8. North West Coasting

Heading north, leaving the last of the cardboard-cutout housing subdivisions on the outskirts of Perth disappearing into the sand dunes, we hit the Great Northern Highway were officially on off into the wild west outback.

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To confirm our plummet into this giant abyss we stopped at The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. This strange, eerie desert landscape dotted with ancient petrified tree stumps and the odd clump of spiked-leaf vegetation looks like something out of an episode of Lost in Space. As we wandered through the desolate sandscape I had an urge to call out, ‘Danger, Will Robinson’ and kept expecting to confront the hapless Dr Smith being held captive by some goulish two-headed alien. But all I could find were these two odd-bods!

That night we pulled into the beautiful Sandy Cape campground to snag a spot between one incredibly high sand dune and the beach. We were then promptly pounded by a chilly wind until nightfall when it cleared up enough to light the campfire and cook up a feast. The next morning dawned calm, bright and sunny so the fellas decided to do a 4WD beach launch and try their luck on the high seas. The Gorgeous Mrs G set off to conquer the big sand dune while I got caught up on my shade-baking. Although the fishermen were disappointed with their lack of success, Mrs G had fun and I managed to not get burnt so we celebrated with an extended happy hour and were treated to another magical sunset.

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We moved on up the coast the next day passing through some idyllic seaside townships like Leeman and Green Head. These beautiful places, consisting of a few shops, a caravan park and a pub right on the beachfront are home to only a handful of locals. It felt like stepping through a time warp into the good old days.

These watery views had the fellas wishing to get fishing so we stopped at Seven Mile Beach where they attempted another beach launch. Pete’s jalopy almost got bogged but The Driver dug the wheels out of their sandy depths and when Pete put his foot down the mighty cruiser almost flew up the ramp. Well played, Mr Perfect!

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After we waved goodbye (or was that good-riddance?), I settled down with a nice cuppa for a relaxing read while the Gorgeous Mrs G took off to explore the entire seven miles of beach. Upon her return, we noticed some locals returning to the boat ramp after checking their lobster pots. We strolled over to see how they went and the bloke showed us some of the famous Western Red Lobsters they grew around these parts.

We must have oohed and aahed appropriately (even though they looked much smaller than our Victorian variety) as he was chuffed enough to offer us a couple of the crusty critters in return for some ‘travellers’. We thought that was more than fair and happily parted with two chilled cans of the fellas precious ale for one almighty meal. So, when our own blighted fishermen returned empty handed and as whingy as three year olds who’d missed their nap, we were able to proudly display our very own catch!

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The next day we drove into Geraldton with the intention of getting a few errands done. This forward thinking metropolis provides free 24 hour RV parking so us nomads will be tempted to stop and spend some of our hard-earned in their town. This works well for most travellers except for us as this stopover is located right next to a massive boat ramp, so the only thing The Driver could possibly think of doing was going fishing.

We eventually managed to drag him into the town by adding a long boozy pub lunch to our agenda in honour of Mr Perfects’ birthday. Geraldton put on a beaut day for us all as we hit the shops at full speed then toured the HMAS Sydney memorial. Later, after the aforementioned lunch, we lazily strolled back through the revamped marina district (including the fun-filled game zone) to our carpark campsite.

A rather uncomfortable night was spent under the blazing lights of both the marina and the adjacent 24 hour port district, not to mention the constant shunting of rail carriages that took place directly behind us as well as techno doof-doof from a local nightclub, accompanied by some strangled vocal strains emanating from karaoke night at the pub and of course, the obligatory carful of boguns who partied long and loud until they finally fled the scene dropping donuts at 3am. Despite all this, the fellas still heard that boat ramp calling them out onto the high seas early the next day.

But it seemed only a few fishies were awake at that hour so we soon packed up and trooped off up the coast. We passed through a few more one-horse seaside towns including Port Gregory, Horrocks Beach and toured the ruins of the convict hiring depot and the magnificent old homestead at Lynton Station before we stopped for a few nights at Coronation Beach.

This well set out council campsite with more facilities than a lot of the caravan parks we’ve stayed at in WA is a world famous kite-surfing and wave jumping destination. The waves were really pumping and we were in awe of some of the aeronautics on display. It was far too rough to put the boat in so we decided to do some touring around the area.

I had read about an old sheep station and homestead nearby called Oakabella that was hailed as the most haunted house in the west. This claim to fame had certainly piqued my imagination so I suggested that we take the evening ghost tour. However, the Gorgeous Mrs G was less than thrilled at this prospect so we switched to a day tour and convinced the fellas to come along with the lure of a delicious homemade Devonshire tea in the café afterwards.

Our tour guide was full of stories about life in the good old days on a remote North West sheep station as well as the many and varied activities of the departed souls who had met their death through murder, suicide or accident on the premises over the years. Each room we entered had its own resident ghost that she had to acknowledge and we would then be encouraged to scan the room using the camera on our mobile phones. Eerily enough there were many instances where an empty square signifying facial recognition appeared on our screens…

The next day we banished all evil spirits as we set of for Kalbarri. This pretty seaside town is a bit of a mecca for Perthites to decamp to their luxury holiday houses as well as a popular stop point off for grey nomads with shiny new cruisers towing huge caravans or those adventurous young families doing the big lap with their incredible expanding camper trailers plus a few salty skeg-heads in search of that perfect wave living out of their battered station wagons. So there’s plenty to do and quite a bit to see, but as usual the only thing The Driver was interested in was the fishing.

