There’s something alluring about a place, when you can retell a journey and become excited merely by its name. Many of you know I’m currently hiding under the wing of a Kiwi. However, not so long ago I was on a hunk of the neighbouring island continent, Australia, where I drew a route along the towns of the Ningaloo reef to the delightfully named, Quobba.
I’d emerged from the Indian Ocean after an unforgettable encounter with the regions whale sharks. I filled the ute’s boot with wet towels and all manner of obscure looking camping equipment, and Reb (my affable girlfriend) hopped into the passenger seat. We were headed to the other side of the Exmouth Peninsula, to the renowned Cape Range National Park; a strip of managed campsite’s that lies alongside the exquisite Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. At the time of our visit a minefield of red bell jellyfish plagued the waters. We weren’t deterred, and we were soon rewarded by the reef’s brilliant blizzards of fish. Turquoise Bay was a daily treat, and although we visited a site called Oyster Stacks just once, we’ll never forget it.
To replicate our Oyster Stacks experience, slip on a set of fins and a flattering yellow snorkel set, and then sit down in a full bath of water. Slide yourself from one end to the other, until the motion of the water is enough to carry the entire weight of your body. Now, holler a friend and ask them to place a large slab of broken rock at the end of the bath. After five minutes of slamming into the rock you should be suitably numb with pain and start to see specks of blood erupting from your legs. After asking your friend to cover the bathroom floor in identical rock, roll out of the bath and waddle across the jagged floor on your knees. Roll onto your back, and weep. That was Oyster Stacks.
The Kindness of Coral Bay
In perfect contrast to this brutal experience, was Coral Bay. The name alone captures the pleasant nature of the town. A small strip of campsites and hotels is separated from a soft strip of beach by a quiet road. Word of mouth sent us a couple of klicks up the sandy beach where we drifted into the ocean without a hint of agony. A flick of the fins set us above the craggy coral beds, and we soon realised the true beauty of the experience. There was a strong current — in our favour. We merely had to hang in the water like stray mannequins, and allow the current to carry us over the sort of kaleidoscopic coral beds normally associated with National Geographic, or TV programmes about anemone. Shoals of fish flashed up my board shorts, lagoon rays went about their day and a couple of young black tip reef shark sent a wondrous fizz throughout my entire vascular system.
No Quibble with Quobba
A short drive south of Coral Bay was the Quobba Blowholes. Blowholes are natural holes in the rocky shoreline that funnel seawater up into a fountain, as the swell of the ocean forces them together. They’d become a stalwart event along the way, and although they appeared to be everywhere, they never lived up to much. Quobba’s were in full force on that day, and as the mist cleared we learned of a neighbourly campsite nearby.
The campsite turned out to be a Grey Nomads dream. I’m twenty-seven and I was the youngest on the campsite by around sixty-nine years (bar Reb). The rough little campsite was so sweet-by-nature that we camped for four nights in the nook of a homely sand dune. As was the norm, we cooked every night on a crooked campfire, and spent everyday wallowing in the shallow water and wondering what we could legally burn in the night fire. I wrote like a madman over those four days, scribbling nonsense while Reb explored the shoreline, returning with stories of strange men and curious fish.
A Small Quibble with Quobba
It was during one of the long nights at Quobba that I rustled up a spicy pumpkin gnocchi. I spent a good thirty minutes peeling and boiling, then grating and waiting. It was dark by the time I pronged the first piece with my fork. The smell was irresistible, and I drew in the aroma as I lifted the morsel to my watering mouth. I felt something hit the back of my head. Then another. Then my neck. My legs. My arms. My face.
I was being hailed by extra-weak bullets. By the time I’d switched the car headlights on, it was too late. I’d flung my dinner over the dune in a last-ditch attempt to rid my famished soul of the violating grey beetles. The headlights were dappled in them and our tent appeared to be moving. On closer inspection, it was an outer layer of beetles. Our car window was open, allowing the swarm to stream into every gap in the cab: The air vents; cassette deck; and cracks in the seat. There is nothing quite as demoralising on the road as losing a good dinner. As sure as we slept hungry, we awoke satisfied. Satisfied because we were living on one of the world’s greatest coastlines.