Coral Coaster: a Perth to Geraldton road trip

Southern Coral Coast Jurien Bay Jetty

When spring arrives in Western Australia, wildflowers transform the landscape. Sarah and Chris make the most of the beauty while exploring the very best the Coral Coast has to offer.

For years, there’s been one thing I’ve wanted to do, and now we’re here. After picking up the Apex rental car at Perth Airport, Chris and I are heading north on the Indian Ocean Drive. Destination: Geraldton. But we need to be in Jurien Bay by about 5pm because I just want to sit on a beach and watch the sunset over the ocean. It’s not something those of us in the eastern states get to do.

Stacks Awesome: Perth to Jurien Bay

Aerial view of sandy outback scene punctuated by limestone formations known as the Pinnacles, Nambung NP, WA

We might be driving, but this feels like a beach holiday. We get to a small coastal town called Ledge Point, where the sand is as white as snow. The beach seems to go on forever, and we watch kite surfers clipping over waves further out. It looks like great fun, and Chris and I put it on the list of things to try one day.

There’s no way anyone can drive this way and not stop at the Pinnacles. I’d always thought they were huge termite mounds, but these massive structures are actually the limestone shell deposits left behind when the sea receded and the sand was blown away. With my new camera in hand, we check them out and take a heap of snaps – even one of a cheeky kangaroo who stops hopping through long enough to pose in front of one of the formations.

It’s only spring, but it’s a really warm day so we head straight out of Nambung National Park and to Hangover Bay for a dip in the ocean. But, by now, we need to head onwards to Jurien Bay to check in. We grab a fresh crayfish – out of the water that day the woman at Jurien Fish Shop tells us – and a couple of cold beers before heading to the jetty. As it drops out of the sky, the West Australian sun puts on one heck of a show. The wispy clouds turn all shades of orange and pink before it finally becomes dark. My first ocean-facing sunset was certainly worth it.

Water Everywhere: Jurien Bay to Geraldton

Underwater view of an Australian sea lion swimming through blue water, Jurien Bay, Coral Coast, Western Australia

Like much of the coast in these parts, Jurien Bay sits on a marine park and this morning we’re heading out with Turquoise Safaris to Essex Rocks. It only takes 15 minutes in the boat and, even before the anchor is dropped, I can spy who we’ve come to see. A colony of Australian sea lions lives here.

The water is so warm and clear as Chris and I slide in. This isn’t something I’ve ever done before and I’m not sure how it will go down, but within moments the sea lions are swimming around us. One even comes right up to me and stops to stare. Cheeky thing!

Back on the road, I talk Chris into stopping at Greenough. He’s not always keen on historical moments, but even he is fascinated by this village. It’s one of the best-preserved nineteenth-century towns in the country. There are something like 30 old buildings here, everything from the original gaol to churches of all denominations, and even Chris concedes it’s interesting.

As we head out of town towards Geraldton, we spy the famous leaning trees. “Why do they grow like that,” Chris asks, as we pull over to check them out. Remembering that Google is my friend, I whip out my phone. Turns out they’re just normal gum trees, but it’s so windy here – always from the south – the trees just grow sideways instead of up. From here it’s just 20 kilometres into Geraldton.

Floral Tribute: Geraldton to Mullewa

Blue Lechenaultia Wildflowers Geraldton

OK, confession time. I’ve made Chris come to this part of WA in spring, not just because of the sunset, but also because the wildflowers are out of control. For a couple of months each year it looks as though Monet has been let loose on the landscape. After a couple of days of ocean, we’ve decided to head inland. First, because of the flowers, but also because Mullewa sounds like an interesting spot.

On the town’s heritage walk we see the work of the architect priest Monsignor John Hawes. He not only designed Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in 1920, but when the parish couldn’t afford a mason he did the job himself. We also stop by the Aboriginal Art Workshop and Gallery, and meet some of the town’s local artists.

Rather than go back the way we came, Chris decides to do a big loop to the south, so we can stop at Coalseam Conservation Park. (The flowers have finally got him.) On the Plateau Loop Trail we pass the old coal mine and walk through carpets of everlastings and other wildflowers to reach the top. From here, we stare out over the valley, just the outback stretching out in all directions.