Kalbarri National Park

While heading down to Perth from Shark Bay, we passed two National Parks that brought back a flood of pleasant memories. We had visited Kalbarri National Park to the north of Geraldton and Nambung National Park, between Geraldton and Perth, further south in 2002. Even though they do not form part of this trip, I think that its appropriate to include a page for each of them here, for several reasons:

- they fit logically into a general overview of this region and the scenery is equally stunning
- we did some nice walks and a canoe trip that are well worth describing
- we visited in spring when the wildflowers were in bloom, lighting up the landscape
- I had just bought my first digital camera, so I actually have photos that I can use

Please enjoy thes bonus pages.

Getting There

When we visited Kalbarri, we drove up from Perth and then headed west from Geraldton to reach Kalbarri via the more coastal route. It was September, in the middle of the wildflower season and, in places, the roadsides were paved with carpets of everlasting daisies, though more frequently our attention was taken by the solitary luminescence of the banksias.


Roadside carpet of everlasting daisies

Assorted banksias

A storm was approaching by the time we passed the pastel pink waters of algae-filled Hutt Lagoon. Drenched by the storm on our arrival, we awoke to a beautifully clear day at Kalbarri township on the mouth of the Murchison River. It was time to begin our exploration.

The algal pink colour of Hutt Lagoon was enhanced by the approaching storm

Murchison Rivermouth - morning after the storm
Kalbarri wildflowers

We set out by car to follow some of the red sandy roads leading into Kalbarri National Park. The park boasts over 1000 species of wildflower that bloom from July to November. However, it is not a place where wildflowers carpet the ground in garish colours. The heath growing on the sandstone plateau looks dull and uninspiring until you stop and inspect it more closely. The low “scrub” reveals the beauty of its wildflowers one by one in a myriad of colours, sizes and shapes.

In Kalbarri, the rewards go to those who seek.


Grass tree silhouetted against the Kalbarri heathlands

When smoke bush is in bloom you can see where its name comes from

Smokebush, grass trees and many species of small flowering shrubs stood out from the dull green background as we drove across the plateau, stopping here and there to roam into the heath.

Some of the many ....

.... wildflowers ....

....of Kalbarri

The flat heath-covered plateau of Kalbarri dramatically gives way to the red and cream sandstone cliffs of the Murchison Gorge. Fed by monsoonal rains in summer, the Murchison has carved a magnificent gorge for 80 km through the plateau, creating its own unique environment. We did a couple of short walks at two points overlooking the Murchison Gorge, Hawks Head and Ross Graham Lookout.

Colours of the cliff walls

A walk by the river at Ross Graham Lookout

View from Hawk's Head over the Murchison Gorge

Feral goat



Thorny devil

While we were walking along the river's edge, we could hear an occasional bleating from high on the gorge walls - unfortunately, some of the more noticeable residents of this area are the feral goats. It was a good start and we were looking forward to getting to know Kalbarri better by canoe and on foot. The icing on the cake was to see, on the way home, a thorny devil crossing one the sandy roads that traverse the national park.

Canoe trip down the Murchison (8 km walk and 10 km by canoe)

We were picked up by the canoe tour company in Kalbarri and our small group of eight people and a guide headed back out into the national park, stopping first at the Z Bend, to admire the Murchison Gorge from on high. Then it was back into the vehicle to a stop by the roadside, where we put on our day packs and followed our guide into a steep-sided gully that led toward the Murchison River.

View over the heath covered plateau to the rim of the Murchison Gorge

Overlooking the middle section of the Z Bend

This provided the opportunity to admire the flowers of the different flora found in the gorge system, as well as the beauty of the maroon and cream banding in the sandstone cliffs. Finally we emerged at Fourways, where two reaches of the river and two side gullies met, to appreciate for the first time the interior of Murchison Gorge. Here our canoes were waiting on the banks of a long pool in the river.

The beautiful banded rocks of Kalbarri

One of many flowering shrubs

Descending into the gully from the plateau ...

... to follow it down to the river

After a short snack break at Fourways, we climbed into our canoes and set off. The pools of the Murchison are home to many species of waterbird. We paddled slowly for 3 km down the pool from Fourways, passing cormorants, herons, egrets, snakebirds and several species of duck.

