Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Our Guide to Kalbarri National Park


Located in Western Australia's Mid West, Kalbarri National Park is one of the most diverse and exciting national parks in the state. While most national parks tend to feature a single type of landscape, Kalbarri features both incredible coastal walking along sea cliffs and a rugged inland gorge. This makes Kalbarri almost two national parks for the price of one, and while officially part of the South West Land Division, it is the closest park to Perth that offers an Outback-style experience. 

View from the iconic Nature's Window

Getting There

Located an hour and a half from the regional city of Geraldton, Kalbarri National Park is a solid six hour drive from Perth. While a fairly serious drive, we have found that it is at the upper limit of what can be comfortably visited over a weekend from Perth, preferably by either finishing work early on a Friday and driving all the way up to Kalbarri for a late night arrival, or by breaking up the trip by driving the first 4.5 hours to Geraldton and the remaining distance to Kalbarri in the morning. 

Descending to the Murchison River on the Z Bend River Trail

Where to Stay

At current, the national park does not feature a campground, however the management plan indicates that there is a lot of interest in such a campground and is a possibility in the future. Nestled within the national park, the small fishing town of Kalbarri provides a wide array of accommodation types, ranging from budget caravan park-style accommodation to luxury resorts. 

Walking Kalbarri's coastal cliffs

When visiting Kalbarri, Alissa and I stay at Kalbarri Palm Resort as its provides comfortable and affordable accommodation within walking distance of many of Kalbarri's best restaurants. Seafood is a specialty in Kalbarri, and no visit to the area would be complete without popping into the quirky Finlay's and the sophisticated Upstairs Restaurant where fish wings are a delicious local specialty. The Gorges Cafe is also recommended for a good lunch and coffee, and quality fish and chips can be had from a number of shops throughout the town.

Stunning coastal formations on the Mushroom Rock Nature Trail

What to Do

Featuring excellent coastal walks and rugged adventures in the inland gorges, Kalbarri is a bushwalker's delight. While most of the coastal walks are little more than glorified paths to a lookout, the Mushroom Rock Nature Trail and the Bigurda Trail will be of most interest to serious walkers. While only 3 kilometres, the surprisingly rugged Mushroom Rock Nature Trail explores some coastal gorges and the rugged coastline of the Kalbarri area.

Even better, the longer Bigurda Trail explores an eight kilometre stretch of sheer sandstone sea cliffs and provides outstanding views of the coastal section's best features link the Grandstand and Natural Bridge. This would have to rank as one of Western Australia's best coastal walks, and features very different scenery compared to the granite-dominated coastline of the South West. Being a one way trail, the Bigurda can be either explored as a 16 kilometre return walk, a car shuffle or - my favourite option - to park a car at the end of the walk and cy
cle back along the roads to the start for a fun multi-modal experience.

Walking along the Loop Walk - one of Trails WA's Top Trails

While the coastal section of the park is spectacular, the inland gorges are for many the heart and soul of Kalbarri. Natures' Window may be a favourite with casual tourists, however it is also the start of the Loop Walk, a nine kilometre circuit walk that explores a section of the gorge known for its characteristic loop shape. One of Trails WA's Top Trails, this is a fine, rugged walk that features rugged walking yet can be enjoyed by the whole family.

View of Four Ways - the meeting place of two side gorges with the Murchison River

Even more rugged walking can be found from the Z Bend Car Park, with the short Z Bend River Trail descending to the gorge at the stunning Z Bend by descending a series of ladders to the gorge itself. For the very adventurous, a second track known as the Four Ways Trail leads to a meeting point of four gorges, and it is possible to link the Four Ways Trail to the Z Bend by following the Murchison River Gorge. The Four Ways to Z Bend Loop is arguably the most beautiful and exciting walk that the park has to offer, however since it requires scrambling and swimming along an unmarked route, it should only be attempted by experienced hikers only.

Spectacular views along the Four Ways to Z Bend Loop

If that isn't adventurous enough for you, it is possible to undertake the multi-day River Gorge Walk which starts at the Ross Graham Lookout and ends at Nature's Window. A 3-5 day adventure, this wild trail features no facilities whatsoever and should only be attempted by self-sufficient and experienced hikers familiar with Leave No Trace principles. Those interested in undertaking the walk must register with the ranger, who can provide useful advice for completing the walk. 

