What do you need in a massive land to explore the vastness, distances and unknown cities and landscapes? There are several factors you need to be aware of in travelling Western Australia: wind, waves, lonely beaches, rough coastlines … you’d better take a caravan van with 4WD, an adventurous and willing travel mate on your passenger’s seat, several sports equipment like kites, wetsuits, snorkel & masks and surfboards. Good music is as essential as cameras, open ears and eyes!
On 04.05.2008 an empty 4WD-Mitsubishi L300 at Hamilton Hill (Perth, Western Australia) was ready to pick up the trusty travel mates Mathias Wichmann and Nikolaus Seiler. After a short time the van was packed with luggage and we could take off. Our master plan was to explore the southern coastline of Western Australia from Margaret River, Denmark, Albany to Esperance. After a long shopping tour to get all the food and water, which filled the last gap under the roof of the van, we hit the road. We had known the wind, the little swell and beautiful city beaches but the area around Margaret River is world famous for its massive peeling waves and its rough treatment of its water sportsmen. We went into what was for us unknown terrain.
Only 200 kilometres further south the countryside changed completely. The dry, little grown vegetation of Perth’s wannabe Outback became greener and hillier with more wild life and therefore more interest. The area around Margaret River is basically a massive peninsula. A big landmass extends from the mainland, interjecting the ocean and must face the rough weather and waves coming from the sea. Our first stop was in the little spot called “Eagle Bay” near Dunsborough. You need a little time to get the groove into the van. Where to put the stuff in the back of the car, when you want to cook? How much food fits into the fridge? Where are the maps? Have we taken a compass with us? Who cooks? And we haven’t got any surfboards yet! Everything can be managed and we got into the right mood for the journey due to the self-made sprit of Mathias’ housemates!
We arrived in the pro-land: From Cape Naturaliste onwards, the coastline faces the open Indian Ocean and gets involved with all the power the waves have. From now on we knew, why there are held surf contests continuously and why beach breaks are the better and healthier option for us and noticed the caution of reef breaks. After having bought a map with all the surf spots of Margaret River, we decided to pound the coastline to find the perfect wave and saw ourselves already ripping the waves hard. Our wish to have our own boards under our feet increased; and so it was inevitable that we buy such boards. Actually, our travel budget hadn’t planned to buy boards but then we just had to live off 3 minute noodles!
No sooner said than done: we drove back to Dunsborough to a little board dealer we trusted in and bought two beautiful retro looking boards. Well then. We didn’t know the first thing about surfing. Catch sight of the wave, paddle it, jump on the board and here we go. The next beach break were ours! And that one was in Yallingup. Simply the drive into the quiet country town is a sight. You put the gear into neutral and let it roll downhill. There is a huge bay which appears right in front of you with massive waves with surfer’s on it. These guys surfed beyond a reef – which we cold shouldered. Too risky for the beginning. We went to the beach break further down the shore.
There we were. Big waves pile up in front of you and rumble towards the beach and over our heads. Even the way through the breaker towards the calmer ocean was a fight. When we finally found our perfect spot we were already exhausted because of the paddling. There you wait for your wave. “Can I take this one? Nope … This one destroys me for sure … Better the next one.” You always find an excuse. What a day after all. No one had a clue how to do it, no one could take off, we kissed the beach underwater, we had board leaches tangled around our necks and massive head aches (that developed to a concussion for Mathias) and we were washed a hundred times. Superb exhausting but we came back with a massive smile from the battle. Now we recognised how powerful waves can be and the fact of no escaping gives you a thrill. There’s no kite that drags you out and rescues you. We hadn’t thought about sharks yet. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a surf contest near Prevelly cancelled because of a shark record. Anyway!
For two days we practised for our surfing career and the first success could be seen. We drove further south the coastline along the so called “Cave Road”. As the area consists meanwhile of limestone, numerous caves have formed through the stones over the years. We explored the “Calgardup Cave” near Margaret River through climbing with torches, boots and night shot. “Come in and find out!”
The complete area around Margaret River is a Mecca for surfers, wine lovers and whale watchers. The ca. 130 kilometres from Cape Naturaliste to Port Augusta are full with little bays that are called after the surf breaks or the other way round. Since we went out of the season there were few tourists and our sleeping spots were always empty. The numerous parking spots at beaches or cliffs were always alone and offered awesome options to stay over night. Btw: Except for wave kiting the area of Margaret River is not extremely rich in number of kite spots. Too rough is the coastline, few beaches and plenty massive rocks in the water. The safest spots are “Gas Bay” and Prevelly at the boat ramp.
