A family with Australian pelicans, on the Kalbarri waterfront. Picture: Tourism WA

People start gathering at the river mouth in the late afternoon. An old chap in shorts and thongs with a bream rod and light eggbeater reel, 4kg line threaded through it. Two young blokes with a mountain of gear and an esky. A couple with their young children and handlines.

This is where the Murchison River meets the Indian Ocean - into which the sun will soon dip, then fizzle out, blazing orange and red across the sky.

This is Kalbarri and the river mouth is very much the confluence of it. This spot where huge black bream and mulloway swim through the rocky labyrinth beneath the surface. Where northern and southern fish species mingle and thrive. They say giant herring and mangrove jack have moved in.

Where pelicans pose, statuesque.

Where people gather to see out another day of holiday.

Kalbarri, 600km north of Perth and with year-round warm weather, is a town in a particular place - and which is particularly itself.

The town itself feels like a spot where south meets north. It's a stretch up from Perth (leave at the crack of dawn, drive through and get there just after lunchtime, or take it more leisurely, and make a day of it).

And above it is the umbrella of the great North West.

This is the cusp between the two and, in this mix, Kalbarri has something for everyone.

Something for all - from the old-timers who remember family holidays here when they were kids, to the youngsters who want outdoor challenges and thrills.

Something for all - from B&Bs to villas, retreats to resorts, there is a lot of accommodation, from perhaps $90 a night to super- luxury.

Kalbarri was named for an edible seed, a name also shared by an important member of the Murchison tribe. Although the first Europeans to visit the area were a couple of mutinous crew members of the square rigger Batavia in 1629, it was only from the 1940s that it became a popular fishing spot, and it wasn't gazetted as a town until 1951.

The town holds special memories for lots of older West Australians. For this is where lots of Big Family Holidays took place - the sort of place families went every year, before overseas travel became more of a norm.

It has that history.

For those who just want to relax, dine well, and do a bit of sightseeing - well, there's that too. There are organised tours and plenty of drive-and-stroll day spots.

And yet, for the contemporary breed of young and adventurous holidaymakers, it has plenty to offer, from sandboarding to quad- bike tours, canoeing to abseiling and canyoning.

Kalbarri National Park is a natural playground for them, with gorges and bluffs. These Murchison River gorges were formed through millions of years of sandstone erosion. This is dramatic, red, rugged landscape, with patches of yellow-sand country.

For the more relaxed sightseer, peering out from Ross Graham or Hawk's Head lookouts at The Loop and Z Bend in the national park may be enough. And then, perhaps, an hour on one of the short, easy walk trails.

The best of them, I think, is The Loop at Nature's Window, which gives views of the serpentine gorge below from a number of lookouts. Nature's Window itself is a rock arch framing the view, and some 400m from the car park. (The next step up is the 8km Loop Walk Trail, which starts and ends at Nature's Window.)

There's a 500m stroll from the car park at Z-Bend to another great lookout, where the gorge falls 150m to the Murchison River. River red gums stand as sentinels on the Tumblagooda sandstone.

This dark-brown rock, set against the shivering steel blue of the ocean, is the distinctive colour palette of Kalbarri. And it's unlike anywhere else. There is a harmony between the two colours, and the froth of ocean which beads between them. From July onwards, the land is stippled with some 800 species of wildflowers. From June onwards there are humpback whales passing, and they can often be seen from the cliffs, at extraordinary spots such as Red Bluff, to the south of town.

But the way to really see the giant mammals on their migration, of course, is on a boat tour - and this has the added interest of taking visitors out through the fish-hook- shaped river mouth, into deep water.

From the Murchison River to the Indian Ocean, and through the heart of Kalbarri.

FACT FILE

For much more on the region see australiascoral coast.com.

For Kalbarri accommodation and activities, contact Kalbarri Visitor Centre on kalbarri.org.au and 9937 1104.

The West Australian

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