Rock climbing near the Z Bend

Beyond hiking, Kalbarri also offers great snorkelling opportunities at Blue Holes. Most of the Kalbarri coast is notoriously rough, however the sheltered rock pools provide safe and pleasant snorkelling. The Murchison Gorge is also home to some of the best sports climbing in Western Australia. As with the Four Ways to Z Bend Loop, rock climbing should only be attempted by experienced climbers, otherwise it is advised to join one of the guided tours with a local operator. All climbers must register with the ranger before undertaking any climbing activities. 

Colourful fish at Blue Holes

How Long?

Alissa and I completed all the walks in Kalbarri over a number of weekend visits, however it would be possible to fit most of the park's walks into a long weekend if driving down on the Friday night to Geraldton and driving up the rest of the way on the Saturday. On the Saturday, the two main coastal walks could be completed back to back, with some time to relax in the afternoon snorkelling at Blue Holes.

For the Sunday, an early morning start tackling the Loop is a great way to start the day, followed by the Z Bend River Trail afterward or in the morning the next day. If tackling the Four Ways to Z Bend Loop, it is advised to allow the second day to complete this more difficult walk, and then save the Loop for an early morning start on the Monday.

Heading back to Perth, there are plenty of options of places to check out along the way. During the wildflower season, Lesueur National Park provides biodiverse blooms, while the the lovely beaches of the Turquoise Coast are beautiful all year round (Dynamite Bay is a personal favourite). Other iconic options in the area are Pink Lake near Horrocks and the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park

Nambung National Park's famous Pinnacles - a great side trip on the way back from Kalbarri

The Walks

Below are all the walks we completed in Kalbarri National Park, and a few possible side trips along the way in the Coral Coast region. Click on the links to read the individual trip reports. 

Bigurda Trail (Kalbarri National Park)

One of Western Australia's most spectacular coastal walks, the Bigurda Trail takes walkers along an 8 km stretch of coastal cliffs in Kalbarri National Park. Linking Eagle Gorge to the Natural Bridge, this moderately easy trail features incredible views of the region's rugged, banded cliffs juxtaposed by wildflowers in a myriad of colours. A fairly unique experience, this is an essential walk of Australia's Coral Coast. ...

Four Ways to Z Bend Loop (Kalbarri National Park)

An exciting unmarked route in Kalbarri National Park, the Four Ways to Z Bend Loop uses a rugged section of the gorge to link two tourist trails into a spectacular circuit. Starting at the Z Bend car park and following the Four Ways Trail, the walk descends to the Murchison River and follows it along rocky shelves and swims through various pools as it heads towards the Z Bend. Not for the faint-hearted, this is arguably one of WA's best circuit...


Lesueur & Gardner Trails (Lesueur National Park)

Combining the Lesueur and Gardner Trails, this walk is a botanical tour of Leseuer National Park - one of the greatest wildflower parks in Australia. Heading through Kwongan heathland up the short Mt Lesueur along the Lesueur Trail before looping around the Gardner Trail's circuit, this walk is filled with a brilliant display of wildflowers at every turn. A gift of WA's brilliant biodiversity, this is a must do during wildflower season...

The Loop Walk (Kalbarri National Park)

One of Trails WA's Top Trails, the Loop Walk follows a natural loop in the Murchison River near the iconic Nature's Window. Initially walking along the cliff top, the trail descends for a rugged and adventurous section along narrow ledges through the gorge before easing off along a sandy stretch back up to Nature's Window. A stunning walk in one of Western Australia's best national parks, this is a must do experience in the Mid-West....

Mushroom Rock Nature Trail (Kalbarri National Park)

A short but surprisingly adventurous walk in Kalbarri National Park, the Mushroom Rock Nature Trail provides an up close look at the Kalbarri coast. Descending to a small, rocky gorge, the trail takes walkers to Mushroom Rock and the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean, before looping around past banded cliffs and other unusual formations. A perfect trail for those with an interest in geological history....

Pinnacles Desert View Trail (Nambung National Park)

A very short but excellent walk in the Pinnacles Desert, the Desert View Trail takes walkers through one of Western Australia's most iconic and unusual landscapes. Looping through the numerous limestone formations of the Pinnacles, the walk's gentle gradient offers walkers a more immersive perspective than the Pinnacles Drive. A convenient day trip from Perth, this walk is suitable for most levels of experience...

Z Bend River Trail (Kalbarri National Park)

A short but adventurous trail, the Z Bend River Trail takes walkers down into the Z Bend of the Murchison River Gorge. After viewing the sheer cliffs of the Z Bend from a lookout, the trail descends through a side gorge, following a route over boulders, ladder climbs and narrow chasms to reach the river itself. With its beautifully rugged terrain, the Z Bend River Trail is a great primer for the multi-day River Gorge Hike....