Counting the Days

Kalbarri - Perth, 8th - 13th November


8th November

As we were hiding from the local reptiles last night, Nic had the opportunity to research in detail the route for today and pick a long list of places to visit. So we have no time to waste this morning. Our transformer Bertie goes from house to car once more and we set off.


We start on pink. In the distance, we can see the soft colour that covers the plateau in front. We stop at the first opportunity and the salt is crunching under our shoes … Hut Lagoon is a lake which has managed to build up high levels of salt as well as rich reserves of Vitamin A. The chemical mix between the two refracts a pink tone. In the dry season, the waters withdraw and leave behind a crust of pink salt. The combination of the soft sand and a salt layer resembles frosted, crunchy snow. Like a winter wonderland but pink and in the summer. (Summer wonderland?!)


In the distance three colours of the lake layer up in front of our eyes. Here next to us, the salt is just like the pink Himalayan salt we can find on the dinner table. Further on where the water has not yet dried up but has high salt concentrations - the colour is so vividly pink that it's even purple. And behind it where the water is deep enough for the salt to have no effect on the colour, it is simply blue - like any other late; like the colour of the sky above it; only the fluffy clouds are missing. I am impressed.


From pink views without pink glasses, we move to the cliff by the ocean. But this time we won’t be looking for sharks or be sprayed by ocean geysers. We will see what the ocean can accomplish if it puts its mind to it and has a few thousand years to work. How a cliff can erode to a bridge and then fall down to make an island. Thus, the name of this reserve - Rock Island and Natural Bridge. The cliffs are tall, layered and impressive. And with the colour of the water in contrast with the breaking waves you could simply sit and contemplate life. If, of course, the flies don’t take it away from you. Yes, I mean life.


But our programme is full and we shall not allow them to get that far. We leave for the local town. Before entering Kalbarri, however, we stop at one more lookout - Red Bluff. The view is once again wonderful, vast and blue. Down below, we see the small town, huddled into the bay. We also see a surfer by the rocks below. Crazy man! It would be so easy for one of those waves to send him flat on the rocks. But who are we to talk when we haven’t been on the surf once.


Our first stop in the town is a car mechanic to take a quick look at Bertie. He adds some oil and checks the transmission fluid. Nic, embarrassingly, realises that he has been doing it wrong. He thought he had been checking the oil regularly, turns out it was the transmission one instead. Well, it’s a good thing we came to a person who knows these things, before Nic’s lack of knowledge leaves us in the middle of the road. The diagnosis is as always: “the car is old, take care of it”. We can only hope that our tender loving care will be enough to get Bertie back to Sydney with enough life in him to be sold.


After our huge lunch (and the relatively early start of the day) our initial plan to get some work done is completely forgotten. We have no such brain strength at the moment, and it would have been best if we could find somewhere to lie down. So, instead, we just sit on a bench complaining about the AirBnB prices around Christmas. We will need one because of mum and dad’s scheduled arrival.


It’s much easier to forget about money and find more views, so we continue to Kalbarri National Park. The entry fee doesn’t help much but at least it gives us the opportunity for a quick chat with the man at the ticket office. Enough for him to warn us it is 45 degrees and we should be very careful and take plenty of water. Scouts honour, we promise… He wasn’t wrong. The wind is strong but hot. You feel the heating burning your legs and drying up your mouth if you dare open it.


The main attraction here is dubbed Nature’s Window. And it is attractive indeed. Down below there's a river flowing and up here we are surrounded by layers of red cliff. In one area it has managed to hold on around an empty hole through which it frames the valley with the river below perfectly. As if nature is telling you - this is what you should be looking at. Don’t get distracted by the rest, I am showing you the valuable bit. Wow, thank you for the effort!


