Holiday town on the edge of the outstanding Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri is a popular holiday and retirement town surrounded by one of the most beautiful regions of wildflowers in Australia. Although the coastline around Kalbarri was explored by Europeans in the early seventeenth century the actual town of Kalbarri did not come into existence until 1951 and since then it has grown to become a popular tourist destination with fishing, swimming, bushwalking, organised cruises and a range of activities designed for holidaymakers including the impressive Rainbow Jungle, Australian Parrot Breeding Centre and walks in the beautiful and dramatic Kalbarri National Park.
Kalbarri is located 570 km north of Perth via Geraldton.^ TOP
Origin of Name
Kalbarri was chosen from a list of Aboriginal words compiled by Daisy Bates in 1913. It is a man's name from a Murchison tribe and also the name of an edible seed. The Aboriginal name for the area around Kalbarri has been recorded as "Wurdimarlu".^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Located on the Kalbarri foreshore opposite the Murchison Caravan Park, the pelican feeding takes place each morning at 8.45 am. It is run by volunteers who appreciate a gold coin donation to pay for the fish. Check out https://www.kalbarri.org.au/pelican-feeding.
Kalbarri Rock Lobster Tours and Charters
The Kalbarri Rock Lobster Tours and Charters, which is one of the many fishing and cruise companies operating out of Kalbarri, offers a range of tours of the area including:
* Lucky Bay Adventure - a cruise along the coast to Lucky Bay with some fishing and a lobster lunch.
* Lobster Pot Pull - a cruise along the coast south of Kalbarri while the boat pulls in lobster pots and duly cooks the product.
* Whale Watch Cliff Cruise - which heads south past the gorges at Shell House, Island Rock, Natural Bridge and Grandstand while watching for whales during the season.
* Fishing Charter - a cruise where participants attempt to catch Snapper, Dhufish, Groper, Red Emperor, Mackerel and Tuna.
* Sunset Coastal Cliff Cruise - watch the sun sink over the Indian Ocean while cruising south past Jakes Point, Red Bluff, Diamond Rock, Rainbow Valley and Eagle Gorge.
For more detailed information and booking check out https://www.kalbarri.org.au/kalbarri-rock-lobster-tours-charters.
Kalbarri National Park
Kalbarri National Park, which lies to the north, south and east of the town, is simply one of the best National Parks in Australia. Covering 186,000 hectares it is a feast of natural wonders. Between August and October it is covered in spectacular displays of wildflowers; the park is cut by the elaborate and spectacular twists and turns of the Murchison River which has an 80 km-long gorge; in recent times the Kalbarri Skywalk has allowed visitors to step out beyond the 100 metre-high cliffs; and there are remarkable geological formations including Nature's Window, The Loop, Z-Bend and Hawks Head.
To enjoy the park the visitor should think of it as two separate entities:
* Kalbarri Coastal Cliffs
* Murchison River Gorge
There is an excellent, detailed and downloadable map at https://images.impartmedia.com/kalbarri.org.au/images/KALVC037-Kalbarri_Location_Map_A3_19-20-2_Side_2.pdf.
Kalbarri Coastal Cliffs
There are a series of roads and walking trails leading to some outstanding locations along the coastal cliffs. This is some of the most beautiful and spectacular coastline in Australia. The cliffs rise over 100 metres, the shapes of the gorges and the promontories are impressive and dramatic. It would be easy to spend a day exploring all of the paths which lead to the cliff faces. It seems as though every few hundred metres there is another sign inviting the visitor to inspect dramatic cliffs with names like 'Eagle Gorge', 'Shellhouse and Grandstand', 'Island Rock' and 'Rainbow Valley'.
* Red Bluff
Located closest to Kalbarri (ie the northernmost lookout), Red Bluff offers views along the sandstone cliffs. "Other features visible from here are Red Bluff Beach, Jakes Point, the mouth of the Murchison River and Meanarra Hill." For more information check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/red-bluff.
* Mushroom Rock
There is a Mushroom Rock Nature Trail which is a 1.5 km loop which links the car park with Rainbow Valley. Along the trail are a number of signs which tell the story of the geology and botany of the area. This is a good opportunity to see how the wind and ocean have carved the local Tumblagooda sandstone. For more information check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/mushroom-rock.
* Rainbow Valley
Rainbow Valley got its name because of the way different minerals have been layered into the sandstone creating a rainbow effect. There is a loop walk which connects back to Mushroom Rock. Along the trail are a number of signs which tell the story of the geology and botany of the area. The loop walk is 3 km and has some difficult and steep sections. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/rainbow-valley.
* Pot Alley
Pot Alley Beach can be accessed on a sealed road which leads to a car park. The views and the rocky shoreline are typical of this wild section of the Kalbarri coastline. For photos see https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/pot-alley.
