Drives: Shipwreck Coast (4 days)

The coast of Western Australia between Cape Leeuwin and Shark Bay has been known to be dangerous to shipping ever since Dutch seaman Frederick Houtman marked his charts 'Abri voll olos' - meaning 'watch out' in 1719, after having came across a group of rugged islands off the recently discovered coast of New Holland (Australia). Over the next century, at least three Dutch trading vessels came to grief on this coastline and many more followed over the ensuing centuries. This drive follows the coast to Kalbarri, then returns via an inland route through the central wheatbelt, an agricultural region known for its spectacular wildflowers in Spring.

Distance: 1,443 km

Day 1: Journey east from the city along Cambridge Street and Oceanic Drive to City Beach. Drive north up West Coast Highway past Scarborough and Trigg, Hillarys (home of the Naturaliste Marine Discovery Centre, Aquarium of Western Australia) all the way to Yanchep. The wreck of Greek freighter Alkimos can be seen off the coast at Yanchep.

A short way inland from Yanchep Beach is Yanchep National Park, one of Perth's oldest attractions, created around one of the many coastal lakes in the region. The Park has hire boats, bird life and native animals on display including koalas. The area has many limestone caves; there are daily guided tours of Crystal Cave; Aboriginal cultural demonstrations are given on weekends.

Further north along Wanneroo Road is the small fishing community of Guilderton, near the mouth of Moore River. It is a popular holiday spot for Perth families wishing to escape the rat race and do nothing but swim, canoe, fish (bream, tailor and herring) or laze around. The town is home to the Gravity Discovery Centre which works to integrate art, science and technology while providing a cross-cultural understanding of cosmology, with theories that range from the Aboriginal Dreamtime to the Big Bang. Guilderton was thus named because a number of Dutch guilders were found in the sand in the vicinity in the 1950s.

They came from the Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon), a Dutch trading ship wrecked off the coast in 1656, which was finally found in April 1963 at Ledge Point, not far from the mouth of the Moore River. Further north are the commercial and recreational fishing settlements of Seabird, Breton Bay and Ledge Point before reaching the end of the road at the crayfishing town of Lancelin. Here you can end your day in the crayfishing town of Lancelin tackle the mighty sand dunes by 4WD or sand board. The unique Pinnacles Desert of natural stone monuments is located only 4km from the beach.

Return almost to Guilderton, taking Gingin Brook Road just after the turnoff to Guilderton. Upon reaching Gingin, turn left onto Brand Highway and head north towards Geraldton. There is very little to stop and look at before reaching Dongara and Port Denison on Brand Highway, but there are roads to numerous coastal townships of Cervantes, Jurien, Leeman and Green Head along the way.

The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park

Reached by roads terminating on Brand Highway, All these coastal settlements known for their fishing, swimming, surfing and diving. The unique Pinnacles Desert of limestone monuments is located at Nambung National Park, near the beachside settlement of Cervantes. Access to Park is by 4-wheel drive vehicles only. The formations are actually the skeletal remains of trees that grew thousands of years ago.

The village of Leeman is named after Abraham Leeman van Santwits, first officer and navigator of the Dutch ship Waeckende Boey, who was stranded here in 1658 when the small boat he had come ashore in became separated from the Waeckende Boey. Leeman and his party of 14 men set sail for Jakarta, Indonesia, in an overloaded open boat. He and three sailors survived the epic journey. A plaque on a limestone obelisk at the end of Marcon Street, Two Rocks, marks the place where Leeman and his men came ashore.

Cataby is the traditional stop for travellers, about 250 km north of Perth, with two roadhouses. Near Cataby is the Salt Lake and the Yandin lookout that (in good visibility days) offers views of surrounding countryside. Regan's Ford is a nice picnic spot on the banks of the Moore River about half-way between Perth and Eneabba.

The twin towns of Dongara and Port Denison, to the south of Geraldton, are well known for their crayfishing, fishing, wildflowers (from July to October) and provide a welcome stopover for travellers. Ellendale Pool, near Walkaway, is a natural freshwater pool formed by Greenough river and fed by underground springs. Between Dongara and Geraldton, the highway passes across the Greenough plains.

Greenough Plains

Numerous buildings in the ghost town of Greenough have been brought back to life by locals and tells the story of the rise and fall of the Greenough community. The trees on Greenough Plains are unusual in that they have been so blown by prevailing winds, their trunks bend over and touch the earth.

Geraldton is now known as the 'Sun City' because of the average of 8 hours sunshine per day and a warm dry climate. The port for the surrounding region, Geraldton is well known for its kilometres of long white beaches which attract swimmers, windsurfers and fishermen as well as those who just love beach walking. Geraldton Maritime Museum documents the stories of the 17th Century Dutch ships that perished on the Abrolhos Islands, a group of 122 islands 60 km off the coast of Geraldton. 548 km

HMAS Sydney memorial, Geraldton

Murchison Gorge, Kalbarri National Park

Day 2: Drive north from Geraldton, passing through Northampton on the way to Kalbarri. Off the highway, Kalbarri is coastal town located on the mouth of the Murchison River. Kalbarri is on a stark but beautiful stretch of coastline with red coastal cliffs and gorges. Inland is Kalbarri National Park where the Murchison River winds its way through colourful gorges, which can be viewed from above or from within the gorges themselves. Bushwalking, canoeing the river and fishing are popular activities here.

