Wets on for WA’s Indian Ocean Drive: Perth to Kalbarri

We left Perth pretty late in the day and arrived in Lancelin in the dark.  Without any free rest stops in the area, we reluctantly forked out $28 for an unpowered site in one of the caravan parks.

It boggles our minds how much the quality of a caravan site can vary for the same price. This one was essentially an abandoned lot with mouldy toilets, but for the same price in a similarly nondescript town you could get free wifi, a pool and if you’re really lucky, a designated fish cleaning station.

We had only stopped in Lancelin because we’d heard you could sand board on the local dunes for $10. That was the just the cost of hiring a board from the general store, the rest was up to you. The lack of institutional restrictions was appealing. When was the last time you got to participate in a mildly dangerous activity without signing five waivers and paying through the nose for the privilege? Last time Gareth tried to sand board in Dubai, the government intervened because they thought the sand was too hard.

Unfortunately we woke the next morning to the sound of rain drumming on the van roof. We looked through Moby’s foggy lens to see that Lancelin’s impressive sand dunes were covered by grey clouds. Sand boarding in the rain is pretty much impossible so we gave up on Lancelin (as there appeared to be bugger all else to do) and went north in search of warmer climes.

We travelled up the west coast of WA under raging winds and heavy rain. We could see that places along Indian Ocean Drive, like Jurien Bay and Lesueur National Park, would be quite lovely in friendlier weather, but at the moment Oz reminded Gareth of grey old England, not exactly the sunny image sold to Brits by ‘Neighbours’ reruns and their friends’ facebook posts of life Down Under.

We stopped at the Pinnacles Desert, encouraged by recollections of Billy Connelly skipping naked around the unique rock formations, his comedic talent dangling in the wind. The Pinnacles are an impressive and bizarre geological oddity. Hundreds of limestone pillars spread across the desert floor in a haphazard manner, like a crowd dispersing from a stadium football match. They protrude from the ground like stalagmites – some small, some tall and others fat and spotty. Some clump in groups, footy fanatic families and drunks with a lean on, being supported by their mates. Their personalities have been shaped by the erosion of their sandstone top coats, washed away by the wind and the rain.

We got thoroughly soaked walking around them. Gareth made the rookie mistake of wearing his waterproof jacket over jeans, so the rain bounced off the jacket and straight onto the absorbent denim below. By the time we returned to the van we were sodden and hoping for a quick escape. Unfortunately the van wouldn’t start, Moby was obviously enjoying the diluvian downpour. Some Sherlockean detective work revealed that we’d left the headlights on and drained the battery. Lucky we’d come prepared with spare battery and jumper cables.

Pinnacles Desert Western Australia
Not quite the pinnacle of our trip
Pinnacles Desert Western Australia
Hope Billy didn’t catch himself on this!

Damp and hungry we headed for Cervantes and its famous Lobster Shack – a processing plant for rock lobsters with a restaurant tacked on for tourists. Rather than take the tour of the factory we watched the short video, afraid that the live show would tip the guilt meter and prompt Shelley to recreate ‘The Simpsons’ scene where Homer cries while he eats his delicious pet lobster Pinchy.

We opted for a half a lobster tail each, grilled with garlic butter. It came with fries and coleslaw to help customers stomach the heavy price, as well as a portion of lobster medallions – like chicken nuggets but made of lobster mush. The lobster was delicious and we savoured it to the last crack and suck of craw. We were lucky that Shelley was shown how to pull them apart by her stepfather, otherwise we would have left half of the goodness behind like the elderly couple next to us, who clearly had never been confronted with something so exotic and impenetrable, and had perturbed looks on their faces. The asian tourists knew exactly what to do, the mess they left behind looked like rock lobsters had reenacted the Battle of the Bastards with cracked limbs and bits of exoskeleton strewn across the table.

Rock lobster, Cervantes Western Australia
We were on the beach/Everybody had matching towels

We had the taste for it now, so we bought a boiled and chilled lobster to further our culinary education. We free camped just north of Geraldton that night, but our bellies were still so full of rich lobster that we weren’t ready to eat more.

The weather finally broke in Kalbarri, a cute seaside town with lots to offer the gentle tourist. The rocks, caves and look outs that dotted the drive into town were like a mini version of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and without the tourist hordes. We’ve found that it’s part of the charm of Western Australia – the enormity and remoteness of the state means it is less well travelled than the east coast, and as a result, feels more untouched. We were travelling in off-season, which no doubt contributed to the sense that we had the place to ourselves, however it did mean that we missed out on Kalbarri’s extensive organised activities – scenic flights, hiking, gorge walks, sand boarding, kayaking, pelican feeding and whale watching to name a few.  There was nothing running for the next three days, but if we weren’t trying to see this continent-sized country in only three months,  we would have hung around.

Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
Finally stopped raining!
Pink Lake, Kalbarri Western Australia
Pretty in pink
Kalbarri cliffs, Western Australia
Cliff notes to Kalbarri
Tube rocks, Kalbarri, Western Australia
Weird tubey rocks

We drove into  Kalbarri National Park to gawk at its gorges and wildflower patches. It was our first gorge sighting and it definitely whet our appetites, we were planning to gorge ourselves on Katherine and Karijini further north (a deGORGstation if you will). We saw ‘The Loop’, ‘Nature’s Window’ and ‘Z bend’ and they were GORGEous, reminding Gareth of the Grand Canyon in Nevada. The Murchison River snaked through the cavernous expanses below like the serpent from aboriginal mythology, carving away at the hillside to reveal colourful sheer faces and ominous-looking overhangs. Australia’s ubiquitous eucalyptus and fig trees clung to the side of the rock faces – thrillseeking flora roping themselves in with their long root systems hanging down to find anchor in every crack and crevice.

Nature's Window, Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
Nature’s Window

Z Loop, Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia

Look out, Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
A river runs through it
Kalbarri Gorge, Western Australia
Kalbarri Gorge
Wildflowers, Kalbarri Gorge, Western Australia
Snazzy wildflowers
Looking through Nature's Window, Kalbarri Western Australia
Looking through Nature’s Window at …nature
Donald Trump combover plant, Kalbarri, Western Australia
Donald Trump’s wig farm

After watching the orange glow of the sun retreat over the gorges, we drove in the dark to a nearby rest area to find every corner occupied by caravans and oversized US-style motorhomes. The more inconsiderate individuals left their generators roaring for much of the night to power their flatscreen televisions, air-conditioning and power outlets. 

Suitably unimpressed, we finally found a patch to park the van in. Any visions of travelling friendships and camaraderie have gone by the wayside at this point. We’re still waiting to meet some vanlifers that aren’t grey nomads garrisoned in their metal fortresses or backpackers with half a brain between them.

Highs: Stumbled upon a random pink lake just before Kalbarri that ended up being the world’s largest micro algae production plant

Lows: Missed the Hutt River Province – a micro nation of weirdos claiming to live in a sovereign state ruled by HRH Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley

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