Warroora Station is another link in the daisy chain of enviable properties chasing the Ningaloo reef from south to north. Around 50km south of Coral Bay, like Gnaraloo, it is best attacked with a 4WD. There are multiple camp areas along the white sand coast, so you are unlikely to awake to what at first appears to be the mating sound of a kakapo, but in truth is just the rhythmic snore of your neighbouring camper. Like all places that take some committmentto get to, it attracts an interesting array of individuals.
The wind had whipped up when we came to set up camp, and with my brain still pin-balling around my cranium from the drive in, I deemed the tent annex a bridge too far to tackle. My usual rule is no annex for less than three days – it falls in the category of good humour challenge and I usually need three days to forget the fresh hell of grappling with 10 sq. metres of canvas whipped into a spinnaker, and a husband with White Line Fever basketball eyes.
We headed to the beach to inspect the ‘best snorkelling in the world’. Pristine white sand and jewel toned water beckoned, but the hazard sign warning of extremely dangerous currents, a raging rip, and the 50 cm white caps suggested we try another day. Moving to another beach just 400 metres along, a super-fit mega-tan retiree in speedos emerged from the sea bearing a handful of knotted fishing line, sinkers, and hooks. A keen fisherman, he liked to clean up the edge of the reef on days the fishing wasn’t up to much. It was his second year back at Warroora since his wife died and he said this year was easier than the last. They had travelled everywhere together, so there was a big gap in his day, but hauling the tinny in and out by himself kept him on his toes. It was then I realised we had entered the Realm of the Fisher Folk, and suddenly I saw them everywhere.
Warroora costs only $10 per night and $50 per week to camp. It requires 100% self-sufficiency (water, firewood, chemical loo, food etc.). This suits the Tinny genus of the Fisher Folk. Incredibly resourceful, weathered, and footloose, these retirees have only grandchildren scattered about Australia to navigate to periodically and import for Vital Life Experience, but otherwise are the canniest at finding the lowest cost and wildest camp spots. Their vehicles and camping configuration are equipped to travel on 4WD roads. They fish in outfits borrowed from Lawrence of Arabia about to head into a sandstorm. They love watching us set up camp in slow motion, and the addition of the annex is like double billing at the movies. They know exactly when you drove in, how many days you have been there and what your daily movements are. Sadly they have enough freezer space for their bountiful catches, despite W’s disappointment that I have not yet wrestled a kilo or two of snapper or coral trout out of them. Favoured vehicles are utes with custom kitchen and storage setups on the tray, and a rack for the tinny on the roof. I’ve never seen a tinny put on a roof yet, and cannot fathom how they get there. My twig cycling arms cannot even lift our trailer lid, so it is a matter of awe to me.
In these locations you will come across a closely related genus – the Grisly Fisher Folk, found in the centre of a circling of the Fisher Folk wagons, standing around a 24 hour fire, and surrounded by rotating solar panels and super-powered generators. Identifiable by hides tanned the colour of nicotine, plaid plumage, and gnarled paws; they are the ones throwing back the fish bigger than 1 metre (as per the fishing limits).
Wishing we had the same capacity for long term stays off the grid; we were only at Warroora because we couldn’t get a spot in the high-density craziness of Coral Bay, thank goodness. We have never quite appreciated the fabulous Coral Bay people talk about, and we were not to discover it this time. I had a few to-dos listed there but we were too early for the shark nursery at Maud Bay (September/October), the wind and cold ruled out snorkelling and taking a tinny out, but the Manta Rays were swimming around just waiting for me to pretend I was one of them, and I was going on that tour come hell or high water. Boarding the boat in a howling gale did little to temper the excitement of our small but enthusiastic bunch of adventure seekers. With only 12 on board we were able to spread ourselves out. As we spilled off the transom at the back of the boat onto our first reef, in a decent chop and the boat swinging around in circles from the wind, I felt a little sympathy for the first timers on board, hyperventilating and clutching at their masks, noodles waving wildly like promotional blow up stick people, and snorkel guides corralling like crazy and soundlessly yelling at everyone to “STaaayyy… TOgettthhherrr……..”.
Back on board, body temperatures plummeted. Hot drinks inhaled, a tray of chelsea buns (coffee scrolls) reduced to crumbs in seagull time, and colour swiftly returned to cheeks as the spotter plane called in our first Manta. Suiting up, the Germans gave no thought to the life-affirming experience of their maiden ocean snorkel, and we all leapt in again. As we followed three Mantas, in a semi circle from tip to tip, a beautiful four metre female trailed hopefully by a smaller all black male, reminded me of Torvill and Dean doing Bolero (Google that if you are under 40). Returning to the boat, everyone had turned blue but the experience rendered hypothermia a mere side effect of being so lucky to take a glide with magical creatures.
