Chilled or thrilled in Kalbarri
Wagoe Quad Bike Tours. Picture: Ian Munro

The first time I drove into Kalbarri, I thought perhaps the coastal town was hosting a body-popping competition. There were people flipping, flapping, and contorting themselves all over town. It didn't take long for me to figure out it was just the flies, driving people into a mad frenzy as they swatted the pesky insects away.

I soon fell victim myself and might have been proud of my mad wiggle and spin if I hadn't been carrying a tray of drinks at the time. A few apologies, a fresh round of drinks and a shower later, and I finally got a chance to survey my surroundings.

The pretty coastal town sits nestled into the mouth of the Murchison River and provides a perfect vantage point to watch the sun slowly sink into the Indian Ocean.

A handful of trips later and I'm still impressed by this particular patch of the world. It's lazy and lovely but there's also plenty to do in Kalbarri, if you know where to look.

While Kalbarri is a comfortable seven-hour drive from Perth, it's well worth breaking up the journey with a stop in Geraldton. I decided to grab a bite to eat before checking out the impressive HMAS Sydney II Memorial. Situated on Mt Scott, the memorial commemorates the 645 Australian sailors who lost their lives during a naval battle off the WA coast during World War II. It features an incredible silver dome made up of 645 steel seagulls, each representing a lost soul. A particularly haunting inclusion is a bronze statue of a woman, who forever waits for her sailor to return. It's a beautiful tribute, and definitely worth a visit for those interested in local history.

Continuing north you will soon come to the aptly named Pink Lake. This natural phenomenon is worth stopping to photograph. The colour is caused by betacarotene and changes throughout the day, from pink-tinged white through to a vibrant deep pink. The pink tone contrasts beautifully with the bright blue sky, making for an impressive picture backdrop.

Just a little further up is Kalbarri. At the mouth of the Murchison, 600km north of Perth, the town was founded in 1951. And if it had a theme tune it would surely be Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles. I swear I hear it in my head every time I make that last right-hand sweep at Chinamans Point.

Jason Halsey, who manages Big River Ranch, moved to Kalbarri 10 years ago. Within minutes of our meeting he tells me: "If you can't have fun in Kalbarri, you can't have fun anywhere." From canoeing to kayaking, hiking and even skydiving, the laid-back local says there's plenty of adventure on offer in and around the town. At Big River Ranch, Jason runs adventure horseback rides through the scenic heart of Kalbarri's rugged landscape.

Visitors can enjoy the scenic heart of Kalbarri's rugged landscape while horseriding with Big River Ranch. Picture: Ian Munro

The tours run from the Big River Ranch property through the bush and across the banks of the Murchison River. On your ride you'll see Castle Rock and Red Hill, among other local landmarks.

"It's very picturesque, and there's always lots of wildlife," Jason says. "And we take the horses for a swim, so everyone gets wet."

The staff are happy to split groups in two so more advanced riders have the opportunity to head off at a faster pace, while those who are happier to amble can enjoy a more leisurely ride before everyone meets up again. Staff will also run moonlight tours and campouts on demand.

Unwinding and chilling out on the Sunset Cliffs Tour, run by Reefwalker Adventure Tours, is not only encouraged, it's positively enforced. Before both my feet are even on the deck of the boat, the skipper is asking if I need a glass or bottle opener. "The fridge is over there," he says, pointing out the essentials. With the dulcet tones of Ben Harper lulling everyone into a mellow, happy mood, we are feeling as buoyant as the vessel as we head out of the Murchison.

The cruise takes in Red Bluff, Mushroom Rock, Rainbow Valley and Eagle Gorge. The already spectacular coastline looks magnificent as the fading sunlight turns the rocks a beautiful, almost paprika red. Depending on the time of year, with a little luck you may also catch sight of the passing whales and the "local" bottlenose dolphins. A regular attraction at the Jacques Point surfing spot is local Johnny Cockroach, who regularly turns up to put on a surfing show which includes his infamous "dead cockroach" manoeuvre, lying on his back on the surfboard with hands and feet in the air. Our show ends with rapturous applause from the boat and a celebration from Johnny worthy of an Oscar winner.

The next morning, the Wagoe Beach Quad Bike Tour courtesy bus picks me up from my hotel. In the driver's seat is Ashley McClintock, an easygoing farmer who runs the quad bike tours at his property, 20km south of Kalbarri. The tour promises to take participants on an adventurous ride along beach, through the bush and up the sand dunes for amazing views. And it delivers.

After a quick demonstration on how to operate the bikes, we're off down a winding farm path through the sand dunes and out on to the beach.

As we head south along the beach, I'm glad we're the only ones out here as I can't help grinning like a buffoon as gigantic waves crash down beside us. It's just as well there are no flies here or my teeth would look like the inside of a fruit mince pie. It's a thrill driving through the dunes and the views from the top are breathtaking.

The quad bikes are easy and great fun to drive and Ashley is a fantastic guide. If you're here at the right time of year, you'll also see passing whales.

It's a family-friendly affair, with children as young as four able to join as passengers. Drivers 16 or older are accepted with a learner's permit but will be need to be accompanied by a parent or a guardian.

Homemade chocolate muffins and cordial are supplied on the two-and-a- half-hour (32km) tour, while tea, coffee, cordial, chocolate muffins and homemade sandwiches are provided on the four-hour (50km) tour.

Weathered limestone spires at the Pinnacles near Cervantes. Picture: Ian Munro

You'd be crazy to travel all the way to Kalbarri and not find time for a trip out to the Murchison River gorges at Kalbarri National Park. The gorges are about a half-hour drive from town but beware, the last dozen or so kilometres to both Nature's Window and the Z Bend are on unsealed road, which can make for a bone-shaking journey at times. Persevere and you'll be rewarded with breathtaking views and fantastic photographic opportunities through the natural frame formation that has become synonymous with Kalbarri.

On the way back to Perth, it's well worth your time to stop off at the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, near the town of Cervantes. The limestone formations of varying shapes and sizes are spectacular. Scottish comedian Billy Connolly famously pranced around them nude at the end of an episode of his World Tour of Australia TV show. If tempted to follow suit - the birthday variety - just remember to apply the sunscreen. Or, as Billy would say in his broad Scottish accent, "ye'll burn yer bum".

For more information about visiting Kalbarri, go to australiascoralcoast.com.

The West Australian

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