Situated in Australia’s Coral Coast and where the mighty Murchison River meets the Indian Ocean, lies Kalbarri. The undiluted pleasures of red ochre and turquoise are laid abundant just as nature intended. Close enough to be reached in a day, Kalbarri is far enough away to be one of Western Australia’s ultimate escapes.
Driveable from Perth
Even if you’re short on time, the six-hour drive north of Perth is relatively easy and for those lucky enough to have the luxury of time, the journey to Kalbarri along the Indian Ocean Drive poses plenty of attractions to break up the journey. Alternatively, you could take the Brand Highway for 570 kilometres, which is about the same distance. Travelling during the wildflower season from late July to late September makes the drive is even prettier.
Plenty attractions along the way
Don’t miss the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park about two hours north of Perth. Its magical at dawn or dusk, which means an overnight stay in Cervantes or Jurien Bay is ideal. For more information about what else to do in this region check out my article Australia’s Coral Coast: from the Pinnacles to the Turquoise Coast.
You can break the journey up even more at the coastal town of Geraldton. Or take a scenic drive through the Chapman Valley or visit the historic (and reputedly haunted) Oakabella Homestead and Tea Rooms in Northhampton. Once you hit Port Gregory, it’s almost impossible to miss the bubble-gum hues of Pink Lake at Hutt Lagoon. The dramatic drive along Red Bluff Road into Kalbarri offers jaw-dropping views as the turquoise Indian Ocean crashes up against the coastal cliffs.
Further extend your trip north to frolic with the dolphins in Monkey Mia or visit our tropical Australia’s North West in Carnarvon, Exmouth and Broome.
Sleep beneath the stars or in luxury
Kalbarri’s accommodation ranges from camping and caravan sites to luxurious resorts. Regardless of where you stay, bookings are essential in advance. The self-contained two and three-bedroom units at the homey Pelican Shore Villas are directly across the road from the shore where the Murchison River meets the Indian Ocean. For a splurge, the Kalbarri Edge Resort has a variety of studios, one and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes, some with spas, balconies and BBQ’s, a swimming pool and the fully licenced Edge Restaurant. Exuding a tropical feel, both laid-back resorts are perfect to base yourself from to explore the region and they cater well to longer-term stays.
Self-catering to upmarket dining
Pretty much everything within the Kalbarri township is walkable including many cosmopolitan eateries including the upmarket Upstairs Restaurant and Buddhas Bites, while both pubs serve wholesome food with live music. For casual dining, Pelly’s Café has views over the estuary where the pelican feeding happens like clockwork at 8.45am every day as dozens of these magnificent birds emerge from the river. Apparently, there are a couple of characters within the flock including one named Greedy who is partial to people’s bottoms.
The family and dog-friendly Finlay’s Kalbarri is renowned for its fresh and local seafood, micro-brewery and buzzing Sunday sessions with live music.
Self-catering is another way to enjoy Kalbarri, especially during the peak season when some of the cafes are booked to capacity. There’s no shortage of beautiful places to have a picnic and you can pick up your supplies from the local IGA. I’ve heard you can buy lobster off the back of the boat in the harbour – just ask any local and they’ll point you in the right direction. Or you could try your hand at catching bream, whiting, mulloway, taylor and crabs from the riverbanks beneath the river gums and sheoak trees, fully supervised by kangaroos and wild goats.
Sometimes, travel is all about perspective and Kalbarri Scenic Flights delivers enviable red ochre, earthy greens and turquoise views galore. They have a range of tours covering Pink Lake at Hutt Lagoon, Red Bluff, the Murchison River, Pot Alley, Mushroom Rock, Monkey Mia and the Abrolhos Islands, where you can land and swim on the beach. As we flew over frolicking dolphins, whales and seals, we certainly understood how Lucky Bay gained its name.
As our beach buggies carved their way through the powdery dunes of Wagoe Beach, breaching Humpback whales performed water aerobics alongside us. With the sun slowly starting its descent, we all paused on our 20-kilometre adventure to take in the turquoise Coral Coast, now saturated in the evening’s golden glow. Although the sand is slippery in parts, the buggies are easy to manoeuver through the dunes and on the beach, and for the more confident, Wagoe Beach Quad Bike Tours also offer quad bikes.
Kalbarri’s incredible beaches offer a refreshing reprieve from the heat, especially in the warmer months from November to March. Chinaman’s Beach is conveniently located in town and the tranquil bay is peppered with swimmers, stand-up paddleboards and boats languidly enjoying the slow pace. The picturesque Blue Holes a few minutes away is protected by a reef and is ideal for snorkelling. There are several secluded coves reached by a trek down the cliffs and look out for the signage along Red Bluff Road. Lucky Bay is about 30 minutes south and attracts campers amongst its pristine sand dunes.
Mighty Murchison River
The mighty Murchison River flows for 820 kilometres from WA’s mid-west region to the Indian Ocean, just before carving a gorge through Kalbarri National Park. You can abseil down the gorge with Kalbarri Abseil, ride and swim with horses along its might banks with Big River Ranch or trek and canoe into an isolated part of the gorge with Kalbarri Adventure Tours.
Kalbarri Wilderness Cruises offer morning and sunset river cruises past the red Tumblagooda Sandstone cliffs unique to the region, and aged at 400 million years of age, they span all the way from Carnarvon to Kalbarri. Abundant in wildlife, on the way back from our cruise kangaroos were chilling on the riverbank as fish were jumped out of the water and a flock of seagulls escorted us safely back to town.
For breathtaking views of the park, the Kalbarri Skywalk opened in June 2020 and suspends 100 metres above the Murchison Gorge across two platforms. The path to the skywalk is flat and an easy stroll bordered by interpretative signage and artworks of local fauna. Also in Kalbarri’s National Park, is Nature’s Window, which is an easy one-kilometre walk (return) and also marks the beginning and the end of the challenging Loop and Z Bend treks. We soon discover the truth in the locals’ advice tackling all treks early in the morning during the height of summer.
Kalbarri needs your support
Ravaged by Cyclone Seroja in April 2021, Kalbarri is slowly re-opening to visitors so now is the perfect time to plan your journey to one of the state’s most captivating destinations. Please be patient while they recover and stay in contact to monitor their progress.
- Always plan ahead no matter where you travel in Western Australia. Since the pandemic bookings have become essential, which is a small price to pay in exchange for our isolated beauty.
- Take care in the warmer months and note that it’s at least 10 degrees warmer in the National Park. Always cover up, use sunscreen and carry at least three litres of water. Temperatures can be extreme and there’s a local saying, “It’s lucky if the rain even reaches the ground.”
- If you’re planning on independently trekking, snorkelling, diving or going off-road, its always wise to let someone know of your plans. It’s easy to get lost in remote Western Australia.
- From November to March, the weather is hot, dry and windy, which is ideal for snorkelling, paddle boarding and the beach. Cooler days are experienced from April to October, where hiking is enjoyable and the wildflowers are blooming.
Carmen Jenner was a guest of Tourism Western Australia and the operators mentioned in this article. For more information go to www.australiascoralcoast.com