Top Trail: Kingsford Smith Mail Run, Carnarvon to Meekatharra
Following in the wheel ruts of pioneer Charles Kingsford Smith, this trail gives the traveller a real feel for Western Australia’s outback with a smattering of history to make things even more interesting. The trail takes you from Carnarvon on the west coast, inland to Meekatharra.
About the Trail
The 800 kilometre long Kingsford Smith Mail Run can be a lonely road, but the highlights are worth the trip. Buy the Outback Pathways CD and listen to stories about the region while you’re on the road. The CD features a riotous line up of tales, told by the colourful characters who call the Gascoyne Murchison home.
The trail is well marked with thirteen interpretive sites. Some about Kingsford Smith (or Smithy, as he was known), who commenced his mail run along this very route in 1924, and others Aboriginal dreamtime stories and early European history.
Start in Carnarvon, the vegetable growing area of the Gascoyne which provides bananas, mangoes and vegetables, and indulge in a banana smoothie from one of the plantations. From there, travel to Gascoyne Junction where the pub is the centre of town (especially in the blistering summer heat) before heading to Bangemall Inn, established in 1896 for gold prospectors and today a place to unhitch the caravan or stay in one of the station rooms.
The world’s biggest monolith, Mount Augustus is worth a stay of a few days. The Summit Trail is one of the Top Trails, and there are other walks in the area. Then head to old Mount Gould lockup. Manned from 1888, a few policemen were stationed here to imprison the sheep rustlers - the pastoralists scared away native animals so the Aborigines had to eat the occasional sheep.
This is one of three Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways. The others are the Miners Pathway & the Wool Wagon Pathway. The Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways website is very informative and brochures and a guidebook are available from visitor information centres. The 178 page Gascoyne Murchison Outback Pathways Guidebook (including CD) takes readers on a journey along these trails and delves deep in the history of the area. It examines the rich indigenous history, the arrival of European explorers and the establishment of the pastoral and mining industries and includes fascinating historical photographs. The guidebook also looks at the region’s rich flora and fauna, showcasing some of the more common and the odder animal species and features photos of the carpets of wildflowers that blanket the region in colour.
Need to Know
Carnarvon lies just south of the Tropic of Capricorn - a palm-fringed coastal oasis offering a platter of fresh tropical flavours and a good base for exploring World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef and the largest monocline on Earth - Mount Augustus. It takes two days to drive the 904 kilometres from Perth to Carnarvon on the North West Coastal Highway, or just a couple of hours aboard a flight from Perth airport. From Carnarvon, you have access to some of the State's best year-round fishing, surfing, windsurfing, kite surfing, snorkelling and swimming spots, all dotted along a beautifully rugged stretch of coastline. Stand atop the cliffs at Cape Cuvier to drink in the ocean views - from June to November you might even spot humpback whales on their annual migration. It was Carnarvon's potential as a port that drew the early settlers here in 1876, and today The Carnarvon Heritage Precinct lives to tell many of its tales, offering museum insights and a ride on the Coffee Pot train along One Mile Jetty. The Gascoyne River and aquifer supports Carnarvon's thriving agricultural industry, inviting you to feast on a bounty of fresh bananas, mangoes, papaya, carambola melons, grapes and a huge variety of vegetables, direct from local plantations. Between the months of May and October, there's also a smorgasbord of prawns, scallops, crab and local fish to select from, hauled in by the town's own fishing fleet. Fill up your picnic basket and venture inland to enjoy a lazy day beside the iconic Australian waterholes of Rocky Pool - the ideal spot to watch day turn into night and gaze up into clear, star-filled skies. In Carnarvon itself, there's a good choice of accommodation options, including hotels, motels, holiday parks, backpackers, camping facilities and caravan parks. Looking for something on the wilder side? Then blaze a trail up the coast and take your pick from a string of authentic coastal outback station stays.
Mount Augustus is the largest rock on Earth (twice the size of Uluru) and Gascoyne Junction is your gateway to discovering and conquering its record-breaking immensity. You'll also be beckoned by the wildlife rich canyons of the Kennedy Range and the promise of real outback adventure, following the trail of the Kingsford Smith Mail Run or the Wool Wagon Pathway. Sitting at the meeting point of the Gascoyne and Lyons rivers, Gascoyne Junction is a two hour drive east of Carnarvon, following the original trail blazed by transport pioneer Charles Kingsford Smith along the Kingsford Smith Mail Run. From here, you can also re-live the adventures of the early pastoral pioneers and Afghan hawkers along the Wool Wagon Pathway. Both routes explore the region's rich Indigenous heritage and Dreaming stories in a series of interpretive signs. Take the 49 kilometre scenic base trail (four wheel drive only) circumnavigating the base of Mount Augustus to view the ancient rock art and mysterious caves of the Wadjari Aboriginal people, who call the mammoth landmark 'Burringurrah'. Challenge yourself to climb the 860 metre high summit, or just watch from Emu Hill Lookout as the colours change from cool greens and blues to golden glows. More adventures and breathtaking vistas await in the Kennedy Range, where spectacular cliffs rise 100 metres above the Lyons River Valley plain and challenging gorge walks lead you to cascading waterfalls and tranquil pools. The range is also a haven for wildlife, from emus, kangaroos and goannas to kookaburras, honeyeaters and birds of prey. The nearby town site of Gascoyne Junction was originally proposed in 1897. Today, it's a centre for mining, pastoral and desert merino fine wool industries, but relics of its pioneering past can be found in the museum collection, kindly donated by locals from generations gone by. For a shady picnic or barbecue, head for the pergola at Federation Park. Pull into the caravan park to extend your stay, or find yourself an overnight base with real outback style at a nearby farm or station stay.
