Orphan Christmas – road trip to Monkey Mia

Kangaroo sign (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Last year, about a week before Christmas I was wondering whether I would make it home to my family in Somerset, they had predicted snow and I had a long drive from London ahead of me. This year could not of have anymore different, one week to go again and here I am dodging the sharks, snakes and spiders (though they are Christmas spiders) with a tan that makes me look like I am still wearing a t-shirt when I am not wearing a t-shirt! It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas even if a jolly fat man in red keeps popping up during the ad break. Surreal, yes, simultaneously turning the channel to watch the start of a snow-covered Christmas flick whilst reaching for the air-con remote to take the edge off by a couple of degrees. Surreal is a word I have used a lot.

The break was however a perfect opportunity to get out and see more of Western Australia, so far limited to Perth’s shocking public transport network. Myself and my girlfriend Steph had recently collected enough money to buy us an aging station wagon, typical of Australia, so together with our housemate Holly, we planned a road trip up north to Monkey Mia, famous for its Dolphins and crystal clear waters. Breaking up the 2000km trip with stop off’s in the small fishing town of Dongara and a couple of nights in the slightly more touristy Kalbarri, hugging coast the entire way. I started to populate an awesome playlist immediately.

Man fishing on the beach at Dongara, Western Australia (Philip Hill)

In Australia the road is long, straight, and being honest fairly featureless, in places stretching into infinity, a sea of mirages lining the road in front of us, reducing my confidence when determining if I can overtake a slow-moving road-train struggling up the inclines only to then get stuck behind three cars towing a caravan, boat, and a jet ski: “do you think that is a convoy of tow-ers, or two tow-ers behind a slower tow-er?” a typical road trip topic that usually jumps from idle gossip to deep philosophical conversation.

Dongara is 3½ hours drive from Perth and marketed as the ‘Yabbie’ (rock lobster) capital of Australia, unfortunately it was only a stop off for that night. Having the car meant we could bring a tent and managed to get a spot at the ‘Ocean Spray’ campsite which has these fantastic personal toilet/shower porta-cabin esque units on each camping pitch. The equivalent of an on suite toilet for camping, or like staying in a caravan but you have to bring your own bedroom. A quick walk to the beach to watch the sun set, a big plus for the western half of this continent, lined with fishermen, many having landed good sized fish too.

Red bluff, Kalbarri, Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Travelling with Girls

If it was just me on my own I would probably shuffle off to the showers with nothing more than a bar of soap and a towel; however, I was with girls, and they had converted a ‘Liquor Land’ wine carrier bag into a mobile toiletry cupboard, which included an industrial sized shampoo and conditioner, any situation catered for. Walking into the gents shower block at the campsite solely occupied by the Australian male and placing the bag on the sink was met with a few raised eyebrows.

Red bluff, Kalbarri, Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Next morning it was a quick turnaround, back on the road towards Kalbarri. Situated on the mouth of the Murchison river in the mid-west region of Western Australia and 592km north of Perth, named after an Aboriginal man from the Murchison tribe, now it is a town set up for tourism, although not busy, nowhere really is, we were told this was peak season however at no point on the trip had we felt the summer rush of holiday makers.

One of the main draws of Kalbarri are the river gorges, 30 km inland inside the Kalbarri National Park, it is a walking track displaying rock formations including ‘Natures Window’ with views of the Murchison and vast spans of the countryside. Left off the sign posts pointing you towards it however is how hot the place gets when the sun hits; it was so hot that my eye brows stopped working! I could have been mistaken for crying, any water I drank passed straight through by way of osmosis, it was crazy hot, go there early and take lots of water. Kalbarri also has a great collection of beaches and cliff top views, I recommend Red Bluff, perfect for sun-setting and generally taking it all in. Apparently the waters here are surprisingly light on all the normal nasties that inhabit the waters of Australia.

Pelican on the beach at Monkey Mia, Western Australia. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

New Years Eve

Monkey Mia imported the very best of Butlins for the end of year celebrations, in the form of a husband and wife double act and their matching guitar print shirts, he was doing his best Hank Marvin impression on the guitar and she was lobbying for the return of the eighties perm down the microphone, backed up by the reassuring sound of a Casio synthesiser track. A few drink’s into their set though we were well away, brilliant set of pre 90’s songs, The whole bar was up and dancing as all people from around Australia celebrated New Year as their respective time zones ticked over to mid night.

Shell Beach in Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

12:30am came and it was as if the power was cut, the night at the bar was over, rules are so strictly adhered to in Australia that not even the start of 2012 lasted more than half an hour. We stumbled to the beach instead which was already full of backpackers, maybe it was the drink (and it probably was) but I must have lost around 2-3 hours chatting to strangers on that beach, it feel like it was that long. Quickly making friends by handing out sparklers that Steph had brought along, drunkenly warning people  “careful, you can weld with that” reminded of all those bonfire night ads with the kids that didn’t wear gloves.

Just as I was talking to a French backpacker about how lazy English speakers are when it comes to foreign language (in English), a voice from out of the darkness bekoning me over to the waterline, it was Steph and housemate Holly, in the sea, and drinking a red wine and saltwater cocktail as the waves washed over their glasses, I quickly followed suit, as you do, not stopping to wonder if sharks hunt at night. I was never to see my flip-flops again after that night, a small point to make but the fact is I had not worn shoes in over two months; my feet felt liberated, aerated and unwilling to once again be contained inside a pair of canvas trainers.

Pink salt lake in Western Australia (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

On the road back to Perth we decided to follow the ‘Indian Ocean Drive’ overlooking the intensely blue and stunning Indian ocean, removing much of the post holiday blues as we bee lined our way back.

Passing by a sign for coronation beach, must be an Australian summer holiday version of the classic Northern UK street soap,

“How does that theme go?” – Steph humming what she thinks it is,

“No, that’s not it that’s Jurassic Park” – I replied

“Really? What is it then?”

“I couldn’t even tell you what Eaststenders sounds like anymore” – We both then splurt out the Eastenders Climatic “Dooo Doo Do do do do do”

“Well I know how Neighbours goes”

“That’s because it’s words”

Surprising how you pass the time on a long drive.

Seaweed found on the beach at Monkey Mia, Western Australia. (Philip Hill/Phil Hill)

Last Morning

Fatigue set in, the plan was to get as far back to Perth as possible, pulling into Cervantes before the final push. Instead we ended up 160km short and back in Dongara, it wasn’t late but never a good idea to drive at twilight in Australia. Those yellow diamond-shaped sign posts aren’t just for tourists, most of the wildlife here could make a pretty big mess of a car and its occupants, not to mention the unfortunate marsupial that strayed across its path.

Round the corner from the last night’s campsite, down a short road to the beach, was a small café called the ‘The Little Starfish’ which, proudly announced  ‘featured in The Lonely Planet’. We sat there looking out at the surf and had a nice breakfast with my new favourite coffee, a flat white. Conversation of the Morning was not really a road trip one, more of an Australian Obsession: sharks, snakes and spiders. Today it was sharks, “Do you think when the shark siren sounds (on the beach) that it’s just a shark or an actual great white?” Sharks have a bad reputation as it happens, only four species out of the shark family have recorded attacks on humans, and we aren’t even that tasty to the ones that do, unfortunately when they have a taste it’s usually fatal for us.

I hate getting back from a really good trip, having to wash and sort through all my stuff, not for me. Technically Perth isn’t the end of the road so I am still managing to stave of the post trip blues, looking forward to the next one, thinking Perth to Melbourne or Perth to Darwin…