I've often learned of many travellers' requests for information about Western Australia (which incidentally, many Australians have not toured). These comments are based on a trip in June - July 2001, from Perth to Darwin by McCafferty's buses, which I found to be excellent value. The comments may help visitors to plan their trip. The distance between Perth and Darwin is 4040 kms. as the crow flies, but the distances covered by the bus exceeded 9600 kms. Details of the fares, route etc., can be found on the following web site: http://www.mccaffertys.com.au/pass/expl_14.asp. If I liked the accommodation where I stayed, I've included the web site.
The trip was uneventful. Saw two wild emus in the distance, and lots of orange - gold wild flowers beside the road. (The bus drops you at the turnoff to Cervantes, where another bus picks you up for the trip into town.) The town and beach are uninspiring (keeping in mind it was winter), and meals expensive. The almost new, purpose built Pinnacles Beach Backpacker in town is clean and excellent facilities and condition (http://www.wn.com.au/pbbackpackers/). The main reason for visiting Cervantes is to see "The Pinnacles", an unusual geological formation.
Back to the highway to connect with the bus which passes through Geraldton
(big and thriving, but with nothing special for tourists), and drops you off at
the Ajana turnoff for the connecting bus to Kalbarri. (Unfortunately, I believe
McCafferty's have ceased running the bus from the Ajana turnoff. You now have
to catch the Coral Bay / Exmouth bus up the coast to get to Kalbarri.)
Saw pelicans being fed on the beach, and hired a bike to cycle to "The Gorges" (best seen at sunset I've been advised) and then to "Rainbow Park Parrot Sanctuary" which was excellent value. The sanctuary is well designed and maintained, and exhibits a variety of beautiful and colourful Australian birds. Unfortunately, I didn't participate in canoeing or abseiling etc in the National Park, nor 'Sand boarding' on Lucky Bay Razorbacks, which I hear are all great fun and provide superb scenery.
Boarded bus back to highway, for connecting bus to Monkey Mia turnoff, and
another bus to Monkey Mia, arriving at 10pm.
Was fortunate to be chosen by ranger to feed a dolphin on the beach. Saw more dolphins close to shore while walking and sunbaking. Joined pleasant 2 1/2 hour sunset cruise to see dolphins and dugongs.
Up early to catch 4.30 am shuttle to highway to connect with bus. Coral Bay was a big disappointment. The town is scruffy, the basic backpackers and meals expensive, and there were not that much coral and fish which lacked colour and variety. Others I spoke to either liked Coral Bay, or hated it.
I accepted an offer of a lift to Exmouth (from a young English couple who
were also disappointed in Coral Bay) instead of waiting an extra day for the
bus. The land along the route consisted of millions of acres of scrub and
termite mounds. Where the scrub had burned, the land was red and raw. Saw very
Pete's is a great place, with a pool, near town and beach. Bikes may be borrowed. Moved out of town to Base Lodge Backpackers, which has pool, gym, restaurant and resident emu.
Received a lift to Turquoise Bay for the day. It's a fair way, but the superb long clean beach with crystal clear water made it worth the trip. We entered the water at one end of the bay and drifted on the current to the other end during which time we saw turtles, shark, stingrays, octopus and a variety of fish, although the coral was not very interesting. We'd then walk back up the beach and repeat the exercise. On the return to Base Lodge between 4.30 and 5pm, we saw multitudes of kangaroos and several emus coming out to feed. Next day I went out on a boat to see the whale sharks. On the way out we saw two hump back whales and a couple of manta rays. Three trips into the water enabled me to snorkel along side and below huge whale sharks, which were between 3 and 5 metres long. An excellent day! Booked to go on 3 day scuba diving package, but deteriorating weather caused me to cancel.
Caught shuttle at 11pm for two hour trip to highway (during which time we
had to slow down to avoid lots of kangaroos on the road) for an hour
wait for the bus to Port Headland, which was uncomfortable but
tolerable. Arrived about mid-day.
Walked along beach and visited the pier where you can see that the tide can vary by 5 to 6 metres. Booked with Dingo's Treks to go on 3 day tour of Karajini National Park.
