WA: Windy Always!
At a roadhouse somewhere between Broome and Port Hedland, sleeping in the shade of mango trees (the only shade within 50kms!), we met Yuya. He was cycling in the same direction as us so we decided to form a pedalling trio, sharing the journey south through Port Hedland, Karijini, Tom Price and Coral Bay, very much enjoying each other’s company and fresh conversation. Yuya had cycled down the east coast, and enjoyed it so much he decided to cycle down the west coast too! Have to admire that kind of enthusiasm.
After exploring the spectacular gorges of Karijini National Park we made a beeline towards the coast, dreaming of salty sea breezes and rejuvenating swims in the ocean. On leaving Tom Price we had our hottest cycling day ever – reaching more than 45˚C – so you can imagine how we longed for a swim.
In keeping with Western Australian tradition (maybe we need some more of those Irish Blessings… “May the winds be at your back” sort of stuff) the only northerly winds we had in all of WA occurred as we were heading west towards Coral Bay, and were more a hindrance than a help. Hindrance doesn’t do it justice really; they were gale-force winds that attempted to catapult the three of us from the bitumen, sailing off through rust-red sand dunes in a southerly direction. Intense stuff. It was granny gear all the way that day.
Almost a decade after I first heard about Ningaloo Reef, we finally left the fine white sand of Coral Bay and were floating on the surface of glassy turquoise waters. Below us was Australia’s largest fringing coral reef, home to more than 500 species of fish and an amazing 300 species of corals. Unfortunately it wasn’t whale shark season, however there was still plenty to see, including eagle rays, lionfish, octopi, reef sharks and the incredible variety of coral formations. We even snacked on the freshest possible oysters, from rock to mouth in 4.3 seconds. Coming from the sweltering north, the water in Coral Bay, not far south of Exmouth, was a little on the chilly side; even at 22˚C we couldn’t bear to stay in for more than half an hour, crawling out onto the warm sand with numb digits and shaking limbs.
South of Coral Bay, where we said goodbye to Yuya (though we did bump into him again in Carnarvon and Perth!) we hit several milestones in quick succession: after 11 months spent north of 23˚3’S latitude, we finally left the tropics behind.
We pedalled further in one day than either of us ever has in our lives, covering 147.9kms, and it was into headwinds! It literally took us all day, spending 8 hours 44 minutes in the saddle over a period of 12.5 hours. The kindness of strangers helped us through the day, with one couple shouting us an ice cream, another giving us a 1 litre jar of Nutella, and another lady some refreshing cold water!
That night it rained on our tent for the first time since before Cairns.
South of Carnarvon, the food bowl of WA (Carnarvon produces a massive 80% of WA’s winter fruit and veg!) we saw hundreds of wild (or escapee) goats and our first live emus frolicking beside the road. Well maybe not frolicking, just running very fast in their crazy clumsy emu sort of way.
We also passed the first un-tended patch of green grass since I can’t even remember when, and the weather was so much cooler that we could comfortably ride all day without fear of dehydration or heatstroke.
Most notably, the southerly wind dug in its heels so to speak, not budging or easing off from Carnarvon all the way to Perth. This strength and consistency caught us by surprise, as previously we’d had some headwinds but they never seemed to last more than a week or so, and we could often gain a little respite by cycling in the early morning before the winds really picked up. Not with these ugly things, which started blowing by breakfast, and by lunch were absolutely howling. It often felt like riding into a wall. Burnt into my memory is an image of us pedalling down a hill, legs burning with the effort, and looking at my speedo – we were travelling at 6km/h! It’s these moments you have to laugh, otherwise you’ll probably cry.
Rolling hills, wide-open spaces filled with wheat and punctuated with colourful WA Christmas Trees, and of course the incessant wind characterised the landscape as we cracked the 10,000km mark, and it felt great having made it this far.
Despite the dramatic and beautiful crashing of the Indian Ocean against rocky coastal cliffs along Indian Ocean Drive, we were overjoyed to arrive in Perth, with a hot shower, soft bed and a sleep-in waiting for us at Zac’s place. Apparently the most isolated city in the world, Perth was the first city we’d seen since Cairns, which feels like a distant memory. Perth’s network of cycle paths made for enjoyable days out exploring the city and surrounds, without having to fight the traffic. There was so much to see in the area too; with Zac we visited a few Swan Valley wineries, checked out the Fremantle Markets and enjoyed some scenic waterfront watering holes, as well as the pleasures of a few home-cooked meals. We also cycled through King’s Park, the second largest city park in the world, and circumnavigated Rottnest Island, stopping at various bays and headlands to take in the views and enjoy our picnic lunch. Though the clear blue waters around Rottnest made it look like a tropical island, the water felt icy!
No doubt about it, Zac and all those creature comforts were difficult to leave. At least we were leaving for the Munda Biddi Trail rather than the boring highway. Ahead of us lay 400kms of off-road riding bliss, surrounded by forest and with charming little towns along the way…that’s what we thought anyway…