PLACES TO GO
As you approach this National Trust-listed village, 20 minutes south of Geraldton, you’ll see proof of the region’s blustery weather – the famous leaning trees, growing almost flat against the ground. The stone buildings from the 1860s offer a look back into pioneering life. To see all the sights, drive the 57km Greenough/Walkaway Heritage Trail that begins at the museum on Phillips Road and ends up at Ellendale Pool, a lovely watering hole where you can picnic and barbecue (you can also camp here – just drop your $5 per night in the honesty box). There are a couple of B&Bs near to town (which is actually called Cape Burney) and a hotel, plus a caravan park at the river mouth with plenty of shaded sites and a small shop (but you’ll have to head into Geraldton if you need more extensive supplies). There are also a number of nature trails along the river that are suited to walkers and mountain bikers – look out for possums, echidnas, reptiles and bird life.
Geraldton Town Centre
While most holidaymakers used to travel straight through Geraldton on their way
up the coast, this seaside city has had a facelift and it’s now a great spot to stay
for a few nights, especially for families. There’s the spanking-new foreshore with
a free water park (perfect for the kids on a hot day), a slick marina where the excellent WA Museum is based, and trendy homewares and fashion shops in the West End. If you want to stay in a hotel or self-serviced apartment, there are options near the CBD and the foreshore, and B&Bs, motels and private houses for rent further out of town, some with easy access to swimming beaches. The new bike path leading along the foreshore to the mouth of the Chapman River is a good way to see all of Geraldton’s changes, and it won’t be too much of a challenge for little tykes because it covers flat ground. At the wharf end of the cycle trail, head to the spot locals call Seal Lookout (officially known as the Esplanade). You can walk out to the point to see the seals hanging out on the rocks, and watch the ships coming into the port. Bring your own wheels to cycle the path, or hire a bike from Revolutions, (08) 9964 1399, on Jenson Street.
Batavia Coast Marina (photography Australia’s Coral Coast).
Kalbarri is a picturesque seaside town located 590km north of Perth, midway along Australia’s Coral Coast. The town itself is located at the mouth of the Murchison River, an ideal playground for families to relax, swim, fish and snorkel in clear blue waters. Surrounded by National Park, Kalbarri offers dramatic inland gorges, magnificent coastal scenery and a variety of wildlife and wildflowers. Humpback whales grace the coastline seasonally and adventure tours for all types of visitors are on offer, making Kalbarri the perfect holiday choice. Kalbarri visitor centre is the first place to visit when you arrive in Kalbarri, located in the main street of town, open Monday to Saturday 9am-5pm, and Sundays 10am-2pm. For a fantastic day trip, hire a dinghy or a kayak at the river mouth (you don’t need a licence) and head up the Murchison River to explore the twists and turns of its lower section. Black bream and mulloway lurk in its depths, so take a line if you have one (although make it heavy duty, these fish can be huge!). Kalbarri has an upscale accommodation option as well as mid-range villas and hotels, but it’s also a great place to camp because all the grounds have good facilities and are close to the water. Kids will get a kick out of seeing the daily pelican feeding at 8.45am at the grassed area opposite Wood Street.
Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri National Park covers an area of 186,000 hectares and encircles the Kalbarri town site giving the park two contrasting settings. South of Kalbarri features magnificent towering ocean cliffs, plummeting to the waves below. Heading north of town are inland river gorges with rock formations as old as 400 million years. Mention of wildflowers and many people think of Kalbarri – there are more than 800 species here, many unique to the area. From the end of June to October, wildflower fans are know to make their way here from all over the world. If you head inland the sand plains become carpets of pink and white Everlastings and Orange Immortelles, jostling for space between Starflowers, Kangaroo paws, Feather flowers and Orchids to name a just a few. One of the last flowers to emerge is the aptly named Smelly Socks (White Plum Grevillia). With the flowers on the end of long stalks and low Grevillia shrubbery, these beautiful blooms attract many insects and release a sickly sweet smell at dusk and into the evening.
Chapman Valley, Moresby Ranges (photography Australia’s Coral Coast).
This pretty area runs inland from the coast at Coronation Beach, 32km north of Geraldton, and includes the towns of Yuna, Nanson and Nabawa. This is old-school broadacre farming land; for a great lookout over the colourful paddocks and the flat-topped Moresby Ranges, look for the turn-off just out of Geraldton on Chapman Valley Road. It’s also known for its wildflowers – for the best spots, drive down Nanson Howatharra Road (opposite Bella Vista turn off), Nabawa Yetna Road, Nolba Road or visit the Wandana Reserve. Coronation Beach is one of the best windsurfing spots in Australia, according to Windsurfing WA, and there’s a campground right next to it with barbecues and drop toilets, but no showers (you’ll also have to take your own drinking water). Closer to Geraldton, Fig Tree Crossing is a lovely campsite next to the Chapman River but a fee now applies ($7 per night).
