The next day Rob & Gilly borrowed Fi & Rob’s car and picked up Fi & myself [confused yet?] before we all headed to pick up the keys to our new four-wheeled accommodation. We’d booked with the ‘Backpacker’ brand but for whatever reason been upgraded to the ‘Britz’ which was nice enough. A Toyota Hiace petrol with the Hi-Top roof extension to house the extra bed and the first automatic I’d ever driven.
We spent most of the rest of the day picking up supplies and sorting everything for our departure before finally hitting the road north by mid-afternoon. Rob & Gilly had brought along their sat-nav fully loaded with Australia maps and had borrowed a book called Camps from their hosts which is essentially a road-trippers best friend listing most of the country’s camp sites – free and otherwise.
After leaving Perth’s surroundings Rob tapped in the location of a spot and we made our way there, stopping briefly for a sunset. It’s generally good practice not to drive at night outside the major cities in Australia as there’s a fair chance you’ll end up ploughing through suicidal wildlife. Despite this knowledge darkness had already fallen by the time we were trundling along the dirt track toward Waddi Bush resort, our first campsite on the road trip. Having left anything close to civilisation long behind it was truly pitch black by the time we were wiring our van up to the mains with a borrowed torch and sorting things for our evening meal. Rob wandered back to the office to drop the torch back and meet the apparently highly racist locals who were full of helpful advice on where to go avoid “Abo’s”. Meanwhile I made a hash of some star trail photos as I gazed in awe at the clearest and most star-cluttered sky I’d ever seen.
For our first van evening meal the ladies whipped up a pasta Bolognese which we washed down with a whole host of different clean skin wines from our new favourite store – Dan Murphy’s. After the initial shock and worry felt at the cost of living Mr Murphy’s represented something of an oasis in the desert. While there was still the perceived danger of being unable to eat during our time in Oz a quick skip around the hallowed aisles of the foremost purveyor of booze brought with it the realisation (and consequent obvious relief) that we need not go without wine. For those not knowing ‘clean skin’ is the collective term for the bottled excess wine produced beyond the quota of any particular brand – there are no more labels and no further requirement for that particular batch so they’re bottled unbranded. This makes for a kind of pot luck when picking up bottles here – you may get a fine vintage from an established vineyard of you could end up with excess Lambrini. Thankfully I’ve yet to get the latter but that could be as much to do with my uneducated philistine palate as luck.
Sleeping space for 4 people in a fairly modestly sized van doesn’t come without its own degree of comedy / compromise. The upper bunk was more of a coffin than a bed with little over a foot of height to squeeze into. I’d always considered myself claustrophobic but oddly I think I might have handled it better than anyone. We were set to switch bunks each night and we took the first stint upstairs.
We awoke early and breakfasted amongst green parrots before heading out to Jurien Bay. A nice beach clear of anyone but us for as far as the eye could see. This kind of isolation was to prove a theme of the west and is effectively a dream to photograph and indeed drive through. I know that this kind of environment is boring for some but for me with a good sound system, fully charged MP3 player, clear horizon and blue sky I can cruise for hours.
Next up was Dynamite Bay for a quick wander around and a spot of lunch. It was a nice enough place but I’m not the easiest person to please with ‘scenery’. Later we passed through Greenhough & Geraldton stopping in the latter to see a lighthouse, before settling in Northampton Caravan Park for the evening. We knocked up a steak dinner and made headway on the other booze supplies we’d acquired – boxes of ‘goon’. Goon is boxed wine which in Australia is regarded as the lowest of the low, steeped in stigma. It’s boxed wine – it’s not fish heads, nor wood shavings, just boxed wine. The stuff we had wasn’t going to change your life but it was far from the worst wine I’d ever had. I am a classy chap it would seem.
A few well presented buildings were wandered around the next morning before we moved on north past some burning fields (managed agriculture not bush fire) and on to Hamelin Pool. We pulled in to the kind of truck stop favoured by hillbilly serial killers everywhere and took a wander amidst clouds of unremitting flies that surely signified the end of the world. Multiple pamphlets had indicated that this was the place to be – an unmissable opportunity to visit one of only a few places on earth where a certain species critical to the evolution of life on earth still reside.
