Road trip through Western Australia

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August 13th 2009
Published: August 18th 2009
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Perth to Coral bay

Leaving Perth

I’d had enough of Perths shitty weather and the cost of everything so I looked into going northwards - where the prices would be the same but at least it would start warming up.

The problem I had however was transport - they were not ideal: I didn’t drive; so I couldn’t rent a car or even a camper van - very popular among backpackers here. There was no train line up the west coast of Australia - only up the "Centre", for example Adelaide to Alive Springs which cost 350 Aussie Dollars (175 quid), and that was for a seat only on a journey that took 19 hours! The Greyhound bus north was more expensive at around $400 (200 quid) from Perth to Broome - and at 2,454 Kilometres!

The only real option I had was catching a lift with somebody going northwards, of whom I was sure there would be many. On this quest I spent a cold Sunday morning in Northbridge visiting youth hostels and their notice boards for offered lifts. I’m not sure if it was the weather or the young “Euros” looking aimless and bored in the sterile TV lounges and foyers that gave me the depressed mood. Anyhow I was amazed at how many hostels there were here (about 12) as well as the many associated travel services. Clearly backpacking Australia is an important part of the local economies of these cities.

Getting a lift

I didn’t find many posters of people going north and those I did find never replied to my text messages. So I placed a post on the couchsurfer website and someone called "Sean" replied instantly. He was going north to Coral Bay the next day and already had two other backpackers to share the costs. Was I able to join him?

The next morning I said goodbye to my couchsurfer host who left to go to work and waited for Sean to pick me up. From the snippets he had told via email (attending uni) along with his profile photo (on a surf board on the couch) and speaking to him on the phone I was a bit surprised when Sean was a bloke in his 40s with that Irish country fella look (although he was 4th Generation Aussie he had Irish blood running through him). it didn matter at any rate because for the very long road trip head we made friends straight away, explaining his road trip as a quest for some sun before going back to his nursing degree.

We then picked up two young backpackers, Laura from Wiltshire and Twan from the Netherlands. Both of whom had been working in a fish n chip shop on Rottnest Island and were now both heading northwards together.


So there we are, four of us strangers shoved into Sean’s saloon car with our bags and gear in the boot heading north on an unknown adventure. We e not even on the deserted outback road an hour before Sean has spotted what looks like a Cocker Spaniel on the side of the road, and its bouncing around like an idiot. We pull over and struggle to grab his lead and bring him into the car which we instantly regret because he stinks and wants to slobber and lick everyone, including me in the front seat. We continue on to the next town where we ask at a petrol station if anyone is looking for a lost dog but eventually have to drop him off at a vets place in the outback. It was a bit of a mystery as to why the dog was out there in the middle of no where but he must have either run away fallen off the back of a ute or something. I hope he found his owners, because he was a cute doggy.

We continued travelling north on a very straight two lane road which became very monotonous after a while. We made a quick visit to Nambung National Park a unique lunar landscape of thousands of limestone pillars in the Pinnacles Desert. The pinnacles themselves originated from seashells in an earlier epoch rich in marine life. These shells were broken down into lime rich sands which were blown inland to form high mobile dunes.

We then continued north where I slowly began to appreciate the landscape which is so starkly beautiful and harsh; the arid desert scrub of the Aussie outback with its deep red clay so different to anything Id ever seen before (even in arid Nevada and Arizona) and so uniquely Australian. The frequent sightings of road-kill (the poor ‘roos), the huge eagles, kites and hawks flying overhead and the ginormous termite mounds that look like space rock landings from Mars all created a unique landscape of isolated Australia.

What enlivened the trip was the constant danger. Sean had to take plenty of water with him in case we broke down and became stranded alone in the soaring heat. We also had to have a “roo bar” on the front of the car, a big metal bar protecting the engine from road kill, namely kangaroos jumping out in front of you. They could do some serious damage. Driving at night is a particularly precarious business and most people camp up so as to avoid stray cattle and the nocturnal ‘roos and wallabies who jump across the road. However, we started late out of Perth and so we ended up driving into the night, barely missing kangaroos with a death wish and trying to sit behind our new best friends of the road - the incredible “road trains” - articulated lorries with three long trailers. Alas a rabbit had to sadly meet his maker via our car wheels. We eventually arrived at Monkey Mia in Shark Bay with the bright southern stars constellation above us.

We popped down to the beach and in the black distance we could hear noises of what sounded like water being spat out. We looked closer into the black sea and to our amazement we could see fins! ..a slight shudder until we realized that they were the fins of dolphins.

