20 July 2020 – The cold days of winter in Dowerin have worn us down. We are not really used to having a winter at home, usually seeking the escape to warmth by going north or heading to Asia or Europe. Alas, the bleak days of Covid-19 have dragged us down to the point of having to live at home. But it has not been all doom and gloom. We have managed lots of maintenance jobs that have languished undone for years and worked hard to ensure that our toys (caravan and boat) are both ready and able to be put into action.
With a series of appointments in Perth looming, we figured we had a week long window to get to some place warmer. Consulting the map, I spied Coronation Beach, a camping location 25kms north of Geraldton. We had been past the turnoff sign so many times it would be impossible to estimate yet we had never gone in. What better to go to a place unknown? We had a few taskes around town so couldn’t leave first thing. A leisurely drive to Coal Seam Conservation Park, (another place we have never been) was indicated to cut the driving time to manageable levels.
The drive was interesting for the variety of crop conditions. Because different districts had planted at different times, it put the growth at vastly different stages, with some crops barely sprouted while others were at mid calf height. Some areas even had canola crops in near full bloom, while others were just a low coverage of emerging plants.
We stopped in Dalwallinu for lunch, pulling into a large parking area in the middle of town. We had the place to ourselves, until we started to hear a few voices. I stuck my head out of the van and saw at least seven rigs lined up behind us, most with Kalamunda plates. It was an invasion! The people are heading north!
Then it was onwards through Wubin, Perenjori and Mullewa then Coalseam Conservation Park. Mullewa was looking prosperous, a sight at odds with what I had imagined the case to be given their poor crops over the last few years. The drive from Morawa towards Mingenew is quite charming, especially at this time of year with everything so green. The road winds gently through breakaway country and there are some magnificent groves of York Gums.
Coal Seam is equally pretty, the Irwin River cutting a low gorge through sandstone country, exposing fossil beds and small seams of coal. It is a little early for the wildflower displays that the place is famous for but a few pink everlastings were poking their heads out and the wattle and grevilia displays just starting. The bird life is wonderful, with red-tailed black cockatoos, blue wrens and red breasted robins all being present. A very restful place.
21 July 2020 – We rose early by our standards, mainly because the lack of internet meant that we couldn’t lie in bed and read the news. It was 11 degrees, warm by recent standards in Dowerin. After breakfast, we walked a short way to cross the Irwin River and take in the sights of a couple of mine shafts sunk in 1917 to recover coal. The seam proved too narrow to be viable as a mine and the site was abandoned. It was interesting though, with coal mullock heaps surrounding the small pit.
By 8:30, we were hitched up and on the road, exiting the gravel onto the Mingenew-Mullewa Road towards Walkaway. It was a beautiful drive, with the crops becoming progressively better as we headed west. There are a lot of lupins being grown around here, probably due to the sandy low nitrogen nature of the soils. They were going really well.
Once we finally got Internet coverage, we found that we had sold a few copies of our newly published book (“The Small Boat Cook”). It is so exciting to see orders coming in, mostly from return customers who had purchased our previous publication (“A Small Boat Cruising guide to Shark Bay”). Getting these orders is a double delight because not only do we sell a book, we get an affirmation via the older publication. It lifted our spirits.
We had some business to transact by way of posting out books and emailing e-book orders. We weren’t sure how crowded Coronation Beach would be so the decision was made to head straight to the camp site then return to Geraldton to complete the orders.
The Coronation Beach camp area only has 19 sites, each well spaced out. There are lots of very clean drop toilets and “showers”. This is a loose term because you have to bring your own water, bucket, pump, shower head and whatever else it takes to stand under a refreshing stream of hot water. In reality, the showers are just rooms with benches, and a drain hole. Still, it would be better than nothing when a fresh southerly rules out washing in the open sans clothing.
Once set up in camp, and filled with coffee and sandwiches, we headed back into Geraldton to post off books and complete lots of urgent emails. Bunnings also rated a visit and their positioning of the sucker product bin at the entrance containing special Bunning beanies for $3 sucked us in almost as quickly as the old sausage sizzle used to do. At least the comfort from a beanie lasts longer than the short-lived joy of a sausage in a bun.
