Kalbarri is a small town in the Mid West region of Western Australia, 600 km north of Perth. With a population of 1349 in 2016, it's the main base for visiting Kalbarri National Park, focused on the dramatic gorge of the Murchison River.
Kalbarri was wrecked in April 2021 by Cyclone Seroja. Reconstruction continues, but all accommodation and facilities described here were back in business by 2022. The main thing still missing is shade: it will take time for the trees to regrow.
Kalbarri Visitor Centre is next to the bus stop. it's open M-F 9AM-5PM, Sa Su 10AM-2PM.
In the Dreaming Time of Everwhen, Beemarra the Rainbow Serpent crossed this land leaving a deep winding trail. At the coast she turned south but was thwarted by the evil spirit Gabba Gabba. She turned and hastened north to Shark Bay, and there found peace to sleep. Hence the serpentine gorge of the River Murchison, the roiled ocean waters of Red Bluff, the straight line of cliffs trending north, and the calm lagoon of Shark Bay. Thus say the Nanda people; Kalbarri was probably a prominent member of them, but Wurdimarlu is their name for the place at the river outlet.
The Tumblagooda sandstone that the snake carved through is over 1 km thick. It's probably late Silurian, 420 million years old, so it's short of fossils that might help with the dating. However it does have trackways made in the following era, the Devonian, when early land creatures emerged here: spiders! Really big ones, teeming all over the territory! Later the Murchison River came to flow here, at 820 km the second-longest in Australia, and from 40 million years ago its lower 80 km course became entrenched in a deep winding gorge. Its estuary is at Kalbarri town, where the sandstone layer meets the sea in a line of bright red cliffs.
The Nanda language is unlike other indigenous languages, suggesting that this was a remote isolated region even in Aboriginal terms. The first Europeans arrived willy-nilly in 1629, two villainous Dutchmen not worth hanging, so they were kicked ashore and never seen again. But Europeans left this area alone because of the dangerous coast, the hot parched climate unsuitable for livestock, and lack of gold or other mineral wealth. In the early 20th century mining developed inland around Ajana for lead, copper and silver. Kalbarri became a beach resort for the miners and also had a fishing fleet, and was incorporated as a town in 1948. Kalbarri National Park was created in 1963 and covers two areas: the spectacular river gorge, and the line of sea cliffs.
Climate is hot - from Dec to April it's routinely over 30°C in town and over 40°C in the park, so the rangers close the hiking trails in summer. The scant rainfall is May-Aug.
At sea thousands of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) pass along this coast. June to Aug they head north to breeding grounds off Kimberley; Sept to Nov they head south with their calves for summer feeding in Antarctica. They often breach or up-flukes, except when your camera's ready. Bryde's whales and southern right whales can also be spotted, along with dolphins.
Wildflowers come out in a burst when the rain arrives in May, and the desert park is briefly but brightly carpeted. Look for the red Kalbarri Catspaw, the Kalbatti spider orchid, and the Murchison hammer orchid.
Birds to look out for are the Eastern Osprey, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Southern Scrub-robin, Redthroats, Variegated Frairy-wren, Rock Parrots, wedge-tailed eagle, Emu, Australian Bustard, Peregrine Falcon, Common Bronzewing, and Splendids, plus commoner honeyeaters, cockatoos, parrots, doves, ducks, waders, gulls, cormorants and pelicans.
Animals lie low in the heat of the day. Around dusk you might see the western grey kangaroo, thorny devil, and tammar wallaby.
The region's signature beasts of course are the flies. Swish and swat at them all you like, won't do you any good.
The closest airport to Kalbarri is Geraldton (GET IATA), which has flights from Perth, and car hire from the major companies.
Kalbarri airfield is 10 km east of town on Hwy 354, and accepts private light aircraft. There's no fuel.
Geraldton is 160 km south and Carnarvon is 440 km north via Highway 1. Kalbarri town and park are reached by a long coastal loop. From the south, branch off at Northampton to approach via Hwy 139 past Gregory and Hutt Lagoon. From the north, turn off at Ajana onto Hwy 354, passing the park side-roads on the way to town.
Transwa Bus N1 runs three days a week from Perth around 8:30AM via Jurien Bay, Port Denison / Dongara, Geraldton and Northampton, to reach Kalbarri by 5PM. The bus heads back next day at 7AM. There's no Sunday service, and the other three days the bus only runs Perth-Geraldton.
Getting here by bus from Carnarvon and beyond means doubling back via Northampton or Geraldton. A shuttle formerly linked Kalbarri with Ajana on Hwy 1, but is not running in 2022.
The 1 bus stop is at Jeffrey Browne Way outside the Motor Hotel. It's just a pull-in with no facilities, but everything in town is within ten minutes walk.