Well, tons of tourists are limiting the opportunity to actually enjoy the view, but in this heat, you don’t want to stay for long anyway, even if it is worth it. We drink our water in big sips, take pictures after waiting patiently for our turn in front of the window, we wonder how the Asians around us are surviving without any water, in so many layers and head back. Back at the car, we pass on the wisdom to another young couple who are clearly planning to walk down without any water. They obediently go back and listen to our advice. While we’re in the park, we also stop at Hawk’s Head but nature hasn’t told us exactly where to look for her and there isn’t all that much more special around. Other than, of course, the fairly full river below. When did we last see so much water in non-ocean form?!


In the early evening we arrive at the campsite - Oakabella Homestead and Tea Rooms. A wonderful small farm in the middle of nowhere. Well cared for by friendly owners. The campsite itself is a dusty field, but the tea room is air-conditioned, the toilets are air-conditioned and they offer three nights for the price of one. And to pull me even more they give me a baby bottle full of milk to go and feed the baby lamb Lamby. Okay, we will enjoy it here!


9th and 10th November

(Saturday and Sunday)

Our two days at Oakabella turn out to be perfectly calm. After the heat on Friday night which made our sleep difficult, the Saturday decided to follow in its steps and be just as hot and unbearable. But we are inside the cool tea room! It is a productive day for both of us. We sit down comfortably in a corner for a morning tea, stay for the afternoon beers and longer. We work for 6-7 hours in air-conditioning. Not that we have all that much to do but we keep finding tasks so we don’t have to go outside.


And after the productive session we befriend the youngest son of the owners which is joking around looking for company to play with. Other than going out every so often to feed the lamb he also finds a blue-tongue lizard (a typical fairly ugly Australian creature) and insists they love strawberries. So he runs into the kitchen to his mum to bring a couple. Towards the end of the day when we officially finish the work activities I sit next to him to play cards, some education games on his tablet and whatever else he finds interesting.


During the day we are surrounded not only by the lovely owners but also by many travellers stopping for a scone and staying for the day. We eavesdrop on most newcomer conversations, all welcomed by the same friendliness we felt last night. We spend the day around ‘Lamby’, the cat Milo, the child Marlin and all the other family members. The more we sit in our corner, quiet, working but open to the world around us, the more we start to feel a part of this place. As if we aren’t just passing but we belong. By the end of Sunday, turning on the light in the toilet is second nature, just like I do at home every day.


As the time comes to leave the tea room for the day it is already dark outside ... and most importantly - cool. Cool enough for long trousers, hoodie and socks. At least we know we will be sleeping tonight. The change in temperature is transferred to the next day too. It is sunny but there is also wind and somehow we don’t need to escape from the tent until 10am. When was the last time that happened to us?!


Although nothing would be opened in town on a Sunday we need to get to it to restock our food. And we are right - literally every store is closed and the visits are limited to the grocery store and the local pub. We return to the campsite in less than an hour later. Too bad we had to fold away the tent …


Today the tea room won’t be open either so we will get back to Bertie. Before lunch we take on some responsibilities around him. Nic takes out the tool to fix things here and there that have been bothering him. I start cleaning and tidying the problem zones. We know that in only three days we will be able to completely empty the contents of every nook and cranny but I don’t want to wait that long to put things back in order. After all, we should not be showing our future hosts what piggies we are. Maybe that way it won't be obvious how desperate we are to reach them.


In the afternoon it is time to relax. We set up the awning and open up the books. And as we are resting leisurely, all of a sudden, the wind lifts up the awning, which has, of course, not been tethered down and with great ease pulls it off the construction that attaches it to the car. BERTIE! Can you stop torturing us with your problems, please!!! At least it doesn’t bend from this collision with the wind so there is a chance to fix it when we get to Perth. But until then we have to drive with it, dusty and in our way between the seats.


Dinner is delicious, the air is fresh after the day's heat. The fridge freezer gives our food the needed portions of cold too. And we are even cold in the tent this evening which means we will sleep perfectly. Especially, as I remember what we’ve had to go through in the last few weeks, this is a clear blessing. We are thankful to the Universe, for giving us back our sleep.


