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Exploring Karijini National Park and Thevenard Island by road.

Posted on July 06 2021

Louise M shoes Founder Louise Matson - Road trip to Karijini National Park and Mackerel Islands

While international travel is on hold exploring our home country is certainly a magnificent option to have and with Western Australia covering the entire western third of Australia we have plenty to explore.

In June, my husband Paul and I set off on another adventure. The focus for this road trip was to spend time at two main destinations in the Pilbara region, Karijini National Park and Thevenard Island, driving just over 4000km in twelve days. Here is an overview to inspire and guide you.

Louise M shoes Managing Director Louise Matson at Karijini National Park

The first leg of our road trip Perth to Meekatharra was a nine-and-a-half-hour drive including stops for lunch and fuel. This is the longest section of road in one day that we covered. The Great Northern Highway is a sealed road with wide sections to allow passing the many road trains possible. There are also wide load prime movers that take up the width of the road with an escort car warning you of the oncoming hazard. Pull off to the side of the road and stop or you may be able to proceed at a much-reduced speed until the vehicle passes. It is interesting to see the size of the mining equipment being transported throughout the northwest.  

To be honest Meekatharra was not a town I was excited about staying overnight in, however the Auski Inland Moteloffered a pleasant stay with clean motel rooms, hot showers, and nice meal.

 Breakfast at the Auski, repack the car and then a nine-hour drive to Karijini National Park. The 715km drive along the Great Northern Highway led us through Newman, the largest town in the East Pilbara with the largest open cut iron ore mine in the world. A drive up to the Mount Newman lookout gives you a great view of the town and the mine.  Then a stop at IGA restocking our Engel fridge with food items, a good coffee at Plancha Cafe, and refuelling. The Martumili arts centre is in Newman and we would have loved to visit however it was closed. Keep it on your to do list as the aboriginal art is stunning, with stories of traditions to be told.   

Arriving at Karijini Eco Retreat we were informed there was no wifi and only Optus phone coverage. Our initial disbelief, as we are Telstra uses and business owners, was shrugged off and we enjoyed the seclusion and interlude from technology. It was so nice that guests were not on their phones constantly and the need to stay in touch with the world was disabled momentarily. Lights were out very early at night giving us time to admire and appreciate the stars shining bright above us, including a shooting star and a satellite making its rounds. There is a reception area should you need to contact anyone unexpectedly. Outside the retreat on the main road there is phone coverage, and particularly good Telstra coverage in the Mount Bruce carpark which overlooks the Mandaroo iron ore mine site.

Louise M shoes Founder Louise Matson travelled to Karijini Eco Retreat

On arrival and following check in at Karijini we unpacked and decided to explore the nearest gorge Joffre, a short walk from our powered ensuite tent. We discovered though that to reach the main pool area of Joffre gorge we needed to walk through water so decided to return the next day with appropriate walking clothes and footwear. Climbing the steel ladders down we waded through water to enter the stunning curved wall amphitheatre style pool and waterfall. My favourite place. This was a special place for me. I sat there for quite some time absorbing the beauty, the energy, and the wonder of this gorge.

It is a good idea to pack reef shoes to be able to access areas of the Karijini gorges. We used a backpack to carry a small towel, water, sunscreen, Bushman’s insect spray, and snacks. I wore Asics trek so le shoes and carried reef shoes, while Paul used an old pair of trainers for the water areas and joggers for the gorge trails.

The following day was spent at Dales Gorge including enjoying a swim in Fern Pool a 12m deep water hole with a natural waterfall. The staff at the Karijini Visitor Centre suggested we walk along the top of the gorge, descend the steel staircase, visit Fern Pool, then walk along the floor of the gorge before ascending the rock steps to the top again. We were really pleased we followed this recommendation as the rock steps are small, uneven, and steep. I must say though the pathways throughout the gorges although challenging at times are extremely well marked and managed. There seems to be a rock placed in just the right place to be able to cross a stream or step over or through areas.

Rain was expected on our final day so our plans changed when entry to Hancock and Weano gorge was closed. It was explained to us that a few millimetres of rain make being in the gorge extremely dangerous as the waters are known to rise above head height as water enters the gorge from the surrounding areas. We instead walked up Mount Bruce, with spectacular views, and explored Kalamina Gorge an easy walk with incredible rock formation. The colours and layers of the rocks are stunning and you cannot help but wonder how these were formed over thousands of years.

Luxury cabin crew and corporate women's shoe Founder Louise Matson at Mount Bruce, Pilbara region Western Australia

The eco retreat has an outback style restaurant where traditional bush tucker is offered on the menu or order a takeaway burger and sit at the outside tables. A continental breakfast was included (each morning of our stay with cooked breakfast available at an extra cost. A picnic style lunch can be pre ordered, packed in an insulated keep mini backpack. We were impressed with all meals, barista style coffee, wine selections, and most of all the positive attitude of all the staff.