Incredibly clear waters that hover around 21°C in winter, and a pristine ecosystem make the islands a go-to destination for diving, snorkelling, fishing and bird-watching. The camps on this cluster of coral-encircled islands 55km off the coast of Geraldton are only inhabited during the rock lobster season, which runs from March to June. There is no visitor accommodation on the islands, so unless you’re buddies with some local fisherfolk, your best bet is to take a day trip or book a berth on a live-aboard charter boat. Geraldton Air Charter, (08) 9923 3434, also offers scenic flights and day trips from Geraldton. If you’re taking your own boat, be sure to have nautical charts WA997, WA998 and WA999, on board – the reefs can be treacherous.
Abrolhos Islands (photography Attem).
THINGS TO DO
There were four major Dutch East India Company ships that smashed into this stretch of coast – Vergulde Draeck, Zeewijk, Zuytdorp, and Batavia. Early treasure hunters often used dynamite to loot the wrecks so it was lucky the WA Museum stepped in to oversee the salvages and manage the sites. Many of the artefacts are on display at the Geraldton Museum, (08) 9921 5080, where the kids will be hooked on the gory tales of mutiny and survival (entry is free but a donation is recommended). Of the 54 shipwrecks around the Abrolhos Islands, you can snorkel and dive a couple, including the Batavia. There’s not much left aside from a few cannon and an anchor but you might get lucky and find some of the gold coins that have never been recovered. The illegal fishing vessel South Tomi was scuttled in 2004 in deeper water (24.5m), and while it’s new in ‘wreck years’, its marine life is growing steadily. You need permission and the coordinates to dive the site, so jump on a charter dive or become a member of the Geraldton Community Artificial Reef Committee (GCARC) to get a licence. For information, contact the Batavia Coast Dive Academy on (08) 9921 4229.
You can build a holiday around seeing the fascinating creatures that live in this region. From June to November, the humpback whales are swimming past: head to Kalbarri’s coastal cliffs for a prime viewing spot, or jump on a charter tour. Just out of town, at the Big River Ranch, (08) 9937 1214, wannabe jackaroo and jillaroos can ride horses through the Murchison River. On the outskirts of town is Rainbow Jungle, (08) 9937 1248, a parrot-breeding center with a maze of aviaries that visitors can walk through You’ll be able to watch colourful birds flying around your head or feeding within arm’s reach. If you’re visiting during the school holidays, book a ticket to the outdoor cinema Cinema Parrotiso which shows the latest kid-friendly flicks; there’s wood-fired pizza available, and alcoholic drinks at the bar for grown ups. For some more low-key animal interactions, take a rock lobster tour in Geraldton ($10). Sadly the tour fee doesn’t include a tasting!
The best conditions for wind- or kitesurfing are from September to April, but for the strongest winds visit Geraldton during mid summer. Point Moore, St Georges, Sunset Beach and the mouth of the Greenough River are all popular locales, but Coronation Beach takes the cake when the conditions are right. Beginners should head down to Point Moore or St Georges Beach in the late morning, whereas the locals (and experienced surfers) hit these spots in the arvo for the high winds. KiteWest, 0449 021 784, offers beginner kitesurfing lessons (age 12 and above) at Point Moore. For Geraldton-specific weather conditions, head to kitewest.com.au.
Diving the wreck of the South Tomi (photography Batavia Coast Dive Academy).
Visit a Prince
The fanciful Principality of Hutt River was founded in the 1970s and is ruled over by the self-appointed Prince Leonard. You can visit this eccentric enclave of Australian royalty daily from 9am to 4pm – you’ll even get a stamp in your passport. Camping facilities are available and there’s the royal art collection to explore.
Intermediate to advanced surfers keen for a reef break should head to Hell’s Gates at Point Moore, Flat Rocks (located 32km south of Geraldton), or Bowes River Mouth near Horrocks. There’s also Drummonds Point, 10km north, but the break on the exposed reef only works now and then, and summer tends to be flat. Sunset Beach has both beach- and reef-break options but needs a reasonable swell running (above 2.5m). You can hire boards from Geraldton Surf & Sail, (08) 9921 7873, or grab a new or second-hand board from Corner Surf Shop in Geraldton, (08) 9921 3127. Jakes Point in Kalbarri has been declared a National Surfing Reserve the second in Western Australia. The point is one of WA’s most famous remote surfing breaks.
For a different view of the spectactular gorges, why not abseil in? From April to November, Kalbarri Abseil, (08) 9937 1618, also offer canyoning, where you’ll hike, climb and even float on a tyre tube. There are a number of lookouts along 8km The Loop walk trail, which begins at the famous Nature’s Window, and there’s wheelchair access to the path leading to the Hawk’s Head lookout. During the wildflower season (July to October), this is also your best bet for seeing fields of everlastings.
