The annual knees-up is just one of the unlikely treasures of the little-known mid-west region of WA. The Yamatji land encompassing Geraldton and Kalbarri, about a third of the way up the long WA coastline, bears natural surprises that are often overlooked for Ningaloo’s whale sharks, or Margaret River’s wine. Take the milkshake-pink lake at Hutt Lagoon, the Murchison’s starstruck dark skies and the Wheatbelt’s mono-colour fields of dancing wildflowers.
If far-flung adventures and reconnecting with nature are what 2022 is all about, then the mid-west region may be having its moment.
East Wallabi Island hosts the Abrolhos long-table lunch and is otherwise home to seals, terns, tammar wallabies and the 122-island archipelago’s only dirt airstrip. Every one of the region’s available commercial light planes is secured to fly guests across the big blue – and that’s the easy part.
Days before, a barge carrying tables, food supplies, a generator and chef accommodation departs Geraldton’s busy port. Set-up has to wait until the morning’s tide recedes, leaving a sandy strip at the end of a charming turquoise cove called Turtle Bay.
Seaweed has been parted to form the fringe of a sandy carpet, leading sunscreened guests to canapés and a gin bar. Out the back, the chefs have dug a barbecue pit in the sand; its grill produces snapper and scallop sausages, XO pipis and charred Abrolhos octopus.
The remote lunch kicked off in 2021 – when WA was shut to the rest of the planet – as part of the new Shore Leave festival. Already, tickets are hot property and the festival is meeting its aim of unveiling Geraldton’s hidden gems.
Trash to treasure
The regional city has undergone a serious spit and polish in recent years. A huge geometric mural now spreads across the once-plain main street, while painted angel wings adorn public walls, seaside artworks wrap around foreshore bollards and giant flower boxes slow central traffic.
With Geraldton’s focus traditionally on commercial fishing, mining and wheat farming, creativity struggled to poke through the industrial cracks. Its flourishing has breathed life into every facet, bringing slick cafés and boutiques. Sitting between them, Latitude Jewellers bridges the city’s old and new interests with its annual Flotsam and Jetsam exhibition. Dreamt up by an Abrolhos Islands pearl farmer, the art project collects marine rubbish – ropes, buoys, nets and baskets – from the aquatic outpost and diverts it from landfill by offering it to local artists. A wharf siren signals that fossicking may begin; creatives then compete to produce the most interesting result. The idea was sparked about 12 years ago after a community clean-up of the islands left volunteers wondering what to do with the debris. So successful, the project has since hauled in 80 tonnes of rubbish by boat. Artworks go on show in a popular free exhibition in the jewellery store.
Diamonds in the sky
The mid-west is credited with having some of the world’s darkest skies – something of an asset, given it’s estimated that more than a third of the world’s population can no longer make out the Milky Way. With “astrotourism” a global buzzword, the WA government is moving to protect the state’s emerging attraction. In January, in its Dark Sky and Astrotourism Position Statement, it announced plans to limit artificial light and dust pollution, while encouraging stargazing activities.
About 150km north of Geraldton, the husband-and-wife team behind D’Guy Charters is making the most of the big dark skies above the 186,000ha of Kalbarri National Park. In 2020, Guy Acosta and Christina Desinta began taking visitors on night tours of the Kalbarri Skywalk, twin structures that jut out from a rugged hillside overlooking 400 million-year-old rock formations.
The location is spectacular enough on its own, but after dark, without another soul around, it’s skin-tingling. The Milky Way wafts above, its billions of stars flanked by recognisable constellations pointed out by Christina’s high-powered laser. She positions a telescope to reveal star clusters where the naked eye can see only one star, then brings the craters of the moon into sharp focus. The universe enthusiast is nifty with smartphones, too, teaching how to capture the galaxy in the palm of your hand.
On the minivan trip back to Kalbarri, other wonders are glimpsed – of the marsupial kind.
The mid-west can be a blowy region. Over summer, the wind howls so strongly that trees grow sideways – that’s no exaggeration, by the way. Between Geraldton and Dongara, drivers pull over to photograph a particularly large specimen whose trunk has turned at a 90-degree angle, its canopy spreading along the grass. Fortunately, come March, the wind calms, making autumn and spring ideal times to visit and explore.
August and September are particularly alluring because they mark the peak of the region’s wildflower bloom. While Kalbarri National Park lays claim to 1200 native plant species, the general rule of thumb is the further inland you go, the more prolific the midwest’s wildflowers get. Around Mullewa, Three Springs and Mingenew, it looks like a paint bucket has been sloshed over the bush floor, with masses of white, pale pink or yellow everlasting flowers smothering every surface. Their papery petals sway in unison in the breeze, leaving viewers transfixed.
The reverie may be snapped if you discover a wreath flower – they’re rare finds – while spotting the dancer-like forms of orchids and colour pops of native foxgloves is like playing Where’s Wally.
The colour show continues at Hutt Lagoon, a pink lake that looks like it’s been pulled directly from a Dr Seuss book. Hovering over it with Kalbarri Scenic Flights grants a beguiling bird’s-eye view of the flat, rectangular ponds where vitamin-rich betacarotene is harvested. Tiny algae are the powerhouse producers behind both the Barbie-doll hues and the valuable resource used in face creams and foods.
Back on the ground, a roadside viewing bay allows sightseers to get so close, you get the sense you could poke in a straw and slurp up a strawberry milkshake. It’s unexpected, unusual and oddly captivating – exactly like WA’s mid-west.
The writer was a guest of Tourism WA. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com