AWOL Around Australia… The Coral Coast, West Australia

Back on the road, we headed east to the North West Coastal Highway. There did appear to be the possibility of some dirt track exploring outside Kalbarri, but the station that would mean crossing had a sign on the gate saying it was shut till April – this seems to be common in WA, I presume it coincides with cooler weather and also fire season (being the time you can have a campfire, hopefully not a bushfire). So only a few hundred km of bitumen and then the last bit of rough corrugated dirt to do today, to get to our next destination. Tamala Station, in the Shark Bay area. Shark Bay is one of 209 (natural) World Heritage Sites, of which there are 12 in Australia.
Shark Bay’s waters, islands and peninsulas….have a number of exceptional natural features, including one of the largest and most diverse seagrass beds in the world. However it is for its stromatolites (colonies of microbial mats that form hard, dome-shaped deposits which are said to be the oldest life forms on earth), that the property is most renowned. The property is also famous for its rich marine life including a large population of dugongs, and provides a refuge for a number of other globally threatened species.
On the way. Someone riding their bike up the coast, and appropriately named roadhouse.
Tamala Station, you got to wonder how the land got divvied up into stations? Because some got some pretty barren landscapes, and others got areas that would qualify as National Park’s these days. Anyway, I’m glad that station owners have realised the benefits of this other income stream (with probably more growth potential than traditional farming) and have opened up their lands to suitably equipped travellers.
Speaking of… Teresa looked concerned at our Land Cruiser, and the lack of anything attached to the tow hitch “oh, you need a chemical toilet to stay here…” “we have one!” I replied with maybe too much enthusiasm, but after carting the thing around for some time now with it hardly ever being used it was good to see the old Boy Scout motto still pays off, be prepared. I knew there were places in WA where these were mandatory, and here we were.
“We have most things, people just don’t expect them all to fit inside” I said, again carrying on a bit much.

As with most, our set up has evolved over a good few years, but it has become more apparent to me on these longer trips we have got most things you could reasonably expect to want/need covered, without towing anything or being horribly overweight:
Toilet
Shower
Ensuite Tent
Two room OzTent
Exped Megamat mattress and bedding
Fridge
Pantry
Solar panels
5 x 20L water Jerry cans
Fishing gear, crab pots and rod.
Extensive toolkit
Box of spare parts
Hand winch
Maxtraxs x 4
Highlift Jack
Air compressor
Shovel
Axe
Bow Saw
Trangia stove
Camp (Dutch) Oven
Small fire pit
Kitchen stuff
Table
Chairs x 2
Auxiliary battery
Another box with a small trolley jack, tyre repair kit, inner tubes and various recovery straps, etc.
Large first aid kit.
Clothes and personal gear.
Numerous other small odds and sods that make life that much more comfortable when travelling.
Load retaining net.
As you can see we don’t have a roof rack, so that all packs inside, where it keeps the centre of gravity low, and stays dry and clean. The other benefit is that if we encounter dangerous conditions such as say… a cyclone. Well this can all be removed and we can sleep in the back of the truck.
Anyway, there are a thousand solutions to how you travel in a vehicle, but this is what works for us. Will it stay like this? yes and no. Some of this hasn’t changed in years and probably won’t, but it always evolves. Part of the fun, but also where we go and how we get there has changed too, the set up changes to suit.

Anywho, where were we? Right, so the lovely Teresa from Tamala Station come and said hello to the dogs and explained how to get to our campsite on the station. So we headed out to Three Bays, which would be our home for the next three nights.
Not a bad spot and we had it all to ourselves. There was meant to be another couple here, but we met them a few days later and they changed to somewhere easier to launch their boat from. Great. This was the first camp we have had properly to ourselves since we left South Australia. In the twenty years since we last toured WA, the percentage of the population living here has gone from about 5% to 11% of the total of Australia, and most of them own a 4×4 it would seem. Plus the amount of people touring here has gone through the roof, especially on the coast. Sites that we were literally the only people at back in ‘99 will now have fifty people at them. It is what it is, you just have to hunt out the less obvious.
It certainly felt a bit more like that when we went through the goldfields, and I’m hoping for more of the same through the Pilbara and Kimberley regions. However the interior is back to being too hot for now, so we’ll just have to tough it out on the coast a bit longer…
Options for anchoring thew tent were limited. N suggested I bury a water jerry, worked well.
The next day we took a drive up through the station as suggested by Theresa. Now, see what I mean about pretty…
Family photo on mildly windy beach was amusing.
I tried fishing a bit off the island that afternoon, not before rescuing old mate.
This little fella had tried to follow us the previous day after getting separated from the bigger goats, and I had carried him a few hundred metres down the beach to deter him. Anyway, I didn’t catch anything (surprise!), but I did see sharks, stingrays and my first sea turtle in the wild. So that was cool.
Next day we drove out Edel National Park. Mostly to check out the blowholes and maybe drive out to Steep Point, the most western part of the Australian mainland. Now as I may have harped on before, I’m not really into ticking these boxes, western most point, eastern most point (we were close to this last year, but gave it a miss as we were over east coast retiree hotspots), ‘name tracks’, etc. Some people love ticking those boxes and making sure they tell you about it.
However, judging by our station drive yesterday, this might be worth the journey for the views if nothing else.