Then it was back to Coronation Beach to relax, change into shorts for the first time in three weeks, sit and do very little and luxuriate in the warmth. We had bought a bucket of home grown passionfruit with us which we placed at the front of our camp with a sign that carried the magic word “free”. This proved to be a pathway to meeting lots of people and we soon established ourselves as part of a very cheerful little community of campers. There was talk of rigging the rods for a beach fish. I got busy but left mine racked up against the van and took the easy way out by checking on the success or otherwise of others. It proved to be the latter and my decision to delay until the high tide the following morning was vindicated.
The last two days have been bliss, travelling with no real aims or goals and soaking up every delightful vista. Like so many experiences during the COVID era, this is teaching us to ease back and savour the good things around us, rather than having to chase ever more exotic experiences. Yeah sure! Just wait until the planes start flying again…
22 July 2020 – What a wonderful day of lazing around doing very little. It was sunny and warm with very light winds so living outside was comfortable. Christine busied herself with the task of applying new decals to the caravan, she having recently repainted it. The results were spectacular, although we decided to order another one for the front of the van to really finish it off. I spent time throwing bait and fishing rigs away to no avail. There was no shortage of equally unsuccessful fisher folk to talk to and the day passed in a very pleasant fashion, including a very rare afternoon nap.
23 July 2020 – Today we decided to do a day trip to Kalbarri, a 300km round trip but with lots on offer. We have never had a great deal to do with Kalbarri, having only visited a couple of times and stayed once. I’m not sure why because with spectacular coastal scenery, the amazing river gorges and now the World class skywalk facility over the river gorge, it is a class act. I admit to finding the town site still a little on the dull side, with the staff in the shops exuding a sense of “you are lucky to be here so don’t expect too much” but the scenery and the overall atmosphere makes up for it.
We drove through Northampton and on to Port Gregory, amazed at the number of tourists taking selfies at the Pink Lake lookout. The roads were very busy and the area is booming. The crops are the best I have ever seen north of Geraldton, although almost everything was wheat with none of the diversity of cropping seen further south.
Before Kalbarri, we stopped at a number of the coastal gorges to watch the swells crash against the rocks. Offshore, an amazing number of humpback whales could be seen, some just cruising and others, probably excitable young males, leaving the water in majestic spiraling leaps. It was an incredible sight.
Once in Kalbarri itself we found nothing much had changed. We purchased a light lunch and coffee from a girl in a cafe who looked like she would rather be sleeping than working and wandered an underwhelming set of shops. On the other hand, I viewed the waterfront in a new light. The last time we were here we were sailors and the river held few attractions because of its shallow nature and lack of sailing room. Now, however, with our Whittley caravan on the water machine, the river looked like a very likely prospect for a two or three day stay. The launching ramps are very good and there are plenty of attractive safe anchorages. We may be back with the boat to spend a couple of days living on the river. There is no way I’d consider going our through the river mouth. I just don’t need to go fishing that much.
After lunch, we headed out on the Ajana Road to the Kalbarri National Park. As Seniors, the entrance to the park was a mere $8 but our National Parks Pass gave us access and we found our way to the new skywalk. The road is new and is constructed so as to dissuade people from speeding. Despite crossing open flat sand plains, the road snakes like a drunken python, weaving left then right and extending the drive by fifty percent. It’s the sort of thing you get, but then don’t. It really is unnecessary.
The Sky Walk is spectacular. This is exactly the kind of attraction our government needs to invest in to lure international visitors (after COVID of course). The overhanging steel structures provide sensational views of the gorges and the river. The surrounding facilities and contextual displays are informative and relevant, giving an excellent insight into the life of the indigenous dwellers along the river before white settlement. It is so good to see World class tourism coming to WA at last.
Once all gorged out, we hit the road again to complete the loop through Binnu and back to Northampton, where we had to stop to buy some knitting wool. Why you might ask? Why not? It’s what one does if there is any knitting wool to purchase. To be fair, Christine is knitting some mittens, which should be very handy given the temperatures lately. Hopefully, they will be finished before the weather warms.
Once back in camp, I spent another fruitless our casting a lure at the ocean in the hope of impaling a hapless tailor without success. A bloody good day.
24 July 2020 – The day was spent around camp today. Christine had planned to finish putting decals on the caravan but the wind outside was icy cold so she decided that could wait. I had planned to get up at first light and throw a few lures over the reef in search of a tailor but it was so snug and warm under the doona I stayed there until after 8 o’clock. In summary, we did very little.
