West Coast Gorge-ousness: Roadtripping in Western Australia.
The West Coast of Australia is quite possibly one of the best-looking places on earth, and I’m not just talking about the people.
Perth, the most isolated capital city in the world, has renown mostly for its expensive cost of living, beautiful weather, people, and laid back lifestyle. One thing I wasn’t prepared for, however, is that its inhabitants hibernate in the winter months, a fact that made my arrival in the dead of winter a little more lonely than expected. Windy, deserted beaches do have a certain charm to them, but they have nothing on the spectacular splendidness that is Australia in summer. Come summer, like moths to a flame, West-Coasters and visitors alike flock to the beach; the sun comes out, the tops come off, and the summer adventure begins. Dancing to the rhythm of the waves we swim, and dance, and yoga and laugh.
More than just a beach and barbie haven, however, Perth, and the West Coast of Australia, in general, has a rich cultural community. Travel a little north (and by a little I mean a lot – having spent most of my life on an island that can fit over 30 times into Australia I’m slowly coming to terms with how giant the land mass is here) and the beauties of the coast become not just picturesque, but mind-blowing, almost overwhelming in their magnitude.
To explore this dusty red land of dreams beyond the little bubble I’d made for myself within the city suburbs, a group of us rented a van and headed northbound to Karijini for adventure and rejuvenation for our bodies, minds and souls.
We began by driving up and out of the city, soon enough we were beyond the concrete freeways. We drove on hugging the shore, marvelling at the mesmerising waters unfolding before us. White sands coated with azul waters stretching for eternity across the horizon contrasted with the raspy dry climate of dusty outback roads that seem to stretch on for a lifetime.
First stop: a deserted patch of roadside somewhere north of Geraldton. Our first night’s campsite was set up in near darkness and not being energetic enough to cook dinner, we feasted on crackers, carrots and hummus washed down with ‘Emu Export’ in a bid to integrate ourselves into Australian culture through our choice of cheap beer. Falling into an exhausted slumber, we slept peacefully till sunrise. In the morning the heat of the sun woke me up in that pleasant tingly way that sleeping with only a tent over your head can do. The view that first morning was glorious and golden, but it couldn’t compare to the morning sunrises we were yet to encounter.
As the days progressed and I found myself waking each morning just as the sun peeked over the horizon, I discovered, or rather rediscovered, the synchronicity that sleeping outside seems to evoke in our bodies. I rose each morning with the sun and fell asleep under the perfect cool of the infinitely stretching stars. Never one for being much of a slave to routine, it’s always fascinating for me to see my body clock attune with the sunrise. It’s easy, natural even, and being places like this reminds me how estranged being cooped up inside materialism can make us feel. It’s an epiphany I’ve had countless times, and one I will no doubt promptly forget again someday soon if only to rediscover it on another adventure.
Northbound and with no time to loose, we set off in the morning, still soaking in the dewy sunrise. And as we travelled along the eternal road, we found ourselves singing, laughing, and talking about everything and nothing all at once. It was the joys of the honeymoon days of the road-trip; we were all heading for adventure and not yet missing the luxuries of clean clothes and showers.
One thing you quickly come to terms when on a road-trip in the outback is why Australians are no longer fazed by the site of kangaroos. Just to give some scope of perspective, there are more than twice as many kangaroos in Australia than people. We were warned many a time also not to drive at dawn or dusk lest we hit one, and though we didn’t hit any (luckily) we did have a few lollop across our path. In fact, it wasn’t just the majestic kangaroo we came across, the roads are teeming with wildlife; an awe-striking sight when you turn a corner whizzing along at 110 kilometres per hour to see a couple of emus strutting their stuff.
As we drove further and further from our beds in Perth, I became more and more mesmerised by each location. Ningaloo Reef for one is an undervalued prize of Australia. In Coral Bay you’re able to go from sitting on the beach, looking out across the various shades of turquoise waters from the confines of your towel, to swimming amongst an entire ecosystem of sea life in under a minute. I could slip on my snorkel and goggles, walk to the water, stick my head under, and the next thing I was among corals watching the colours of all the fish swirl around me. Spotting a stingray I kicked my non-webbed feet and chased him all around the reefs, smiling to myself in the glory of this whole other underwater world.
Coral Bay was so beautiful that we all felt it was time to stay; to stop and just be for a couple of days, rather than be in the confines of the hot, sweaty van. Much as we were all still loving the adventure, perhaps the novelty of spending so many waking hours in a confined space had worn off. I found myself seeking some solitude and wandered all the way around the bay, walking a couple of kilometres to the end of the beach and perching alone with my book. To my delight, there was not a soul in sight and for a moment I had the world to myself.
Feeling fresh after a day that did not comprise of any time being trapped by a seatbelt, we woke the next morning and I taught a yoga class on the beach, tuning our meditation to the sound of the waves and walking away content and with sand falling out of our ears. We treated ourselves to a real dinner, a non-camp stove cooked one that is, and we were peaceful, happy, and all a little sunburnt.
The next morning we were back on the road. With distance still to cover, and allocated days running out, we began driving again, ready for more adventure, travel and exploration.
Into the golden red-layered gorges of a powerful land lies Karijini National Park. Picture soaring gorges, caves, crystal waterfalls and endless red dirt. Its power lies largely in its indigenous history, and it has now come to be known solely by its aboriginal name, rather than its previously branded ‘Hamersley National Park’. Indeed, there’s something about the land here which feels so sacred as you walk upon it, almost as though you shouldn’t quite disturb it. Personified it would resemble a wise old man who has drifted off in his wicker chair, mumbling dreamy philosophies in his sleep. The land should be respected, trodden on quietly, always listening, never disturbing. My legs began to tremble a little as we stood on the cusp of the gorge and I wondered if it was tiredness from the hike down or some hidden power in the land that was causing the shakes.
We had met another group of road-trip adventurers like ourselves coming southbound on our way up, and they’d hailed the spirituality of Karijini, gushed over how much we would love it there, but it wasn’t until I experienced it for myself that I really came to terms with how powerful a place it is.
Karijini only got more amazing the longer we stayed. We visited the gorges and the pools that were hiking distance from Dales Gorge campground. We spent our entire days outdoors, walking, sitting and lying in nature. Soaking up the red warmth from the rocks as we felt the heat radiating up off the ground on which we trod. And afterwards lying by the cool fresh pools, floating in the water and watching the fruit bats nesting in the trees above as the evening light began to evade.
On our final day, we drove to the Weano and Hammersly gorges and hiked the surrounding areas, crawling up and between the rocks to reach magnificent caves and pools. The spider walk was particularly adventurous, named as such because it involves using all limbs to crawl between extremely close sheer rock face that runs above the waters below. We made our way along the gorges, steadily navigating through the somewhat challenging terrain, at times climbing higher, at times swimming through the deeper sections of water to reach stunning views.
The prospect of leaving made us sad, but also in a way we were all relieved and more importantly revived. Being able to escape the city had given us all some well-needed TLC. I always feel that you can appreciate your home more when you return to it with fresh eyes. The journey home was tiresome; we drove back in one long fourteen-hour drive, inland this time. I said before that it’s hard to fathom how huge Australia is as a Brit, but when your SatNav’s only direction for 1,237km is to turn left you can start to gauge how long and straight the roads are here.
Endless dirt track, endless horizon.