Wandering Aus

Wandering Australia: Follow us on a lap of Australia

Article from Which Car.

The Shanley family embark on a lap of the map.

Part 1: Victorian Grampians

The mountain ranges of north-east Victoria were one the highlights of our travels and definitely one of the most challenging 4WD treks of the first part of our trip.

We were wondering what we were getting ourselves into when local Victorians would say “the Grampians have nothing on Vic High Country” but we were up for the challenge.

We drove along the Victorian south coast and headed inland towards Dargo, with the Dargo Hotel being our first stop and meeting point with some mates.

The hotel is an icon and boasts a strong community feel. Despite the impact and anxiety the first month of COVID brought, we felt welcomed and part of the community having just walked through the doors. Dargo is a great but tiny community and well-worth a stop at the pub for a beer or for the night. We camped on pub grounds, with amenities available for a small fee.

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The following day we joined a convoy of four-wheel drives heading into the mountains to a beautiful free camp spot by the fresh, flowing creek at Talbotville. There was a drop toilet available but no other facilities and we had to be completely self-sufficient, which is how we like it. It was here we would base ourselves for a few days while we hit some 4WD tracks.

Our mates with us had some ATVs and, along with the 79 Series, they were put to good use. The best and most challenging drive we did in this part of our travels was the Billy Goat Bluff track. Whilst it is not for the faint-hearted, the views are absolutely spectacular, offering 360-degree views of the Victorian Alps.

Billy Goat Bluff track is only seven kilometres long, but as one of the steepest in Victoria it ascends 1200m and took us around two hours from camp to get to the top. When people said to us “You’ve just got to commit” they weren’t lying, and our 79 (as light as we could make it) reliably and steadily climbed the mountain.

At the summit, there is a parking area and we were very lucky to catch the sun starting to go down from the Pinnacles – a once in a lifetime opportunity. We took the same amount of time, if not longer, getting down, as we had to slowly creep along the loose, rocky surface to get safely back to camp.

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Once we tested out the tracks and many water crossings around Talbotville, we had an overnighter at Scotts Reserve just out of the quaint historical town of Woods Point. You can’t go through this town without the photo opportunity at the abandoned service station. It is still in its original form from the gold-mining era of the late 19th century when the town was alive with many shops and even a hospital. There are many small camp spots around here, complete with drop toilets and fire pits.

Our next stop was another High Country icon – Craig’s Hut, where we camped nearby. As we learnt while visiting, Craig’s Hut was originally built for a prop in The Man From Snowy River film and has been a tourist attraction ever since. We spent a sunset at Craig’s Hut, which again provided spectacular views over the mountains. Toilets are available but there are no other amenities; our RTT and a good campfire were all we needed.

It was so helpful to travel with Victorian locals who have experience with the area, and we would highly recommend ensuring you’re confident with mountain tracks before embarking on an adventure in the High Country. It definitely pushed the big 79 to her limits, but she didn’t let us down … as always. For Brendan, our lover of heights and mountain ranges, this is an item well and truly ticked off his bucket list!

The Victorian High Country has spectacular views with an adrenalin rush included and is highly recommended … and there’s still plenty left for us to explore!

Part 2: Limestone Coast

Oh, how we have missed the South Australian landscape!

We have found SA to be an untouched wilderness. It’s almost like the South Australians have kept it a secret so it stays that way, which we completely understand. It was new to us to see farmland reaching to the sea, and the rugged coastline along the Southern Ocean was just awe-inspiring.

As we are now back in SA over on the western side, we have been reminiscing about our 2020 adventures on the eastern side of this fabulous state. Last year we travelled from Renmark over to the Barossa, down through Adelaide and the Fleurieu, fabulous KI and back up to the Limestone Coast along to Victoria.

While we have many stories and piccies from SA, we want to share our time along the Limestone Coast with you, where we decided to base ourselves for a week at Kingston SE, 30 minutes’ drive north of Robe.

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We stayed at a privately owned campground known as ‘Will’s Beach Shack’ owned by, not surprisingly, a little legend called Will! He has a 10-acre property just out of Kingston and for $10 a night there was private beach access, hot showers and water available.

