I am addicted to the remotely located Ningaloo coral reef at Cape Range National Park. It is the worlds longest onshore reef so you can just snorkel off the shore and you are immediately in the wonderland of coral and sea creatures.
The best bit about this obsession is that it is only twelve hours drive away from my home.
The North West of Australia where the reef is located has a harsh climate with extremely high summer temperatures, dangerous animals, lack of water, very long distances between towns, droughts and cyclones.
The adversity of living in this part of the world can create deeply authentic people who have had to connect to make things work.
Cape Range National Park has been upgraded by the Australian Government from prickly, boiling, scratchy desert so that it now has pristine drop toilets, rubbish collection and camping bays at some of the bays.
Yearly I stay at Cape Range National Park and am enthralled by the hump back whales breaching and playing off the back reef. I am delighted when swimming with whale sharks, manta rays or turtles. I enjoy paddle boarding, kaiaking, wind or kite surfing with other large marine animals such as sharks, porpoises and stingrays.
Snorkelling here is like diving into a kaleidoscope of beautiful movement and colour. Within a few minutes you may see enormous green turtles nestling quietly under the reef an arms length away or octopi in tight holes in the coral, then there are swirling schools of gigantic pelagic fish, swaying reed like sea snakes, delicate Spanish dancers plus anything else that can be seen at a tropical reef.
Last time I visited it was inky black at night with the moon a tiny slit so that the stars jumped out, the milky way was a band of diamonds. The silence felt to me like I was cradled safely in a hole in the cosmos.
There are no more facilities than the toilet and rubbish bins, no mobile phone service, wifi, fresh water, shops or anything else. For that you have to drive an hour away to Exmouth.
At Ningaloo one morning bleary with a healthy hangover of a deep sleep in silence, I almost walked into to a kangaroo that had reached into the “dry” vegetable box that was inside a tent — he was quietly eating carrots. He had already eaten a couple of kilos of bananas so was content. He nibbled away at his ill gotten gains as I walked around him to brew an early morning coffee.
Just as the coffee boiled two white galahs swirled into camp, and stalked around. They only left after I gave them a plate of fresh water.
There are many beautiful and interesting bays in Cape Range National park.
In Turquoise Bay I relaxed and surrendered to the current as it swept me over the reef where I came close to a white tipped reef shark and then enormous purple lipped clams that appear to breathe the water.
Later at Oyster Stacks I almost swam into a wobbly gong shark as it sat camouflaged on top of a coral outcrop and then I shied away from a deadly cone shell as it sat on the sea floor less than an arms length away.
Exmouth is the closest town to the paradise of Cape Range National park so after days of no showers and lots of swimming I’m feeling a tad crusty, in need of some civilisation and fresh water.
I took my salt encrusted self into town to have a wash before I travelled on. My hair was standing on end and I couldn’t get a brush through it. I love not having to brush my hair but after some time well…
After days of camping my habit is to have dinner cooked for me at the restaurant in the caravan park where I stay before heading south and back home.
The last time I was there I wandered over to the Potshot pub for a pre dinner drink and quiet read before heading to the restaurant for dinner.
I’m a people watcher so when I heard lots of loud talk and laughter at a near table I noticed a very tall, man who appeared to be about fifty or sixty years of age — it was hard to tell. His hair was dark without any grey and his body was shaped like a modern day Chinese Wealth God. This man had a huge tummy swaddled in a bright blue “T” shirt. He moved lightly on his feet for such a heavy man so I imagined that imperceptibly over time he had swapped his six pack for a keg.
Mr “Blue” as I named him had large heavy framed black glasses with coke bottle lenses that slid down his nose. When he chose to see he tipped his head back and looked down from his great height. His skin was the deep red of a European who had —over the decades — been sun burnt so much that his skin had given up and was perpetually a deep red. As he laughed loudly I noticed the gap in his teeth.
Blue walked lightly and quickly but with the waddle of a heavily pregnant woman. I noticed that he was talking to a couple of young women and that the energy between them was loving, engaged and they seemed to be excited to be together. There was a pinkish glow over these people and they had easy familiarity and respect that made me curious.
I then reminded myself that it was madness to assume anything about anyone or anything in life so I went back to my book.
Later I wandered back to the caravan park and restaurant. In the dark on the excellent bike paths of Exmouth I felt safe because the paths were filled with cyclists, runners and dog walkers enjoying the cool evening air.
The only unsafe part was the emus who are known to be aggressive at times.
Over the last couple of years I have been invited to join people at their table in this restaurant. I guess because it is too embarrassing for the locals to see a single woman eating alone? I’m not sure really.
