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I have always thought that the best holiday experiences are sometimes the ones where you get off the beaten track a little and experience some of the natural wonders of our land. During our trip around Australia we discovered many hidden treasures just waiting to be explored and they were mostly down rough dirt tracks or involved hiking on foot.
It’s probably no surprise that five out of the six best off-road Aussie adventures are located in the West. As far as wilderness areas, national parks and centuries old gorges go, West Australia provides some of the best.
However, from what I have heard and experienced, the Northern Territory, does have wilderness areas that are equally as splendid. Although we have visited the spectacular Litchfield National Park and Katherine Gorge we have much more to explore in this region. The Territory for us will hopefully be our next big adventure!
Purnululu National Park and the wondrous Bungle Bungles can be reached from either Kununurra or Halls Creek along the Great Northern Highway in the East Kimberley.
The turn off to the park is two to three hours from Kununurra (about 250 km) or one hour from Halls Creek (a good 100 km). To access the Bungle Bungles you need a sturdy 4WD vehicle as it is 53 Kms over very rough roads with creek crossings.
Unrivalled in their scale, grandeur and diversity of form anywhere in the world, are the Bungle Bungle Range’s extraordinary array of banded sandstone domes. Covering a whopping 45,000 hectares of the park, these dramatically sculptured natural formations are sometimes likened to black and orange striped ‘beehives’.
Walking tracks are the best way to explore the features of the Bungle Bungles. There are several trails available from easy one kilometre loops walks to more challenging two to seven day hikes.
Only a short drive out along the Gibb River Road 58 Kms from Wyndham, is the El Questro Wilderness Park. The name El Questro conjures up images of a western town from an old western movie, with the rugged Cockburn Mountain Ranges forming the backdrop. All that is missing are the Cowboys and Indians and the Cacti.
It is almost 1,000,000 acres in size with a diverse landscape of broad tidal flats and rugged sandstone ranges, to rainforest pockets, gorges and waterfalls. Animal and birdlife congregate at waterholes and the four river systems are home to all kinds of fish, including the mighty Barramundi.
Emma Gorge offers a resort with eco-tent style accommodation and a scenic trail into the gorge which takes you along a rocky creek bed with changing vegetation, to crystal clear pools and waterfalls. The gorge is characterized by massive scree slopes and cliff face escarpments reaching up to 120m on both sides of the trail. At the end of the trail you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the icy plunge pool of Emma Gorge Pool and Falls.
A further 11 Kms along a sealed road is the turnoff to El Questro. Although a dirt road it is in fairly good condition, however there are several creek and river crossings that you have to negotiate, so it is strictly 4WD only.
The drive through into the park is very scenic and there are various turnoffs into places of interest, such as:
Kalbarri is a coastal town located on the Murchison River in the mid-west region of West Australia, located 592 km north of Perth. The spectacular scenery of Kalbarri National Park is the result of millions of years of geological formation. As the Murchison River carves it way to the sea, magnificent red and white banded gorges have been cut by the flow. These gorges meander 80 Kms through the 186,000 hectare park.
A visit to this park of marvels is approximately 40 Kms east of Kalbarri and is accessible by all types of vehicles even though some of the roads are unsealed.
Z-Bend Gorge, which is considered to offer the most breathtaking views of the park, is reached by a 1.4 Km return walk trail from the car park to a lookout. The gorge plunges 150m down to the river below where red river gums create a striking contrast against the earthy sandstone cliffs.
A short 11 Km drive away is one of the most iconic natural attractions – Nature’s Window. This rock has a window which frames the river perfectly and is top on the list of photo opportunities.
For the more adventurous and experienced walkers, starting and ending at Nature’s Window is the 8 Km loop track which takes you through moderate to challenging terrain and spectacular scenery. The trail takes you along the rim of the gorge and deep down into the river gorge onto the sandy white banks of the river fringed with lovely red river gums.
Torndirrup National Park, which is located 15kms south of Albany on the Great Southern Ocean, although not strictly off the beaten track, is a rugged and spectacular peninsula made up of granite rock.
Torndirrup National Park covers almost 4,000 hectares and is home to the famous Gap and Natural Bridge rock formations as well as The Blowholes which have formed over thousands of years. The park’s wind-pruned coastal heathlands put on a colourful display of wildflowers in spring which is popular with tourists.
You can drive into and enjoy most of Torndirrup National Park’s dramatic coastal scenery. Highlights including The Gap, Natural Bridge, Salmon Holes, Jimmy Newells Harbour and Sharp Point can be seen from viewing platforms located short distances from car parking areas.
However there are two reasonably challenging hikes that you can take which take you completely off the beaten track:
40 Kms from Exmouth are spectacular rugged limestone ranges, breathtaking deep canyons and 50 Km of pristine beaches, known as the Cape Range National Park. Wildlife is abundant with a variety of birds, emus, euros and red kangaroos. There are also over 630 species of flowering plants which provide an amazing palette of colours in late winter when the wildflowers bloom.
There are several coastal camping areas within the park which are ideal as a base to explore the 50,581 hectares of the Cape Range Park. Possibly the highlight of the National Park are the beaches such as Turquoise Bay, which really does have the most beautiful turquoise water, and Sandy Bay which has shallow clear waters ideal for swimming. You can also snorkel at Turquoise Bay – where there is a particularly good drift snorkel; Oyster Stacks – which is best accessed at high tide because of the sharp rocky oyster shelled areas; and Lakeside – a great snorkel spot for swimmers of average fitness and capability.
