This week I am taking you up the coast from our home 2 hours south of Perth to Kununurra - a distance of approx 3,513 kilometres (2,183 miles) - the green line following the North West Coastal and the Great Northern Highway on the map opposite, and our camps marked with a red line.
It's a long way and you need to allow about 6 days to do this distance comfortably. And incredibly you can free camp all the way!
Here is a sample of a great downloadable map from Main Roads Western Australia to help you plan your trip, outlining the designated 24 hour camp sites, and rest areas and what facilities they have ie toilets
Not all road side rest areas are equal - so it pays to do your research and work out how far you want to travel each day and where you want to stop.
Please note: If you pull into a designated "truck bay" you need to ensure you have left room for road trains, some of which have 3 trailers and are over 54 metres long. Long haulage truck drivers rely on these truck bays and don't take kindly to caravaners taking over their overnight stops.
Western Australia is a big state, and there is plenty to see and explore on the road north, so you could easily take several weeks, but as we had explored up along the road several times before, and the Northern Territory was our main focus, we wanted to get there as quickly as possible.
Bunbury to Galena Bridge, north of Geraldton
Being winter the sun hadn't even come up when we left home at 6.17am in the morning. We wanted an early start to get across Perth before the Saturday morning traffic got too busy, and because we had a long day (699km) to travel our first day. But later we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise across the paddocks.
From Perth we followed the Indian Ocean Drive to Jurien Bay, where we met up for early lunch on the foreshore near the jetty with our eldest son and his family who were on their way to Kalbarri for the school holidays. Jurien is a very popular holiday destination, being only 230km north of Perth. And nearby is Lesuer National Park which we have visited several times before during wildflower season and where you can go bushwalking along marked trails.
I felt like we were hobbits as we had had early breakfast - cereal at 5.30am, 2nd breakfast, 9am just north of Perth - Vegemite and cheese rolls, and now elevenses - early lunch - at Jurien at 11am.
Watch out for wildlife, especially dawn and dusk - kangaroos, emus, and echidnas.
(699km home to Galena Bridge) Our first overnight stop free camping, was Galena Bridge, 114 kilometres north of Geraldton. This is a very popular overnight rest area which fills up early. We arrived at around 3.50pm and found a spot on the north-eastern side of the bridge. It was early, but it had also been a long day, and we had enough time for a wander along the river, and collected some fire wood off the ground for a campfire. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire is standard bush camping evening lusciousness. It was a cold night but we found Galena a peaceful spot to camp and after months of planning we were happy to be finally on our way north and sitting under a blanket of stars.
Day 2 - We had a quiet night as the road-train traffic settled down in the evening. We were on the road by 7.15am and had lunch just outside of Carnarvon, know for it's vast banana plantations.
North of Carnarvon near the entrance to Boologeroo Station, we sighted our find of the day - The Green Bird Flower (or Regal Bird Flower) - Crotalaria cunninghamii . I was so excited to see these as I had only seen them in the wild twice before. My husband is such a good wildflower spotter, even when driving! I don't know how he does it.
These flowers are truly unique. Can you see what they are called the bird flower?
This plant is a member of the legume family Fabaceae, and is native to inland northern Australia. In the collage below you can see both the flower and the pods.
In the collage below you can see the campsite from the bridge, and a road train travelling across the bridge. Despite being so close to the road, the road trains stopped around 9pm and we had a quiet night.
Day 3 - Early and bed and early to rise, we left Lyndon River about 7.30am. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn just north of Lyndon River. We are now seeing the termite mounds, red dirt and spinifex that dominate the Pilbara Region. I love red dirt!
We also saw one of my favourite wildflowers of the Pilbara, the Mulla Mulla - Ptilotus exaltatus.
After fueling up in Karratha early afternoon, we saw a stretch of another unique wildflower, the Sturt's Desert Pea - Swainsona formosaclose - near the road between Karratha and Whim Creek. Luckily we were able to find a spot where we could pull over so I could take photos.
The floral emblem of South Australia, The Sturt's Desert Pea is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. It is confined to Australia, where it occurs in all mainland States except Victoria. The original collection was made in 1699 by explorer William Dampier on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia, where he collected a specimen. It's common name commemorates Charles Sturt who explored inland Australia in the 1800s.
(582km Lyndon River to Peawah) We arrived at our next free camp, Peawah, around 4pm. There were already lots of people here, and limited space, but we managed to find a spot to set up. We were just below the road embankment, so we were hoping the road trains would stop again during the night.
After another long day on the road we were glad to be there. We walked up the dry river bed and were again early to bed. We find it important to walk before and after dinner on these long road trips after sitting all day in the car.
Western Australia has 208 major rivers. Rivers in the north of the state are seasonal, but have greater differences in flow between one year and the next. In other parts of the state rivers are generally ephemeral (flowing very infrequently and only for short periods of time following heavy rain). Dept of Water and Environment
It must be amazing to see them in flood.
