3 Weeks Up North Part 1

4 people, 20 days, 1 Land Cruiser and 1 Patrol, 20 days of travelling some of the best country in WA, fishing, snorkeling, spear fishing, hiking and loving every minute of it.

Days of annual leave: 14

Total Cost: Approximately $5000. Each, that’s a mere $1250, or $63 per day.

Fuel: $2646

Food: $840 (including a hugely overpriced $120 Chinese meal at Exmouth) plus snacks

Accommodation: $773

Total KM: 4758

Average fuel use for 2005 3L Patrol: 16.9L/100km

Average fuel use for 1990 Land Cruiser: 16.5L/100km

Number of photos and videos: 4343

Trip map

(Except we drove along the Rio Tinto Rail Access Road and checked out Millstream National Park on the way to Cleaverville)

Photo Album: See this link, or this one if you don’t have Facebook

Pre Trip Preparations

We’ve been meaning to do a big trip like this for quite some time now. WA has so many incredible places to visit, and we were busting to get out there and explore! Unfortunately, the old Hilux just wasn’t going to cut the mustard. We needed something that was going to be more powerful, comfortable and better set up for long distance touring; the 80 Series Land Cruiser. These have a legendary reputation, and at a mere 10.5k, who’d resist that?

Make sure you take everything you need!
Have we got everything?

Fortunately, a trip like this doesn’t require a huge amount of modification to the vehicle. As long as its reliable, and you have a good set of tyres you can’t really go wrong. There are a few things that I was very thankful to have when going up north:

I can’t stress the need for thorough preparation when going on a trip like this. Luckily, we weren’t ever too far away from civilisation, but it pays to be ready for things to go wrong (because they always do!). Spare parts, some decent a decent 4WD tool set, well packed and mechanically sound vehicles and a bit of common sense goes a long way!

We packed both four wheel drives a few days before leaving, to make sure that everything would fit properly, and to double check we had everything.

Day 1; Perth to Newman (nearly)

FINALLY! An early morning start saw us leaving home at just after 3AM, ready for the long journey north. We were hindered somewhat by an incredibly heavy fog from Bindoon all the way to Paynes find. It was still foggy at around 9AM, which limited our speeds considerably. We hit Mt Magnet and filled up, then continued on where we stopped for lunch on the side of the road and then pulled over around 100km south of Newman for the night. Originally, the plan was to stop at the Gasgoyne River Middle Branch, but wanted to push on, and the camp site didn’t look that attractive! We ended up camping well off the side of the road.

Fog can be a pain when you are driving
Persistent fog
Driving north to Karijini
1100km done

Day 2; (Newman to Karijini and Fortesque Falls/Fern Pool)

After a long sleep the previous night, we were keen to get going early. We had packed up and were in Newman to fuel up and get last minute supplies very quickly, spurred on by the thought of Karijini! We’d read that Karijini is the best national park in Australia, and were dying to find out if it were true! The drive north of Newman is absolutely awesome, with massive hills and incredible, red, rocky outcrops. We passed a few monster, oversize loads, and before we knew it had entered into Karijini National Park.

Oversize loads are common up north
Big loads up here
Dales Campground is excellent
Camping in comfort

After a quick look at the visitors centre, we headed out to Dales Camp Ground, where a campsite was delegated and fees were paid. We set the tents up, had a quick lunch and were off, keen to explore the first gorge. The brochure stated that the return trip to Fortesque falls and fern pool was 105 minutes but we managed to get there, have a swim and get back up in under 80 minutes. At this point in time, we were in agreeance that Karijini has totally exceeded our expectations. Fortesque Falls and fern pool were absolutely incredible. We swam at Fern pool (although it was quite cold!) and loved every minute of it.

The campsite at Dales is great; more than sufficient. There are plenty of sites, lots of BBQ’s and toilets. The DEC charge $9 per night now (due to upgraded facilities) and we were more than happy to pay it.

