With all aspects of ourselves, equipment, and belongings freshly laundered, we headed north toward Exmouth and Cape Range National Park. I described Cape Range as “my favourite place in the world” to a man who said, “The world? The world is a big place.” Awkward silence as the gravity of that statement lingered in the air.
The road to Exmouth is paved with Wedge-tailed eagles snacking on deceased kangaroos, and roadhouses selling diesel at $1.90/litre and outrageously priced dim sims (according to RollinRob57 on Wikicamps).
But we only had eyes for the Minilya Roadhouse and its homemade sausage rolls. Talk of these sausage rolls began 250km before touchdown, so by the time we got there we were ready to eat every one they had. They sell around 60 per day and, it turns out, sell out by 11am. I must have looked suitably distraught as the lovely woman behind the counter fossicked in the freezer and nuked the last two in the building.
Oily homemade sauso roll goodness
We decided to make Giralia Station on the Exmouth Gulf our interim stop for a couple of days. Checking in and grabbing the required portable loo at the homestead we drove an hour into one of the beach camp sites. Essentially 4WD, it was slow, but roads like this tend to mean awesome sites are vacant on a drop-in basis.
We set up and the loo looked incomplete. It had been strapped to the trailer with the lid opening to the front, so, fed up with its role in life we surmised it had flown off. Waz drove back in the dark, happily engaging the extra LED lights (that came with the UHF radio, snorkel and other ‘necessities’). The forlorn lid was exactly where it had made a bid for freedom, an hour away at the gate to the homestead.
Meanwhile, back at base, I kept noticing specks of dirt appearing on my legs and arms that stung. I blamed the wind.
Waiting for Return of the Lid
Overnight, the black specks turned out to be microscopic midges that had bitten me on every exposed piece of skin. How something around 1mm in size can deliver such irritation defies logic. I couldn’t even run into the ocean for relief thanks to the ever present shark risk so I could only gaze out at the pods of dolphins chasing fish with ferocity, and lean into the wind thankful that midges appear to dislike wind as much as I.
More hunt than gather
The calm dawn inspired Waz to get the rod out and a while later returned with his catch; a small green turtle. To the collective trauma of Waz, myself and the turtle, she had inadvertently swum past the lure and hooked her shoulder. Do not despair! The lure was swiftly removed and as Waz carried the heavy wee turtle back to the water, she flapped her fins like she was swimming and took off without pause. Waz added fishing pliers to the list of things this Off Road Life required.
Although this beach was populated by five couples widely ranging age and origin, we were all very similar. Which explains why we were all headed to the same bay next.
Looking like we had a communicable disease and a nervous tick, we set the GPS for Exmouth and Cape Range National Park. We swung by the homestead to sign out, along with an earthy looking departing visitor (ignoring WA gun laws) who enquired as to where there may be goats he could shoot. “Side of the road anywhere?”.
What’s on the menu @WOKA* ?
Two minute organic eggs, levitating on a bed of soft herbs, wild pig, foraged fungi, and heirloom tomatoes
*Waz’s Outback Kitchen Australia
Thorny Devil (Moloch horridus), Giralia Station. This little character is around 10cm long.
Driving in the middle of the road. Because he can. Burringurrah Drive, Mt Augustus National Park.
The road to Mt Augustus from Meekatharra is unsealed. In the rear view mirror I could see billowing clouds of dust enveloping every crevice of the unloved camp chairs and brand new ‘pub bike’ we bought for this trip, strapped mercilessly uncovered to the trailer. It was Wednesday, Day 4. Around 75km from Mt Augustus we saw a sign for annual Landor Race Meeting at the East Gascoyne Race Club, kicking off Friday. Count us in! Darned if we were going to miss another compelling sounding local event.
Is it me or does this look breast-like?! The only image I managed that looked like a single rock.
But first Mt Augustus.
I kind of expected Mt Augustus to look like Uluru, but twice as big at eight kilometres long, and older, clocking in at 1650 million birthdays. Well, it has a lot more trees and what-not on it, so it is nothing like it really. The rock is so big you cannot actually get a photo of it in entirety. I even drove around the short ends of it, and, nope. So here’s a partial image.