The 3 day trip was superb, sleeping under the stars at night in a swag. We saw Fern Pool and Fortesque Falls in Dale Gorge which had red and purple walls with varying rock formations. Hancock Gorge for "spider walk" (i.e. walking along wall of chasm on narrow ledges, clinging to rock wall) to Kermit's Pool. Weano Gorge for difficult climb along walls, down ladders, sliding down waterfalls, jumping into pools to swim across, and finally sat on top of waterfall looking into Red Gorge. Then we had to do the reverse trip to get out - Wow! Hamersley Gorge for climb past "the Grotto" in Emerald Pool to "Moon Land".
Once again the bus drove through endless vistas of flat, bleak country side to Broome, arriving 6.30pm. Booked in to YHA Last Resort Backpackers where loud music blared through vibrating speakers which distorted the music. I moved out next day. Spent a few days soaking up the sun on Cable Beach. Walked along beach at low tide to see dinosaur footprint.
Took pleasant small plane trip over nearby islands and "horizontal waterfall". Friends took me on trip to Windjana Gorge for hike where we also saw fresh water crocodiles. Also visited Tunnel Creek where we walked about 800 metres along creek under massive limestone hill to valley where we saw 3 sets of aboriginal drawings. Also saw Boab Tree prison.
Caught bus at 10pm and arrived tired at 6.30am. Rented a cabin in Turkey Creek Roadhouse which provides the only available accommodation. Spent part of day by small pool. Enjoyed a 45 minute helicopter ride over "Bungle Bungle" giving extraordinary views of the weird rock formations. Next day I joined a 2 day 4WD trip through the Bungle Bungle to see the country up close. Hiked in and out of Echidna Chasm with its impressive sheer red walls, also to Frog Hole. Slept the night under stars in swag again. Walked through bee hive domes of Bungle Bungle to Piccaninny Gorge which has a natural amphitheatre at the end, where the guide played a haunting tune on a didgeridoo.
Disappointed with YHA Oasis Inn Backpacker, so moved to van in caravan park. Took tour of "El Questro", where we visited attractive Emma Gorge Resort, and hiked 2km to swimming hole with superb waterfall. Moved on to Zebedee Thermal Pools for a relaxing soak in a beautiful setting, then after lunch enjoyed cruise on Chamberlain River to see Wandjina Aboriginal Rock Art. A long, tiring but enjoyable day.
Bus trip uneventful. Country has changed to hilly with lots of gum trees. Joined trip on Katherine River, which included lots of walking or swimming from one gorge to the next, through spectacular scenery. Trip difficult enough to cause helicopter to be called for a lady who was too exhausted to walk back. Very enjoyable day. Walked for 1/2 hour to Katherine Thermal Pool for a relaxing soak in the clear 32 degree water.
Accommodation scarce, but booked in to Froghollow Backpacker.
Strolled around attractive Darwin City centre and through park overlooking harbour, hiked to Botanical Gardens with lush rain forest, walked to Mindil Beach for swim and sunbaking, strolled around Mindil Beach Market buying food and Stockman's hat.
(A complimentary tour provided by McCafferteys.) Visited Nourlangie Rock to
see excellent rock paintings, and after moving in to Gagadju Lodge budget
cabin, went on Yellow Water Cruise where I saw crocodiles, prolific bird life,
lush green country, finished off with a magnificent sun set.
Next day, visited Ubirr Rock for more excellent rock art and superb 360 degree views of surrounding country. Bowali Visitors Centre provided very informative displays.
To recapitulate on the trip which took me a total of six weeks. I was fascinated by the vast areas of flat, desolate country and endless termite mounds as I bussed north. All the chasms and gorges were well worth visiting - colourful, spectacular, interesting, and beautiful are the words I use to describe them. Feeding the dolphins and swimming with the whale sharks were both a buzz. Seeing the sea life while snorkelling at Turquoise Bay was great. Missing scuba diving at Exmouth and not visiting Cape Levesque were disappointing. Cockatoos were plentiful, but not much fauna except in the evenings. Sunsets in Northern Territory were brilliant.
I hope the above may be helpful to those contemplating travelling a similar route.
For pictures of the Australian West Coast, go here.
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