West Coast Trip: Broome to Perth
- Submitted by: Matt Adams, United Kingdom
- Submission Date: 09th Aug 2005
The tropical city of Broome is situated in the North of Western Australia, a mammoth 2370km away from the state's capital, Perth. A flight would get you there in two and a half hours but to fly would mean missing out on the extraordinary range of attractions situated along the coastline.
If you don't fancy doing the drive yourself, then one of the best options is to take the Easyrider Bus, which offers a hop on/off service with five overnight stops. Each Day offers a guided tour and you can either make the trip in six days, or have an extended stay at as many places as you like along the way.
There is inevitably an awful lot of driving involved, sometimes up to eight hours a day. But that needn't necessarily be as dull as it sounds. Firstly it gives an opportunity to appreciate just how vast this country is, and how much of it is complete wilderness. Particularly in the North of the state the scenery can be breathtaking.
Having the right driver can also make a big difference to the trip. Our first guide was called Otto. He was named after the bus driver from the Simpsons to whom he bore an uncanny resemblance, both in terms of appearance, and as we would find out later, personality. Added to this the fact that the man we bought our pass from was called Bart, and we got the feeling that there wouldn't be a lack of amusement along the way.
We set off from Broome, leaving behind breathtaking Cable Beach complete with sunset camel rides. Today was mainly spent on the minibus driving down the coast, listening to Otto's heavy metal music and getting acquainted with the other members of the group, made up mostly of people in their 20's. There was another English couple, and people travelling on their own from Holland, Germany and other European countries. After an early start the only real stop was for lunch at the 80 mile beach. With white sand stretching as far as you could see it lived up to its name, and Australian place names do often have a habit of pointing out the obvious. 630 km down the road from Broome we arrived at our destination for the night, Port Headland. Having seen locals throw glass bottles around a car park and being chased by the police, it was easy to see why it was, as Otto revealed, affectionately known amongst the tour guides as 'Port Shitland.'
After some outdoor cooking and a nights sleep interrupted by the discovery of a vast number of bed bugs in the hotel room, we were back on the road early the next morning. Our destination was Karijini National Park, situated in the Pilbara region of WA and traditional home to the Banyjima, Kurrama & Innawonga Aboriginal people.
It is the second largest National Park in the state, and hosts spectacular river gorges and waterfalls with walking trails to great vantage points. It was already very hot despite being early in the morning, as Otto set us out on a guided walk to some of the park's best attractions. Our path took us to a lookout above Circular Pool, before a hike along the nooks and crannys of Dales Gorge. We clambered up and over rocks and shuffled nervously along ledges, all the time with the dramatic falls in view.
The combination of the hot sun and the beautiful plunge pools situated at the foot of the waterfalls made it impossible to resist a swim. Not many in the group dared the freezing waters but it was well worth it to swim under the falls and feel the water crash down on you. At times like this, it was difficult to believe that we were in the outback. Lunch was at the most picturesque of these - Fortescue Falls, where other members of the group were finally persuaded to swim.
Our stop tonight was a campsite in a small mining town named Tom Price. The town was purpose built after a huge discovery of iron ore nearby in 1962 and named after an American iron magnate. We had a traditional bush barbecue, cooked by the German butcher named Chris and a few drinks. Mine was courtesy of the fact that Otto promised to buy a 'bourbon' for anybody who dared swim in that first plunge pool. After a few bourbons of his own Otto told us all some jokes to demonstrate his distinctly Australian sense of 'humour.'
Left Tom Price at 5.30 am and were on the bus for a lot of today on the way to Exmouth, a small coastal town from where the Ningaloo Reef is most easily accessible. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast, Ningaloo can be reached without the need for a long boat trip, and our group literally swam out to it from the pristine Turquoise Bay, situated just outside of Exmouth. Otto provided everybody with flippers and snorkel and we waded out in the crystal clear waters to marvel at the wonderful array of tropical fish, manta rays, turtles and even a reef shark which we were assured was not interested in humans. Following the fast moving shark proved to be a bit too difficult so I was happy to instead swim peacefully alongside a turtle, especially since the current allowed you to drift along without any real effort. Overnight was at a caravan park in Exmouth.
Days 4 & 5
Several members of our group hopped off the bus at Exmouth to go on a whale watching trip. We instead chose to get off at nearby Coral Bay where we would spend the next few days, while Otto and the rest of the bus continued on their journey to Perth.
Coral Bay is a tiny village consisting of little more than a handful of shops and small tour operators hiring out fishing and snorkelling equipment. There are a collection of beautiful beaches all around the bay, and after a day spent sunbathing, we booked a kayaking trip out to the reef. Paddling against the current in a very strong wind proved difficult, so it was a relief to be able to tie up the kayaks and jump overboard to once again explore the depths. Once again I was amazed by the vivid colours of the coral and fishes. Our guide had a digital camera, which he used to take some amazing photographs underwater. These were copied onto a CD to buy, and he even dived down to the seabed and twice disturbed a reef shark, allowing us all to get a closer look. He also dropped food into the water and we were at once surrounded by literally hundreds of fishes swimming round frantically after the food.
