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Bill Leithhead's WA Trip Diary
Segment 4 - Days 17 to 21 - Dongara to Kalbarri Day 3
© William G. Leithhead 2006

Day 17    Thursday, August 30th, 2001
Dongara to Geraldton via Mingenew

Dongara river mouth
River mouth at Dongara.
Today has been a beautiful day full of wildflowers. Awakening to a clear, blue, cool day (which soon warmed up), we took off from Dongara after a pleasant walk along the beach, dodging the Indian Ocean waves, driving inland towards Mingenew, a centre for wildflower viewing. There, a helpful man in the wildflower centre gave us specific directions and a map, so we pushed off towards Coalseam Conservation Reserve.

Bill with lizard
Bill gets acquainted with a lizard he met near Coalseam Conservation Reserve.
Before long, we encountered myriads of golden yellow pompom-like flowers sprinkled with other colours like deep purple, starry little yellow ones, some white, some pink, and some white everlastings and daisies. Thrilled to our back teeth, we photographed furiously, and continued to our destination. We met a stumpy-tailed (or shingle-back) lizard basking on the side of the road. The closeup of me holding it close to my head should be interesting!

Yellow everlastings near Mingenew
Yellow Paper Daisies near Mingenew.
Nearing the Coalseam area, we found more and more swathes of wildflowers, mainly light yellow paper daisies, scattered through shrubs and low trees in sandy soil, where we also saw bright yellow canola crops and rocky flat-topped plateaus of reddish rocks. We ascended up these to a large lookout about 100m high, so we had lunch and tripped gaily through the bush, oohing and aahing over the new and different flowers all around. The camera was working overtime - thank heaven for the zoom lens for closeups!

View from Coalseam lookout
View from the lookout at Coalseam.
Off we went along the red, dusty, corrugated road (van and all) towards Mullewa. As it was such a nice day, and after much thought, we decided not to search more closely around this area, but to go up to Mullewa and see the Wildflower Show, then perhaps Geraldton. This was a good move, and we saw changes again as we travelled, so out came the camera a few more times. We thought: "Aren't we going to bore the pants off people with this lot of photos!"

Kwongan heath
Typical low 'kwongan' heath near Mullewa. This widespread type of WA growth in is especially rich in wildflower species.
Mullewa is quite small, but the Wildflower Show is excellent, with workers able to give very much info, which we will use on the way back from Carnarvon. as we are assured that the flowers will last for a month or two, including the famous "Wreath Flower", (Leschenaultia macrantha), which is comparatively rare and pretty-well localized around here. We have yet to see one in the wild, but we know exactly where they are because a helpful elderly gentleman gave us directions, measured in the old units of "chains" (22 yards).

Driving 99km to Geraldton into a lowering sun, we stopped yet again for a burst of photography, and settled finally into the Belair Caravan Park near to the lighthouse. After tea we looked for a chemist for cough medicine, as a cough is still hanging around both of us, so we went into town doing night shopping. We also will put in two films for developing so we can see today's shots.

We were struck by the slightly uneasy feeling in the shops. There was a security officer wandering around the chemist and in the other shopping complex, together with the large numbers of teenagers hanging around scruffily and idly, also cruising in cars, eyeing each other off, and obviously playing a kind of slow-motion cat-and-mouse game with the security officers. I dunno - I must be getting old!

Also there is a considerable aboriginal presence in the streets here and in Mullewa - probably elsewhere as well, and this seems to be a factor in the situation. We have been given many warnings along the way about security, with oblique references to aborigines.

But I would need another whole chapter to cover my thoughts on all this! It must be difficult to be born as an aborigine in this country of ours.

Day 18    Friday, August 31st, 2001
Geraldton to Kalbarri

A cool, cloudy Geraldton dawned, so we went to get 2 films developed, which took until 11am. While waiting in a shopping centre, we met the couple from the Nullarbor (from the Head of Bight onwards), who had come here via Esperance - the long way round. Small world!

Horrocks jetty
Jetty at Horrocks, waves crashing onto the outer reef in the distance.
We hooked on and left to go north, after a slight hiccup when gas might have run out for the fridge. But the fridge came good, so up the highway to Northampton we went, then west for 23km to the coast to a hamlet called Horrocks, mentioned favourably by a couple we met yesterday at Coalseam near Mingenew. Horrocks is a beautiful little holiday and fishing town with a picturesque lagoon protected by nearby rocky reefs from the Indian Ocean surf.

