Western Australia is the Australian state that has the most great nature experiences and the wildest nature. I have visited Kalbarri National Park – a magnificent area of classic Australian outback. The park is so large that I have actually split the post into two parts – The Red River Gorge (this post) and the Coast Cliffs (upcoming posts). We begin our visit to the area with the Red River Gorge.
The heart of Kalbarri National Park is Murchison River, Western Australia's second longest river. Here in Kalbarri, over millions of years it has burrowed into the red sandstone and created a magnificent gorge. A bit like the Colorado River has created the Grand Canyon in Arizona, although not quite to the same degree of size.
The river begins its journey more than 70 miles inland. It is a tortuous journey through the outback, which means that it takes almost 3 weeks for the water to move from the source to Kalbarri. When you stay by the river bed, you therefore always need to be vigilant about the depth of the river, as torrential downpours in the interior several weeks ago can cause the river in the national park to quickly rise several meters under a clear blue sky. A rather scary phenomenon.
The hiking trails in Kalbarri National Park are not long, but in the harsh climate the trails can be deadly. During the summer months, the temperature down in the river valley can rise to 50 degrees, add to that the fact that there are hilly hikes in uneven terrain that take extra effort. We visited the park during the winter season, when the temperature was "only" 25 degrees, but it was still almost too hot to walk in places. But the heat wasn't the worst thing about Kalbarri. It was the flies. But more on that later.
Although Kalbarri covers an area of over 180.000 hectares, few parts of the park can be called easily accessible. From the main Ajana-Kalbarri Road, there are two roads into the park – one goes to Ross Graham Lookout and Hawk's Head, the other goes to the hiking trail The Loop and to Nature's Window. (The way to Z-bend Lookout was closed for renovations when we visited the park in 2019).
We visited all three open areas of the park on two separate occasions over two days, but you can manage to see all of this part of the park in one day if you live in Kalbarri and plan your day well.
Nature's Window and The Loop
The most famous hiking trail in Kalbarri is The Loop, a 9 kilometer hiking trail around a beautiful U-shaped part of the river gorge. Fittingly enough, the hiking trail also passes by popular ones Nature's Window, a natural stone arch in the reddest sandstone.
Our plan was to hike The Loop and we had both plenty of time, good hiking shoes and plenty of water to get around. The trail is considered a difficult hike (4 out of 5), which you quickly discover why. The trail is well marked with white sticks, but not paved anywhere. This means cliff walking on solid rocks, loose rocks, blocks and steep sections.
The first stop after 0,5 kilometers was Nature's Window. A hole in the rock created by the wind through thousands of years of wear. It is a popular stop and all visitors definitely did not follow the recommendations not to climb into the stone window. We carefully sit just outside the window and look in through it. Good enough view for us.
As soon as we had passed by Nature's Window there were fewer tourists. We continued walking along the edge of the cliff. In some passages it is important to keep one's tongue in one's mouth and not go too far on the edge of the cliff. Sandstone is a soft rock that can actually break if you're unlucky.
Everywhere you look along the hiking trail, you are greeted by red rock. The whole area is like a big pancake of red and white sandstone. Once upon a time, ocean waves swept over the area and created some of the wavy rock formations that we can still see today. It's desolate and delicious and very much Australia.
The rugged Australian outback was beautiful as day. In several places along the river, sandbars had formed. A great white heron flew past below us at the river's edge. Kalbarri is a popular refuge for the area's birds. In fact, there are over 170 species here – including eagles, swallows, cockatoos, ducks and swans.
Everything would have been perfect if there wasn't one little problem. It was impossible to stand still without getting flies everywhere – in the eyes, in the mouth and in the nose. Despite the heat, all you had to do was pull the fleece-lined hoodie over your head and bite. What were some flies in the eyes and in the mouth, when I got to experience a landscape like this? Or?
I always had an image that there would be lots of flies in Australia's Northern Territory and at Alice Springs during the summer months But that there would be flies during the winter in Western Australia had completely eluded me.
We trudged on, but the flies were becoming a real problem. We met hikers who turned back because of the flies. It was also quite warm to walk in a fully pulled hooded sweatshirt in 25-degree heat. The flies probably liked us more and more, the more we sweated and tried to protect ourselves from the flies, the more flies found us. A vicious spiral. It was also very unclear if it was some type of biting brakes, "black flies" or just ordinary annoying flies. They were very close regardless. We needed to make a decision. Could we continue?
As much as we wanted to keep going, in the end we had no choice but to give up. The flies won. Instead of 9 kilometers of hiking, it was only 2 kilometers. The packed lunch that we had planned to eat along the way, we had to eat in the car instead. Protected from the flies. But regardless of whether it didn't turn out to be the hike we envisioned, the scenery and views were worth every little second of pesky flies. We got to see a lot of The Loop, although I would have liked to have seen even more.
Ross Graham Lookout
Our next stop in Kalbarri was at Ross Graham Lookout, a short (1,5 km) and moderately difficult hike down to the river bed and up again.
The way down to the river bed was quite easy, although the path was hilly and during some passages went over quite unstable rocks. Once at the river bank, it was completely quiet and completely windless. The river flowed by at a very slow pace and there was not a human being in sight. Nor any animals (except flies then…).
A major problem in Kalbarri is the many invasive animal species that now call the park their home. Cats, pigs, goats and foxes that have escaped from agriculture and are now crowding out the park's actual inhabitants. The park is working hard to reintroduce some of the area's native animals and eradicate the invasive species. So far, they have succeeded in reintroducing the spotted marsupial chuditch - also known as quoll.
Hawks head was our last – and easiest – stop. The place is named after a rock that can be seen near the viewpoint. You reach the viewpoint on a very easy hike of 500 m/r from the parking lot. Maximum view for minimum effort 🙂
How do I get to Kalbarri National Park?
Kalbarri's Red River Gorge is 55 miles north of Perth in Western Australia (6-7 hours drive). Nearest town is Kalbarri.
Now what about the flies?
The flies we encountered in Kalbarri were most likely bush flies, the most common variety in Australia. The flies do not bite and do not spread disease, but they can cause eye infections. The number of flies is greatest in hot dry periods, especially during the summer months. But how could there be so many flies in the winter month of June? My guess is it was because winter came late in 2019. The month of May usually brings rain, but this year there was barely a drop in the entire region. It was both dry and warm and absolutely excellent climate for flies.
To avoid being tormented by flies, you can buy mosquito nets for the head in every shop and gas station in Western Australia. We didn't have a thought that it would be needed as we didn't see a single fly until we got to Kalbarri. Next time we go here, we will definitely bring mosquito nets - whether it's fly season or not.
Good things to consider if you are going to visit the national park
- There is an entrance fee to visit Kalbarri National Park. Buy a Day Pass ($15 per vehicle) or a Holiday Park Pass ($60 for unlimited visits to Western Australia's National Parks. Valid for 4 weeks.) Read more about the different options here.
- There is no service in the national park, you have to bring everything you want to eat and drink with you.
- There are toilets and shaded rest areas at the car parks of all three areas above.
- All the roads to the three places above can be driven with a normal passenger car.
Do you want to read more about Kalbarri?
- You can find the official park map at Kalbarri.org.au.
- You can find lots of information about accommodation and attractions Kalbarri Visitor Centre.
- Want to read more about Western Australia? Look into my Western Australia site!
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