GNARLY GNARALOO

WOWS AND WIPEOUTS! THIS WEST COAST IDYLL
IS THE PERFECT WEEK AWAY FROM PERTH

WORDS AND IMAGES TOM HAYNES

The rumble of our Mitsubishi Overlander floating across corrugations is punctuated by rocks flinging against its underbody; clangs protesting our intrusion on the desert silence.

It is approaching 16 hours since we three mates – Tom (that’s me), Tim (the Aussie Tahitian) and Dave (O.G) – flew in from the east coast to Perth Airport chasing solitude and adventure. In the 1100km drive since, our bearing North has changed little and we have seen the sun set, and rise again. It is a sun which shows no regard for winter, beating through the windscreen; a glaring compass guiding our way.

Our journey has mostly been spent on Highway One, shared with road trains and trucks servicing the mining hubs of Geraldton, Carnarvon and Karratha. Shortly after stocking up at Carnarvon, the announcement of our adventure arrives as a giant sign: “King Waves Kill” – either an ominous warning or a reason to grin. It is the waves that have brought us here. Well, the wave, specifically.

SHARK BAIT

With small waves for the next few days, we spend our time exploring the coastal tracks weaving through the desert. Whale sightings are common, as are emus,kangaroos and an abundance of goats. The jagged rocky landscape is hostile to four-wheel drives, potential punctures camouflaged against sandy trails that lead to secret bays teeming with fish.

One such bay named Turtles offers everything we need: good waves and great spearfishing. We are spoilt for choice with plenty of spangled emperor, wahoo,coral trout and Spanish mackerel on offer.
However, with an abundant local shark population we soon have company; their senses finely tuned to the vibrations of our catch which now dangles precariously from our float.

A 2.5m tiger shark swims lazily by while a school of around six 2m bronze whalers circle, lurking in the shadow. They want to eat fish not human, though they’ll happily take the latter if we get in their way.

A large Spanish mackerel enquires as to our presence and O.G unloads his gun. The mackerel writhes in panic, stirring up the bronzies who twitch and jolt. I finish off the mackeral with a second spear, attempting to put out the fire, however the dinner gong has been rung and the bronzies are buzzing.
One darts at the mackerel with a brutal display of speed and agility. Tim fends it off with a jab of his spear, bayonet-style, and it skitters away.O.G secures the mackerel to the float and we can put some distance between us and the bait. It is time to go.
Back on the beach the sand never felt so good. Tim and O.G are frothing with excitement while I’m in a state of shock.
I watch in a daze as a decent-sized wave grinds across the Turtles reef.

TOMBSTONES

The next morning the Tombstones car park is littered with four-wheel drives which have appeared overnight along with a solid swell. A small crowd stares through the dawn at a metallic sea.

I follow their gaze and see a surfer paddling hard for a wave being caressed by the offshore wind. Suddenly the wave jacks, pulled by some unseen force, and the surfer pin-drops into its belly, his board following him shortly after. The wave grinds on unridden, spitting, stepping and warped by the reef below. We cannot get into our wetsuits fast enough.
We surf all day. Arms find energy in stoke and adrenalin. Legs turn to jelly from waves that seemingly never end. Voices are hoarse from hooting and screaming. Faces ache from grins wider than the barrels that create them.
We float in at dusk and drive back to camp in silence. Sleep comes fast and deep.The next few days are a repeat as the swell slowly recedes along with the crowds. Soon we have “fun-sized” Tombstones to ourselves. On our last night we head to Gnaraloo Bay with a six-pack and watch the sun melt into the ocean. Sunburnt, aching and dehydrated we stare at the sea which has given so much on this desert adventure.

GETTING THERE

From Perth follow Highway 1 north through Geraldton and Carnarvon (where you should stock up on food and water). 25km later turn left onto Blowholes Rd and drive 48km to the coast and the King Waves Kill sign. Turn left onto Gnaraloo Rd and hit the dirt for 77km until you arrive – this road requires 4X4 after rain.

THREE MILE CAMP

Three Mile Camp is on the coast and 2km from Tombstones. Three Mile Lagoon is metres away and offers safe swimming, snorkelling and the ability to launch a small boat (bigger boats can be launched at nearby Gnaraloo Bay). There is bore water feeding hot showers and flushing toilets but no drinking water while a simple shop offers minimal supplies. Fires are permitted but the collection of wood
is not. Bring plenty or pay plenty at the shop. Dogs on leads are permitted. Prices range from $18 – $25 per adult per night depending on the season. Accommodation at the homestead varies. www.gnaraloo.com

TO DO

World class waves, excellent fishing, snorkelling, diving, whale watching, windsurfing in summer, sandboarding and coastal 4X4 exploration. Further afield, Red Bluff (70km south) is another world class wave, while back past Carnarvon, Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site. Further north you can dive with Whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef and party with backpackers in Exmouth.

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