Kalbarri is a small fishing/holiday town at the mouth of the Murchison River just a bit north of Geraldton. The first time I went there was with my father and brother, when I was nearly fifteen years old. We went off in the (I think) FE Holden for a two-week holiday through the wildflower meadows of the wheat belt, up to Carnarvon and Shark Bay. Fred and Dad had set up the back seat of the car so it could be dropped down to make a bed, while I slept on the front bench seat. I was younger and suppler then. It was a magical trip. The wildflowers were wonderful, with paper daisies (everlastings) forming a carpet of pink and white and yellow. I remember the strong contrast with the deep red of the earth.
We came across a sign post to Kalbarri by accident not long before sunset. Dad thought we’d take a look, and off we went, down a dirt road. As the sun sank, Dad drove more and more slowly, squinting into the light. Just as well. With the sun straight in our eyes we came across a sharp right turn, down a hill and over a dry creek bed. We managed the rest of the journey and camped for the night.
The road is bitumen now. The right hand turn is still there, but not so sharp, and the creek bed crossings have been smoothed out. The town’s bigger, too, but the river mouth hasn’t changed. There’s a tricky crossing over the bar into the ocean from the river anchorage, and the fishing’s good. Fred caught a big fish on a hand line that morning – much to the chagrin of the Real Fishermen with their expensive rods and reels.
Back to the present. We booked into a motel and went out to look at the sea cliffs. They’re not too awe-inspiring here, but not much further north from Kalbarri they become the towering Zuytdorp Cliffs, named after the ill-fated Dutch merchantman the Zuytdorp, which sank at their base. A large group of people managed to survive the ship wreck – then vanished. You can read a bit about the ship and its intriguing story here.
Kalbarri has a connection with the Batavia, too. It was claimed that two of the ‘lesser’ villains who took part in the murders on the nearby Abrolhos Islands were marooned here – Australia’s first white inhabitants. But there’s some debate, with many believing the location was more likely to have been a little further south at Hutt River.
Next morning, we set off to visit the river gorges. The Loop and the Z bend are about 25km from the main road. The road is bitumen for a little over half way, then reverts to dirt before the bitumen resumes around the parking area. Maybe instead of employing somebody to collect entry fees they could use the money they saved to finish surfacing the road. Needless to say, it used to be free – and unmade, a wide, sandy, boggy track through the scrub. I did the trip once on a dirt bike, riding through the mist. Ghostly kangaroos popped up to watch me ride past.
The wild flowers in this part of the world are stunning, growing in an area where the sandy southern coastal plain and the red earth of the north combine. It was like driving through a park, with colour everywhere. The weather was pleasant, too. Not too hot, although a bit windy.
The gorges in themselves are fascinating. They’re there because the land is (still) slowly rising. The river doesn’t care, it just keeps on flowing, cutting through the rock as it does so. These rocks, known as Tumblagooda sandstone, are very, very old. That’s Australia – an ancient, eroded landscape.
We didn’t make it to Z bend, but we did visit the Loop, Nature’s window and Hawk’s head.