After being in lockdown in the Perth region for 9 weeks, by the time the regions of WA started to open up again at the end of May, we were raring to go! Once we had dropped off our van in Carnarvon, which became a great base for us to explore the surrounding region, we packed up the tent and made our way down south and into what will eventually be known as Edel Land National Park but is probably better known to most people as Steep Point.
After a last top up of fuel at Overlander Roadhouse (there are no fuel stations in the park…or food and/or water services for that matter), we turned off the highway, then onto Useless Loop Road (would love to know the story behind that one!). The road in wasn’t nearly as bad as we were warned it might be; with a bit lower tire pressure the corrugations were mostly tolerable, and we easily made our way to our camp at Shelter Bay. National Parks has two areas for camping at Steep Point: Shelter Bay and The Oven/Faultine. We chose Shelter Bay due to the camps being right on the beach and generally more tent friendly.
Now I’m not sure what we did to please the weather gods, but during our stay, we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions. Considering not more than a couple weeks prior the park had been shut due to an off-season cyclonic storm that ripped through the southern WA coastline, we had hardly any wind during our two night stay and at some points, the waters of Shelter Bay were calm and glass-like. According to the rangers, this was rare; about 330 days of the year it’s blowing a gale.
After setting up, we continued down the track to our main destination: Steep Point, the westernmost point of mainland Australia. Together we’ve been to the easternmost (Byron Bay, QLD) and southernmost (Wilson’s Promontory, VIC) points of mainland Australia, as well as the lowest point (Lake Eyre, SA) and geographical centre (Lambert’s, NT), and now we had ticked off another compass point! Seeing the remaining sunlight of the day receding from the last of the mainland Australian coastline was a pretty special and memorable experience.
Steep Point is known as one of the best land-based fishing spots in Australia, so the next day we figured it’d be the perfect place to try out our speargun for the first time. We suited up with all our gear and jumped into the water, Marc with the gun. After a while of unsuccessful shots on modest-sized fish, Marc turned around in time to see a school of large tuna swim by. Without another thought, he aimed and shot, connecting with one that was about 1+ meter long but not sticking, luckily. The chances of him being able to out-swim a tuna that size were minimal; he would have more likely been dragged around the South Passage for a good while instead! After spending most the day in the beautiful waters of Shelter Bay, we enjoyed a sunset over the calm South Passage from a dune behind our camp.
The following day it was time to move on, and we had planned to complete the loop of Useless Loop road by following the Zuytdorp Cliffs back to Shark Bay Road and on to Francois Peron. After one last look out over the Indian Ocean at Steep Point, we followed the cliffs southeast until we reached the memorial for the Nor 6 shipwreck, which tells the story of the skipper of Nor 6 who survived at sea for 14 days on a esky before being rescued…it is quite the story! Up until then the drive had been rough and slow going; therefore, not wanting to subject ourselves to at least another hour of that, we took the turn-off back to the rangers station before heading back onto the main track out.
We did a small detour to the False Entrance Blowholes but, the one downside to our favourable weather, the swell was not high enough to create the impressive spouts of water that we’d seen in photos. So we backtracked and continued on to the Peron Peninsula. Before we reached our next destination, we paid a quick visit to the unique Shell Beach which, as the name suggests, is one of only a few beaches in the world that is made up entirely of shells. From there, we drove north into Francois Peron National Park.
Well before we embarked on our big lap, one thing we were excited to see on our travels was the red dirt, white sand, and turquoise water so iconic of the Western Australian coastline. Francois Peron was the first place we got to see this unique and brilliant combination. Travelling with a tent as opposed to the van was perfect for Francois Peron as most of the campgrounds are not accessible when towing a van. The only one that is considered off-road van accessible, Big Lagoon, still requires driving 10km down a narrow, 4WD-only track through sand; we definitely would not have liked to tow our van down it! So we set up at Gregories campground, which would normally have great snorkelling just off the beach had it not been for the above-mentioned storm which reduced visibility.
From there we were able to explore all the highlights. We walked the Wanamalu Trail from Cape Peron to Skipjack Point, a 3km return, along the stunning coastline.
From the lookouts at Skipjack Point we spotted a couple massive rays, as well as our first sharks of the trip!
We drove out to Herald Bight and took our SUPs out over the calm glassy waters, where we saw turtles, a small shark, and a shovel nose ray. We tried our luck (unsuccessfully) at catching fish at Cattle Well. We went searching for dugongs (unsuccessfully) on our SUPs at Big Lagoon. And we loved every minute of it all!
We also used our camp as a base to explore the nearby towns. Monkey Mia is a popular resort town most well-known for its dolphin population. Every morning dolphin viewings and feedings are hosted by rangers. There is also a very good chance of seeing an emu or two strolling along the beach or through the resort. We found Monkey Mia, while lovely, to be a bit too touristy for our taste. Denham, a cute seaside town, sits just south of the entrance to Francois Peron NP. It’s a fairly small town but still offers basic supplies, as well as a great jetty from which you can almost be guaranteed to catch squid.
We left Shark Bay with that lovely post-trip glow of having thoroughly explored somewhere we found to be very special. We finished off the trip with an overnight stay at Wooramel River Retreat, soaking in the artisan hot tub, before returning back to Carnarvon to plan our next road trip, which would take us inland to Mount Augustus and Kennedy Ranges.