Mantas done, it was time to head to Cape Range National Park. More white sand, perfect blue water, and one of my all time favourite places. A perfect place to spend a birthday.
The Low Down
Warroora Station is outback coast wonder with postcard sunsets. There are beaches safe for kids, and beaches wild and full of fish. Sweeping vistas of Mulla Mulla and other wildflowers distract from your brain rattling around from the corrugations on the drive in. Some camps are accessible by 2WD. Check the website before you go to make sure you have everything you need. Chemical toilets can be hired from the Homestead, and a small array of goods and firewood are for sale. You can have an open fire. Man-folk rating of 4. You can have a fire but wood is expensive. If you can take your own stash of fence-posts, all the better to flame that cryovac-ed, grass-fed, 70-day aged steak with.
Manta Tours – Mantas are harmless, no need to fear deathly barbs. We went with Coral Bay Eco-Tour, run by a great crew. If you are new to snorkelling, they look after you. Mantas hang out in Coral Bay all year, but the busy season is July to October. Pay the extra $5 for a full length wetsuit.
We rolled into surf spot Gnaraloo when the shop was closed (loose hours subject to swell). We picked a campsite number from the board and squeezed ourselves into the last ‘primo’ spot on the waters edge. After a fair number of dark moments setting up for the second time in 24 hours, we took up our standard position for sundowners in aesthetically-pleasing chairs bought especially for this trip.
I had decided the two perfectly comfortable ones we had were unlikely to last the rigours of the next four months and a pair of extra-comfy, space thieving recliners with side table, a cup holder that only a stubby fits in, and no useful pocket, at ridiculous cost, were essential. Unlike the pair our friends have and everyone wants to sit in, these are hands-down going out to the nature strip (grass verge, kiwis) when we get home. The not very upright position requires the seatee to engage ones core and forgo back support, while the recline position reminds me of the dentist chair, without an adequate locking mechanism. This I discovered when our neighbours invited us to share Red Emperor wings they had just filleted and chargrilled to perfection. Mid story, I leaned back to demonstrate how the chairs were only good for star-gazing and ended up head-first in their rubbish bin. W delayed my retrieval until he could get a good photo. The host leapt forward to assist and hydrated the sand with a bottle of wine. The following day the host’s wife said “it was kind of like looking at a preying mantis, all you could see were arms and legs waving around…”.
Gnaraloo is one of those places that stays with you. As the sun sets, W and I always find ourselves talking about how we can import many of you reading this, for a holiday. The loos and showers are pretty grim, but the breaching whales cruising past all day, and snorkelling in the sheltered bay is hard to top.
It’s kids, dogs and man friendly (you can have a raging fire). The guys next to us drove 16 hours non-stop from Margaret River for the four-metre swell which was only three metres, but I heard a three year old tell his little mates it was epic all the same.
Gnaraloo – Three Mile Camp, hot bore water (mmm tasty) showers after 4 pm, heated by fire. Play spot the Humpback whale (in season) all day long, snorkel the shallow reef teaming with schools of fish, find the largest Nemo I have ever seen, along with fantastic soft coral, surf some offshore left and right-handers, and take your tinny to fish. Book ahead to get a primo site, and only stay on the beachfront. It’s windy, which keeps the heat down, and extra radical if you surf. You can buy internet (pretty slow), and the shop has a good range of emergency basics, but you must take your own water, and I’d recommend taking all food supplies, unless you are a two-minute noodle fanatic.
Wildflowers – Between Northampton and Gnaraloo, the flowers continue to wave in the Brand Highway jet wash. Next stop, Warroora Station.
Buckle up readers, the phoenix (blog) arises! I am about to embark on a 4 month tour of the north of Australia and will be blogging as I go. Come for the ride! Expect tales of misadventure, interactions with endangered species – human and otherwise – and photos of the wild, the beautiful, and the unique.
If you would like to receive an email when I publish something new, please enter your email address over on the right where it says ‘Follow this blog’. If you are new to my blog, browse a few old posts to get an idea of what lies ahead. These are some popular ones:
To the Pilbara and back where I left few stones unturned.
Feel the Fear where I realised I’d been swimming in a salty croc pond.
The Best Babi Guling In Bali where I temporarily returned to vegetarianism.
At the very least, glamour and lifestyle tips for surviving a road trip abound.
I’ve been thrashing about in the bush, breaking into interpretive dance when a spider walks on my face, and walking around in public places all day oblivious to the vegetation stuck in my viking braids. Nothing unusual there. What is special is my discovery of a whole new range of colours in my subject matter. Recent rain and heat have prompted a whole new set of flowers to break the bonds of their containment and spread their stamens. A few of my favourite things from the last couple of weeks. As always, I love knowing what your favourites are.