Brendan had the opportunity to get the dirt bikes off the trailer and hit the sand for a 20km run on the beach to explore. We spent a fair bit of time in Kingston, stocking up on food, doing some school work and checking out the local jetty and beach.

Heading south on the Limestone Coast, we were then joined by Josh and Mikayla from @travelling.campers to hit the sand tracks from Robe to Beachport. It was certainly an action-packed day full of sun, surf and lots of beach driving. Again, an adventure most 4WD enthusiasts could tackle; although, a bit of sand driving experience wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Before tackling the tracks to Beachport, we checked out the vibrant coastal town that is Robe. Being the biggest and most well-known town of this area, Robe offers boutique shopping, cafes and a historic old pub with a great little beer garden. We went to see the gaol ruins which the girls loved learning about, and spent some time driving around the hilltops where there is breathtaking views and many walking tracks. While we didn’t stay in Robe, it would be a great place to base yourself for a week.

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We left there bright and early, Mahalia coffee in hand (gorgeous little coffee and gift shop) and headed south, entering the beach at Little Dip Conservation Park. There were spectacular ocean views all the way along the coastline, and plenty of UHF banter to keep us entertained.

The beach driving is relatively straightforward with lower tyre pressures and tide knowledge, however closer to the water there were some very soft spots as Brendan discovered bogging the big 79 to its diffs. With the help of the MaxTrax and some good ol’ fashioned digging, we were back on track and headed for Nora Creina. This is a gated settlement of a few houses and, well, let’s just say, clothes are very optional.

Just north of Beachport we spent the late afternoon playing around in the sand dunes where there is sand for days and we imagined careering around in dune buggies. Nevertheless, it was so much fun in the cars and we did manage to get lost in the dunes with our trusty Hema maps helping us out. The kids (and the adults!) did so well considering we spent a good 10 hours in the car – we all crashed as soon as we got back to camp.

Our time spent on the Limestone Coast was, like most of our trip, full of adventure and wonder, and we will definitely be heading back to do more exploring. We highly recommend it for a good variety of experiences and a great family time.

Until next month … go wander!

Part 3: Strzelecki Track

As I write this, I look over the beautiful Southern Ocean from the Lincoln National Park on the fabulous Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

Well, we have been from beach to beach in five days and what a five days that was. We have travelled from the northern Sunshine Coast, Qld to the upper Eyre Peninsula along the famous Strzelecki Track. This is an experience we won’t forgot and the kids (and us!) have learnt so much from it.

We started our travels from the coast with a stop in Toowoomba for some small repairs to the rig and a quick once-over by the team at Mick Tighe 4X4 & Outdoor, thanks guys!

We then headed west on our first big day of driving. Our mates Josh and Ellen from @79series travelled with us and provided great company and support. We would really recommend doing something like this as a group. Knowing there is another vehicle, supplies and knowledge if we needed it, puts your mind at rest.

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We knew if something happened to one of the vehicles or vans or heaven forbid, one of us, we have double the equipment and manpower to deal with it. Thankfully the trip was uneventful and travelling with another like-minded family made it so much more enjoyable.

Our first day of driving was Toowoomba to Bollon, a total of 481km and around six hours with stops. It was only the beginning but we were ready for a camp that night and found a beautiful waterhole with a well-maintained campsite along the Wallam Creek.

This is a free campground with a flushing toilet maintained by the locals. Let this be an opportunity for me to say how welcoming the locals in all the small outback towns of both Western Qld and SA are. Everyone we met was always so friendly and happy to help out with any local advice.

The next day was our longest driving day in kilometres travelling from Bollon to the Dig Tree near the Qld/SA border. The farther we drove, the redder the dirt became, the less trees we saw and the higher the thermometer rose! Along the way, around 200km from the nearest town, we came across a family running low on fuel that had travelled up through SA.

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After checking they had enough food and water, we pointed them in the direction of a nearby mine site that may have some unleaded as we weren’t carrying this. This is a good reminder to plan ahead and take plenty of supplies and extra fuel. When talking to the locals, they said they come across this too often and many people get stranded in the great outback.

Arriving at camp around 6pm, we were all ready for a dip in the Cooper Creek and camped at the Dig Tree campground. This is definitely a bucket-list item, just to say you’ve done it and we learnt some modern Australian history.

