite so crowded.

After a quick lunch we went back to Forrest Highway and reluctantly turned north for the short drive back to suburbia. Another trip was over.....

 

Herron Point Campsite
Herron Point

 

Updated February 2016

Go to the next blog installment Go to the next blog installment

 

 

PLACES TO SEE
in travel order

 

Pinjarra
Dwellingup
Boddington
Williams
Wagin
Dumbleyung
Kukerin
Lake Grace
Newdegate
Lake King
Ravensthorpe
Hopetoun
Fitzgerald River
Jerramungup
Albany
Mount Barker
Manjimup
Bridgetown
Greenbushes
Donnybrook
Boyanup

 

MORE PICTURES

 

Dwellingup

Boddington

Big Ram - Wagin

Newdegate

Boyanup

 

 

 

 

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