11th November

Well, now we are officially trying to fill our time just so we don’t arrive in Perth too early. I am certain that if our hosts are reading this text they will message to tell me we were crazy and we should have gone earlier but we had decided on the thirteenth and Nic and I couldn’t fail that agreement.


There is actually nothing to see around here and yet we are here seeing it. The first half of the day we spent in Geraldton - a small coastal town that doesn’t have much to offer but we will squeeze what we can out of it. We park in the centre and start the local tour with a visit to the local toy store. We are looking for presents for the little ones that will be welcoming us in a few days (one of them isn’t all that little though).


After that we walk to the local art gallery and crafting base but after half an hour we get to a building in construction. Okay, another half an hour walking back then. We pop into shops here and there just to fill the time. We find a zero waste store for vegan chocolate and sweets. In the centre we stumble upon another gallery and this one is open. The room is small and the exposition is oriented around Australian cinema or actors of Australian heritage. Overall the pictures and pieces aren’t familiar to us, but one thing gets our attention with its bright red colour.


Nicole Kidman’s dress from the film Moulin Rouge. You remember, right? When her and Ewan McGregor are singing their love for each other for the first time on the roof of her elephant shaped room. There (and in the official film posters) she wears this wonderful, formal red dress. Now, Nic and I are studying it in the (unknown) town of Geraldton. If you judge by the shape of the dress in front of us - Nicole Kidman is not only remarkably thin and slender but is also fairly short. Well, according to Google she is 1.80m and yet the dress looks absolutely miniature. We look and wonder!


After a quick lunch on the beach we get to the top of town where you can find the main tourist sight of this place - an ANZAC Memorial of HMAS Sydney II (His Majesty’s Australian Ship). I have mentioned this before - the monuments of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps are of great importance here and are usually huge. On this hill, the Rotary Club money has been dedicated to this ship that had been an active participant in World War Two and was lost at sea in November 1941 with 645 souls on board.


The memorial is actually nice and full of so much symbolism. From the seagulls forming the openwork dome of the eternal fire, to a reconstruction of the ship bow going up meters above us and the waiting woman, impatient, looking out to sea. After the construction of this park, the remains of the ship have been found and a pool was added to the memorial to mark the exact coordinates of where the ship lay. There is also a sign placed that the waiting woman is waiting no more.


I am not the sort of person to get impressed by army monuments and even on this day I didn’t get all that excited. But since then I feel that the place has been marked in my memories and often comes out. Maybe because of the design, because of the symbolic elements, because of the fact the ship has been found or simply because of the view. But I remember it clearly. Well, maybe Geraldton had something to offer, after all.


Next stop is the Stockyard Gully caves. But don’t think it is easy getting there, just stumbling upon them when leaving the town. Not at all! After a few hours on the road we suddenly get onto an almost extreme off-road path - white sands and pointy rocks. Bertie, shall we switch to a four-wheel drive now?! Somebody had forgotten to let me know (who could that be?) that these caves aren’t like the ones I know - organised tours, safe and so on. Noooo! These are very wild caves. So wild that we are welcomed by a sign: Attention! Danger of flood, quicksand, bees and … Guess how comfortable I am feeling on this little walk.


I barely step into one of these caves and walking into the unlit areas is absolutely out of the question. At the entrance, high above us, there are countless bee swarms in their wild hives (well, at least I’m seeing wild bees for the first time). Not only am I scared of everything that the sign listed but also of everything else that is hinted about. For example the typical snakes or falling, super old, creaking trees. If we were more people … If we had some experience with wild caves … If we were better equipped. But just the two of us in shorts and trainers - NO! Let’s go! Fortunately, Nic agrees and before we know it we are back in the car on the crazy road towards the main one. On a normal day I would count this as a wasted afternoon but as we are trying our best to fill our time I don’t regret this deviation and the added adrenalin.


The camp tonight is the Lake Indoon. The spots face the dried up lake, there is drinking water and cold showers. Quite a cool place, if you ignore the wind and the flies. But you can not ignore them so we rush once again into the tent. Huddled in safety.