Dolphins and such

We camped in the camp site that night and the next morning we were up early- ish to catch the dolphin feeding session that was being watched by dozens of people. Apparently these wild bottle nose dolphins have been coming into the bay for about 50 years and hanging out. It was moderately cool to see them but just a bit of a circus with all the people there and the tannoy broadcast explanations from a woman who spoke in sentences?

We didn’t hang with the dolphins for much longer but I was already being driven mad into a fuddy-duddy state by the Aussie woman narrating the life stories form a tanoy in high rising terminal (HRT), also known as uptalk, upspeak or high rising intonation (HRI) - where every statement is a question...need I say more. Anyway, we got on the road only briefly stopping at the Denham place name sign. The only reason for this was a vague notion that I knew a Denham from back home and of theres a big sign welcoming us to the town of 200 and announcing its twinning with Denham, Bucks - I used to cycle through Denham on the way into work, and even remember a plastic shark! Weird.

We spent another long day driving, but stopping to get som photos of the termite mounds and some beautiful landscapes around dusk. We arrived in Coral bay at around 5 pm and camped up on the overspill camp site, adjacent to the beach, munching into my tinned vegetable soup and Sean playing "Mr Tambourine Man" on his guitar.

Coral Bay and Exmouth

The next day we spent on the beaches at Coral Bay, Sean and I playing Frisbee in the water with the hot hot sun beating down. The water was pretty freezing but once you’re in it, your body gets used to it. Laura and Twan both took turns with the snorkelling gear out in the ocean, looking at the coral and the plentiful fish just below them. I took my turn afterwards and it was amazing to see so many fish so near to you and so close to the beach. Sean and I rented a boat with a glass bottom later on and paddled out towards the Ningaloo Reef, we got to see some cool stuff although it was difficult to get any decent photographs.

We later drove further up the North West Cape to Exmouth (strangely pronounced as ex-mouth by Aussies) and camped there for the night. The next day we drove to the Cape Range National Park trekking along a path to the beautiful Yardie Creek - a multicoloured gorge - the only one with permanent salt water fed from the ocean.

Later we drove onto a place called Sandy Beach where Sean and I played some more frisbee in the sea, (Sean showing himself to have excellent technique presumably form years spent on the beach and me merely showing enthusiasm). We then went onto Turquoise Bay, which is famous for being very close to Ningaloo Reef itself, so close in fact that you can can actually drift snorkell: You enter the water, swim straight out about 30 to 50 metres and let the current take you along in a northerly direction. As you snorkel you swim over coral bombies. You have to be careful to actually exit and not get taken away by the current though.

Despite the water being freezing cold and a very blustery day on the beach Sean did some of this drifting but had to quit eventually becuase he kept getting pulled further away from the reef. Whilst Sean did that, Twan, Laura and I sat on the beautiful beach getting sand blasted by the blustery conditions! Not ideal. However, we made up for all that as later that evening we went over to visit the group that one of Sean’s old work colleagues was a tour guide for; Sarah had invited us over to feast on the steaks that was left over (too many vegetarians).

So Sean and I first went to the “bottle shop” aka the off-license and bought some beers (I made the mistake of buying Castlemaine XXXX - mid strength beer (3.5 %!)(MISSING) (which Sarah dismissed as “old man’s beer”) we then watched our big steaks getting grilled and ate one each for free - utterly delicious too, Aussie beef is bloody good I tell you. Anyway, it was somewhat spoilt however some by the (older members) of the tour group who weren too happy about us interlopers, I even overheard one of them say “We’re feeding the poor tonight are we?” But we made up for any awkwardness by washing up everyone’s plates afterwards, including the pots and pans.

Saying goodbye

The next day, I decided to go on a tour to Karijini National Park with a tour company called Easyriderz, Sean had to return to Perth and I didn’t fancy my chances of getting a lift to this remote place that required a 4x4. So I bought myself a cheapo sleeping bag and tent in Exmouth and Laura and Twan would try their luck together heading north. Sean and I spent the last night together in Coral Bay again, as I’d left me glasses in the shower block there the previous day and had to pick them up. Sean tried to get some people to share the ride with him back to Perth but no one seemed to be going down south at that short a notice.

Anyway, we parted ways in Coral Bay, glad that I’d managed to save so much money and to meet some good people, indeed Sean would definitely be someone I could rely on in future.

Additional photos below
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Denham - twinned with Denham, BucksDenham - twinned with Denham, Bucks
Denham - twinned with Denham, Bucks

Used to cycle through Denham and it had a large shark

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