Kalbarri Coastal Walks

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Sometimes despite the best planning and research, a hike doesn’t turn out the way you imagined, with factors like weather, road closures and toddler temperaments all out of our control. This can be seen either as a curse or a blessing, We chose to optimistically view it as the latter on our most recent trip to Kalbarri – a place we had wanted to return to for a long time.

wide view over river mouth with hills in distance and ocean to the left
Murchison River Mouth at Kalbarri

The picturesque little fishing town, about 6 hours north of Perth, has plenty to keep visitors entertained for a few days. We had visited several times in the past but due to road closures for resurfacing, we had still not managed to explore the famous Murchison River Gorges. You can read about how we found ancient trace fossils in Kalbarri National Park on our last visit here. This time were looking forward to finally getting to see Nature’s Window and Z-Bend.

There are many hikes to choose from in Kalbarri, all of different lengths and difficulty, and grouped into two areas: the coastal walks and those around the Murchison River gorges further inland, , all within the Kalbarri National Park. We wanted to visit the Tourist Information and the National Park Headquarters before going into the gorges and so we spent the first few days in town and walking the coastal hikes. In this blog I will focus on the coastal walks; you can read about the gorges walks in next weeks blog.

The two walks we planned for the coast were the Bigurda Trail which was 8km one way, and the Mushroom Rock Nature Trail which is a 3km loop.

purple flowers in foreground, dad carrying daughter in baby carrier fading in the background
Jed, Maddie and wildflowers

Learning to go with the flow

On the morning of our first full day in Kalbarri we made our way to Eagle Gorge lookout, the starting point for the Bigurda Trail. In the past the longest we had carried Maddie in her pack was around 14km and that was by accident after Jed and I lost each other on the Bibbulmun Track in southwest Western Australia. She had been unwell lately so we didn’t think she would be happy to hike the entire 16km round trip. Instead, we thought we would just walk as far as we felt comfortable, and then turn around and walk back. We hoped this might be a full morning, maybe 10km or so. However, this was not to be.

Daddy and daughter on sandy trail with cliffs and ocean in background
Jed and Maddie on the Bigurda Trail

Everything started off well enough; Maddie was quite happy for the half hour drive out to the lookout and then played happily at the picnic bench whilst Jed and I got ready. When the time came to load her into her carrier, however, she protested and fought us. Although she’s usually quite happy to get in her pack, it’s not unusual for her to have a little grumble somewhere along the hike. These moments are usually placated with crackers, pointing out the wildlife or singing nursery rhymes and don’t last long. On this morning though, nothing would make her happy. We covered only about a kilometre, walking fast and only able to concentrate on my baby’s cries, before stopping to take a break. Jed and I had been so looking forward to this walk, especially having being unable to walk it on our previous trips to Kalbarri, but we were about to learn a very important parenting lesson: sometimes, the kid just doesn’t want to do what the adults want to do.

Important parenting lesson: Sometimes the kids just don’t want to so what the adults want to do

We unloaded Maddie, who immediately recovered to her usual happy self upon being set free, sat to discuss our options and self-medicated with a Snickers. You see, not only can it be quite stressful when our child is crying, but I had mentally loaded a lot onto this hike. I had been getting cabin fever at home alone whilst Jed had been away at work for four weeks and was looking forward to getting a bit of decent exercise.
man wearing baseball cap and blue shirt carrying a big green baby carrier. Baby in the carrier
Jed and I sat there enjoying the view and trying to stop our little girl’s earnest attempts to trample all the beautiful flowers around us. She can be a little over enthusiastic when she’s excited, a trait common to all toddlers I think, but we were trying to teach her to appreciate the things she enjoys in a more gentle way. She’s starting to get the hang of smelling the flowers instead of squashing them now but we still keep an eye out for eager little hands and feet.

Go with the flow – no matter what

It was here that Jed first reminded me of the mantra we set ourselves before we started this trip, and would repeat several times over the coming days. We vowed that we would go with the flow, no matter what. We knew taking a toddler on a 12 day, thousand-kilometre road trip wouldn’t be entirely without tantrums and upsets. At 18 months old Maddie was capable of – and fully entitled to having – her own preferences and dislikes. This was a family trip and one that all three of us wanted to enjoy.

And so, in a moment of wisdom Jed suggested we just go back to the car so he would take Maddie for a drive and a nap, and I could stay and do some whale watching at the look out. We had plenty of spare time after all.

