6 weeks in the Coral Coast, Pilbara and Kimberley

Every few months or so, Sarah and I sit down and chat about where we’d like to travel, and explore in the future.

Initially we were looking at doing a couple of weeks on the south coast for 2021, but when I suggested we could extend it to 6 weeks and head north, we both agreed it was a far better idea, so a plan for our 6 week trip through the Coral Coast, Pilbara and Kimberley began to hatch.

We love nothing more than packing our gear up and heading away for weeks at a time, trying to find the most incredible locations in Australia, and we’ve been lucky enough to find a huge number of them.

Our 6 week trip was spectacular (not without its difficulties and downsides though!) and we came back feeling thoroughly refreshed.

Amazing views at George River
6 weeks away exploring the best of WA

Skipping winter

We get decent weather here in Perth. It’s warm and sunny for the large majority of the year, except for winter when it gets reasonably cold and can rain a fair bit. We love a bit of winter camping, but when you can drive 1200km north and miss winter entirely, you’d be mad not to do it.

As it turns out, we ended up missing a good chunk of one of the wettest winters Perth has had in a long time, and had great weather up north.

It’s hard to believe that it can be a maximum of 15 degrees in Perth and raining cats and dogs, and 1500km up the road its 28 degrees, blue skies and sunny for weeks on end!

It just so happens that the best time to visit the northern part of Australia is between May and August, so it all aligns just nicely.

At the top of Pardoo Station
There’s blue skies every day for months up north

We’re releasing a YouTube Series

Sarah’s done an awesome job putting together the filming that we did up north, and we are releasing a YouTube Series, which you can watch and subscribe to here below. Please know we are not your typical travelling family. 

We aren’t here to push products, or delete the parts of travel that aren’t great, or mislead you in any way. Enjoy!

YouTube video

What did we travel in?

As usual, we took our 2016 Isuzu Dmax and towed the Reconn R2 hybrid caravan. We’ve been using this for several years now, and really enjoy using it.

Dmax and Reconn R2
Our Dmax and Reconn R2 Hybrid

Who did we go with?

Initially, the trip was Sarah, myself and our two boys. However, like normal, we put the invite out for others to come along too, for as long or as little as they wanted to.

My folks came along for the entire trip (and then some after too) in their Mitsubishi Pajero and Kokoda Digger Caravan, and Sarah’s brother (and family) also did the entire 6 weeks in a 2017 Dmax and MDC Soft Floor Camper Trailer.

We did have a couple of nights away from each other along the way, as people wanted to do different things and we’d agreed at the start there was no commitments to hang together all the time.

We also met my brother and sister in law and a friend in Exmouth (they towed Dad’s boat up) for just over a week.

6 weeks up north
My folks and brother in laws family came along

How old are our kids?

Oliver was nearly 5 when we left, and Cooper was 2.5 years old. They’ve both been travelling extensively since they were young, and thoroughly enjoy it (especially when the grandparents come along!).

That said, we have come up with 35 ways to make travelling with a toddler easier!

Oliver and Cooper
Our two boys, stationary for a split second!

Where did we visit?

Leaving Perth, we meandered our way up the coast all the way to just north of Broome, and then cut back inland through the Pilbara, and back to Perth. We stayed at the below locations:

Cliff head x 1 night

Bush Bay x 1 nights

Bullara Station x 2 nights

Osprey Bay x 1 night

Mesa x 5 nights

Emu Creek Station x 2 nights

40 Mile Beach x 2 nights

Millstream x 2 nights

Dampier x 3 nights

Cossack x 1 night

Pardoo Station x 4 nights

Sandfire Roadhouse x 1 night

Broome x 3 nights

Pender Bay x 4 nights

James Price Point x 2 nights

Barn Hill Station x 2 nights

Coppins Gap x 2 nights

Carrawine Gorge x 2 nights

Tambina Creek x 1 night

Dales Campground at Karijini x 2 nights

Bilyuin Pool x 1 night

Then back to Perth (there was supposed to be another night closer to Perth but a big storm was rolling in and it seemed pointless to stay out).

In total, 42 nights of absolute adventure.

What was spectacular?

We saw so many amazing locations. Cape Range National Park is a huge hit (which we’d done a few times already), along with Emu Creek Station, George River Gorge, Cossack, Pardoo Station, Pender Bay, James Price Point, Barn Hill, Carawine Gorge and Running Waters.