After six days we arrived at Port Augusta which is the southern peek of the peninsula and is famous for the superb flat water in the river mouth when it blows south easterly. From now on we entered the world of the giant trees. The “Tingle Trees” are the kings of the forests. A sort of eucalyptus that reaches a height of up to 60m to the sky. In the “Walpole-Nonalup National Park”, ca. 240km easterly of Port Augusta, you can climb the wooden towers with help of the “Tree Top Walk”. A ramp goes up to 40m above the ground and leads through the Giants. A rare Adventure!
The search for the perfect wave was more difficult than expected. The few beaches at that coastline where too rocky or had a ankle deep reef. For us to be future surf pros still too risky. But we found the paradise in Denmark. Denmark “Where the forest meets the ocean” is with its 5000 inhabitants a little country town 70 kilometres east of Walpole. In summer and on longer weekends it is a favourite travel destination for Perthians. As we were on the trip out of the season we found a quite beautiful piece of earth. Quickly we found “Ocean Beach” and therefore our new home spot. Immediately, we fell in love with the big bay. A majestic shore surrounds a six kilometres long beach with its awesome beach break. There is a surf club where little kids are raised up to surf. We could learn a lot from them. In the huge inlet right behind the beach we saw ourselves doing our next kite session in flat water.
But the wind had to wait. We wanted to rip the waves. For two days we jumped into the surf. After having a successful surf day we were standing at the beach watching the little kids when a man came to us saying “a lot of shark bait out there!”. We got to know about the shark attack which happened just 40km further east at “Middelton Beach” Albany the day before. A five metre White Pointer attacked a swimmer in the morning and others were attacked by another shark. The wounded man was rescued by a brave woman who dragged him to the shore. The other attacked guys could defend several attacks by hitting the sharks’ noses and eyes. It was said that the sharks followed a group of dolphins into the bay because one of them was injured. Eventually they preferred man flesh.
We wouldn’t call ourselves curious tourists but we wanted see what a shark bay looks like and drove 50km further east to Albany. Albany is with its 35000 inhabitants one of the oldest European established towns in Western Australia. Albany was founded in 1826 – and is therefore three years older than Perth. Long before the European lived there, the Noongar people had gone fishing there in the summertime. They called the land “Kinjarling” – which means “place of rain”. And that is what we found. Back in the days the town lived off Whaling – nowadays off tourism – like so many Australian cities on the coastline. The area is itself completely Australian untypical. Massive grain crops lay between green hills and you rather get the impression of being in Sweden or Norway.
You still could feel how the attack was still in the mind of the city. The beach where it happened was closed and on the covers of the newspapers you could read about the horrible attack with even more horrible pictures. But as the wind knocked on the van, we started to plan under the light of our oil lamp the next kite session. We went to the Department of Western Australian Fishery and asked about the sharks with the hope to get reassurance. This Department was responsible for the search of the sharks in the bay. These sharks hadn’t been seen because of the bad weather so the search was delayed once more. “There are sharks anyway – so it’s your own risk. What is kite-surfing in detail?” So we had a look at the maps and looked for a fantastic spot which we found in the bay next to “Middelton Beach”. Both bays are connected to each other but it is just a little gate where the sharks could enter the bay. And as it was just knee deep we could have run away if we had seen any of them. The session was really good and arms and legs are still where they belong.
From sharks to fish. One point of our master plan was healthy food: Now and than there has to be some self-caught stuff. We didn’t want to fall back on dead kangaroos on the edge of the roads. With the oil lamp on the beach, we chased fish in the moon light right under the Southern Cross. -An experience which everyone should have someday. -When suddenly Mathias’ fishing rod twitched. “Is it seaweed in the waves? Is it a diver?” But the line raced from right to left and out to the sea. After yelling and fighting he pulled a massive Western Australian Salmon to the shore. Well then.. “What to do now.? Where is the batter?” Not there. In the end we took the fishing rod as a batter. After cleaning, washing and skinning the fish we ate it with couscous and fresh veggies. We could live off it for two days.
The week of rain and cold drove us mad. Wet wetties didn’t get dry anymore and a complete drying of the van was not only good for it. Our health would appreciate it, too. Little by little we we’re looking for sun, summer and warm winds. Not to forget that we we’re travelling in the coming Australian winter. while everybody enjoyed the spring on the northern hemisphere we wrapped ourselves into warm whole doonas. Eventually we called a two man meeting. Topic: Is there any point to travel another 500km to see the so said best beaches world wide. But in the rain? The two present guys of the meeting decided against it and went on the way back northwards to start the second part of the trip and therefore into warmer regions. Close before Perth we stopped by at Secret Harbour – which is renowned as the best surf spot of Perth. Whoever has seen Margaret River can’t avoid smirking – but nevertheless we paddled through the waves when the sun set and waved farewell to the south. There is still a lot to see up north.