The cliffs of Murchison Gorge at Fourways

A still waterhole in the Murchison

Murchison River and Gorge

Canoeing beneath the overhanging sandstone cliffs

The river passed close to the cliff face, often under multicoloured sandstone overhangs, while occasionally a white sandy beach beckoned. The permanent water and different microclimate of the gorge are home to a much more verdant flora than on the plateau, one dominated by the white barked river gums. We reached a point where a stony constriction separated our long waterhole from the following river section and, after stretching our legs and exploring a bit, we turned back for home.

Where the canoe trip ended

A nice shady overhang for lunch

Snake bird and cormorant

Nankeen night heron

Egret in the reeds

Rest break on the banks of the Murchison

The sun shone brightly and reflected off the cliffs - our return in the languid heat of a Murchison Gorge afternooon was slow as we took in the delights of the river. Eventually leaving our canoes, we climbed steeply out of the gorge to head back along a different higher route with expansive views over the heathland. It had been a great combination of land and river; canoeing certainly is a very pleasant way to experience the Murchison Gorge.

The Loop Track (8 km)

Walking is the best way to appreciate the landscapes of Kalbarri and we opted to do a 8km circuit that follows a large bend in the Murchison River. It is a track that takes in much of the diversity of the region; heath-covered plateau, gorge walls, river and sandy flats. The walk starts and ends at an eroded sandstone formation known as Nature’s Window, which framed spectacular views of the river and gorge.

The first part of the walk headed crossed a narrow rocky razorback to reach a part of the plateau that has almost been cut off by the bend in the river. Once on the plateau, we headed east along the rim of the gorge, overlooking the river and passing many more examples of weather-carved sandstone art.

The obligatory pose - sitting in Nature's Window

Cliff-top flowers

Bend in the Murchison

View through Nature's Almost Window

Looking back along the cliff top track

Dip in the tepid waters of a shallow pool

While wandering along the gorge rim, we came to a peculiar site - a large number of rock cairns had been constructed on a flat shelf looking back up the river. It seems that someone started piling rocks and now almost everyone who passes adds to the edifice, which resembled an ancient deserted city - but why, homage to Machu Picchu perhaps?

Like an old ruined city - piles of cairns have appeared on the cliff edge

Shady tree on a sandy beach - time for lunch

Soon after we reached the end of the island plateau as the river looped north. It was the end of the first section and the path dropped down from the rim to a broad white sand beach on a bend in the river. What better place to stop for lunch, have a swim and read a book in the shade of a large river gum.

Following a rock ledge along the river

Passing beneath a rocky sandstone outcrop

After lunch and a siesta, we headed off on the middle section of the loop track as it turned north, following the river from the sandy beach area along a jagged rocky shoreline at the base of the cliffs. Occasionally a scarlet robin flitted from tree to tree, while swans and ducks floated languidly down with the river current before flying back upstream to repeat the exercise.

Bend in the Murchison

Black swans and coots drifting down the river

Yet another shady tree on a sandy beach

Pink and white banding in the sandstone cliffs

A hot afternoon on the Loop Track

The final section of the loop walk took us back toward the west as the landscape opened out into stony river flats. The cliff faces turned fiery red in the afternoon sun. The hot sun prompted one last dip in a waterhole, before leaving the river to cross a pale red sand dune system, dotted with the pinks, blues and yellows of the dune flora. A final short steep climb brought us back up to Nature’s Window and completed this spectacular short walk in the heart of Kalbarri National Park.

One last dip in the cool waters of the Murchison ....



... before heading back across the flower-speckled dunes

Kalbarri Coastal Track (where the irresistible meets the immovable)

South of Kalbarri township lies a long stretch of coastal cliffs. Here the Indian Ocean butts up against the ancient Australian landmass, creating steep chasms, rocky inlets and bizarre formations, as it relentlessly carves away at the multi-coloured layers of sandstone and limestone. Where once it was possible to do a 15 km walk from one end (Natural Bridge) to the other (Kalbarri), by 2002 when we visited this area, cliff top erosion and the subsequent disappearance of sections of the track obliged us to undertake a series of short walks from different vantage points. Clearly where the irresistible ocean meets the immovable landmass, the edges tend to get a bit frayed. Still, this did not detract from the beauty of the cliffs and the experience of looking out from the edge of the continent. The situation today is somewhat improved and the Bigurda Trail stretches for 8km from Natural Bridge to Eagle Gorge.