The next day we noted that Yule River 24 hour camp site, only another 30km north, looked pleasant with more space, trees and water in the river. Perhaps we will highlight this campsite for next time.
Day 4 - (540km approx Peawah to Barn Hill) Thankfully the traffic wasn't too bad during the night and we left early as we had another long day on the road.
At the beginning of this post I said you can free camp all the way from Perth to Kununurra, and you can, but at this point we decided to drive into beach side Barn Hill, 130k south of Broome, for a few days stopover. Did I tell you to be prepared for a long boring trip from Port Hedland to Broome? (598km) - a good reason to take a break.
If you are continuing on free camping, I suggest Goldwire 24 hour rest stop south of the Barn Hill turnoff (144kms south of Broome), or the small rest area on Roebuck Plains about 20km south of the Great Northern Highway to Broome intersection. But if like us you would like to have a few days recuperation, Barn Hill or 17kms to the south Port Smith or still further south Wallal Station (80 mile beach), are both perfect choices.
Barn Hill is a working cattle station. The caravan park is located at the end of a nine kilometre dirt track in. Please shut the gate.
We hadn't booked, and couldn't get a shady, ocean view or powered site, but as we have solar panels we weren't too worried about power, and we managed to get a site with afternoon shade. I think my "city" friend back home had palpitations when I sent her photos of the "outdoor" amenities.
But the showers were hot and we got the washing done and on the line, and we had some shade as the temperatures were heating up as we moved north - so all good.
They call this a "station stay", but they don't offer any "Cattle station" activities. But it is obviously popular by the number of people staying here.
Beach access is via a rocky cliff path or wooden steps (whereas at Wallal it is just a short walk over the sandhills), but the beach is lovely especially on low tide and the rocky formations are interesting and light up orange and red with the sun setting over the Indian Ocean.
The Kimberley coast has huge tide variations, up to 11 metres, exposing kilometre wide beaches, great for beach combing. While husband and son number 2 went beach fishing (though with limited success), I was content to walk or sit under the shade of the rocks, and read.
It was so relaxing we ended up staying for three nights. Internet and phone access is limited, but better down near the shop. One night Billy Joe & Frankie (click on the link to see a video) and his sisters from Bidyadanga Aboriginal community, performed for campers. It was a very enjoyable evening, but a bit cold, so we went back to our caravan early, though we could still here the music.
Friday morning (day 7 - Barn Hill to Mary Pool) we were up at 5am and on the road by 6am. 20 minutes to the highway and the sun was sitting on the horizon and in our eyes as we drove north towards Broome. Originally we were going to go into Broome to restock our food supplies, but we decided we didn't need to do this, and pushed on instead to our next free camp, Mary Pool between Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek (569 kms)
The Boab - icon of the Kimberley
This giant boab tree, below, is at the Boab rest area, pink and grey galahs and an eagles nest in the boab, Senna wildflower, and along the highway towards Mary Pool.
We have been along this road twice before, so we didn't stop other than to fuel up at Fitzroy Crossing, and for morning tea and lunch breaks. At Fitzroy River on a previous trip we stayed over night and went on a very interesting boat cruise at Geikie Gorge lead by a local aboriginal man.
There are several choices of rest areas along this road. Worth a visit is the Ngumban Cliffs for fabulous 360 views across the surrounding country. Though it looks like a windy campsite! The distances to the next camp site are signposted along the road, helping you to plan your next break. Again, research, forward planning, maps, and information from other travellers is invaluable. We found on this trip that the app WikiCamps was very useful.
And on to Mary Pool (646km from Barn Hill) - and after another very long day, we arrived just before 3pm. This is a big free camping area. There were lots of caravans already here when we arrived, with some obviously staying longer than one night. They have upgraded the whole area (happily) since the last time we stayed here in 2016. There is plenty of space, and we picked a spot away from the main camping area, on the banks of the river.
A bower bird came to visit, and we discovered his bower under some trees nearby. This is not a nest, but a bower to attract females, part of a courtship ritual, which the males decorate with stones, bits of glass, and shiny things. At one bower we saw on our last trip to Purnululu, the bower even contained a teaspoon, obviously whisked away from someone's camp. Several males can use the same bower, which is added to, and can be there for years as we discovered on our last trip to Windjana Gorge.
We arrived in Kununurra around 2pm - but Kununurra and Lake Argyle is for next week.I hope you will join me then.
For more Western Australian travel you might also like -
On the road through the Kimberley, Western Australia
The wildflowers are blooming in the Kimberley
Sacred Heart Church, Beagle Bay, Kimberley
Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope you have enjoyed the first part of our trip up the Western Australian coast.
Have you been on a long distance road trip? Perhaps you would like to tell us about it in your comments.
I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return. Have a wonderful week.
I am linking up to the link-ups below. Please click on the links to see fabulous contributions from around the world - virtual touring at its best!
My corner of the world through my camera
Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global hosted by Randomosity.
My corner of the world through my camera
Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global hosted by Randomosity.
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