A road trip to Western Australia’s Northern Beaches
Perth’s beaches and the beaches in the South West of Western Australia are reasonably well known and well frequented – Cottesloe Beach in Perth and Yallingup, Smiths and Margaret River in the South West. Margaret River has the added bonus of being a wine growing region and a foodie destination.
The south of western Australia is a bit more easily accessible from Perth. There is a major road that will get you almost as far as Margaret River. But being an adventurous soul, I secretly prefer the north. Harder to get to, and to really go north you need time, but it is oh so beautiful once you get there.
1. Leighton Beach
This picture was taken during the Kiteracing Oceanic Championships that were held at Leighton Beach in 2013. It is a beach just north of Fremantle which by definition is north of the Swan River and therefore north of Perth, just. It is a typical day except there is never this many people. Contrary to what the image conveys, it could also be called a ‘daggy beach‘ – the beach where you can go in your second best bathers, with your kids and still feel ok about yourself a.k.a my type of beach. (Photo credit: Travis Hayto / Project3).
2. City Beach
Still in Perth but moving north. In fact the whole western side of Perth is one long beach, that are called different things at different places. City Beach is the beach that is closest to the CBD (8km, 15minutes), and this picture is taken on a winter day. There are three excellent cafés / restaurants at the beach, and having food options at the beach is somewhat new for Perth, and we are all getting used to it. Generally a Good Thing.
3. Lancelin / Jurien Bay / Leeman
Small coastal, sleepy towns on the (relatively) new Indian Ocean Drive between Perth and Geraldton. All have great beaches, great fish and chips and usually a lively pub. The image is from the Lancelin Ocean Classic (Photo credit: @johncarterphotography / Project3).
Geraldton is one of those places called a ‘windy city’, similar to Chicago except that Chicago is a giant city famous for its architecture; and Wellington which distinguishes itself by being the capital city of New Zealand and also having a cake tin as a major sporting venue. On the approach to Geraldton, you can see the trees that have adapted to the wind by growing sideways, or in some cases parallel to the ground.
Off Geraldton, you could take a day-trip by boat or plane to the nearby coral-fringed Abrolhos Islands to fish, dive and snorkelling. Something that I’ve always wanted to do but never have. North of Geraldton is Coronation Beach, famous for its windsurfing and kitesurfing.
5. Kalbarri / Horrocks
Between Geraldton and Kalbarri is Horrocks, recently named second of Australian’s top 101 mainland beaches by Tourism Australia’s beach ambassador Brad Farmer. Yes, there is such a person. Queensland’s Nudey Beach was first (see ‘Shark Bay’ below, in regard to naming conventions). He liked it because he saw it as the
most complete beachside enclave in Australia. This secreted hideaway represents nature at its very best, offering the most diverse range of opportunities to enjoy and engage in every activity imaginable within a beach environment.
Yes, it is all that but Western Australians were tut tutting because many of us think that there are better beaches. Perhaps he’s onto something when he talks about the ‘package’, you can fall out of the front door of your chalet or caravan and waddle to the beach without raising too much of a sweat.
Kalbarri which is further north has the full package and more – Gorges, beach buggies, cliffs, sand dunes, fishing and epic beaches.
6. Shark Bay / Monkey Mia
Visitors to Australia have noticed that Australians can be fairly explicit in the way we name things. All over Australia there are examples of how Australian’s avoid any chance of obscuring meaning. There is a town called ‘Greenbushes’; there are the ‘Blue Mountains’ outside Sydney and the pink and grey cockatoo. On the stretch between Geraldton and Carnarvon you’ll find ‘Pink Lake’, ‘Useless Loop, ‘Shell Beach’ and worryingly ‘Shark Bay’. All aptly named and apart from Useless Loop, all beautiful. And don’t worry – there are lots of sharks in Shark Bay, but almost all harmless. The harmful ones, well they are not unique to Shark Bay.