Day 3; (Exploring Karijini Gorges)

A quick breakfast saw us leaving Dales Camp site early, off to Weano Gorge. We headed down Weano gorge towards the handrail gorge, and were blown away by the scenery. I must say, I was very surprised that the DEC actively encourage people to explore places like these, given the risks that are involved. I slipped a few times on the rocks, and where the water is the rocks can be very deceiving! However, we arrived at the handrail, leading down into the most amazing pool that I’ve ever seen. We spent a while sitting around the water, just soaking up the views.

What a view
Handrail Pool

The class 6 hiking starts from here, but you need permits and a guide to go any further. Whilst relaxing and enjoying the view, I realized that I’d left my Gopro 3 camera attached to the Bull Bar. This made the trip back a bit quicker; hoping that no one had seen it and decided they needed it more than me! Luckily, no one had, but I’d also left my lights on. Never mind, with a solar panel on the roof and dual batteries I wasn’t too concerned!

After Weano gorge and a few quick snacks, we headed off to Hancock gorge (which starts about 50 metres away from Weano), spurred on by the amazing views we had seen only minutes earlier! Hancock gorge was just as good, with some epic pools to swim in and the ‘spider walk’ which involved shuffling along sideways over a small stream of water. Kermits pool, at the end of Hancock gorge is awesome, and the commercial tours were starting in the level 6 just below us, so we spent a few minutes watching them abseil down the side of the cliffs. A much easier way to get into the gorges, I think!

Karijini abseiling
Abseiling tour at Karijini

I’d looked online to see whether these tours were running or not, and the website had said that from July 1 to July 14 it was closed due to the water being too cold! Obviously the website wasn’t up to date; even at $247 I would have loved to have done the tour. They involve abseiling, rock climbing, tubing and canyoning; just awesome!

We had a quick look at Joffrey falls and Knox gorge lookouts on the way home, but were way too tired to do anything more so we drove home, exhausted but more than satisfied with the day! We finished the day off with a quick walk down to Fern pool, a relaxing swim and half an hour just watching the world go by!

Day 4; (More exploring of Karijini)

After a long days walking the previous day, we decided to take it a bit easier today. We walked from our campsite on Kangaroo loop to Fortesque falls, and then followed the bottom of the gorge right the way around to circular pool. The walk was awesome, with plenty of variety to see, and lots of photography opportunities. We spent an hour relaxing around circular pool, and around 30 seconds in the water because it was so cold! This gorge very rarely sees any sun at all, which explains why it is so cool!

The walk back from circular pool to the campsite was steep and long, and narly killed us all. I’d hate to have to do the hiking in the middle of a hot day. It would be nuts. I’m very glad we decided to visit Karijini in August, when the maximum temperatures are around 28 degrees. Any higher temperature and hiking would be unpleasant.

Karijini Gorges meet up together
Enjoying the view from the top

After a drawn out lunch, we headed to the visitors center to take showers and enjoy the photographs and an ice cream. We’ve decided to pack up earlier than planned and get to Cleaverville; we are all pining to get a few decent fish and have explored most of the gorges at Karijini anyway. It is a serious problem when you have too many incredible places to explore, and can’t decide where to go!

Karijini Gravel Roads
The typical gravel road at Karijini

I also found out that the USB chargers I had wouldn’t charge my Samsung Note 10.1, which was quite annoying given the information and navigational apps I had on it! I would have to try and get something in Karratha.

Day 5; Karijini to Tom Price, Mt Nameless, Karratha and then Cleaverville

As most of the gear had been packed away the night before, we had breakfast, put the tents away and were leaving Karijini National Park just after 8:30AM. I will seriously miss this place; it is incredible. 90km later we arrived in Tom Price, and were surprised to see green grass and plenty of bird life! A quick fuel up and chat to the lady at the visitor centre and we were off again.

We decided to take a short detour and drive up Mt Nameless. This is about 10 minutes out of Tom Price, and takes around 45 minutes return, allowing for a few minutes to stop at the top, take in the incredible views and snap a few photos! It really is worth the drive, and providing you have low 4×4 and a bit of ground clearance you won’t have any issues. Mt Nameless seems to host the town’s communications – radio and phone antennas as well as a number of buildings right at the top.

Mt Nameless is worth the drive
Looking out from Mt Nameless

25 km out of Tom Price, you have a choice to make. If you have obtained a permit to drive on Rio Tintos mining road, this is the better option. Otherwise, take the bitumen around Millstream National Park, which is a slightly longer road. We pulled onto the mining road, and decided to pull over and let our tyres down.