An 18 month old is capable of – and fully entitled to having – their own preferences and dislikes

We are still finding our feet as parents, and especially when we are out of our comfort zone away from home. Although we had been on a long road trip the previous year, this was the first time since Maddie grew into an independent little being. It was all a lot easier when she was breastfed, couldn’t move independently and slept all the time. Besides, we had my parents with us that time for extra help. Now it is just the three of us, my happy little family, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Tiny plants growing from rocky outcrop
We turned on our heels and started walking back the way we had come. Maddie didn’t want to go in her carrier so I carried her on the hip, something that has become common of late.

Now with a happy toddler I was able to take in the beauty of the track. The trail is a narrow sandy track that traces a few metres inland from the cliff edge. To the east is low-lying sandy scrub, absolutely bursting with wildflowers, and to the west are the 30m imposing red sandstone cliffs towering over the Indian Ocean. It reminded me of the Cape to Cape Track in the Margaret River region, another of Western Australia’s beautiful coastal hikes and somewhere we enjoy walking with Maddie.

We walked no more than a few minutes when Jed spotted a whale swimming past, close to shore. We stopped and watched in awe, excitedly pointing out the giant creature to Maddie who didn’t seem share our interest in the big black blob moving through the water.

the hump of a humpback whale just exposed over the surface of the ocean
Humpback whale at Eagle Gorge

It is common to see whales in the distance, breeching and splashing with their tails, but it is a treat to see one so close up. The whale glided past quietly without disturbing the water around it. It would have been easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention. I love watching the whales, they are, undoubtedly, one of my favourite things about WA.

I spent a peaceful hour climbing down into Eagle Gorge and watching for whales whilst Jed took Maddie for a sleep in the car. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any more whales there but enjoyed studying the rocks. I’m always bewildered at just how many plants grow on these perilous cliffs and platforms. It seems like some of these rock faces could collapse at any time, and surely there isn’t enough soil, but still, the cliff face was teeming with flora.

Rocky staircase leading up through colourful flowering shrubs to blue sky
Eagle Gorge Lookout, Kalbarri

red cliffs with exposed sedimentary layers leading down to sandy beach and blue ocean

Rockpools and reflection

Jed and I decided to spend the afternoon at Red Bluff Beach following our girl’s direction and going with the flow. You can drive right down onto a large wave-cut platform at the south end of Red Bluff beach. We parked on the undulating sandstone and prepared lunch whilst Maddie hopped between shallow rock pools. She was content for around an hour picking up small shells and throwing them in the water, taking us by the hand and lead us between the pools, pointing out the periwinkles and limpets. She found a pool with a small undercut ledge with several crabs hiding beneath. These kept her engrossed for a further half hour. I’m not sure she’d ever seen a crab up close before.

Toddler girl sitting on a rock ledge with ocean in background

wide angle of red layered rock cliffs with mother and daughter walking off into distance Suzy and Maddie exploring the outcrops at Red Bluff Beach

This was a much more relaxing way to spend our time. Sure, Jed and I wanted to stretch our legs and get the exhilaration of a long hike, but sometimes we have to take a step back and think about what we can actually do as a family.

Sitting there watching Maddie splash in the puddles – still with her shoes on – conversation turned to the infamous and murderous story of the Batavia.

Father and daughter playing on sand in front of red sandstone cliffs at beach
Jed and Maddie at Red Bluff Beach
Orange crab in crack in rock
Small crab hiking under rocky ledge at Red Bluff Beach

Mutiny on the Batavia

The Batavia, a trade ship of the Dutch East India Company, set sail from the Cape of Good Hope early 1629 en route to the city of Batavia (which we now know as Jakarta). Under the authority of Commander Pelsaert the ship navigated towards southwest Western Australia before turning north and following the coast up towards southeast Asia. However, holding a longstanding grudge towards the commander, Captain Jacobsz rallied against Pelsaert and together with Junior Merchant Cornelisz managed to assemble a small group of mutineers. The gang schemed to take the vessel and steal the gold and cargo onboard.

On the morning of the 4th June 1629 they purposely ran the Batavia into the Morning Reef in the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, wrecking the boat and drowning 40 people. The remaining crew and passengers, around 280 people, made it ashore but were scattered around a small number of islands. Upon finding no fresh water and limited food on the islands, Pelsaert decided to search the mainland. He set off with Jacobsz, a small crew and some passengers, in a 9m longboat. They searched the mainland unsuccessfully before making the tough decision to leave the rest of the survivors and head north for help. Can you imagine sailing several thousand kilometres through open seas in a 9m boat with no shelter? It took 33 days to reach the city of Batavia where they gathered supplies and help for a rescue mission.

green bushes in foreground on beach sand with red cliffs in background
Red Bluff Beach, Kalbarri

Back in the Houtman Abrolhos, Cornelisz, who was left in charge, was drunk on power and dedicated to fulfilling his mutinous ambitions. Upon his orders a group of men loyal to Pelsaert had been sent to a nearby island under the pretence of searching for water, only to be left stranded. All who objected to the mutineers were murdered, including women and children. Cornelisz’s men attempted to salvage all the gold and supplies they could from the stricken Batavia and held them under their control.

