This week Jules Lund continues our Australian drives in the west.
Starting in Perth, Jules drove 20km to the Swan Valley, the oldest wine-growing area in the west. It offers a good blend of history, art, gourmet delights, fresh produce and excellent wine.
The Swan Valley can be explored in a day or turned into an extended getaway with an overnight stay. Choose from a variety of bed and breakfasts, motels, boutique guesthouses or caravan parks.
Next call was Gingin, about 60km north. This charming township is one of the oldest in Western Australia. It has a substantial number of historical buildings, a great pub and the tree-lined Gingin Brook runs through the heart of town. Its location offers an ideal daytrip, but there was much more to see, so the crew hit the road for Cataby, 85km away.
Cataby is a tiny place once known as West Dandaragan. There are two roadhouses, so it's a good place for refreshment and leg-stretching before heading to the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park.
These limestone formations are said to be 30,000 years old and range from just a few centimetres to four metres in height. Some are jagged and sharp-edged, rising to a point, while others could be tombstones. Years of wind erosion have left an eerie, ethereal landscape, a photographer's dream. Between August and October it becomes a garden for Western Australia's famous wildflower display. It's best to avoid the middle of the day as the area attracts many busloads of tourists.
Forty kilometres on is Jurien Bay, a sleepy seaside fishing (recreational, tourist and professional) town with weekend cottages. It is very pretty. A string of nearby islands and reefs provide breeding and play grounds for sea lions and are home to many seabirds. Seagrass meadows provide nursery habitats for young rock lobsters. It was declared a marine park in 2003.
Greenough is 190km further. Its convict past is very evident. An impressive collection of 11 buildings of a kind found nowhere else in the country includes schoolhouses, courthouse, police station, cottage, churches and convent. These are remnants of a once thriving community of pioneers at the turn of the 19th century. Printed guides give good information and National Trust volunteers run tours of the village.
Just 25km away is Geraldton, a major port, home to a large lobster industry and an increasingly popular tourist destination. It has a modern fishing harbour where Batavia Coast Marina complex houses the WA Museum Geraldton Branch. There are displays of Dutch shipwrecks from the 1600 and 1700s, including the Batavia, which ran aground in 1629, indigenous culture and flora and fauna.
Here is a memorial to the 654 men of HMAS Sydney who lost their lives in battle with the German raider Kormorant in 1941. A wall of remembrance tells the story and a dome features 645 silver seagulls. There is also a most poignant figure of a woman, representing those who stood waiting for their loved ones to return.
Forty kilometres northwest lie the ruins of Lynton Hiring Station. Established in 1853, the station employed convicts to work at the Geraldine Mine and local pastoral stations. Even though this is private property, the ruins can be viewed by the public.
Just outside Lynton is the Pink Lake. Its colour is attributed to high concentrations of salt-tolerant algae, dunalella salina. Depending on weather conditions, it can be quite purple. Table salt in huge stockpiles, almost 100 percent pure, can be seen from a lookout.
Kalbarri is a coastal town on the Murchison River, surrounded by stunning coastline, river gorges and natural wonders. The townsite is perched at the river mouth, which offers great picnic and swimming areas. Fishing is very popular and so are whale watching tours between July and November.
Kalbarri National Park covers 187,000 hectares and in the wildflower months is ablaze with colour. The inland part of the park is home to the Murchison River Gorges, carved over millions of years to form sandstone cliff faces which plummet into the Murchison River as it winds towards Kalbarri. The gorges, including the Loop, Z Bend, Hawkes Head Lookout and Ross Graham Lookout, slash abruptly through sand plain for 150km from highway to townsite. Fossil tracks and sea fossils can be found in many places along the river.
Right on the riverfront, Murchison Caravan Park has been a favourite since Kalbarri's early holiday destination days. Pelicans arrive for breakfast each day as holidaymakers leave their van sites and chalets to get ready for a day in the sun. The bougainvillea-shaded campsite has generations of families returning every school holidays. Dogs are permitted by arrangement.
The Shark Bay area was awarded World Heritage listing in 1991 and is one of very few places in the world to fulfil all four criteria for such a listing, with important evolutionary and biological history, unique formations and natural habitats for threatened species.
In this marvellous place you can see turtles, dolphins, dugongs and sharks. There are 17 species of mammals, 98 of reptiles and amphibians and over 230 bird species on record. Australia's largest bay, it has more than 1000km of coastline free from stingers and crocodiles.
Another reason it is special are Hamelin Pool's stromatolites, the result of primitive life forms that existed on earth 3.5 billion years ago. The dome-shaped structures reach up to 60cm high and are formed by single-celled organisms called cyanobacteria. The process continues today.
Denham is Australia's most westerly town. Once a pearling port, it is now well known for its delicious prawns, scuba diving, kite surfing and its beach, created by millions of shells. St Andrews historic church was built from compacted blocks of shell.
After driving around 900km, the crew reached Monkey Mia, a small resort at the northern tip of the Peron Peninsula. In 1964 a woman from a fishing camp began feeding the bottlenose dolphins, which enjoyed the contact so much, they still return several times a day. The pod numbers around 300 dolphins, joined by stingrays and dugongs. There are cruises from Monkey Mia jetty.
The Monkey Mia walktrail, an easy walk of about 1.5 km, takes an hour to complete. The best time to walk is just after sunrise or before sunset when the land birds are feeding.
Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort is the only accommodation at Monkey Mia. There is sealed road to the door, it overlooks Dolphin Beach and first impressions are impossible to forget: blue sky, crystal water, white sand beaches and deep red hinterland. It is sheltered from prevailing breezes and offers a wide variety of accommodation, facilities and activities. There are hundreds of kilometres of deserted beaches and open-air candlelight dining.
The resort has a pool, hot tub, tennis courts with racquets, balls and volleyball sets and they offer tours, cruises and excursions. There is plenty of fishing.
Accommodation is made up of beachfront villas, garden villas, beachside units, family park homes, a caravan park for camping and affordable backpacker units.
Enjoy the Monkey Bar, barbecue facilities and fully-equipped kitchen. The Bough Shed Restaurant overlooks the beach and is open for all meals local seafood and prime beef are always on the menu. In cool weather a huge open fire is lit. The Peron Café is open every day for takeaway food and drinks and casual dining.
For our other great Aussie drives:
Melbourne to Sydney
Sydney to Brisbane
Rockhampton to Cairns.
Mt Isa to Darwin.
Adelaide to Alice drive.
For more drives, visit australia.com.