If you are into bird watching visit Mangrove Bay which is a sanctuary zone including a bird hide and overlooks a lagoon area. There are also several gorges in the park including Mandu Mandu Gorge, Yardie Creek, Shothole Canyon and Charles Knife Canyon which provide razor-backed ridges of the ranges and breathtaking downward views into stark multicoloured gorges. There are walking trails and lookout points at all of the gorges that provide great access into the gorges and fantastic photo opportunities.
At Yardie Creek there is a boat cruise that takes you on a very relaxing and scenic cruise along Yardie Creek, winding its way through the steep gorges. A great alternative to hiking as the temperatures can be extreme in the canyons.
Point Labatt Conservation Park or Cape Labatt is approximately 51Km south of Streaky Bay,on the West Eyre Peninsula, and is accessible by unsealed road via Calca or Sceale Bay. The road can be bumpy, with severe corrugation in places on the drive in, so you have to go slowly.
Once you arrive at the cape there is a purpose built viewing platform 50 metres above a sea lion colony which allows you to closely observe the only permanent colony on the Australian mainland of Australian sea lions. Upward of 50 sea lions and seals can be seen under the cliff face all year round as they frolic, laze, swim or fish on the shoreline.
The steep cliffs of the cape are spectacular as are the colour of the russet red flat rocks where the seals bask in the sun. I could easily wile away a few hours watching the playful sea lions darting in and out of the ocean.
When it comes to rugged, untouched and untrodden terrain, Australia would have to offer some of the best wilderness locations in the world. However owning a 4WD vehicle and a good pair of hiking boots is mandatory for most of these places, as is a good sense of adventure and an open mind!
Where in the world have you travelled to that has been off the beaten track?
Check out my previous post Top 7 Australian Places: Remote and Remarkable
Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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JohannaOctober 16, 2015
What some amazing places, and of course I’m so glad to see WA featuring heavily here :) I’ve been to a few of these sights but have had a lovely time dreaming of ‘where to next’ with your post today. Have a lovely weekend :)
KathyOctober 16, 2015
I know I am repeating myself, but the West was a standout for us during our travels. For wilderness areas and the best off-road experiences it is pretty hard to beat. I need to come back to see MORE!! :)
budgettraveltalkOctober 16, 2015
I got quite a shock when the people at the bottom of Cathedral Gorge Ampitheatre, Bungle Bungles made me realize how tall the gorge actually was. All of these photos have got me inspired. Yardie creek Gorge looks gorgeous and I can’t say I’ve even heard of it before!
KathyOctober 16, 2015
Cathedral Gorge was very tall and absolutely stunning. Well worth the hike over the rocky terrain and little creeks into the amphitheatre. Exmouth, where Yardie Creek Gorge is situated, is well worth a visit. We spent around 10 days here and could have stayed longer. There are many other gorges in Cape Range National Park, but because of recent flooding a lot of the roads into the gorges had been swept away and were unreachable. :)
Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)October 16, 2015
The best family holiday I ever went on was when my Dad decided to take the inland route to Sydney from Townsville, instead of the coastal route. We had flat tyres galore (on unsealed roads), mufflers falling off and dehydrated children. But oh the adventures we had! I agree… off the beaten track! You certainly found some awesome places Kathy.
KathyOctober 16, 2015
I have never done the inland drive from Queensland down to Sydney but I believe it is very interesting. I imagine those unsealed roads are probably all sealed by now. It sounds like you had quiet an adventure!!
Red Nomad OZOctober 18, 2015
I know I have a lot more exploring to do in WA, but we also loved the Kalbarri and Cape Range experiences!! My all time favourite off-road adventures are Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary; and Brachina Gorge, Warraweena and Nuccaleena Mine in the Flinders Ranges – of course in SA!! I’ve always wanted to ‘do’ Cape York, too – that’s one of the last great adventures, right up there with the Gibb River Road. But we’d need a whole new rig for that one!
KathyOctober 19, 2015
Now I would say that you have gone a lot further off the road than me! We have barely ventured off the coastline of Australia and so we need to do this. I think our next adventure (after Tassie) will be up to Darwin and maybe the Gibb River Road. Cape York is not appealing to me at this stage, but I never say never! :)
jennyandstephenmilanOctober 18, 2015
Spectacular photos Kathy. What wonderful 4 wheel drive adventures we can look forward to in WA.
KathyOctober 19, 2015
Thanks Jenny. Yes I’m certainly giving you a lot of food for thought! I am convinced that our country is so spectacular that you don’t even need to travel that far to see beauty everywhere. :)
AnneOctober 20, 2015
I also love getting off the beaten track and exploring other areas. Hopefully we will get to El Questro and the Bungle Bungles soon!
KathyOctober 20, 2015
You won’t be disappointed Anne. The Kimberley is one of the most remarkable places I have visited in Australia (and the rest of the world)! Thanks for visiting my blog. :)
NancieOctober 21, 2015
Hi Kathy. That is some over the top stunning scenery. I was in Australia in 1980, and would love to come back and experience more. I’d love to get up close and personal with the sea lions! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday
KathyOctober 21, 2015
It’s funny that you say that, because most of this stunning scenery is at the top end of Australia! If you ever come to Australia again I’m sure Jan (Budget Travel Talk) and I would love to show you around! :)
marcel@swissnomadsFebruary 15, 2016
Great selection of offroad adventures in Australia. The Bungle Bungles are really amazing. We have been there twice and flew over them once. Just amazing landscape. Now we even have some more reasons to come back to Australia. ;-)
KathyFebruary 15, 2016
Thanks Marcel. The Bungle Bungles were one of the highlights of our trip around Australia. It is such a huge country that it would be difficult to see it all on one’s lifetime! I would love to see your country as well. :)