The overwhelming majority of places we visited were amazing, and we’d go back in a heartbeat.

Carawine Gorge
We fell in love with the area around Marble Bar, and its not hard to see why

What was a bit of a let down?

I had high hopes for Dampier and felt let down departing because we decided not to give the jump up (a 4WD obstacle you need to get up to access more of the coast) a crack, which opens up access to the Dampier Peninsula.

The panel damage (and other vehicles with us) just didn’t make it a good idea, so we missed out on a pristine part of the world. Dampier itself is a great town, but I felt deflated because the peninsula was one of the biggest things I’d looked forward to about the trip.

Broome was also a let down, but purely because of the ridiculous number of people. In the past we’ve loved staying there, but it was so busy it was actually unpleasant and by the end of our couple of days there we couldn’t wait to leave. 

Cable Beach was pandemonium
Broome was busting at the seams with people this year

Other than that, there really wasn’t anywhere else we didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and there were a number of places that were well and truly beyond our expectations.

KM done

We completed 8302km over 6 weeks, or an average of 193km per day. Like normal, we did a fair bit of driving in the first and last few days to maximise annual leave, with the biggest day being nearly 900km (although that was supposed to be split in two).

Millstream road condition
WA’s a big place, and you have to drive long distances to see it all

Moving often

One of the things we are very grateful for with the Reconn R2 is that its fast to pack up and move. We intentionally only stayed a few nights (or even just one) at a number of places so we could see more, and with the ease of setup and pack away it worked really well.

On our 3 months up north with a soft floor camper we stayed longer in each location because it was so much work to move.

I did feel a bit guilty on this trip moving so often as another family decided to come for the whole trip in a soft floor camper, and we’d designed it for our sort of pace, thinking that they would only come for a couple of weeks where we had longer stays.

Reconn R2 sunset
Even with the kids we could get going easily within 15 minutes. It’s only a tiny bit slower than a caravan

It worked out fine overall, but there’s no doubt that a soft floor camper is much harder work.

I was devastated to have to leave Barn Hill (I could have easily done a few more nights there), but I think we got the balance pretty good.

Unfortunately when you travel in peak season to popular places you have to book, and that means estimating how long you’ll want in each place. I look forward to being able to travel with a bit more flexibility in the future.

Barn Hill Station
I was sad to leave Barn Hill without a few more days

What went wrong?

If you aren’t prepared, and don’t expect things to go wrong when you are touring Australia then you need to get used to the idea.

Inevitably things will go wrong, especially when you are 4WDing and doing some terrible corrugations to get to the best locations. That said, we had an exceptional run on this trip, with only a few minor things going wrong.

My folks had a wheel stud snap off on their van (luckily just one, which we replaced in Broome).

I got a minor puncture in Dampier and woke up to an almost flat tyre. Ironically it was booked in for a wheel alignment that morning anyway, so they repaired both.

My upright fridge stopped a couple of times (due to thermal circuit breakers playing up), which was annoying, until I realised the issue had nothing to do with the fridge anyway.

Upright Fridge Problems
Our Bushman Fridge kept turning off, which we found was from a circuit breaker

I noticed oil weeping from my aftermarket transmission cooler hoses, which we just monitored for the trip and left alone (and got some spare oil and clamps just in case!).

Dad blew a tyre in Karijini National Park (and his spare was 15 years old!) which prevented him from doing any more exploration in the area for fear of having to drive into Tom Price with another car to get a tyre if another let go.

Overall though, things went very smoothly and we had a heap of fun.

Fuel economy average

13.7L/100km. That’s (mainly) moving 5.3 tonnes of car and trailer down the road over all sorts of conditions, and is actually seriously good. If you want to know what our setup weighs, you can read more about it here – Mobile Weighing.

Long range fuel tank
We had a long range fuel tank this trip, which was amazing

How much did we spend?

Fuel cost

$1645 in diesel

Most expensive fuel

Marble Bar (twice) at $1.749 per litre

Carawine Gorge
The fuel in Marble Bar was expensive, but so worth it

Food cost

$1637 including a couple of meals out

Accommodation cost

$1028, averaging $24.47 per night. We spent 7 nights in free camps, 10 nights in National Park Camps (2 of which were free), 5 nights in caravan parks and the rest were spread out over station stays and low cost camps.