Witness the spring wildflower explosion in Meekatharra, when native blooms turn the outback landscape into a blanket of breathtaking colour. Marvel at the local flora and fauna all year round on the Meeka Rangelands Discovery Trail, immerse yourself in the town's gold rush heritage and ambience, or learn about the region's Indigenous history. Around eight and a half hours north of Perth by car and a seven hour road trip from Geraldton, the modern day mining, sheep and cattle district of Meekathara is rich in pioneering and gold prospecting history. Remnants of Meekathara's gold mining past can be found throughout the area, dating back to the 1890s when prospectors first settled there. Visit the eerie ghost towns of Peak Hill and Nannine to view the settlements' ruins and explore old mines. Stop by the restored 25 Mile Well, 40 kilometres north of town, which stands as a tribute to the drovers and stockmen who made the journey through the outback. Alternatively, you can travel back in time to the wild days of the Murchison Gold Rush on the 970 kilometre Miners Pathway or 800 kilometre Kingsford Smith Mail Run - two unique opportunities to learn about the regions colourful pioneer heroes, Indigenous culture and natural wonders. On the Meeka Rangelands Discovery Trail, you'll learn more about Meekathara's settlement history and Indigenous culture from interpretive signs, as you make your way around Meekatharra Creek to the lookout over the super pit mine and town. More insights into outback life can be found at the Royal Flying Doctor Service, or by taking a moment to listen to the School of the Air. In spring, the red earth gives life to an array of wildflowers, creating some of Western Australia's most breathtaking displays. Picnic on a blanket of pink, yellow and white everlastings. Look out for the red sturt pea - the signature flower of Meekatharra - as well as emus, kangaroos, wedge tailed eagles and bungarra lizards. If you're looking for a base for your own gold rush or wildflower adventure, you'll find motels, hotels and a shady caravan park in Meekathara.
Wild dolphins have been visiting the shoreline at Monkey Mia virtually every day for over 40 years, making this spot in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area one of the best and most reliable places for dolphin interaction in the world. A 30 minute drive from Denham will bring you to Monkey Mia for a magical face-to-bottlenose encounter with these gentle creatures. And to get to Denham, you can take a two-hour flight from Perth, opt to do the day's drive from Perth, or join an extended guided tour. The story of the Monkey Mia dolphins begins in the early 1960s, when a pod of wild dolphins started making a regular appearance in the clear waters of the bay to interact with humans - delighting visitors with their intelligence, playfulness and grace. As the dolphins are wild, numbers and the time of their visits can vary from day to day, but they usually come to the shore several times a day and more frequently in the mornings. Today, the dolphin interactions are regulated by rangers, with a few lucky visitors selected to hand-feed the dolphins a small amount of fish. When the dolphins are fishing or playing off shore, drop into the Dolphin Information Centre and get to know your new-found friends a little better. Interpretive displays share insights into dolphin biology, behaviour, as well as the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Venture beyond the beach and you'll discover a huge variety of animal and bird life nearby. One of the best ways to discover this unique environment is through the eyes of one of the oldest surviving cultures on Earth by joining an Indigenous cultural tour. A visitor fee is charged for entry to Monkey Mia Reserve. And if you choose to stay overnight at Monkey Mia and breakfast with the dolphins, you'll find a wide variety of accommodation options, facilities and activities. Some visitors opt to base themselves in nearby Denham, where the calm blue waters of the sweeping bay provide ideal conditions for swimming, fishing, boating and water skiing.
Carnarvon Visitor Centre
Civic Centre 21 Robinson Street, Carnarvon Western Australia 6701, Australia
Phone: (08) 9941 1146 | www.carnarvon.org.au
The Carnarvon Visitor Centre is your one stop touring shop, located on Robinson Street in the heart of town. The Visitor Centre provides a professional and comprehensive booking service for accommodation, tours and Integrity Coach Line services. Drop into the Visitor Centre upon your arrival, pick up some holiday information, maps, brochures and more. The friendly staff are available to provide you with all the information you require to make your stay in Carnarvon a memorable one. They look forward to welcoming you soon. The Carnarvon Visitor Centre is open from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to 12pm and Closed Sunday from the first weekend in November through to the first weekend in June. Open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from first weekend in June to last weekend in October.