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  • alexellenward

four-wheeling on the south west coast

We reached the forest outside Nannup at golden hour on a Sunday, everything quiet and lovely against the tall karris. We found a spot to park up on the Bibbulmun Track (the thru hike of the south west), which we had discussed trying to do a section of. There was a stillness there. Super quiet and no service too. Although I’m always planning for road trips/living half out of the car or van, I had forgotten the magic of arriving somewhere with nothing to do but be. To have everything you need with you and allowing the adventure to take you from there!

May 2, The Southern Forests

Today we drove from Nannup to Manjimup (up = ‘place of’, manjin = a type of fish abundant in the rivers of the region), a slightly bigger, yet elderly-populated former timber town. We passed plum and apple trees on the way in, avocados and dairy farms. I’d never heard of The Southern Forests region before, encompassing the area around the towns of Nannup, Pemberton and Manjimup. In a small coffee shop in the rainy Manjimup, that acted as a refuge from the cold mostly, I picked up a book describing the region as the ‘food bowl’ of WA. The area produces 60% of WA’s produce. It is the birth place of the Pink Lady apple, where it was first created by crossing the Lady Williams and Golden Delicious, a variety which is now exported and grown around the world. Chestnuts, cherries, feijoas and black truffles also grow here amongst many more common fruits and vegetables. The book detailed the strong family lineage of the farms too - many belonging to Mediterranean immigrants who arrived in the 50/60s, finding the soil to be perfect for things like olives and almonds and the promises of living a better life. Many descendants are still around, keeping on the family traditions and allowing farm experiences like picking your own chestnuts and roasting and eating them on site. The region encourages people to buy locally and to know where their produce is coming from, something I couldn’t agree with more. There’s an emphasis on understanding process, the in between stages. My mind began lighting up with flavour combos and recipes.

Next we drove to Pemberton - home to the climb-able, old fire lookout spot, the Gloucester Tree. It was $15 to enter the National Park, where we approached a carpark of four-wheel-drives & Utes, with 8-12 year olds piling out to gaze upward at the natural wonder attraction and centrepiece: a 58m tall, honey streaked karri tree with iron spikes inserted into its trunk in an upward spiralling formation, forming a precarious staircase. It led to a trapdoor which opened up to a small wooden platform, high amongst the foliage for looking out at the top.

May 3, Jasper Lake

A table in a lake, two nudie swimmers in the middle of nowhere. Sandy forest four-wheel-drive to get here that we didn’t know existed. A flock of birds take off from the silvery surface of the lake, shedding the water from their black wings in flight. Nothing but our thoughts and past experiences for company in the serene. The world of our books and each other’s cuddles. What a life we live! Of deep reflection and simple physical pleasures. Webs of inner chatter initiated by the natural world. Ben’s skin on mine amongst skinny reeds and white sand banks of the glistening freshwater lake.

May 6, Greens Pool & Elephant Rocks, Denmark

Aptly named for the bouldering friendly rock giants, “Elephant Rocks”, best fits the description of nature’s ocean playground! Dive into the ripples of varying blues to take a peep at coral gardens swaying with tiger and leopard patterned fish and big spotted breams gulping in water. You’ll need a snorkel and probably want a wetsuit as on exiting everything kind of freezes up. We swam in May without one as the Leeuwin current that passes through this area does warm things up a little though. On a sunny day, the rocks and sand in between trap heat, meaning walking the short way between Green and Elephant Cove, using the backs of elephants as stepping stones, the perfect way to harness the nature available to us to warm up. Especially when you live in a car!

May 7, Denmark to Albany

We departed from the cozy comfort and community feel of Denmark after a lovely 4 days. The push and pull of travel and wanting to settle down stronger than usual. It’s a positive feeling really. It’s that deeply-set inner self becoming more aware of what she needs. We had the most simply wholesome evening with Emma, Roger, Eva and Roger’s mum (family of family friends), the epitome of what I hope nights to resemble when I one day have visitors to my own abode. Roger offered us a choice of local beer, wine or elderflower cordial as we arrived, while I stepped into the kitchen to help Emma shred silverbeet leaves from their stalks to wilt for the tofu palak paneer. The smell of garam masala and caramelised onions filled the small space. A pot of pumpkin and chickpea curry bubbled away. Roger and Ben headed out to the fire pit while Eva and her carer Bronte came to say hello. Emma and I conversed easily as she finalised the meal. We gathered around the round wooden table, passing around the rice and then each curry, sharing the homemade lime pickle and reaching over each other for pappadum. We drank red wine out of little glass goblets. Macrame hangings stared back at us from the walls. Crystals and dried butterfly wings and native leaves peered from the tops of bench tops and the ledges of windows. Three avocado seeds balanced on small jars, beginning to sprout.