* Eagle Gorge
Eagle Gorge Lookout allows visitors to both enjoy the view and take the one kilometre walk down to the quiet beach. It is also the start of the Bigurda Trail, an 8 km walk along the coast to Natural Bridge which usually takes between 3-5 hours. For more details check https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/eagle-gorge.
* Shellhouse and Grandstand Rock Gorge
'The Shell House' was named by the local rock lobster fishermen. From the sea the cliff resembles a house with a shell shaped roof. This feature cannot be seen from the top of the cliffs. For more information check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/shell-house-and-grandstand-rock-gorge.
* Island Rock
There is a lookout where visitors can view the Island Rock, a sea stack which has survived the onslaught of the Indian Ocean. The track to the lookout is sealed and suitable for wheelchairs. See photos at https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/island-rock.
* Natural Bridge
A formation on the coastline where the cliff has been joined to an outcrop so it looks like a bridge. This is an excellent lookout which is often used for sighting the whales that travel up and down the coast. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/natural-bridge-castle-cove for more details.
Murchison River Gorge
The Ajana-Kalbarri Road is the main route from the Northwest Coastal Highway to Kalbarri. It passes through the Kalbarri National Park where there are a number of roads and walking trails leading off to vantage points over the Murchison River gorge. The first contact with Kalbarri National Park is the virgin bushland beside the road which, while unimpressive in summer, turns into a wonderland of wildflowers in the spring. The scale of the bushlands in the park is vast. There is literally over 50 km of roadway (it is 65 km from the Northwest Highway to the town) with wildflowers on either side.
* Ross Graham Lookout
Ross Graham Lookout, a conveniently located lookout which looks east along the Murchison River from a rocky outcrop above the river.
* River Trail
There is a relatively easy 700 metre return walk down to the river with its pools and shady banks. For more information check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/ross-graham.
* Hawks Head Lookout
There is a short path to Hawks Head Lookout which provides extensive views of the Murchison River and gorge. There is a shaded picnic area and the area is wheelchair accessible. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/hawks-head.
* Z Bend Lookout
The Z Bend is a sharp bend in the Murchison River. There is a lookout over the river which is located 600 metres from the car park. There are also a number of walks down into the gorge - the Z Bend River Trail is 2.6 km return, steep and involves ladder climbs. The Four Ways Trail is a longer, 6 km return walk through the gorge. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/z-bend for more details.
* Natures Window
The walk from the car park to Natures Window is 500 metres each way. It takes around 20 minutes one way and starts with a series of steps. The "window" is a large hole in the Tumblagooda sandstone walls (they were formed about 400-500 million years ago) far above the Murchison River. It is characterised by red and white layered sandstone which was deposited as tidal flats. See https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/loop-natures-window for detailed information.
* The Loop and The Loop Trail
The WA Parks and Wildlife Service writes: "The geology of the area is fascinating. The thinly bedded, red and white banded rocks through most of the river gorge were deposited millions of years ago on tidal flats. Rippled surfaces can be seen around Nature’s Window. The ripples were formed during ancient times by waves moving over tidal flats in a shallow sea. Some rock layers in overhangs at The Loop look as if they have been riddled by plant roots. These are actually fossilised burrows left by ancient worms that once sheltered in the sand. Tracks and trails on flat surfaces show where animals crawled across the damp sedimentary surface."
The Loop Trail is 8 km long and will take half a day. The WA Parks and Wildlife Service notes: "The Loop Trail – a challenging but spectacular walk over both rocky and sandy terrain. Along the way you’ll pass vantage points that provide different perspectives on the switchback course of the Murchison River. There is no drinking water and limited shade along the trail." It is described in great detail (with a map) at https://trailswa.com.au/trails/loop-walk.
* Kalbarri Skywalk
These are twin skywalks which were built 100m apart at the Inyaka Wookai Watju site (the West Loop). The visitor walks out across a section of the Murchison Gorge on two skywalks which project 25 m and 17 m beyond the gorge rim. They are accessible to everyone who is brave enough to gaze down more than 100m into the Murchison River. There is a kiosk which is open from 7.30 am - 2.00 pm daily. Check out https://www.australiascoralcoast.com/destination/kalbarri/kalbarri-national-park/skywalk for more details and a video.
* Meanarra Hill Lookout
Located 5 km east of Kalbarri, Meanarra Hill Lookout has a concrete walkway to a vantage point which overlooks Kalbarri and the mouth of the Murchison River. There is also a 1.5 km loop bushwalk known as the Malleefowl Trail. Check out https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/meanarra-hill.
For detailed information check out the official Parks and Wildlife Service website: https://parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/kalbarri.