The road wasn’t that great right at the start, but it soon turned into the most perfect gravel road I’ve ever driven on! The road crosses the train line in several locations, and there were plenty of people out and about working on trains, the railway, road conditions and monitoring traffic.

After finishing on the mining road we decided to take a quick detour to Millstream national park, to eat lunch. We had a great swim in Fortesque river (which is massive through the national park), a quick bite and were back on the road. The last 100km into Karratha was an awesome drive, with plenty of big ‘mountains’ and scenery.

Karratha was the first real civilization that we had seen in some time. It was good to be able to get a few perishables, a charger for the tablet and we headed off again. A short drive later and we arrived at Cleaverville, to see the most incredible sunset and glassy calm water I’ve seen in a while.

However, it was absolutely packed with people, and ended up camping right on the beach (but who’s complaining?). After a rushed setup before the sun went down and a good meal of sweet and sour sausages, we crashed for the day.

Cleaverville Camping
Set up at Cleaverville

Day 6; Fishing, snorkelling and spear fishing at Cleaverville

I got up just as the sun was rising, keen to check out such an incredible location. Beaches are usually associated with wind, but once again, it was glassy calm. The tides up here range in between 2 and 4 metres, making the beach change quite a lot. Cleaverville has coarse beach sand, going down to sharp rocks before the water. When the tide is up all the way, the rocks are completely covered. Soon after the others were up, and we wet the lines up and down the rocks a little, without any luck.

We rigged the kayaks up and paddled over to Dixon Island (which nearly killed me; next time we will leave from the point, not our campsite!) and spent a few hours fishing. A few small fish were caught, and a big bronze whaler shark nearly landed, but it broke the line off; no luck!

Nothing beats Cleaverville
Cleaverville in the Kayak

We headed back in for an early lunch, before gearing up to go spear fishing at the point. A few hours in the water meant we saw some good coral and a variety of fish, but not a huge number that were worth shooting. I did find myself at one point in a big school of mackerel, and managed to shoot one. At least we have dinner! I then spent some time yelling at Daniel to get him to come over, and dropped my gun. It took about 5 minutes of us both searching for it, but it eventually turned up, just quietly bobbing on the surface.

Cleaverville from on high
What a place!

After a long dive and kayak I was well and truly knackered, and took it easy for the rest of the day. We did have a quick look at the eastern creek and managed to catch a few small fish! I spent the afternoon repairing my EGT gauge (which a wire had broken out of the crimp earlier on the trip) and trying to get my shark shield working. It had hardly been used, and decided on the first day that it wouldn’t turn on. Convenient!

A good feed of fresh mackerel and chips and we were ready to hit the sack! We did manage to fit some custard, sliced mango and coffee in after though!

Day 7; More fishing and spear fishing at Cleaverville

The following day we were keen to get some serious spear fishing in, so after a hefty breakfast we made the kayak across to Dixon Island again, this time loaded up with all of our diving and spearing gear. We spent around an hour in the water but didn’t see a huge amount of fish like we were hoping for, and virtually nothing worth shooting. On the flip side though, a mate managed to get 4 decent sized painted crays, which we were quite happy with!

Tasty crayfish
Lunch, dinner and more!

An early lunch (fried garlic crayfish, which was delicious) meant we were ready to hit the water again. This time, we thought we would check out the point at Cleaverville, hoping to find some decent fish and a few more crays. Daniel and I swam out around 150 metres, and found some great fish and even better coral. On one of the dives down I noticed a big flat head, and a quick shot to the head meant we had dinner again. I was then chasing a nice sized spangled emperor when a big blue bone turned up. Another shot and we had 2 fish for dinner!

Spear fishing at Cleaverville
Tasty bluebone

At this point it was quite hard to swim around with the fish, and upon chatting to Daniel (who had another cray by this time) we agreed to swim in, unload and bring the kayak back out. A short paddle and we dropped the anchor, enjoying more of the coral and marine life. I’ve never seen such big angel fish (around 40cm) and Daniel managed to get another cray. That afternoon we spent about half an hour cleaning the fish and cooking the crays, then we packed up ready to leave the following day. Shame, this place was stunning.