Situated on the Nappa Merrie Station in Qld, the Dig Tree has been well looked after and preserved and tells a story of the early explorers. Brahe, Burke and Wills the most famous of them and who in 1861, set up camp at the Dig Tree for four months. There is an abundance of information around both the Dig Tree and Nappa Merrie Station at the site and was a good reminder for our iPad-savvy Bella of how far we have come and how lucky we are to have the modern conveniences we do.

Escaping the flies and heat, we set off reasonably early on our third day of travel heading for the border and beyond. Stopping in at Innamincka for a cold beer at 10am(!) and a look around, again we were greeted with welcoming hospitality, before hitting the Strzelecki Track through outback SA.

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It seems we have learnt the ‘Strez’ ain’t what it used to be! It is now well-maintained with many mining trucks traversing it daily. However, it is still not to be taken lightly as there are patches of corrugations and bull dust, and forever-changing road and weather conditions. With patchy to no reception, it is beneficial to have plenty of fuel, supplies and a two-way on channel 40 to keep in the loop with the truckies.

After a quick lunch stop literally in the middle of nowhere, we then cut off the Strez on to a track towards Arkaroola village. This was much slower going as it was rougher, but we still managed to do around 80km/h. This is definitely one road to check conditions and previous weather on, as we saw evidence of people getting stuck in the mud.

Arkaroola, nestled in the northern Flinders Ranges, is a great little campground complete with fuel bowsers, restaurant, astronomy observatory, rock wallaby feeding and a swimming pool.

On our final day of travel, we were looking forward to the black top and hit the highway bound for the Eyre Peninsula. This was a great drive around the Flinders Ranges and we plan on getting back to explore it one of these days. So, as you can tell, the Strez was only a small part of our trip from shore to shore, and we are so glad we went through the middle of Australia to tick it off the bucket list and teach our kids about outback Australia.

A big thanks to Josh, Ellen, Will and Tom from @79series for being great travel buddies. Now onto the Eyre Peninsula and all that SA has to offer.

Part 4: Bruder EXP-6 caravan

WHILE on the road, we get asked multiple times a week about our Bruder van, and besides “How much does it cost?” the most popular question we get is “Why did you choose the Bruder?”

Can we just say we believe there is no such thing as the ultimate set-up? Everyone is different, everyone has different needs, wants and budgets. It blows our mind the amount of different camping options available and we have had the privilege of meeting many families on the road with such a variety of set-ups.

As most people do, we underwent the evolution of camping and started out in a double swag in our late teens and twenties when we had not a care in the world and I must say, it is a lot easier this way.

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When our first little munchkin arrived, we upgraded to a canvas tent which suited us just fine to camp with. It was after the arrival of our second that we decided we needed something bigger and we found Patriot Campers on the Gold Coast was exactly what we were looking for.

In November of 2017 we picked up our Patriot Camper TH 610. This was a good compromise giving us a bed and kitchen as well as a large trailer to carry all the toys on our adventures. With the hit of the pandemic and a change in our plans we then decided to change to the Bruder caravan for further comfort and living space. Unfortunately, Brendan had to sacrifice the boat and bikes and hasn’t let me forget it!

The Patriot TH610 Toy Hauler is the ultimate boy’s weekender. It can go anywhere and is rugged and tough. Hands down the best feature of the TH610 is the flat bed tray and boat loader so you can carry the boat, bikes, firewood, ATV or many other toys. The kitchen and living area is equipped with a 50L fridge, Redarc electronics and pantry. We added a kitchen extension on the tray to include a gas cooker and further storage.

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On the other side of the camper, we had a canvas rooftop tent with a queen-size bed and zip-on extra room for the kids. The Patriot had plenty of storage in the hull of the trailer, however given it was a large box space, it needed to be organised and well-packed to easily access what we needed. We loved the outdoor living that our Patriot offered and it was great for a fun-filled weekend away with mates, which seems exactly what Justin had in mind when he designed it.

