A Beautiful Journey around the Gascoyne Region of Western Australia

We had loosely scripted a three-week circuit, taking in Kennedy Ranges, Karijini, Tom Price, Broome and Exmouth. For the first night, our sights were set on a little riverside campsite south of Murchison Settlement. We’d seen it around 3-4 weeks prior and were HOPING it still had water.

Yes!! Luck was in store! It was time for a cooling swim before being bothered with campsite setup. And, the flies being on the increase, meant our flynets were practically a permanent attachment!

This was also to be our last fire in a while, as the weather was starting to heat up.

Our next stop was Wooramel River Gorge. Taking a non-signposted dirt track east of the highway, we discovered a clifftop campsite and managed to find a section where it was possible to scramble down to the base and put our feet in the fresh water pools. Vehicle access to the base of the Gorge was not obvious, and given the wind, this was not to be our camp spot that night.
I’d been reading about Bilung Pool for weeks and really wanted to visit. It was a hot day, and lovely for a swim. The Ghost Gums and surrounding rock walls provided a breezy, cool oasis amidst the heat and flies.

Having visited, one can understand the importance of the Pool in times gone past. It was a critical water source and heat relief not only for Aboriginals, but also Drovers, who spent months taking cattle and sheep south to the markets at Mingenew and Mullewa. During 1934, a year which saw plenty of rain (and hence feed), a huge 137,000 sheep and 2,666 cattle made their way south to the Mullewa rail-head!

This well signposted spot also attracts lots of caravaners and campers. A lack of desire to hear generators all night drove us to seek out a camp spot further up the creek along a chicken track. Consistent to our style, we had the place to ourselves for the two nights we camped there.

It was during this camp that I learned that my beautiful Nana, whom I’d seen only around 10 days prior in Sydney, had passed away. I was devastated. But, I also took comfort in the knowledge that she was now at peace. She’d been robbed of much of her physical faculties in her latter months, and could do little but sit, listen, smile and work up the energy to say a few words, or crack a trademark sarcastic joke.

And so, an alternate route was planned between us, that would allow me to get to Geraldton regional airport, and make my way slowly back to Sydney to attend her funeral. I wrote a poem about her, which I used as my eulogy. It was nice to lay on the air-mattress on some evenings, listening to the sounds of birds and insects, whilst I worked on it.

Interestingly, we were completely out of mobile phone and data range. So the only reason we learned about my Nana was because we carry a Garmin Mini device. I bought this for Wags actually, for his solo adventure bike trips. The device allows you to not only send an emergency locator beacon, but you can also send text and email messages to anyone, and they can message you back. Mobile network reception is not required, because the device connects to satellites. Super handy for anyone travelling remotely, especially if going it alone. I recommend that you check it out.

The day I learned about my Nana’s passing was, ironically, a day filled with brand new life.

A large Wedge-tailed Eagle nest, high above in a gum tree, hosted a juvenile “Wedgie” (we Aussies abbreviate most big words !). It’s parent returned several times throughout the day carrying food. The juvenile would screech when the parent was nearby, and occasionally stood-up in the nest and fluffed feathery brown wings. Learning about the world through the behaviour of it’s parent, just as my Nana’s legacy have done, based on her kind and gentle influence on us all.

TIP: Wedgies often feed on kangaroo carcasses, which sadly are a common sight in the country and outback, lying on the road where they’ve been hit by passing cars and trucks. Because Wedgies are large birds, it can take them some time to gain lift-off if a car approaches. And so, I recommend slowing slightly if you see one on the road, to allow it time to move away.

This same Wedgie nest also hosted a family of tiny nesting Zebra Finches. It’s common for Zebra Finches to nest deep in the hollows of these huge nests, and indirectly it protects the Finch from other predators. These Finch are very common across Australia, and they also mature very fast, ready to reproduce at just 75 days old.

We laughed that day about how COMFORTABLE the West Australian Galahs seemed around us, sitting on trees right beside our campsite all day, only to realize that they had a nest in the hollow of a gum tree! Which they continuously checked on, with their friends in tow. Galahs are monogamous and form a permanent bond with their mating partner. If they lose their mate, they are known to enter a state of depression. Mature Females have a pinkish-red eye, whereas Males have very dark eyes. On this day, they were not bothered by the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos that shared the space and the trees; these breeds are known to mix well together.