12th November

With the view to the dry lake this morning, our first job is to wrap the presents for the children. We got them the safest choice present for any child - Lego. Especially, when you are a four-year-old girl and your set is Frozen themed. I am not sure there is a more tourist way of wrapping presents. Not only do I have to do it on the soft mattress to avoid the flies outside, but my wrapping equipment involves old travel maps and black gorilla tape. Great for backpacker nomads!


First stop for the day is Grigson Lookout. From up here we have a 360 degree view and signs carefully placed to show what we can see in every direction. Salt flats, sands dunes, sea lion island. It says not get close to the animals as they are often aggressive. Well, thank you for warning us here - kilometres away from them and with no actual way to get to the wild island. How would we have survived otherwise, I don’t know?!


We are only 200 kilometres from Perth when we enter the town of Cervantes. Its name is not a coincidence at all. It is named after a ship that shipwrecked nearby which had the name of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. At the entrance we visit our familiar stromatolites. I am sure you now know exactly what they are. But the view is a little less impressive without the ocean in front of us. But we shall take pictures anyway.


After that we sit in the first café we find to get our thoughts together and make a list of tasks. Considering the fact we will have a permanent roof above our heads for the next few weeks we want to use the opportunity and take advantage of it to finish up administrative tasks, car services and contacting friends of friends.


The conversation smoothly transitions into ideas for the development of Vivid Key and exactly how I will be publishing my travel stories. And to be even more inspired we get to the local windy beach to wander on the sands, talk and collect ideas. With the help of the wind and the sea views we get completely immersed into the conversation and don’t quite want to leave. I can’t complain that I have the opportunity to think and dream out here instead of an office with a desk facing the wall.


Well cleared by the wind we head off to the last stop of the days and the only site people usually come out here for - The Pinnacles. The reserve is so big that the tour is done by car like a safari, not walking and you still don’t see it all. The rock formations are sticking out of the ground, crazy, uneven shapes, scattered in a sea of bright yellow sand.


According to the geology signs these are remains of an ancient forest around thirty thousand years old. But I don’t mean fossilised trees but the opposite. It is believed that ground level was high above our heads and the roots of the forest had dug through the soft sandstone to create this sticking phenomenon. With time, the forest dried off, the winds and rain had carried away the dirt to this depth and only the stone was left around which the golden sand comfortably situated itself.


As you can expect there are no two the same. Tall or short, thick or thin, porous or solid. Mainly grey-beige but here and there is an iron streak that makes them red. And so for 4.5 km in Bertie we take photos and watch from the car but every so often stop and get out for a closer look, to touch and to make dramatic or comic pictures. At least there is endless space for all of us - the gaping tourists. Up on one of the lookouts you can see how far these formations keep going, far beyond the path we are following. I would say this unique place is well worth a visit.


Our campsite tonight is the closest free camp to Perth. Now, again I will be told off for sleeping half an hour away instead of just arriving early. But what can I say, we are trying to be convincingly diligent. Other than on the map, the location of the campsite can be told by how busy it is with travellers of all kinds - families, couples, friends in caravans, 4x4s and vans. If I had to guess, this is their first night camping for the couple next to us - their set up is so elaborate, it was clearly very time-consuming and a lot of effort. Well, they will learn quickly …


13th November

The birds don’t bother us with their songs any more. The wind lets us sleep. It takes us minutes to set up and take down the tent. We are a well oiled machine.


Incredible! I had the feeling that this day will never come. Only ten days ago I didn’t think I would survive until today. I thought we wouldn't manage.


But not only this, we manage those days, we survived for two month. Today marks two months since we picked up Bertie on the 13th September and set off for the Blue Mountains.


When you are living through it, you think those tough moments will never fade away in your memories. That they will taint the memories. But they are already disappearing. I know we had them but they only make me prouder that we got this far.


We are happy!


Today we enter Perth!


Stay Vivid,

Vassya (and Nic)



END OF PART ONE



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