Rocks built by bacteria!
Yes, that uninteresting!
Said rocks are formed from sediment generated as a by-product by cyanobacteria which produce oxygen via photosynthesis. These little bacteria folks have been around for rather a long time and are attributed with changing the oxygen levels in the earth’s atmosphere to the point where it could sustain more complex life. Sketchy science lesson over – they’re not much to look at.
On the way to them we passed through a shell quarry – huge quantities of shells fused together and now cut in chunks out of the coastline. As we progressed further north we took a gamble on a sign for Shell Beach wondering whether we were letting ourselves in for more of the same mind-blowing excitement of the last place. In much the same theme as the quarry the entire beach was made up of tiny white shells though not fused together and making for quite a nice – if crunchy – wander.
Denholm was our port of call for the evening so we settled in, cooked up a feast, and enjoyed more wine.
The next day we were due to hit our furthest point north on the trip, Monkey Mia, a spot where wild dolphins pop in a few times a day to be hand fed by members of the public. They’re early risers so in turn we had to be which meant a rare sunrise en route. While we were amongst the first to arrive this had no real bearing on our experience. Rob & Gilly were significantly more interested in taking part in the feeding and while Fi followed them I wandered along the jetty in an attempt to find an alternate vantage point from which to capture the spectacle.
The dolphins duly arrived and the shoreline was brimming with people hoping for a chance to hand them a fish. A turtle made a brief cameo and my vantage point proved useless but the dolphins obliged their adoring public with half an hour swimming back and forth along the line and then staying obediently still while people were picked one after another to take part.
The feeding was soon over and none of us actually got the opportunity for a one-on-one with a dolphin so we took a wander around the complex as the masses dispersed. We were considering making a move when the bell for a second feeding sounded so we hastily returned to the now much quieter beach for another go. Much to their delight both Rob & Gilly got to feed them and we all left feeling like we’d had quality dolphin time.
We returned to Denholm and the same holiday park as the night before, this time taking advantage of the pool and generally ligging about for the day. Rob & I nipped out for essential garlic bread as the evening drew in and were treated to a spectacular sunset.
The return journey followed the same route meaning no surprises but thankfully we’d earmarked a couple of options to catch. First up was shark feeding at an aquarium Gilly had spotted. They had an array of local sea life on display including stonefish, lion fish, squid and a turtle but the star attractions were the sharks. While they had a few nippers in a shallow pool to whet your appetite it was the resident lemon sharks sat patiently awaiting their breakfast that stole the show. At between 1 & 2 metres they were fairly large fish to be stood on a rickety walkway over their tank. That said, had their newest tank mate not been on hunger strike she would surely have ruled the roost – as she was a tiger shark. Our host was a marine biologist and from Yorkshire, and was very proud of the fact that he’d been the one to bring in the tiger shark – truly only a feat that a Yorkshire lad could accomplish.
With the remainder of the day we took a huge detour to experience the wonders of the pink lake at Port Gregory. Please don’t make the same mistake. As far as we can tell the local tourist board has only just discovered the reflective properties of water and are in awe of the fact that the lake mysteriously changes colour at sunset. We quickly retraced our tracks and rolled into Geraldton late on for some fast food and a spot of freedom camping.
For our final full day of camping we were on a mission to reach The Pinnacles by sunset. Our journey took us back through Greenhough so this time we stopped to take photos of the most wind-swept trees you could imagine. It’s fair to say that after the debacle of the stromatolites the Pinnacles had us all a little worried – it was, after all, described as a series of rocks jutting up from the ground. I think it’s also fair to say then that we were pleasantly surprised by the otherworldliness of the place and how photogenic said rocks proved to be.
We arrive late in the afternoon and the fading light gave a moonscape feel to the place and we were treated to another jaw-dropping sunset before the obvious highlight – being waved at by a kangaroo.
We made our way to the final holiday park to feast and drink like you only ever do when you’re cleaning out the fridge.
An uneventful drive back to Perth followed where we unloaded, cleaned and returned the van and decided we’d not consumed nearly enough wine so Rob booked us on a wine tour for the next day before kindly dropping us at a hostel where we dined and crashed.