I had forgotten this quirk in the fabric of the universe so excitedly entered the restaurant thinking about the next chapter of my book.
A backpacker waiter with a strong accent I couldn’t place hovered over me as he showed me my table. He was much taller than me and he bent over the top of me and bumped me as he gave me the menu.
I was distracted by the waiter until I was accosted by a man at the next table who was loudly calling out “Come and sit here!”
It is the larger than life “Blue” mountain of a man from the pub and he is there with four younger people.
Resigned that this is the way of it in this restaurant in Exmouth — I do.
I notice a couple of grey nomads sitting at the table behind “Blue” and they take a lively vicarious interest in what is happening. It is easy for them to follow the theme as “Blue” is joyous, loud and open with his speech.
Upon sitting down I learn that “Blue’s” name is Walsey — this is because he comes from Wales.
He is excited to have me at the table because he had noticed me reading at the pub.
Walsey emanates smiles. He is loud and funny and seems out of place with the other occupants of the table. Yet they sit there with a sense of protection and caring.
I’m introduced; First to a German couple both slender, refined, beautiful and quiet. Their eyes were intelligently taking in the play of words as they wash over the table. This couple chip in at times with remarks that are well thought out. I learn that they have opened an amazing business in Exmouth called Social Society where they serve delicious organic food and sustainable clothing.
At the other end of the table are a married couple. The woman is Korean with a round face an easy smile and lots of dead pan jokes. Her newly minted husband is from Ireland. These two are fun they have twinkles in their eyes and a ready humour. They work from Perth in the fly-in/fly-out mining industry. They are a joy to be around because they keep the conversation flowing no matter what Walsey says.
I am the only Australian born person at the table and I recognise that this has been the familiar experience all my life. I am constantly exposed to a soup of different cultural perspectives and ideas without having to travel overseas —I well up with the feeling of luck and gratitude.
Curious I ask what brings them together and the story unfolds.
During the boom time in Western Australia the Korean woman and German couple were in Exmouth working twelve hour shifts in hospitality. They couldn’t afford the extremely high cost of accommodation in town, so they camped in the bush out of town. They had no facilities — no water, toilets, rubbish collection or electricity. Sort of like being at Cape Range National Park however, without the toilets, camp sites or rubbish collection.
The bush here is hot, dusty, full of insects that bite, plants that sting, snakes, and other poisonous creepy things. There are very few trees around Exmouth and the ones that are there are stunted and provide little shade. I imagined that their tent would have been hellish. After a twelve hour shift they would have had to cook and clean for themselves, cart in their own water, food and everything else and only God knows what they did for a toilet.
These people were from Korea and Germany where they have every facility imaginable so they probably would have been exposed to extreme culture shock.
Their story is told in snippets between jokes, rude comments and various other stories.
At one time Walsey relays that he thought that the Korean woman would never get married because he thought she was a lesbian.
At another time he says he knows that his twenty-three year old Australian daughter is a virgin — for sure.
He then relates how he behaved when he met the only boyfriend she ever let him near. We then totally understand why he thinks that she doesn’t have boyfriends.
Then he questions me. “Where do you live?”
When I answer he loudly asks “What is the value of your home?” To which I reply; “Way more than you can imagine, I’m a purse.”
I then say to the table “I’m a total nurse and a purse — I understand this is a real turn on for men.” They look amused and then cringe a little when his next question; “What type of car do you drive?”
I am ecstatic at this situation so in answer I slap my keys on the table. When he sees it is a Mercedes he looks happy.
The two couples wince again and then protectively try to say something to ameliorate his crash-bang queries.
I am in a place of joy, such open gall and innocence all mixed up together in a fully grown man.
At the end of the meal he whips out his credit card and pays for everyone including me.
Back to the story of why they were all together. This is how I heard their story — I am not really sure if I have it exactly right.
Walsey who was living in Exmouth with all the facilities of modern life noticed their situation. He invited them to live with or maybe around him.
These back packers moved out of the bush and they all lived as a community protected by this big Boomer of a man and for this they love him and respect him.
At the end of the evening Walsey turns to me and much to the delight of the grey nomad couple he says; “Come back to my place.”
By this stage my love for this kind bumbling man knows no bounds — He is a fine soul and I respect him. I let him down gently. I say; “Thanks so much but I have a long drive tomorrow so — no.”
When he insists I gently say;
“Walsey, I don’t want to drink anything more tonight so thanks so much for inviting me but no.”
He has had a few too many wines so asks couple more times until he finally gets the “No” in good humour.
The grey nomads are hysterical. I am blissed out.
Kind, generous and genuine people come in many guises.