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.
Not sure what alerted me first; the spotted Peter Pan collar and pallid complexion, or his high hair and moustache worthy of a lead role in Deadwood. And the plaid. I am happy to declare Hipsters are alive and flourishing in the big country town. Ah Melbourne! So far and yet so near.
Those close to me may have noticed my barely concealed pathological desire for order. I am fully aware that this is one of those genuine weaknesses one could declare at a job interview, and not sound smug, unlike “Oh, a weakness? Hmm, let’s see. I’m a perfectionist?”. I say pathological because I actually feel anxious when things are disorderly, to the point of preventing forward motion. I write spreadsheets of packing lists for roadtrips, bike trips, work trips, lists for things that live permanently inside the camper, lists for stuff that gets added on the day of departure with the camper. I spend hours arranging the lists. I print the lists. W ignores the lists. Last weekend we took a quick trip to Margaret River. It is our 20th trip, and 150km down the road we realise we have no coffee. In terms of functional necessity, one may as well have forgotten to bring clothes.
I deal with my Disorder Disorder by making myself take abstract photos, and not rearranging my tees that call to me daily to be placed in order of hue and saturation. The Fleeting Glimpses technique (named during a road trip from Melbourne to Perth with photographer C, who introduced me to the idea) of shooting out the window of a car travelling at 110km is one way I practise achieving the unpredictable. I took these photos in the wonderfully verdant and be-sheeped hills of New South Wales, between Wagga and Canberra a couple of weeks ago. I love that the Auto-Focus and Vibration Reduction mechanism on my 70-200mm lens go crazy trying to lock onto something, which results in blurred lines going in lots of different directions, or a single plane of sharpness and all the rest a blur. Which is exactly what my brain feels like more than some of the time.
I welcome feedback on any of the pics I post. What do you like? What don’t you like? What do you want more of? Don’t be shy! It is great to hear what strikes people.
Given the kerfuffle swirling about Canberra this week, I decided my pic of the day would show a different side of Canberra.Canberra sports some pretty orderly plantings, so this weedy little spot really appealed. A perfect pastel sunset, with a jaunty pink float in the pond, and I was sold.
It was my first trip to Canberra. I swept through there a couple of weeks ago on the way back from a weekend at Wagga, attending a Marching Out Parade at the Kapooka Army Base. I drove around the parliament buildings so many times trying to escape the infernal hexagon of road planning hell, I feel certain I am on some security watch list.
Gaby Bryan is acutely aware of the preciousness and brevity of life. Recovering from colon cancer, and most recently losing her brother to cancer, Gaby’s outlook is one of determination and incredible selflessness. With a passion for the plight of the endangered rhino, Gaby has covered 550km of an 1800km walk around Germany to fight for the survival of one of the worlds most gentle and prehistoric animals, and to fight for her own life.
Every 11 hours a rhino is poached and killed. For their horn. Prized for a myriad of mythical medicinal properties and mana as a carved object, the slaughter is driven by demand, based on centuries of folklore. Made of mostly keratin, it delivers similar benefits to chewing your own fingernails. But the myth seems to grow stronger, and along with it, demand. Valued at around the same price as gold, poachers in South Africa can afford to go high-tech, using helicopters, silencers, and night-vision goggles to meet the demand from East Asia, particularly Vietnam. As at mid June this year, 437 had been killed, around 100 in the last month alone, with a shameful end of year projection heading north of 900.
In Gaby’s words, “The chances for survival for both of us depends on many things, but hope prevails in my heart. Hope that my lifestyle, my beliefs, and my determination will conquer cancer, and hope that the myth of Rhino-horn having special properties will be finally dismissed, as this view is borne out of superstition and misunderstanding.”
Overcoming debilitating foot pain, Gaby gets up every day and continues her mission. She welcomes company on her walk and is worthy of every support we can manage as an audience, in her goal to reach $50000 for the Save Foundation, a leader in rhino conservation and protection.
Feeling comfortable? If you cannot make it to Germany, undertake your own walk to raise funds, donate, or at least learn a bit more about the plight of the rhino. I want to write about the incredible list of qualities Gaby possesses, her generosity, positivity, tenacity, her warmth, and ability to encourage others while she embraces physical and mental challenges, and how she lights up a room. But Gaby would rather I talked about rhinos.
Let’s give Gaby strength.
Donate securely to Gaby Walks for Rhinos (donations go to the Save Foundation but Gaby can track them if you donate here)
Subscribe to Gaby’s blog at GabyWalksForRhinos
Follow her on Facebook and get to see awesome photos of her feet
Learn about The Save African Rhino Foundation
Read this, get mad, and act Vietnam’s appetite for rhino horn