However, after having our toy hauler for a few years and with our lap of Australia being interrupted by a pandemic, we decided to change things up a bit. We wanted less set-up as we were living full-time on the road and Nikita wanted a few more creature comforts with an indoor toilet and shower. Brendan had already fallen in love with the Bruder and after a quick tour in person we signed on the dotted line.

The Bruder is an off-road caravan with go-anywhere capabilities. The standout for Bruder is the suspension and all-in-one electronic Garmin system. It is cleverly designed and nothing has been forgotten. With a crazy amount of storage, we had no problem fitting everything we need for a year although I must say after three months on the road, we have already sent two parcels home of stuff we ‘thought we would need’!

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Bruder is luxury-plus but maintains the ruggedness of an off-road van. However, if you are looking for an expansive indoor living space this is not the van for you as it sacrifices indoor space for a compact off-road rig. We love living outdoors and the indoor-outdoor two-way kitchen suits us perfectly.

As any traveller will agree, what you tow all depends on your vehicle, weight capabilities, where you want to travel to and what you want to do with it. We maintain that no van, camper, tent or travelling set-up is perfect and what suits one person will not suit another.

No matter the cost, the most important thing is getting out there with family and friends and enjoying everything this wonderful country has to offer. Travelling life is all about experiencing the wonders of nature, meeting likeminded great people and having the experience of a lifetime whether it be for a night, a year or more.

Part 5: Great Southern Eyre

The tail end of our summer this year was spent discovering South Australia’s gorgeous Eyre Peninsula. Spanning from Spencer Gulf in the east to the Great Australian Bight in the west, with the Gawler Ranges forming the northern border, make for pretty specky scenery.

The eastern side of the triangle that is the Eyre is dotted with many little seaside towns, all unique in their own right. A favourite of ours along here was Tumby Bay. It is most famous for its mural and silo art. We spent a glorious morning strolling around town admiring the various murals, each with their own meaning, and the silo art on the edge of town beautifully represents the small-town culture along the Eyre Peninsula.

Down at the tip of the Eyre, Port Lincoln not only provides an opportunity to top-up on supplies and services but is also a gateway to the unspoiled beauty where the Spencer Gulf meets the Southern Ocean. We stayed a week at Engine Point in Lincoln National Park and were so spoilt with unreal weather and relaxing beach days. Most of the national park is accessible for 2WDs and large ’vans, and there’s plenty of low-cost camping on this great stretch of coastline.

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We took a day trip to Memory Cove, where the crystal-clear water and stunning beach was well-worth the work to get here. In order to access the gated Memory Cove, you need to get a key from the Port Lincoln Visitor Information Centre, 20 kilometres from the national park, which you hire for 24 hours with a $50 deposit.

The road into Memory Cove isn’t challenging, but it’s very rocky and therefore a slow trip that definitely requires 4WD. It took us around two hours one way and, whilst we did a day trip without the ’van, you are able to camp there; although, the sites are only suitable for tents and small camper trailers.

After Lincoln National Park, we headed to Whaler’s Way for a slightly different experience. Whaler’s Way, at the very bottom of the Eyre and around 45km from Port Lincoln, is a privately owned property offering clifftop camping and untouched coastline. Unlike the national park, Whaler’s Way has been largely uninterrupted with slightly terrifying cliff edges, beautiful natural caves and plenty of wildlife. Brendan and Bella climbed down the cliffs at sunrise and sat with a colony of seals just doing their thing in the wild. We had a great couple of nights exploring the bottom of the Eyre.

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Most famous for its oysters, Coffin Bay on the southwest Eyre was different to what we expected. It’s a quaint, sleepy little town with not much more than a caravan park, IGA and many, many oyster farms. We spent Australia Day exploring Coffin Bay National Park which, we argue, is even better scenery than Lincoln National Park.

There are spectacular lookouts accessible by 2WD and great sand tracks to explore by 4WD. Pull up anywhere along the beach to enjoy fishing, swimming, fresh oysters and a beer or three!
The beaches just get better and better as you travel up the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. You can choose any number of free beach camp spots to stay at. One of our favourites was Greenly Beach just above Coffin Bay, where we had the whole place to ourselves and the serenity was divine.

