‘Do you think the sky feels lower here?’ she says, peering under the sunshade, her hands tight around the steering wheel, ‘like you can almost touch it?’ Squinting into the horizon, I duck my head out the window and into the hot, fast wind that makes tears form in the crinkles around my eyes. We are driving northbound along the Indian Ocean Highway, Western Australia. Since leaving Perth’s cityscape behind, it has been a sea of blackened grass trees, weedy shrubs and bulbous succulents and so far, we are doubtful the road has been aptly named.
It is still early, but outside the air conditioned car the heat is already a searing 36 degrees. Under the weight of the sun, the plants pulse in hyper-colour and amid the flurry of green disappearing behind us, the reds and purples of wild flowers dot the landscape.
We are headed to 'Nambung National Park,' famous for its diversity of flora and fauna, idyllic waters and limestone formations that define Western Australia's Turquoise Coast.
The ocean finally comes into sight, the horizon line barely distinguishable from the blanket blue sky sprawled above us. It is that archetypal Western Australian setting where land suddenly meets sea and the unforgiving sun is met by its counter. Here, the bay is protected from Indian Ocean swells by the outer reefs and islands, and the water appears clear and still.
Our first stop is 'Lake Thetis,' one of the few places in the world that boasts ‘Stromatolites’ or ‘living fossils.’ Formed in shallow water by the cementation of sediment and cyanobacteria, these Stromatolites are said to date back some 3,370 years and serve as a reminder of the ancient and fragile continent we inhabit.
Nambung is also home to some of Australia’s much loved native animals and perched in the centre of the lake sit three black water birds, their downturned beaks and glistening feathers silhouetted against the canvas sky. Circling the Lake, we spot two Western Grey Kangaroos grazing among the shrubs and grassland. Known for their acute hearing, we have time to edge forward only a few steps before the Kangaroos rise to their hind legs and hop into the bush.
As the late afternoon approaches, we enter Nambung National Park's 'Pinnacles Desert.’ The Australian desert is often characterized as a tirelessly flat landscape such as that of the Nullabor Plain or Simpson Desert, yet Pinnacles is somewhat of an otherworldly scene; infamous for its limestone formations scattered across the yellow sand.
While some of these formations are tall and thin as if they have been stretched towards the sky, others have formed miniature mountain ranges of rising peaks and concaved valleys. On the tallest of them, the limestone is visibly stratified showing each layer of seashell sediment that has settled upon the prior.
With sunset nearing, a cool breeze begins to pick up, rippling white cloud across the sky.This is one of the best times to visit the Pinnacles not only because of the more temperate climate, but for the spectacular light show that comes with sunrise and sunset. A viewing platform provides a panoramic shot of the endless peaks and troughs, the still yellow sand void of plant life and the dozen other people exploring the park.
And as the sky shifts from its dulcet blue to that cocktail of sunset reds, we sit on the bonnet of the car and watch, as the changing light casts its shadows across the landscape and the sun makes its slow descent into darkness.
More information about travelling in Western Australia can be found here.