Following the hike the previous evening, I was keen to sample some more of the spectacular scenery that Exmouth has to offer, and we embarked on a 10km hike at 6am…fun, right? The trail was called Badjirrajirra, and I’m loathe to admit that I may have chosen it purely for the name- a true hiker! I’d looked up the trail the previous evening on Google, and the first article that came up was “scottish schoolboy dies during Australian outback hike with his dad after collapsing in 48C heat”…which wasn’t too promising.
Undeterred, we woke up with the sun and set off, feeling wonderfully fresh and intrepid. I happily announced that my recent driving had actually improved my (abysmal) navigation skills, and literally at that moment we missed the turn to the Charles Knife Road. So much for my claim then, eh? Goddamn Sod and his stupid law! The drive down the Charles Knife Road was stunning and rather vomit inducing, as we meandered around countless bends in the road, looking down several hundred feet into beautiful gorges. Soon, the windy road turned into a dirt track, and we were forced to travel a mere 40km/h through the red dust. There was no one about, and I felt fabulous, despite the fact I’d got about four hours sleep as I was so paranoid I’d miss my alarm that I kept jolting myself awake.
It was twenty to eight by the time we’d navigated the gentle bends and potholes, and the sun was already giving off a fair amount of heat. We parked the car on the Charles Knife Road (or rather, Charles Knife dirt track), and walked 1km down a turning to the Thomas Carter lookout where the trail officially started. I was already dripping with sweat (yum) after that 1km- I’m really not that good with heat! (So Australia was a good choice for my year abroad, right?!) We looked at the map, and promptly set off in the wrong direction…despite the fact that the trail was clearly marked with a white arrow. We backtracked, and set off in the right direction.
We were the only people for miles and I felt like Robyn Davidson in “Tracks”, except, yknow, lacking the camels and the dog and the 2,000 miles still to walk. We’d been walking for around an hour when my friend in front screamed and jumped backwards. I too took a cautious step backwards, only for her to announce that it was a huge flying insect. Probably one of the less dangerous things around here, but I was still very wary. A few km on, I literally did leap a foot in the air and rapidly retreat to my friends when I saw a huge snake thing (with legs) right in front of me on the path. It most definitely wasn’t a snake, but its pointy head and flicking tongue scared the hell out of me.
I immediately googled it (for some reason I had full signal in the middle of the outback), and discovered it was either a sand goanna or a perentie, which is the largest monitor lizard in Australia. That sounds infinitely cooler, so I’ll go with the latter.
We finally reached Shothole Lookout, and snuck past a sign that said “Warning: Trail Closed”. Such rebels! The views were terrifyingly beautiful, and we sat on the edge of a cliff with a view of Shothole Canyon three hundred feet below. Shothole Canyon was so named following various shot holes left by explosions in the 1950s, during the search for oil. I couldn’t see any shot holes, but my god it was beautiful.
The remaining 2.5km back was utterly exhausting- my four hours sleep was catching up with me, and the 7.5km hike in thirty-degree heat had taken its toll. My feet were aching and swelling up by the time we reached the car at ten thirty, and we turned on the air conditioning with a sigh of relief. It had taken us just under three hours to walk the trail, plus 2km more, despite the fact that the sign recommended that you leave at least four hours.
We picked up the others who were waiting restlessly at the campsite, and headed for Coral Bay. I passed out as soon as we started driving, and awoke the hottest I’ve ever been in my life. I’d never cooled down after the hike, and it was around thirty-five degrees with no breeze. I staggered to the nearest café and bought myself my new favourite ice cream (Magnum Cookie Crumble- highly recommended), and collapsed in the shade. Soon, that was even too hot for me, and I rushed to the sea, where the others had rented sea kayaks.
I paddled out enthusiastically, after paying for the kayaks twice by mistake (!), and dove into the crystal clear water. The corals were spectacular: rather floral looking and surrounded by a plethora of marine life, and I towed the kayak behind me while I swam. Utter paradise (again). We then decided to explore, and kayaked down the coast to a deserted beach. There were hundreds of oysters embedded into the coral on the beach, as well as these weird looking fossilized (?) giant woodlice. I spent ages trying to find a pearl and when this proved hopeless, I attempted to knock off one of the oysters with a huge rock. This too, as you can imagine, was unsuccessful.
We kayaked over to Skeleton Bay (promising name) where apparently harmless (?!) reef sharks were breeding, but failed to see a single shark. Nor did we see turtles, which the others had swum with before. Just our luck! I did nearly step on a Manta Ray, though, so that was exciting! We suddenly realised that we had to return the kayaks in less than ten minutes, and so paddled as fast as our puny (or rather my puny) arms would allow me. I was aching by the end, but it was totally worth it.
Another sunset was spent on the beach, although I managed to miss it again (classic), as I was busy hanging out in the car park. I arrived at the beach as the glowing orb had just descended below the horizon, and the sky was fading from blue to pink to yellow to orange to green…rather like Joseph’s Technicolour Dreamcoat, except without all the fancy colours. I then stood in the water, which was as still as glass, for about half an hour, in the hope that all the fish that were jumping would come over to me. No luck on that front either, but I did see some rays playing about in the shallow. An utter sense of calm overcame me (which is rare since my brain rarely shuts up), and I continued to stand there, in the lukewarm ocean, watching the sky fade from colour into darkness.