Moving up the coast, Streaky Bay is a good stopover for supplies and to base yourself to explore the surrounding area. We highly recommend Tahlia (Woolshed) caves and the Tub, offering natural beauty easily accessible by 2WD – plus there are timber walkways and stairs to explore.

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While we didn’t visit too much along the inland route of the Eyre, we did check out the small town of Kimba, known for its amazing silo art and for being the mid-point across Australia. After getting the compulsory photo with the halfway sign, we headed out to Pildappa Rock – very similar to Wave Rock in WA but much less commercialised and a peaceful little camp. There are no facilities here, but there is a great rock formation you can climb and walk all over for awesome sunset views of the surrounding farmland.

One of the final destinations for many at the north-western Eyre Peninsula is Perlubie Beach. This is a fantastic beach camp with flushing toilets and great, little thatched beach huts free for use. This becomes the ‘party beach’ most of the time, and we had a fantastic couple of days partying with many other travelling families. This was also where we were introduced to razorfish, and there were blue swimmer crabs aplenty!

Once the rain set in, we headed for Ceduna before hitting up the Nullarbor which we can tell you all about next month.

Until then, Go Wander!

Part 6: Nullarbor, Goldfields and magical beaches

The Nullarbor Plain – around 1000 kilometres of … not much really, but it’s definitely a tick-it-off item. We headed west, bound for our largest state earlier this year and, besides the Gibb River Road, the Nullarbor is probably the most iconic way to get to Western Australia.

Before hitting this mighty stretch, we enjoyed the most western parts of South Australia which included Scott’s Beach at Fowlers Bay and Bunda Cliffs, where we spent a night stopover at each. Bunda Cliffs are breathtaking, forming part of the Great Australian Bight and providing us with a spectacular sunset. Following these coastline cliffs, there are many lookouts, caves and points of interest to check out.

We hit the road bright and early bound for WA the following day, with only an hours’ drive to Border Village, where there are plenty of facilities available.

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The police on the border were more impressed with our set-up than our border passes, and we were so excited to get through the tightest COVID border control in the country, we forgot to take a pic at the SA-WA border sign! The Nullarbor, to be honest, is not the most exciting drive and, despite there being multiple signs saying watch out for camels, roos and emus, we didn’t see a single one. We stopped for lunch at the Nullarbor Roadhouse and it’s a must-see, providing plenty of photo opportunities. It is another great roadhouse fully set up with accommodation, food and facilities.

After a full days driving including on the famous 90 Mile Straight, our first night in WA was spent at Balladonia Roadhouse. It was a great little set-up with caravan park, pool, restaurant and service station, as well as plenty of flies! We were thinking about doing the Balladonia Track down to Esperance, but after chatting to the locals we were advised it was closed and it was looking like it was going to rain, so we decided against it.

The Nullarbor comes to an end at the small town of Norseman, where it’s either bush or beach and you can head south to Esperance or north to Kalgoorlie.

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Another great experience in Kalgoorlie is the ‘Super Pit’ working gold mine, where you can go on a tour (when they’re open and operating), go to the mine lookout and watch the mine in action, and witness a blast if they happen to be scheduled. The museum is also well-worth checking out and has plenty of activities for the kids.

In search of the ocean again, we headed four hours south to Esperance. We really loved Esperance and ended up spending well over two weeks there. You could write an entire article talking about the Esperance area, there is so much beach to explore and the 4WD tracks and camp spots around here are endless. In town, there is the port to visit, plus whale watching and Woody Island tours, fishing charters, Lucky Bay Brewing, and much more.

Out of town the most famous beach is Lucky Bay, and we know why it is famous – it is magical! With the most crystal-clear turquoise water and beautiful clean beaches, we lazed for hours on this beach and could even get a real coffee from the coffee cart.

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Given the not-so-nice weather forecast, we decided to check out Kalgoorlie first. It’s a decent-size mining town rich in history and we spent a good week here exploring. The historic gold mine is a great morning out and both us adults and the kids learned so much about the boom days of the late 19th century. Spend hours exploring the historic settlement with all the essential elements of an olden-day mining town including miners’ shanties, hospital, post office, pub and a two-up shed.

However, Wharton Beach was our favourite, being even more stunning and less busy. We spent 11 days camping at Membinup which, like every other beach around here, was perfect. The only downside was the wind, which came up most afternoons.

