What to expect in Australian outback? 1400 km of wilderness from Perth to Karijini
Updated: Apr 20
Outback ... you are probably wondering what interesting can be in wasteland? And you are not far from my initial doubts when Lubos suggested to drive more then 1000 km in complete desert. Well, my thumbs are always up for fun but I couldn`t resist to ask this time: "And what we will see in the outback?"... his answer was: "Nothing, and everything". Yes, that`s it ... nothing compare to big cities like Sydney or Melbourne but everything what Australia stands for and what differs her from other continents. Red dry soil, flat bush as far as you can see and endemic species of animals in their natural habitat.
So after a few jet-leg days in Perth we rented 4WD Nissan Qashkai and full of excitement we started to drive 1400 km from Perth all the way up to Karijini National park. Curious what we have seen and experienced? Then read through and hopefully you get inspired to similar off the beaten path trip to see real Australia.
-- Day 1 --
Flat roads, Road trains and unforgettable
If you have inclination to autism, you like long purposeless drive or you are just crazy explorers like us then this journey will be a dream comes true. You just need to feel that adrenaline inside your veins when you get out of Perth city and pleasant voice of google maps navigation tells you: "continue straight 627 kilometers". Then it starts, completely different perspective, suddenly you see as far as your brain can capture 360 degrees around you. Whole day you look on flat road in front of you, rust orange soil and dwarfish bush around you, like somewhere in African desert. After a while, you are absolutely sure those believers of flat Earth theory must have been on holiday in Australian outback.
The only company you have on the road are death animals and so called 'Road trains'. Never heard of them? Road trains are big long trucks that can pull up to 3 trailers behind the cabin. It can be more then 50 meters long. Road trains transport various goods, heavy loads like towing machines or oversize loads like turbines which eat up the whole road width. They take advantage of outback roads because of the minimum traffic, flat straight roads and constant speed. During our drive we had to overtake them sometimes and in case of oversize loads that was just an adrenaline! These guys are usually accompanied with safety cars that gave us a sign when to overtake. If you want to see how we managed it go to our Instagram and look into the Western Australia Highlights, there is a short video.
Unfortunately, there is also one very discomforting thing what you see while driving outback roads, and that is dead animals. Many of them fell victim of road trains, especially if crossing during the night because road trains do not stop for anything. It sounds horrible but these trucks are so heavy that acceleration to full speed can take them more then 10 minutes and sudden stopping is not really possible since their braking distance is couple of hundred meters. We saw many cows, horses and even some kangaroos near the road :(
Moving on to something more pleasant. Actually, to the best thing of this journey in wasteland and that is glorious sunsets. Sunsets that set clouds on fire and turn orange soil to golden bath. You can watch them for hours until orange-red sun finally sets over the flat horizon. Bang...Mind blowing.
After dark the obvious question comes, where do you sleep in this complete wilderness ? I would say it depends on two main things: 1) to what extend are you afraid of venomous snakes and 2) what type of car do you have. During our itinerary preparation Lubos was absolutely convinced that we are going to camp in Australia ... in a tent! ... not a camper van! You can imagine what went through my head immediately ... snakes, spiders, crocodiles were racing who can bite me first ... oh hell no, he is out of his mind! In order to convince me, he found all possible and impossible statistics of how many deaths are there caused by venomous snake or spider bite in last couple of years which says, there are none, so I should not be afraid. Xo-xo. Anyhow, once we were there in wilderness in hot orange bush we both almost pooped our pants due to fear of snakes :) Therefore, pulling over anywhere on the road for the night was not an option especially since we rented 4WD and not a trailer. Instead, we were searching for an official camping near our planned route and we found two possibilities, 220 km far from Perth - Dalwallinu Caravan Park and 620 km far from Perth -Cue Tourist park. We decided to drive as far as we can the first day so we chose Cue Tourist park in small town Cue. It was nice camping area with showers, kitchen and picnic area. There were other people camping in trailers as well but we, as the only crazy people, were sleeping in our tent, zipped in 33 degrees. Well, it was not a good night sleep rather a good night sweat.
-- Day 2 --
Roadhouses, Expensive gas and towns like
Wild Wild West
"New day, new adventure, new 700 km in front of us, woohoo"... you should have seen Lubos`s face when I woke him up with this sentence after he was driving almost the same distance the day before. The only way I could decoy him for a new adventure was to supply enough caffeine and the place where you can get it on the road in outback is so called "Roadhouse". It`s kind of a gas station combined with small shop, restaurant and motel, all in one. It`s the only service and relax place for truck drivers and they are located hundreds of kilometres apart. We also stopped in a few of them to get a snack and a gas. Gas is veeery expensive here but what can we expect in no civilization, right? But the question number one we were thinking about was - how often people working in Roadhouse go home or what they do in free time if next city is 300km far away, for instance. They don´t drive to work every morning, obviously. Well, it stays as rhetorical question, because they seemed not very talkative so we rather didn´t bother with stupid questions.
