A land without hoofs is a land of plenty.
TOM: In stark contrast to the almost totally denuded, single story and weed infested landscapes of the Quobba and Waroora sheep station country, Cape Range National Park displays an insight into what the Pilbara Coast once looked like. As you leave the awkwardly sparse marina developments of Exmouth and round the Cape towards the coral lagoons and reef passes of the west coast, the landscape begins to show some long lost diversity. Now, multi story vegetation runs from hill to beach with more than just Buffell Grass and the odd shrub to show. Wild flowers abound as does the dense health-like thickets. Ahhh national parks, I do kind of miss them, both working and visiting. But with any good ‘lock the gate’ conservation style comes with rules, regulations and restrictions. After spending any amount of time in the Kimberley, especially when that means working with Aboriginal Rangers on their native title areas, on Country, you forget that unique feeling you get when entering a national park. Turn a corner, pass through a gate and pay your money... BOOM, nature! It’s just different when you’re on Country and the starkest contradiction is how people use the natural world, especially when compared to the ‘look but don’t touch’ status quo of national parks.
But anyway, here we are at Cape Range National Park: it’s stunning, it’s pumping and we are camping on small patch of dirt with no fireplace, a designated beach walkway and every rule, regulation and restriction possible. The 3rd swell of the trip (That's right!!! 3 swells in two weeks all in perfect time) has kicked in, the arvo onshore has given us a natural break to unpack and set up for a final time and get the bloody tinny in the water after dragging her about 3000kms just for this one wave!
Tom: The wave here at Cape Range NP is actually about 2.5kms offshore from the beach and breaks into a channel between two long stretches of the Ningaloo Reef. I've never seen anything like it in Australia, cut into the escarpment behind the beach is a Kimberley style gorge with that classic red rock wall. Looking inland you think ‘yep, Pilbara’ but when the creek hits the sand the landscapes reverse and now you’re in a coral lagoon with turquoise water, white sand and a distant line of white water.
You wake up of a morning, drag the tinny down the sand, load it up with boards and fishing rods and out you sail. The lagoon is littered with these massive jagged coral heads which get denser as you reach the channel, at low tide you have to stand up whilst steering the tinny so you can weave a path through them to anchor in the channel. We were so far out of our comfort zone the first few times especially as our first attempt was greeted with a series of 6ft+ wash through sets. We were all kinda of fighting each other to throw the anchor over, sort the boards and zip up our wetties and then these wide ones came through and it put a pretty sudden end to the kafuffle! Turned out the swell was just too big that first day and as we watched and waited, the offshore started to blow harder and harder. Good thing right? Sheeeet, when you are in a sinking, overloaded and under-powered tinny 2.5kms offshore a 30knot offshore is actually hell. So once we admitted defeat, it took us a pretty unpleasant 40 mins to putt back in against the wind and waves.
Mad: I nearly blow up the gas bottle at Yardies. The boys are out of sight, dragging the tinny above the high tide line, and I'm experimenting with the camp oven—tonight, it's camp oven nachos. It seems to be going okay, but when I shift the burner over to make more space at the table, something comes loose. Suddenly, there aren't just flames under the nachos, but flames are twisting along the hose toward the gas bottle. I don't know anything about valves, or how gas bottles work, and I've always been suspicious of gas, so I panic hard. Screams of 'fire' bring our grey nomad neighbours running with water bottles and an extinguisher. The water's ineffective but the extinguisher does the job, delivering a heavy frosting of foam over freshly cracked beers, akubras, and of course, the nachos. The boys wander back from the beach to find our campsite packed with gawking nomads and our dinner ruined. Needless to say, I'm off cooking duties for the rest of the trip.
Mad: While the boys watch Yardies max out, I hurtle toward Exmouth past turquoise spinifex and desert peas. There's a wave near town called Dunes, which I'd heard could be fat, better suited to longboards and mini-mals than a Treehouse Gold Can (aka Pipsqueak). But when I get there, thankfully, this is far from the case. Not as intimidating as Yardies, it's still powerful & occasionally hollow: a left and a right peel fast into a channel. The waves are underscored by a flat rock shelf and it's an easy paddle out. I surf Dunes for four consecutive days, only getting out when the wind kicks up or the arms give up. After each surf, on the drive back to Yardies, I'm in a better frame of mind to appreciate how pristine the country is. "Country's had a chance to breathe," observes Jimmy on the last night. And, judging by the fish the boys hauled in, the ocean's had a chance to breathe too.