As I continued further south into September, my final month of motorcycle travels on this 20 month journey, the landscape slowly changed from arid to semi-arid and then a few kilometres north of Carnarvon, cultivated fields appeared. Water changes everything and the Gascoyne region of Western Australia obtains its source from groundwater for domestic, commercial and horticultural purposes. Carnarvon retrieves its water source from aquifers in and around the Gascoyne River, which flows only intermittently but when it does those seemingly ridiculously high water markers on flood ways apparently disappear under a surging deluge.
I’d previously visited Carnarvon relatively recently as part of the 2019 Gascoyne Food Festival. I was also taking my first off-road exploratory trip on my BMW 1200 GS in preparation for my ride around Australia. It was a test. Particularly the stretch from Gascoyne Junction to Mullewa via the Murchison Settlement. Almost all of the 500km on a remote corrugated dirt road with a fully loaded bike including fuel that became vitally essential as the only fuel stop at Murchison Settlement had technical difficulties with their fuel pump. It was quite a moment to ride into Carnarvon from the north a little over 2 years later remembering the nervous anticipation and fatiguing awkwardness of those early off-road riding days.
SWEETER BANANA, CARNARVON, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: As a participant on the Chef’s tour of local producers as part of the festival, we visited the Sweeter Banana packing shed. This visit I was keen to learn more about these delicious West Australian bananas in the field and a friend who’s the Business Manager of Sweeter Banana, Doriana Magili kindly made a visit with banana grower Chris Collins possible.
Chris is one of 18 banana growers in the Sweeter Banana growing co-operative. The co-operative was founded in 1993 as smaller growers couldn’t compete against the larger Queensland industry. Not only a marketing pitch, Carnarvon bananas are actually sweeter due to higher density planting creating micro climates that help protect the plantation from the dry hot summer temperatures, slowing the growth rate and maturity of the fruit, which converts the starch into sugars.
Once harvested the fruit is transported to a nearby packing shed where it’s washed, graded and packed by a small but valued and rewarded stable workforce. Chris explained that Sweeter Banana has two major lines, their premium product called Lunchbox Banana and the marked fruit called Smoothie Bananas. Due to the thinner skin of the variety, the bananas bruise easily but with a sweeter flavour they make delicious smoothies. Premium quality, traceability, minimal to no waste systems and creative marketing initiatives are operational principles that have made this small co-operative successful and a trusted West Australian brand.
A little further up from Chris’s banana farm on the North River Road, which is on the Fruit Loop Drive Trail, is the Gascoyne Organic Farm. Parry and Sons grow a wide variety of organic vegetables and fruit. On this visit some of the best Australian strawberries I’ve ever tasted were in season. Along with bananas, Carnarvon is also well known for mangoes, which weren’t in season in September however excess had been pureed and made into delicious icy poles.
Continuing on with farm visits, Gascoyne Food Council Chair Paul Kelly led the way to another mixed horticulture farm owned and operated by Stephen and Rosanda Yelash. At the age of 24, Stephen came to Carnarvon from a small village in Croatia in 1974 and Rosanda, who qualified as a chef in Croatia, followed a year later. They were share farmers for the first years but have gone on to supply Woolworths and direct to some of Perth’s well-known chefs.
MOREL’S ORCHARD, CARNARVON: Another must-stop for local produce is Morel’s. Located on the main road leading into town, Robinson Street, Morel’s Orchard grows a wide range of produce including tropical fruits, vegetables and a wide range of herbs. Morel’s is known for growing exotic fruits such as starfruit, citrus, custard apples and black sapote (chocolate pudding fruit). Along with fresh produce purchasing, Morel’s also sells delicious value-added ice creams made from their tropical fruits.
KALBARRI, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: The next leap south from Carnarvon was a 440km ride to Kalbarri. Located at the mouth of the Murchison River with the Kalbarri National Park as its backdrop, Kalbarri is a popular winter holiday destination for Perth residents; 600km away. The town is bordered by two distinctly different landscapes. North east of town are inland river gorges with rock formations as old as 400 million years, the south features towering ocean cliffs plummeting to the waves below. The town was struck by a category 3 cyclone in April causing significant damage to many businesses and homes that many of which are in the process of being rebuilt; some still tarped-up waiting to be repaired.
September is peak wildflower time and the Kalbarri National Park is made even more spectacular by their brilliant flowering display. Located 11km from town, the inland river gorges are easily accessible via a sealed road with well-marked out walking trails including the popular Nature’s Window, The Loop, Z Bend, Hawks Head and Ross Graham, Red Bluff and Pot Alley.
Established in 1963, the Kalbarri National Park covers almost 2,000 square kilometres featured by jagged Tumblagooda sandstone cliffs, a natural bridge and 800 species of wildflowers. Twenty-one of these wildflowers can only be found along the clifftops and gorge country the park is famous for.
Perched on a cliff-top are two 100-metre-high cantilevered lookouts called the Skywalk or Kaju Yatka, local Aboriginal Nanda words for ‘sky’ and ‘to walk’, which project 25 and 17 metres beyond the rim of the Murchison Gorge. Inspired by the region’s Aboriginal heritage and beauty, several local Indigenous artists have created beautifully displayed interpretive artwork as an important part of the Skywalk experience.
Quickly bypassing the crush of people at Nature’s Window, I continued further along the 8km Loop Trail, which has many vantage points to take in the stunning switchback course of the Murchison River.
HUTT LAGOON PINK LAKE, PORT GREGORY: Forty minutes south of Kalbarri is a small fishing town called Port Gregory and nearby a pink lake called Hutt Lagoon. Hutt Lagoon covers roughly 70 square kilometres; the curious pink colour created by a carotenoid-producing algae, which is a source of beta-cartene; a food colouring agent.
WREATH WILDFLOWERS, MULLEWA: Diverting inland as I continued south, I was keen to see the famous and curious Wreath wildflowers in the Mullewa area. This region explodes with tourists during wildflower season as it offers an incredible and diverse display of wildflower species due to it being in both geological and climatic transition zones. The Wreath flower grows particularly well in disturbed areas, commonly found on road verges, gravel pits or areas that have been recently burnt.
Looking more like stranded miniature UFO’s, the wreath flower’s growth patterns are still unknown, the colours varying each year from almost pure white, to pink, orange and red. This display found near Pindar on the Pindar-Beringarra Road on one of many Wildflower Trails and itineraries well designed and mapped to take in this stunning West Australian Spring highlight.
Enroute through undulating farmland near Northhampton, approximately 460km north of Perth.
And then just like that, I’m back in Perth and the following day to Fremantle on the 15th September 2021 where it all began on the 25th January 2020.
37,000 km later, this solo journey of a lifetime traveling around Australia was both a segue and the beginning of adventures on and off my BMW 1200 GS that will continue without end. As much as I need a fixed place filled with my life’s memories and a kitchen with my treasured tools of the trade that I can return to and share with loved ones, I’ve discovered that home for me is not exclusively defined by four walls.
As I write this on the last day of 2021, thinking about the possibilities of new adventures ahead I feel extraordinarily lucky and ready. Happy New Year everyone!