The Natural Bridge (start of the Bigurda Track)

Island Rock and the 100m high pale grey limestone cliiffs

Looking down onto the Grandstand

Our first port of call was a short stroll out to see the 100m tall cliffs at the start of the walk, where the action of wind and sea had sculpted the pale grey sandstone and limestone cliffs into formations such as Natural Bridge and Island Rock. Driving on a bit further north, we again made a short diversion to look down over darker cliffs to the white-foamed inlet of The Grandstand.

Our next stop was a few kilometres north to wander down to Eagle Gorge, which is now the trackhead of the Bigurda Trail. We wandered down a heath-filled gully to reach the grey and tan rocks and grey sandy beach of this coastal gorge. It was a good spot to sit on the rocks and watch the power of the sea as the waves rolled in from the Indian Ocean.

The jaggedly carved cliffs of Eagle Gorge

Heathland along the track to Eagle Gorge



Wandering back to the car, we next stopped at Pot Alley, where reddish terraced cliffs rise up on either side of a sandy beach. The Kalbarri cliffs were a superb platform from which to watch for marine mammals, and from the heights here we could look down on a pod of dolphins cruising up and down in close to the cliffs and the occasional spout of a distant humpback whale on its southward journey to its Antarctic feeding grounds.

The waves roll in at the mouth of Eagle Gorge

Red tiered cliffs of Pot Alley

The coastal heath in bloom

The first three excursions were hardly long enough to stretch our legs, so it was good to find the last foray was a bit longer, a 6km circuit that has since been upgraded and bears the name Mushroom Rocks Trail. The track headed out across the coastal heathlands, speckled with the purple and white pom-poms of shrubby melaleucas. Brightly flowered herbs were scattered in the odd open patches between the heath bushes or next to the path.

The interior of the Kalbarri cliff landscape

Soon we entered a steep-sided rocky gully, which brought us out to the coast at Mushroom Rocks, a pair of large flattish dark rocks balancing on a rock shelf at the ocean's edge. There are many Mushroom Rocks in the world and this one is probably one of the least mushroom like; nonetheless, an interesting example of balancing rock art.


Rocky gully leading down to Mushroom Rocks

Mushroom Rocks (with a bit of imagination)

The intense blue of the ocean contrasting with the pinkish sandstone at Rainbow Valley

From Mushroom Rocks, we picked our way southwards, following the coastline past the multi-coloured layers of the rock faces in Rainbow Valley, stopping to examine the colored banding and the strange blocks of fossilised marine worm tubes. The walk through the Rainbow Valley area more than any other contrasted the pink tones of the sandstone with the translucent blue of the ocean.

Ochre coloured bands in the rock at
Rainbow Valley

The polychrome rock faces of Rainbow Valley

Ancient hieroglyphics? - no, fossilised marine
worm tubes

From Rainbow Valley, the track led back up to where our car was parked, ending our exploration of the coastal cliffs of Kalbarri. Even though it was seven years ago that we walked these cliffs, or walked and canoed along the gorges of the Murchison River, it was amazing how looking at the photos again brought the memories flooding back. I almost felt sorry that we didn't have the time on our current "north by northwest" adventure to stop here and do it all again.

Red Bluff from the sea - included just because I like it

So if you were out surfing the offshore break at Red Bluff in September 2002 .... nice ride!!!

Kalbarri sunset

Kalbarri was also a great spot for one of our favourite occupations; watching the sun set from an idyllic location. We had developed a tradition of taking a bottle of gin and tonic and a plate of hors d’ouevres in a backpack to find the right spot and salute the passing of the day. Sharing this with the seagulls by the edge of the bar pounded by a heavy surf, a pelican taking its last swim on the glassy river surface or the flights of terns returning from a day’s fishing* in the ocean was a superb way to finish each of our Kalbarri days.

*now you know where the banner photo for this website comes from