Park fees and rules: the coastal lookouts are reached along the public road south of town, and are free to access. The river gorge is reached inland off Highway 354 via two side-roads with entry gates: the north is for the Loop, Skywalk and Z-Bend, the south is for Ross Graham and Hawks Head. The fees are standard for all Western Australia's national parks: a day pass (which is plenty long enough) in 2022 is $15 for a vehicle with up to 12 occupants, pay cash or by card. Passes covering all parks are also available for 5, 14, 30 days and annually. There's no charge if you enter by bicycle or on foot. There are no further charges within this park, the Skywalk is included, but keep your pass handy for the next access gate.
The park side-roads are suitable for ordinary vehicles, you don't need 4WD, but caravans and campervans are not permitted. No pets, assistance dogs only.
You need wheels, a standard car or motorbike is fine. Campervans are not permitted in the park so you'll need to get out the bikes.
- If you come via Hwy 139 from Northampton this is the first area you reach. If you come via Hwy 354 from Ajana it's the last.
- 1 Red Bluff beach is reached by a side-road, which brings you to the car park, then a path leads down to the beach. However stay on the highway south for the turn-off towards the lookout trail. The shingle-choked Wittecarra Creek north end of the beach is the first known permanent landing by Europeans in Australia. In 1629 the Dutch East India ship Batavia was wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands - deliberately steered off-course in a plot to seize her treasure. The conspirators massacred 125 of the other survivors, including women and children, while keeping a few as sex slaves. When rescue came, the ringleaders became the first people legally executed in Australia, but two lesser culprits Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgromm were cast ashore here and never seen again. With a fresh water supply but no bushcraft or tools, their "permanent" stay was maybe eked out for a month.
- Mushroom Rock just south has a 1.5 km loop trail. Rainbow Valley is named both for its striated rocks and the rainbows formed in the breaking sea spray. Pot Alley is a trail down to the beach.
- 2 Eagle Gorge has a lookout and beach access, and is the start of the 8 km Bigurda Trail to Natural Bridge.
- 3 Shell House and Grandstand Rock Gorge are deeply eroded cliffs.
- 4 Kalbarri Castle Cove has the sea stack of Island Rock, but the highlight is the Natural Bridge, a sea arch.
- 5 Meanarra Hill 5 km east of town has a lookout, toilets, and the Malleefowl loop trail of 1.5 km.
- Opposite the entrance to Kalbarri airstrip is the turn-off and park gate for the drive to the Loop and Z-Bend, see above for park fees and regulations.
- 6 Kalbarri Skywalk, West Loop Lookout Road. A pair of projecting walkways 100 m above the Loop where the gorge winds back on itself. They're wheelchair accessible, and the kiosk sells water. Toilets here. A trail leads you through the narrow bands of sedimentary rock, where Nature’s Window is the arch shown in all the tourist brochures.
- 7 Z-Bend is a tight series of bends in the gorge, more like a W written while hiccuping. An easy 600 m walk from the car park brings you to the lookout, a tricky hike continues down into the gorge, and the longer Four Way hike also starts here. Think about the climbing back out.
- You return to Hwy 394 to drive to Ross Graham and Hawk's Head lookouts; there's another park gate at the turn-off. Alternatively, an arduous 38 km hike follows the gorge upriver from the Loop: allow four days to complete it, and let the rangers know where to send your buzzard-picked remains.
- 8 Ross Graham lookout is at a shallow point in the gorge, so an easy 350 m trail brings you to the bosky riverside.
- Hawk’s Head is a natural overhang and lookout 2 km north of Ross Graham lookout.
- 9 Hutt Lagoon 55 km south of town is a lurid pink salt lake. The colour is from algae, which synthesise β-Carotene. You can admire it from the highway towards Northampton, or wind around the south tip to the lookout by Port Gregory on the coast. In summer much of it dries out into salt-pans. There are prawn farms in the lagoon, and no surprise their produce is pink. In 1943 a Japanese submarine bombarded Port Gregory, mistaking it for an ammo factory, but no-one noticed for a week until an intercepted radio report from the sub was decoded.
- Lynton Convict Depot is on the highway 1 km south of the lagoon. From 1853 to 1857 men were sent here to lay roads to the mines and work in them, initially camping in tents until they built this little village. As well as convicts sentenced to labour, they included "ticket of leave" men granted limited parole freedoms, who might be assigned to farm work. The mining venture proved unprofitable and the supply chain was tenuous, so the place was abandoned in 1857.
- Zuytdorp within the park is a 150 km line of cliffs and desert north of Kalbarri, named for the 1712 wreck of a Dutch VOC (East India Trading Company) ship for Batavia, nowadays Jakarta. The wreck is off-limits, someone's still anxious about all those silver guilders aboard. Genetic analysis of the porphyria variegata inherited condition, characteristic of the Dutch, implies that wreck survivors interbred with the Aboriginals, but there are other credible explanations.
- 10 Hutt River Principality (Principality of Hutt River). A farm that claimed to be a micro-nation in 1970, when the landowner had a strop over wheat quotas and declared independence from Australia. His farm became a cod-Ruritanian tourist attraction, with its own currency, stamps, constitutional flim-flam, and the "Prince" got up in the sort of cheap fustian used in school productions of King Lear. His death, and an unpaid tax bill of $2 million, put an end to the pantomime in 2020. His Nibs was cremated, Quodam et Eris Rex.
