It’s raining in Esperance

Esperance WA: famous for its beach

Esperance, Western Australia

Esperance is an odd kind of city, on the south-west coast of Western Australia. It has a modest population of about 15,000 people, but with a reputation for the best beaches in the world Esperance is a draw for cruise ships and tour groups from around the world.

I arrived in Esperance at the start of Autumn, 10 days into March, with the heat mostly gone out of the summer and the tourists largely moved on. Though already Autumn, it would be mistaken for a good summer’s day back home: deep blue skies and sun sparkling on the southern ocean like thousands of fireflies.

Esperance — so I am told, and I am little sceptical — officially boasts the best beaches in the world. Apparently this is based on something like the lightness of the sand, or perhaps length of beaches. The city is a 6-hour drive from the city of Albany, hardly a bustling metropolis in its own right but many times the size of this city 500 km further along the cost.

That’s not to say Eleven Mile beach is unremarkable. With the sky a deep blue and the sun shining on the ocean, it was sparkling like thousands of fireflies on the surface of the water. The beach’s soft sands weren’t so “white”, though — and it’s not a criticism, merely an observation that it would be lazy to describe them so simply. They are an incredibly pale yellow, a soft cream, perhaps.

This morning, on my second day in town, I woke up to rain. After a month in Australia not seeing rain, and apparently no significant rain in this region since the year began, it was welcomed. Although I had been looking forward to visiting a beach properly, and experiencing its famous icy waters, I was content to listen to the sound of heavy rain on a tin roof — and when the rain eased, listening to the streams of water as it ran down to the parched garden.

In the afternoon, with the rain and thunder behind us, our host took us out in his four-wheel drive vehicle to experience up close many of the city’s bays and beaches. Even if the rain had stopped, it still wasn’t a day for swimming, but that was OK too — because there’s plenty to see on the beaches and the surrounding areas without having to get your feet wet. Intentionally.

I don’t remember the names of all the bays and harbours we visited, driving down on to the wet sand and following the tracks of vehicles that had gone before us earlier in the day. The names don’t matter, I’m not a tour guide.

On one beach a group of vehicles stood, seemingly abandoned, with doors hanging open and belongings on the sand around them, until we noticed half a dozen surfers out in the water. The swell wasn’t large, but what I enjoy about surfing is sometimes as much about the zen of it: sitting on a board in the water, just quietly and peacefully waiting for the next wave. They weren’t chasing adrenaline today, they were just enjoying being out surfing at all.

On one beach I stopped to look at the line in the sand where the tide reached. Whether the tide was coming in or going out I didn’t stay long enough to make out, but at a certain point the sand was darker and uniformly speckled, while past that point it was glassy and smooth. Perhaps the mottled side of the sand was marked by the morning’s heavy rain, and the great southern ocean was edging its way up the shore to wipe the slate clean.

rock pools, EsperanceI could have stood for hours by one collection of rocks. The rocks were mixtures of dark greys and browns, with white sand dusting their crevices like snow. Every now and then a larger wave would come along and wash all around them, and I’d watch as the water drained back through all the small gaps between them. The ocean was a light aquamarine, but in the small rockpools that briefly formed it barely reflected the cloudy sky — in my pictures the water is all but invisible apart from where it catches the light.

On the beach, the pale glassy sand met a white-fringed ocean that went from the slightest hint of blue to aquamarine and out to a deeper blue as it swept out to more distant islands.

The islands themselves seemed to be fighting a war between rock and vegetation, overseen by the patient ocean. Out of the ocean rose smooth reddish brown rock, streaked grey and black in places, and it was impossible to tell if the greenish black vegetation that covered the rock so completely on top was spreading downwards to the sea to cover every last remaining stone, or if the island was balding, with the vegetation receding up the front and sides.

Above the beaches, the same greenish black vegetation was cut through with the dusty red tracks of roads, and up out of the foliage rose monoliths of that reddish brown rock, crusted with yellow moss in its cracks, and worn into the familiar shapes of people and animals by countless seasons of wind, rain and sun.

From high vantage points you could look across the harbours as the sun briefly came out and bleached the sandy shores of colour so that the almost resembled Dover’s chalk cliffs and made that same ocean — still aquamarine darkening almost in a line to a slate or cobalt blue — shine against it where it swept up and retreated. In the sun my attention was directed back towards the houses of Esperance, where a dark curtain of rain was again falling on the city.

rock formations, EsperanceAround the beaches, up the paths in the vegetation and rock, were areas for campsites — no doubt filled to capacity in the high season, and a ranger’s house a short distance away. I was reminded of Edward Abbey’s season in the wilderness of Arches National Park in the USA, and wondered what a life would be like as a ranger: wanting to live among the nature of national parks, and recognising that the roads and campgrounds and tourists are in part necessary encroachments for civilisations that must see value from these places: a value that comes from making them easily accessible and habitable.

 

Sculpture by the Sea: Cottesloe beach

Red Centre, by Carl Billingsley

Red Centre, by Carl Billingsley: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beachThis weekend the Amazing Aussie Adventure continued as I got the opportunity to check out the opening of Sculpture by the Sea on Cottesloe beach.

Cottesloe is a tremendously popular beach in Perth, but I’d never visited it properly before — then again, I’d never been to Perth at this time of year before, either, and visiting at the end of summer makes a big difference.

Making the beach even more attractive was a range of sculptures by more than 70 artists — local artists and artists from WA were exhibited alongside international artists, making the beach and surrounds into one big modern art gallery.

“Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding

Ocean Cathedral

Among the sculptures were “Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding, a cathedral window made out of bamboo with a view of the ocean, “Wave 1” by Annette Thas a wave made out of plastic Barbie dolls, and “Red Center” by Carl Billingsley, a veritable sea of red and yellow survey flags, that reminded me, in my exceedingly amateur opinion, of some of Van Gogh’s paintings.

