Western Australia: A Road Trip to Rediscovery

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The travel log of two girls on a seven-day adventure brings you the best of Western Australia’s rich heritage.

By Leanora Cole & Esther Yeo

The sun had barely risen.

It was far too early for a pair of millennials to awaken. But we did anyway, for an adventure beckoned.

Each armed only with a duffel bag filled with bare necessities, we loaded swiftly onto an all-terrain van. We were then whisked away on a seven-day trip into the Western Australian outback.

Every encounter on the tour revealed more than just stunning scenery. The state’s aggressive efforts in preserving heritage and protecting native flora and fauna meant that Man’s often disastrous footprints were kept at bay. Plus, we were led by a charming guide, Zane, who constantly fed us with interesting bite-sized facts.

The result? A life-changing experience filled with immaculate landscapes, thriving coasts, and a whole lot of wild stories.

Scattered as far as the eye can see were thousands of ancient limestone pillars made up of shells when the whole desert was beneath the sea millions of years ago. We saw pictures of this place on Instagram, but being there in person was a whole new experience.

Wandering through the towers of petrified minerals, we felt so minute in comparison. The howling wind and yellow sand made the landscape all the more otherworldly and our pictures more surreal.

The Yuart tribe (a Noongar dialectical group) believed that the Pinnacles was a doomed place. We gathered around a scraggly rock to listen to Zane, and with the sky darkening behind him, he sounded almost ominous: “The myth goes, if you weren’t careful and wandered off from your family, you could get lost forever. The spires that reached up through the sand were said to be the figures of those who were still trapped there.”

The atmosphere fell into a strange, palpable eeriness. The group made a quick brisk walk back to the van – no one wanted to be left behind accidentally.

Following another long drive, the bottlenose dolphins at Monkey Mia were a welcome respite. Monkey Mia has a fully-equipped information centre managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. They pride themselves on educating the public on Western Australia’s history through stories of the Aboriginal people and how we can play an active role in preserving marine life.

While tourists can enjoy a close encounter with these wild creatures, the department enforces strict protocol – and rightfully so. This prevents dolphins from becoming over-reliant on human beings when it comes to feeding.

Fun Fact: “Mia” is the Aboriginal term for shelter; eponymous “Monkey” is derived from a boat called “Monkey” that was anchored there when pearling was still a major industry.

What we didn’t know was the fact that Monkey Mia was in emu country. Mobs of emus would run around or alongside our van.

But just like the dolphins, these birds were all “see but no touch”. Their sharp beaks and bad tempers weren’t to be messed with. Our other guide, Mick, once returned from a meet-the-emu session with blood dripping from his finger. Lesson learnt: just admire from afar.

Pulling up to Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth, the highlight of the trip had finally arrived: swimming alongside whale sharks.

Though little is known about the species, whale sharks appear regularly in large numbers every March through September. A spotter plane would fly out to locate them; then at the frantic cues of the crew, we’d plunge into the open sea and chase after the gentle giants.

Eight dives later, both lunch and a true sense of satisfaction filled our bellies and souls. Seasickness threatened to cut our enjoyment short, but we persisted. In the words of our photographer, “When would you ever be able to say that you swam with these elusive creatures?”

By the end of the snorkel trip, we were all fast friends even though we made quite a motley crew: a family with two kids, six people from the Aussie Wanderer Tour, and three Canadians who lost their flag to the deep blue sea.

Our trip back to the coast was no less interesting. It consisted of champagne, sun bathing, and more wildlife spotting: a pod of whales, a dugong and her baby, as well as sea turtles. Western Australia’s unobstructed beauty spoke for itself. The state’s delicate ecosystem demanded respect and the people gave it.

No wonder the locals held Ningaloo so close to their hearts. And now, so did we.

Breezing past the landscape on our long ride back to Perth, we certainly had a lot to think about.

It’s not everyday that we get to learn about Aboriginal culture or immerse ourselves in the entirety of Western Australia’s rich natural heritage. The relationship between the people and the land ran deep and strong.

Watching the trees pass in a blur and the sun filter through the windscreen, we were made slightly introspective and oddly emotional. We may have frequented the down-under many times before but this trip reconnected us with nature in a way that was intrinsically and beautifully Australian.

All images are by Esther Yeo (unless watermarked by diver-photographer Sara Barbieri). Esther was fully equipped by Nikon with the D750 and 24-70mm lens.


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