Tuesday 9th January – Coast, More Coast, Then The Jackpot

We didn’t muck around in the morning, but we didn’t rush either. With every day that passes we are getting into more of a rhythm. Our camping mate was long gone very early so we didn’t see any of him. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any more of Caroline or Dora either. I drove us out of the packed camp and we head towards Albany. Thanks to our early start, we were at the visitor center at the bottom of town ten minutes before they opened. That was ok, I sat in the sun and read some brochures while we waited.

When the centre opened, we talked to a lovely lady that pointed out all the key points of Albany and highlighted the best free camps on the way to Esperance. This advice would end up going a long way. Wanting to stretch our legs, we left the car at the visitor’s centre and walked up into town. We got sidetracked pretty quickly and head to the Old Gaol. Since that was closed until 10am we walked around the free museum finding some massive crab skeletons, then on to the Amity Brig, a rebuild of an old sailboat mounted on a grassy knoll. We walked around and on the top deck of the big ship but declined to pay the extra $5 to see below decks.

Another wander past the old gaol and we decided it wasn’t worth the money, a fact later confirmed by Mum who’d visited previously. We walked up the main street now, finding a Rivers store on the way and waltzing in to get Sheldan a new pair of sandals to replace his broken thongs. With that a successful mission, we walked to the old church then turned around when we decided we’d seen all the old buildings.

We got back to the car and drove up to a lookout point that was initially disappointing until we found that we weren’t actually at the top with the tower shaped like a spark plug. Once we found that we were right, with big views of the bay and the large town of Albany.

From the lookout we drove down the scenic Frenchman’s Way all the way to the Whaling Station. Another attraction we declined to pay for, instead we were rewarded with the best looking beach we’d seen yet.

White sands and turquoise waters, it felt like a taste of what was to come in Esperance. What we weren’t prepared for was the temperature of the water. It was bloody freezing so that ruled out any possibility of a swim despite the sunny day that we’d so wished for after yesterday’s clouds.

On the way back in to town we stopped at all the placed recommended to us by Mum and the lady at the visitor’s centre. We started with Stoney Hill, exactly what the name suggests which offered grand views of deep blue water. Next, we stopped in at James Newell’s Bay which was a gorgeous inlet of colours from deep blue to light green. Apparently it used to be a small fishing village but now it’s untouched. Our last stop was The Gap and the Natural Bridge. These were the most famed attractions with some pay stations to encourage honest people to support the National Park. Since we had Mum’s National Park’s Pass we were already being honest just by being there.

The Gap was a crack between rocks that let sea water rush in and crash against the hard, vertical surfaces. The power of such a huge body of water was pretty well summed up in such a small spot, I was mesmerized watching it for at least ten minutes, waiting for the crescendo when the waves would crash with a boom and spray for long seconds until all was calm again. All this in a movement of light blue and turquoise colours, it was amazing.

Just next door was the natural bridge which honestly wasn’t all that ooh-aah for me since I’d seen skinnier bridges in the States, but it was still a feature worth a lookout. With that, we said goodbye to the tourists with their selfie sticks and drove back through town and over to Emu Point where we were excited to have some of the best fish and chips in the world, as advertised in many a brochure I’d picked up. Sheldan navigated us to the Squid Shack and we were pleasantly surprised to find it didn’t have a queue out the door. Soon after we ordered, that was pretty much the case and unfortunately the novelty of having fish and chips had worn off by the time ours was ready. Best fish and chips in the world it certainly was not. The batter was rich with oil and the chips well done but we scoffed it down all the same dipping each fried piece of whatever in the sauce that we’d brought ourselves (it’s a matter of principal that I won’t pay $1 for a tiny tub of sauce).

Disappointed in our first eating out experience of the trip, we decided we were finished with Albany and drove out of town en route to Esperance. It was only about 2:30pm but after last night’s free camping experience, we decided it was best to make an early camp at our next stop.

On our way to Betty’s Beach, I noticed that the ocean was in front of us on the highway instead of behind and pointed this out to Sheldan. He quickly realized his navigational error and we turned ourselves around to take the turn we’d missed. He lost points there, but thankfully we hadn’t gone too far down the wrong road. Only half and hour later we were on a corrugated dirt road looking for our night’s haven.

