View Comments
Australia s Coral Coast
Australia's Coral Coast

I walk south, sandy toed, fringing the fringing reef of Ningaloo, and looking out from the west coast's blonde, beachy necklace across azure water to the breaking white where swell pushes in and dissipates over coral.

And then, frog footed and flapping, walk backwards into the calm Indian Ocean, all finned up and roaring air through the snorkel, spit smearing the inside of the mask.

This is Turquoise Bay, on the outside of North West Cape, just over the range from Exmouth. And this is surely one of the most intoxicating snorkel locations you could imagine.

Drift snorkelling. Swim out, just a few strokes, over shoaling fish that flash silver as a mirror-ball, and then let the current carry you up to the sandy point. Crawl out of the water, walk back down and do it all again until you're drunk with it.

Then sit in the warm sand, towel wrapped around your legs against the still-strong falling sun, digging your toes in, hugging your knees, watching another unutterably slow and sunset the colour of cut flesh.

This is the essence of Australia's Coral Coast tourism region. Coral Bay, Shark Bay, Gnaraloo, Quobba. Fishing from tinnies, surfing left breaks, paddling sea kayaks, divers in full kit, black as sealions, kids with floaties. It touches the salty essence of the Western Australia psyche. Mates on wave safaris, families soaked in simple pleasures.

Then down to Kalbarri, Northampton, Geraldton, Dongara, Jurien Bay and Cervantes.

This is the sort of coastline that the rest of the world dreams of.

It is remarkable, but perhaps nothing is as dramatic for me as staring at lumps in the still waters of Hamelin Pool.

They are living stromatolites, which first colonised here between 2000 and 3000 years ago, though the organisms that built them were the earliest forms of life on Earth. Fossilised stromatolites, virtually unchanged, show a lineage dating back 3500 million years. The beginnings of life on Earth.

Imagine that. Here I am, looking down at the first oxygenators, which started making this such a good planet.

And then, even closer to Perth, thousands of limestone pillars rise out of the yellow sand in Nambung National Park. Some Pinnacles rise up to 3.5m. Some are like tombstones. Composed of seashells in an earlier epoch rich in marine life, they may have taken thousands of years to form, but were exposed only a few hundred years ago.

We rode there once on trail bikes, up the tracks and beach. Had a ball. Dressed in motocross gear - a big, ribbed chest deflector, plastic elbow and knee protectors, awesome boots and those Darth Vader helmets.

And my mate clacked around the Pinnacles in the late light with a jerky, robotic walk and Pommie accent. "I say, have you seen R2D2? I seem to have lost the little chap."

Nailed it.

If, anywhere on Earth, there was a desert like something out of Star Wars, surely this is it.

The other bloke with us caught a fish and we cooked it up and ate avocadoes out of their shells with a spoon. And then we camped, companionable, on the beach and woke up in Hangover Bay.

Scourfield's picks

• A boat trip out through the rock-and-roll dogleg of the Murchison rivermouth at Kalbarri.

• A cold beer at Red Bluff, Kalbarri, after a hot day.

• Mt Lesueur National Park, which has 820 species of flora, 200 of which have special conservation significance.

• Stockyard Gully near Leeman. Cattle on the stock route was penned here, and a 4WD will take you up to its caves.

• Lake Indoon, in the Shire of Carnamah, has been a family camp and watersport spot for years. And it's still good.

• See the wildflowers in Mingenew and Mullewa. In a good year, it's spectacular around August.

• Walk the banks of the Irwin River and Port Denison harbour. Stay at the Priory Hotel at Dongara.

• Buy some local fruit and head out past Babbage Island and One Mile Jetty to Pelican Point Road and its long sweep of beach.

• Drive the partly unsealed Mullewa to Carnarvon road and get a taste of the Outback.

• Then camp at the Kennedy Ranges.

• Ningaloo Reef is iconic, but there are times when I like the still and shelly beaches of the Exmouth Gulf even more. Head to McLeod Street.

• Even if you're not bothered about the dolphins at Monkey Mia, drive out the finger of land to Denham, to see Shell Beach, literally composed of white shells, and the stands of grass trees.