Trip Report: Big Caravan Trip Part 4 – Coral Bay to Melbourne

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.

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Monkey Mia is worth a visit if you are in the area and like dolphins. We spent 2 nights here but 1 would have been enough. We hadn’t been to Monkey Mia since Amyo was a baby.
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Denham
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Sandboarding at the Lancelin dunes. We hired the board from the local servo where we left the caravan so we could have some fun in the car.

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Lancelin dunes

 

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You are allowed to drive through the sand dunes at Lancelin and it is a lot of fun. We dropped the tyres to about 15psi and had no problems.

If you live in Victoria and want to drive some dunes check out the Portland Dune Buggy Club.

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We made it to Perth and this was one of the strangest things I have seen. This was the Cat Haven Street Appeal where cat lovers queued up for a long time to make a donation so they could go into the orange gazebo and pat a kitten.
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Kings Park
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West Australians are not very subtle
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Having been underwhelmed by Wave Rock previously, I didn’t even bother getting out of the car while the rest of the family went to marvel at it’s rockyness.
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Cape Le Grand National Park near Esperance
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Sunset on the Nullarbor
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Crappy photo – but a very impressive stretch of road
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There are heaps of nice spots to stay along the Nullarbor
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One of the roadhouses along the Nullarbor
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The Great Australian Bight
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Ceduna
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I thought farmers were always busy milking cows and racing tractors. But in Port Lincoln it seems they have time to make a bull riding simulator. This is what happens if you don’t have the NBN.
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Near Port Lincoln
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Coffin Bay
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Another bloody canola field
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Before we knew it we were back in Melbourne and it was all over.

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.

Thanks for following our journey!

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Trip Report: Big Caravan Trip Part 3 – Broome to Coral Bay

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.

How do you overtake a road train with 4 trailers that is 60 metres long when you are towing a caravan? The answer is very slowly. Luckily the roads are long and straight.
It is hard to see in the photo, but this iron ore train at Tom Price goes from the bottom right of the photo all the way to the top left (click to enlarge). It is 2.5km long and has about 240 carriages. It is bloody huge and these trains are running all around the Pilbara all day and night. Apparently they now have some autonomous trains operating that they control from Perth.
As the empty train enters the Tom Price mine, a full one departs for Dampier.
Rio Tinto’s Tom Price mine as seen from Mt Nameless. Apparently Tom Price is a drinking town with a mining problem.
We did a tour of the Tom Price mine and saw them blow up a chunk of the mountain. As you can see in this picture, most of the mountain has been already been shipped to China.
Sunset at Mt Nameless through the “Pilbara Fog”  which is the red dust that hangs in the air.
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Amyo rubbed the orange dirt of the Pilbara on her face……..resulting in a remarkable likeness to Donald Trump

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.

Rock formation at Hamersley Gorge. The colours of the Pilbara are fantastic.
Hamersley Gorge
Hamersley Gorge
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Handrail Pool – Weano Gorge
Kermits Pool – Hancock Gorge
Somewhere near Hamersley Gorge
Fern Pool at Dales Gorge
Fern Pool at Dales Gorge
Dales Gorge
Dales Gorge
Hancock Gorge
Hancock Gorge
Hancock Gorge.

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.

Weano Gorge. Sometimes the only way though the gorge is to get wet.
Circular Pool at Dales Gorge
Fortescue Falls at Dales Gorge
Knox Gorge
Knox Gorge
Knox Gorge
Joffres Gorge

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.

The summit of Mt Meharry. If you don’t have a good 4WD with low range and know how to use it you should walk up from the base as the track is moderately steep and quite rough.

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.

Mt Bruce
It is about 5km to the top of Mt Bruce and I went up in the dark so I could watch the sun rise over Karijini.
Many people have left their names and words of wisdom on the cairn, but I am still trying to work out what “Everybody is sausages” means…..
Sunrise at Mt Bruce and it was damn cold – I made it back to camp in time to cook breakfast for my kids.

Ningaloo Reef

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.

We were lucky to swim with turtles and thousands of amazing fish on the Ningaloo Reef.
We camped on the beach at South Lefroy Bay at Ningaloo Station
South Lefroy Bay at Ningaloo Station. I was a bit cautious about driving on the beach with the caravan but it was fine.

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
The view of Coral Bay was great from “the front row” at the People’s Caravan Park – but it felt like we were in a retirement home. Someone described it to me as “God’s waiting room”.

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.

Coral Bay

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.