From here we explored all the 4WD tracks around, went for a pub lunch at the old-school Condingup Tavern and visited Le Grande National Park. Esperance and the southwest have just so much to offer we can’t cover it all. Our journey across the southwest continued and we can tell you all about this next time.

Until then, Go Wander …

Part 7: The Great South-West

We visited the southwest corner of Australia back in March, and what a beautiful part of the world this is, but we feel we didn’t spend enough time there and will definitely be back. The following two weeks, after leaving Esperance, we visited so many cool spots such as Albany, Cosy Corner, Denmark, Pemberton and Augusta, all of which we’ll have to tell you about later as there’s so much to see and do in this area.

This month, we want to talk more about the Margaret River region. This was our last stop before Perth and we soon realised it is such a small part of a much bigger wine region. There are so many little towns around Margaret River, each unique in character and most of them ending in ‘up’ meaning ‘place of’ in Aboriginal Noongar language.

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A rugged coastline and big surf are just a couple of the highlights of WA’s great south-west corner

We camped at the Big Valley Campsite farm stay and it was a great place to base ourselves for our five-day Margaret River visit. When visiting Margs, you have to get used to driving everywhere, which never goes well with multiple wineries and breweries – I guess that’s why they invented tours! Everything is about a 20- to 30-minute drive away and, we have to admit, it did feel like we were always on the go and driving here, there and everywhere.

However, the Margaret River region caters for so many different interests. We spent a day exploring the coastline, doing some mad four-wheel driving on beach tracks with some 4WD mates, and were lucky enough to find North Point at the northern end of Hamelin Bay beach. This is a gorgeous, secluded natural rock pool and we spent hours swimming, sunbaking and cruising around the rocks. It was much quieter than the touristy natural spa and Margaret River main beach.

Hamelin Bay is another awesome beach spot, where there are resident stingrays that will cruise up and down the beach and seem to enjoy all the photography and attention.

Another natural wonder of the Margaret River region are the many caves, only a few of which are accessible. We visited Jewel Cave and it was such an awesome experience, with the girls learning so much about these ancient structures. When you visit, go on a tour with a knowledgeable guide who will tell you all the history and science about the cave. You can buy a cave pass to give you access to visit other caves, but we decided one cave was enough for us. From here, head into Margaret River along Caves Road, where most of the caves lie. Plus, there’s a pretty drive through the rainforest.

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On to the wineries and breweries, which is why we were there, right? If you visit them all, your wallet would be the only thing dry, so we just picked a few, mostly the kid-friendly ones, and had a ball. We spent the good part of a Saturday at The Beer Farm for our daughter’s birthday, and it’s a must-see. It has a large selection of its own brews to sample, a great smokehouse restaurant and a huge area where the kids can run around. The day we were there, it had live music and a waterslide for the kids, hence why it was so easy to get to closing time and realise we’d been there all day!

Many of the breweries and some of the wineries have similar set-ups, with playgrounds for the kids and amazing food to accompany the amazing wines. Margaret River region is definitely a foodie’s paradise and we came away a couple kilos heavier and a few hundred dollars poorer.

Heading north, we arrived at Busselton, which was much bigger than expected and its foreshore precinct is a great place to spend the day. There are some great restaurants overlooking the ocean to have brekkie or lunch, or even take a picnic to let the kids go wild on the largest playground we have ever seen – our girls would have spent hours on the pirate ship playground if we had let them.

The main feature of the foreshore is the famous Busselton Jetty. It is the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere. You can walk to the end or take the lazy option on the gorgeous, little red electric train. Included in the train ride ticket is entry into the underwater observatory, which is a natural aquarium full of a huge variety of beautiful fish and coral.

As mentioned, there is just so much to see and do in the Margaret River region and there is so much variety – no matter your thing, you will be entertained. However, the two things we didn’t love about Margs was the amount of driving around and how expensive everything was. But that said, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and it is such a magical part of Western Australia.

Part 8: Dirk Hartog Island

Well, where do we begin? We absolutely loved our time on Dirk Hartog Island (DHI). It was a nice escape with back-to-basics camping and time well-spent as a family. We had five days on this western slice of paradise and enjoyed the laid-back island life and natural beauty of this place.

