As my thinking is drowned out by the fans kicking in on the Mac and the interminable whir of 15 terabytes of storage, I am forced to face the fact that I have literally thousands of photos taking up space, that never see the light of day. They transition briefly through my image management software before I resign them to the Anthony Marantino (Sex and the City) “hates it!!” pile.
I freely admit to a perfectionistic streak, but rather than a charming character trait I have decided it is constraining to ones ability to share and something I must challenge. So, prepare yourself for more frequent posts. Sometimes without stories, sometimes something perhaps your three year old could do better, but the photos will always be something that grabbed me on the day. So, first cab off the rank is a shot of a fantastic lightning storm we had front row seats to, at Easter at Cape Range. It was better than the best fireworks I have ever seen. I love how the clouds are all leaning to the left. Could I love Cape Range any more?
I am quietly finning along, snorkelling for the third time that day at Lakeside, on the Ningaloo Reef in the magical Cape Range National Park. If this rings a bell, it is because I harp on about the place incessantly, there is so much life out in the water. Along with Turquoise Bay, it is a favourite with day-trippers. Borne by tour buses, they amble to the spot with the snorkel marker, march directly out for around 30 metres, flop about for 20 minutes, then retire to shore to smoke, look bored with precision, and burn a new layer of ‘it sucks to be my family back in Europe’ into their undernourished frames.
It was at Lakeside that I had an epiphany in 2008. With nothing but the rasp of parrotfish beak-on-coral in my ears, my brain found a space to discover I actually wanted to be a photographer. (And a marine biologist – but that ship had sailed). Snorkelling or diving is the only time I truly switch off. Underwater, where air is generally absent, is ironically when I feel most able to breathe. The eternally blue space, without walls or fences, represents endless possibility for me.
So, I am quietly swimming in and around the rocky outcrops, following a fish that completely changes its colour and pattern as I get close or back off, a peeved turtle, 4m ray, and pausing to watch a plague of parrotfish engulf a patch of coral, the tiny territorial resident fish dashing out and back nervously. Just when it could not get any better, a huge school of mackerel and other silvery fish with wide eyes swept past and then started circling me, gaining pace as they went round. I decided to join their circling, and as I went round and round was thinking “Choice! They think Im their bro! I’m a mermaid!”. Amazed they cared not a whit as I whipped by the other fish and matched their crazy changes in direction, I was at once silver and fishy. Then it occurred to me. They are commonly known as bait-fish. And a school of darting bait-fish are probably being chased. Not that those three reef sharks and their homies, Trevor Trevally, and Barry Barra, liked the cut of my gib, but it’s safe to say I found myself ashore with no recollection of the breathless flail between realisation and landfall.
When we returned to our camp, we shared a beverage with our lovely Swiss neighbour, J, a fellow water-baby with designs on the outer reef. He had travelled for some months around WA in his wagon, sleeping in the back, and reliant on a dwindling collection of camping ephemera. As days rolled by he realised he only used one plate, cup, knife, fork and spoon. Subsisting happily on long-life wraps, honey, nutella, and canned goods, his camp stove, multiple devices of convenience and esky (chilly bin) found new homes with the Belgians that packed every other camp site.
J wanted buddies to go and explore the outer reef. He had gone out on his own but was worried he may be…ahem…taken, and no-one would know. Fortified with a zesty cider from Harcourt in Victoria, I found myself consulting tide and moon charts and committing both W and I to an outer reef expedition with the excitement I always have when an adventure of any kind is afoot, and drive I have to never miss out.
The following day, in the last 30 minutes of an incoming tide was the only opportunity in the next 7 days, when the tide would be high enough to swim over the reef edge. J knew the way and so three small figures swam out to the reef, quickly invisible to those on shore. The thing about a reef is that waves from the outside hit the edge, rise up and then smash down. Along with a titan tidal-pull, I found myself swimming two strokes forward, getting drilled by excitable waves, then dragged back 4 strokes, enjoying a nasal flush along the way. I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say we made it, and the silence on the other side was astounding. The water clarity, unmatched. A long shelf of volcanic rock and an amazing variety of coral sat around 15 metres below us and ran out about 40 metres before dropping off into Predator World. As we followed the edge of the reef, we swam over enormous cracks in the reefs surface, so deep you could only see fish in the first few metres framed by blackness. Think awe meets terror. Leaving a sacrificial layer of dermis on the way back over the reef edge, we plotted to do it the next day, knowing full well the ideal conditions to go over the reef, had past.
