Australia - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 329 (139)

Perth

Monday 31st January (2005)

Enough of all these long lie-ins in the mornings already - we had to wrench ourselves out of bed by as early as ten-thirty this morning, so that we could eat breakfast before setting off for a day of sightseeing. Oh the horror of it all.

One of the guests here had suggested we drive up to see the Pinnacle Desert whilst taking in the monastery in New Norcia. We knew it was going to be a long trip but after talking with the reception staff as the monastery art gallery, I decided to skip the monastery altogether in favour of just visiting the Pinnacle Desert instead. After all, that would be a three-hour jaunt as it was and Sandy is not a very good passenger for long trips even when she isn’t pregnant.

We managed to get on the road by around eleven-thirty but, naturally, we managed to get onto all the wrong roads and probably lengthened the trip there by a good half hour or more as a result. Oh well. The drive was a long one as expected but we did our best to stop every forty-five minutes or so. We snacked on the remainder of the fruit that we still had with us throughout the day so the only real meal we ate was the fish and chips at the filling station cum convenience store just outside the entrance to the national park. Actually, it was the best fish and chips we’ve had so far anywhere here in Australia.

Before going in to see the Pinnacle Desert, we followed a sign to a lake, which played host to a formation of stromatolites. These strange little rock formations live symbiotically with tiny bacteria. They are thousands, if not millions, of years old and are close relations to the stromatolites that are originally thought to have been responsible for the generation of the life-giving oxygen on the earth many hundreds of millions of years ago. There are just a small handful of places on earth where these things are known to still exist. I’ve read about them before in a couple of books written by Bill Bryson (A Brief History of Nearly Everything and Down Under). Supposedly, life on earth as we know it would not have been possible without these oxygen generating stromatolites but I can’t say that I feel any closer a bond to the earth now, for having finally seen them for myself.

We paid AU$9 (€5,50) to get the car into the Nambung national park. All of the busloads of tourist had already been and gone by the time we arrived and there were just a small handful of other cars there to enjoy the view with us. The Pinnacle Desert is a very bizarre place. It’s essentially a sandy desert with small shrubs growing all over the hills. What makes it an odd place is the hundreds of thousands of limestone pillars apparently growing out of the ground. They range from just a few centimetres to around five metres tall and groupings of them can be seen stretching across the landscape as far as the eye can see. The sea breeze winds were blowing up sandstorms all over the place and this just added to the oddness of the whole place. I felt like we were driving across the surface of the moon. There are car tracks to follow that meander around the desert-like landscape and we made one complete circuit with several stops along the way to get some nice shots of the monoliths from various angles. Even though we spent probably no more than half an hour there, we both agreed that it was worth the long drive to get here to see it for ourselves. Odd place.

Odd or not, you can only take so much of it so we made our way back to the main entrance and set off back towards Perth. Shortly after leaving the boundary of the national park, we spotted a couple of wild kangaroos bouncing along the side of the road so I stopped the car close to them to get some photos. We’ve seen kangaroos before but this was the first time that we’ve seen them truly in the wild. They bounce around so effortlessly.

We stopped again several times along the route home. At one point, we stopped by the side of the road just to admire the sun, as it set over the ocean – just stunning. Shortly thereafter, we were driving full steam ahead when we spotted a beautiful, two-metre long snake lying by the side of the road. I slammed on the breaks and backed up so that we could photograph it. We kept a respectful distance just in case it was venomous but it turned out to be quite good-tempered. Neither of us knew what type of snake it was but it was an absolutely gorgeous creature. It seemed to be poised to slither across the road but I think it was our presence that gave it second thoughts and it slowly turned around and moved back into the bush instead. We both felt quite chuffed at having quite probably saved this snake’s life. There wasn't an awful lot of traffic on the road but certainly enough for it to be quite unlikely for the poor thing to have made it across the road without being flattened by one of the many huge road trains that shift goods up and down this major Western Australia artery.

About forty-five minutes after the sun made its final exit, I found a stretch of road that was not lit by streetlights, stopped the car and switched off the headlamps. We got out and admired the stars above. The one constellation that is clearly visible here that we cannot sea from Europe is the Southern Cross. The bright stars streaking across the busiest band of the sky was the Milky Way and we could clearly see a satellite traversing the length of it. So many times on our travels now, we’ve taken time out to just stop and look up at the heavens. It’s magical.

We were back at the hostel by around nine-thirty at night, having spent just about AU$35 (€21,35) altogether on fuel for a round trip of nearly six hundred Kilometres.

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