Carnarvon to Mullewa

Monday, Aug 24, 2009 at 19:54

Member - John and Val

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Back to previous chapter - Port Hedland to Carnarvon


We ended up staying for several nights at Rocky Pool. It’s a big free camp area that sprawls along the southern bank of the Gascoyne River about 50km east of Carnarvon. While it’s popular with caravaners they stay close to the access track leaving 4wds to venture further away and find secluded bush camps. There is indeed a big pool of water there, deep and good quality and at least for some, warm enough to swim in. There is also plenty of firewood, so we were able to have a good campfire and do some camp oven cooking. In between domestic chores we chatted to other travellers and picked up some useful tips on places to see and good bush camps. We also had a day back at Carnarvon for supplies which included some of the excellent (and cheap) local prawns. We had a walk around the pool that included quite a scramble over big areas of rock on the northern bank. The Gascoyne is WA’s longest river, with its headwaters going east for hundreds of kilometres. When a cyclone happens to drop heavy rain in its vast catchment it results in a huge flood; the rest of the time it’s a massive river of deep sand with occasional pools but with water under the sand.

Our next destination was the Kennedy Range National Park. Heading east from Rocky Pool we passed through big grazing properties that have been largely destocked due to drought. But we did have to watch out for stray cattle beside the road. Much of this country consisted of red sandhills with big claypans in between. Some of these claypans had water in them from recent showers that had also brought on some brilliant patches of blue and yellow daisies. There were also many large wedgetail eagles making the most of roadkills, mainly kangaroos.

At Gascoyne Junction we refuelled and turned north to the Kennedy Ranges, passing through very dry country. The scenery here started to become more varied with small flat topped hills giving way to large mesas and impressive sandstone cliffs. The Kennedy Range consists of a rugged sand dune capped plateau and a dissected eastern escarpment broken by numerous short gorges. Much of this area is contained in the National Park, although access either by vehicle or foot is limited to a small area of the gorges.

There is a small basic campground in the park with a volunteer couple acting as camp hosts. There is no water, and no fires are permitted, except for one communal fire. Even for that, wood is rationed to 3 logs a night! Still, a communal fire does have the advantage of bringing people together to swap experiences and we found the company there congenial. We walked all 3 o the accessible gorges and enjoyed the rugged scenery and marvelled at the rock formations, the fossils and the few hardy flowers that survive in this harsh environment.

Leaving the park we detoured on a section of cobbled road that was built during the 1930s depression by men on the dole. What soul-destroying work in such a remote area. The idea was to use local stone to make the tracks useable by motor transport. Up to that time supplies were moved by camels, and the local produce – wool – was taken to port the same way. Surely those who laboured on that road would be gratified to know that at least some of their work still stands in good condition.

Back to Gascoyne Junction, then southeast and south on the CarnarvonMullewa road. There were increasingly frequent stops for wildflowers (mainly eremophilas) as we progressed. Also a fascinating stop where roadworks had revealed a rich fossil bed. Our lunch stop was at Bilung Pool, a big plunge pool surrounded by massive river red gums, very much a surprise in this dry landscape. (We’d learned that one of the huge (several thousand square kilometres!) cattle stations nearby had recorded about 50mm of rain this year, i.e. in 7 months. This was less than usual, but not exceptional.) Turned west onto the Butchers Track near Murchison, stopping for the night soon after entering the Toolonga Nature Reserve. This has an area of about 3000 square kilometres and we travelled the only ‘road’ through it, a graded sand track. Our overnight stopping point proved to be a hotspot of wildflowers, pinks, whites, blues, yellows, all on profusion. After leaving our camp site, we saw very few flowers in the enormous nature reserve.

Back to civilisation. We reached the north west coastal highway near the Overlander Roadhouse and refuelled before setting off west to Shark Bay and Denham. This road too had lots of everlasting daisies stretching back between the shubs. Into Hamelin Pool to admire the stromatolites and the old quarries where building blocks were cut out of compacted shell deposits, just a part of the early agricultural history of the area.

From Denham we went out to Monkey Mia to see the dolphins – what a con! Yes you have to pay – half price, good; oh did we forget to tell you that feeding is over for today, despite what all the notices say. So we saw no dolphins. The Francois Peron National Park was rather more rewarding. It’s a 40km 4WD track to get to the tip of the Peninsular where the brilliant colours of turquoise water, red rocks and white sand had the cameras working flat out. The big colonies of cormorants on the beach were entertaining to watch.

We are beginning to understand this part of the WA coast – it is prone to being windy with occasional showers, conditions not conducive to comfortable camping where shelter is scarce. No wonder the locals love their caravans!

Back on the highway we turned south and were soon rewarded by big patches of white everlastings making a brilliant display. There were more trees too and we had several stops to admire brilliant scarlet grevilleas and hakeas. A lovely bush camp that night among the mallee was a welcome change from the wind.

Then suddenly we were really in among the wildflowers; the trees gave way to rolling paddocks of emerald green wheat, and all the road verges and patches of remaining bush were carpeted with flowers. What a sight! A big free camp area on the Murchison River was a kaleidoscope of colour, pink, white, yellow and blue of different shades.

Just outside the eastern edge of Kalbarri National Park we found a bush campsite that had been recommended to us. It was a blaze of yellow billybuttons with 2 different ground orchids for variety. Our boots turned yellow with pollen. Just as well we aren’t prone to hay fever!

Then it was on into Kalbarri itself, but only after numerous photostops along the way as we passed through the park. Every time we spotted a new flower closer searching revealed half a dozen more new things – new to us anyway. It was all very exciting, even though the shrubs were only just beginning to come out. The highlights among a long list of finds included featherflowers, coppercups, red and green kangaroo paws, yellow catspaw and dryandras.

We had a few days in Kalbarri and spent more time exploring the park, finding more glorious floral vistas. And we also went and admired the spectacular gorges where the Murchison River has cut deeply into the sandstone. Other treats included visiting the seahorse sanctuary where seahorses are raised for the aquarium trade, and having morning tea with a very convivial local couple. Kalbarri has such a lot to offer – it’s definitely a place that we would like to return to.

The weather was becoming showery as we left Kalbarri and we had a few damp nights as we continued south, past convict ruins, through Geraldton, then east through lush looking crops of wheat, canola and lupins to Ellendale Pool. Going in to this popular campsite the road was very wet and slippery and Troopy and the trailer required a wash when we arrived. Not too many flowers there, but there were a good variety of birds and a deafening frogs chorus at night – and mosquitoes.

Our leisurely path to Mullewa took us first past a fair sized wind farm where 41 turbines were steadily rotating. Then on back roads where yet more flowers conspired to slow our progress. Pear fruited mallee with its giant pink and cream flowers, great swathes of pink everlastings, brilliant red hakeas,….., the list seems endless.

And so to our next bush camp, a huge space carpeted with yellow, pink and white… and don’t tread on the blue orchids that are beside the track.What a great base from which to visit Mullewa and their delightful annual wildflower show, and do the beautiful wildflower walks on the edge of the town. It’s still a bit windy and drizzly, but with all this beauty around us we don’t care about the weather.



Forward to next chapter - Mullewa to Northam

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J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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