A road trip though the Gascoyne Murchison region uncovers a wealth of little-known natural wonders, writes Lee Atkinson. 

Lee Atkinson
This article originally appeared in the June / July 2015 edition of Horizons.

Ask an Aussie to name the world’s biggest ‘rock’ and chances are they’ll say Uluru (or Ayres Rock). Uluru may get all the glory as the world’s largest rock, or rock monolith, but in the heart of WA’s Gascoyne Murchison region is another ‘rock’of grand proportions. It’s the world’s largest monocline – two-and-a-half times bigger than Uluru, a whopping 717m high and almost 8kms long.

Called Burringurrah, but also known as Mt Augustus, it’s one of Australia’s lesser-known natural wonders, and just one of many highlights in an area that usually flies beneath the tourist radar.

Around two days’ drive from Perth, there are two ways to get to Mt Augustus, and both are great fun. You can take the coastal route and spear east at Carnarvon (make sure to stock up on fresh
fruit and vegies from some of the many farms and orchards in the area, watered by vast underwater aquifers) or if it’s wildflower season (late winter and spring) take the inland route via Dalwallinu, Morawa and Mullewa to see vast carpets of wildflowers and then continue north via the Carnarvon-Mullewa road to Wooleen Station.

Established in 1886 as a sheep station, the quarter million acre property now runs cattle and o‘ffers accommodation in the National Trust-listed homestead and at four di‘erent campgrounds scattered around the property including on the banks of the Murchison River, where the sunsets have to be seen to be believed.

The magnificent but once overgrazed property, which is slowly being restored back to an ecologically stable and productive landscape by the young leaseholders, Frances Jones and David Pollock (the couple have featured on ABC’s Australian Story three times since 2012), features heritage-listed wetlands teeming with birdlife, vast mulga scrub rangeland and 36km of the Murchison River. It is famous for its extensive wildflower displays in early spring, but there is enough to see and do here that you could easily spend a couple of days exploring the historic buildings and the self-drive, mountain bike and walking trails, whatever time of year you visit.

 

Stunning views at sunrise at Kennedy Range National Park.

Stunning views at sunrise at Kennedy Range National Park.

 

Back on the road, fill up at the roadhouse in Murchison Settlement – it’s the only shire in the country that doesn’t have a town, and the fuel is some of the cheapest in the outback. Head north through the newly rebuilt town of Gascoyne Junction, which was devastated by floods in late 2010, and on to Kennedy Range National Park, but stop along the way at Bilung Pool between Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Rarely dry, this picturesque waterhole on the Wooramel River is sacred to the local Wajarri people and tradition decrees that you throw a handful of sand into the pool to appease Gujida (the rainbow serpent) when you first arrive. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic.

Another stunning natural wonder that remains relatively ignored by many travellers is the sandstone plateau of the Kennedy Range. The range is between 12 and 25km wide, and about 75km long, and is riddled with dramatic gorges and fantastic rock formations. There are several walking trails that lead from the campground into the canyons, as well as a climb to the top of the range.

At sunrise and sunset the rocky ramparts glow red in the soft light and it’s quite a sight to behold: a bonus is that you can watch the early morning light show from the comfort of your camp.

Mt Augustus is 268km to the north, following, for the first part of the trip, the Lyons River. You’ll see the massive rock, which is estimated to be a mindboggling 1,750 million years old, long
before you get there, and once you are there you can climb to the top and back in around six hours, or take the much easier option and drive around it – the road that encircles its base is 49km long, which gives you an idea of its colossal size. Like Uluru, it’s a deeply spiritual place and many of the rocky overhangs are covered with ancient engravings. The best place to see them – easily – is at Mundee, on the south side.

It’s around 360km to the Great Northern Highway at Meekatharra, where you can head south to Perth, east to the Red Centre via the Gunbarrel Highway or north to Newman and Karijini National Park in the Pilbara. It doesn’t matter which way you go, every trip o‘ffers a new wild-west adventure.

The Gascoyne Murchison region is approximately 1000km north-east of Perth. The main town in the region, Gascoyne Junction, is 174km east of Carnarvon. Allow at least a week to
explore the region, plus travelling times to and from Perth.
Many of the roads in this region are unsealed. They are dusty but generally in reasonable condition although some river crossings may be tricky after rain. Although many of the
major roads are accessible by twowheel drive, a four-wheel drive and an off-road caravan or camper trailer, if you are towing, is recommended if you really want to explore the area.
Summer in the Gascoyne Murchison region can be hot and unpleasant. The best time to visit is during autumn and winter or in spring to see the wildflowers.
Wooleen Station: stay in the historic homestead or take your pick from four different campgrounds, including four remote sites on the banks of the Murchison River. Showers are
available at the homestead.  wooleen.com.au.

Murchison: the Murchison Oasis Roadhouse lives up to its name with a very pleasant grassy camping area that has powered caravan sites and basic cabins. 9961 3875.

Kennedy Range National Park: enjoy spectacular views of the rocky range from your camp at the Temple Range Campground, which has toilets but no showers. parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au.

Mt Augustus: no camping is allowed in the national park but there are powered caravan sites and basic cabins available at Mt Augustus Tourist Park, with great views of the rock. mtaugustustouristpark.com.

You’ll need to get up early, and it’s a bit of a steep scramble in sections, but watching the sunrise from the top of the escarpment in Kennedy Range National Park is a magical sight
to behold. Allow two to three hours return, depending on your fitness, and take plenty of water.

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