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“What are we gonna do about tonight?”, I ask my travel companion as I´m heading back to the van after a long day out at Kalbarri National Park. The cold is starting to creep up on me as the last rays of daylight are fading. Practical matters are suddenly taking center stage after a full day in non-stop-marveling-mood. “No idea“, he answers in a nonchalant way while scratching his beard. “What about checking into a hostel in town?”, I suggest. “Let´s give it a crack. She´ll be right“, he agrees wearily. Ah well, the German part of me will never get used to the Aussie spontaneity and utterly carefree attitude – but the Spanish part within just freaking loves it!
Kalbarri: Meeting persistent lovers of the law
A point in favor of German conscientiousness and over-planning: That spur-of-the-moment idea really did not work out. Like at all! All hotels, and hostels, and even camping spots, are booked out. On to the next idea! My travel-companion still doesn´t seem fazed one bit, as I suggest to just park our van in a quiet street and snooze right there.
Barely thirty minutes in, and an overeager Kalbarrian (Is that how you call an inhabitant of Kalbarri?) zestfully knocks on the driver side´s window. We get politely, yet very diligently told to f…venture off. It´s about 1 AM in the morning, so we decide to wing it and drive back to Kalbarri National Park, where theoretically, any kind of camping is kinda forbidden. And probably, practically as well.
“She´ll be right“, I mumble wearily to myself. After over a year of living in Australia I know this idiom by heart now – whatever is wrong will right itself with time. After a short deliberation, I head to the back of the van and bundle myself up in my jacket and a rather scratchy blanket. Two hours later, and I wake up pretty bloody almost-frozen. A diligent ranger proves that even at 3 AM on a weekday, you shouldn´t mess with the Australian love for safety, rules, and regulations – and off we go again.
Kalbarri to Shark Bay: Dramatic sunsets and darn old Stromatolites
In the end, there´s not much sleep to be had that night – but on the upside, a pretty perfect sunset greets us while we make our way up towards the infamous Shark Bay World Heritage Area. My mates, in case you didn´t know: Western Australian sunsets are basically the VIP´s of sunset phenomena – they warrant an extra dosage of attention for their drama and the multilayered explosions of color they bring to the table.
After driving for around 4,5 hours along the North West Coastal Highway, humming along to some relaxed tunes, we reach Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Our first stop is Hamelin Pool, a protected Marine Nature Reserve. It feels amazing to say cheerio to the van, and take in some new, thought-provoking sights and sensations. If you`ve ever felt as if you are getting old – which in our warped culture can probably already happen when you are like 12 – , there is no better place to hang out than Hamelin Pool. Why?
Well, you´ll be able to visit the insanely old Stromatolites aka the oldest life forms on earth – living representatives of life over 3500 million years ago, when there was no other complex life on Earth. That´s right, even if you are currently 105 years of age, you´ll still be like a toddler compared to these so-called living fossils! How´s that for a win-win?
If you feel overwhelmed by today´s round-the-clock-availability, stop by at the Old Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station. Built in 1884 as part of the communication line between Perth and Roebourne, it will make you feel as if you just beamed yourself back to a time where communicating through the distance was quite a feat. Also, the original building is now a museum housing many curious artifacts which definitely do not overwhelm the senses.
Shark Bay World Heritage Area: Shell beach, a pristine piece of paradise all to yourself
Our next stop isn´t far away at all – 44 km away from Denham and just a short drive from Hamelin Pool, Shell Beach awaits us with millions of tiny automobiles. No, of course not, just checking you´re still with us 😛 Located within Francois Peron National Park, Shell Beach is a true gem of a beach made up off trillions of tiny cockle shells. There are even shell deposits around that are 10 meters deep in places!
Stepping out of the van, I am immediately engulfed with a sense of deep peace – it´s almost eerily quiet, and as is so often the case in Western Australia, we have the beach all to ourselves. A glorious and enlivening feeling! Playing around with the shells, admiring the deep, still, shallow waters and breathing the incredibly pure air is more than enough to get me feeling vibrant and alive after the long car ride from Kalbarri.
Shell Beach´s second characteristic besides its abundance of shells is the water´s hypersalinity, which means that the water here is twice as salty as the sea. Better not drink that stuff! Not that I usually go to the ocean to drink. Anyways, moving on. Despite feeling pretty damn alive after our visit to Shell beach, my travel mate and I decide that it´s time to head to Denham and check into our hostel for the next two nights. There are some pretty special beings to be met early the next morning, after all! And we definitely do not feel up for another frozen van night.
Monkey Mia: A different kind of beach date
Early the next morning, we get ready for a very special date. This date is a tiny bit different to other ones, though- we are about to meet a very wild, extraordinarily enchanting, highly intelligent, always optimistic, eternally kind and helpful fella after all! It´s basically the kind of rendezvous with the kind of being you get once every ten years – if you´re lucky. And boy, are we lucky indeed. Once we arrive on the agreed-upon location, the pristine and picture-perfect beach at Monkey Mia Reserve, we get to hang out around other admirers from all over the world, until our date´s PR-entourage announces his imminent arrival.
We are extremely fortunate – not only because meeting beings like him in their natural habitat and in a pre-agreed manner is a rare occurrence. But also because this being, voted the cutest mammal alive by Animal magazine for 100 years straight, does have the decency to bring all his extremely adorable friends along! As we learn through their well-briefed PR-peeps, their stunning home, the waters of Shark Bay Marine Park, host a gorgeously diverse population of animal species, from mellow dugongs to cheeky loggerhead turtles.
Keep your cool: Meeting dolphin-royalty
But it’s -obviously- the irresistibly playful Indo-Pacific bottlenose-dolphins that visit Monkey Mia nearly every morning which bring home the bacon: they draw more than 100,000 admirers to the beach each year. Some wild dolphins have been known to visit Monkey Mia since well before 1982 to be hand-fed by friendly humans – which led to a big scientific investigation of all things dolphin. Find out more about this fascinating story here.
Back to our very own dolphin-date, though: The volunteers pick a few especially hysterical, sorry, especially enthusiastic admirers each morning to feed some members of the dolphin royalty clan their favorite brand of tasty caviar, no, sorry, fish it was. Maybe my forceful, dare I say fan-girl-inspired attempt to hypnotize the dolphin-volunteer into picking me worked somehow (I swear, there was no bribery involved – they have bodyguards for that stuff) – because in the end, I have the honor of feeding a gorgeous wild dolphin. And I am positive – he winked at me! At least he smiled the whole two minutes through. And I get a tad emotional as I sense the expansive joy and profound gentleness that this exceptional wild creature irradiates through his sweet eyes, smile, and whole being.
Stay tuned for our next post, when we´ll learn more about the incredible wonders of Shark Bay, including a meeting with a highly charismatic Indigenous Australian leader and tour guide, who shares some of his ancestors secrets with us (sorry guys, just the parts that are allowed obviously!). We will also head to a far-off paradise. I swear, I am not exaggerating here! You´ll see…
Back to you, dear reader: What´s your cheekiest travel-adventure? And: Have you ever been on a road trip, and if so, where did you explore? Thanks for reading, and as always, would love to hear from you!
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Copyright: You can feel that one in your bones probably. Yes. Again, the rights to written words and pictures belong to meee/ A gypsy at heart. Because: You did not endure that bloody cold night in the van.