Hutt Lagoon
Hutt Lagoon, near Port Gregory, from which beta-carotene pigment is extracted by a nearby factory.

After a tasty sandwich lunch we travelled by a newly-sealed road up towards Kalbarri via another little place called Port Gregory, where there is a bright pink lake just inland, called Hutt Lagoon. This is where the quasi-independant Hutt River Province was - I'm not sure if it's gone now.

Intriguingly, there is a large factory on its shore, making beta-carotene (a coloured vitamin as in carrots and watermelon) from the microoganisms causing the colour in this salt lake. This company, "Betatene" (now called "Cognis") uses a "secret" method to get this common food dye and vitamin A source, and I called in to collect an explanatory pamphlet.

Waste spray from pigment factory
Deeply coloured waste water sprays into the lagoon from the pigment extraction plant at Hutt Lagoon. In the distance, salt is piled up, deeply coloured purple by the salt-loving microorganisms which produce the beta-carotene, used as a food dye and vitamin.
They were non-committal, but I suspect it is a solvent-extraction method, judging by the smell around a waste spray outlet on the salt flats, on which they heap up the purplish-coloured evaporated salt in piles for harvesting.

Through increasingly interesting green pasture country and the characteristic heathland scrub we travelled to Kalbarri as dusk approached. Along the way I enticed Glenyce to sample the very bitter taste of the myriads of yellow, globular "paddymelons" by the wayside, a straggling creeping plant which I remembered from my Kalgoorlie childhood.

Suddenly we entered the low heathland of the Kalbarri National Park, and visited one or two tourist spots along the steep coastal cliffs, before entering the rather entrancing harbour and Murchison River town of Kalbarri, which attracted us so much we booked in for 3 nights. There is washing and sightseeing to be done; it's warm and we feel quite good except for Glenyce's grazed knees and ricked neck from an ignominiously awkward fall in red gravel near the cliffs just before we entered town.

Day 19    Saturday, September 1st, 2001
First day in Kalbarri

Kalbarri clifftops
Clifftops at the lookout just south of the town of Kalbarri.
The first day of spring dawned as a warm sunny day with a strongish breeze to cool it down. Little tour of the town, shopping, etc. We checked out the tourist centre for flights and cruises, then had a light lunch and slept most of the afternoon. Glenyce also did a full load of washing. It is really necessary to have a rest day after so much touring.

Later in the day we went and booked a tourist flight for Monday out to the Abrolhos Islands, which was Dutch explorerer Dirk Hartog's landfall in 1629, the first reported European sighting of the Australian continent. The cost is $170 each, but includes a comprehensive aerial tour of the islands, the coast, and the Murchison River gorges inland from here.

Kalbarri is a nice community, surrounded by the national park of heathland, and lots of places to stay, and many good cheap restaurants. As the sun set it was chilly in the breeze, but it died down, and we decided to try Finlay's Fish Barbecue, which is open to the weather, partly under cover. This turned out to be quite an interesting place, being basically a large tin shed with dozens of rustic tables around and old fishing junk everywhere.

Quirky sign at Finlay's
Sign at Finlay's Fish Barbecue makes clear that all are welcome!
From a huge blackboard we chose Barramundi Wings (they call a side of fish a "wing" here). So we waited in a queue with some brats of hyperactive kids with hippy parents right next to us. There were two large areas where lots of whole fish and sides of fish were being grilled. When we came to order we were told the barramundi is not available, so we chose threadfin, which I know is a fish of more tropical waters.

These apparently come only in batter, so we had that, and waited, drinking our Riesling, striking up a conversation with a Perth couple at the next table, who immigrated from Zimbabwe a few years ago. We also discovered that, for serviettes, you go and get a roll of toilet paper, so we took a photo of that novelty.

Enquiring as to the progress of our fish, we discovered that the queue we joined was for only certain dishes, and that the fish we could see being grilled wasn't being grilled at all! We were told it was being "barbecued"!! So that was what we should have asked for! Cooked on a hotplate, nevertheless!