Another piece of the mountain
Mt Augustus is known as Burringurrah by the local Aboriginal Wadjari people. The main dreaming story associated with it tells of Burringurrah, a lad not enjoying his initiation into manhood instead electing to take off, breaking tribal law. Punishment came in the form of a tribesman’s spear through his leg and a finishing off by the women wielding fighting sticks. If you look at the mountain along the long side, you can see his prostrate body and the broken-off spear. I can think of a few men that have avoided transitioning to adulthood, and who appear to have been lucky they weren’t under Wadjari law.
Mt Augustus Tourist Park oasis
As a working station covering 1,250,000 acres, running over 100 windmills and bores, and a hard to count number of cattle, Mt Augustus offers travellers a campground oasis of lawns and sprinklers, 100% groceries in the fridge (yep, even the potato chips) and a bar specifically prohibiting ‘dickheads’ and open when deemed appropriate by the extremely genial and unintentionally humorous tourist park managers. If you are prone to dickheadery, avoid.
There’s a Milky Way in there dammit
Yes, wildflowers here too
There are numerous short walks or drives to lookouts from the base of the Mount, doable for small people, and featuring magical rock engravings you can walk right up to. There are so few places in the world you can stand right in front of 30000+ human handiwork without a security rope and cctv. I love Oz.
Dawn at Mt Augustus
The pinnacle activity for most is to climb the 12km return, 700m ascent Beedoboondu Summit Trail. The general guide says to expect a 6-8 hours climb, and that it boasts some savage radiant heat, that along with the terrain, tests the unwary. The day before we arrived, a woman had to be transported (a four stage several hour process) to Royal Perth and the bar manager said earnestly while pouring a chardy with ice, “I had to grab some people that looked like you to carry her down from the top”. We did a quick calculation and retired with a view to kick our walk off at 4.30am.
When the sun warmed our duvet it became apparent the alarm had been set for a time other than the appointed (4.30pm- not looking at anyone in particular!), and we were an hour behind schedule. Undeterred, we stormed up that hill like the undead from seven hells was upon us, and cracked a sub four hour return. I think the compelling feature for Waz was that someone told him you could get Telstra coverage on the cairn at the top.
Unposed. A guy built this Cairn and a picnic table with stuff he hauled up the mountain himself. Commitment!
Top level calls, also unposed. Corner evidence of aforementioned picnic table.
As I took this he said, “There are no flies”.
Beat the heat!
With days north of 35 degrees in September, Goolinee (Cattle Pool) on the Lyons River offers surprisingly chilly respite in the noon day heat.
Goolinee swimming hole on the Lyons River. Surprisingly zesty!
But this morning we were not dilly-dallying. We got back and packed without pause; we had a country race, of which we knew little, to attend.
There is some kind of M thing going on in Wildflower Country; Moora, Mingenew, Morawa, Mullewa, Mt Magnet, Mt Augustus, all wildflower hotspots. The exceptions are Cue, Coorow, Carnamah, and a host of others I’ve left out because they don’t suit my theme. It is striking how inventive and creative these small towns are, from murals to museums, and thrilling sounding events that we would miss like The Inseminator’s B and S Ball and Ute Muster, The Menzies Rodeo and Ute Muster (‘Have yourself a bucking good time’), and Mt Magnet’s Astro Rocks Festival.
Meanwhile, at Coalseam Conservation Park, a foggy morning greeted us, which you don’t get much of in Perth, and as some of you know, I do love a tree in mist.
I had done a little more research by this stage in snatches of mobile coverage and had a solid plan in mind that would not involve driving back down roads we had already covered. Part of Warren’s no work zen outlook was to stop the car and turn around as many times as I requested, without the veins in his temple exploding, but I didn’t want to fatigue that new muscle.
Our goal was Mt Augustus, the kind of place you choose to go because it is not on the way to anywhere and far from everywhere. You go there to see the ‘World’s Biggest Rock’ – yes, more than twice Uluru – to view carpets of wildflowers, intriguing geology, and enjoy some working cattle station hospitality.
Mt Magnet is en route to Mt Augustus, and although small, jam packed with history and pride in the success of past and present residents, all gathered in one sizeable place called the Mining and Pastoral Museum, within the visitor centre.
I have to say at this point that all small towns have their version of this. Country visitor centres are worth visiting simply to meet the warm and enthusiastic volunteers ready to spill the beans on what’s hot, recent celebrity sightings, movie filming featuring all the locals, and recommend where we could get a good cuppa. For us, it was the swimming wall of fame in the museum and one of Mt Magnet’s accomplished sons.
