A place full of mystery from an ancient past…
Travelling the North West Coastal Highway, on a tour through the Gascoyne and midway along the endless stretch of the Western Australian coastline, is a place full of secrets from an ancient past. Some of the oldest land still above water can be found throughout this coastal stretch of Western Australia. The worst kept secret of the Gascoyne region are the fringing reefs of Ningaloo where you can step out into an underwater world like few others on earth.
Ningaloo Homestead, one of a number of remote stations, offer access to the Ningaloo Reef and have done so for many years with international acclaim. Ningaloo Station is still privately owned and operated by Aussies as a 4X4 destination. It is for self-contained and off-road travellers only, due to the 20km stretch of sandy track into the homestead. Here you register as a camper and visitor, and are assigned a unique campsite to suit your needs.
From the homestead, you take the long trek up behind the dunes and through locked gates to arrive at your own little allocated piece of paradise. It is all sea, sand and pristine reef within the boundaries of a working station. Be warned though: there are no amenities and this is a camp for the fully self-sufficient traveller, but it is also a destination that can offer some exceptional experiences as part of the Ningaloo National Marine Park.
For just $70 per week (port-a-loo hire available) you can nestle up and fish to your heart’s content. The snorkelling and other water activities are the main attraction, along with parking your butt on the high dunes and watching for the ocean parade of dugong, sharks and turtles as they make their way along the shore. It is a camping experience you will wish you could revisit time and time again.
A popular holiday destination, Kalbarri is a quiet gem that sits at the mouth of the Murchison River. The coastal township of Kalbarri is geared for the recreational tourist with the Kalbarri National Park surrounding the town. This affords some lovely
and easy clifftop walks that have the added attraction of whale and dolphin watching between June and November.
Jakes Beach, a few minutes south of the township, is a National Surfing Reserve, while snorkelling and swimming at the Blue Holes is delightful when the wind isn’t too high. The onshore reef offers some great discoveries for the snorkeller and diver as the Blue Holes is a declared fish habitat and is thriving with sea-life.
The Bigurda Trail is a wonderful trek along the shores and stretches for some 8km along the sandstone cliffs south of town. The track is named for the small kangaroo and you can often see these guys while you’re walking any of the cliffside tracks. We found that the best whale watching could be done along the well-appointed paths of the Red Bluff Lookout.
Normally the skies are blue and the views are simply breathtaking up and down the sheer cliffs of the coastline. Between late June and November, the wildflower display throughout Kalbarri NP, including along the clifftop, is one of the longest lasting – a truly beautiful experience for the walker and photographer alike. The Kalbarri Visitors Centre can point you towards the best of the wildflower displays, and where to find the rare and delicate Murchison rose.
The more remote and rugged limestone cliffs to the north of Kalbarri extend up towards Shark Bay, which in itself is a much-loved destination. In Shark Bay, you will find Monkey Mia and the ancient stromatolites of Hamelin Pools, which formed when the earth began to breathe.
The cliffs are known as the Zuytdorp cliffs after the wreck of the Zuytdorp (of the Dutch East Indian Co) in 1712. Riding the roaring forties across the Indian Ocean she was driven into these remote wilderness cliffs and wrecked approximately 40km north of present day Kalbarri, while she was on route to Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia). It is known that the survivors scrambled ashore but nothing more was heard of them. Local tales tell of how the survivors were helped by the local tribes known as the ‘Salt Water People’ or the Nanda tribal group, but the mystery of the Zuytdorp remains one of the most fascinating detective stories about shipwrecks even today.
With a rich cargo of 248,000 freshly minted silver coins, this lost treasure created a carpet of silver along the rugged shores which lived on in local stories. Even to this day the area of the wreck is protected by one of the few restricted zones in Australia under the ‘Historic Shipwreck Act’ of 1976, and is under regular surveillance.
The House That Roared: Hutt River Principality
The Hutt River Principality was born of a province declared in April 1970 and is comparable in size to Hong Kong. Being a child of the 60s and 70s I know what that means … it was very much a new world. It was a brave world then, one that challenged so many of societies norms and at the time I remember the fuss when someone realised a bumbling bureaucracy had approved the birth of an independent province on our shores.
When the dust had settled around the ears of our leaders, our then PM, Malcolm Fraser of ‘caretaker government’ fame, decided to crush the province using the might of the Tax Department, so he legislated to make it the State Government’s problem … while Australia’s only micro-nation, now an independent principality, was born.
The fuss was over wheat quotas, which a collective of families (who now make up the principality) understood would decimate their livelihood.
They unsuccessfully tried to appeal this new quota system. It was truly the House that Roared and their succession from the Government of Australia was the consequence. The bun-fight still goes on, but it is a delight to visit the principality in all its independence.
It is no easy feat to find the Hutt River Principality … most people search online for ‘The Hutt River’, and that is what they find. The principality is de-marked on few maps, as the government still isn’t too happy to recognise its independence despite its international recognition. But it’s there, sitting about 600 clicks north of Perth, between Kalbarri and Northampton. I would recommend either staying at the principality’s bush caravan site for just $5 per person per night, or on the nearby coastal town of Kalbarri, which is only 50km from the principality.
The principality is nestled in a quiet valley and has a permanent water supply in crystal-clear springs which feed into the Hutt River. It is wheat country, though sheep still graze these sandy hills.
Prince Graeme now rules, since the elderly Prince Leonard abdicated in his favour early this year.
You can still meet Prince Leonard though, as he sits quietly in the sun of the information and souvenir centre in the main driveway of Nain, the capital of the principality. His eyes are bright despite his years and he still has the verve of independent thought that characterised his struggle. Prince Leonard, we found, was more than happy to chat about the succession, his success and the recognition the principality has. Cruising through the history rooms though is an entertainment in itself and not to
Kalbarri National Park WA
Kalbarri National Park protects some of the oldest lands still above water. The Murchison Gorge offers a wonderful insight into an ancient geological timespan as well as the trails and footfalls of ancient creatures as they ventured out from the ocean some 400-430 million years ago. These primitive anthropoids emerged along the shores of Gondwana, before continental Australia drifted apart from this ancient land. Their tracks, preserved now in siltstone, can still be seen in the uplifted clifftop rocks, once the shoreline of a primitive world.
A spectacular feature of the Kalbarri National Park is Natures Window. It is an easy 1km walk from the car park and one of the several lookouts that are a feature of the stunning Murchison River Gorge. My favourite was Hawks Head, where you can quietly watch the parade of native animals venturing towards the waters of the Murchison, along a park-like bank on the far shore.
The Z-Bend lookout offers the most breathtaking of views of the cliffs that plunge into the gorge. Venturing into the Park is well worth the 30km drive from Kalbarri, and as they have now sealed the park roads it is a venture for any vehicle, large or small.
The twin skywalks, which will suspend the visitor out over the gorge at the West Loop (the Inyaka Wookai Watju site), are due to open in 2018 and promise to be a magnificent and popular feature of the Kalbarri NP experience. Something well worth the wait.
While there is no accommodation offered in Kalbarri NP, the township has four caravan parks as well as a motel and holiday flats. It is best to speak with the Kalbarri Information Centre, as they can assist with a wide variety of accommodation options available.