- Feeding the pelicans is a daily custom towards 9AM on the beach front at Grey St. It's best you don't feed them yourself, but make a donation to the regular volunteer catering team.
- Rainbow Jungle is an aviary along Red Bluff Road 1 km south of town. It wasn't open in early 2022.
- Beaches: Chinaman's Beach is a little sandy patch at the river outlet, then south is Blue Holes, a series of stone basins by the river outlet. A longer sandy beach is 4 km south at Red Bluff / Jake's Point, see below.
- Golf: Kalbarri Golf and Lawn Bowls Club is on Haselby St east side of town.
- Boat trips and charters sail from the Marina north side of town. Trips potter up the river on the high tide, explore the sea cliffs, whale-watch, go fishing (freshwater or ocean) or lobster-potting. Operators include Kalbarri Cruises, Reefwalker[dead link] and Kalbarri Rock Lobster Tours.
- Surfing is at Jake's Point onto Red Bluff beach just south of town. (Where the first Europeans were cast ashore - they missed a chance to arrive in style.) It's a left-hand break, but not novice territory in big seas.
- Canoeing and kayaking on the river are normally available, but in 2022 these businesses haven't re-started after the cyclone, so you need to bring your own.
- Horse-riding: Big River Ranch have horseback tours of the area suitable for all levels.
- Quad Bikes blat around the interior.
- IGA is the town store, on Grey St and open 7AM - 6PM. There's an ATM across the street.
- Fuel: fill up at Northampton on Hwy 1 before heading here, you'll do more mileage than you expected. The town has a BP station north on the Ajana Road.
- 1 Wild Ocean Indonesian Cuisine, 156 Grey St, ☏ +61 402 914 606. It's just a food truck parked by the Marina, but gets great reviews for beef redang and other Indonesian offerings. They open at 5PM and are sold out by 6:30PM.
- There are no cafes or food supplies within the park, but lots of picnic spots. Hawk's Head is a favourite for its lookout over the gorge, and it's wheelchair-accessible.
- Kalbarri Motor Hotel, 60 Jeffrey Browne Way, ☏ +61 8 9937 1000. Daily noon-2PM, 5:30PM-8PM. This motel and restaurant has not fully re-opened since the cyclone, but the bar is lively.
- In the park there's no drinking water except pricey bottles at the Loop kiosk. So bring plenty, in hot weather drink 3-4 litres per person per day.
- There is no accommodation within the National Park, and camping is not permitted.
- Kalbarri Backpackers YHA, 51 Mortimer St, ☏ +61 8 9937 1430, +61 428 351 136 (mobile). Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. Friendly helpful central hostel, hygiene erratic. Dorm $30 ppn.
- Murchison River Caravan Park, 92 Grey St (Tourist Drive 354), ☏ +61 8 9937 1005, firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean friendly well-run park on the waterfront. Hook-up $44, cabin $120.
- Kalbarri Beach Resort, 108 Grey St, ☏ +61 8 9937 1061. Resort hotel by the river outlet, with 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and 25 m pool. Double $250.
- Kalbarri Anchorage Caravan Park, Anchorage Lane, ☏ +61 8 9937 1181. Pleasant site on riverside north edge of town. Tent $40, hook-up $45.
- Kalbarri Edge Resort, 22 Porter St, ☏ +61 8 9937 0000. Spacious rooms a block back from waterfront, with on-site restaurant. Double $200.
- Kalbarri Tudor Holiday Park, 10 Porter St, ☏ +61 8 9937 1077. Budget caravan park, clean and friendly. Hook-up $50.
- Kalbarri Palm Resort, 8 Porter St, ☏ +61 8 9937 2333. Spacious budget motel, value for money. Double $140.
- Nautilus Retreat, 30 Batavia Circle, ☏ +61 400 248 859. Welcoming B&B south side of town. B&B double $160.
Anything that your mother might drone about applies here. The big threat is heat: wear a broad-brimmed hat, sturdy footwear, high-grade sunblock and insect repellent. Stay on marked trails and pay attention to warning signs,
When dealing with Aboriginal people, there are some cultural considerations to remember:
- Some Aboriginal people have beliefs that mean they don't like having their photo taken. It is courteous to ask for permission first.
- Family business and ceremonies are an important part of life for Aboriginal people and these matters take priority, which can interrupt scheduled tours.
- Access to some sites with spiritual significance may be restricted.
As of Jan 2022, Kalbarri village has 4G from Telstra, and if you're lucky from Optus, but there's no signal from Vodafone. Patchy Telstra mobile cover extends into the park, and south down the road to Gregory, then gives out - there's nothing along the main highway to the east.
- North is the Monkey Mia / Shark Bay World Heritage area, then Carnarvon.
- South is agreeable Geraldton. The country becomes greener and pastoral towards Dongara.