We left Shark Bay and made our way even further north, passing through Carnarvon and wishing we had a 4×4 to explore the dramatic Gascoyne Coast along Gnaraloo Road, but we had a Nissan Micra, so we stuck to the highway and ended up in Coral Bay. Seriously, rent a 4×4 if you can afford to.
Coral Bay is a one street town with a beautiful crescent beach and clear turquoise water. People flock here to enjoy the incredible diving and snorkelling of the Ningaloo Reef with the chance to swim with whale sharks or manta rays. It’s supposed to be world class, some say even better than the Great Barrier Reef.
Unfortunately we were there on a super cloudy day so the visibility in the water was pretty poor. We spent a few hours chilling on the beach, got some information about Cape Range National Park and then hit the road again, setting up camp at the last free stop before Exmouth: the Termite Mounds layby.
Charles Knife Gorge
On the way to Exmouth you’ll see a sign for Charles Knife Road, take it. If you have a two wheel drive you can at least make it to the top of the cliffs so you can look over the barrier into the dramatic gorges than cut across this landscape with the coast far off in the distance. It makes a nice change to the usual nothingness of Western Australia.
If you have a 4×4 (again, do rent one if you can afford to) then you can follow this road even further into the mountains, right into Cape Range National Park, there are some great lookout points. Keep in mind that the road won’t take you all the way to the coast, so you will have to turn around at some point and drive into the park from the north if you want to drive the coast road.
Cape Range National Park
As you have to enter the park from the north and there is no through road I would recommend driving as far south as possible in the morning and slowly making your way north from there. It’s possible to exit the park in the south only if you have a 4×4 and the tide is out, otherwise you might find yourself stuck for a long time.
You’ll find yourself at Yardie Creek and I would recommend hopping on a Yardie Creek Boat Tour. It costs $35 per person (cash only) and the hour long trip takes you right up Yardie Creek Gorge where you’ll have a chance to spot rock wallibies, ospreys and other wildlife. There’s also a short walk that takes you above the gorge if you want a different perspective.
It’s wonderful to see such a dramatic change of landscape in these deep canyons and rugged ridges, but eventually you know you’ll find yourself back at the beach, because it’s Australia. The beaches of Cape Range are nothing in comparison to those of Cape Le Grand in the south, but they have their own charm.
As you drive north from Yardie Creek Gorge you’ll pass numerous beaches, most with camping available at a small cost. Osprey Bay, Bloodwood Creek and Mandu all have camping, great beaches and good swimming.
If you want to do a spot of snorkelling then head to Oyster Stacks to swim among the rocks and see what marine life you can find, although there’s no beach here to relax on. If you want a little slice of paradise then head to Turquoise Bay where you’ll find white sand and clear, blue water, just watch out for the current.
Wildlife in Cape Range National Park
The real highlight of this park for me was the wildlife (if you ignore the dead kangaroos on the side of the road). If you’re lucky you’ll be able to spot rock wallabies, kangaroos, emus, eagles, the elusive bush chook, echidnas, osprey, cockatoos, snakes, lizards and a huge range of marine life from turtles to dolphins to humpback whales.
Please, please, please drive carefully through Cape Range. Follow the speed limit and do not overtake. You don’t want to be one of the people adding a dead kangaroo to the collection on the side of the road, not only are they too cute to be road kill, it can also destroy your car. Be careful!
At the end of a busy day spotting wildlife and exploring canyons I recommend climbing the hill to Vlaming Head Lighthouse for an uninterupted view of Exmouth and Cape Range National Park. Hang around for a spectacular sunset.
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