Again at dusk, three figures headed out, this time for an elusive gap in the reef that we could sneak through. It was a much longer swim and after about a kilometre, I found myself musing on the relative benefits of such activities. There are bitey things out there, but I figure the risk versus reward profile points in the right direction. I never take the ocean for granted, and I accept the side of scaredy-cat that comes with the incredible beauty I get to breathe in.
The welling surf and sinking sun loomed large in my overactive mind. Stuff incredible beauty inhalation, I waved the boys on and with a feeling like there wasn’t enough air in the sky, swam to shore with an urgency that just skirted fish-in-distress. It is great to be alive.
Gnaraloo, 950km north of Perth, and accessible by 4WD only, has the right mix of rugged and remote, cushioned by a fridge of Whittakers’ chocolate bars, hot showers at 4pm, and endless bags of ice for the esky (that’s a chully bun, people).
This is our second trip to 3 Mile Camp at Gnaraloo Station, the last in August last year at the end of our six-week trip from Brisbane to Perth. We loved it so much, W decided he would spend his birthday there, so we booked and paid for the same site before we left, an uncommonly committed act.
Gnaraloo is located on the Ningaloo reef, so delivers incredible snorkelling right off the beach, and tropical fish that seem adorably curious. A Sergeant fish would swim to shore and meet me every time I waded out, so I decided to sit quietly and let it come closer. Sure enough, it boldly surged forward, but its tiny sharp teeth were no match for my weathered shin. From that point on, I swear it sought me out across the reef, navigating via my sonic-borne fear.
Turns out I should be more worried about the 3 metre saltwater crocodile (they are the ones with no sense of humour) that paddled into Pelican Point at Waroora, just up the coast, a couple of days before, and made himself visible 15 metres from shore. After an hour at Gnaraloo Bay, W furnished me with the additional fact that a 4 metre saltie did a little snorkelling himself at home in, why, THIS very lagoon in 2009.
Gnaraloo is popular with impossibly good looking 20 year old surfers who could care less, with minimal possessions, happy to survive on cold beans straight from the tin, cereal, and cold beer. Uniformly tan, bleached hair in a way no salon could create, and gifted with a greater-than-average incidence of striking blue eyes framed in ridiculously long eyelashes, conspiracy theorists could conclude there is a covert breeding program afoot. You could think I want to be with them, but to be honest, my interest stems from wanting to BE them.
The other over-represented crowd are the 40 year old surfers, now driving Range Rovers, towing $40k tricked-up 4WD camper-trailers, a pretty, fit, yet frowning wife, a minimum of two children under 10 and their bikes, a black and white working dog, industrial shade structure, multiple surf boards, kite-surfer, surf ski, canoe, stand up paddle board, and dozens of Corona’s and lemons. From this crowd I only want one thing. That wonder of a camper; all pullout draws, tables, and racks of happiness. And maybe the custom-shaped mesh ground sheet. And maybe their dog. But not the poor dog that got a bit bitey. He got locked in the car while the enraged owner packed up the circus first, herded the family, then drove doggie to the house of Green Dreams and a one-way ticket to the leads-off park in the sky.
3 Mile Camp gives me the overall impression it has been a holiday spot for those in the know, and local families and their descendants, for decades, and what an amazing place to spend childhood holidays. Outsiders are welcome…just don’t book their favourite camp-site!
OK. So to be clear, this is not glamping. I am not talking about permanent ‘safari/eco’ tents with their own ensuite and solid floor. There is no restaurant to nip down to for sous vide duck with a side of beetroot carpaccio and mustard cress. No. This is advice for Princesses with not so much as a powerpoint for the GHD.
Back to sleep. You will need a lot of it to cope with the absence of clean surfaces. You wont get a lot of it due to loose canvas, loose international backpackers next door, or foxes making off with the booty from the rubbish bag you left on the ground. Luckily you have all day to catch up, so it works out.
Buy the best mattress you can justify for the space, a pure cotton fitted mattress protector, and sacrifice one set of Egyptian white cotton sheets. This set will be sacrificed because the red dust takes a permanent liking to those perfect tiny fibres, but the sight of a glowing white sheet when all around is matt with dust will bring joy every time you flap it to dislodge wind-borne detritus.