Except Roadhouses there are 2 or 3 small towns (better say settlements) on the way near the highway where you can buy some food. We stopped by in Meekatharra and Newman because we wanted to see how people live in such a remote place. Well, it seems that they don´t live. These townships were like ghost towns or towns from Wild Wild West movies when there should be a gun duel, without cowboys. Nobody on the streets. On the other hand, marketers would be thrilled by local advertising spirit looking at the poster of one of the cafes there that says: "Best coffee within 400 kms" ... we didn´t try, it was closed.
Luckily, just around the corner in some side street there was a coffee truck open, so we were saved. Apparently, it is quite popular spot because we finally saw some people on the street and nice policemen even smiled at our camera. By the way, we also found supermarket in Newman which was quite stocked up. There was almost everything we might have needed, so we took advantage and bought large mosquito net and a red mug.
After short breaks we continued in our journey. Nevertheless, our wish for second day, to see kangaroos (J) or termites (L), has not been fulfilled. Out of sadness, hot and tiredness of constant driving without radio signal and mp3 songs played over hundred times we started to develop our own songs. You don`t want to hear them, trust me. When this is your mental stage on the second day already, where will we end up at the end of this roadtrip (mental home or in AGT bad acts)? Instead of kangaroos or termites we started to be attacked by flies every time we got off the car. They goes to your month, nose, ears ... it`s not very pleasant. Thanks God we bought that mosquito net! The second warm night we spent in Kumarina Road house Caravan park.
-- Day 3 --
Tropic of Capricorn
While we were moving up north to Karijini the following day, suddenly wild animals started to show up. Our songs paid off. First we saw a family of 4 Emu in the bush near the road. Baby Emus were small so we did not see them at first but then they came closer to mama Emu to show off from save zone. Later we saw more Emu even crossing the road in front of our car as well as Dingo running. It was quite rare to see him and impossible to take a photo, unfortunately.
The biggest success of the day, though was Lubos`s wish to see a termite mound bigger then himself, which finally came true. All of the excitement from wildlife watching caused that we almost missed the official crossing of 'Tropic of Capricorn'. The sign is 1166 km far from Perth and 215 km from Karijini National Park. We are both Capricorn zodiac signs so it`s obvious we couldn`t miss to take a photo here.
We managed to come to Karijini before 6pm where we booked campsite in official Dales Gorge Campground directly in the national park. It was 11 AUD pp per night (between June-September there is a high demand so bookings are essential). That night we will remember for a long time. Continue reading.
-- Day 4-6 --
Snakes and kangaroos in
Karijini National park
So we came at our campsite at dusk, very happy that we are finally there. We tried to set up our tent quickly and filled up our solar shower to take a superfast bath (meaning wash off dust and sweat) before it gets dark. The ground on the campsite was so dry and hard that it was impossible to secure the tent with stakes so we used water canisters and iron rod instead, which we found lying near the campsite. After 10 minutes when we were ready to take a shower the sky suddenly gloomed, it became windy and we saw a thunderstorm coming up. The wind grew stronger and we were afraid that our tent won`t make it so we pack it back up. Slowly it started to rain which become a heavy rain after a while. We thought it is just a cloundburst, so we got in to the car to wait until it is over. It took two hours. Two hours we were discussing what are we going to do if it doesn`t stop raining, in the dark in total wasteland full of snakes? I insisted on sleeping in the car, Lubos insisted on setting up the tent again when storm is over because it was so hot and we would not manage to sleep in the closed car, not to mention it is totally uncomfortable. We had to be fit for the next day full of hiking. After another half an hour of discussion he convinced me. We wanted to turn the car front side on the camping spot to use the lights to help us while setting up the tent. When Lubos was about to exit the car ... the green snake came into the spot light and crawl our campsite across, just like that. We swore like hell. Our state of mind was worse than 2,5 hours ago. We didn`t know if it was venomous snake or not but would you risk it? We were there sitting in the car another hour totally lost. And then ... Lubos reached the limits of his braveness, gave me extra lights, exited the car and set up the tent in record speed while I was lightning every inch around him with my snake-radar turned on. He was my hero of the year! We got into the tent, zipped it and while discussing if snake can get in through a zipper or cloth we fell asleep.
Next day we woke up early to another flies invasion. I have to say it again, thanks got for the face mosquito nets. Despite the snake incident last night, we were ready to explore what we came here for and that is beautiful gorges in the national park: Dales Gorge, Kalamina Gorge, Yamina Gorge and Hamersley Gorge. You can see them in the map below. There are some other gorges marked but those are not accessible, for example Witten Gorge is full of asbestos.
