5 mins

How to avoid getting flattened in Western Australia

Wander Woman Marie Javins refuses to let wild weather on Australia's west coast dampen her spirits

A friendly local in Western Australia (Marie Javins)

"So my tent does leak," I’d thought, staring up at the ceiling late last night on the Australian leg of my trip around the world. I’d briefly considered rushing into my rental car with my sleeping bag, mat, and pillow, but the outside between the car and the tent was a lot wetter than the inside, and the car was a tiny Hyundai, not ideal for sleeping.

Fortunately, the rain stopped a minute later. But the wind howled all night. 

In the morning, I packed up in a hurry and zipped off down the western coast of Australia, slowing down about 20 minutes later just shy of the town of Cervantes. I steered left another 20 kilometres and pulled past a ranger station for Nambung National Park, flashing my parks pass as I went. I was headed to something within Nambung called Pinnacles Desert.

I parked at the visitor’s centre and walked along a marked path over a small ridge to a viewpoint. Wow! A wide expanse of yellow sand lay in front of me to the horizon, dotted with green shrubs and tall limestone pillars. These were the pinnacles I’d come to see.

These tan and grey rocky spires were of a variety of sizes, from ankle-height to four metres tall. And they were lit by the morning sun, which was rapidly rising in the vivid blue sky.

I opened my umbrella for shade and followed a four-kilometre blazed trail through the pinnacles, getting as close as I could without straying from the approved path. Pink-faced birds with grey wings – Australian Galahs – sat on some of the pinnacles. They weren’t scared of me and didn’t fly away. Almost 200,000 tourists a year visit Nambung National Park, though at the moment, I appeared to be alone.

Perhaps this was a byproduct of the morning sun, which was going from pleasant and bright to downright uncomfortable. I hurried to the end of the trail and back to the visitor’s centre to cower in the shade for a minute. Maybe I’d just finish my sightseeing up with a quick drive, along a track marked with parallel rows of rocks.

Perth, my destination for the day, was only a few hours south, so after Nambung National Park, I went into full-on sightseeing mode. My next stop was the Benedictine monastic town of New Norcia. I traipsed around town looking at Spanish-style architecture, then drove another hour and a half to Yanchep National Park.

I rushed into the visitor centre at just a few minutes before 3pm.

“Can I still get onto the Crystal Cave tour?” I asked. The 3pm was the last tour of the day, and my dallying had made me late.

The woman at the visitor centre made a call. “Yes, the ranger will wait for you. Hurry!”

I drove around a loop to the meeting point for the cave. A park ranger took me and another tourist – who was a few minutes later than I was – down into a cavern. Our eyes adjusted and we walked past stalagmites and stalactites for a while. How long? An hour? I lost all sense of time.

Back above ground, I drove to a boardwalk that winds through a koala habitat of tall eucalyptus trees. “They aren’t bears,” I remembered from when I’d lived in Australia. People call them koala bears, but they’re marsupials, not bears. Australians call them koalas, sans bear. Grey kangaroos grazed nearby, and I drove out of Yanchep just as more rain started.

I headed back to Perth where I pulled over into the covered parking lot of a shopping centre. I sat and watched the rain pour down.

"Should I go to a hotel? Should I drive until the rain stops?"

But I didn't want to drive farther south than where I was already. The town of Hillarys – where the whale-watching trip I was hoping to go on leaves from – was just up the road from the campground I'd stayed at last week. I wouldn’t mind staying there again.

I called the whale guys. 

"We don't have a trip tomorrow due to the weather." 

Oh. Camping was going to be fun then. 

"Do you have one on Wednesday?" 

"Yes, and that one includes admission to the Aquarium of Western Australia."

Hmmm. I called a Perth Regus serviced office. Regus runs the serviced office my Kuwaiti comic book company uses in New York. 

"Sure, you can come in and use our business lounge. We can just look up your membership on the computer." 

Fine, I thought. I'd sit in a nice office and catch up on work all day on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I'd go look at whales.

I headed to the campground, and the next morning, caught the bus right outside the campground gate. AUS $3.80 got me a ticket that included the train transfer all the way to the centre of Perth. I walked four blocks and waltzed right into an office that closely resembled my New York one. And that's where I sat and worked all day.

And later, I wandered back to the Perth train station after my day at "the office". I bought a two-zone ticket from a vending machine, showed it to a guard, walked to the platform and got on a train just as it pulled in, and 12 minutes later disembarked, showed my ticket again at the exit, and found the #424 bus stop back to Karrinyup Waters Resort.

The bus pulled up shortly, and my ticket included a free transfer.

"Do you know Karrinyup Campground?" I asked the driver.

He nodded, and ten minutes later, he dropped me off right in front of the campground.

I was pretty satisfied with myself as I walked through the gate and towards my tent site behind the camper's kitchen.

And then I remembered – the wind! The wind had been crazy today. I hadn't felt it high in my office tower, but the weather reports had been scary.

Last night's wind and rain had been bad enough that I was pretty sure my tent would have blown over if I hadn't been in it. The leak hadn't been too bad but the tent had been wet inside as well as outside.

But the tent was sturdy, right? I thought back to the German tent that had collapsed on Herr Marlboro and me in Uganda in 2005.

No way had my little tent made it through today, I thought. I should have taken it down in the morning.

When I got to my site, the campground’s night guard was waiting for me.

"It was flapping around like crazy so I took it down," he explained.

At least my tent hadn't blown away.

One of my tent poles had split lengthwise. The guard loaned me a pole for the night and my tent seemed not too worse for wear. There was no wind that night – just too many quacking ducks – and in the morning, I got up before five, excited to be going whale-watching today.

I unzipped my tent to jump out and go to the shower and – oh – flat tire on my rental Hyundai.

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