Bill and Glenyce at Finlays
Enjoying our informal meal at Finlay's, Kalbarri.
Not only that, but there are apparently two separate businesses operating here, with different queues and menus. Apparently the second operator used to work for the first firm, and in competition with them. The thing is, there are no signs up explaining any of this! So we took it all in good grace and humour, and just enjoyed our meals and wine and the unusual ambience of the place. It was reasonably full, too, with tourists and locals in very casual dress.

So we came home in a good mood and slept well, except for the wine effect keeping Bill awake! Plus three widdles during the night for Bill, and none for Glenyce. Hooray! We're looking forward to the flight on Monday, duration about 1hr45min, and tomorrow will rest again and look around the town, and catch up on chores - diaries and accounts, washing the car, and so on. We haven't been able to wash the car since we left home because of water shortages in SA, scarcity on the Nullarbor, and shortages in the Goldfields and in Perth and up north of Perth. It's been a very dry year, so wildflowers are late and less plentiful.

It's been cool, windy and showery in Perth and the southwest, but we're starting to get the northern warmth which will increase as spring advances, we hope!

Day 20    Sunday, September 2nd, 2001
Second day in Kalbarri

Still in Kalbarri, awakening to a warmer day than before, on this trip, we mooched around in the van and Glenyce did more washing. After lunch and a bit of a rest, we went to the Kalbarri Wildflower Centre, where we did a 90min tour with a guide. That was very worthwhile and the opportunity for a lot of nice photography by Bill. We saw an amazing range of plants and flowers with a most informative commentary.

At tea time a tour-bus of people doing the north-south route arrived, and tonight they have been camped with tents in a circle and a sing-along with a small keyboard.

Bill barbecued some chicken while Glenyce cooked some veggies, and we had a slap-up meal with spuds, pumpkin, broccoli, champignons and marinated chicken. After a bit of photo-filing and diary-writing we hit the hay early so we are bright and breezy to enjoy the tourist flight that we booked into for tomorrow at 1:30pm.

Incidentally, Leanne phoned tonight on the mobile and we had a good, long chat. It seems eveything is OK at home, and we're both having an excellent, enjoyable tourist trip, too.

After discussions with other travellers, most of whom are travelling down towards Perth, we have tentatively decided to push on on Tuesday to Nanga Beach, near Denham in Shark Bay, then to Carnarvon, then to Coral Bay (just above the Tropic of Capricorn), and perhaps to Exmouth if we think it is worth our while. We still have plenty of time, and we're hoping the cool, windy, showery weather in Perth and the south-west will improve.

Day 21    Monday, September 3rd, 2001
Third day at Kalbarri

This is our last day in Kalbarri, and it dawned very warm but pleasant. After a leisurely breakfast we decide to look at the Rainbow Jungle parrot breeding centre where we enjoyed close-up views of many kinds of Australian and (and some overseas) parrots. There are large free-flight aviaries and many large cage aviaries where the breeding is done, apparently very successfully. It is a pleasant palm-laden environment and worth the $9-80.

Ready to fly
We're ready to fly at Kalbarri!
After a light lunch we left to go on a flight, but found the Abrolhos Islands leg unavailable due to low numbers, but had a full load with us for the Murchison River Gorges and coastal flights which was OK by us, at $80 instead of $170 each.

Murchison River Gorge
The Murchison River snakes its way through spectacular gorges near Kalbarri.
So off to the dusty little airfield we left, Bill securing a front seat for the photography, and clicked away happily for over an hour as we banked and steeply over river gorges, Kalbarri National Park, Kalbarri estuary and township, and the steeply sloping ocean cliffs in the region. We spotted two Right Whales breaching and flopping their tails and flippers around to the south of the town, and banked low over them.

Kalbarri cliffs
The ancient desert drops steeply into the Indian Ocean near Kalbarri.
We were glad of the shorter flight because we both became a little queasy with all this banking and the turbulence due to thermals. So we staggered back home after a couple of fresh vegetable juice drinks and had a good sleep to restore our equilibrium.

Tomorrow we move north, and we grilled some fresh snapper and enjoyed this with fresh veggies. Today we had three films developed, and they are very satisfactory. So after a sleep we'll be back on the road to Shark Bay after 3 days rest.

© William G. Leithhead 2006