Road Tripping Western Australia, Part One
We jumped from the boat and into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean.
Within a few moments a dark looming shape came gliding through the water towards us as our hearts pounded in our wet suits.
Our eyes grew wide at the shape taking form in front of us, as it swam closer.
In amazement we watched as the huge Whale Shark with it’s white spotted, grey body swam right beside us.
We started to swim along side but all too soon it’s powerful fins propelled it into the distance and away into the depths.
Awestruck we clambered back on board our boat, dizzy with adrenaline and joy.
Over a week earlier we’d left Perth on our journey North with the Indian Ocean on our left as a constant companion.
After spending six weeks house and cat sitting in Padbury, Perth, Western Australia it was time to set out on our road trip adventure around the Western half of this huge and diverse country of Australia.
Our budget was low and we’d only been able to rent the smallest camper van in the range.
It didn’t have a bathroom but it did have a two ring gas hob, a small sink and water tank.
A small seating area transformed into a bed for two people and a third person could sleep up in the roof space on a temporary platform.
We loaded our belongings on board and set off up highway 60 Northwards.
A very loose plan of travel had taken shape in our heads but as we didn’t know how far we would get up the West coast, it would be very flexible and open to change.
The three of us sat along the front seats as we set off with the gorgeous blue Indian Ocean on our left.
Day One – Setting out and Yanchep National Park – 24 Miles
Leaving our house sit behind we drove down to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean where we looked out over the beautiful Indian Ocean.
The sky was bright blue and we were ready to undertake our road trip adventure.
It was already well into the day so we knew we wouldn’t get too far along the road, so we headed off along the coast for Yanchep National Park.
Yanchep was only about half an hours drive North but we wanted to have a short day as we didn’t have a daily routine yet and wanted to get used to camper van life.
It felt good to be on the road and soon enough we were parking in the Yanchep National Park.
Large grassed areas gave way to marshes surrounding a lake and as we walked we heard the sound of Kookaburras in the trees.
A group of Kangaroos grazed on the grass oblivious to us as we took some photos.
Koala bears are the iconic mammal of Australia but aren’t native to Western Australia, luckily Yanchep National Park has a thriving community of Koalas that can be viewed from a raised boardwalk through the Eucalyptus trees.
We marvelled at these wonderful animals clinging to branches of the trees and walking across the ground.
It was a first for us as well as Annabel and it was heard to tear ourselves away but as it was getting late and we didn’t have anywhere to camp yet, we needed to hit the road.
In a stoke of good luck we spoke to one of the Park Rangers who asked where we were planning to camp.
We could stay at the Park for a fee but she suggested something that we came to rely on for the rest of our trip, an app called Wikicamp.
She told us about an area just North of the Park where we could camp for free.
We downloaded Wikicamp as soon as we were able and it proved invaluable.
If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s an app that you can use offline to show you places where you can camp for either a fee or free.
It also shows all amenities in an area, such as day parking, bathroom facilities, wild camps, truck stops, day time shower facilities and a whole host of other useful things.
After a short drive we found the camping area and set ourselves up.
Several other campers and four wheel drives dotted the area but we found ourselves a quiet spot where we prepared a meal and settled in for the night.
Day Two – Pristine Beaches and Jurien Bay – 110 Miles
We awoke after a really cold night, actually the temperature inside our camper had dropped to freezing so we hoped things would warm up as we headed further North.
A quick wash at our sink and we were back on the road.
Initially the road took us away from the sight of the ocean but soon we were right back beside the turquoise Indian Ocean again.
We made our way up the coast to Jurien Bay, a small town right on the coast.
It was time for some beach so we parked near to the shorefront and made our way along the boardwalk to the white sand beach.
A small play park was situated just on the beach which gave Annabel a chance to get some exercise and have some fun.
We strolled along the beach taking in the wonderful views out to sea and along the shore.
These were beaches we’d only ever dreamed of and here we were with the sand between our toes and Annabel running in the water.
We took a walk out on to the short pier and decided it was time to push on to find somewhere for the night.
Just North of Jurien Bay, Wikicamps told us there should be some wild camping opportunity near the beach.
After a short while we found the turn off onto a dirt track with which took us toward the ocean and some camper parking areas.
We drove past the main area but further on found a track we could park on that was more or less right on the beach.
This wild camping was amazing so far.
We walked along the beach taking in where we were and what we were doing which seemed somehow like a dream.
Our view was stunning as we prepared our dinner and set our seats out to watch the sunset.
Road tripping in Winter meant shorter days and having to end our days drive rather early but it was good to get settled in somewhere and then get early starts in the morning.
We went to sleep with the sound of the ocean just meters away from us.
Day Three – Geraldton, Kalbarri, Ajana- 256 Miles
Waking to view of the ocean from our camper window was magical.