The road out, Useless Loop Road is mainly to access the closed Useless Loop Townsite, a company town for the saltworks out there (1.4 million tonnes a year!), is no worse than the road to the station.

The first half of Useless Loop’s unusual name was bestowed upon it by French explorer Henri-Louis de Saulces de Freycinet, brother of the more famous Louis de Freycinet, during the Baudin expedition to Australia. Henri-Louis dubbed the area “Havre Inutile” (“Useless Harbour”), because he believed the inviting harbour to be entirely blocked by a sandbar
Just before the National Park, is the turn off to Useless Loop mine. Somewhat unsurprisingly, after this turn off the road turns to shit. Severely corrugated, no wonder the Hema map suggests you lower your tire pressures here. Aired down we carry on into the National Park, after paying our $13 entry fee. The road gets worse after the pay station and we turn off to head out to the blowholes.
No doubt amazing when they are blowing but when they are not they are just holes. Anyway we have a drive around the dunes and head back towards Steep Point. I give the corrugations about 3 of the 43km needed to get to the end of the road and call it quits. Neither of us were really feeling this place for some reason, so turning around wasn’t a big deal. We stop to check on a couple with a flat tyre and collapsed suspension on their boat trailer on the way out. It looks relatively stuffed to me but they repeat, many times, that they are fine and don’t need any help. They sound like they are also expat English, and therefore don’t like to make a fuss…
So we bail back to ‘our bay’ to watch the sun go down.
Sunrise.
The goats were completely at home on the coast, they loved going to the island and would cross there when the tide was low.
So a last goodbye to Teresa and we head back to the bitumen and take the short drive up the other peninsula to the coastal town of Denham.
Is it seems like we are not going anywhere fast, this is because we are in the tail end of not only Australian summer, but also the wet season for north Australia. So the west coast is really our only option at the moment. So if it feels like we are free wheeling, that’s because we are.
Last time it rained in Denham was May last year, so your are issued with a cordless drill on arrival at the campsite (to get the pegs in… hat tip to vbc1_75 from Expedition Portal, who already suggested this), despite this Denham is a nice place to spend a few days.
I actually caught a few fish here (hooray!) but too small to keep and eat.
I got my French bistro on with sausage and lentil salade.
We found this picturesque creek, let’s call it Stonefish Creek, as the lady at the aquarium assured us this was a good spot to tread on one… So I decided to head out there for a fish. Not before spending an hour or so extracting this couple and their Rav 4 from the soft sand tracks.
They had seen me go down the track to the beach and thought they would do the same. I had stopped once the sand got too soft to let my tyres down, whilst doing this I was able to observe the Rav 4 coming to a halt about 20 metres back, beached on its belly. I could see the driver trying to scoop sand out from behind the wheels, he looked over at me and laughed at his predicament. He kept up the scooping and trying to move the little Toyota, not much for me to do till my tyres were down so I let him sweat it out for a bit, it will make a good story for them afterwards!
As I’m finishing up tyre number 3, he wanders over “you look more professional than me!” he says. I tell him once my tyres are down I’ll come and help them.
A bit more involved than the last time I did this. First thing was to ask his girlfriend to get out of the car and stand off to the side. They were stuck at the end of the track out, so I had to pull them forwards enough to get the Cruiser past so I could drag them back the way they came.
This done the next issue was the angle they were on meant I was pulling them into that fence post. So we used the maxtraxs and shovel to move the Rav a short distance forward so it was more inline with the track out.
Some grey nomads walked over at this point and old mate started to give his ten cents worth… yes, I know about letting the tyres down in sand – but the Rav is having ground clearance issues as it is, the weight is as much on the suspension and chassis as much as it’s on the wheels. So despite claiming his Isuzu wouldn’t have got stuck (helpful) it did help to have someone to stand between the two vehicles. Anyway what we were doing was working. After a while grey nomad said he would continue his walk and if we were still stuck when we got back he would get his vehicle and we could double pull (what!?). Anyway the Rav was pretty much out now. I double tooted my horn to get Andy (in the Rav) to stop, unsure of how much clearance there was to get round the back of the 105. He was back on hard enough ground to reverse out from there.
