It’s all about coral reefs and star-filled skies on a road trip through the wilds of Western Australia, says Arnab Nandy
I was following a couple of brilliantly coloured fish along the fringes of Ningaloo reef when I saw the turtle swimming lazily among the coral reefs. It was around 2ft from head to tail and I definitely had to look around for my friend and travelling companion so she could see this impressive creature.
I raised my head and looked all around, though it was tough to see clearly through my snorkel glasses above the water. The girl in the red swimsuit near the shore looked like Kat. “Hey! There’s a turtle here,” I shouted and went back to get another look at the creature.
Suddenly, I found I had been joined by not one, but two girls and I realised the person I’d hollered to in a familiar way wasn’t my friend after all. The stranger had come along anyway and she had brought along a friend.
The three of us swam along with the turtle who looked totally unconcerned — or unaware — of our presence. Once in a while, it would go up to the surface, breathe in some air and swim down again. After a while, we decided it was time to let it go its way. The girls thanked me for showing them the turtle and I didn’t tell them that I’d made a mistake and that it wasn’t really them that I intended to call. It was only then that I saw Kat swimming peacefully some 50m away.
Kat and I were halfway through a road trip through Western Australia and were now at Oyster Stacks, a rocky beach by the Ningaloo Marine Park. While the water and the reef are part of the marine park, the coast along it is in what’s called the Cape Range National Park.
We’d started from Perth some 10 days ago and the plan was to head north up the coast and eventually get to Karijini National Park, which, everyone had told us, was incredible. We had three weeks and we didn’t really want to plan anything more than that. On a typical day, if we wanted to travel, we’d just start driving north. Around 12.30pm or 1.00pm, we’d check out the caravan parks and rest areas within the next 200km or so and stop at one of those for the night. Western Australia is huge and three weeks is certainly not enough to see all of it. But we didn’t want to rush. We wanted to experience the best of the places we were visiting.
That day, we had decided to stay at one of the rest areas inside the national park that night. Our chosen site was the Tully beach rest area, where we reached after a short drive from Oyster Stacks.
This was the off-season for tourism and, as we’d expected, there was no one else at the camp when we got there. The site was quite large with lots of open space, a couple of tables and benches and toilets. We parked our camper van at a convenient spot and realised that we were being observed — a kangaroo was watching us very carefully from behind some bushes. I whipped out my camera and after I’d clicked some pictures of that one, I noticed there were two more behind me. I guess you might get used to kangaroos after some time in Australia, but I was really excited.
After clicking enough pictures, I walked around the site that was surrounded by scattered bushes. We were truly in the middle of nowhere. The beach was couple of minutes’ walk to the west. In the east were some low hills. The road was some distance away. There was not a single artificial light source (apart from of course, our car) that I could see and we had no reception on our phones.
The landscape here was nearly barren and only shrubs grow in this climate. There were no trees and, as a
result, we could see flat, scrubby land till the horizon in every direction. We were completely alone here until later in the evening when two women drove in on a four-wheel drive car and parked at the other end of the rest area.
It had been a tough day and we were hungry after the swim. Almost on our own in the camp we rustled up a dinner of cauliflower, broccoli and cheese pie, a cheese and chicken pie and some passion fruit cheesecake that we had bought from a popular bakery in Coral Bay earlier in the day.
The sun had set, but there was still some light when we opened a bottle of our favourite Australian rum — Bundaburg Red. In a while, the sky looked like an overturned black wok of awesomeness studded with a million dazzling stones. Among other constellations, I could see the Southern Cross, which is the one on the Australian flag.
By this time in our trip, we had got quite used to sitting in the midst of nature and doing nothing. There were evenings when we’d just sit for hours to observe the shapes of clouds and try to figure out what they resembled.
So, once again, we just sat outside our van with the rum in our hands and smiles on our lips, gazing at the haze in the sky that was the Milky Way. The only sound was of crickets. Occasionally, one of the friendly kangaroos would appear from nowhere and give us a start.
But we’d just laugh, shoo it away and continue our stargazing. Everything seemed good with the world.
Drunk with the rum and our proximity to nature, we went to bed around 11pm and dreamed happily of future adventures on the road.
♦ How to get there: One can fly from various airports in India to Perth via Kuala Lumpur (Air Asia, Malaysian Airlines), Bangkok (Thai Airways), Singapore (Singapore Airlines) or Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific). In Perth one can hire a camper van (www.campertravel.com.au) and drive to Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Park
♦ Where to stay: In the camper van!
♦ What to see: In Ningaloo, you can see turtles, humpback whales and manta rays. Oyster Stacks and Turquoise Bay have great snorkelling sites (beware of the sharp rocks). Go Scuba diving at Lighthouse Bay
Photographs by author