The men who had been stranded on the second island actually found a good source of fresh water and food and signalled their success to Cornilesz, unbeknownst of the carnage that was occurring at his hand. The mutineers attempted to seize control of this island but were kept at bay by the men.

waves washing over rocks
Red Bluff Beach, Kalbarri

Two months after setting sail, Pelsaert arrived back at the Houtman Abrolhos Islands to find two warring parties. Both rushed to Pelsaert but the crew loyal to the Dutch East India Company got there first. Upon hearing of the atrocities Pelsaert decided to conduct a trial on the islands. Cornelisz and several of the mutineers were executed on the island. Most of the offenders, including Jacobsz were taken to Batavia for trial.

However, two of the lower ranking mutineers were taken to mainland Australia and marooned with minimal supplies. It is thought they were dropped at Whitecarra Creek, the other end of the beach from where we were now sitting.

It is astonishing to think that such horrors occurred where we were now enjoying a sunny afternoon. These two, it is almost certain were the first permanent European settlement in Australia. They men were stranded here in 1629, a full 140 years before Captain Cook claimed Australia for England in 1770. Nothing is known of how long they survived or what happened to them, although later reports of light-skinned aboriginals suggest they may have been adopted by the local indigenous community.

waves washing over rocky outcrop in ocean
Red Bluff Beach, Kalbarri

Junior geologist on the trail

The next day we decided to check out the shorter Mushroom Rock Nature Trail. Maddie seemed similarly unenthusiastic about her carrier so we abandoned it at the car and decided to take turns carrying her along the trail. To our delight and relief, Maddie was happy to walk along on her own. We did not cover ground fast though. We stopped to admire every flower along the track and pick up several little rocks, which she admired from every angle. I do not mind this at all. In fact, I actively encourage our mini geologist and botanist in her curiosity.

vallen in red cliffs leading down to ocean with a white post in foreground and trail marker
Mushroom Rock Nature Trail

We took our time descending the trail to Mushroom Rock – which does actually look like a mushroom, by the way – then played on the wavecut platform for a while. There were several small ledges for Maddie to climb up and down. She really loves climbing.

We returned the way we had come, rather than completing the loop, and were treated to some more whales in the far off distance. These whales were so far off we could only just see the splash of their acrobatics.

This had been a much more successful little hike. Life with a toddler is a lot easier when you go with the flow and really take their needs into account.

Daddy and daughter sitting on rocky ledge, both clapping hands, with ocean in background
Jed and Maddie playing at Red Bluff Beach

Final thoughts

In the past, we have always been pretty lucky that Maddie has been a happy little passenger during our outdoor adventures. She has accompanied us on many short walks through Dwellingup, along the Bibbulmun Track and Cape to Cape Track. This was the first time we really had to divert from our original plan.

We returned through Kalbarri to our campsite. A good friend had kindly offered that we could camp on his bush block just outside of town, a beautiful fenced field, alive with wildflowers and home to a little flock of Splendid Fairy Wrens.
view through mesh window of tent to pale green grass, low green bushes in background and blue sky
We settled down to a campfire dinner whilst watching the sunset and discussing our plans for the next few days. The main reason for revisiting Kalbarri was to visit Nature’s Window, Z-Bend and do the 8km The Loop Trail. I was keen to hunt for some more trace fossils and had heard this trail was a good place to explore. As this was so important to me, we decided that I would do the hike no matter what, either as a family or on my own. We didn’t want to force Maddie along on an 8km hike, and I was confident enough as a solo hiker to be safe.

Bright blue small bird sitting on a branch
Splendid Fairy Wren at our camp in Kalbarri

I learned a lot from these first few days of our road trip. Family holidays are meant to be enjoyable for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we have to spend every moment together. In order to make sure we all had the best time, we needed to firstly slow down and allow Maddie time; and secondly be comfortable giving Jed and myself the opportunity to get our adventure fix solo if need be. Of course, we would have loved to do everything together, but it’s good to have some time for ourselves too.

You can read about our Murchison River Gorges hikes in next weeks blog, or about our previous trip and finding ancient fossils here.

Toddler girl sitting in a play pen covered with a fly net in a campsite
Maddie in her “baby cage” to keep her safe and keep the flies away whilst Jed and Suzy set up camp
Toddler girl with seashell on her finger
Maddie playing with shells on Red Bluff Beach




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Call Suzy :)