Esperance is a picturesque little town. I had a day to kill there, so I wandered around, just exploring, and I discovered this wonderful little museum packed with seemingly random exhibits. City museums are one thing, with their multiple levels, priceless paintings and mummies from ancient Egypt (it's funny how every museum seems to have something from a pyramid), but little town museums are a different kettle of exhibits altogether, and they're a hoot. This one was typical – an old, disused railway station, with junk scattered everywhere – but I thought it was particularly interesting. I went in there because they had bits of the Skylab space station that fell to earth in 1979 over Esperance, and as a budding space cadet I just had to see them: those things had been in space, man! But there were other bits and bobs that were worth the effort, none more so than the unexpected appearance of a BBC Master Compact on display; this computer was only released in about 1985, when I was using BBC Micros at school, and seeing it in a museum made me feel ancient...
That afternoon I left Esperance and turned back on myself to visit the Cape Le Grand National Park, a beautiful set of granite hills set in scrubland right on the coast. The most intriguing peak was the 262m-high Frenchman's Cap, so called because the top of this mountain is home to a huge cave that goes right through the peak, so when you look at it, it looks like a cap on top of the mountain. I bounded up the very steep granite surface, and reached the top in record time; the view was well worth it. On the way up I passed a group of middle-aged women having a breather, and I met them again at the bottom, as they started to get out lunch for them and the rest of their family. Whaddya know, five minutes later I was joining them for lunch, chatting about my trip and where I was from; the group consisted of a family from Birmingham and the relatives from WA that they were visiting. What a lovely collection of people... it just shows how easy it is to meet people in the countryside compared to the cities, where people are much more aloof.
My next destination was Bremer Bay, a tiny coastal town at the western end of the Fitzgerald River National Park (there are quite a few National Parks along the southwest coast). I arrived at Bremer Bay in the dark, after a considerable drive down some evil dirt roads, and pitched my tent in pitch black – something that becomes second nature after doing it every day for over a month.
The morning of April Fool's Day I awoke to the sound of the sea, not uncommon when you're on a coast-hugging trek. But Bremer Bay was quite beautiful, with a huge curved beach and deep blue surf, and I would have lingered longer if it hadn't been for the call of the National Park up the road. Somewhere in that park was a mountain with my name on it, and I was going to conquer it.
West Mt Barren was the nearest one open to the public, so I headed out there; there's a disease called dieback that gets spread by walkers, and it's particularly prevalent on the southwest coast, so some mountains are closed off periodically to trudgers like me. Dieback rots plants' roots, so it's the botanical equivalent of athlete's foot, but don't try telling that to an Australian. Here Athlete's Foot is a shop that sells sporting footwear, and tinea is the fungus that hangs around in showers. Another useful tip from Dr Mark's Travel Almanac...
Anyway, West Mt Barren was delightful, and the sun beamed down as I headed up the slope. I was rather pleased that I'd got there in one piece, as the dirt roads through the park were particularly challenging; one thing I'm getting rather good at is doing controlled skids around corners, and it's all down to those driving games you get down the pub. I knew those Wednesday nights down The Crown in St Albans would come in handy one day.
It's hard to describe being totally alone on a hill, surrounded by barren scrubland and beautiful coastline in the distance. But it's even more amazing when a wedge-tailed eagle decides to do its hunting right around the corner, and keeps swooping over your head. I'm no ornithologist, but even I'm amazed by birds that big and graceful1. Not a sound, just gliding into the sun... it's quite a sight.
Having conquered West Mt Barren, I continued down the dirt road from hell to Point Ann, surely the most wonderful beach in the world. Here I was, completely alone, miles from civilisation, and there was this beach going, 'You know you're hot, you know you're sweaty, so go on, jump in,' which is exactly what I did. Nobody on the beach, not a cloud in the sky, endless, squeaky-clean sand... there isn't much more that paradise can offer. I dried out in the sun, got out my guitar and serenaded the sand dunes, something I'd never do if there were any chance of someone actually hearing me. Still, the crabs enjoyed it.
Behind Point Ann is St Mary's Inlet, which is... an inlet! But it's no ordinary inlet, as it's so flat it goes on for ages. I stalked through the bush and round the side of the water, and eventually battled through the undergrowth to the inlet itself. The tide happened to be out, and there was this huge – and I mean huge – flat area of white sand, surrounded by gently sloping bush. It had the same feeling as the Coorong, just smaller, but I still danced around like a madman, adding boot prints to the roo marks all over the place.
It couldn't last forever, though, and although I could have camped the night, I wanted to get to civilisation and to a long, hot shower, so I packed up and skidded my merry way to Albany, further west along the coast.
1 Be careful where you repeat this phrase...