We chatted into the night by the fire pit outside, tea and homemade apple pies balanced atop laps, talking of Indigenous astrology tales and that funny feeling you get in places while travelling when you know something isn’t quite right.

It’s the simple comforts and goodness in people that shine through when you’re living on the road as it gets cooler! Thank-you so much for your hospitality, stories and warmth Emma and Roger!

10 May, East Bay, WA

After Emma’s place, we found a beautiful free camp at Torbay Inlet - a river that ran off from the sea. Full of bird life and fish plunging in and out of the water, we pulled our camp chairs out to the edge of the water and read as pale pinks and blues began to appear in the smooth surface of the water, mirroring the sky above. We made a small fire and ate a Moroccan cous cous creation, talking into the night of our extended family dynamics, nibbling on tea-dipped Whittaker’s chocolate and talking of how creamy it tasted. We did some 4WDing the next day, snacking on pretzels, then drove into Albany after a lovely mother’s day call with mama from Brunswick Heads.

We found Frenchman Bay towards the Flinder’s Peninsula off Albany, a gorgeous spot where everyone was out for picnics and a paddle. We ate leftovers for lunch there, swam and read for hours in the sun.

13 May, Lucky Bay, WA

Our last proper destination on WA’s enormous coast - Esperance!! From Point Ann, we sent it to Esperance in one go, the rain pelting down and forcing us to move on. Even the wild weather right now - gusts and gales and intermittent showers - could not prevent us from enjoying this remote, once-in-a-lifetime destination. The pictures make Lucky Bay out as the calmest bay on earth but it is windy for the whole year bar two or so months. After living so closely and within nature for so long now, I’ve come into this deep sense of peace that you must feel it and live within it and that eventually it will pass (at least in Oz) and you will welcome the sunshine and warmth even more than before.

We climbed up a giant rock, clutching our coats in the wind, hair whipping around in every direction. It overlooked the bay, opening up immense views where we could even see where the pockets of rain were due to how flat and expansive the landscape was. We found little caves in the rocks and ran around alive with the force of the elements in such an incredible place. We ran back to the car for warmth, shed everything, trading our towels and swimmers before running down to the whitest sand in the country (they’ve compared it with Whitsundays and Jervis Bay) and the most glacial water - in colour and temperature (not proven). Like dolphins, we rode waves in and around for ages before running out to keep endorphins up, Ben’s face blue, red and orange with the blood coming back into it. It was like I’d had a psychedelic experience because of the colours and vitality of everything, how alive my body felt.

An Ode to West Oz

The place I met benjiroo

I now can’t imagine my life without you!

The place of every weekend at the pit

Staring up at skies brightly lit

By psyliocybin stars

And beaten up backpacker cars

The stairs that led to the moon

And basically living in a commune

The orange hues and the blue

Of all the places where there’s just you

The long drives for pondering

And all the space for wandering

The waterholes and bays for bathing

And towering trees that need our saving

To the endless towns

Lack of city sounds

Surfboard bound

Always ready to get around

Over 150 sunsets

A calf and grape farm, we ain’t done yet

The scene of a fishing rod wherever you look

The faint rustle in bushes while you cook

The souls you constantly meet

The joy in your belly from the heat

The cool did come though, especially down south

The hitchhiking with backpacks and word of mouth

We rugged up around fires

Learnt stories of the skies

Walked and danced until the only thing to resurrect us was pies

And fries and falafel curry wraps -

It’s an easy thing to whip up while our eyes were on the maps

Ive seen seven of your moons

And yet still hope to see you soon

Thank you for the growth west oz

You’ll always occupy a part of my heart, just coz :)

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