By Charles Deane
Perth to Darwin
Best Time of the Year
- Spotting the wildlife
- Snorkelling tour at Coral bay
- Swimming at Edith Falls
- Enjoying bbq at campsites
- Aborigine art
Perth to The Pinnacles
Distance 200km - Driving Time 2hrs
In May 2016 my wife, Chika, and I decided to spend 3 weeks to cover 6,000 kms from Perth to Darwin.
In the morning following our flight from Auckland we made it to the nearby Britz premises on what was a rare stormy day for Perth. With many returning and collecting campervans customers it took us two hours to get the all-clear. We took off for the supermarket to stock up on food and essentials and were on our way to start the adventure.
On Sunday morning we drove down to The Pinnacles in Namburg National Park. These are hundreds of limestone towers up to five stories high which were formed over 25,000 years ago by deposits of sea shells. As we approached our campsite, we stopped to take photos of the sea, still wild from the storm that had hit us in Perth. Kalbarri has a pretty bay with pelicans and that night there was a full moon. The great thing about camping for urban dwellers is the low light allows you to see the night sky in all its glory.
Distance 400km - Driving Time 4hrs
We headed off into NP to see the Murchison River at Hawks Head and walked down the Ross Graham Trail into the gorge. There was a dry river bed with pools of water and no other tourists to spoil the tranquillity. You see so much of a country driving that you wouldn’t flying and we saw kangaroos, emus, horses, birds of many kinds and in this part of Australia. In the afternoon we parked at the Hamelin Pools en route in order to see the world famous Stromatalites.
These microbial mats are the oldest living organisms on the planet, dating back over 3 billion years and look like lumps of black rock in the sea. They still exist here because the sea in Shark Bay is saltier than usual, much like it was in former times. After a fascinating hour we drove on to Shell Beach (the clue is in the name) and then to Monkey Mia, our destination for that night.
The Coral Coast
Distance 350km - Driving Time 4hrs
The next morning we waited around for the dolphin feed at 9am. Shark Bay certainly is an interesting area - with time and money you can also see sharks, loggerhead turtles, manta rays and dugong. We had to move on and, crossing the 26th parallel, we drove 350 kms that day through bush and desert to Carnarvon, a small town with a beautiful bay. Next morning we walked along the now obsolete one mile railway jetty into Carnarvon Bay and then headed north to Coral Bay up the coast. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived in Coral Bay for lunch.
The Ningaloo Reef here apparently is the only coral reef on the west coast of a land mass and is one of only five fringed reefs in the world. It extends from just north of Carnarvon up to Exmouth and encompasses 5,000 sq kms of ocean. It was still a little windy during the snorkelling tour and the reef was a bit like a washing machine. We saw all kinds of small brightly coloured tropical fish as well as gropers, trevally, butterfish, barramundi, mackerel, snapper and a turtle. Truly spectacular.
Distance 350km - Driving Time 3hrs
In the evening light there were white cockatoos, grey and pink galahs and crested pigeons feeding around us. Sliding the BBQ out of the side of the campervan we cooked dinner with a well-deserved beer. We had completed our first week on the road.
Distance 105km - Driving Time n/a
That day turned out to be the best of our whole journey. We drove to Karajini NP and, after staking our site in Dales Camp, spent hours walking down and along Dales Gorge. There were large trees growing, strong enough to withstand flood, with birds flying around and deep pools at each end. The trail along the Gorge went from one side of the river to the other over stepping stones and it really felt like a lost world. After a wonderful afternoon, we walked back to our campsite for tea and relaxation.
The next morning we got up early to walk along the top of the Gorge before the sun got too hot. As we hit the Highway the number of road trains increased carrying minerals from the interior up to Port Hedland. Meanwhile, we arrived at the comfortable campsite at Cooke Point with views of the sea and Pretty Pool Creek. We got in the swimming pool quickly to cool down before sliding out the BBQ. Being out of town we had a beautiful night sky as well as a colourful sunset. Walking around after dinner with our torch we noticed a lot of hermit crabs with their temporary shells on their back looking to find a larger home as they outgrew their current ones.
