Perth is a thriving metropolis that sits in solitude on the west coast of Australia. With its long stretches of beaches, vibrant nightlife, fun inhabitants, culture and plentiful outdoor activities there is always something to see and do. In the blink of an eye, leaving this city of high rises and groomed parks, nature reigns supreme with the dusty wide-open spaces of the Australian Outback.
Perth’s temperature was already in the low 90s that January morning as I began my journey bound for the northern part of Western Australia and my final destination of Ningaloo Reef. This road trip took me along what is commonly known as the Coral Coast, a pristine coastline sandwiched between the glistening Indian Ocean and the arid desert of the Golden Outback. Threats of sand storms are frequent here and reminded me of how thirsty for water this country is. The road was long and straight with red, dry desert earth on either side, and it would be 154 miles before the landscape revealed something amazing.
The Pinnacles Desert looked like something out of a Sci-Fi movie with the windstorms being the artists behind this unique landscape. Walking around here I felt like I was on another planet with no signs of life except for the lone emu darting across the hot surface in the distance. Odd shaped limestone pillars protruded from the yellowish orange sand and each was different from the next, some being short and round in shape while others were tall, pointy and jagged edged. The desert is bound by white sand on one side, the ocean on the other and shifting sands have been busy for centuries creating and reshaping this area to make it the eerie and uncommon place that it is today.
Cruising further along the Brand Highway I came upon Greenough Flats, home to the Leaning Trees. These trees are quite the strange natural phenomenon. It seems that the characteristic “lean” of these eucalyptus river gum trees is due to the continual strong salt-laden winds that burn off growth on the windward side. Basically, it is a hardy tree with very weak branches.
Kalbarri National Park sits about 221 miles north of the Pinnacles and covers about 706 square miles. The landscape is diverse and offers such activities as bush walking, gorge hiking and canoeing. When I looked out over Hawk’s Head the scenery was reminiscent of the American Southwest. Huge red rock boulders lined the massive gorges and river below. Yet along the coast wind, waves and salt spray worked together to create the formations that make up the beautiful sandstone and limestone coastline. I was thrilled to have spotted a few western grey kangaroos along the rugged cliffs.
Except for the annoying flies that were in abundance here and insisted on feeding on me as if I was covered in vegemite, I really found this area to be quite breathtaking. The cool sea breezes were a welcome relief from the stifling heat I had encountered daily.
A road trip up this coast is not complete without a stop at Monkey Mia. The most popular beach residents are the dolphins that have been visiting daily for the last 40 years. The dolphins are small in size due to the excess amount of salt in the crystal clear water and are so used to humans that they come right up to the shore to be fed. Monkey Mia gives the feeling of humans and nature peacefully sharing the same space. Just being on the beach waiting for the sunset, I had the pleasure of having a family of emus walk right past me without a care in the world.
I wasn’t able to experience it, but in April through June you can take a dip on the wild side and swim with whale sharks in nearby Sharks Bay. I do not know how I would react to swimming with these vegetarian gentle giants of the deep, but I am willing to find out someday.
A quick stop at the Port of Carnarvon gave me a bit of a history lesson. A one-mile jetty was built back in 1897 and this port became the first in the world to load livestock on ships for transport to markets. By 1912 passengers were being transported as well, but in 1966 train transport commenced and use of this jetty ceased. As I walked the length of the rickety jetty I imagined what it was like back in the day when they had sheep races in the sand alongside it.
Shell Beach is missing what most beaches have…sand! It is covered entirely with small bivalve shells. When I came upon this beach I could feel the heat reflecting off of it. Even with zinc sun block I could feel my skin roasting in this sweltering heat that defiantly stayed in the 116˚ to 122˚ range.
My furthest point north on this excursion was Coral Bay’s Ningaloo Reef, a mere 794 miles from Perth. It is not as popular as the Great Barrier Reef, but its marine life is just as magnificent and plentiful. Tours in glass bottom boats and fishing are available, but the real adventures here are snorkeling and diving. Seems that everything in the underwater world is healthy and big in size. I was fortunate to come upon hundreds of assorted fish feeding off the huge coral. Snorkeling is a peaceful activity: when I was able to quiet my breathing down and float still I could watch and hear these fish chomping away on the coral. I was just a happy observer to the every day life in this reef community.
As I pulled back into Perth 4 days later I noted that although this trip was minimal in the way of adrenaline rush, it was a unique encounter with a wild, yet accessible part of nature.
Western Australia… a fascinatingly diverse destination indeed.