There’s a saying in Australia known as “you Flamin’ Galah”. Having witnessed the flying patterns and behaviour of Galahs in my time in the Outback, I now have live appreciation of how this phrase originated. Paul Hogan explains it beautifully here

This is a video I took on my phone earlier in the year. The Galahs love to hang about the side of the road in large groups, feeding on the grain that spills from the trucks. They DO take their time getting out of the way, and it’s a marvel that the death rate isnt higher. The locals advise you to simply keep driving at the prescribed 50km/h speed and not brake, which is a difficult adjustment for me!

It did grow hot during the day. We’d sensibly erected our fly-net tent which allows the breeze to waft through and provide a sense of cool, and keeps the pesky flies out too. It was lovely laying in the part sun reading a book or writing my Nana’s eulogy when the mood struck.

Every now and then I’d look up, and more nature would come my way. This tiny Red Percher Dragonfly kept returning to the same twig time and time again. I’ve never seen a dragonfly so vividly coloured. A little lizard also stopped by for a lazy look at us.

Gascoyne Junction is an interesting but slightly bland little town. I was most impressed by the huge and ‘mighty’ Gascoyne River BUT the town is not overly camping friendly and all the access roads to the beautiful flowing sections of river were cut off, OR marked “No Camping”. The campground in town is essentially a concrete carpark. The once-iconic pub was destroyed in 2010 after the Gascoyne River flooded the entire town, and the rebuilt version does lack a little of that old historic atmosphere. Such a damned shame! There was no beer on tap when we visited! The “Pub With No Beer” song came to mind… but despite all that, at least you can grab a stubby, fill up with fuel, and check your internet. It’s a decent pit-stop.

Not ready to give up on a riverside camp site, we explored river access further on. The Gascoyne River largely flows underground, and hence, much of the river presents as a super-wide sandy riverbed. Stealth-style, Wags put the quadcopter up on a water-finding mission and we hit the jackpot, crossing the sandy river bed and setup camp amongst the Ghost Gums.

The Bird Noises were incredible, and we were lucky to witness an Australian Hobby (a medium sized Falcon) drinking by the water. It soon thereafter took flight…. we actually thought it was a Wedge-tailed Eagle at first, but upon further research we realized it was not.

The morning light cast lovely colours on the Ghost Gums and surrounding scrubby grass and dirt. Those difficult, early morning ‘get out of the tent for a pee’ moments are completely worth-it when you have this as your view.

Time dwindling before our necessary return to Geraldton stopped us from exploring the nearby Kennedy Ranges in any depth. We stumbled across an ex Park-Ranger with whom Wags had a coincidental, mutual Exmouth connection from some years back, and he guided us to a year round spring. The mercury hit 41 degrees on both days we camped, providing the perfect excuse to be completely and utterly lazy, gathering energy only to swim in the fresh water spring or have a quick river shower using our 12V shower.

I’m not one to love the heat - I tend to wilt like a weak and ugly little flower - but the minute I uttered anything resembling negativity, Wags would drag me outside to stand under the shower, and suddenly all my problems were washed away 🙂 Wags is definitely a great camping accessory 😉

When late afternoon came, we snuck along the river and watched some kangaroos. The females were skittish but the big male was confident to take a drink despite the “danger” presented by “us”!

And then we had a beautiful moonrise. Such a serene moment – evening encroaches, flies begin to disappear, and the moon shows its face, at times reflecting in the water. Just lovely.

It was time to leave and head south but not before exploring additional springs and wells on our way out of the Kennedy Ranges area.

We stumbled across this beautiful big Bungarra (commonly known as Sand Goanna) on the side of the road. About 1m long. Maintaining eye contact for a good two minutes, it eventually turned and made a slow, heavy trail back into the bush, four large clumsy-looking clawed feet squashing the scrub as it’s weighty tail followed.

Our final campsite, north of Geraldton. presented us with even further special wildlife moments.

An Emu guided it’s chicks along the river, observing surrounds continuously to ensure safe passage.

A brand new set of Grey Teal ducklings fell from the tree and into the waterhole right beside us, following Mama Duck who’d determined it was time to leave the tree nest. Their very first swim, right before our eyes! Mother Duck ran awkwardly along the ground at one point when we got too close, heading away from the babies…. a defensive move that encourages a predator to attack her (she feigns injury) and thus leave the babies alone.

And … two big Black Swans glided majestically along the river, with fluffy downy cygnets in tow, changing direction as soon as they detected our spying eyes.

This protective and sacrificial behaviour from parents is simply beautiful to watch.

Once again, an unscripted and largely unplanned trip allowed us to be ‘right place right time’ and to witness these moments that simply are not available when the journey is rushed.

We love having TIME. And we love turning right when the signs point left.