If you sleep in a camper trailer on the trailer bit, on a windy night, welcome to middle earth, where seismic plates continually roll and shift. Imagine you are at sea like Pi with a Bengal tiger, and you will make land eventually. If you are in a double swag, sleep with your head out in the open to avoid your swag-mates emissions, and enjoy the stars. The dingoes may sniff, but they won’t bite. The force-field of limited edition Le Labo perfume will mask anything they deem edible.
If your ears are generous enough to cater for ear-plugs, wear them. Rejoice! My shell-like extrusions fail to maintain a grip on any brand or type. Wear your holistic silk eye mask if you want to miss the sunrise, but know that sunrises away from city lights are magical.
Pack a star guide, the old-fashioned printed kind, or download one for your ipad that doesn’t require coverage, and enough charge to last your stay. Find Scorpio, the Southern Cross, learn new star signs every night. Before you know it, you will be cursing the moon because it prevents you locating Huxtable Quattro 19-641Z.
Keep a BPA-free or stainless steel water bottle within reach. You will be unfeasibly parched at 1am from enjoying sun-downers and that ill-advised 16 year Scapa night cap.
By now you will be entertaining romantic notions of doing this again.
If you are arriving at a Karratha campground, it is 42 degrees, windless, there are only a tiny scattering of caravans, no tents, and the washing lines are flapping with hi-vis, do not engage grey matter. Put your game face on, your swimsuit, and some clothes on top you will never want to wear again. Avoid discussion with fellow tent/camper erector/Sergeant, and just hook in, Private. Follow the drill as rehearsed at home and know it will soon be over.
Try not to test botox effectiveness at neighbouring campers orientated toward your site with fully engaged stubby holders dwarfed by the massive digits gripping them. Think about what colour you will paint your nails when this is all over. Lincoln Park After Dark? Bubble Bath? Big Apple Red? Indian Ocean? Orange-Utan? Back to task.
Appreciate the pore clearing that is occurring as sweat drips inelegantly from the end of your nose every time you look down to adjust a pole while keeping the canvas taught. It is Bikram yoga without the aroma.
Unfurl camping chair and orientate toward other campers. Grasp glass of chilled NZ Sav Plonk with frozen grapes for extra chill and down as if your life (ok, relationship) depended on it. It actually does. For if you do not do this, your body would independently find its way into your vehicle and drive with the aircon on Lo until the fuel ran out.
Wash hands with $35 Aesop liquid soap or equivalent. Find cold water source to immerse in. Pool, ocean or shower. Put on clean outfit that would not look out of place in LV luggage on safari in the 1940s. Have another chilled beverage. You can now speak to fellow camper.
CONGRATULATIONS! You are officially roughing it. You will redefine this lifestyle genre.
Sandy Cape is a brilliant camp spot north of Jurien Bay in WA. The basic offerings of a long drop loo satisfies the fisher crowd that pack into the pretty bay.
We were staying here because I kept reading about swimming with sea lions at Jurien Bay and Green Head, and ever alert for opportunities to commune with sea-life decided this was an excellent gift for W.
The boat we were to board was called Hang Ten (something like that), prompting warm memories of childhood surf labels. A multi-purpose vessel catering to fishing, diving, and in the off hours, sea lions tours. She had earnt the paint job she appeared to have been stripped for. Pounding through the swell it didn’t seem optimal conditions for such a trip, but Hang Ten was solid as a rock and the ten young people of varying nationality that boarded with slabs of condensating stubbies were in high spirits. The french girl whose thong bikini afforded no comfort against the metal seating bounced from spot to spot. The rock climbing Irish lad swung from the roof on single fingers. And before we knew it we were at the sea-lion island. A relaxed colony onshore were about to have their peace broken. Smacking fins together, a crew member wandered up and down the shore encouraging the resting mammals into the water for the eager punters bobbing about in the water. 30 minutes on and the performing sea lions retired back on shore, save for one teenage male that the older males prevented making land. Six of us chased him about, in between looking back to the boat for any sea lion sightings that the crew member on the bow would point out with her roll-yer-own.
