A chronicle in 5 parts about traveling through Australia.
And then we actually reached the Indian Ocean.
Western Australia: White beaches, wide, clean, empty, and remote.
Beaches of the west coast south of Broome.
* * *
Going south again, the more moderate latitudes announced themselves very gently. It gets cooler, especially at night.
The first messengers of milder climate were flowers, sometimes vast carpets of wildflowers in flashy bright almost kitschy colors. They seem to sprout out of the red, dead sand everywhere. One night we unexpectedly came across such a meadow of wildflowers and only smelled them at first. A flash flood of emotions swept through us from this fragrance. We danced in the night under the flickering stars and didn’t quite know what happened to us.
One day we found this unusual beach. Made up not of sand, not a single pebble of sand as far as you can look, but shells, nothing but whole, completely undamaged shells.
It creaks under your feet like frozen snow when you walk on it.
… and to rummage in it is a tactile delight.
* * *
At Cape Range, at the most western corner of Australia we were reminded of our second home in Baja California, Mexico. The Exmouth Gulf on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other give this peninsula a quite similar Baja feeling. There are the most beautiful coral banks just a stone’s throw off the beach. We camped there less than 30 m away from the first magnificent healthy coral dwellings.
At Cape Range and even more in Shark Bay the Dolphins are almost tame. They come very close to shore. At Monkey Mia you can actually touch them. The skin feels soft like silk, different to scaly fish and different to fish skin outside of water.
* * *
The Pinnacles just north of Perth were another wonderful stopover. A forest of thin rock needles up to 30 feet tall, embedded in a sea of golden fine sand. Like a vast crowd of human statues, solidified to stone.
One could endlessly inquire how these spires came about. Or one can just see them, touch them, experience them and take that as the only reality that matters.
They have all somehow emerged from these softly swaying sand dunes, became these objects, and are worked on now, gnawed away by wind and weather. Born out of sand and blown back to sand again, a moment in the eternity of change.
We spent unforgettable nights there under a full moon and keep that as a treasure in our memory.
* * *
A few days later we stood on a seawall far out in the ocean and looked back on Perth in the distance or rather at Fremantle, the port of Perth with all the piers, cranes, and ships. As another big ship was slowly moving out and gaining the open ocean for the long journey toward Africa, Asia, or Europe I thought back to when I arrived here and left again 23 years ago on my ship MS-Regenstein. A barely 19 years old sailor apprentice, escaped for the first time from the mills of society and those social drawers waiting to swallow me. (click here for this story) The Regenstein will have been wrecked long ago, I thought. These kinds of loose-cargo freighters tramping from port to port with docking-times longer than travel-times don’t exist anymore. The new monstrous floating crates (container ships) loaded over their heads with boxes hardly have the old spirit of adventure anymore. However, the sea breeze is still the same…
In fact, exactly another 23 years have passed again now as I punch these lines into my computer on yet another continent with so many other things in my mind. What a miracle it all is!!!
South of Perth the land changes, it’s as if one is back in Europe. Landscapes like in the Bretagne or in England. Many roads, traffic, people, agriculture, juicy green meadows, dairy cows, and forests at last.
In the Karri Forests we bicycled around between majestic straight and tall Eucalyptus giants.
Other strange, beautiful plants in this cool environment.
And there were clouds again; we had almost forgotten what that is. And then even rain, precious delicious rain.
* * *
A side trip into the Australian wheat belt revealed yet another totally different version of this continent: Empty, utilized land with scattered white grain silos; groomed, cultivated countryside.
There we visited yet another prank of Nature: Wave Rock, the petrified surf wave. It is part of extremely old rock matter (2,7 billion years old), which has eroded in such an odd way that it represents a huge ocean wave that is just about to break and tumble over; 15 m high, 100 m long.
The shape of the wave front creates an amazing amplifying acoustic effect when you stand right in front of it. Any sound gets dramatically intensified, and you hear the echo of the wind in the bush behind as truly humongous roaring surf.
Hugely exaggerated accordingly, like a water fall, was the noise when I peed down from the rim.