First stop was Dales Gorge. We were alone in the parking lot at 8 am and it was quite hot already at that time. Dales Gorge is 2 km long with some amazing views, waterfalls and natural pools, such as Fern pool, Fortescue Falls and Circular pool. You can choose which trail you want to take. The easiest one is Gorge Rim Trail which is just 2 km loop copying rim of the gorge between Fortescue Falls and Circular Pool Lookout and back. You will have great view on the gorge from the top.
Then you can take also individual trails descending into the gorge to see just Circular Pool or just Fern pool with Fortescue Falls (only 300 m away from each other). Anyhow, we definitely recommend to see all of the three highlights and take full Dales Gorge Trail loop which is 3 km return moderate hike along the bottom of the gorge. It took us 2 hours with breaks here and there to take photos and freshen up in pools. If you want to save time and see gorge from the top as well, you do not have to go back the same trail but at the Circular Pool climb up to the Circular Pool Lookout and from there there is a path directly to the car park (part of it is Gorge Rim trail). It can take about 10-15 minutes to get there.
Don`t forget to take swimsuit or better to say wear swimsuit before you go in order to be able to take a swim in one of the pools, Fern or Circular Pool, you will definitely welcome it in that hot weather. I said it is better to wear it because there is no place where you can change.
It is highly recommended to wear hiking boots down there because there is a risk of snake encounter. To be honest we were affected by the experience from previous night so we wore not only hiking boots but also long trousers (in 36`C; subconsciously we did not enjoy hike itself that much due to constant phobia of snake encounter, but gorge is really beautiful).
Bring enough water ! If you think 1l is enough for you for 2 hours, bring double. We had 2.5 l for both of us and we wish we had at least 1l more.
Bring and wear face mosquito nets also during hiking. You will be happy to have them, trust me.
After Dales Gorge we went to Karijini Visitor center to take some maps, to check the weather and to visit a small museum that they have inside. Anyway, best part of this visit was the air-condition!! It`s also useful to know that there are public showers here for 4 AUD which they will open for you after you pay. When we got out from visitor center the hot dry air slapped us again and we felt totally exhausted. And then it got us ... flies, fear of snakes, scorching hot and long trousers with boots ... all the excitement suddenly disappeared. So, we decided to shorten Karijini visit by one day, we still wanted to see the major highlight Hamersley Gorge but then skip the others that we planned to see. Well, this is also part of the travelling. Sometimes you underestimate the season (we were there beginning of March) and your phobia and therefore sometimes things are not going as you planned. Nevertheless, Lubos got his mood back when he saw jumping kangaroooos in high grass on our way back to the campground. Until he screamed and showed me the direction they were gone.
We just got some more water and we drove 100 km to the north-west part of Karijini National Park to see Hamersley Gorge in the afternoon. At the west exit gate from the park we turned right to Mt Bruce Road and then Nanutarra Road leading to the gorge. Both are rough unsealed road so we needed to drive slowly. Our white Qashkai caught dark orange tone until we got there. We got lucky for great picture even before arriving to the gorge. We noticed perfect combination of dramatic blue-grey cloudy sky with rust orange road which was just meant to be photographed. In a minute a colorful rainbow appeared to the left of the road...jaw dropping.
It was quite late when we arrived to the Hamersley gorge so we were basically alone on the parking lot. To get to the bottom of the gorge we had to take quite steep stairs down around 400 m. There is a natural pool at the base where you can freshen up and when water is calm you can see the reflection of surrounded nature which is by the way beautifully colorful thanks to layers of sediments embedded in rocks.
Don`t spend too much time at this pool because this gorge has one hidden gem which is worth to visit. It is actually marked on the map at the entrance however, map says it is not accessible. It`s 'Spa pool' and it`s gorgeous natural pool surrounded by scoured rocks of a heart shape. Well, even though there is no official path to it we tried to find it and it`s just 300-400 m from the entrance stairs to the right. We just had to climb and jump on some rocks but it`s quite short trail. And the view on the pool is so worth it. Unfortunately, after heavy rain the day before, the water inside the pool was not dreamy crystal clear blue water like on all of the photos we saw but rusty orange. So obviously we were not keen to jump into it and swim. This was the highlight of the day and letdown at the same time. You can see it yourself what I mean on the picture below.
After Hamersley Gorge we just packed our things and we drove directly to Tom Price to spend the night in 'Tom Price Tourist Camp' with all the facilities. We even cooked a normal dinner !! Pasta with tomato sauce...the most basic thing ever from Lidl but we were like in heaven. There were some other backpackers, so we chat a little bit, it was less hot and no snakes there :)
Next day, in the morning I woke up to the best alarm ever. Amazing bird concert that set my day right from the start. See our highlights on Instagram because just to describe it is not enough, you need to hear it. After a quick breakfast we were about to hit the road again and drive 570 km out of the outback to the west to Exmouth, the coastal town.
Exmouth was our starting point to the second part of Western Australia roadtrip, the coastal drive back to Perth. That was completely different cup of coffee, pristine beaches, rich underwater world and many other interesting spots.