A light offshore breeze fans the wave face, the ocean glimmering green in the late afternoon sun. I spin around to stroke over the shallow rock shelf, the barnacles on the gurgling sea floor demanding precaution. Groomed lines of swell wrap around the dusty red headland, growing in size as they thunder down the line. Surfing here is only for the brave, or foolhardy
From the corner of my eye, I notice a gigantic pyramid rock formation in the distance towering over land and sea. Its sheer size makes the depth of the ocean that lies beneath seem small in comparison. I can’t help but admire the hand of God in creating this monstrosity, a structure that wouldn’t be out of place on Mars or Ancient Egypt. Ironically, it looks the stern of a boat…
When Lieutenant George Grey and his men stumbled across Kalbarri for the first time, it saved their lives. After their ship was wrecked on the Zuytdorp cliffs, the men rowed for 56 hours. Painstakingly battling their way through treacherous seas in a leaky boat, they finally arrived at ‘Red Bluff’.
Before they began the 600km trudge back to Perth – Western Australia’s only settlement at the time – Lt. Grey and his men were astounded by what they found ashore.
“We came out upon one of the most romantic and picturesque-looking estuaries I had yet seen,” Grey notes in his journal.
“The nature of the rocks and the lofty and peculiar character of the distant hills gave promise of the most fertile region I had yet seen in extra-tropical Australia. Indeed, this was the only part of South-West Australia in which I had met with the ancient red sandstone of the North-West coast.”
The red dirt sears underfoot as I step out of my car. A dry desert breeze blusters through the rustic carpark, chapping the skin from my lips, gust by gust. Those living in Western Australia’s North-West are truly at the mercy of the land.
Kalbarri marks the unofficial beginning of Australia’s North West. This is one of the world’s last remaining true wildernesses, and is regarded as one of the final frontiers of travel – even by Australians. Although Kalbarri sits on the edge of rugged oblivion, the town is not without luxury and homely comforts.
Since its establishment, Kalbarri has been firmly rooted in West Australian holiday history. A popular holiday spot for rural mining families in the 1920s and 30s, a military camp was even established for the embattled soldiers of WWII seven years after it was declared a town site in 1948.
Today, whilst Kalbarri’s population rounds off at a mere 2000, it can swell fourfold during holiday periods, and attracts almost a quarter of a million annual visitors. It’s not hard to see why.
The road back to Geraldton hugs a rugged and spectacular coastline. Thousands of years of thundering swell have sculpted psychedelic rock formations like Pot Alley and Mushroom Rock. This is where true Australia begins – the one you see plastered across tourist brochures, with images of red dirt and beat up four wheel drives.
In an Aboriginal Dreamtime tale, a serpent called Beemarra was drawn to the coast by the sound of pounding swell. Following a creek and then tunnelling underground, she arrived to the terrifying sight of thundering waves and scampered back down the Murchison River. But as she fled, her passage was marked by a tunnel through an outcrop of red sandstone, leaving fresh water where she rested.
These fresh water springs are still in existence today, and 209 Aboriginal heritage sites are registered in the area. In the Kalbarri National Park, the intricate pane of Nature’s Window frames a rugged view out over a twisting red and green landscape. The Z Bend is one of the National Park’s most visited sites, and clambering down to the bottom is well worth it for a swim in the cool, curving waters.
I sink into my deckchair like the setting West Australian sun, Kalbarri’s golden glow rubbing off on me as if this town has the Midas touch. The shimmering green and gold hues of the Indian Ocean transform in the fading light. We retreat into the growing shadows, our campsite now draped in a royal mauve glow.
But we’re not alone.
Glen and Gary have set up camp next to us. Making the 10 hour trip up from Collie, I immediately assume they’ve come up to have a crack at Kalbarri’s world class fishing.
Glen tells me otherwise.
“Nah mate, we’ve just come up to sit around and sink piss,” he roars.
“Soak up the serenity and do bugger all. I’ve been all around the world and there’s nowhere else like it up here.”
Tom de Souza