GERALDTON ARTS SCENE
‘Gero’ is fast becoming an arty hub, largely thanks to creative entrepreneurs ‘The Pollinators’ who have breathed life (and art) into previously dull public spaces; visitors can tour their quirky main office City Hive, (08) 9965 5371, on Wednesdays at 11am. The Arts and Cultural Development Council, (08) 9921 1844, is also leading the way with a gallery, art workshops and a sunset salon where you can listen to an artist talk about their art and journeys with a glass of wine in hand. Latitude Gallery owner Pia Boschetti, (08) 9964 6601, always generates plenty of interest with her annual Flotsam & Jetsam art project – volunteers head to the Abrolhos Islands for Clean Up Australia Day, and the rubbish is turned into an art exhibition. Yamaji Art has joined the bustle on Marine Terrace, with a beautiful shop and lots of original Aboriginal artworks for sale. www.yamajiart.com. And round the corner is the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery, open six days, with free entry. Then there’s Queens Park Theatre with heaps of shows on offer and the local pub scene with plenty of bands to listen to.
Spot whales from Kalbarri’s coastal cliffs
Dive, snorkel and surf at the Abrolhos Islands
Explore old shipwrecks
Wind- and kitesurf at Coronation Beach
Camp in the Chapman Valley
Eat, drink and enjoy art galleries in Geraldton
Check out fields of wildflowers
Go deep-sea fishing
Canoe and kayak on the Murchison River
Experience pioneering life at Greenough
Visit a working station
Eat fresh rock lobsters
All these and more at www.scoop.com.au/thingstodo
EAT OUT IN GERALDTON
While it was once pretty tough to find a decent meal in Geraldton, it now has some awesome places to eat and drink. New to town is Fleur High Tea, (08) 9949 9750, with a cute fit-out and tasty salads, sandwiches and girly desserts. Salt Dish Cafe, (08) 9964 6030, has a cult following for its breakfasts and lunches, so you’ll have to get in early if you want a table. The Provincial Lounge Bar, (08) 9964 1887, brings a bit of urban style (and the wood-fired pizzas are great) to the West End, and the Dome has a great location on the waterfront, as does the relocated Skeetas, (08) 9964 1619. Keen home cooks should check out Culinary HQ, (08) 9921 2046, a gourmet food store run by chef Kelly Dickinson and her husband Andrew. If you’re hunting for exotic ingredients, this is where you’ll find them, and the pair also runs cooking classes on Thursday nights. If you’re simply passing through Gero, give the tired old servo cheesies a miss, and stop in at the funky Jaffle Shack, (08) 9949 9755, on Marine Terrace for one of their grilled creations. For good old fish and chips, there’s Barnacles Food Bar, (08) 9964 4820, on the wharf – renowned among the locals as the best in town.
VISIT A STATION
Sometimes you need to get out into the country to get a real sense of a place. The Coral Coast is home to some of the state’s oldest and largest stations, many of which you can stay at. Murchison House Station, (08) 9937 1998, is easy to access – it’s just outside of Kalbarri, and at one time it was home to an eccentric Indian royal. You’ll see his collection of bulldozers and military equipment rusting away in the red sand. It also has over 60km of Indian Ocean coastline and more than 30km of river frontage, making it a popular place with campers, who are free to pitch a tent wherever they like. There are also basic digs at the homestead. Wooleen Station, (08) 9963 7973, is 194km north of Mullewa on the Murchison River and offers a look at life on an outback cattle station, with guided tours, sunset tour, a walk trail and the Bower Bird Museum. Accommodation ranges from fancy (the homestead) to simple (camping and the jackaroo quarters).
Geraldton-Greenough Farmers Market
Load up with fresh local fruit and veg, sample cheese and olive oil, and enjoy
the laid-back atmosphere of live music and lunch stalls. Maitland Park, Geraldton, Saturdays (8am-noon).
The festival brings together cultural attractions such as opera, fine dining, art
and film with vibrant markets, games and events. Kalbarri, Sep.
Geraldton Greenough Sunshine Festival
Soak up the sun and enjoy arts, agriculture displays, parades and games.
Endure Batavia Triathlon
The shipwreck coast of Geraldton is the scene for this race of endurance,
strength and fitness as competitors complete a triathlon. Geraldton, Apr.
Canoe and Cray Carnival
Cheer the canoes as they race 16.5km down the Murchison River, and enjoy the entertainment and markets held on the river foreshore. Kalbarri, Jun.
Kalbarri’s coastal cliffs.
By car | Since the Indian Ocean Drive opened in 2010, travellers can now choose between the 368km Brand Highway and a more scenic, shorter route along the coast from Lancelin. While traffic is heavier on the highway, Indian Ocean Drive is popular with caravanning grey nomads and overtaking space is limited, so the travel time is often similar. Your best bet to avoid traffic is to travel midweek or at nighttime (from dusk you’ll need to look out for kangaroos).
By train | TransWA, 1300 662 205, and Integrity Coachlines, 1800 226 339, both offer services between Kalbarri and Perth (running through Geraldton).
Plane | Virgin and Qantas run daily flights between Geraldton and Perth.
Fuel | If you’re travelling from Geraldton to Kalbarri, hold off refuelling if you
can. The cheapest place to refuel is most often the United petrol station at Bluff
Point (5km north of Geraldton).