Shark Bay is a local government region 25,000 square km is size with a population of 950. Its much bigger than Monaco and Fiji and not as big as Tasmania or Sri Lanka. Denham is the main town, and nearby Monkey Mia now boasts a resort hotel to cater to tourists who come to see the dolphins. Ernestine Hill, a journalist who took to the road and wrote about Australia in the 1930’s and ‘40’s noted of Shark Bay –
… there are so few travellers. A politician before election time, a clergyman or a pearl-buyer once in two years , and one visiting governor in half a century – that is all Shark Bay knows of the world, and all it needs to know. The Great Australian Loneliness, 1940.
At Shell Beach, you walk on tiny shells instead of sand. At Monkey Mia the dolphins come in to the beach each day to be fed. At Denham you see old buildings that are made from blocks of compacted shells.
7. Hamelin Pool
Home of the stromatolites. Yup. Living fossils that have been there for hundreds of thousands of years. They look like rocks, but they are living so a bit like coral but not colourful. That’s the best explanation I can find and the significance is their age.
Hamelin Pool is another beautiful unspoiled beach and you can stay at the caravan park to break the journey. Be sure to have a look at the old Telegraph station and think of the man living there in solitude passing messages up and down the coast.
8. Carnarvon – Quobba & Gnaraloo
They are adjacent to each other, and are on a road that runs off the Great North Highway out of Carnarvon. You can get to Quobba with a normal two wheel drive car, if you take it easy but it would be hard to get to Gnaraloo in a two wheel drive. You have to be prepared for something to fall off or a tyre to burst because the road can be fairly rough. To go right through to Gnaraloo is a two hour drive from Carnarvon, which is a 12 hour drive north of Perth.
Gnaraloo is on the southern end of Ningaloo Reef.
9. Coral Bay / Ningaloo Reef
The settlement of Coral Bay is also on a pastoral property but has been more developed. There is a caravan park, apartments and backpackers accommodation, as well as a group of tour operators. Although Gnaraloo and Coral Bay are almost neighbours, the access road to Coral Bay is different and the servicing airport is Exmouth, not Coral Bay.
As well as enjoying the beautiful beaches at Coral Bay you can board the chartered tour boats and try snorkelling with whale sharks and manta rays. I did and I’ve got to be honest – those manta rays swim pretty fast and I got extremely puffed trying to keep up with them. But of course I loved it. (Photo credit – not me! One of my colleagues Jacqui Kielty in the image taken by her sister Rose).
One you are in the region one of the best things about Ningaloo Reef is that it is really easy to get to. You simply swim out off the beach and you can see an abundance of sea life.
Broome has a strange geography because the centre of the town runs alongside Roebuck Bay and that feels like that should be the beach. To get to the famous Cable Beach, drive out of town to the west and you find a string of resorts within walking distance of the water. Further north is the Dampier Peninsular, Beagle Bay and Cape Leveque. At the south end of Cable Beach is Gantheaume Point (pictured). Looking to the left instead of the right from this vantage point and you’ll see the Point where you can find dinosaur footprints as you watch the sunset, lighting up the red cliffs.
Many people reading this will see the irony of me writing about beaches. I hardly ever swim at the beach, but have visited all the beaches above for work purposes – on various events that I’ve been working on.
To get as far as Broome is a big adventure. There are very settlements in between. On the drive between Perth and Carnarvon I re-wrote the science of the genome and species of birds because the accepted one is too hard. There are many, many birds and not much else to do except spot them. To make it easy I now categorize birds as ‘raptors’, ‘middle-sized birds’, ‘finches’, crows, seagulls and pelicans. The end.
Total distance from Perth to Broome = 2,400km, or 23 hours driving.
To fly or to drive is the question you’d be asking yourself. Domestic flights within Australia are expensive, but two days of driving is also expensive and if you have limited time almost impossible. On the other hand, if you do have the time there is plenty to see on the way.
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