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Wandering the Wool Wagon Pathway

Wandering the Wool Wagon Pathway

Embark on an off-road adventure tracing the footsteps of pioneers who hauled great sheep flocks across the Western Australian wilderness.

Remote, wild, red – the land can be as unforgiving as the weather that batters it, or the hulking tripl etrailer road trains that rumble along its highways. The Western Australian wilderness is intimidating both in print and in person, but its beauty is hypnotising. It’s a collision of colour – from the oxide earth of the savanna, dotted with pockets of green rainforest, to the white sands of the coastline and the turquoise waters beyond.

Go back nearly 200 years – before the sanctuary of air-conditioned cars, supplies at roadhouses, reliable access to water, and even a known route across the howling wasteland – and the landscape was beyond unforgiving. In the mid 1860s, the government offered a bounty for the first person that could drive either 100 head of horses or 200 sheep from the south-west up into to state’s north, in hopes of opening up the region and filling it with livestock.

Starting at Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, you will pass several historical sites and interpretative displays, as well as horizons of pastoral lands (sometimes carpeted in wildflowers in late autumn into spring), and travel among the vast sandstone plateaus of the Kennedy Range National Park to Exmouth on the Coral Coast. The roads are mostly unsealed gravel, not too hairy, but a four-wheel drive is recommended, particularly if it’s been raining.

As you head out of Geraldton and travel east towards Pindar, there’s pasturelands and sometimes early wildflower blooms in autumn. Departing Pindar, the road is gravel, pushing through station country. Here, the outback starts to show, with red earth and historical homesteads on vast cattle stations. At Wooleen Station (established in 1886) in the Murchison region, there is much of historical note, including the remains of the Wooleen Woolshed.

From Murchison, the path continues to Gascoyne Junction. The Cobbled Road near Gascoyne Junction has been maintained to preserve its original condition. In the early days, transport through the scrub used camels or horse-drawn carts along rough dirt. It was tough going. Wagons were often bogged along the track, sometimes for weeks. The government then used sustenance labour to create the Cobbled Road during the Great Depression. Men were given work according to the number of children in their care – five children equalled five weeks’ work. Laying locally sourced rock, they laboured to create the road between Carnarvon and Bangemall.

From Gascoyne Junction to Exmouth, it’s a 600-kilometre stretch with no services over gravel track. Stock up on water and fuel, and check in with visitor centres for up-to-date information. Keep an eye out for stock on the road, as this is grazing land. The Kennedy Range, 30 kilometres out of Gascoyne Junction, is a series of 75-kilometre-long outcroppings of spectacular cliffs, steep-sided canyons and gorges, rising from red earth and spinifex. This is beautiful, remote terrain supporting 400 plant species, including 80 species of annual wildflowers and more than 100 species of bird. There are great walks of varying difficulty.

Your final destination on this pathway is Exmouth, which boasts one of the most attractive coastlines in Australia, where Ningaloo Reef Marine Park and its surrounds are a playground for divers and anglers of all persuasions. The breadth of marine life here is unmatched. With around 200 coral and 600 fish species, it’s the only large reef in the world found this close to a continental landmass – you can snorkel over coral gardens from the shore.

Pictured: Kennedy Range National Park

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