After we recharged our electronic devices, had been to the local surf spots around Scarborough and Trigg’s, and had discovered the underwater world in Perth’s aquarium, we sat with full bellies and supplies in the van again heading up north. Our first stop was at the Pinnacles at Cervantes, which is about 250 kilometres north of Perth. The sight is, that kind of red stones raise up from yellow sand. They stand there like tin soldiers or meekats ready for their mission when the sun sets. There are a couple of really nice bays in the same National Park. As our hair was blowing in the wind we decided to let our kites in the air and took some waves in “Hangover Bay”. Once more what many kite-boarders wish to have. Don’t think about the right of way because there was simply nobody you had to give way to. In the night we did the name of the bay credits and drank some rum with coke.
Further north leads a beautiful coast road that goes through a couple of fisher’s villages. Meanwhile just crawfish chaser live here and therefore it’s very quite. We followed the road up to Dongara, another fisher’s village, which is well-known by the Western Australians. The popular “Kitestock” event is held up there, where the flying Dutchman Ruben Lenten and the Australian wunderkind Andy Yates have taken part. Mathias has been there as well – and whoever is in Western Australia at summer should not miss it. Superb atmosphere full of tasty food and some good drinks. At nights there is a possibility to move your bones if you haven’t done that enough on the water. As we arrived this time, we were welcomed by a couple of known guys and could rip the last hours of sunlight on the water.
We parked the van at the “Seven Mile Beach” to give it a rest 14km north of Dongara. Stay over night is allowed and you have a awesome panorama on the ocean with uncountable crawfish cutters. We tried our fishing-luck but instead of feeding our stomachs with fish we fed the sea with bate. Eventually we had to eat Baked Beans again. The next bigger city you’ll pass is Geraldton. You’ll find everything you might have missed for the last 400km. Several fast food restaurants, internet access and doctors. We didn’t stay too long in the city. Filled the van with petrol and tap water and squeezed the compartments with tasty can food and left the town behind us.
Coronation Beach has become a well-known secret spot by now. 30 years ago windsurfers used to meet there. Nowadays kite-boarders join the group. In summer there are up to 2000 people and in winter not even 20. To be honest: we didn’t know what is so special about that place and why there are so many people coming up there, as we had already seen so many more beautiful beaches. That’s why shouldered Coronation Beach to our left and the trip went on to Horrocks via a pretty small road. A little country town with superb cappuccino in the general store. The side trip is worth it and it is not a real detour as a dirt road heads further to Kalbarri. You’d better be careful on that road and follow the roadside because there are a couple of suicidal kangaroos who jump straight in front of your car.
It had become warmer and the feeling of summer came slowly back into our blood. The days were longer and we stocked up on some sunshine as much as possible. The sun is in the north and anything is upside down here. The further north the warmer – the warmer the less mossies. We didn’t understand that but we liked it as it was. Our trip brought as up to Kalbarri by now. There’s a river of which the mouth is directly in the city and offers an insane flat water playground. You have to launch at the city beach, which ensures you an audience and a quick cold beer at the next tavern. But Kalbarri has much more to be seen. A huge National Park surrounds the city and goes from the coast to far into the landside.
We found spectacular canyons, of which most can be hiked. At the shore you can wander along the coastline for many kilometres and if you’re lucky you can tramp back into town. A must is to have a look at the well-shaped surfers that rip the waves exactly above a reef that becomes visible now and then at Jackson Point. Just a couple of days before there was a surfer who hit the reef with his head and had to be flown to Perth by an helicopter. As a conclusion we sat on shore and ate a can of baked beans – therefore we are professional enough!
We left Kalbarri alone after a couple of days and drove to Lancelin. We discovered the beaches Australian-like with the 4WD van and could take our surfboards out of the van once more. The charming thing about Lancelin is that there’s a kind of headland which separates the beach into flat water and wave section. So you can decide between both. We decided for both flat water and waves. In the background there are massive sand dunes. And everything is attainable from within just 1 ½ hours from Perth.
Little by little we had to get familiar with the idea that we were at the end of our trip. Nik had already sold his van inwardly and even more possessions so as not to step into the extra luggage trap at the airport. We looked into the papers to get to know what the weather was like worldwide. And we cooked the last supplies which had hidden in the darkest corners of the van. We drove down south back to Perth with a couple of detours. And the big city got us back with all the advantages and disadvantages. We were on the road for more than 5 weeks and have seen so many different places, beaches, waves and winds. The two member travel group was totally satisfied and came back at the place of departure with a massive smile, many stories and impressions. If you are willing to take the time and the chance to travel WA, take a vehicle where you can sleep in. There are to many lonely places and beaches, which want to be discovered. Have fun and take it easy.