We half-heartedly searched for rideshares the whole week we were in Broome, but towards the end of the dry season and with cyclone season looming, they were slim pickings. There were, however, a lot of rental relocations, as everyone was trying to move their cars south asap. We finally settled on one of those and found ourselves two travel buddies to share the costs and the driving (ha!).
We had 7 days to get from Broome to Perth, 7×24 hours to cover a minimum of 2,800 kms, not counting the planned detours to visit various national parks and sights along the way. Time was of the essence, so we got up at the crack of dawn, packed our bags and waved goodbye to the Kimberley Klub, before walking to the airport to pick up the car and meet the girls who were supposed to travel with us. We had lofty ambitions of leaving Broome at 10am.
Having arrived at the rental car counter slightly ahead of time, we went ahead and did all the paperwork, got ourselves an upgrade to a vehicle class slightly above clown car and then waited. „There’s a third driver“ we told the Europcar employee, „she’ll be here any minute.“ 15 minutes after the arranged time, we phoned to check whether the girls had got lost along the way, but luckily, no such calamity had befallen them. They were simply still packing their bags and toying with the idea of settling down to a fortifying breakfast to steel themselves for the long walk to the airport, where surely Rydn and I would still be waiting an hour or so later.
This did not bode well for a trip that was going to depend heavily on us sticking to a pretty tight schedule in order to make it to Perth on time. The idea of leaving them behind crossed our mind briefly, but instead we decided to punish them by make them sit in the back seat for the entire journey, with tons of crap, some of it smelly. They never did help with the driving. They did make us sandwiches and entertain us with sing-a-longs, headbanging competitions and made-up games.
The first day was all driving, all day, with a ridiculous stop at a shopping centre in Port Hedland to break the journey. There was an all-important bottle shop, plus a K-Mart for useful supplies like a knife, cooking and snorkelling equipment (me) and funny hats, sunglasses and fashionable shoes (my less practically inclined travel buddies).
We spent the night at a rather bleak roadside rest area and set off early the next morning, for another massive driving day, a short break at Dampier and the late-night arrival at what was to become one of my favourite places in all of Australia.
Cape Range National Park is not only one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, offering an abundance of nature experiences, from curious marsupials hopping all over the place (including out in front of the car, scaring the shit out of me) to sea creatures on the Ningaloo reef and turtles nesting on the beach, it also has excellent camping with some of the friendliest neighbours a bunch of ill-equipped amateur campers could ask for.
The moment we pulled up, totally exhausted after a full day on the road, to be greeted by Neil Diamond blasting from the Party Bus next door, we knew we were in for a fun night. Within minutes the neighbours were over to introduce themselves, ask nosey questions and make fun of our sub-par equipment. Fast forward a few hours and we were miming along to their broomstick karaoke, dancing on tables and being fed dubious-looking liquor, before crashing out at 2 am… only to be woken 10 minutes later by Paul, the turtle whisperer, who assured us that he had spotted a turtle ascending the dunes.
Those who had little fate in the wildlife guiding abilities of a severely inebriated man this late at night passed – and instantly passed out. Only Celine did the right thing, stumbled on down to the beach and was rewarded by Tara the turtle, laying her eggs in the sand for all to see. Her beyond enthusiastic reports over breakfast the next morning had the rest of us kicking ourselves – and swearing to see a nesting turtle before we left Cape Range. We finally did, on the last night, and it was above and beyond anything I could have imagined. The size of the turtle, the duration of the nest-building and egg-laying, which did not get boring once, although it took several hours, the feeling (possibly intensified by several gallons of goon) that we were witnessing something truly momentous… all contributed to a general teariness, which was only partly down to sweet parting sorrow.
