Trip Start Apr 16, 2006
Trip End Apr 15, 2007

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Monday, August 7, 2006

We left Stu's in Mount Hawthorn quite late in the day so by the time we were on the highway south of Perth it was getting dark. The rush hour traffic had passed and along with the high-rise's, malls, housing developments, farms and even road-houses, all signs of life had quickly dried up. Within no time you have said farewell to civilisation and are creeping ever deeper into the expansive void that is the Australian west.

And we were aware of being alone. For the first since we arrived in Oz it was just the two of us and we felt a bit lost, heading towards no where in particular and in search of we did not know what in van we were still getting to know. With Stu's parting words ringing in our ears "Don't drive after dark you guys cos the 'Roos come out after dark, you hit one of them and its good night, God bless" we started to feel quite vulnerable. We considered pulling up to find a campsite for the night but decided to push on to the next available village, Bunbury, a good 2 hours drive away.

As we drove it got dark and the wind started blowing. A gentle breeze at first but as we continued south it quickly grew in strength, developing into strong gusts, hitting our high-sided van and jostling us sideways across the road. We began to fight with the wheel to keep going in a straight line as the buffeting winds became more intense. Soon clusters of leaves appeared out of the blackness and would scuttle across the path of our headlights. Leaves became twigs and twigs became branches. Perhaps 40 minutes after nightfall the drive had become an arcade game of debris dodging and wind wrestling and still the winds increased. Just then out of nowhere a kind of bush appeared, falling into view from high from our right. We had no time to react as the tangle of dislodged shrubbery clobbered us hard mid grille and crunched beneath the engine working its way underneath the motor and eventually spat out the back. We yelled and the van groaned. Alarmed, sweating and suddenly wide awake with adrenalin we had no choice but to take the nearest turn-off and find shelter. Unfortunately this is isn't like home and the next turn off was not for another 50k.

Arriving at Bunbury we found the first available campsite and pulled up (campsites are everywhere over here, Ozzie OAP's are series caravaners and are well catered for). The office was in darkness so with no one to guide us we found ourselves a sheltered spot, climbed between the seats and settled down for our inaugural night's sleep in the back of our van. And it was dreadful. First it was freezing, we both wore jeans, jumpers, hats, kept our socks on and we still shivered. Second it started to rain, torrentially, as if the sky was so full of water it started six inches above the roof of the van. Third, the wind had developed into a raging monster and the van would bounce around on its suspension and shake us awake. And fourth, the noise was ridiculous - the irregular drumming of sheet rain on the vans steel roof and the roaring wind that buffeted the motor and surrounding trees meant we had to virtually shout our concerns at one another to be heard.

At first light we awoke cold, wet (a leaky window seal was discovered), tired, hungry and thoroughly miserable but at least the wind had subsided and the rain stopped. Peering out we saw for the first time where we were, a leafy green camp site generally well organised but this morning strewn with fallen twigs and snapped branches. In silence we started the engine, slowly pulled out of our corner and crept up to the office, which was still in darkness, so exited without having paid. Cool, we thought, first nights digs for free, but we had the feeling that maybe they had known something we didn't.

Back on the highway we zig-zagged through a chicane of obstacles from felled trees and roof tiles. That evening a local newspaper ran on its front page a huge photo of a farming community not 20k from where we had slept which had been totally devastated by what had turned out to be a category 3 tornado. It had blown in from the Indian Ocean and caused havoc when it hit land, the damage estimated at $20million though it emerged that high winds had been predicted for maybe a week so. Yet somehow what with Stu's white wine collection we had missed all word of it.

More cautiously we made our way south. Pausing at the pretty costal town of Bussleton we paid our two dollars and walked along its mile long jetty and watched the waves trundling beneath to harry and annoy the coast line. The wind gusted in our ears and occasionally stole our breath meaning you had to turn your head sideways to breath normally. I laughed to myself, this image a far cry from the shots we had seen in the brochures of Busselton showing a mirror flat ocean against brilliant blue sky with smiling day trippers in shorts paddling and throwing frisbies.

Further on we spent an afternoon in the amazing Ngilgi caves, a rabbit warren of caverns discovered less than 100 years ago by white settlers but known for generations by the native Aborigines. Here we squeezed through gaps in rocks, marvelled at cathedral-like voids and studied the thousands of years old stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (sticking up) and helectites (sticking out sideways and squiggling around like cord screws believe it or not). Apparently these things grow something like one centimetre every one hundred years but are so fragile that a three year old could snap them with the slightest effort. We spared a thought for their insurance company, how on earth do they start to put a premium against that?

Back above ground we headed for the coast and stopped at Yallingup, a secluded collection of homes set upon a picture perfect stretch of coastline. The sun was shining and the evening looked terrific here with monstrous 25-30 foot waves raging into the shore with terrifying force, creating a rough 'n' rugged feel. We wanted a closer look so excitedly left the van and bounded towards the rocks.

As we approached we could hear a faint drumming sound above the wind and waves, helicopter rotors we thought. As we rounded the headland we could see a glut of police cars, ambulances and coast guard vehicles against the bay and two rescue helicopters searching the coastine. One or two locals were on looking. We asked what was going on and it transpired that three American tourists had been walking along the rocks close to the waters edge when a king wave crashed over them, dragging one into the sea. It was believed he had been in the water for about 20 minutes and was now dead and the rescue services were attempting to retrieve the body. However conditions were so bad that they could not lower anyone into the water or send out a boat to get the chap. Unfortunately he was dead and his body was not collected that day, the operation being called off as the light failed. We do not know if the body was found the next day.

Recommendation - this is a beautiful part of the planet, quiet unspoilt, so come see it now.
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