Coppins Gap, Marble bar
Free camping at Coppins Gap near Marble Bar

Random expenses

4.5kg gas bottle refill x 1 cost $18

Broome crocodile park was $70

Repco automatic transmission fluid and other bits and bobs $50

Clothes for the boys in Kmart $18

The Dmax wheel alignment and puncture repair cost: $227

Total of $383

Total cost

In total, we spent $4693. Now, I have to be honest here and say that there are always other expenses incurred which relate to the trip, but are not necessarily within the trip.

We cracked a windscreen, which I’ve left as its right at the bottom and well out of the field of vision, and those kilometres basically require a service, so you are looking at another $1000.

We also bought a few accessories to improve our setup before going, and so the $4693 was purely what we spent on the trip, not to make it happen, or anything beyond the trip itself.

Per day and km cost

Split out per day, we spent $109 every single day.

If you split it per kilometre, its only $0.57, which is considerably less than the $1 per kilometre a lot of people travel on.

Would we do it again? 

In a heartbeat. We had such an amazing time, and are thoroughly enjoying the fact that the kids are getting older, and easier, and more fun to have around. We had some truly special family time and look forward to doing it more. In fact, if all goes well we’ll be doing (a lot) more of it late next year!

The kids are getting easier to travel with, and even though we had my parents around (who helped out a huge amount) it was significantly more enjoyable than the 3 month trip we did when Oliver was 18 months old.

We look forward to a LOT more touring around this magic country, and checking out all of the other states and territories!

Reconn R2 at Coppins
We can’t wait to travel more extensively

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  1. Hey Brendan,

    Nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the comment. Mum and Dad love the time with the grand kids (and maybe us!) and we always enjoy having them along. I did give dad a fair bit of stick for having a tyre that old!

    Sounds like you guys had a great trip. We’ve only been as far as Israelite Bay, but will have to head out even further next time.

    All the best

  2. Brendan Parker says:

    Great report and useful camps/costs Thanks Aaron .
    How good to have Mum and Dad in the convoy …………even if the spare tyre should be in the Antique road show .
    Deborah and I just back from East of Esperance out past Bilbunya Dunes ,Baxter Cliffs ,the Bird Eyre Obseratory demanding but magic Bp

  3. Hey Scott,

    You are very welcome mate, and welcome to the world of 4WDing!

    Take care

  4. Hi Aaron and “team”,

    Thank you for the trip report. A good read to get the “real view” of when, what and how much. I’m just starting to venture into 4WD’ing and look forward to the day I can do an adventure such as yours… so in the meantime, keep’em coming.

    Cheers Scott

  5. Hey Ziggy,

    It was amazing, and yep, we did look at that. I should have expected it to be busier. Next time we’ll just get supplies and keep moving I think.

    Take care

  6. Sounds like a great trip.

    When Broome is chockers a stay at the Broome Bird Observatory is worth investigating.

  7. Hey Danny,

    Yep, anything up north is quite a bit more expensive. I wasn’t going to complain though; I didn’t really have a choice!

    Cheers for following along, and all the best

  8. Hey Dave,

    Exciting times! There’s certainly some incredible places to see up north; I’m sure you’ll have a ball.

    Thanks for following along, and all the best

  9. Danny Farmer says:

    Hey Aaron, I noticed $227 for a wheel alignment and minor puncture repair. Fortunately you did not have to repeat that process again in the trip.
    Cheers for the well documented information.

  10. Thanks for a great report with valuable insights!!!
    I pick up my new MY22 DMax tomorrow and am having a custom canopy fitted next week. I’ve been to some of the places you went but many I haven’t. I’m especially interested in the Dampier Penninsular. We’re planning a 3-4 month trip across the top end next year so I’m keen to visit some of the places you went on our way.
    I’ve been interested in your many and varied insights about everything to do with getting away and always enjoy reading them and following your journeys.
    I appreciate you include the ‘not so good’ aspects as well.
    Thank you and Sarah!!

  11. Hey Lou,

    Yep, tyre age is one of those things that a lot of people don’t really think about, but its pretty cheap insurance to replace them regularly.

    You’ll have an amazing time on the Gibb River Road; there’s so many fantastic places

    Thanks for visiting, and all the best

  12. Lou Santovito says:

    I run a mechanical workshop in Perth, and one of the hardest things to convince my customers of is tyre age! “She’s got plenty of tread left, so there’s no need to replace it.”

    At the moment we are planning our Gibb River Road experience for next May, so I’m enjoying the insights from your blogs.
    Cheers for sharing them.