I’m pretty sure that by breakfast on the first day, we had already decided to extend our stay at Cape Range. Given the fact that we were already headed down the coast at breakneck speed, this was a risky move. I won’t pretend that we didn’t at least ponder the consequences of accidentally-on purpose writing off the car, or simply not returning to Perth and becoming rental return fugitives, but in the end, we simply decided to scratch other destinations off the list to buy us more time in Coolandia. Our new home was thus christened because, for the first time in weeks, we remembered what being cool – sans air conditioning – felt like. It’s hard to convey the pure joy we felt at putting on jeans and a sweater for the first time in something like a month. It was still hot during the day, but at least we were able to sleep properly at night.
The political structures of Coolandia were in constant flux, but we had a lady mayor and a female president, who ran a pretty tight ship during the day, partied hard at night – and took very good care of us pitiful backpackers at all times. This was my first close encounter with what is commonly known as grey nomads, Australians of a certain age who live on the road for extended periods, travelling the length and breadth of their country in mobile homes that are often better equipped than most people’s actual homes. The aforementioned Party Bus (a converted omnibus) had a bedroom, living room, fully equipped kitchen and bathroom, plus an entertainment centre below deck, featuring a giant BBQ, a full set of patio furniture, high end stereo and flat screen TV (held down by “a bit of velcro” according to its owner). It towed a trailer with a boat, kayaks and bikes, amongst other equipment. It also carried at least one barrel of highly potent moonshine, which we came to regret on several mornings after the night before. In the few days we spent in Coolandia, we were treated to dinner (they called it leftovers, but that was probably just a polite way of saying “We’ve seen the food you eat. We feel sorry for you”), a barbie and several excellent late-night parties by these lovely people who are living the dream – and are more than happy to share it with others.
During the day, we snorkelled on the Ningaloo Reef, which is amazing (I have written about it repeatedly and will not shut up about how great it is, ever), Rydn and I visited a very relaxed five-star beach camp while Celine and Eva hit the slightly less posh beach next door, then Rydn and Eva dived the Exmouth Navy Pier while Celine and I chilled in Exmouth, which is not a pretty town, but a very friendly one. I could happily have spent a full week or two doing more of the same… except, at some stage, we probably would have needed a shower.
There is no fresh water in Cape Range National Park, save for one tap, which we “showered” under once. It wasn’t the most luxurious shower I’ve ever had, but probably the most memorable. We also tried the sprinkler shower in Exmouth, which may or may not have been sewerage-sourced, but felt better than no shower at all. Read: we were happy, but filthy. Nothing an Elegant facial tissue wouldn’t fix, but in the long run it could have become a problem. Hence, once we got back on the road – after really pushing our luck by spending a full four nights in one place – one of the first things on our minds were showers.
In fact, most of our time in beautiful Coral Bay, at the other end of the Ningaloo Reef, was spent in the beach showers. That same day, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn (and all had our picture taken there after spending quite some time discussing what even is the Tropic of Capricorn and is it a big enough deal to warrant stopping). It seems unreal how much we managed to cram into one day, but we ALSO stopped at Point Quobba, famous for the (deathly, apparently) King Waves and Blow Holes, made it to Shark Bay/Monkey Mia, drove 800-odd km and passed the 20,000 km mark all on the day we left Coolandia!
Monkey Mia is a lot closer to Perth and probably a lot better known. It’s certainly more regimented and touristy. After living like total itinerants in our makeshift state of Coolandia, the Monkey Mia resort was a bit of a contrast. From the campsite with all mod cons, to the weirdly organised spectacle of the dolphin feeding, it was all a bit strange. The fact that this young man with his Mr. T haircut and the “everyday I’m muscle’n” singlet was the most entertaining thing about our visit says a lot – either about the place of our state of mind.
Obviously, Shark Bay is absolutely beautiful. There’s stromatolites (the oldest life forms on earth, in case you didn’t know) with a great sense of humour at Hamelin Pool, Shell Beach made of lots and lots of teeny-tiny shells, and of course the usual azure ocean, white beaches and stunning vistas that at this stage, we were totally taking for granted. I’m sure we could have spent a few fantastic days here, but our hearts were still heavy after leaving Coolandia and we had a mere two days left to get to Perth, so onward and southward we went.
