It was early December when I decided to get in my car and explore the south-west coast of Western Australia. I left sunny Fremantle and headed towards Esperance through the small coastal towns.
I saw some of the most magnificent beaches and natural formations along the way, including the underground stalagmite Ngilgi Caves in Yallingup and The Gap in Albany – a big crack in the ancient bedrock that was once connected to Antarctica.
After Albany began the longest part of the journey: 475km to Esperance. No more tourists, just me and the highway… And to make things more interesting I didn’t buy a proper map, relying instead on a bunch of brochures from the visitor centre.
First I passed Ravensthorpe and thought I’d to go to Hopetoun, 50km further south. As it turned out there’s not that much to see over there, but there is a road along the coast back to Esperance. At least in theory. Mistake Number One.
The reality is you can’t see the ocean from the aptly titled Ocean Drive. After 12km you get lost in a criss-cross of gravel roads with no signs and no houses. Too stubborn to turn back I carried on relying on the brochures. Mistake Number Two.
I weighed the pros and cons – I’m in the middle of nowhere, I haven’t seen another vehicle for an hour and my mobile doesn’t work, against: the tank is three-quarters full, I’ve got 4l of water and there’s still plenty of daylight – I made the decision to head on.
Two hours later I almost fainted with happiness when I saw the beginning of a sealed road. I had just driven 65km on a gravel road to nowhere with no guarantees I’d ever find my way back to civilisation again… A lesson learned: $8 is money well spent on a map.
After all that excitement Esperance was a disappointment. It seemed to always rain. I went to bed early and hoped the weather would clear by morning.
On a dolphin high
The next day it was even worse. I decided I might as well make the best of it. East of Esperance is the Cape Le Grande National Park. I’d heard it was worth seeing and headed there. The sky was grey and the clouds were heavy with rain, but the views were still spectacular.
The first beach I saw was Hellfire Bay. Because of the weather I was the only person there.
I climbed up on a rock to take a photo of the turquoise water and the white beach. Looking through the lens I saw something dark in the water.
I zoomed in and kept my eyes on the dark spot. I saw it was moving. Another look and
I realised I was staring at a pod of dolphins!
I slid down the slippery slope and ran like a madman to get closer. I was speechless. Totally unexpected, I spotted these gracious animals and could not believe my eyes. It was raining, the wind was gushing and I stood alone watching eight dolphins swim 100m from me.
I seriously contemplated whether to go and swim with them.
While thinking about it I ran along the beach following the dolphins. But common sense took over. The sea was restless, the waves were high and nobody could help me if I got in trouble.
I was rewarded with the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen – dolphins riding the wave.
Four of them swam towards the beach inside a wave, turning away at the last second. My heart was racing and I couldn’t stop smiling. This was for sure the most memorable experience I’ve had in Australia and will be etched on my mind forever.
On my last morning in Esperance it was absolutely pouring. I braced myself for the return trip – another 475km with zero visibility. I thought I would make it in five hours. Mistake Number Three.
Rain is never “just rain”. By the time I got to Ravensthorpe the roads were flooded and closed and a friendly traffic-controller offered me a 300km detour.
It took me the whole day to get to Albany, but nothing could get me down – I was on a dolphin high.