Distance 300km - Driving Time 4hrs
We were on the road by 7:15 for a long day’s driving to Broome. We saw kangaroos, buzzards, falcons, cattle, horses and a tiger snake wandering across the road. Arriving in a very hot Broome, we made our way to the popular Cable Beach Caravan Park. They claim Cable Beach to be one of the top five beaches in the world so we went on down for a swim between the flags without sharks or jellyfish. It was certainly refreshing and it would only get worse as we went towards Darwin and 36 degrees with humidity.
In Broome, there is a fascinating outdoor cinema called the Sun Pictures Studio which claims to be the oldest picture gardens still in operation at over a century. That afternoon we had our camel ride - Chika and I were together on a camel called Ghanem. It was still very hot and so a good swim in the sea was called for after our ride, before going back to our van for BBQ and wine.
Distance 800km - Driving Time n/a
Filling up with diesel and food, and after a visit to Gantheaume Point where dinosaur footprints can be seen at low tide, we set off on the sealed tarmac road to Fitzroy Crossing. We were now in the Kimberley, a very remote area of Australia that is ravaged by flood in the wet season. This is where the floodwaters of the Fitzroy River have carved a 30 metre deep gorge through limestone. The rock shapes and colours are spectacular and you can clearly see the high water mark of floods 16 metres up the cliff face.
Distance 223km - Driving Time n/a
The next day we drove through a mountainous area for the first time during our journey. There were huge boulders randomly flung around the bush as well as amazing rock formations. We started to see the yellow flowering Kapok tree whose flowers stand out in the bush because it loses its leaves before flowering in winter. We made it to Lake Argyle and checked into a powered site. We quickly jumped into the Infinity pool which had superb views of the lake and I spent over an hour cooling off and talking with other travellers. At 4:30 we decided to walk a kilometre to Pannikin Bay lookout for the sunset views.
On the way a fluorescent green parrot with red wings flew right out in front of us and we arrived at 5pm just as the sun was going behind the mountain. Sunset was early here as we had been going east for many days and the colours reflecting off the lakeside cliffs were a rich orange. In the morning we went on a boat cruise at 8am. We saw rock wallabies, wallaroos, golden orb spiders with giant webs on one particular island and a lonely jabiru on his nest on another small island.
Distance 223km - Driving Time n/a
It was time to hit the road again and very soon we came to the Northern Territory border. Our clocks went forward one and a half hours and there was a noticeable change in style of the buildings. Instead of simple mounds the NT termites built taller, slimmer, cathedral-style homes in the style of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
On the way we saw hundreds of black and yellow fruit bats hanging in the trees making a horrible squealing noise. Our plan had been to go into the world heritage-listed Kakadu NP on the way to Darwin, but a number of factors made us change our minds. It was now peak holiday season and after WA it seemed almost crowded! The tours in Kakadu are expensive but we could have coped with that if it wasn’t for the unseasonably hot and humid weather.
Distance 90km - Driving Time n/a
The following morning we set off for our first stop at Edith Falls. It was so beautiful and inviting that at 10am we went in for a swim in front of the falls. One of the interesting things we saw on our way were the Magnetic Termite Mounds which were a different shape again, being flat like tombstones and their thin edges perfectly aligned north to south to minimise the exposure to the sun. These architectural marvels come complete with ‘arches, insulation, tunnels, chimneys, and nursery chambers’.
There was a field of them in front of the viewing platform looking very like a church graveyard, and also here was a cathedral type termite mound over 4 metres tall. We then drove on to Wangi Falls for a much needed swim. Finally we checked into the Litchfield Safari Camp and were lucky enough to get a powered site.
We had one more stop before Darwin and that was the Territory Wildlife Park in Berry Springs. Arriving early the next day, we headed straight to the Flight Deck to have a fascinating hour of talk and demonstration about predator birds. Once in Darwin, we set off to explore the town. The Aborigine art items are certainly beautiful and we also wandered to the downtown wharf, with its Wave Lagoon, for a cappuccino. I had been looking forward to visiting the Museum and finding out more about Cyclone Tracy, which had destroyed Darwin less than 16 months after my last visit.
We had decided to go to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market it was crowded with stalls selling craft items, indigenous art, live music and food from 5 continents. We also saw something that could be described as one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. On the last day of our trip we made our way round to the airport. We had a great sense of achievement in completing, with difficulty, what we had set out to do and had some wonderful memories that would stay with us for the rest of our life.