Dirk Hartog Island is a World Heritage site situated off Steep Point, the westernmost point of Australia, in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. At 80km from end to end and 620km² in area, it’s WA’s largest island, and it’s only a short single-car barge ride from Steep Point. DHI is part national park and part privately owned by the Wardle family, who have owned the property since the early 1960s.

Let us take you on our mini-trip of DHI and, trust us, you’ll want to make the journey for yourself!

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STEEP POINT – DAY 1

Getting to DHI is a small mission in itself, with the barge leaving from Steep Point, which is a three-hour four-wheel drive from the Shark Bay turnoff to get to. We left our ’van at Hamelin Station Stay as it was just a metre too long for the barge and headed towards Shark Bay, turning off towards Edel Land National Park. We didn’t think the road to Steep Point was too bad, but it is quite corrugated with a few short, soft spots. The road is unsealed and requires reduced tyre pressure, and be sure to check road conditions before heading off. It’s not a challenging drive, but it gets a bit arduous with three hours of jiggling.

Steep Point is well worth the effort though, with rugged cliffs on one side and beautiful beaches on the other, much the same as DHI. We visited the famous sign and explored the point, then settled in for our first sunset at Shelter Bay. Once you book a trip to Dirk Hartog Island you must then contact the ranger station at Steep Point, as they have campsites reserved for DHI guests at Shelter Bay – another stunning WA beach camp off the beaten track!

DIRK – DAY 2

We were so excited for the island we were up at sunrise ready for the barge ride. With only one car at a time fitting on the barge, it is a bit of a wait in line, but we got over there eventually and started exploring. Our first stop was Surf Point, which is such a cool little place full of baby wildlife including turtles, shovelnose sharks, many other sharks, and plenty of fish. We weren’t game enough to get in with them, but it was still amazing to watch from the shore.

We then explored the bottom part of the western side of the island. We were truly blown away (excuse the pun) at the blowholes, and these were the best blowholes we have seen so far. The sound of the waves and air shooting up through the rock was phenomenal. We ended the day at the homestead campground with basic facilities available, but best of all was the well-stocked bar where we enjoyed a few cold bevvies before hitting the RTT for the night.

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SANDY POINT – DAY 3

We headed north to explore the east side of the island which is dotted with pristine beaches, most of which you can camp at. While the island is only 80km long, it took us a good three hours (excluding stops) to get to the top. Notch Point was a magical little secluded spot where we didn’t see a soul and went for beach strolls and explored the little caves. We stopped for a late lunch at Louisa Bay, threw the lines in for a ‘quick fish’ and ended up catching a big feed of whiting for dinner. Yummo!

Hopping from beach to beach, we spent the afternoon and night at my favourite part of the island, Sandy Point, where we didn’t see anyone the whole time we were there. This was one of the best days of our trip as we just fished, played and chilled the day away as a family of four, spending quality time with each other.

CAPE INSCRIPTION – DAY 4

We headed for the top, stopping in at Withnell Point for a quick look. You can camp right down on the beach at Withnell and it is a popular family camping spot. We also checked out Dampier’s Landing – the site where William Dampier landed in 1699 – which hosts yet another beautiful beach and single campsite behind the dunes.

We headed farther north to the tip at Cape Inscription, to explore the lighthouse and memorial to DHI’s discovery in 1616 by Dutchman Dirk Hartog. This was also the first recorded landing by Europeans on Australian soil. Most of our time at the tip was spent at Turtle Bay, where the outlook and landscape are just magical!

We enjoyed a spectacular sunset from our clifftop camp, then snuck down to the beach late at night looking for hatching or laying turtles, but unfortunately we lucked out and just found the shell remnants from hatchings. Turtle Bay is one of the best camps on the island, but beware the crazy number of mozzies.

4 X 4 Australia Explore Dirk Hartog Island Shanley 1

MAKING OUR WAY BACK – DAY 5

We woke up at Turtle Bay on our last full day on DHI and unfortunately the weather decided to turn on us and the rain had set in. We checked out the northwest side of the island with its huge waves crashing against the cliffs. There are also a few camp spots, some with shelters and toilets, on this side of the island which would be ideal for adrenaline-junkie cliff fisherman. Through the rain, we headed back to the homestead, where we just chilled out in the RTT for the afternoon.