Day 8; Cleaverville to Karratha, then Exmouth

Day 8 was set aside for us to travel from Karratha to Exmouth. Google Maps was telling me that the trip was to take over 7 hours, to do a measly 550km. I didn’t see how that was possible, and kept my fingers crossed that it wasn’t! We picked up some MAF sensor cleaner for the GU (which was having boost issues) and gave it a bit of a clean, then were on the way to Exmouth.

We stopped at the Fortesque river roadhouse for a feed and then continued on. After setting up camp at the Ningaloo Reef Caravan Park by just after dark, we were keen for a feed and a good sleep. However, we were running low on clean clothes, and decided to do a few rushed loads while in the Caravan Park. At a whopping $5 per load, we managed to cram most of the loads into 2 washing machines, and hang them up using only a handful of pegs!

Exmouth is hugely popular, for many reasons
Exmouth’s incredible coastline

Day 9; Fishing and sightseeing around Exmouth

The following day we were lacking a bit of motivation to get going early, so we slept in and had a later than normal breakfast. We walked down to Tackle world to pick up a few last minute fishing supplies, and to find out where the fish were biting. A quick look in the visitor center and we headed out towards the lighthouse.

The furthest north beach on the gulf side had wind blowing directly onto it, and although it may have been good for diving we continued around, to the western side. The beaches here looked good, with the wind favorable for casting. We found one that had a mixture of rocks and beach, and set up for a few hours fishing. We had minimal luck, getting only small Charlie Courts and a small blue tusk fish.

Camping in Exmouth Caravan Park
Our setup, in Exmouth

After a few hours in the scorching hot sun we were keen to get moving again. We stopped at the caravan park for a swim in the pool (which was freezing) and then headed out to Learmonth jetty and Wapet creek. We spent a few hours fishing the creek, with more fish jumping the surface of the water than I have ever seen. It really was quite remarkable. We caught a huge number of small bream, a few smaller trevally and hooked a few bigger fish that weren’t able to be brought in.

The fish really took a liking to almost any lure; throw it out and drag it in, and you would have plenty of fish following. Surprisingly though, we didn’t end up with much of a feed!

Wapet Creek, where the fish jump
Wapet Creek, on the Gopro

Instead, we opted to get take away food. I wandered down to Pinocios, which is a little restaurant next to the caravan park. After looking at the prices, we decided to find something a little cheaper. We wound up at the local Chinese shop, and had a good meal but didn’t save any money! $129 for 4 people. Seriously, the Exmouth tax is ridiculous! To date, the most expensive fuel has been in Exmouth (minus one tiny roadhouse that we stopped at to have a look). Neither Tom Price, nor Newman, nor Karratha were more expensive. It seems insane!

Day 10; Fishing and diving in the Bay of Rest)

Daniel had been telling us for the whole trip about the fishing at the Bay of Rest, and was keen to take us there. It’s the furthest southern point in Exmouth Gulf, and is teaming with a huge range of fish (or so we were told!).  Daniel had been here a few times before, with a boat and was confident with different places to go fishing.

Bay of rest fishing
See the fish jumping?

After tossing the potential up, we decided to take the plunge and head straight out to Gnaraloo. We were aware that this meant a number of extra hours driving, because you can’t access Gnaraloo from the north, without driving all the way down to Carnarvon (or 25km out of it), and then way back up the coast.

The road in between Warroora and Gnaraloo station has been shut, which is a real pain. I found out later in the trip that the reason it is shut is due to a disagreement between the two stations regarding driving on the beach. How petty. Never mind; it’s an awesome part of the coast and any access is good access!

If you’ve managed to read all of the above, I certainly hope it was worth it! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you!

For part 2, click here!

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  1. Thanks LG,

    WA is an amazing place. I was very impressed to see a heap of elderly people climbing up and down the gorges; some of them were clearly fitter than we were!


  2. Thanks for a great report and fantastic photos!

    Oh to be young and agile again… sigh.
    Grade 3 walks are the higher rating I dare attempt these days 😉