Coorow Community Farm Wildflower walk
Coorow is another example of community pride and spirit. The local community owns and farms land for community benefit. Coorow Farm is home to the first homestead built in the area by William and Sarah Long, who raised a family of seven without, one would assume, any medical attention or intervention. A self-drive 6km wildflower trail offers point of interest, with walks of 250m or 1.25km, which apparently was 1km too far for the occupants of the other four vehicles.
By 4pm, Waz called stumps and we looked for a roadside stop. If you are not all over it, Wikicamps is a goldmine for finding paid and free camping and the voluntary commentary spares no detail. If there is rubbish, mosquitoes, flies, bees, generators going all night, crap hosts, or it looks like a scene from Cocoon*, TomTrukka or Ben1983 leaves no mystery. There is also an element of ‘this is too good to put on Wikicamps’, where you don’t want a good thing ruined by great unwashed tourers, so you and the other 100 people who know about it remain shtum.
Nothing but moonlight, Gascoyne riverbed
A spot in the Gascoyne riverbed is such a place. Astoundingly, Waz did not create a massive fire, which is why he camps, but instead Waz’s Outback Kitchen Australia (WOKA) turned out free range chicken enveloped in similarly liberated prosciutto, atop a gathering of rocket and micro herbs accompanied by seared sweet potato. Just because we camp doesn’t mean it’s all two minute noodles and anti-bacterial wipes. I’ll go into why this whole camping thing is even a concept for one most comfortable in order and freshness in another post. Yes, city princesses and princes of Bel Air, you too can do this.
*Dang. There I go alienating my Millennial audience.
Our first day was pretty short by usual standards. It was simply enough to be on the road, and having not made it to the supermarket we only had the remains from our home fridge with us; a jar of red cabbage sauerkraut, leftover jalapenos, two lemons, one orange devoid of skin (denuded for Waz’s gin), and half a packet of bacon. Like a vision, the welcoming Watheroo Station Tavern loomed in the dusk, offering free camping, hot showers and home cooked food! Bonus offer – the Watheroo National Park was just down the road. Yes, yes, and heck, yes.
Which brings me to my latest project: I’m going to visit every National Park in Australia. I thought it would be a great way to spend the four months. Then I discovered there were ‘over 500’. The husband of a friend said “But that will take ten years!”, which is probably on the money, but in my defence, I do my best work when there is a list to attack, and I do not like list items mocking me for too long.
Watheroo National Park, super-size-me mosquitoes
So to Watheroo National Park. An amazing array of wildflowers (in season), echidnas and rich wildlife, areas of water and walking tracks, it covers over 44,000 hectares and is home to Jingemia Cave, and the biggest mosquitoes I’ve had to take an entire palm to.
Teeny wildflowers in Watheroo National Park – the cluster is smaller than a 5c piece
Sporting around 50 bites despite industrial spray, I was ready for the Watheroo Station Tavern dining room for some excellent offerings from the kitchen ladies. Lamb shanks, fish in butter and caper sauce, salad and vege. Washed down with an $18 bottle of wine. A bargain night for $58. It’s a must stay!
The fabled wreath flower – not at all sad!
The next morning I had the wildflower trail maps open, with an eye out for the ‘extremely rare’ yet seemingly common wreath flower. Any local info/visitor centre is happy to hand draw specifics on a map : “They are near this cross road, before you get to the big tree, under the fenceline, and behind the bush…”. The rest of the morning was a a zig zag around taking in wildflower hot spots: Carnamah, Morewa, Three Springs, Mingenew, and winding up at Coalseam Conservation Park (surely this counts as a National Park?!).
While the East Coast may have the Big Pineapple, Western Australia’s wildflowers are the biggest collection on Earth – with over 12,000 species, 60% of which are found nowhere else. If it appeals, make a date to self-drive the many trails from July to November.
Coalseam Miners Camp
By this stage Waz had that strained look. He had gone above and beyond with the driving back down roads he had already been, and blood sugar was plummeting alongside his sense of humour. Picking up the pace we set up camp at Coalseam Miners Camp. The result of a spirited exchange in a radiant 36 degrees abuzz with clouds of flies about whether site nine was better than four, and where north was.