We had breakfast and prepared to start our days drive North.
Staying here had been so amazingly beautiful and I know we left a piece of our hearts there.
Our route kept us hugging the shoreline with the ocean never far away.
We drove through Dongara and carried on toward Geraldton the largest town we’d visit since leaving Padbury.
Once we arrived in Geraldton we soon made the decision to carry on North and just use the town as somewhere to stock up on supplies.
As we were wild camping, we obviously couldn’t hook up to any mains to keep our refrigerator cold so any meat we wanted to store had to be eaten within a couple of days of purchasing it and hoping the insulated fridge would be enough to keep it from going rotten.
We found a supermarket and bought what we needed for the next few days then filled up on fuel at the nearest fuel station.
Heading back out of town was kind of relief as Geraldton didn’t feel like the best of places to stay longer and besides, we wanted to get back to the remoteness of the countryside.
We had now joined Highway One which headed inland but we soon turned left onto a smaller road that would take us back to the ocean and on to Kalbarri.
Kalbarri is a very small settlement right on the waterfront but before we got there we stopped at Kalbarri National Park ( which, by the way is huge ) to see the rock formations of the coast.
We turned onto a side track which led us to a parking area from which we set out on foot.
There are lots of trails to follow that take you past the wonderful ocean weathered rock coastline and secluded sandy beaches.
The ocean smashed against the shore in a process that has worn the rocky coast down over millennia.
We had quite a drive still left to do to get to a wild camp we had seen on the map that was near Ajana ,and it was getting late in the day so we headed off through Kabarri and turned East through the heart of the Kalbarri National Park.
It was dusk by the time we arrived at a very small but secluded parking area in amongst some trees.
One other camper was parked up so we found our spot and settled into the routine we had developed each day.
Bed times were early as we wanted to be up with the light and on our way each day and there really wasn’t anything to do once it got dark so to preserve our torch light we went to sleep.
Day Four – Shell Beach, Denham, The Eagles Bluff and Shark Bay – 220 Miles
After getting on the road early we rejoined the main route North, Highway One.
This area of Western Australia is very remote and you can drive without seeing any other cars for miles and miles.
The red earth and bush stretches out into the distance with no sign of life in any direction.
We really got an idea of how people can get lost out here really easily if they were to walk away from their vehicles.
After a couple of hours drive we came upon the Billanbong Roadhouse, the only stop for fuel and supplies within hundreds of miles.
The Billabong Roadhouse has become somewhat of a legend and sells its own merchandise.
You can stay here in the motel or camping facilities but we chose to have a look around their shop and restaurant, fill up on fuel and drive on Northward.
Further North we turned left off of the highway and drove toward the coast and Denham.
It’s hard to explain just how remote you are out in this area.
For hours you just see bush either side of the road and now and again the odd vehicle.
We spotted some kangaroos by the side of the road and termite mounds dotting the landscape but other than that, there is just nothing.
Our route now turned North again as we headed up a peninsula of land with the ocean to either side of us.
A sign to Shell Beach directed us to turn right into a parking area and from there we walked out onto the glorious beach.
It’s a huge beach and stunningly white with beautiful clear calm waters lapping at the crescent shore.
The strange thing we noticed as we stepped onto the beach is that it’s crunchy underfoot and not sandy.
As the name Shell Beach suggests, the beach is made up entirely of crushed Cockle Shells
It’s one of only two beaches in the world made entirely from shells and runs for a length of 37 miles.
We paddled in the shallow, crystal clear water along the shore before heading back to our van and onward.
We’d read about a spot on the West coast called Eagle Bluff, so headed there, first along the main road and then onto an unsurfaced track for 3 miles.
That was the longest 3 miles of our lives as the track was rutted so we had to drive very slowly to not shake our poor camper van apart.
At last we arrived at a highpoint parking area overlooking the gorgeous turquoise waters of the Denham Sound.
A metal boardwalk runs along a length of the cliffs here and you can see right down into the clear waters,
We even saw a ray of some sort swimming close to shore.
It was a beautiful walk under the clear skies.
The only trouble was that we knew exactly what to expect on the drive out along the same horrendous track as we came in on.
After reaching the main road again we headed for the town of Denham.
We reached the town of Denham in the mid afternoon and as we entered, a group of policemen stationed by the side of the road, waved us down.
The police officer asked me to do a breathalyser test which I thought quite strange at this time of day but the officer told me we’d be surprised how many people they catch early in the day.
This was the first time I’d ever had to do a breathalyser test and it was quite strange and nerve wracking considering I don’t drink.
They thankfully let us go and we drove on into town.
Denham has a Discovery Centre with a visitors information desk, so we made a stop there to ask about somewhere to camp for the night.
