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Week 2: West Coast

The day before we set off on our mammoth roadtrip up the west coast, we were busy with essential preparations–Sean and I bickering over who owned which headtorch (the camping store had only one remaining $80 model, so we ended up buying the $120 model as well–which came with a snazzy red filter for night-time reading–but we hadn’t decided who was buying what. Or rather, we had, but Sean changed his mind like a big baby and wanted the more expensive one, so eventually I relented), Duncan fitting a pair of speakers in the back of the troopy (4WD Toyota Landcruiser) in a Blue Peter-esque housing, and Laura making a case for packing the gazebo.

All this meant that instead of hitting our 10am departure time, we spent the morning attaching the roof rack before filling the troopy to the brim with food, beer, camping gear, tools, surfboards, spear gun, rucksacks, folding chairs, stoves–all while a tremendous rainstorm lashed down. Then, due to Duncan’s control-freak tendencies , we unpacked the car and packed it again, gaining at least 2 sq. cms of floorspace (that’s not a lot, Sean!).

At this stage I should introduce a couple of the other members of the gang. First, there was Hillary, an English lass who has also settled in Margaret River and is now a keen surfer and all-round outdoor type. And secondly there was Will and Shelley–Laura’s brother and his girlfriend who’d hired a 4WD of their own and bombed up a couple of nights before the rest of us.

Eventually, after a twelve hour drive which included: collecting a bored Sean from Perth airport after he’d dropped off Karen and Max for their flight home three hours earlier; annoying the girls with lots of old-skool gangsta rap and its progressive views on women’s rights; scaring the shit out of Hillary after dark by talking about horror movies like Mothman Prophecies, Blair Witch etc before stopping for comfort breaks in the middle of nowhere and killing the lights–we outran the rain and made it to our stopover.

Trouble was it was two in the morning by this stage, and rather than wake up the majority of the campsite (if you can call the barren patch of rutted land a campsite) seeking a place to pitch our tents, we decided to take the first patch of empty ground we found. It was only the next morning we discovered that the place we’d all bedded down in Dunc and Lau’s big tent doubled up as a camp latrine for those of a less civic minded disposition . . . we got out faster than the English cricket team at the Ashes.

Thanks to our swift start we were able to make good progress, arriving at the dirt track that would take us to Red Bluff around three in the afternoon. The place marked the beginning of our adventure proper, and we enjoyed lunch assembled around the troopy to a backdrop of spectacular explosions of seawater through blowholes in the rock. I also spied a feral cat which was kinda cool. We joined up with Will and Shelley a short time before dusk, having switched to 4WD for the last section of the track.

Pitching the tents, I realised why Sean had chosen Dunc’s coffin-like single man jobby over the cheaper, but more spacious one I had–there was no outer sheet on mine which meant that water would probably come straight in should it rain. Over the week this dirty ruse by Sean backfired as he became increasingly claustrophobic in his abode while I enjoyed rain-free skies in mine. Ha ha!

Having stacks of beer we (as in Sean, Dunc, and me) naturally got wasted, consuming almost half our supply in one night. The alcohol did help to lubricate minds and bodies as we (a) considered how it was even possible to see light from stars that were so far away (the solid angle subtended at the eye must be miniscule), and (b) stumbled off on our first night safari, respectively.

Despite being drunk we still managed to find plenty of wildlife. Sean somehow spotted a blue knob-tailed gecko–a visually stunning lizard with hand like appendages, we spied hundreds of spiders as their red-eyes reflected in our beams, and down near the shore in the rockpools there were dozens of crabs with red mottled shells and purple tinged pincers. Since it was nightime, they didn’t run away, and we had a lot of fun pulling them off the rocks (not easy!) and waving them in each others faces.

The evening then descended into a series of Jackass like bets: I’ll give you ten bucks if you run into that spinifex bush–face first (that it was even considered shows our messed up state of minds; spinifex is the Daddy of nasty grasses). I’ll give you five bucks if you crawl through that dangerously small tunnel that may be hiding all many of deadly creatures. I thought it would be hilarious to turn off my torch and attempt to hide from the other two. The game went something like this:

Sean: Where’s Steve gone?
Dunc: [Sweeps his torch across the brush] There he is.

So excited were we from our trek drunken amble that when we got back, we sat in the middle of the camp and woke everyone up with our nonsense talk. Sorry!

On a second night safari later in the week we also managed to: lose our bearings over two hundred yards; spy a UFO that was variously identified as a car, lighthouse, and rave; find some putrid bones at the vertically-oriented entrance to a small cavern.

