In 2014 Easter Sunday fell on 20 April and with Anzac Day on 25 April it allowed a ten day break, 17 to 27 April, by taking off just three working days. Just long enough to make a visit to world class Karijini National Park, 1500 kilometres north of Perth.
From Perth we planned to head east to Hyden on the Thursday evening before Easter, giving us a 350 kilometre start on our adventure on Friday morning. We planned to see the preliminary race (the Prologue) of Round One of the Australian Offroad Racing Championship at Kalgoorlie.
After the racing we would head north to Newman, visiting the Lake Ballard Sculptures and Sandstone along the way before our main destination – Karijini National Park.
The return journey was to be through Mount Augustus, the world’s largest rock, and then on to the remote Kennedy Ranges National Park. From there we intended to head south to the Murchison River and then turn west to Kalbarri and the spectacular Murchison River Gorges before heading home via Indian Ocean Drive.
After fixing damaged wiring on the ‘Silver Bullet’ kitchen trailer that was blowing a variety of fuses in my Patrol, we finally got underway from Jandakot an hour or so later than expected. We took the Brookton Highway east to Brookton, had dinner at Stumpy’s Roadhouse and continued east to Corrigin and then Bendering before becoming geographically confused for 15 minutes or so trying to find The Humps and Mulkas Cave.
Next morning, after a tour of the site and a chat with the Shire Ranger, we headed into Hyden to refuel and visit Wave Rock and Hippos Yawn.
Cliff and Adi in their Suzukis refuelled in Hyden while the others had a look at the two famous rocks. We then headed out along the Hyden East Road, past the State Barrier Fence.
Previously known as the Rabbit Proof Fence, the State Vermin Fence and the Emu Fence, it has undergone many transformations in its lifetime, keeping rabbits, wild dogs, emus, kangaroos and other feral animals away from agricultural and pastoral areas. It coincides with the line of rainfall required for successful farming. The land to the west, except for reserves, has been taken up by farmers. The land to the east is known as the Great Western Woodland, the largest temperate woodlands on the planet. It is dominated by eucalypts.
We stopped to climb McDermid Rock, one of the numerous granite rock outcrops (inselberg or monadnock) that act as island sanctuaries for a whole range of wildlife in this remote, low rainfall area. These granite outcrops catch and direct precious rain water that, in earlier times, was so precious for explorers and prospectors. Additionally, they were a vital navigational beacon through the dense thickets of tamma.
We took a short detour to see Lake Johnston before returning to the Victoria Rock Road and heading north-east to Coolgardie.
We tried to find a way in to Bank Rock but the bush was too thick – we probably missed the correct turnoff. We visited Victoria Rock and Gnarlbine Rock and passed through Coolgardie. Dusk was approaching as we pulled into the campsite at the Speedway at Kalgoorlie.
Before racing started the next morning we had time to check out the Superpit – an open cut gold mine approximately 3.6 kilometres long, 1.6 kilometres wide and more than 500 metres deep. It was created by businessman Alan Bond, who bought up a number of contiguous mine leases in order to get the land area under one ownership.
AUSTRALIAN OFF ROAD RACING CHAMPIONSHIP
Buggies, trophy trucks, cars, and 4WDS, the best offroad racing machinery in Australia, were competing in Round 1 of the Australian Off Road Championships, the inaugural Kalgoorlie 400, over the Easter break. We stayed to watch the Prologue, a short race over part of the course held to determine the Start Order.
LEAVE CLIFF AND ADI
From Kalgoorlie we headed north on the Goldfields Highway to Menzies and then to Lake Ballard. World renowned artist Antony Gormley created a collection of 51 steel sculptures standing over ten square kilometres on the white salt of Lake Ballard, about 780 km north-east of Perth. From the foundry in Perth the 51 sculptures were transported to Lake Ballard and installed by a team of 18 volunteers over a four day period.
Leaving Lake Ballard we headed north and camped on the edge of Lake Noondie, 15 kilometres north of Bulga Downs Station. The lake was named after the nearby Noondie Hill, mentioned by surveyor John Forrest during his 1869 expedition to find the missing explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.
Arriving in Sandstone on Sunday morning we found ‘Dinky Di’, one of the town’s characters, ready to dispense tea, coffee and a sampling of bush herbs.
After our morning cuppa with ‘Dinky Di’ we travelled out to London Bridge, a few kilometres south-east of the town. It is a natural bridge formed of weathered basalt, believed to be about 350 million years old, and part of a larger formation about 800 metres long, varying in height from around 3 to 10 metres. The bridge is getting thinner and thinner and will eventually fall.
Heading out of Sandstone we took the dirt road towards Meekatharra. We stopped at the Vermin Proof Fence.
A little while later we stopped at Barlangi Rock.
And then, further on, at Mount Yagahong.
Nor-Westers have a licence to be stereotypical, outback Australians, get tax concessions, drink copious quantities of the amber fluid, and like the heat, flies and remoteness.
We refuelled at Meekatharra and topped up the water tanks in the ‘Silver Bullet’.
Meekatharra is the major supply centre for the pastoral and mining in the Murchison region. The townsite is 35 kilometres north-north-east of Nannine where the first gold rush on the Murchison Goldfield occurred in 1890. In late 1895, prospectors Meehan, Porter and Soych pegged a claim near Meekatharra Spring, the Aboriginal name of a watering point that had appeared on maps since 1885. It is from this spring that the townsite’s name is derived. It is believed that the name means ‘place of little water’.
After a spectacular blowout of the driver’s side tyre on the ‘Silver Bullet’ and the time taken to change wheels, it was clear that we would not make Newman, our intended destination.
We pulled in to Yannerie Pool, a level, grassed area next to a permanent pool of water on Bulloo Downs Station, only a few hundred metres off the Great Northern Highway.