* * *
We checked out some interesting caves in this region and “rounded” Cape Leeuwin, the south-westerly edge of the continent. Around the corner, eastbound again, it rapidly gets kind of lonely again.
This is the wine country of Australia. Snow-white protected beaches, magnificent cliffs, real mountains, rivers, and dense forests. Denmark, Albany, Walpole, at the time we could imagine to live there. Now, in winter, a nice fire-place would be necessary there to drive out the morning and evening chill.
* * *
Back on the coast again we came to Esperance. A dream of a site for a town. The French have founded it. Anyone who’s come as far as here is bound to be a bit burned out by superlatives as far as beautiful coasts are concerned, but we couldn’t help to be awestruck again. The surf of the Southern Ocean here is breathtaking.
This is Lucky Bay, east of Cape le Grande, on a cul-de-sac where you can forget about the rest of the world entirely.
We stayed there in wild solitude for a few days, feeling the end of this Australian journey coming.
* * *
When you set out east from Norseman there is almost 2000 km of utter emptiness in front of you before something like civilization is gained again: the great Nullarbor Plain. In a rather clumsy latinization ‘null arbor‘ means: no tree. Nobody would deny that this is an adequate characterization of this region. However, after seeing all the rest of Australia, which mostly really is at least as treeless as this, I find the name not very descriptive. But vast, desolate, and empty it is and beautiful in its simplicity.
The road is straight like a gun barrel for almost 2000 km.
At first this road leads for at least two days through thin open bush, which reminds me very much of African savanna. In the ghostly thin fog at daybreak thousands of spider webs become visible, the glittering pearl strings of tiny water droplets sparkling with all the colors of the rainbow.
The coast is again very unusual: the map of Australia cut out with a jigsaw, cut out like a cookie on a cookie sheet. Although always very close to the water the road hardly ever really touches it, however, we took our time to see the “end of Australia” there: be sure to click for: Celebrating a Place.
Somewhere on this endless god-forsaken coastline is a place called Eucla, a historical telegraph station of once world-wide significance. Run over by technical progress, grown useless and forgotten long ago, it appears today to be a symbol of dignified renaturalization of human endeavors to conquer the world. All that remains are fragments of a desperate little building, almost completely covered by white picturesque sand dunes. A structure rudely fitted and put together with locally broken natural stones but of striking genuine totally unintended beauty, which somehow obviously emerges from the powerful context with the embracing sand. A dramatically beautiful image of heroic failure or gentle harmonious triumph depending on how you like to look at it.
It’s 170 years ago that Eyre came by here as the first white man. Then, not before the 1950s, a somehow passable dirt track was built, but it was only 1976 when the paving of this road was completed.
Such a historical pattern is actually quite typical for the development of Australia. We heard of a man who had surveyed and blazed the very first tracks all across the empty center of this country in the late 50s and early 60s (actually to provide access to test sites for the British nuclear bomb). Today, just only recently retired, he takes his family for joy rides on “his” roads. That’s how young Australia is!
We learned about this in a nice radio show there: “Australia All Over”, ABC, nationwide, (it’s still on: http://www.abc.net.au/australiaallover/listen.htm), where Australian identity is celebrated and cultivated. People tell their stories there who built this country from scratch in their own youth. (By the way, unknown to me, Terry, a friend in Sydney had sent some of my original letters, on which all this is based, to this program, and I was flabbergasted to hear them read one day and noticing that they are mine).
Well, everything comes to an end. We reached Port Augusta on the other side; we checked out the “artificial” city of Canberra, the capital, and still a lot more and finally after about a year made it back to Sydney. We could stay with friends this time, which helped a lot when putting out an ad for selling our bus. It was easy to sell it – people were ready to come all the way from Brisbane and Melbourne to buy it – and we even made money on it.
While waiting for things to happen we offered to put tiles on the porch of our friends – we had enough experience from our own house-building stints.
On the flight home we were lucky too. Because of a strike that was canceled in the last moment the plane was almost completely empty. We had entire rows of seats to lie down on and could sleep like babies during the whole trip.
We didn’t know anymore where home really was; in America our green “Bello“was waiting for action, but there was still unfinished business waiting in Germany, too.
Klaus April 2012