The attractions of the nearby national park and its reputation as a wildflower hotspot draws thousands upon thousands of grey nomads to the Western Australian town of Kalbarri every year.
Sitting at the mouth of the Murchison River, about 600 kilometres north of Perth, Kalbarri’s popularity as a tourist destination has been further fuelled by the development and promotion of the iconic Indian Ocean Drive.
While fishing enthusiasts have been enjoying the area for decades, it is the improving infrastructure and the growth of the grey nomad phenomenon which has really seen the personality of the one-time cray fishing village slowly transformed. But, while the fishing fleet may have diminished in recent years and tourist numbers may have increased, Kalbarri still retains its relaxed atmosphere … and fresh fish can be purchased directly from the boats at the wharf.
Kalbarri didn’t became a town until 1951, but it now attracts an estimated 200,000 tourists annually, and the full range of shops, services and accommodation options – including caravan parks – have been developed to cater to their needs.
There is no camping allowed at the Kalbarri National Park just out of town, but visitors shouldn’t hold that against a park that delivers so much else. There are many easily accessible lookouts which offer spectacular views of the gorges, sandstone cliffs and formations carved over thousands of years by the Murchison River. These include the iconic Nature’s Window, a natural rock arch which perfectly frames the stunning vista, as well as The Z Bend, The Loop, Hawks Head, and the Ross Graham Lookout.
There are a range of walks of differing lengths and difficulty which allow visitors to truly immerse themselves in the spectacular coastal landscape. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a migrating humpback whale or two.
Of course, between August and October, it is the more than 700 species of blooming wildflowers which steal star billing. Everything from daisies to orchids throw a colourful blanket over the landscape for as far as the eye can see.
While modern Kalbarri is a bustling tourist centre, evidence of its less glamorous past are not far away. This part of remote coastline has been the scene of more than its fair share of shipwrecks over the years, including the infamous Batavia, which sunk on its maiden voyage in 1629. Just to the north of town is the site of the original lead smelter for the nearby Geraldine mine, which operated in the mid 19th century.
The track in is a bit rough but some of the original stone work and foundations are still there to see. The historic town of Northampton, which is an hour or so southeast of Kalbarri, actually grew up to support the Geraldine mine, and history buffs will find it worth a trip out. Many of the original 19th century building are still there, and there us is also the Gwlaa cemetery and church ruins, and a Heritage Railway Line.
Also a little to Kalbarri’s south east is the self-declared ‘independent’ province of Hutt River. A visit to this principality and a meeting with His Royal Highness Prince Leonard will certainly add another unique chapter to the Big Lap stories of many, and there are basic camping options available here for caravanners and motorhomers, as well.
Mix a healthy dose of natural magnificence with a few slices of historical interest, and mix together with a topping of Aussie larrikinism and you have the recipe which makes the Kalbarri area so very special.