AFTER being cooped up in our houses for so long, there's no time like the present to pack up the car for a road trip.
And Kalbarri ought to be a top destination - not just for the weather at this time of year, but also the picturesque, revamped Kalbarri National Park.
Recently the park unveiled its new skywalk - a $24 million investment which allows visitors to walk 100 metres over the Murchison River Gorge's rich-red cliffs, flowing water and bushland.
The skywalk includes two cantilevered steel structures that project 25m (more than the Grand Canyon skywalk) and 17m over the cliffs, providing spectacular views down into the gorges through steel mesh, as well as across the distance of the beautiful landscape.
The platforms are built 100m apart at the Inyaka Wookai Watju site (the West Loop).
Previously the terrain for tourists was rather rocky, making it inaccessible for people with a disability, however now the skywalk provides easy, safe access for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the serenity of Kalbarri that hundreds of thousands of people flock to the region to see.
The project took four-and-a-half years to complete from securing funding to opening, with 16 months being construction.
It was funded by the State government, with the majority coming from Royalties for Regions.
Skywalk project officer from the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Rory Chapple said that visitor activity has increased steadily as more work with the project was completed.
"The skywalk has only just opened but there has been a real uptick in the amount of people coming into the national park since we sealed the road, which has more than tripled the park's revenue," Mr Chapple said.
The impact towards the local indigenous community has also been very positive.
"It has been a really positive project for the Nanda people," he said.
"We have put on two Aboriginal rangers as a result of the project, engaged three artists so their art is throughout the facility and there is an interpretation section for visitors which is full of Nanda content.
"So it has been a real act of coming together for the Aboriginal people of the Kalbarri and Murchison Gorge area."
As part of the nod to the Aboriginal culture, visitors are greeted with an entry sign stating kaju yatka, the Nanda words for 'sky' and 'to walk'.
As well as the two striking viewing platforms, the project also includes a kiosk (due to open in late-2020), shade shelters, toilets, parking including for coaches, 22 kilometres of park roads and upgrades to Meanarra Hill and Z Bend tourist sites.
The State government is working with the Nanda people to explore opportunities for the management of the soon-to-open environmentally friendly kiosk that will operate on low to nil emissions on an off-the-grid power system.
Mr Chapple said the project was a massive excavation job that took a lot of time and thought.
"The footings go directly into rock so there was more than 1000 tonnes of sandstone removed for the concrete footings and then we brought in over 725t of concrete to act as the footings for the two skywalks, so they anchor the skywalks," he said.
"There are 10m cable anchors into the back of the sandstone at the back of the concrete footings, so it is very secure and anchored deep down into the rock.
"Skywalk one is 72t of steel, which is all Australian weathering steel and the smaller skywalk two is 45t, so they are massive structures."
WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said in a statement that now was the time to explore WA and support local businesses.
"There has never been a better time for Western Australians to discover all of the world-class destinations right here in our backyard," Mr Papalia said.
"The new skywalk at Kalbarri National Park provides yet another reason for local travellers to discover or rediscover this wonderful natural location.
"Kalbarri National Park is one of the reasons travellers from all around the world had been flocking to WA in record numbers - and now's the time Western Australians should check it out for themselves."
Annual visits to the national park have increased by almost 100,000 over the past five years to more than 450,000 last year.
With this new world-class attraction and increased accessibility, the investment is a major boost to the local tourism industry.
WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said the skywalk would further cement Kalbarri's reputation as an international destination and be of substantial benefit to the region's economy.
"The Kalbarri Skywalk is projected to inject up to $73 million in additional expenditure over the next decade into the local economy and create jobs for tourism businesses, accommodation providers and associated service industries," Mr Dawson said.
Kalbarri farmer Terry Ash owns Reef Villas and said since the intrastate border restrictions eased, the demand for accommodation has been exponential.
"The interest has been enormous - it's hard to get accommodation anywhere until the end of August," Mr Ash said.
"Inquiry was practically non-existent before borders opened up and businesses were struggling, but everyone is flat out, so it's looking very positive.
"I think the skywalk has created interest for travellers, but the demand was already there for them to come."
This iconic landmark is famous for its stunning 80km gorge, coastal cliffs that plunge more than 100m to the ocean, striking wildflowers and many recreational activities and the skywalk is another drawcard to visit and enjoy its beauty.
WHILE YOU'RE IN KALBARRI
- Catch sights of the coastal cliffs on the Bigurda Trail
- Snorkel at Blue Holes
- Hike the Mushroom Rock trail
- Visit Pink Lake at Port Gregory
- Explore the banks of the Murchison River on horseback
- Enjoy a Sunset on Chinaman's Beach
- Whale watching season: late June-October
- Wildflower season: July-October
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
- 9937 1104