My first destination after Perth was Cervantes, some 200km north up the coast and home to the incomparable Nambung National Park. It was also home to serious amounts of wind and torrential rain – it was obviously payback time for all the good weather I've been having, as it was all I could do to get the tent pegged down in time for the downpour. The rain out here comes in very short, very sharp bursts; it may only rain for one minute, but you'll be soaked to the skin by the time the rain stops, and there's absolutely no warning that it's about to rain. It's like there's someone up there with a tap, and this is the time of year he gets to play with it. Then again, this is a desert, so you can't really complain when it does rain; the poor place really needs the water.
After spending the first night huddled inside my tent, I got up early and headed out to the park's main attraction: the Pinnacles Desert. There are mountains in Australia, but everyone's seen mountains. There are rivers, deserts, gorges, forests and lakes, and everyone's seen this sort of thing somewhere, though possibly not on the scale of those in Australia. But unless you've been to the Pinnacles Desert, you won't have seen anything quite like it. Imagine a gently rolling, sandy desert, with the odd bit of green scrub around; it's actually a dune system, but one that's now a few kilometres inland, with the sea just visible in the distance. Now imagine over 4000 limestone stacks, ranging from tiny to about four metres high, dotted around for as far as the eye can see. These stacks are all sorts of shapes, from long and thin, to stubby, to something out of the caterpillar's hookah smoke in Alice in Wonderland. There's a suspension-challenging dirt road to the desert, and you can then take a short loop road through the desert. I drove it once, and decided it was so impressive I'd do it again, but this time on foot.
This turned out to be a good decision. I walked it in the morning while the sun was still quite low, so the shadows were quite surreal and much more interesting close up, rather than from the car. There was also quite a lot to see off the beaten track, something that driving visitors would miss in their hasty day trips from Perth. The rain managed to hold off for most of my wander, though I got caught in the odd shower, prompting the offer of a lift from the park ranger who rolled up in his truck. I politely declined, but we got chatting, and he ended up inviting me on a five-day bushwalk in July up in the Pilbara, a very dry, barren area that I'm visiting in the next few weeks. Who knows, I may take him up on his offer; I've not been on a week-long hike yet, and who better to do it with than a team led by a park ranger?
On my return I got talking to my neighbour in the caravan park, a friendly German called Andreas who was taking time off from a conference in Perth to head up the coast. He was an interesting guy; he was studying Astronomy at Sydney University, and had chosen that subject because he'd wanted to study his PhD in the southern hemisphere, and by choosing a research subject of 'southern skies' he knew they'd have to send him to Australia to study – crafty fellow! We had a conversation-filled walk along the beach, followed by a trip to the pub, which set us up perfectly to travel together to Kalbarri.