Another jam-packed day of driving and stopping for sights along the way followed, another night at a roadside rest area, and then it was time to absolutely give it everything we had to arrive just about on time enough to not be fined.
The sorry mess that spilled out of the car as we screeched in to the rental returns car park in Perth was a sight to behold, especially as it was a monday morning and the airport was crawling with very capable looking people in suits or pencil skirts wheeling tidy little suitcases. Behold, the luggage of four people who have been all but living in a car for a week:
Things that we McGyvered (used for purposes they were not intended for)
The fruit and veg scissors:
Scissors are basically two knives tied together, right? So why buy both?
The water tank esky:
Drink all the water, fill it up with ice, chill your beverages in (no) style.
The bottle top wine glass:
We should have known that the three styrofoam cups we were sharing wouldn’t last long, but cut the top off a coke bottle and – hey presto – instant wine glass!
The bottle base goon chalice:
Why waste the other half of that bottle you just decapitated? You might as well turn it into a damn fine goon chalice.
The toad in the hole bracelet (French borrowed from Dampier beach, to boot):
Just happens to be the perfect size for cutting a hole in a slice of toast big enough to hold a fried egg. On a camping trip, fried egg breakfast definitely trumps accessorising.
The wok and cake tin pots:
If pots are too expensive, a wok and a cake tin will do just fine for cooking all sorts of meals.
Ridiculous things we ate
A bag of meat:
The night before we left Coolandia, our neighbours generously offered us the leftovers, which the others politely declined (probably to maintain a semblance of dignity). I decided to bag them, anyway, because you never know… I have never seen a happier face than Celine’s when I revealed that the bag of meat was, in fact, in our possession. Hungover and hungry, the others demolished that bag in no time at all. I had a cheese sandwich instead.
Carrots with mustard:
A very tasty combination.
Tea biscuits with Cadbury’s Philadelphia frosting:
The frosting was on sale, so the recipe pretty mich wrote itself.
Not that ridiculous for the Irish contingent, but a major expansion of the Dutch and Canadian culinary horizons.
Animals we met
Tara the turtle (RIP):
Loved by many, but possibly a little too much by Celine, who may have hugged her to death.
Latecia the turtle (may her eggs hatch and prosper):
We watched this ginormous creature heave herself on to the beach, shovel away sand with her flippers to make a nest and lay her eggs. The whole process took several hours and was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.
We never did find those crocs we were looking for on the beach though…
Fahkin Kevin the kangaroo:
Fahkin Kevin lives near the tap in Cape Range National Park and chats with certain, select campers when they stop to get water. Don’t call him Skippy – his name is Fahkin Kevin. No, not
Kevin – Fahkin Kevin. We thought this story was hilarious when we first heard it. I guess you had to be there.
The tap shower lurking peeping tom emus:
There’s probably no more unnerving animal to be stared at by while you’re trying to have a shower under a tap in the middle of a national park than one with a really long neck, a pointy beak and beady eyes.
Pod the dawdling dolphin:
The dolphins were a bit slow to show up the day we were in Monkey Mia for our (and their) breakfast, but Pod finally showed up for a feed.
The rubber tent snake (unnamed):
A grown man thought it was funny to put a rubber snake in my tent while we were out for the day. It probably was funny when I nearly lost my life because it was real. Seriously, who travels around Australia with a rubber snake in their camper?
Stumpy the Stromatolite:
Stumpy has an excellent sense of humour for someone his age (3.5 billion years old). The signage along the boardwalk is reason enough to visit (see above).
T-shirts I’ve been planning to make
Paul’s Tipsy Turtle Tours
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Inspired by Nature, Fuelled by Moonshine
…printed on a bogan singlet. Any takers?
Other stories I’ve written about Western Australia:
The 2015 Trend Destination Hot List (Number 8)
Ganz Unten: Westaustralien
Diving on the Ningaloo Reef
Sal Salis luxury bushcamp, Ningaloo Reef
Australian Snorkel Spots
Observe turtles on the Ningaloo Reef
Feed the dolphins at Monkey Mia, Western Australia