This next 700km leg of our Western Australian adventure involved a slow meander along WA’s stunning south coast from Hopetoun to Cape Le Grand National Park, and then the long run north to the goldfields’ city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Our first stop was the small coastal hamlet of Hopetoun for some down time in the sun, where we had a few gorgeous sunny days in the high 20s C. We were attracted by Hopetoun’s ‘RV friendly’ status and a 48-hour free camp literally right behind the sand dunes of a spectacular beach, just 700 metres from the centre of town. Great! We didn’t even have to unhitch the van, as we could walk anywhere we wanted to go.
Stokes National Park
Our next stop was just a short 120 kms further east, to the Benwenerup Campground in the Stokes National Park, on the shores of Stokes Inlet – a large estuary fringed by paperbark trees, small sandy beaches and rocky shorelines.
Have we mentioned how fabulous the national parks are here in Western Australia? In our view, the standard of their facilities is second to none, certainly by anything we’ve ever seen. We have been impressed by their squeaky clean odourless eco toilets in national parks throughout the state, however remote. (They are a far cry from some of the filthy drop loos we’ve seen in some other states!)
Our campsite in Stokes National Park was HUGE and very private. It was suitable for use by groups travelling together, and could easily have accommodated at least two other large rigs with ease. But we had the whole area to ourselves – for the princely sum of $7 per person per night (seniors rates, of course!).
This particular national park had two spotless and well equipped camp kitchens, one with a great view overlooking Stokes Inlet which, conveniently, was right next to our campsite.
We’d been pretty busy for the previous three weeks before arriving here, on our whistle stop tour of south-west WA, with little down time to write our travel blogs. So much of the first two days here at Stokes NP were spent catching up on the backlog, writing six blogs in all! Phew!
Of course, just because we have an unpowered bush camp doesn’t mean we have to go without power, thanks to solar panels, 12v AGM batteries and an inverter to provide 240 volt power for charging laptops and other little luxuries.
We had been warned that snakes were starting to appear, lured out of their ‘winter hibernation’ by the recent advent of warmer weather. But did we have to spot one on our first walk … and a deadly tiger snake, at that? It was almost enough for Jen to refuse to leave the caravan for the rest of our stay!
With the blogs out of the way, and Jen suddenly not so keen on long walks through the bush, John turned his attention to hunting and gathering. In no time at all, he caught five bream – and they were just the keepers. The fish were cleaned, crumbed, cooked and on the dinner plate within a couple of hours of being caught. Mmmmmm, nothing beats fresh fish!
Flushed with the success of the previous evening’s fishing expedition, John was at it again first thing next morning. Alas, the slightly choppy inlet waters of the previous evening had given way to very still and clear water – like the proverbial millpond. Not ideal for fishing, as there’s nowhere for them to hide. But he still managed to land a nice King George Whiting.
Another 80 kms further to the east is the main south coast port town of Esperance, our next stop for a few days and base for exploring the nearby Cape Le Grand National Park.
Esperance’s museum displays numerous exhibits salvaged from NASAs first space station, Skylab, after it famously burned up on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere in 1979, crashing near the WA outpost of Balladonia on the Nullarbor Plain.
Cape Le Grand National Park
The real jewel in Esperance’s crown is the nearby Cape Le Grand National Park, about 50 kms to the east of the town.
We don’t believe we’ve ever seen such secluded pristine white sandy beaches and clear cerulean blue bays as we did in the beaches of Cape Le Grand. Just spectacular.
The very first beach we came across was the exquisite Hellfire Bay. As if Hellfire Bay’s white sands and blue seas weren’t enough, we were blessed with the sight of two huge humpback whales breaching close by, surrounded by a pod of dolphins frolicking around them. Amazing! Naturally, as soon as we pulled out the camera, the whales disappeared beneath the water, and didn’t resurface! Oh well, at least we have our memories.
The famous Lucky Bay was beautiful, again with pristine sands and impossibly blue waters. Apparently this beach is famous for the resident kangaroos that are known to laze on the beach. Well, why wouldn’t they want to laze on such clean white sands? Unfortunately, we saw no kangaroos while we were there.
We also visited when the weather was a little, well, feral … very bleak, overcast, a bit showery and oh so windy! Even so, the place was stunning. Just imagine how it would have been with blue skies and sunshine.
The image below is an example of the fantastic facilities provided by Western Australia in its national parks, with BBQs, covered picnic tables, bins, even in the fairly remote Cape Le Grand National Park.
With the coastal weather taking another turn for the worst, we decided to head inland again, to Kalgoorlie. We stopped off briefly at the small town of Norseman, as the half-way point in the 400 kms journey.
Kalgoorlie – Boulder
Gold was first struck in 1893 in what is now the twin city of Kalgoorlie-Boulder (often referred to colloquially as Kalgoorlie), still one of the world’s largest gold mining cities today. Kalgoorlie is home to ‘the golden mile’ reputedly the richest square mile in the world, and the ‘Super Pit’ which, until recently, was Australia’s largest open cut goldmine.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder is home to wonderful examples of gold rush architecture, most beautifully maintained in excellent condition.
Of note are some of Kalgoorlie’s pubs, which number about 25 – not bad for a population of just 30,000 people. Mind you, that’s a far cry from the 93 pubs and eight breweries that serviced the local population at the height of the goldrush days in the early 1900s!
Below is just a taste of some of Kalgoorlie’s grand pubs. The first three are all on the same intersection (corner of Hannan and Maritana Streets) – almost a pub on every corner!
The short video below shows the heavily laden haulpaks carting the ore up out of the 600+ metres deep mine. Note how slow they are compared with the empty truck heading down into the mine.
We stayed in Burt Street, Boulder, while in town. Burt Street is the historic main street of Boulder, which still contains many gorgeous buildings from the gold rush days.
And so our journey through Western Australia is almost at an end, after nearly four months. But not yet! We still have a few days up our sleeve, as we head back down to Norseman and start the long trek east across the Nullarbor Plain to South Australia.
To help break up the long trip, John will be playing the ‘Nullarbor Links golf course’, with his trusty caddie Jen by his side. This unique 18-hole course spans 1,365 kilometres from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Ceduna in South Australia.
Golfers are warned not to use their good clubs on the often rough terrain, so we’ve picked up a few mismatched clubs from the Salvos op shop in Boulder and Kalgoorlie’s tourist information centre. In keeping within the spirit of the game, these will be donated back to an op shop when we get to the other end at Ceduna.
So, we have the clubs, tees, balls and have paid our $70 registration fee and obtained our player’s card …
… Let the games begin!