The following morning, we hit the barge early and headed for home back across the Steep Point Road that had just been graded and was a nice surprise. It was one of the best weeks of our trip and we highly recommend Dirk Hartog Island. This trip requires some planning, 4WD and camping knowledge, and a sense of adventure!

Part 9: Ningaloo Coastline

It’s up there with being our number one travel destination on our trip so far. Western Australia’s stunning Ningaloo Reef and Gascoyne Coast is breathtakingly beautiful. And with the Ningaloo Coastline stretching 300km, there is a little bit of something for everyone from spearfishing and boating to four-wheel driving to great dining and shopping. However, Ningaloo is very much seasonal and as busy as it is, we feel you really have to brave the crowds and visit in peak season to get the most out of the area.

We spent around a month exploring the Ningaloo Marine Park, travelling north from Coral Bay, around Cape Range National Park and Exmouth, and inland towards the Pilbara. Ningaloo Station on the southern side of Exmouth is the ultimate in beach camping with beautifully clean white sand and that magic blue water it is famous for!

We based ourselves at Winderabandi Point for a week and explored from there. In all, there are five beach camping areas to choose from, with Winderabandi and South Lefroy the pick of those. There is fabulous snorkelling at South Lefroy, where Bella spent hours swimming with turtles, reef sharks and so many fish! We did all the things we love – snorkelling, swimming, exploring, fishing and beach lazing at Ningaloo Station.

A couple of pointers though – the road is very corrugated, rough sand tracks, there is no phone reception and there are no facilities, so you have to be fully self-sufficient.

4 X 4 Australia Explore October 21 Ningaloo Coastline 2

Heading north, we tackled Yardie Creek water crossing on low tide, into Cape Range National Park where that gorgeous reef just gets better and better. The national park’s campgrounds are more marked out, offer facilities and are 2WD accessible from Exmouth making it very busy in peak season.

All the campgrounds in Cape Range are unique in their own way. Again, we did some amazing snorkelling at Osprey Bay, Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks where you can walk the beach and then let the current take you along the reef. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I missed out on swimming with a turtle but it was a magic experience all the same.

From Cape Range, we ticked another bucket-list item off when we swam with whale sharks. This is something we had wanted to do for some time and it was beyond all expectations. Swimming alongside these beautiful creatures literally took the breath away. We spent a full day out on the boat with 3 Islands Whale Shark Dive and highly recommend these guys. The team couldn’t do enough for us, loved what they did and were also great with the kids. We had six dives total and couldn’t get enough of these majestic animals. It was worth every dollar and would do it again in a heartbeat.

The town of Exmouth reminded us of a quieter Byron Bay and it is the one place we could see ourselves living in. Exmouth exudes a young eclectic vibe and has great boutique shopping and dining – I think we tried just about every dining venue in town.

4 X 4 Australia Explore October 21 Ningaloo Coastline 3

There’s also heaps to explore around Exmouth with the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse precinct and SS Mildura shipwreck providing good history lessons, Charles Knife Gorge and Shothole Canyon for 4WDing and natural scenery, and the many beaches for fishing and swimming.

Also worth a visit is the Ningaloo Centre in town – again it has something for everyone with the history of Exmouth, particularly the American influence and occupancy, and the Ningaloo aquarium and reptile display which the girls loved. As we say with most places we visit, we could have spent so much more time in the Ningaloo region and really ‘felt at home’ there. But we just couldn’t be that far away from family and had so much more exploring to do, so we held off putting that house deposit down.

On our way to the Pilbara, we stopped at my favourite station stay so far – Bullara Station. This is a working sheep and cattle property and offers a great farm experience with all the luxuries of glamping. The best part was the scones they do daily and I was most impressed they had gluten-free scones – win all round! If you can’t already tell we absolutely loved exploring the Gascoyne Region, especially our ocean-lover Bella, we will definitely be back! From beach to bush, well sort of, our adventure on the Gibb River Road is next month.

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