City stress drains from Vad Meleshko as he relaxes on the beach. Picture: Kelly Fitzgerald

I'm sitting outside our tent at 6.30am watching the sun fight a losing battle to break through the clouds over Fitzgerald River National Park.

I've been awake for an hour, firstly just listening to the waves breaking at Four Mile Beach, which is 200m away but hidden from sight behind scrub, then the whispers of nearby campers as they quietly rise and start to make breakfast.

We arrived in the eastern corner of the park just before dark last night from Perth, coming in on the unsealed West River Road/ Hamersley Drive which turns off the South West Highway after Jerramungup, about 45km before Ravensthorpe.

Having left the city later than expected and not entirely sure of where we were going, it was with relief that we spotted the road since the GPS map was stubbornly telling us there was no turn-off before Ravensthorpe.

Our little hatchback was loaded to the brim and I was stressed as we bumped along the gravel and dirt road, although my husband Vad remarked that it was one of the better unsealed roads he's been on. A sign at the entry to the park had advised us that roads on this side of the park were all open and as the road dipped down and narrowed in some places it was clear that rains could make it inaccessible in some places.

While I was watching the road surface and gripping the car seat with the same white knuckles as my mother when she was teaching me to drive, Vad was happily spotting wallabies just off the road that I was missing.

I loosened my death grip and tried to relax with the knowledge that unlike me, my husband is a confident driver. Unless you have a fear of gravel roads, the route is fine, with minor corrugations, and loose rocks in places but otherwise fairly smooth sailing.

After about 40 minutes we hit the sealed road and sailed past the turn-off to Hamersley Inlet. We wound down the windows and the cool sea air invaded the car and instantly revitalised us. After initial concerns we might be sweating it out in a tent, we started trying to remember where the warm clothes were packed.

The road undulated pleasantly, up and down, curving around easy bends, and Vad noted wistfully that this road would be awesome to ride on a motorcycle. We came around a bend and suddenly the sea opened up on our right. Minutes later, East Mt Barren soared above us on the left with stone formations that looked as though huge shards of rock had been thrust though the earth from underneath. The views were spectacular and we soon found ourselves at Four Mile Campground. We grabbed the last free spot of the 15 sites and had to set up on the gravel because the back of the site was uneven and covered with rocks and branches.

We fell asleep to the sounds of the waves, crickets and gentle snoring coming from a tent nearby.

It's now 7am and the sun seems to have given up, forcing me to add a hoodie to my singlet and shorts and I still have goosebumps.

Vad wakes eventually and after a quick breakfast we head off on foot to Barrens Beach, 850m and less than a 10-minute walk away.

My husband is extremely keen to go for a swim even though it is cool. He is quite cross that I didn't check that he was paying attention when I told him there was no water and no showers in the park.

Despite the name the area is anything but barren and the now internationally acclaimed biosphere reserve is home to 1500 of the 5700 native plant species found in south-western WA (including 80 species of eucalypts).

I realise Vad has disappeared, and when I get to the top of the timber walkway I can see he has hung his T-shirt and towel on a chunk of rock and is waist-deep in the water scrubbing himself.

I join him and although the water is fresh, it's not freezing and is calm enough in the shallows for us to shed some of the previous day's dust. I turn around and Vad is laid out on his back on the sand. He says it's so relaxing that he can practically feel the stress draining into the ground beneath him.

He spends a while going from his back to his front, unperturbed by the couple who come and go and the family group that walks on the sand and disappears around the corner of the beach.

I take up a perch on a rock formation away from the water's edge and end up having to put my hoodie on over my bathers because the air is so cool.

We are enjoying the quiet nothingness on the sand, so linger a while longer. I almost fall asleep with my head resting on my knees, then look up to see Vad a short distance away leaning between rock crevices, his arm shooting into cracks as if he is hunting something.

The next minute he is waving something at me and I see he has caught a crab. Not one big enough to eat, but certainly bigger than the one with a body about the size of a 50-cent piece that I had excitedly photographed earlier.

He brings it over to me for a look and it is a reddish-brown, almost maroon colour. Vad pops it back into the rocks where he found it.

The day continues like this with breaks for food and naps, overcast skies and spurts of light raindrops that never last more than a few minutes. We wander down to nearby East Mylies Beach about 3pm where it's a bit windy.

We lay down on the powdery sand for a while before the sun finally breaks through the clouds.

It's as though the weather changed completely while we had our eyes closed. The sky is suddenly blue and I throw off my hoodie and let the sun make my skin tingle.

We've been there almost two hours and the small group off in the distance has disappeared, so it's just the two of us on this stretch of sand.

We've only been out of Perth for a day but it feels like we're a world away. Then as suddenly as the sun appeared, it's gone.

The hoodie comes out again and we head back to our campsite for the night.

FACT FILE

Fitzgerald River National Park covers 329,882ha. Entry to the park is $12 per car or $5.50 for drivers with a concession card.

Camping at Four Mile Campground is $10 per adult per night. There is no water in the park, drinking or otherwise, so bring plenty of your own.

Facilities include drop toilets and barbecues but there are no bins, so you must take your rubbish out. With a 2WD you can enter the eastern section of the park via the unsealed Hamersley Drive from the South West Highway (weather dependent), or from the sealed end of Hamersley Drive off Hopetoun Ravensthorpe Road.

The West Australian

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