As well as having unspoilt landscapes, Red Bluff also has pristine reefs along its coastline, and it was to one of these that, at some ungodly hour, the serious surfers headed the next morning. I got up much later (like 8!), and walked along the rocky shore to join them. With the ocean on one side and the scrub on the other, I felt like the lead character from Fallout 3 walking into the unknown. It made me want to do just that one day–gain some survival skills and head out into the wilderness with only my wits and a small pack.

The particular reef that the surfers (Will, Dunc, Sean, and Hillary) had chosen was located less than fifty metres from the head of the bay, which gave an awesome view of their stunts (still difficult to actually identify anyone except the man-mountain, Will, mind!). Just to underline how fraught with danger the sport is, everyone paddled back injured in some way: Duncan gashed his hand; Will  scraped his feet; Sean hurt his back; and worst of all, Hillary severely sprained her finger that would put her out of action for several days.

A couple of days later when I got up the courage to enter the waters at Tombstones, I learnt first-hand of some of the other dangers.  This was partly due to Duncan’s instructions for getting back in.

“Head straight for the land, then paddle along the shore,” he said, when I asked how I should get back to the small sandy cove that was the entry/exit point to the water.

I set off, confident that as long as I could paddle I’d make it back in. After an hour or so with my attention divided between the wider ocean and its population of great whites (Dunc swore he saw a 3m shark the day before while spear-fishing, and only his shiny new shark shield saved him from a mauling, so I always pointlessly positioned myself a few feet closer to the land than Sean), and the old men on paddle boards who seemed to catch every wave, I finally semi-caught a wave and ended up on the inside. Unlike other areas of life such as politics, corporate wars, and gambling, being on the inside in surfing is not where you want to be. It’s like prison; hard to get out and a danger to your health. Inside means the part of the sea that is closer to the shore than where the waves break. This means to get back out to the line-up you need to paddle through the white-water, duck-diving as you go. If sets of waves come in rapidly and you’re technique isn’t great, you can end up going nowhere.

I didn’t fancy that, so I began swimming in. At about thirty metres from the shore, I started to question Dunc’s advice for getting out as I noticed a reasonably strong current parallel to the coast and in the wrong direction to where I wanted to go. Remembering other “gems” Duncan had given me in the past (e.g. “Yes, Steve. Driving to that girl you have a crush on’s house and hand-delivering your Valentine’s card while I piss my pants in the back of your car is a good idea.”) I ditched his counsel and headed on a direct diagonal. Later I learnt this was a very good move, as the other more experienced surfers were convinced I was going to end up miles down the coast if I carried on the way I was going.

Sharks. Rips. Reefs. What else? Oh, yes, jellyfish. (And all this before you even catch a wave). I even got some indication of how deadly these beautiful creatures can be a few days later when surfing over Nigaloo Reef off Cape Range National Park. The wave were breaking something like half a klick offshore, and part of the marathon paddle out involved swimming through a carpet of red jellyfish. At their peak I’d say there were five per sq. metre. And each one stung; not a lot, but enough to make the cumulative effect painful.

The universal law of karma was quick to get Duncan back btw. One session he took out his diver’s mask and after spotting some circling reef sharks, handed the mask over to me. After spying the sublime, graceful predators I looked up to find a perfect wave rolling in. I caught it pretty good, only to bail moments later–with the mask on my forehead. When I came up mask and surfer were no longer one.

Cape Range was stunning. Gorgeous creeks, diverse and unspoilt reef, private camping spots, and a plenitude of wildlife. Kangaroos, echidna, bustards, rock wallabys (Spot the Wallaby! is a great game to play when looking at a cliff) loggerhead turtles, sting rays, lionfish, octopuses, eels, and numerous varieties of colourful fish. It was a real treat to be there.

It was doubly sad the day we parted company because not only was I leaving such glorious, calming wilderness to spend a truncated night in a shack of a room at a anonymous roadhouse before a seventeen hour coach ride north, I was also leaving great mates and great times. Visions of Sean almost killing both of us on a spur-of-the-moment climb up a simple hill (as we originally thought it) earlier that day as he slipped and nearly tumbled himself and a boulder onto to me below, did however help to ease the pain. If I was going to die, I’d do it off my own back thank-you very much! There was plenty of scope for that in the weeks ahead . . .

Thanks for an awesome time, guys and gals!

3 Responses to “Week 2: West Coast”

  1. sean says:

    aww, you left out the physics lesson about 5 dimensional centrifugal gravity :)

  2. Laura says:

    Fab memories Steve, thanks for a good giggle! Kinda glad you omitted the bovine carcass & abandoned vehicle… gives me the willies still x

  3. Duncan says:

    Great fun. Move to Sydney and we can do it all again next year!

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