INTO THE PILBARA
After stopping for photos at the Tropic of Capricorn we met up with Matt and his family in Newman. He had passed us during the night and camped at the Newman Caravan Park.
Newman sits on what was originally regarded as marginal cattle country. It was built in the 1960s by the Mount Newman Mining Company, following the discovery of rich iron deposits on nearby Mount Whaleback. The discovery marked the start of the resource boom in Western Australia in the 1970s. The town takes its name from nearby Mount Newman, named in honour of A.W. Newman, an early surveyor/explorer who died of typhoid fever just before reaching the area in 1896.
We refuelled and headed to Karijini National Park.
KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK
World class Karijini National Park has incredible natural beauty and a spectacular contrast of colours. Set in the rugged Hamersley Range in the heart of the Pilbara, the stunning gorges, waterfalls, plunge pools and walk tracks make Karijini a ‘must visit’.
The Park is surrounded by massive iron ore projects such as Marandoo, Hope Downs, Yandi and Tom Price.
When we booked in at Dales Gorge Campground our plans to relocate to Savannah after a day were dashed – it was full and would remain so for the duration of our stay. That meant a 50 km ‘commute’ on very rough and corrugated gravel roads each day to get to Weano, Hancock, Knox and Joffre Gorges.
WEANO AND HANCOCK GORGES
Our second day in Karijini was spent exploring the spectacular Weano and Hancock gorges.
KNOX AND JOFFRE GORGES
We spent our third day in Karijini exploring Knox Gorge and Joffre Gorge.
We left the park mid afternoon, heading for Tom Price to re-stock, re-fuel and stay the night. Tom Price is WA’s highest town.
Before departure for Mount Augustus we drove to the top of Mount Nameless. It is the highest one can comfortably drive a vehicle in Western Australia (the track to the top of the higher Mount Meharry is suitable only for very well-setup 4WD vehicles) provides great views of the surrounding terrain and the Tom Price iron ore operations.
We left Tom Price and headed out to the Nanutarra Road, intending to turn south on the Ashburton Downs Road, go east around the Baring Range, through Dooley Downs and come into Mt Augustus from the north.
However, the Ashburton Downs Road was closed, as was the next attempt to head south through Wyloo.
We continued to Nanutarra on the North West Coastal Highway and headed south west, turning off the highway at Towera Road. What a magnificent, comfortable, high speed dirt road this is!
TO THE KENNEDY RANGE
Past Lyndon Station we turned off the Lyndon Minnie Creek Road to find a campsite across the Lyndon River. After extricating the Patrol and the Silver Bullet from the hungry river sands we found a pleasant campsite just before dusk.
From our overnight camp we worked our way south through Mangaroon towards Mount Sandiman Station.
The spectacular sandstone battlements of the Kennedy Range are in fact a huge mesa, pushed up from an ancient sea bed.
The plan was to ‘ascend the battlement’ west of Mount Sandiman Homestead and then travel south along the edge of the escarpment before crossing the Range and dropping down to the west side. Then to Mooka Station, cross the Gascoyne River and head east into Gascoyne Junction.
THE KENNEDY RANGE
The climb up to the top of the Kennedy Range was no real challenge, even with a trailer. The track is clearly delineated and no test of navigation. The scenery at the edge of the mesa is spectacular.
ON MOOKA STATION
All was going well until the rain arrived. At first it was just annoying but as we descended the plateau and progressed closer to Mooka Station the creeks were rising and the gullies were gushing. Water spread everywhere.
It was clearly time to get out. At Binthalya we made a dash to the westward.
As dusk was approaching we found a cleared area where a grader had made a turnaround and made ourselves a comfortable camp. By late afternoon the rain had ceased and after a campfire conference we decided to return to Mooka the next day, head south, cross the Gascoyne River and then turn east to Gascoyne Junction.
We could then continue down the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road past Murchision, turn into Yallalong and exit the station country on the North West Coastal Highway at Riverside Farms.
Consistent rain from 2.00 a.m. put paid to that plan and we drove into Carnarvon.
After we arrived at the North West Coastal Highway it was a quick run into Carnarvon where we caught up with friends and refuelled before heading south again.
MURCHISON RIVER GORGES
After turning off the North West Coastal Highway at Ajana, I found the track into Hardabut Rapid and we drove down narrow tracks to one of the biggest rapids in Western Australia.
It is just upriver from the Kalbarri National Park. This was the scene of near disaster during our No Wimps Allowed expedition in 1995. Overall, our group has done nine expeditions on the river including going upriver from the mouth, downriver from Galena Bridge, downriver from 550 kilometres inland, downriver from Coolcalalaya, and finding the source.
The spectacular Murchison Gorges are only a few kilometres upriver from the rivermouth town of Kalbarri.
Consistent rain started after we turned into the Z Bend/The Loop and by the time we got in Kalbarri after dark it was heavy.
After what portended to be a wet and miserable camp we got the shelters erected, cooked dinner and had a pleasant last night, only our second without a campfire.
Next morning we checked out the coastal gorges immediately south of Kalbarri before heading to Sandford House near Port Gregory and then onto Northampton and Geraldton.
George Grey Drive from Kalbarri leads to Port Gregory and the ruins of the Lynton Convict Hiring Deport, with Sandford House close by.
The drive into Stockyard Gully was rough and slow.
The 300 metre long Stockyard Gully Cave was created by an underground river system.
From Stockyard Gully it was a short run back to Perth.
Individual photos are not credited. The main photographers were Ohad, Aaron and Matt with some being taken by Kim and Greg.
Text and layout by Kim Epton.
You may use any part of this photo-essay for non-commercial purposes but please do the right thing and make attribution.