So car out, no damage done, no one hurt. That’s all that matters. I always worry about recovering on standard tow points.
As she walked past Andy’s girlfriend stopped to help me pack up the gear and thank me “no more beach driving for a while?” I joked “I told him not to go down there!” she said in exasperation. I laughed “don’t worry every relationship goes through this, my girlfriend is always saying that!” She though that was funny and headed back down the track.
Andy came jogging up, he tried to give me something bag of chips, a bag of carrots and all the money in his wallet ($20). I tried to explain it wasn’t necessary and that’s not really how it works over here. He should just ‘pay it forwards’ help the next person in trouble. Anyway, he was insistent and to save turning a good outcome for all into an argument I let him give me the stuff. Naomi likes salt and vinegar chips anyway.
I fished for a bit and had fish for supper that night, at the pub…
Supposedly Pink Snapper, unique to these highly saline waters. Tasted just like any other fish to me.
We headed out the next day, stopping at a few of the sights on the road out.
Serious ‘grammin on Shell beach.
Then a bit further up the coast to a little spot we had been recommended called Gladstone. We would only be here one night as it wasn’t anything special, and either very windy or loads of flies. Although I did catch a few fish up by the jetty, but again too small to keep.
I had contemplated going inland again from here, but a couple of things put that idea on ice for a few days. It was still very hot away from the coast, and there was the small matter of Tropical Cyclone Veronica (Cyclone The Veronicas, for Australian readers…) sitting off the coast about 500km north east of here. That was due to make land in the next few days, so we may as well stay in this west coast till we see what effects she brings to the area.
We had been listening to the ABC radio on AM to keep across what was going on. Always provides some unintended amusement. Like the notification of the cancelled council meeting in one of the affected towns, although the bbq would go ahead as planned. Priorities people!
So on through the town of Carnarvon and up to another recommend spot, funnily enough by the same people, as the Gladstone spot. This is more like it…
Red Bluff is a world renowned (apparently) left had surf break. There were a couple of surfers there, but we didn’t see them in the water. For us it was an awesome clifftop campsite, with our own en-suite toilet. You could watch the sea birds fishing the shoals of baitfish from the camp, and a shark surfing in the waves. We had a little swim/dunk with the dogs but to be honest the power of the swell was a bit much.
My lens isn’t good enough to really capture it. But watching the sea birds fishing was great. The darker birds seemed to almost fly through the water. Obviously not, but they didn’t dive the same way the gulls did.
In the above shot you can clearly see the dark mass of the bait fish.
Old mate heads for some shade under the cliffs.
I am Goat. This is my new kingdom. I am master of all of it.
Love being on the edge of a proper ocean. Indian Ocean in this case.
Mister Rollo.
With my excess of carrots I made Fasolada. Thanks to Travel Eating By Georgia for the inspiration.
I lost four fishing rigs in about four casts (Jeremy Wade, you have nothing to fear…). I think the current was sucking them down under the rock ledge the waves were breaking on. So I gave up on that before it got really expensive.
The Land Cruiser was proving troublesome to start again, and would run a little rough initially. I poked around a bit, but nothing obviously wrong. I’ve got a theory about the valve stem oil seals leaking excessive oil into the engine on initial start up, so I’ll test that the next few days.
Bloody hot the last day to be honest and not much wind, which meant the flies were testing…
Sunrise on the way out, Red Bluff doing its thing.
We headed back to Carnarvon (the road to Red Bluff is no through), back in service I checked the temps in the interior… not too bad. Quickly made the decision we would stock up here and head inland. Hanging out on the coast had been necessary, but it was time for some adventure.
Bertha looking a little high in the back end. Which is what happens when you take out 300kg odd of fuel and water. On our way to restock.
Time to head due east. Into the Pilbara.

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