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However Mr & Mrs Perfect were quite keen to get some bushwalking and four-wheel driving done in the Kalbarri National Park and then continue on to conquer the westernmost point of the mainland by making it all the way out to Steep Point. As the Bounce-mobile already has enough trouble keeping all four wheels on the ground we declined to be involved in these shenanigans. So off they trotted leaving The Driver all alone without a playmate, so he decided to pack up his toys and head outta there.

We drove up to Monkey Mia to check out their famously friendly dolphins. By the time we got there, the mercury had already hit 36 degrees in the shade and I was officially in meltdown. Apparently, I was rendering one of my infamous Prince Planet impersonations so before we’d even found a campsite, The Driver had the boat in the water and we were out enjoying the effects of a cooling sea breeze. This of course, had the added benefit of The Driver being able to dip a few sparkly plastic fishies tied onto a piece of string dangling of the end of a stick into the water. In other words, (surprise, surprise) we went FISHING!

Eventually, we returned to shore with a boatload of fish and moored out the front of the resort. As I arranged our campsite The Driver relished the chance to get started on his big haul at the fish cleaning station on the beach with all the other fishos. They were all busily ‘Talking Fishing, Talking Fishing’ (just like the theme song of that dreadful TV show he watches) which made him even more excited. The next morning he was up before the sun and already out fishing by the time I’d put the kettle on.

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This allowed me the opportunity to enjoy an entire IFD (aka, Ian Free Day) where I was able to while away the day wandering through the resort shops, watching the dolphin feeding, having a bang up lunch at the café, swimming in the pool before laying back on a deckchair (in the shade, of course) and getting some serious people watching done. It was the best thing since sliced bread.

The next day, we ambled into the nearby township of Denham and caught up with some folks in a dust encrusted cruiser who, after an extensive spit and polish at a nearby station stay turned out to be none other than Mr & Mrs Perfect themselves. Together we all set off up the coast road again.

Along the way, we detoured to check out a cool beachside camp we had experienced during our last outback adventure. We remembered it as not only being a great swimming, crabbing and fishing spot but also the place to share a fireside chat with some of life’s more experienced characters. But some things are better left as memories. The local council had since done their best to deter campers by banning campfires, hiking up the fees and not maintaining the access track. We found only a handful of die-hard hermits encamped at the end of a sorry corrugated excuse for a road. The place was so deserted that even the crabs didn’t bother showing up.

But our fearless Driver was determined to have some fun so he took up his rod and reel and happily bagged us a feed of whiting off the beach. Until, just as the sun went down, a rather obscene shout was heard from his general direction. It seemed his last catch had been swiped clean off the end of his line in the murky shallows by a large black shadow sporting a distinct triangle-shaped fin.

Our fabulous 4WD travelling companions (aka Peter Perfect and the Gorgeous Mrs G) hot-footed off it into town the next morning as they were keen to make use of the washing facilities there in order to return their van and cruiser back to its usual pristine glory. But the Driver had decided we should let our tyres down and take old Bounce slowly back down the rutted dirt track. Eventually we made it out to the bitumen but only made it a short distance down the highway before we both felt the awful jolting that can only come from a flat tyre.

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Stopping on a sloped verge on the side of the highway in the searing heat to change a tyre is never much fun at the best of times but try adding a flotilla of roadtrains and a bunch of silly old buggers towing massive caravans together with the constant buzz of blowflies waiting for the next piece of roadkill and you get some idea of our predicament. Eventually The Driver managed to get it done without too much swearing and we limped on into town to find out what the damage would be to get our tyre replaced.

Once again the old equation proved correct (WA = Wait Awhile) when we were informed that it would take at least three days for the replacement to be delivered. So we pulled into the caravan park to find our 4WD superheroes still polishing their vehicle. But Mrs G cooked us all a bang up dinner of roast pork with all the trimmings topped off by a choc-coated ice cream. What a treat! We all agreed that she was a rather good egg and after they did the dishes the fellas toasted her with a Baileys (or two).

We filled in the next few days visiting the sights around town including the historic one-mile jetty, the museum and the lighthouse keepers’ cottage on Babbage Island. This place had once been a hub for stockmen across the top end who’d herded their cattle here for export to England. In later years as irrigation increased the area become renowned for the quality and quantity of its fruit and vegetable crops so the wharves continued to be busy.

The museum contains pieces of all this history as well as a seemingly out of place huge old steel lifeboat. During WW2 this rugged coastline witnessed many allied troopships bravely heading off to fight the hun. But there may well have been several enemy vessels riding these wild waves too. In November 1941, a local farmer watched this very lifeboat wash ashore at nearby Quobba Beach. He raised the alarm and the townsfolk turned out in force to rescue several delirious sailors found on board. In the weeks to come many more sailors similarly washed up on nearby shores.

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However, it was soon discovered that the injured men were in fact survivors from the German warship Kormoran and they were detained as prisoners of war. It wasn’t until after the war authorities acknowledged that our own heroic vessel HMAS Sydney along with all her crew comprising 645 brave young men disappeared off this particular piece of coastline at the same time. The wrecks of both ships were finally salvaged in 2015 providing answers for so many families about the final resting place of loved ones long lost.

Before we all pulled out of Carnarvon, we joined the resident oldies following the sun here year after year (plus a few young families doing the big lap) for their weekly $15 spud dinner at the caravan park. They all get dolled up and haul eskies full of chilled stubbies plus a bottle or two of sparkling wine for the ladies and eagerly crowd into the activities room next to the pool to fill a baked potato with bacon, cheese, chilli, curry, sour cream and lashings of coleslaw. As luck would have it I won the door prize, which was a bag of mini Cherry Ripe bars. These are definitely not on my Christmas list, so The Driver was most impressed!

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