Not everyone gets the chance to chat with a prince and paddle with the world’s biggest fish during one trip. Unless you take a lot of hallucinogenic drugs of course. But the fat cats up in TNT Towers didn’t really go for that idea.
So I suggested the next best thing – a road trip up the west coast of Oz.
Travellers driven goon-crazy often end up spending all their time Down Under feasting on the east. But in my humble opinion that’s a big mistake.
As huge as India, but with as few people as tiny little Kosovo, Western Australia is full of weird craziness and it’s not to be missed.
Having driven the leisurely 245km up from Perth the day before, by dawn I’m at Nambung National Park, home to the surreal Pinnacles Desert.
Luckily nobody else seems to have set their alarms so I’ve got the place
Cruising between the thousands of mysterious limestone columns just catching the day’s first rays of light, it’s hard to resist the urge to just get out and run around, arms waving like some sort of primeval madman (so I don’t – why fight it?).
I’ve never really given much thought to what an alien graveyard would look like, but suddenly I’m convinced that it would be a little something like this. Having got my fill of weird rocks, I hit the road. I’ve got an appointment with royalty I can’t afford to miss.
There’s no two ways about it – the Hutt River Province is a strange place.A little farm situated a few hours down a dirt track, Hutt River isn’t actually part of Australia.
Most Aussies have never even heard of it, but it is in fact the country’s only micro-nation, having claimed independence in 1970.
Yep, fed up with government farming quotas, Leonard Casley took drastic action and named himself monarch of his own land. Somehow, due to a since-closed legal loophole, he got away with it.
So I cross the border and park up, to be met by Prince Leonard himself.As brilliantly eccentric as I’d expected, the prince stamps my passport, gives me a tour of his realm, shakes my hand and gives me directions back to Australia.
An hour or so later I’m back on the main road, not convinced I didn’t just imagine the whole thing.Soon the rolling farmland transforms into a landscape of rocky gorges. I reach Kalbarri and scramble off into the bush where I find dramatic outcrops and breathtakingly spectacular lookout points, like Nature’s Window.
Back on the road I keep heading north, the country keeps getting hotter and the cars keep getting fewer.I’d been told to get used to Aussie radio being akin to travelling back in time 20 years, so I’m ecstatic when Classic Hits 666AM comes into range. The day’s main programme is Sounds of 1986!
Next on the itinerary is to visit the family at Shark Bay. Well, not so much family as ancestors, and you may have to use your imagination a bit. I’m talking rocks here.
Essentially rocks that have spent the last three-and-half billion years pumping out oxygen, the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool are pretty much the oldest living things on the planet, and without them we may not exist.
They aren’t the most awe-inspiring sight, but they’re definitely worth the detour. So I leave Phil Collins in the van and check out the strange little submerged toadstools.
Just down the road I drag myself away from Paul Simon for a break at Shell Beach, imaginatively named because it’s made up of millions of shells several metres deep.
Pushing on, accompanied by Peter Gabriel, I race towards one of Australia’s best kept secrets – the Ningaloo Reef.
Few travellers seem to have heard of Ningaloo before they reach Oz, which is strange as the waters are warm, the reef just metres from shore and the wildlife on display incredible.
After a quick snorkel and bake in Coral Bay – which must be one of the most idyllic lagoons Australia has to offer – I head on to Exmouth, a town with clear aspirations of becoming the Cairns of the west.
I’m in Exmouth to see whale sharks – which at up to 12 metres long is the world’s biggest fish. For a few months a year they swim right along the coast so I jump on a boat and head out.
With spotter planes in the sky, we’re soon given the shout and in the water.
I’m last in and so plummet confused into a tangle of snorkels, fins and bubbles. Seconds later the water is clear and I stare ahead, frozen in amazement.
Just metres away, a giant is coming straight at me, its cavernous mouth wide open as though preparing to vacuum me up.
But looking me in the eye, the shark effortlessly curves away, showing off its beautiful spots as if shimmying down a catwalk.
Throughout the day we saw six more whale sharks, plus a couple of minke whales, although none of the manta rays also common in the area.
It’s the sort of experience I’ll never forget.It was then into the Pilbara, one of the hottest regions on the planet, where I race across the scorched earth.
I stop briefly in Karratha to scramble around in search of Aboriginal rockart, before the final push to Broome.
With 3,500km on the clock I reach the promised land of Cable Beach and head straight onto the perfect white sands to enjoy a lazy beer watching camels walking across a blazing sunset.
There’s no better place to recuperate from an all-time great roadtrip before setting off into the unknown of the Kimberley…