Other Attractions in the Area
The Rainbow Jungle
Located on Red Bluff Road 3 km south of Kalbarri, the Rainbow Jungle (The Australian Parrot Breeding Centre) is open seven days a week. The website explains the experience as "You will find one of the largest parrot free flight aviaries in the country, with the biggest flock of Purple Crowned Lorikeets in the world and other brightly coloured Australian parrots. You will wander through the centre along paved brick pathways, amidst landscaped tropical gardens, past waterfalls, fountains, stained glass windows, gargoyles, and lily ponds. You will enjoy close encounters with our black, red, yellow and local white tailed cockatoos." For more information tel: (08) 9937 1248 or check out http://rainbowjunglekalbarri.com.
Located off the coast (and accessible from Geraldton) are the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. Today the Abrolhos are a strange mixture of untouched isolation and commercial fishing. There are literally hundreds of narrow jetties jutting out across the reefs that edge the islands. For fourteen weeks each year – from 15 March to 30 June – approximately 120 licensed rock lobster fishermen, their families and their deck hands – live on the islands and catch around 1.5 million kilos of lobster. They live in huts, shacks and houses on 22 of the small islands with at least one of the islands even having a school for the children of the fishermen. Beyond this commercial activity the uninhabited islands of the Houtman Abrolhos group – particularly the two largest islands of East and West Wallabi – are part of a marine conservation area which is pristine and unspoilt. These islands are home to tiny tammars; over 90 species of nesting birds including the predatory white breasted sea eagles; schools of tailor, Sampson fish, baldchin groper (which, at four years of age, gives itself a sex change moving from female to male) and jewfish; and colonies of seals and sea lions.
See https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/houtman-abrolhos-wa for more detailed information about these remarkable islands.
The islands live in Australian history as the site of one of the most infamous episodes of mass killing. In 1629 a Dutch ship, the Batavia, was wrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos. The captain, Francisco Pelsaert, took the ship's boat and sailed to Batavia while a mutineer, Jeronimus Cornelisz, terrorised the survivors eventually murdering 125 of them. When Pelsaert returned he constructed a simple gibbet and executed Cornelisz and his followers. Two of the mutineers, Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom, were marooned on the mainland somewhere near Kalbarri - they became, albeit unwillingly, Australia's first white settlers. Their arrival on land is commemorated at the mouth of the Wittecarra Creek near Red Bluff where a cairn has been erected with the inscription: "It is believed the first permanent landing of white men in Australia was recorded here, at the mouth of the Wittecarra Creek."
Batavia Mutineers Monument
Located 4 km south of Kalbarri on the Port Gregory-Kalbarri Road, there is a cairn which reads: "It is believed the first permanent landing of white men in Australia was recorded here, at the mouth of the Wittecarra Creek. They were Woulter Loos and Jan Pelgrom castaway by Commander Francisco Pelsaert after the wreck of the Dutch East Indian trading vessel Batavia which ran aground on the northern group of the Abrolhos Islands in the year 1629 AD." See https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/display/60619-%22batavia%22-mutineers/photo/1.
Hutt Lagoon - Pink Lagoon
Located 55 km south of Kalbarri, Hutt Lagoon covers 70 square kilometres and is a remarkable pink lagoon which is coloured by the presence of algae known dunaliella salina, a bacteria which lives in the salt lake and is the source of the beta caratine which is extracted from the waters. The colour of the lake changes from red to pink to lilac, depending on the time of day, time of year and the cloud cover. The ideal conditions occur during mid-morning or sunset on a sunny day. The lake is mined both for its salt and for its food colouring properties.
How to See WA Wildflowers - A Guide
When planning a trip there are a number of very simple rules.
(1) Start by downloading Your Holiday Guide to Western Australia’s Wildflowers at http://www.westernaustralia.com/en/things_to_do/forest_and_flowers/pages/wawildflowers.aspx#/. It is a comprehensive guide to the wildflowers. There are over 12,000 species and 60% of them are found nowhere else on the planet.
(2) There is a tendency to say "But I won't know what I'm looking at" but that is rubbish. There are a number of great books and the best, by far, is the answer to "Wildflowers for Dummies" titled "Colour Guide to Spring Wildflowers of Western Australia". It is privately published by Wajon Publishing Company, written by Eddie Wajon, and comes in three volumes – 1. Kalbarri and the Goldfields, 2. Perth and the Southwest and 3. Esperance and the Wheatbelt. They can all be purchased online from Kings Park & Botanic Garden in Perth. Check out https://www.aspectsofkingspark.com.au.
The publication's design masterstroke is that the flowers are listed according to their colours and all the pages are colour coded. Thus Mr and Mrs Wildflower Illiterate, when gazing at a Spiny Synaphea, only need to open at the "yellow flowers" section and flick through until they find the colour photo which matches the reality. The company can be contacted directly on (08) 9310 2936.
