We were on the road for much of today, with just a few stops between Perth and Geraldton. We had an early breakfast and were on our way out of the city, heading north, by 8am. Despite it being a public holiday weekend in WA (where they celebrate the Queen’s birthday a week earlier than the eastern states), we didn’t encounter much traffic.
Our first stop was a small town named Gingin, where the ‘Scenic Walk’ sign looked inviting. In truth, the scenic walk wouldn’t rate that highly on the world scale of scenic walks, but it was good to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and stretch our legs for a bit. Gingin township dates back to the 1880s. The inscriptions on some of the headstones in the Anglican churchyard made interesting reading, although one told an incredibly sad story of three children in one family passing away within days of each other. How tragic for those poor parents.
From Gingin, we returned to the coast highway. The leafy forests north of Perth had given way to lower, shrubby vegetation, which from time to time must have been exposed to fairly high winds and salty sprays from the Indian Ocean which lay just beyond the ridge to the west. Occasionally a high sand dune appeared above the trees. I’ve included a photo here, although it’s a little hard to see what it is as it was taken from a moving car.
We took a small detour into Nambung National Park to see The Pinnacles. I’d seen them before on billboards and in tourist brochures, but didn’t really know much about them. I wrongly assumed there might be a hundred or so of them. I was gobsmacked to discover that there are literally thousands of limestone pinnacles of varying heights protruding from a rather large area of desert sand, surrounded by scrub and within sight of the ocean. It was a fantastic place to visit, and without doubt one of the most amazing natural wonders I’ve ever seen in Australia. At the visitors’ centre we were keen to discover how the pinnacles were formed, but it seems scientists still aren’t really sure how they came about, so several possible theories are offered. It is likely they were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago and buried under shifting sands until being exposed by wind and water about 6000 years ago. Sands covered them again for a long time and it seems they may only have reappeared a couple of hundred years ago. If you’re ever in this part of WA, make sure you visit The Pinnacles.
Not far past The Pinnacles we stopped at a small coastal town, Cervantes. There wasn’t much to see or do there, as the town was only built quite recently to support the rock lobster industry. But the bistro there serves some of the best-tasting fish I’ve eaten in a long time, Spanish mackerel, and the local Running with Thieves beer was pretty good.
Just on the outskirts of Cervantes we stopped at Lake Thetis to see stromatolites. The lake has a much higher saline content than sea water, where certain types of algae thrive. Over time the activity of these tiny creatures interacts with sediment and sand, resulting in the sediments binding together in hard crusty layers. As layers form upon layers and harden to form rock, stromatolites form. Not only are they living organisms – they are actually the oldest living lifeforms on Earth. For at least three quarters of our planet’s history, stromatolites have been its main reef-building organisms. And, even more importantly, over time they have raised the level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere from less than 1% 3.5 billion years ago to 21% today. As they require light for photosynthesis, they grow near the water’s edge in shallow water, so can be easily viewed from the lakeshore.
We didn’t stop again until we reached Geraldton, just as the sun was going down. We had planned to have a coffee break at Jurien Bay, but by the time we got away from lunch at Cervantes, time was short. There was about 220km to drive from Cervantes to Geraldton, much of it along Indian Ocean Drive. For much of this distance we drove through stunted coastal forest and scrub, catching occasional glimpses of the ocean.
There weren’t any small towns along the way until we reached Dongara, which seemed to be both a holiday destination and a farming district. There was plenty of farmland in the final stretch between Dongara and Geraldton – cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, olives and more. Arriving at the hotel in Geraldton we discovered that only one room had been booked and paid for, despite our voucher from the travel company stating that our group of four people had two rooms. Thankfully there was one vacant room (it’s a public holiday weekend and there are lots of tourists here), so Marg and I took that, grateful to at least have a place to spend the night, even if we had to fork out money we thought we’d already paid. I guess our travel agent has a few questions to answer next time we speak to them. We’re looking forward to seeing a little more of Geraldton in the morning.