While wandering around the camp, we noticed an old “Cabana” camper. Now our little caravan was born a “Cabana”, with fold down beds at each end and a pop-top, but was later reborn as a pop-top caravan by the previous owners. Keen to see what an original Cabana looked like we approached the owners for a chat. Somehow, as always happens, the girl part of the couple turned out to be the sister of friends from Wyalkatchem days. The World is always so small. We swapped lots of “Cabana notes” and shared lots of views about all the fancy new rigs that dotted the camping area, secure in the knowledge that the combined value of our accommodation was little more than the cost of the current trip. It was fun.
For lunch, we drove into Geraldton and did an extended walk of the main CBD. Unfortunately, the many vacant shops spoke heaps about the state of the economy in rural Australia. The city didn’t look to be in the depths of despair but the pain was showing. We bought a few little bits and pieces and shared a donner kebab at a nice little cafe. There is a lot to like about Geraldton (especially when the wind isn’t over 20 knots) but it often feels like it needs some help.
The rest of the afternoon was spent doing a lot more of nothing, including more useless lure casting at the mythical tailor.
25 July 2020 – Some friends, Helen and Mario, headed down from Monkey Mia today. Some days, all the available spots are taken up quickly so we waited for a suitable spot to become available and claimed it by putting our car on it and paying the fees for a couple of nights. This move proved to be vindicated because when our friends arrived around 12:30, they would have struggled without our reserved spot. We haven’t seen them since before COVID so we had lots of yarns to swap and stories to compare. Along with a few beers and a long walk on the beach in beautiful weather, it was a most relaxing and enjoyable afternoon. Helen and Christine did their usual wonders with a magnificent meal followed by a game of cards (which Christine and I won). This is the kind of day one goes caravanning for.
26 July 2020 – We rose late after a night that was really too warm for our winter doona. The wind has dropped again and the scenery out on the water is amazing, with glassy seas but a big enough swell to create a wonderful surf break. At Coronation Beach itself, the break is best suited to standup paddle boarders and kite surfers (although the lack of wind has kept them away). The surfing breaks are further south along a sandy track and fairly constant streams of board carrying vehicles come and go.
After breakfast and the news, we drove into Geraldton to go to the Platform Markets, an interesting array of stalls spread along and around the old central railway station. It is a good market, with more genuine local produce and crafts than a lot of metropolitan markets carry. Even the setting evokes memories of earlier times, when the rail station would have been the hub of the town. The pity is that the area that was once the marshalling and freight yards is now just a vast open space, providing places to park, but also leaving a massive hole in the city’s development. I guess plans exist for the redevelopment of the space and I hope that they include some way of celebrating the importance of the former use of the area. We ate some delicious spring rolls that our bodies really didn’t need, resisted the temptation to purchase some over-priced crafty things and grabbed some fine looking vegetables. After a stroll along the marina foreshore, it was back to camp to relax and mentally prepare for the Eagles Collingwood clash.
Fortunately, Mario managed to hook up excellent coverage of the game and set up a good sized TV on the outside of his van. We warned the neighbours about the noise to come and settled in, all doom and gloom for the first quarter followed by lots of celebration and “I told you so” type comments in the other three quarters. It was the best win of the year.
We followed up the footy with an excellent BBQ and more cards (which Mario won)
27/ July 2020 – With a string of Perth appointments looming, it was time to head home to Dowerin to park up the caravan. It is sad to head home after such a short trip, especially seeing the caravan traffic still streaming north and another cold front due this evening. Still, we have had a terrific stay at Coronation Beach and fully understand why the place has such a cult following. I am sure we will be back. If only I had caught a fish it would be 10/10.
We said our farewells to Helen and Mario before heading off south, through Geraldton, Walkaway and on to Mingenew. We stopped off at the bakery, along with the rest of the World. It was doing an amazing trade and rightly so. We sampled a sausage roll and it was excellent and the two bread rolls we bought for our lunch proved to be superb. It’s a long way to drive but the Mingenew Bakery is highly recommended.
From Mingenew, the route took us through Three Springs, Carnamah and Coorow, pretty little towns that look better than their recent economic fortunes would suggest. Partly as a result of the “Royalties for Regions” Program, the towns have been able to maintain and even upgrade public facilities that would otherwise have fallen in to disrepair as the local populations fell. If we are ever going to find a way to attract people back to rural towns, maintaining what we have at present is vital.
We worked our way along a series of back roads to Wongan Hills and finally Dowerin, seeing some pretty country that we have never driven through before. Another month and the country out here will be ablaze with wildflowers and 2020 promises to be a first class season. We may have to hitch up the van again.