We had three spots close together to check out. The first was packed full of people and so not an option. Keeping our optimism up, we drove straight past East Bay and into Betty’s Beach. Here, we got lucky and weren’t disappointed. It looked as thought the place was full but when we drove as far as we could before sand, I took a driveway beside an unused shack and found a potential campsite. There was an older couple sitting under an umbrella enjoying the view and so I got out to talk to them. They were camped around the corner and explained that the fishermen who used the shack had left a couple of days ago and people had camped where we were the previous night so they didn’t see a problem with us staying. That was enough for us! We parked the car. Wholly shit, what a camp. This was way up there amongst my last year’s worth of camps.

This was the most beautiful spot we’d seen so far. Betty’s Beach was a rift of white sand, dark brown and orange boulders, blue waters and a volcanic peak in the background. First thoughts? Put the fridge (with cold beers in it) in the shade and let’s go swimming! Sheldan oriented the car in such a way that other people coming in this way could turn around and we went to the beach. The water was cold but tolerable once in it. Sheldan was still getting dressed by the time I was under the water. This was a beautiful place. I swum around in the water a while, managing to snag my knee on a rock when a wave pushed me but I didn’t mind, I was just happy to be carried around by the waves in this isolated place. I met Sheldan on the beach and watched him as he rushed into and out of the water.

On the sand we stayed for the rest of the afternoon. I’d brought my book down to read but didn’t need it. Instead, I dug myself a lounge chair in the sand and listened to music as I watched the waves roll in and out, the fishermen trying their luck for some salmon and the clouds move slowly overhead. Have I mentioned this was THE best camp?

When 5pm rolled around, the wind had picked up and it was getting too cold to sit by the water and so I retreated to the car for a shirt and met our neighbours. A German couple with a camper trailer had found space in our spot, leaving plenty of space for both of us. They seemed nice and we were happy to share.

Now armed with a shirt, I went for a walk along the rocks to see how far I could get. I met a local fisherman on the way who wasn’t having any luck and clambered my way towards the next beach and the volcano.

I saw crabs of every size and colour as I picked my way over the boulders. In each case they shied away into their hidey holes so I didn’t get a chance to watch them, but I know I interrupted a few fights. Every time I looked out to sea or back at Betty’s Beach I took another photo, this place was just so scenic.

I made it to the other beach with only a few climbing moves required and was rewarded with finding a natural spring like the one at Torbay’s Inlet. The water was bubbling up from beneath the sand a deep maroon colour and it was much warmer than the ocean water that was clashing with it.

I followed the fresh water river as far as I could and found that it developed into a mangrove-lined channel. It’s always a treat to see something new and this was no different.

I head back to camp with the sun dipping behind the mountain and met Sheldan just as he was putting up the tent. We made quick work of that then got the beers flowing and sat in our chairs to admire the view as we listened to some tunes. Absolute perfection.

The German couple rolled in on their dirtbike shortly after and were soon socializing with us. One thing led to another and we were collecting firewood and cooking our dinner over some hot coals. We were all well aware of the fire ban but there was a firepit sheltered from the wind by the shack and we were in the very corner of the campground where no one else could see us so we all agreed to take the risk. It was well worth it. Our new friends shared their sausages with us and we all swapped stories of travel, motorcycles, diving and all sorts as we ate and drank. Thomas and Dom were a lovely semi-retired couple taking two months off from their lives running a restaurant in Kunnanurra. When I mentioned the Moke, Thomas told us the story of how he’d travelled with a guy in a Moke from Sydney to Cairns, and I was able to recommend him a book because of his travels halfway across the world on a motorbike.

The party was over when a couple of guys came over and said, “you know, it’s a total fire ban” and something like “this shack is about to go up in flames”. They weren’t anyone of authority but fellow campers that felt like empowering themselves but that didn’t matter, I immediately pleaded ignorance and got up to get a bucket of sea water. Five minutes later, the fire was out and we all retired for the night. A shame for our soirée to be cut short, but it meant we all had a relatively early night. We’d be falling asleep to the sound of gentle waves crashing.

Here’s one more photo in case you still weren’t convinced this is the greatest place on earth…

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