It’s been several months since my last post and I expect some of my regular readers were worried that we had suffered a Wolf Creek-like fate in the depths of the Australian outback. But the truth is we rushed back home to Melbourne and got caught up in the usual busy-ness of living in a big city. Work and life returned to normal so quickly it was like we had never been away.
Although we didn’t waste much time on our return to Melbourne, we caught up with friends along the way and saw some great places. So here is some of the photos from the last leg, and if you scroll to the end of the post you will find some further information that might be useful if you are planning a similar trip.
Distance – We did about 16,000km with more than 1,500km of that on dirt roads.
Fuel – We spent $5,500 on unleaded. We averaged about 23.5L/100km which is about what we expected. Obviously most diesel 4WD’s should use less fuel than that. The most we paid for fuel was $2.20/litre (Gibb River Road) but mostly we paid $1.40-$1.50/litre in decent size towns.
Duration – We were away for 11 weeks and felt a bit rushed at times. Another week or two would have been good.
Accommodation – We free camped about one third of the time, about one third of the time in cheap campsites like National Parks and budget caravan parks (under $30/night) and the other third in caravan parks at more than $30/night. (The most expensive being $79 at Coral Bay). $50-$60/night was pretty common for a powered site.
Caravan – We purchased a new Jayco Starcraft 17.58-3 Outback. It was a great van and performed well. We sold it shortly after we returned and it were happy with the resale value. We had a few minor issues which were fixed under warranty. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another Jayco. I didn’t like the 3-way fridge but our favourite features included: toilet, hot water system, external table. If I was going to buy another caravan to keep I would be looking for: Compressor fridge and more solar panels, 200+ litres of fresh water, built in inverter, additional USB charging points, wider bed, slide out BBQ, more external storage and maybe a grey water holding tank. But all this stuff would cost a lot more and you won’t get this in a 2,500kg caravan (which was our towing limit with the Prado). So given our weight limit and budget it was the perfect family van.
This part of our trip covered the Pilbara region including Karijini National Park and it’s gorges and the amazing Ningaloo Reef.
The Pilbara and lots of big things…..
We spent a day in Port Hedland getting the car serviced and the amount of activity in the area is overwhelming. There is a constant stream of trains, road trains and ships moving an incredible volume of iron ore around (and probably other stuff). We spent about 45 minutes at a playground near the port and in that time we saw 4 loaded bulk carriers leaving port. It was all very interesting and impressive but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Karijini National Park
Many people have never heard of Karijini but for nearly every traveller we met in the north of WA it is an essential part of the itinerary. And if you like incredible geological formations and swimming in deep gorges it is not to be missed. Unfortunately it is bloody long way from anywhere.
The gorge trails are classified as Class 2 to Class 5 with Class 5 being:
These trails are difficult and a high level of fitness is required. Trail markings are minimal, and steep sections with vertical drops are common. Expect to encounter natural hazards including large boulders; pools of water; slippery, wet rocks; and narrow, high ledges.
We did all the Class 5 trails we could find with no problems, but kids younger than ours or old people may find it difficult. I slipped onto by butt in one section but luckily it was only my ego that was bruised.
If you want to get into the more extreme sections of the gorges there are some companies that offer canyoning tours with ropes and harnesses.
So that was a lot of gorges and swimming holes. And yes they were spectacular and lots of fun – but after a couple of days walking and swimming through these gorges they all started to look the same and it was time to move on.
Mount Meharry and the State 8
If you haven’t heard about the State 8 check it out here, but basically it is a challenge to climb the highest mountain in each of Australia’s 8 states and territories. Mount Meharry is the highest mountain in Western Australia (but the lowest of the State 8) and as we were only a couple of hours away it seemed like a great opportunity to cross it off the list for my goal of one day dragging my family to all 8 peaks. This is sort of a poor man’s version of climbing all 14 peaks over 8,000 metres (see details here) but much safer and easier.
In fact it is so easy that you can drive right to the top of Mt Meharry which is exactly what we did. The only real challenge is that it is in a very remote area.
There is not a lot of satisfaction from bagging a peak in your car so the next morning I went for solo dash on foot up Mt Bruce which is WA’s second highest mountain.
Everyone knows about Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, but if you want the reef experience without the crowds and the long boat ride you should check out the Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth.
We had planned to to camp at Cape Range National Park, but as it turns out you need to book in advance and we couldn’t get a camp site. So after a day trip to Cape Range we headed to Ningaloo Station for 4 nights – and it was just awesome. Not only was it our favourite spot on this trip – it is probably my favourite campsite ever.
Why was Ningaloo Station so good?
We camped right on the beach and there was hardly anyone else around (but I believe it can get busy at times)
There is awesome snorkelling right off the beach. Heaps of fish, turtles and dolphins. You don’t need a boat.
It is very cheap. It cost us $70 for 4 nights for a family of 4.
Why you may not like it?
It is a bloody long way from anywhere
There is about 50km of dirt road to get to South Lefroy Bay (we let our tyres down to 20psi and it was fine)
You need to be self sufficient in terms of water, toilet, food etc. There are no amenities or services
In contrast to the great value at Ningaloo Station, we paid $79 for 1 night at Coral Bay, which is pretty steep when you can’t even drink the water provided on the caravan sites. We had to pay to fill up the caravan tanks with potable water from the Bayview Caravan Park. But if you want to experience the Ningaloo Reef and like your creature comforts then Coral Bay is the place for you. The snorkelling off the beach was OK but the water was very cloudy on both days we were there making it pretty difficult to see. On a previous trip to Coral Bay 11 years ago I found the snorkelling to be much better – but we had the use of a boat which provided access to some great snorkelling spots.
So after 1 night in Coral Bay it was time to start heading south and start making our way back home. Stay tuned for the next and final installment of our trip report.