During my travels around Australia, two glorious weeks were spent in a camper van; she was the cheapest we could get our hands on, the bumpiest ride ever, yet she got us from A to B and we ended up loving her very much.
It meant we could wake up with breathtaking views on our doorstep every morning. And if that’s not a living the dream, then I don’t know what is.
Only having a two-week time frame with the camper van, this was the only part of my eight-month trip which was set to a strict schedule. We’d carefully sat down and planned our route before, and it was a stretch; to see all we wanted meant some days of endless driving and few breaks. Luckily for me (and unluckily for my friend) I can’t drive, so for me this was fine. I spent the ‘travel’ days singing at the top of my voice to the radio, reading my books, windows rolled down, hot breeze in my hair enjoying the never ending view of road and red soil.
Sadly, even with this schedule, there was much of the best of the west we didn’t get to see. Our route left from Perth as follows: Geraldton, Kalbarri, Shark Bay, Monkey Mia, Coral Bay, Exmouth, Karijini then the long drive back to Perth stopping via the Pinnacles. This probably sounds like a load of gobbledy goop if you don’t know Australia well; long story short this is a circular route which takes you along the coast north of Perth, then inland and back down to Perth.
The most obvious difference between the east coast (where I’d spent the majority of my time in Aus) and the west was how sparse the west was. Once we’d decided where to go, our route was easy to plan; there was only one route. Unless you had a four-wheel drive, as soon as you’d left the hustle and bustle of Perth places were linked by one road. One long endless road surrounded by red soil and shrubbery as far as the horizon.
The lack of other vehicles on these roads were even more of a surprise. It could be a few hours before you passed another vehicle on the road. Which was fab; no traffic jams, no hold ups, and the world felt like it was yours and yours alone. And for this reason even the days spent driving were enjoyable.
There was one time when the one road situation became an issue; it rained. And when I say it rained, it really really rained. And this one road that connected us to our next destination, this one road that we had to take today to stay on schedule, was flooded. This was probably the most social interaction we had whilst driving; when we approached the mass puddle in the middle of the road four or five cars were lined up also debating whether to take the plunge or turn back and make the two-hour return drive to some sort of civilisation.
Ignoring the large signs stuck on the top of our windscreen reminding us of the $1,500 fines we’d be liable for if we drove through flooded roads and broke the engine (probably not the smartest idea, but while travelling you’ve got to live on the edge), we chanced it. And luckily for us our little shitty van got us through and made us love her even more.
The one piece of advice I would give anyone campervanning across WA is to make the use of free campsites. About fifty percent of the nights we spent at free camps and you will need this saving; petrol is ridiculously expensive. People take advantage of the fact this is the only petrol station for one hundred kilometres in every direction and when you need petrol, you need petrol. This is not the place you’d want to break down. Half the time you were expecting a tumbleweed to roll past.
Free campsites are not to everyone’s taste, and if you aren’t a keen camper you might struggle. Some are better than others. Some have ‘luxuries’ such as cold showers, free barbeques and environmental toilets, you know the ones filled with sawdust that smell like actual sewerage? Yeah, those are the ones. Others simply provide somewhere for you to pitch the van. And none will have power, so be prepared for cold nights.
Free campsites also aren’t located close to most tourist destinations; staying close to the National Parks and prime snorkelling spots you’ll have to pay camping fees. But due to the long drives in between these destinations, drives that took two days, we’d stay at a free site while on route. You’ll learn to embrace the feeling of unwashed hair and salt covered skin. And the days at the paid campsites will keep you fresh in between. Not that you actually care; days of exploring and adventure leave hygiene somewhere down the bottom of your priority list.
The best part of my trip is hard to pinpoint. Everywhere we visited was so beautiful and so different. To me, the west felt much more like the ‘real’ Australia. You were greeted by kangaroos (which inconveniently jump out at you in the middle of the road, beware), red soil, beautiful snorkelling spots and the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. The isolation and less backpacker-y vibe also helped. I felt I was seeing Australia for all it was, not just what tourists saw.
The Pink Lake is a must see, located just south of Kalbarri and slightly off-route, but worth the stop. It genuinely felt magical; pink water is something which belongs in fairy stories. Yet here is was right in front of my eyes.
Winding your way up to Monkey Mia in Denham is another must do. Heading into the Monkey Mia park in the morning (you can camp here too, but it’s expensive and you’re better off staying somewhere else in Denham) you’ll be greeted by wild dolphins. They swim up to the shores at the beach for feeding; if you want to meet a wild dolphin, this is the place. It is breath-taking and the real beauty is that these dolphins are not kept in captivity, they are not trained or tamed, they are not over-fed. They are natural and wild and beautiful. The park only provides a certain number of fish per day to feed the dolphins so they aren’t reliant on the food provided and still teach their young to hunt. And if you’re lucky enough to be selected to feed one of the dolphins, as I was, it’s an incredible feeling.
Working our way further up the coast to Ningaloo and Exmouth you’ll find the most gorgeous snorkelling spots. Coral Bay has pristine turquoise waters and a climb up the sand dunes gives you a gorgeous view of the Bay. Slightly further up past Exmouth the stunning Turquoise Bay boasts an even better spot; a drift snorkel. Starting up to the left of the beach you swim out (if like me you’ve never used flippers before, practise before you go out; a nervous breakdown in the middle of the ocean is not fun, trust me!) and the current pulls you along parallel to the beach past and array of different corals and rainbow coloured fish.
My favourite snorkelling spot has to be Oyster Stacks. A slippery climb down some rocks into the ocean presents you with the most stunning variety of corals and fish. The water is shallow, but that just means you’re much closer to the action. We saw everything from big rainbow fish to small stripy fish to an eel and even a sea snake. A visit to an aquarium a few days prior had taught us how rare it was to see sea snakes, and how they are much more venomous than the worst land snakes, but that due to their infrequent sightings you rarely heard of sea snake horror stories. Because of this, my initial thought was how amazing it was that there was a sea snake right before me, how lucky this sighting was. This was quickly followed by “holy shit, there’s a sea snake right before me, I’m going to die” and my little legs swam me away as fast as they could. Either way, it was still pretty cool. And I’m still alive to tell the tale.
The final must do is a trip to Karijini. This is not on the west coast; it’s quite a drive inland and homes spectacular gorges carved into the red rocks. We spent a few days here and it was truly beautiful. Once down the steep steps that led into the gorges you were among nature, walking around trees, over rocks, hopping across stepping stones which provided a pathway across streams and climbing up the sides of waterfalls. Many of the gorges also had swimming spots; sacred pools which the aboriginals treasured. The water was warm and ranged from blue waters to mystical green pools, each as beautiful as the next and definitely worth a swim.
More than the spectacular destinations of Western Australia, the van gave us absolute freedom. Many mornings we’d pack up early and drive somewhere for breakfast; pick a peaceful spot and pull out our chairs and sit back and relax. There’s no better way to start the day and our days driving around had to be some of my happiest.
So is the west the best? It’s hard to decide. Both the east and west of Australia hold such different natural beauties, but for me the west definitely held more raw adventure. There was something exciting about being in the middle of nowhere with nothing but our van filled with our lack of possessions, driving freely around the country with not a worry in the world. If I’ve ever experienced a feeling of euphoria, this was when.
Of course there’s so much more to see than what I have; this is just my experience and views on an amazing place. But that it is amazing is truly undoubtable. So pack your bags (the less the better), hit the road and get out of your comfort zone; adventure awaits.