(3) No one should ever underestimate the power of local knowledge and assistance. The Western Australian wheatbelt, probably because of the declining prices for both wool and wheat and the increased levels of salinity, has decided that the spring wildflowers are good for the local economy and worthy of patronage. When innocently asking where I might see a wreath flower (they are a flower which naturally forms itself in a circle like a wreath) at the local coffee shop in Morowa I was told that there were some in the area but the person who knew was at the information office.
At the information office I was advised, and this is verbatim, to "drive down the main street until you see the road that crosses over the railway line, drive across the line and past the Police Station and Fire Station (or is it the SES), turn right at the next road, continue up past the sheds for a couple of hundred yards [metres haven't arrived here yet] and you'll see some beside the road". Absorbing the instructions I headed off and three minutes later, having noticed a sign reading "Wreath Flowers" on a fence, I found the plant.
Morowa also publish a leaflet titled "Morowa Wildflower Drives" which, if you were thorough, could keep you in the area for a couple of days.
At Mingenew the information centre provides both a map and a list of locations with details like "20 km on the Pingelly road on the left hand side there are some excellent wreath flowers". And at Watheroo there's a wonderful local mud map with wryly enthusiastic comments like "Heaps of banksia, grevillea, snake bush etc along the road" and, getting quite technical "Rare and Endangered. E. Rhodantha (rose mallee) Only large patch in the world".
(4) There is a logical route which can be honed or expanded according to the amount of time you want to spend.
The best starting place, if you want to get a good foretaste of what you are about to experience in the wild, is to visit Kings Park & Botanic Garden in the heart of Perth. Apart from offering sensational views over the Swan River and the Perth CBD the gardens boast a 17 hectare area which has more than 1700 native species of wildflowers. This is, not surprisingly, rather pristine and not very wild but it does allow you to develop a working knowledge of devils pins, kangaroo paws, desert peas, everlastings, starflowers, grevilleas, firebush, a range of orchids and hundreds of other natives.
You really don't need to be a flora expert. All you need are your eyes and a sense of wonder because the Western Australian wildflowers in spring really are as remarkable and significant as a unique part of Australia as Uluru, the Great Ocean Road or Cradle Mountain.
Principality of Hutt River (Now Closed)
Located south-east of Port Gregory via Ogilvie Road West was the infamous Hutt River Province, the unassuming home of Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley of Hutt. This amusing episode in Australian eccentricity resulted when Prince Leonard renamed his wheat farm the Hutt River Province, declared himself a prince and his wife a princess, seceded from Australia and Western Australia and, as a nice little earner, started printing his own stamps. Of course none of his grandiose ambitions had any validity but he did attract an inordinate amount of publicity. They now have a wide range of souvenirs and encourage visits. Check out http://www.principality-hutt-river.com/ for comprehensive details.
Sad news: Prince Leonard died in February, 2019 and the "business" was taken over by Prince Graeme Casley, a former school teacher. In January 2020 a combination of the drought and a lack of business from tourism forced him to announce that the Hutt River Principality was officially closing.
On 11 August, 2020 CNN announced "The 50-year reign of an Australia-based micronation formed by a "prince" has come to an end. Hutt River, a self-declared principality, issued its own passports and once even declared war on Australia. In recent years, however, it's been known as a quirky tourist attraction. But the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with a giant tax bill, have forced the principality to announce it will finally surrender to Australia." It had quietly died.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Nanda First Nation people. They were saltwater people.
* The coastline south of Kalbarri was the scene for the notorious shipwreck of the Batavia on the Houtman Abrolhos in 1629.
* Two of the mutineers, Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom, were marooned on the mainland somewhere near the modern day site of Kalbarri - they were, albeit unwillingly, Australia's first white settlers.
* In 1712 a Dutch ship the Zuytdorp was wrecked on a reef north of Kalbarri.The ship sunk with a bullion of 100,000 guilders and pieces of eight aboard. Over 200 people aboard perished.
* In 1839 Lieutenant George Grey, while attempting to explore North West Cape, was shipwrecked near the mouth of the Murchison. He walked back to Perth and thus became the first white explorer to travel along the coastal strip of the Central West.
* In 1848 the Geraldine lead mine was opened up in what is now the northern end of Kalbarri National Park.
* The area was settled intermittently through the late nineteenth and early twentieth century by miners and fishermen.
* The Western Australian government declared a townsite in 1948.
* The town of Kalbarri did not come into existence until 1951.
* In 2018 the Nanda people were recognised as traditional owners of 17,000 square kilometres of land and ocean.^ TOP
Kalbarri Visitor Centre, (08) 9937 1104, Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Monday to Saturday and 9.00 am - 1.00 pm Sunday.^ TOP
There is a useful local website. Check out https://www.kalbarri.org.au.^ TOP