The lady informed us that there was no wild camping spots on the peninsula but we could pay a small fee to camp at one of the spots on the coast within the conservation area.
There’s four camping areas and only four vehicles allowed on each site so we were very lucky that there was one spot left at a place called Fowlers Camp.
Backtracking our way down the coast we found the turn off to Fowlers Camp and drove along the rough unpaved track.
Soon we found ourselves by a beautiful horseshoe shaped bay.
There wasn’t any actual parking spots as such so we just found a nice spot right by the water edge and settled in for the evening.
The place is idyllic and although there were three other vehicles there, we were all spread out around the bay and would hardly know each other were there.
It felt like it was just us and the setting sun as we watched a small ray swimming in the shallows.
That was probably the best site we camped at through the whole trip.
Dinner that evening was overlooking the calm waters of the bay, not a sound to be heard except the gentle lap of water on the shore and a sunset that made our hearts melt.
Day Five – Coral Bay – 380 Miles
We awoke to the beautiful view from our camp site.
It was early and we had a long drive ahead of us, little did we know how long it would turn out to be.
We got on the road early and headed back the way we’d come to join Highway One, North again.
There was little to see with endless miles of nothingness all around us.
To pass the time we lip synced to Taylor Swifts, Shake It Off amongst other songs and had quite a laugh.
We left Highway One and continued toward Coral Bay.
Five and a half hours later we reached the tiny settlement of Coral Bay but was amazed to find the place heaving with people.
The campsite we were hoping to get on to was full to capacity.
Being off season we were perplexed but someone told us that the Grey Hair RV’ing community ( as they are affectionately known) were very active this time of year.
So with nowhere to stay nearby we carried on North and into the evening.
The last thing we wanted to do was drive in the dark but there was absolutely nowhere to camp in this area.
We decided to just keep driving toward Exmouth, our next destination and hope to find somewhere to pull over and stay.
Wikicamps showed us a lay-by area an hour or so from Coral Bay where we could stop.
As evening drew in we spotted the parking area which was really just a large lay-by and pretty full of campers of all shapes and sizes but we managed to squeeze into a spot and settle in for the night.
Day Six – Exmouth – Ningaloo Reef – 55 Miles
First thing in the morning we were off and on our short drive to Exmouth.
Exmouth is a fair sized community on the Eastern coast of Cape Range.
While looking around we came across Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours who have a shop in town.
We asked them all about their tours out onto the Ningaloo Reef to see Humpback Whales and Whale Sharks.
After a lot of thought we booked on to their Whale Shark Tour for the following day.
The tour was one of the most expensive things we had done but hopefully it would be worth every Australian Dollar.
There was nowhere to stay in town so we drove around and onto the West Coast ( which is actually only a 15 mins drive away ) to the Ningaloo Lighthouse Caravan Park to see if there were any spaces available for the night.
Luckily as we were in a small van and didn’t need a hook up spot, the owner had a space for us.
We went and found our spot, used the facilities and then decided to go and check out some beaches that were supposed to be lovely further South along the coast.
After quite a drive we found a beautiful beach that we’d been told was great for snorkelling.
The water was fairly calm and the beach covered in stunning white sand.
Annabel and I went into the water a saw lots of fish swimming around us.
We made the most of our beach time and then drove back to the caravan site but were lucky along the way to see a Dingo and an Emu by the side of the road.
Day Seven – Swimming with Whales Sharks on the Ningaloo Reef
The feeling of swimming alongside a huge Whale Shark was unbelievable.
All three of us got to be in the water with the Sharks and it was one of the most thrilling experiences we’ve ever had as a family.
The crew onboard the Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours boat were amazing and helped Annabel with swimming in the deepwater and showing here everything on the reef.
The Ningaloo Reef is actually more pristine than the Great Barrier Reef and we saw some beautiful fish and sea creatures during our day out.
What a day we had.
The memory of this day has stayed vivid in our minds and Annabel loved the experience.
We got to see Humpback Whales, a Tiger Shark ( from the boat, luckily ) and all manner of sea life.
Once back on shore and after being dropped off at the caravan park, which had been kind enough to let us park out front in their parking lot, we left the Exmouth area and headed back South along the only road out.
It was quite late so we decided to stay the same lay-by as when we came in.
It was busy again but, we made a space for ourselves and bedded down for the night.
Day Eight – Tom Price – 430 Miles
We had a big day in front of us if we wanted to get all the way to the small town of Tom Price just outside of Karijini National Park.
With a big change of direction, we’d now be travelling East inland and away from the coast.
The flavour of our road trip was about to change.
Ahead of us lay huge national parks, tiny settlements, ghost towns, gold prospectors and the biggest gold mine in the country.
We were about to immerse ourselves in the Western Australian backcountry.