Over Easter Break in March I went on a ten-day camping trip across Western Australia with the Melbourne University Outdoors Program. There were 23 international students on this trip from all over the world, yet strangely enough I found myself one of five students on the trip from Haverford. Before leaving Haverford those of us coming to Australia figured we would rarely bump into each other by chance in a city of millions at a school many times the area of Haverford with tens of thousands of students. We were wrong – instead I have seen someone from Haverford by chance almost every day. But sitting in a desert in the middle of Western Australia – about as far from Haverford as one can get and remain on Earth – surrounded by people from Haverford definitely pushed our coincidental encounters with each other into the range of comical.
It was an early start the Thursday before Easter Break at 3.30 in the morning for a 6 o’clock flight to Perth and our meeting location. Once we were assembled we began with marathon bus driving. Western Australia is big, so to get to the really interesting places you have to drive. A lot. So that is what we did our first day for about 10 hours, but not without stopping to play in big sand dunes, which were welcome activity:
These are big – note the person way up there pondering whether or not they want to roll down (we did).
On the second day we visited a field of stromatolites that stretched as far as one could see. It was dry and oppressively hot with no clouds in the sky, and as each of us walked in our own direction I started to feel like I was on a different planet surrounded by these testaments to ancient microorganisms that lived here hundreds of millions of years ago:
These structures have taken a long beating from the wind and feel exactly like rough sandpaper. They rise up in stark defiance of the sand around them that is just a few shades courser than flour.
The third and fourth days we spent in the aptly named Coral Bay, a small town 1200km north of Perth home to coral reefs, beautiful beaches and a feeling of blissful isolation from the rest of the world. We snorkeled, swam and sat on the beach during the day and barbecued at night. Some of us kayaked out away from shore to explore the bigger reefs while others went diving with whale sharks. Coming to Melbourne, flying to Perth, driving to Coral Bay, walking to the beach, kayaking out to the reef, snorkeling out of sight from our kayaks and then diving beneath the water happened for me like a series of removes from the common experience of everyday life, culminating in the home of these creatures, courtesy of our guide who brought along an underwater camera:
These reef sharks are harmless, but they don’t look that way.
We saw three or four sea turtles, also.
Anyone know what this is? Not I, but it is pretty magnificent inside.
After leaving Coral Bay we continued north to Exmouth, where we visited Mandu Mandu Gorge and Turquoise Bay, the latter being a beautiful series of reefs where we snorkeled from a beach littered in coral:
Across the globe, more than fifty-percent of their living counterparts will likely be dead by 2030 due to climate change.
After this we made our way inland to Karijini National Park where we spent the remainder of our trip exploring gorges shown in the pictures below, often hiking for about an hour or so to reach them, which made the fresh (and cold) water swimming even more enjoyable:
For scale, a person standing near the bottom of this waterfall would barely reach the second layer of rock.
A cyclone in the Indian Ocean meant it rained most nights while we were camping (sometimes catching us tentless and unprepared) but this was more than welcome since it kept the air cool and the dust on the ground. Inland Western Australia is blanketed in fine red dust that stains any clothes it gets on. If you are walking around Perth and see a brand new yet strangely red van know it is the affectionately named Big Red:
Just kidding, we think it mostly came off. The most uncapturable aspect of our trip were the stars we were finally treated to bushcamping on the side of the road on the last day of our trip after the rain cleared. We sat around a campfire and soaked them up before returning to Perth and finally Melbourne.