Australian Traveller magazine reader Phil Murray does the west coast in style and stops off for a dip with the majestic whale shark on the way.
Baby Boomers do not camp, we ‘glamp’. For the uninitiated, that’s glamorous camping.
The only tents us flower power children wish to see are of the luxurious variety – ‘eco’ resorts such as Sal Salis, adjoining Ningaloo reef.
‘Drive from Perth all the way to Broome! Not much to see, is there?’
Well, yes and no.
True, sections of the West Australian road trip are bordered by hundreds of kilometres of low scrub and featureless vistas. But that is the whole point. To experience the sheer expanse and mind-blowing horizon-to-horizon vastness of our country is part of the appeal. And the spectacular highlights more than compensate.
Day one in our Volkswagen motor home, complete with shower, toilet, kitchen and outside barbecue, saw us arrive at The Pinnacles. What a surprise. Tourists are not only allowed to walk amongst and touch the strange rock formations, but there is also a snaking, thin dirt road to drive amongst the limestone spires.
Picture ‘European Vacation’ with Chevy Chase, reversing into and skittling Stonehenge, and you have the idea. First day and already tentatively threading seven metres of motor mansion between fragile rock columns.
And the raison d’être for a west coast road trip? High on the bucket list was swimming with the whale sharks. Now, whale sharks aren’t actually whales, they are fish. And neither are they the toothy man-eaters we tend to associate with the word ‘shark’. Fortunately, the biggest fish in the world eats plankton, not snorkelers.
The “wild bush luxury” Sal Salis resort, featuring canapés and drinks at sunset, to be followed by a three-course dining experience, proved to be my ideal base for our whale sharking adventure.
Our ‘tent’, permanently erected upon a raised wooden floor, included a king size bed and adjoining ensuite – that’s what I call glamping.
A two-minute walk had us on the beach, with Ningaloo Reef right on the shoreline. Reef sharks, turtles, corals and fish splashed, with every imaginable colour within metres of the sandy, deserted beach.
Swimming with whale sharks is for everyone. And I do mean everyone – no previous experience required.
Tad apprehensive? Be sure to tell the snorkel guide who accompanies you into the water. Guides take newbies by the hand, provide close supervision and ensure a front-row seat as the docile ‘Rhincoden typus’ just swims on by within metres.
It is very unlikely you will swim with a 12-metre or bigger whale shark. Most of the fish are juveniles. But five metres of animal weighing five tons (as much as a full grown African elephant) is still one impressive fish when you are swimming three metres away in the open ocean. The experience is exciting, exhilarating and an unforgettable thrill.
At Kalbarri, further south, red rock sandstone topped with limestone cliffs cascade into the aqua blue of theIndian Ocean.
Nature’s Window (a scenic rock feature) and gorge walks all lie within 50 kilometres of this small town at the mouth of the Murchison River, 600 kilometres north ofPerth.
For 60s nostalgia buffs, Carnarvon’s little-known gem is a space museum; explaining the town’s role in international communications and man’s first landing on the moon. Adjoining the museum, Carnarvon even boasts its own ‘Dish’, à la Parkes in NSW.
Perth to Broome boring? No way. I haven’t even mentioned the Monkey Mia dolphins, the oxygen producing stromatolites at Hamelin Bay or the mining big boys’ toys to be seen at Tom Price.
Glamping Perth to Broome, I definitely recommended it. And be sure to have a snorkel with the big spotted locals.
Perth to Broome direct is 2,300km. Expect to cover closer to 4,000km on the coastal route with trips to Monkey Mia, Karijini National Park. Allow three weeks.
Hiring a camper?
Budget about $750 for diesel, the big camper returning an impressive 12l/100km.
Eighty Mile Beach was disappointing, no swimming and little to do unless you are a keen fisherman/woman.
Sal Salis, 70km south of Exmouth and 700m south of the ‘Mandu South’ car park within the Cape Range National Park.
Around $400. Be sure to ask your operator for a wetsuit: for buoyancy, protection from stingers and, most importantly, warmth.