From July until November the park is transformed into a mosaic of colour with over 800 species of West Australian native wildflowers. Whales are often seen from the cliffs during those months. You have the rest of the day to spend exploring in and around Kalbarri. It was near the mouth of the Murchison River at Kalbarri that two mutineers, who survived the wreck of the Dutch trading ship Batavia on the Abrolhos Islands, were marooned in 1629, being the first known people of European origin to have attempted settlement on Australia's shore. What happened to them is not known.

To the north of Kalbarri are the Zuytdorp Cliffs, a 150 km long rugged, spectacular and little visited stretch of coastline where the Dutch trading ship Zuytdorp came to grief in 1712. Artefacts from the wreck have been found on the cliff tops, indicating there were survivors, but how many and what happened to them is not known. The wrecksite can be flown over on an aerial tour of the Kalbarri/Shark Bay coastline from Kalbarri. Stay the night at Kalbarri. 200 km

Day 3: Take the coastal road south back to Geraldton, departing Kalbarri via Grey Road. On the way you will past the turnoff to Port Gregory, a tiny fishing village on the coast. Also along the road are the ruins of Lynton Hiring Station.

Established in 1853 this convict hiring station employed convicts of the time to work at the local Geraldine Mine. Horrocks Beach, another coastal fishing village, is a 22km drive from Northampton. Drive south to Geraldton, taking the Geraldton Mount Magnet Road to Mullewa.

The Mid West is noted for its wildflowers, wildflowers which are at their best during the months of July to September around Mullewa. Short walking trails covering railway heritage, wildflowers, bushland and heritage buildings commence in the town centre. Tallering Peak (453 m) and Gorge are 56 km north of Mullewa. At the gorge there is an old iron ore mine tunnel through the mountain.

Coalseam is the site of State's first coal deposit discovery (1846). Mining was unprofitable, but the old open mine shafts are still there, covered for safety. Many unusual rocks can be found in the river bed and the area is also renowned for fossils. The old goldmining mining town of Yalgoo is 119 km east of Mullewa. Jokers Tunnel, 12 km south-east of Yalgoo, was carved through the rock in late 19th century by early gold prospectors.

Travel south from Mullewa to Mingenew on the Mingenew-Mullewa Road. Follow the Moora-Dongara Road south to Three Springs, a typical wheatbelt town with a population of about 500. Three Springs is the home of Western Australia's first Talc Mine (10 km east). Mica Mine Thicket in Dookanooka National Park, near Three Springs, is a large stand of natural bushland including native flora and fauna of the area. Located 18km south west of Three Springs.

Yarra Yarra Lakes and Pink Lakes are part of an intermittent salt lake system which provides unique scenery. Between August and November, the Three Springs area is ablaze with wildflowers. 324 km

Day 4: South of Three Springs is the town of Carnamah. Local attractions in the town include the Painted Roads Murals, a regional initiative, using local volunteer support. Yarra Yarra Lakes and Macpherson Homestead are a stone's throw from the townsite. Continue south on the Midlands Road to Coorow and Watheroo, a typical wheatbelt town. Watheroo National Park is a good place to view wildflowers in season. Its major attraction is Jingemia Cave.

Moora is a substantial wheatbelt service town. Berkshire Valley Folk Museum, located 19 km to the east of the town, is well worth a visit. Continue south, joining the Great Northern Highway at Walebing, on your way to New Norcia. Australia's only Monastic Town, New Norcia is an extraordinary and unusual Spanish-influenced religious settlement in the middle of the dry, vast wheatbelt. The community was established by Benedictine monks in 1847.

They named it New Norcia after Norcia in Italy, the birthplace of the founder of the Order - Saint Benedict. Continue south through Bindoon in the Chittering Valley. The Catholic Agricultural Collage at Bindoon was established in the 1930s by the Christian Brothers as a farm school for boys. After the War, Bindoon became home for many migrant boys from the United Kingdom and Malta. Migration from the UK ceased in 1957 and in 1965 from Malta.

The College in Bindoon was previously called Keaney College, however the name was changed after accusations of institutionalized cruelty to migrant and native children. Lake Chittering is a popular boating, fishing and swimming spot.

The last country town passed through before reaching the outskirts of Perth is Muchea. It had its 5 minutes of fame in the early 1960s when the Muchea Tracking Station was established about 4 m outside of town as part of NASA's Mercury project. In 1962, the first Australian to speak with a space traveller did so from the Muchea facility. The station was closed in 1964. Continue to Perth on the Great Northern Highway. 341 km

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