[Spoiler Alert: this the second and last instalment of my road trip to Exmouth; please read ‘Exmouth Awe, Part 1‘ if you haven’t done so and if you have well thank you and don’t mind this formality of a warning and please continue reading.]
I drove in silence from Monkey Mia in an attempt to mentally preserve and savour the dolphins’ dialogue of clicking and whistling. Then after passing sixteen permanently departed kangaroos, I really wanted to get back to the coastline to see mobile/living/active wildlife. But the town of Carnarvon seemed to continue its greater area’s ghostly theme. Multiple Australians had told me to skip the town and I really would have, but Brute did need fuel and the draw of both the Mile Long Jetty and sweeter Lunch Box Banana was just one too strong for me to resist. As I made my way through the notorious gastro-district town I saw only closed fruit stands. The bananas for sale at the petrol station weren’t confirmed as the local icon. Eventually I did identify one – it was six metres, made from fibreglass, and an advertisement for its actual size and edible self. It was quite frustrating to not find a single banana that supposedly is 4/5 better than QSLD bananas! I gave up on that quest and headed to the entrance of the Mile Long Jetty (that turned out not to be a mile anymore; the last stretch is closed due to safety reasons which I found out on site). I couldn’t manage to walk and look up at the same time since there were a lot of missing or clumsily, haphazardly lodged planks. When I made it to the premature end there was an interesting notice tacked next to the closed sign. It was a warning sign for ‘Happy Moments.’ It warned its readers about a fish, which in true blue Australian manner is named sarcastically. And why wasn’t this warning about a stinging fish posted at the start of the jetty where people are in the water or along the walk where people fish?! I will be honest that upon leaving the jetty I did not put money into the honesty box. I honestly didn’t pay five dollars for that risky, dangerous stretch of my legs. The awe from Monkey Mia had now dissipated and was replaced with worry of joining the kangaroos on the side of the road in an endless slumber. I’ll soon be another causality of Australia’s peculiar wild.
Ten rotting kangaroos later I made it to the humble resort town of Coral Bay, where there was no vacant parking for Brute and I. Using the last bit of the day’s sun I back tracked to Warroora, the alternative caravan/camper friendly beach, and found out it was cash only. Being short two dollars I was immediately turned away by the bogan attendant. With my heart pained, brain irritated, and bladder full I pulled over and peed on the other side of the dune, which was also the backyard of the bogan’s residency. Of course I was thankful to have planned ahead and purchased water to avoid a death by dehydration, but I was a bit happier to have had the opportunity to defile this bogan’s work and home. It was a silent and sterile protest. Brute and I got to Warroora’s exit and that’s where we parked it – right in front of the entrance sign for Warroora. In the morning I made sure to pee once more inside the Warroora property before we went back to Coral Bay because I could for free and it satisfied my soul as well as my bladder.
I went on a sunrise stroll up the beach of Bill’s Bay and soon was wadding around Skeleton Bay. I was thrilled watching the ribbon tailed stingrays racing around the sandbar. Every time I got too close they’d create an underwater sandstorm and scoot a meter or so farther away. I shuffled around the bay enjoying myself until I noticed a dark figure swimming in a curious manner. Shark. It’s a shark. I backed away and quickly made my way to the shore. Skeleton Bay was a nursery for reef sharks and it was on my itinerary for the trip, but I hadn’t realised I reached it already and so the shark spotting took me by surprise. A man on the shore who saw my panic efforts to get ashore offered his hand and pulled me the last few steps to the dry sand. Fred explained to me the mostly harmless nature of Ningaloo’s reef sharks as I internally wondered why Australian men always seemed to have better hair than me – natural ombre and always a perfectly set bun. I took his invitation and accompanied him on his walk to Purdy Point. We talked about travel, life, and of course Burning Man. It is a topic that a majority of Australians bring up. They dream about being ‘Burners.’ Australians froth over anything that can be linked back to Mad Max, their country’s greatest labour into worldwide pop culture. So America is currently now known down under for Drumpf, lack of gun control, and Burning Man. I have never gone to Burning Man and it’s not on my life or festival bucket lists. When we came across a jelly on the beach I got a break from Fred’s what-if scenario of a world instilled with Burning Man’s principles. He scooped the jelly up and started passing it back and forth between his hands. Now the only types of jellyfish I have come into contact with hailed from Texas’ Gulf of Mexico coast and they sting, badly. He noted my astonishment and dismay, naturally a lesson commenced. Apparently there are jellyfish that are simply only jelly. A pastime sport for some Australians is Jelly Cricket – washed up jellies (dying/dead jellyfish without stingers) are thrown at a batter to well…bat at. He tossed the jelly and I caught it with no stinging pain. When we reached Purdy Point Fred got ready for his snorkel and I headed back down the coastline with a slightly adjusted sense of self, one that was more invincible to reef sharks and jellyfish. When the awe peaked from wandering around with the reef sharks I walked back to Bill’s Bay to snorkel a bit before I finally headed to my ultimate destination, Exmouth. While I skipped sun screen I thought I was pretty sharp tying my car key to my bikini (note the documentation of the picture I have from a then live tweet). I admired the underwater Ayer’s Rock (the largest brain coral in the southern hemisphere) and stalked a school of parakeet fish as they made their way around the bay on a coral feeding frenzy. I swam and swam; enjoying the feeling of being submerged under the sea like a mermaid.
