On each of my trips to Gnaraloo, the song lyrics “this could be heaven, this could be hell’ comes ringing into my years.
To clarify, I’ve only ever made the trip in the scorching January heat, when the southerly blows hard enough to keep everyone but the most dedicated European wind and kitesurfers far away. The earth is parched from the relentless heat and no matter what the weather is doing, you’ll bear the full brunt of it here.
The second reason that makes me think this could be hell is that I’m a woman and this is the kind of place where a blokes dreams are made. Spearfishing, surfing gnarly waves and living off the land are a few things to instil the primordial being of any man.
Gnaraloo is where men come to bond; case in point is this quote taken from a popular fishing blog; – “Yes it has flushing toilets – but if it was my wife asking I would tell her we need to bring a shovel then she would decline in going away and suggest to make it a boys camping trip.”
I’m not saying that this is not a place for ladies, just be prepared to come face to face with a few of Australia’s famed creepy crawlies, including the venomous type, share the toilet with spiders the size of your fist and shower with bore water that leaves your hair feeling like straw.
In case you’re travelling with your usually demure and civilised male counterpart, get ready to see him channel his inner caveman.
This could be Heaven
On the heaven side, Gnaraloo is where you get to be at one with nature. It’s the kind of wilderness where big city problems are replaced with existential thoughts and you soon come to the realisation that you’re a very small part of a very big universe.
Located on a lonely stretch of dirt track, 150km north of Carnarvon, Gnaraloo Station is a 90,000-hectare large working sheep station located on the southern tip of the Ningaloo Reef.
Here where the desert meets the sea, the most striking thing is the contrast between the barren, inhospitable land of the interior and the turquoise coloured ocean that is teeming with colour and life. Jagged red cliffs plunge into pristine ocean and the magnificent sunsets are alone worth the long drive.
The dusty red dirt is littered with footprints of creatures great and small. Lizards, snakes, crabs, spiders, kangaroos and emus all call this their home. Wild goats, the sturdiest of creatures that manage to survive in any environment, roam freely, along with sheep and cattle. You’ll even meet them at the beach.
At night, away from the light pollution of the city, the sky comes alive with millions of stars. The Milky Way lights the way and there plenty of shooting stars every night to make all your wishes come true.
3 Mile Lagoon
It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular place to swim and snorkel than the 3 Mile Lagoon that borders the northern end of the campsite. Snorkelling here is like submerging your head inside an aquarium. Suddenly a completely new world comes alive in the crystal clear water.
Not only is the lagoon part of the heritage listed Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, it’s also within a sanctuary. Staghorn, fan and brain coral abound, as does a abudnant sea life that includes over 200 fish species, rays, turtles, sponges, shellfish, squids, and sharks.
Pods of dolphins, manta rays, schools of tuna and whales are all frequent visitors to the waters of Gnaraloo. Gnaraloo Bay is also home to the world’s third largest Loggerhead turtle population in the world.
If you’re interested in the local marine life a snorkelling guide has been written specifically for Gnaraloo Bay and Three Mile Lagoon and is available from the 3 Mile Shop.
Water Sports and Fishing
It’s this patch of Indian Ocean that makes most people drive the lonely road to Gnaraloo. This isolated spot on the west coast has attracted surfers since the 1960s due to the world-class wave that is found here.
Tombstones or “Tombies” not only so called because of the tombstone like rock that sits on top of the cliff is during the winter month’s one of the best waves in the world. In the summer, it’s equally popular with wind and kitesurfers and frequently attracts the best surfers from all over the globe.
I’m not an angler but I’ve been told that even the most inexperienced, rudimentary fisherman can pull out fish big enough to feed a tribe from the water’s surrounding Gnaraloo. Even walking along the red cliffs, you see an abundance of fish swimming in the water’s beneath.
Camping at 3 Mile
3 Mile Camp, so called because of the marine sanctuary that stretches three miles north from the campsite offers beachside camping spots and basic facilities. If you come camping here, be prepared to bring all your supplies including drinking water. There is no camp kitchen so bring your own cooking facilities and any other essentials.
A few spots are more sheltered than others but wherever you decide to pitch your caravan, trailer or tent you’ll be exposed to the elements, including the sun, wind and red dirt that creeps into every crevice. The wind comes howling through the camp no matter what direction it blows so make sure your setup is sturdy enough to withstand high winds, lots of sun and flies.
The Hilton, (pictured above) is the most luxurious site at the camp and available for rent, albeit at a higher cost than an average campsite. Trust me, the shelter from wind and sun is worth the extra cost and given the surroundings this shack truly qualifies as five star luxury.
The campsite has three ablution blocks, hot showers with bore water, sinks to do the dishes and a laundry. Each site has a fireplace but you’ll need to bring your own firewood.
There is a shop at the camp with essential supplies including milk, water, ice as well as a few luxuries including cold beer, wireless internet and power to recharge electronics or recharge your fridge. Generators are tolerated as long as they don’t disturb other campers. You can also bring your dog, although fees apply and if your dog kills a sheep it will be shot.
If you need more luxury or simply don’t want to camp, the Gnaraloo Homestead located a few kilometres further north along the track offers a variety of accommodation options. These suit all budgets and groups of all sizes. Choose from the newly constructed Stone Cabins, Shearing Shed, Fishing Shed or the Old Homestead.
Facilities at The Homestead are equipped with power from 7am to 11pm, drinking water and most with freshwater showers.
Gnaraloo is located 150km north of Carnarvon. Heading north from Carnarvon take the Blowholes turnoff and head right along the gravel road at the King Wave sign. Continue north past Quoabba Station and Red Bluff until you reach the Gnaraloo Station sign and continue until you get to the 3 Mile Camp turn off or continue north to the homestead.
The road is unsealed for 75km and although accessible by 2WD a sturdy 4WD will ensure a more comfortable and reliable ride. The track consists of rocky patches, big dips and at times soft sand. All sorts of vehicles have hobbled their way to Gnaraloo, including big rental campervans and white backpacker vans with enough mileage to circumvent Australia three times. Plenty of vehicles though never made it back and found their graveyard at the station
Track conditions vary from season to season and are prone to flooding. Check what the conditions are like before you set off.
For more information on Gnaraloo, check the website http://www.gnaraloo.com/
Have you been to Gnaraloo, or does this sound like heaven or hell?