Departing Karijini NP we stopped at Tom Price for fuel and the coffee van parked opposite, arriving in Onslow for an overnight stay six and a half hours later. The Onslow Beach Resort was a very pleasant stay. The washing machine and dryer allowed us to wash all our clothes and the large rooms allowed us to unpack and sort out what we were taking with us to Thevenard Island. The Resort had a large restaurant with extensive food options, well presented and very enjoyable. A great night sleep was had before stage two of our Pilbara adventure.

Thevenard Island is part of the Mackerel Islands Group situated 32km off the coast of Onslow. A forty five minute ferry service transported us, leaving our car behind at the Onslow Beach Resort, to the island. As there is a shop with very limited products and opening hours on the island, we did a food shop at the Onslow General Store buying all food required for our stay and loaded in our esky. The chalets on the island have a fully equipped kitchen and a barbeque to cook all meals.

Arriving on the island my initial thoughts were ‘there is nothing to do here, what are we going to do for four nights however I was so grateful to again leave technology behind, no option but to relax and recharge.

‘Dinner under the Stars’ was prepared by the staff the evening we arrived and attended by other guests on the island. This dinner option must be pre booked and paid for at least twenty four hours prior. It is a nice way to meet the staff and other guests.

We asked the staff to drive us to the other end of the island the next day and we walked back along the long sandy beach. A slow walk back took us about three hours with Paul flicking the fishing line in as we strolled the beach.  A highlight was being driven back to the other end of the island one evening to watch the sunset. There were two other couples staying on the island at the same time so we shared this sunset experience with them.  

What I loved most about our stay on Thevenard Island was the lack of distraction that usually takes our focus away from each other, sleeping without setting an alarm not having to be anywhere at a particular time, and finishing a book an actual paperback (not the usual audible on the run).

Leaving the island, the ferry returned us to Onslow. We packed our car and started our drive down the coastal road to Perth. From Onslow we drove six hours to Carnarvon for an overnight stay arriving about 7pm.  It is imperative to be super alert driving at night as kangaroos are known to jump across the road and cattle  cross slowly. Hitting either of these can cause major vehicle damage if not a serious accident. The following morning we had breakfast, refuelled and had a very quick drive around Carnarvon. If we had more time we would have visited the Natural Blowholes and the Space and Technology Centre. Carnarvon also produces much of WA's fruit and vegetables, and has a large fresh seafood industry. You are guaranteed fresh food!

Our last night was spent in Kalbarri, another five-hour drive further south. We wanted to visit Kalbarri to support the town after a devastating cyclone hit the town recently, and to see the new Twim Skywalk, a $24 million project with two cantilevered platforms 100m high and overlooking the Murchison Gorge. This is near one of Kalbarri’s other top attractions Nature’s Window. You can easily spend the day/s here exploring the walk trails through the gorge but if you do choose to do this make sure you are prepared with appropriate clothing and plenty of sunscreen and water.

Dinner in Kalbarri was at the iconic outdoor restaurant and microbrewery Finlay’s. Bookings and a warm jacket are essential. An overnight stay at Kalbarri Seafront Villas and breakfast at The Gorges Café prepared us for the final leg of our road trip back to Perth, a further six-hour drive along the coastal road stopping at Cervantes and buying crayfish at The Lobster Shack a large beach front restaurant.

I am hoping the next road trip will be in Italy to visit the factory where Louise M shoes are manufactured, however we would be more than happy to explore more of Western Australia if overseas travel remains on hold.

Safe travels!

Important information:

Buy and use Bushman’s Spray to ward away insects. You will need this at Karijini, Mackerel Islands, and Onslow. The midgies are tiny and you are often unaware until the next day, leaving red marks on your body and itching for days.  If you do suffer try a non-drowsy antihistamine and tropical gel for insect bites such as Soov Bite. Worked a treat for my husband!

Be aware, most fuel is Unleaded 91 or Diesel in the more remote areas of the Pilbara. Some stations are unmanned so have a pay station (similar to car parking pay stations) is used to take payment. Ensure you have a credit card with you.  Always know where fuel is available and the distances your vehicle can travel before re fuelling is necessary. You do not want to be left on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere without fuel.

Additional travel tips:

  • There is a sealed road into Karijini Eco retreat with 3km gravel road being the final section. This is far preferable than the alternative entrance of  the unsealed corrugated road between Dales Gorge and Eco Retreat.
  • Be aware that petrol is not available at Karijini National Park. Tom Price is the closest town for petrol. Calculate how much fuel you need while exploring the park so you don’t run the risk of running short. You may decide to carry extra fuel with you or take a drive to Tom Price to refuel during your stay.
  • Phone coverage is non-existent in some locations. Wifi is not available in many areas
  • A four wheel drive vehicle is preferable however not essential.

This article was written by Founder and Managing Director of luxury cabin crew and corporate women’s shoe brand Louise M. Visit www.louisemshoes.com for further information. Louise was a former flight attendant and her love for travel continues.

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