I came ashore when thermodynamics began to play a negative part in my snorkel (you know when you loose feeling in your phalanges?). I laid down on the beach for what felt to be a few minutes to dry off. As I got dressed in the parking lot a group of old men started staring. I was not being obscene, so what was attracting their focus…I hustled to get Brute road ready and drove away. When I passed the sixth deceased kangaroo I rolled down the windows as I had started to feel a burning sensation. The whole backside of my body felt like it had actually touched the surface of the sun. I checked the time and pieced together that I had spent hours facing the ocean floor and an additional hour with my face in the sand. I had fallen asleep. My nap was sixty minutes long. I need aloe vera and lots of beer to numb myself. The only open bar: Cadillac’s, an American honky tonk style bar. I was a day and half away by airplane (which let me translate to one hundred and forty four passed away kangaroos) from Texas and there I was drinking an Emu Export (an equivalent to Lone Star and Pabst Blue Ribbon) in a bar decorated completely in a ‘South Will Rise Again’ fashion. The bar is operated by American ex-pats, which saddened me even more…the bar even had the offensive American rebel flag. I watched the Australian Country Music Awards (that had flown in Georgia Line and Jason Aldean as special guests) waiting for the beer take effect on the feeling of my radiating skin. Later in the bathroom I hung my shirt and bra on the stall’s door hook and shorts on the ground around my ankles to lather myself in cooling aloe vera. I was wearing a thick cape of aloe vera when I approached the bar to order dinner and another Emu.
As the sun fell past the horizon of the Indian Ocean I witnessed the first breathing kangaroo on my trip. It jumped straight across the road forcing me to pump Brute’s breaks. I left Brute and her headlights on as I got out and took in Cape Range at twilight. Actual jumping, moving kangaroos were everywhere to be seen. I drove slowly to Yardie Creek to camp for the night all a while I watched the mob of kangaroos in the night.
The nesting season for sea turtles had ended and the hatching season was under way when I visited the park. Also I made it in time for the shooting of feral animals (such as dingos). So I was restricted from a few beaches where sea turtle nests were still suspected and the park’s whole inner gorge. I had to retire my trip goals of seeing baby sea turtles hatching and hiking Shothole and Charles Knife Canyons. The Park Rangers suggested that I snorkel, which my body had more than a enough of the day before, yet with no other options I sported a tank top and athletic pants to be sun ready for Exmouth’s snorkeling hot spots. Oyster Stacks was a bit difficult to manoeuvre with a rocky shore line and the tide dictating the underwater landscape. Contrastingly Turquoise Bay was awe inspiring. I put my mask on and in less than a metre out in thigh deep water I was seeing a full ecosystem. I swam as far out as I could and rode the bay’s current back in floating over the Ningaloo reef. I walked back up the shore to do it all over again until I was shaking from the damn laws of thermodynamics.
Brute and I ventured up to Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, the highest accessible spot in the park, for me to warm up in the sun. My phone received cell service and a message from my boss asking me to cover a shift the day after next. This three sixty view of Western Australia was beautiful and inspired wonderment…I had really ended up here due to a last minute change of plans. Two of my Glendalough flatmates had initiated planning a trip to the southern town of Esperance, but a week before the trip they let me know they couldn’t afford to go. Not wanting to waste my time off from work I threw together a last minute, solo expedition and in the opposite direction to Exmouth. Now at the end of the line for this road trip I was called and tempted back to Perth a day sooner than planned. I sat and weighed my options and settled on going back a day early. The gorge was not opening until after my planned trip, my food supply was running low (my diet for the next two days would be carrots and humus), my whole backside was completely sunburnt, and I longed for a hot water shower. I had drove 1,250 kilometres, seen alive and dead kangaroos (more so the latter), and whole heartedly experienced the Coral Coast and Western Australian Outback. I had found awe in the landscape and in my own journey. I was traveling Australia. What a simple and magnificent awe.