West Oz Walkabout, Part 1
Emus, pelicans and new music
Even if the Holy Grail at your destination eludes you, it’s still all about the journey, right? I had plenty of time to ponder this; 11.5 hours, to be precise, driving straight from Coral Bay back down to Perth. I had been in Coral Bay to see the whale sharks, the main reason behind my trip to the west coast. Unfortunately for me, on the day I chose – you may recall, the only day I reserved in advance – none of the giant fish wanted to play, keeping out of site of all the boats and spotter planes on Ningaloo Reef.
A disappointment, for sure. But even with a full day of driving ahead of me, I didn’t allow myself to get too down. I did swim with a massive manta ray, and we spotted a dugong (manatee), bobbing along happily. And there was great snorkeling – although he was a little guy, I saw a tawny nurse shark and tons of colorful fish. I even got to show off that I know a trigger fish’s Hawaiian name (humuhumunukunukuapua’a). Despite being unable to find a whale shark, Coral Bay Adventures (coralbayadventures.com.au) gave us a great day on the water.
Thinking about Hawaii actually helped me with my journey/destination question, too. I had originally gone to Hawaii to learn how to surf. I took a few lessons and went out with friends a few times, but that was pretty much it. It was harder than I thought – I wanted to be good at it right away! – and I never made the commitment to really get it. But I stayed in Hawaii for two and half years and built a whole life that had nothing to do with surfing, and it was a great, fulfilling life. Journey one, destination zero.
So, I’m not letting the hiccup get me down and I’m going to continue enjoying the road. And oh how much road there is: I driven 2813 kilometers so far, with more to go. When I first began the drive up the coast, three simple words came to mind to describe Western Australia: big, flat and empty. For most of the road, the only sign that life ever existed are the kangaroos on the shoulder, victims of trucks in the night. (Happily, since I left before sunrise for the ride back down, I got to see a few of them still alive and hopping.)
The views of the Indian Ocean never get old. Early on my first day, I let out an audible gasp when I unexpectedly caught my first glimpse. I think there’s something about seeing an entirely new ocean for the first time. Combined with realizing that I’m exactly 12 hours ahead of New York, it made me quite aware of the fact that I’m on the complete opposite side of the world from home. And the sunsets over the Indian – they’ve all been crazy orange and spectacular. I’ve sat in a trance every evening watching them, while still acting as a good tourist and snapping a million identical pictures of each.
Despite the distance between each one-road seaside town, each is a cute vacation spot with something to offer. Kalbarri’s claim to fame is the daily pelican feeding in the park. On my way I heard a local murmur to his friend, “the masses are gathering,” but then they moseyed over to watch too. The next day I drove to Monkey Mia, whose daily morning visitors are Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. The regulars, with names like Piccolo and Sunshine, swim right up to where the tourists stand shin deep and put on a nice little show.
These were quick stops compared to the time on the road. I knew what I was getting into planning solo trip, but being in car alone is really something. Especially when no one here seems to have heard of audio books and the radio waves don’t quite stretch from one town to the next. Although when reception is good the radio has been entertaining. The definition of “new music” is a little more relaxed, with stations talking about having all the latest hits and then playing Robyn’s Show Me Love or The Cardigan’s Love Me, two tracks I distinctly remember from the bat mitzvah circuit.
I did spot a couple of emus; talk about an animal with junk in the trunk – I laughed out loud watching the flightless birds run into the bush, their behinds bouncing all over the place. And at least you can move out here in the desert; the speed limit is pretty generous , and in the 2,800 kilometers I drove there wasn’t a single speed trap. In fact, in four days of driving I saw only two cops at all, both times driving in the opposite direction.
I have to admit I was excited to get back to Perth, with people, noise and internet that doesn’t cost $8 an hour. For my “rest day” before heading south, I ferried out to Rottnest Island, so named for the little marsupials the first European took for rats. I’d call them a rat-kangaroo combo: they’re small, like an oversized rat, but they’re cute and hop like a roo. It was a simple, lovely day: I biked around the island, stopping to check out beautiful beaches and enjoy the sun. Locals love it – they call it Perth’s Playground – but luckily it’s low season so it was very quiet.
On the ferry over, I met a fellow solo American. Donald is in his sixties and said he’s in Australia to “ride the rails.” (Australia has a train that run the entire length of the country and one down the center.) A retired teacher and librarian, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and so is traveling as much as his wife allows before the disease takes over. We talked mostly about his travels – he’s been to all seven continents and all 50 states. He’s checked everything off his bucket list, so anything now is icing on the cake. He told me I must get to Africa for a safari. I said hello to his wife in the tape recorder he brings everywhere to play for her later, jogging his memory as he tells her about his trip.
I love hearing about other peoples’ adventures; it always inspires me and makes me feel so small with so much to see. Although it does feel good to realize that I’ve already started my story bank for when I’m older. I hope, like Donald, I never lose my wanderlust.
And so I’m off for the flora portion of my trip: giant trees and grapevines. Time to really connect with nature – one glass at a time!
Read Megan’s last blog: Embarking on a West Oz Walkabout