Back on board the wiry Irish guy had succumbed to sea sickness and lay ashen in the corner. The thong was doing the rounds, up and down the stairs to the bridge, and beers were getting warm. Irish downed a warm one, and like a miracle was up and doing one handed chin-ups to the delight of the crowd. A lovely Irish girl shared the rest of her six pack, and tea and muffins headed off greying pallor.
As the sun settled back at camp, it became apparent that the tree we were camped next to was the midnight pee spot for all the men that had gone before. The malodorous waft of the PeeTree gathered under the camper annex and took residence in my nostrils, departing only once we had achieved a distance of 5km.
Entering Carnarvon, we took a spin of the main street. Rain had fallen freshening up the place and inviting me to open my car window and get a lungful of bracing salty air. Quelle Horreur! The PeeTree had hitch hiked its way to Carnarvon! Urea rose from the pavement the length of the main shopping area. Surrounded by banana plantations, mango orchards, and the evidence of fantastic fruit and vege supplies when in season, I am at a loss to understand Carnarvon. Boasting an award winning Aboriginal Cultural Centre, an active and enthusiastic local council, friendly locals and bounty from land and sea, the cafes offer roadhouse food, and the marina restaurant entices with chicken and lamb curry. I thank my innate talent for sticking with something long after wisdom would indicate. I knew the BBQ set, novelty cheese knives, and Lewis Carroll talking book I had discovered on sale at the Post Office for W were making for a memorable day for him, but I wanted more. And there it was. Shining like a yellow beam of happiness, a fantastic omelette at the shopping centre coffee shop restored plummeting blood sugar and humour.779
The Bungle Bungle National Park is one of those places I’ve saved up. It hasn’t been on the way anywhere, and was part of the decision to take the route we did back to Perth. I envisaged much photography, angles, light changes, vistas, dawns and dusks. You know where this is going. We arrived at the entrance to the National Park, and barely slowing to 40 to dump the trailer, hit the dusty trail to the Bungle Bungle World Heritage rock formation, Purnululu. A brain rattling 90 minutes later we met sunset at the park. At these times it is a blessing W sets an 8km walking pace. We had 60 minutes of daylight left and about 8km of trails to walk. Breaking into a breathy jog, I kept pace with the diminishing sherpa who had the camera and the keys, certain my brain was now pinballing around my skull with every footfall.
I admit right here that that was all the time we gave the Bungles. Even as I look back now I think perhaps the heat got to me. Maybe I need to return.
Meanwhile, the driver fidgeted, revved, and Broome called.
I love spinifex. Its ability to grow in rock, without water, to bounce back when flattened by fire. For such a soft looking plant, it is strikingly spikey. Between Purnululu and Broome I plotted to introduce a mass planting to our home garden. If anything could make a home between concrete tiles and arid sandiness, spinifex would be it.
On the approach to Broome I once again discovered the paucity of available campground sites in NT campgrounds. Thundering past a newly established place 20 minutes out of Broome, I ordered the unthinkable. A u-turn. Brand new, modern, groovy, ablutions, kilometres of washing line, neighbours far enough away to be spared their symphony, and a communal fire-pit surrounded by generous characters offering education and home-made liquor (I learnt the difference between a bourbon and a scotch was simply the ‘flavour’ you add), made Broome’s Gateway unforgettable. And then we went one better.
We can thank friends living in Broome for recommending one of the best tours I have done hands down: Greg Quickes Astro Tour. I don’t hitch my wagon to tours as a rule, but this rocked. It wasn’t quite dusk as we enthusiastically make our way to a spot near a quarry a few KMs out of Broome. Luckily Greg had spotted Saturn and peering into the telescope, I saw what appeared to be a cut-out of Saturn. Checking the outside of the lens for a sticker, I looked again. Back to Greg. Back to the telescope. And here is where my artistic brain strains to wrap around the idea that the sky is blue but in the telescope it is black. I blame the 4WD brain air hockey. As other people arrived for the tour, they took turns peering at Saturn. Without fail, every person looked. Pulled back. Asked if it was sticker. Looked again. And the tour began. Multi-coloured jewels, millions of stars filling the viewfinder, navigating south by the southern cross, the Milky Way. No horoscope sign omitted, no question left unanswered. As the mercury plummeted to an eerie 14, (Broome was still 26) coats appeared and hot chocolate administered, I realised the best tour we had done hadn’t actually moved from one spot. Do it.