“150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beach

150 Surfboard Graveyard

Other sculptures had an ecological message: including “150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson, a “graveyard” of broken parts of surfboard, all sticking out of the sand, a life size rhinoceros knitted entirely out of black plastic bags by Mikaela Castledine, and a fish tank of “Things You Might Find On Your Trip to the Beach” (by Marina DeBris) — entirely consisting of rubbish the artist finds washed up on the beach.

There are too many sculptures and installations to list here — but if you like art, want something to talk about and think about, the exhibition is running until the end of March. I can highly recommend it.

For more photos of Sculpture by the Sea, check out my Tumblr here and check out the Sculpture by the Sea official Twitter account

The first days in Australia: Perth zoo

Perth zoo: tree kangarooAs a belated birthday outing, we went to Perth zoo on the Friday after I arrived. Despite sleeping very little on the flight from London to Singapore earlier in the week, I’d been fortunate that I hadn’t too much difficulty adjusting to the time difference (Perth is 8 hours ahead of GMT).

Jetlagged

On a briefly unrelated side note, whenever I have a time change like this and find myself suddenly wide awake at 5 or 6am, I often think about trying to train myself to stay awake at that time permanently. After all, it would add several more productive hours to my days. As you’d probably expect, I always decide I like sleep too much, and get over the inconveniently early wakefulness without too much effort.

At this point in the adventure, I felt like I’d lost a day and a half when I left London on Monday morning and arrived in Perth on Tuesday afternoon. The feeling of things not being quite real was exacerbated by feeling a little adrift in the week. Just the same, I had largely overcome my mid-afternoon slump by the end of the week. Instead, what I had left behind felt more like a dream than the dusty red earth that was now home.

Beware: Cassawaries

Like with Serpentine National Park, going to Perth zoo on a week day in school time meant that it was reasonably quiet — with a surprising number of Scottish visitors. One of the things I noticed about Perth zoo was how spacious it felt — it had clearly been designed with a lot of thought to shade and wide open spaces.

You might think that one zoo is a lot like the next, but now that I think of it despite having visited various zoos and safari/wildlife parks at home, this was the first zoo I’d been to outside of the UK. I guess with all the travelling over the last few years, zoos were always further down the list than things like exploring the city.

Sure, Perth has its giraffes and lions and cheetahs and rhinos [fun fact: despite their intimidating appearance, rhinos are regarded by their keepers as overgrown dogs: they’re gentle creatures that like attention and a good scratch behind the ear] but the next realisation after the sense of space and shade in Perth zoo was the variety of Australian animals that I’d not experienced before.

There were the prehistoric and vicious-looking Cassawaries, the Quokkas who always look delighted about something, endangered Bilbys — and a veritable galaxy of small Australian marsupials. One of my favourite animals was the tree kangaroo, a native of Papua New Guinea, and an interesting-looking creature I’d not so much as heard of before. There were also the more familiar dingos, koalas, wallabies and a walkabout section through a wooded area where kangaroos would hop happily across the path in front of you. And despite having seen crocodiles in zoos and alligators both wild and in captivity, I wasn’t expecting a crocodile the size of the specimen in Perth zoo.

Orangutan - mother and baby at Perth zoo
Photo courtesy of Perth zoo: http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/news/gallery/

Perth zoo is a fantastic place for conservation, and learning. I learned a lot about the zoo’s conservation projects in the wild, including its fantastic native breeding program, and I was educated on topics such as the importance of dingos to the ecosystem. Once regarded as a pest, it’s been found more recently that in areas where dingos are reintroduced, the feral invasive species like cats, rabbits and foxes all decline, and the native plants and marsupials recover.

At risk of sounding like a tourist guide book, Perth zoo is a great place to visit. Even if it is more conventional than a place like Serpentine National Park — it’s a place to discover animals you’ve never seen or heard of before, but also learn about conservation efforts in Australia, and around the world.

Amazing Aussie Adventure: the facts

Western Australia

Western AustraliaThose of you joining this program already in progress may have questions about this Amazing Aussie Adventure I am on.

Questions like why is a 30-something marketing exec and copywriter from London in Western Australia? What is he doing? What kind of a visa is he on? And what is the purpose of this adventure? I’ll try and explain it here.

So; the why. The easiest explanation is that it’s all about a girl. Amanda, the creative genius behind Apples and Green, came to the UK 6 years ago on a working holiday visa. We have been together ever since. I always knew that one day she would want to go home, so we talked about it, and to cut out all the stuff in between: here I am.

Next, what am I doing? Am I travelling, am I writing a book, am I just having adventures and seeing where the wind takes me? Nothing quite that glamorous! Right now, I am looking to ply my digital marketing skills for a suitable employer in the shining city of Perth. I am also doing some freelance writing for various people, because I just love to write. I have an idea for a whole new blog — or even a book! — I want to research, and write, about the coolest small towns in Australia. But first I need a steady income…

What about a visa? I came into Australia on a partner visa, and I am a permanent resident — this is different from being an Australian citizen. I have no restrictions on my visa: I am free to come and go as I please for the next few years, and can work freely. Anyone interested in this kind of visa is welcome to contact me for anecdotal stories, but for anything more useful you should speak to a professional and visit the Australian government’s website.

What is the purpose of this adventure? This adventure is unlike the one-off adventures in Peru and Norway: it isn’t an adventure with a specific goal, like to raise money for charity and raise awareness, it’s more open-ended than that. It’s about life. It’s about The Flat Footed Adventurer in a wider sense.  It’s about sharing my stories to inform, entertain and, hopefully, inspire others to explore the world — while also expanding my own horizons. It’s also about overcoming adversity, sometimes.