Spurred by my singular mission for Australian iconographical supremacy, I have been burning up the kilometres in Perth’s hinterlands and developed a keen eye for the shrubbery of my favoured plants. Next time I will take a shot of the other view around some of these images. Envisage trucks and cars roaring past apace, and about every 10 minutes a ute horn and muffled yelling issuing forth. A strange custom, that one.
I’m playing around with backgrounds a bit. I cannot bring myself to snip off branches, preferring to shoot them in situ, but I have particular ideas about what I want my subject matter to sit on, and the background is not always ideal (the McDonalds red and yellow is SO dominating). I love the challenge of finding plants at the perfect stage, in the right light and manageable weather – it takes me back to driving around pre-dawn Victoria in the dark winter drizzle, with my travel mug of tea, and frozen fingers on the car heating vents. My happy place!
The radio silence has ended. In truth, it has been an interesting, somewhat patchy, all-over-the-shop year, that was not at all as I envisaged at the beginning. When that happens, some things get my attention, and others languish. Nothing seems good enough to share, and the paralysis of perfectionism kicks in. Here are some observations.
In 2013, it is safe to say I did more new things, challenging things, and dumb things than I have done before. I was more excited, disappointed, determined, exhausted, and inspired than ever before, and sometimes in close succession. In fact, I squeezed all of those things into a 4 day mountain bike event, and somehow sneaked into the official documentary. I apologise unreservedly for the dodgy snippet.
Watch the full Cape to Cape 2013 Documentary on SBS here and join us next year! (I may have stuffed up the video above, if so, I’m at 48 minutes!)
Training for the event pulled me through the dark part of my year, winter. That, and a clutch of talented, inspiring, and just plain good fun mountain bikers that had me riding at my limit, and only ever crying on the inside. Legends, all. I’ve learnt that when I’m riding, if my mind drifts off to anything but riding, my speed drops 30%. Sometimes, thinking too much leaves you behind.
My photography world has shifted. The brooding, changing, landscapes I came to seek, love, and know inside-out in Victoria, have been replaced with vistas hardened to strong light, the colour sucked out of them, and located hundreds of kilometres from home.
I came west with a specific and fanciful aim to spend days on the road, finding magic, but while adventuring with W, I realised I it only worked when he was around. I felt unsafe travelling alone, and this destroyed my ability to see any magic. This floored, then freed, me. Without the singular identity of ‘Landscape Photographer’, I have spread my wings, and undertaken both paid and personal projects across the genres.
Against the advice of every entrepreneur that knows their shizz, I’ve done the opposite of specialise, amongst other things, pointing my camera at architecture, real estate, a baby Cake Smash, documentary, events, actor portfolio shots, vintage flowers, and corporate headshots. Throw in a Star Trek-themed wedding and a Bar Mitzvah, and no stone remains unturned.
I don’t recommend this approach for anyone starting a business, but it has been an important journey for me. And while I came to Perth with a plan that hasn’t materialised, it is a fantastic place to live if Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is something that snaps at your heels. It is never too early to greet a fellow traveller along the river, and they always seem happy.
Like the shirtless guy last week, strolling barefoot along at 5.30am, in his business pants, a business shirt tucked into the back of his pants, carrying one business shoe, and waving a cheery good morning.
In summary, 2013 has been a year of possibility, made possible by the unrelenting support from a handful of wonderful people. I wish you all the same for your 2014.
West Australia allegedly has the greatest concentration of wildflowers in the world. I wish I could remember where I read that, to chase it up. But that snippet has gone the way of many useful fragments of information that float about untethered in my brain, untraceable until presenting themselves at 3am, when no-one is available to hear them.
West Australian Wildflowers – Everlastings
Spring is wildflower season, so I have been driving the countryside in search of sweeping vistas of everlastings, and determined to portray them in a manner that is not at home in a tourist brochure. This, along with a population obsession with ‘instagram’ style imagery, has prompted me to mess around with different photoshop effects and to take photos with the photoshop effect in mind. Et Voila! This week the vintage effect obsession is mine. Everything that passes through my camera memory card gets sprayed with layers of this and that. I predict that like shoulder pads, bum bags, and mullets, Instagram image filter effects will be immediately identifiable with an era, and Instagram will become a verb.