The evening back at the hostel (a very nice modern building with excellent facilities) was livened up by the presence of a group who Australians would charmingly refer to as 'outback characters.' Their activities generally center around drinking, shouting, telling jokes, and then a bit more drinking.
Back on the Easyrider bus, this time with a new driver who had set off from Broome a couple of days after us. Also back on board were a lot of the people who had stopped off in Exmouth so it was a case of everybody catching up on each others adventures on the long drive south through the Shark Bay region to a small fishing village named Denham.
Shark Bay is a world heritage area and incorporates a marine national park that is home to an abundance of sealife including dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles and dugongs. These strange looking creatures feed upon the large area of seagrass at the bottom of the ocean and were confused with mermaids by early travellers to the coast. Despite looking nothing like mermaids legend has it that the sailors were so desperate for the sight of a woman, that by this time anything would do.
Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve is home to a formation of stromatolites, one of only a handful of places on earth where you can see the planet's oldest living organism. They are living fossils, and although the stromatolites themselves, situated near the shore in a small bay, are nothing particularly special to look at, the fascination undoubtedly comes from knowing you're looking at something that originated more than three billion years ago. After a visit to Shell Beach (a beach made entirely of shells, there's that Aussie way with names again) we arrived in Denham, staying at a small hostel/guest house run by an English family originally from Birmingham.
Days 7, 8 & 9
The rest of the group continued on their journey south but we decided to stay in Denham for a few days in order to take things easy for a while, and also to enable several visits to see the dolphins at Monkey Mia.
Monkey Mia is a beach where each morning a group of friendly dolphins swim up to the shore for feeding. The dolphins are a range of ages, some of the older ones have been coming to shore for many years and are now accompanied by their babies. The rangers know them all by name and identify them by certain characteristics such as one who lost part of its fin in a shark attack. Although tourists can't approach or touch the dolphins, it is possible to stand waist deep in the water and let the dolphins swim around you. Because they are used to humans the dolphins are extremely friendly and often show off by jumping in the air and chasing each other in circles. On our various visits I was actually chosen on three separate occasions to take part in the feeding which involved me wading out deeper and holding a fish in the water for the dolphin to take out of my hand. Generally the early morning feed is the busiest but later on, when a lot of the day trippers have moved on, it's a lot quieter and you stand a better chance of being chosen and seeing the animals up even closer.
After the dolphins went away for the afternoon there was plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sunshine before being picked up by the owner of the hostel in the evening. Throughout the trip the weather had been getting gradually cooler, and we had left behind the relentless heat of Broome and Karijini for more comfortable temperatures, though it was still ideal weather for sunbathing.
After a peaceful day in Denham it was time to leave and get back on the Easyrider bus again. We were reunited with the last remaining members of our original group who had stopped in Exmouth and had a new driver, the hyper and slightly manic Cas. Cas had her own rather unique way of speaking and phrases such as jobs on, its the go and 'heaps fun' caused some confusion among the now mostly English group. We stopped first for a coastal walk at Eagle Bluff just outside Denham and then late in the afternoon we made it to Kalbarri National Park, now a mere 533km from Perth. Kalbarri NP covers 183,000 hectares of land and in appearance is quite similar to Karijini. It is located on the Mutchison River and its dramatic red and white gorges run for over 80km. Unfortunately we were a little pushed for time and so made our way straight to the Hawks Head lookout from which we had fantastic views of the river gorge and of a group of kangaroos down below.
Near the town of Kalbarri itself, the coastline is spectacular, with arches and stacks formed by the powerful sea. Here we stopped and Cas, as it was the last night of the trip, presented each one of us with a glass of champagne which we drank watching the sunset.
Later that evening our group went to a local pub and were joined by another group travelling North and their driver, Otto. This certainly helped to give an insight into the life of an Easyrider tour guide. You drive huge distances 6 days in a row between Perth and Broome, and once there you have a day or two to yourself before setting off back again.
The final day of our trip started like most of the others had, on the move by about 6am. Our last stop was to be Nambung National Park near the town of Cervantes. The park has some stunning beaches with the whitest sand imaginable including the intriguingly named Hangover Bay. Unfortunately, as we arrived, the weather began to close in and the sky turned an extremely dark shade of purple. Some people stayed in the bus but most decided to risk it and went to explore the Pinnacles Desert. Here, there are thousand of limestone pillars of various shapes and sizes. creating a strangely eerie atmosphere, particularly at sunset when the rocks cast huge shadows. Sadly, this is something we were to miss out on as predictably the rains descended and we were left desperately running for shelter. This proved utterly pointless and we instead ended up posing for group photographs in front of the pinnacles, in the middle of a thunderstorm and our clothes dripping wet.
A few hours later we finally arrived in the beautiful city of Perth. Over the past eleven days we had driven through hour after hour of deserted bush and countryside, seeing a huge variety of wildlife both on land and in the sea. We had met some great people and seen a diversity of attractions that entire countries would struggle to match.