“I hate this!” I hissed at Dave as we drove over yet another patch of particularly corrugated dirt road. We had about another forty-five kilometres to go on the road and the last vehicle we had passed gave us the courtesy of winding down his window to forewarn us just what a “#$%* of a road” we had left to travel.
“I just don’t understand what about this you find enjoyable” I asked / interrogated Dave, closer to the point of tears than I’d care to admit. I turned to my friend Jess who had spontaneously flown over from Sydney to join us for a week of adventure as we travelled ‘off the grid’ to Ningaloo Station. I was hopeful she would back my position of this not being a good idea. Despite being jammed into the boot of the car with a plethora of our gear nearly suffocating her, she seemed perfectly comfortable that our chosen form of holiday was to deprive ourselves of on-the-grid conveniences with three small children, all for the sake of… well at that particular point in time I wasn’t sure what it was for the sake of!
“The end will justify the means, Kim.” Dave assured me. “I promise. Just trust me,” he said. Famous last words, I thought to myself, wondering if the generator was going to be able to handle the surge of electricity required to fire my coffee machine in the morning.
We had first heard of Ningaloo Station from a friend in Sydney who had praised it as one of his all- time favourite spots from his own wanderings around Australia. The next piece of the puzzle that persuaded us to make the effort to visit happened when Dave arrived in Perth to pick up his ‘dream boat’ during the drive over.
A much maligned (by me) Gumtree purchase, the vessel in question could be rightly described as glorified tinny that fitted neatly on top of the car – weighing almost half of its aluminium equivalent (Dave made me add that bit). As a credit to his humility, Dave acted as though he had just purchased one of Kerry Packer’s prestigious mega-yachts. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder darling,” he said while dreamily starring at the new boat that the girls had named ‘Barry’. As things would transpire, the previous owner of Barry had also enjoyed many seasons at Ningaloo Station with his family shortly before his passing. When his wife heard of our plans, she was more than happy to call her friend and the owner of the station to organise for us to free camp at one of the top sites. So here we were, twenty kilometres down a corrugated dirt road travelling at twenty kilometres an hour with 45 kilometres to go.
I didn’t doubt that where we were heading was going to be beautiful. I was actually scared of being so remote from my urban security blanket (or at least a powered van site and sealed road!). While I wasn’t happy at the thought that my coffee machine may not work in the morning, it was the anxious and invasive thought that if something happened to the girls there would be no one or nothing around that genuinely made me feel so uncomfortable with this endeavour.
My fear was almost immediately alleviated when we were personally greeted at our camp site by our next-door neighbour, Roger, who personified a helpful Aussie mate. “I heard you were coming today”, he said happily, “I’ll help you back the caravan in,” he offered to Dave (and thank goodness for that). “We have been coming here for 42 years. My oldest son was just her age when we first started coming here,” he explained, smiling warmly at Alice. It turned out that Roger and his wife Jan camped at Ningaloo Station for the winter months each year and was so much a part of the camp’s fabric that he has even bored his own water source. Although there were not many people around, Roger and the Ningaloo Station community welcomed us with open arms. From sharing stories over a cold beer in the afternoon, to the kids ‘collecting bones’ together, to letting us in on the best snorkelling and fishing spots, we felt far more a part of a group of people you could count on than I had imagined. Worries alleviated (mostly).
I hate to admit it, but Dave was right. We got to camp metres away from a beautiful turquoise bay that was a quick snorkel, stand up paddle board, or kayak from the World Heritage-listed coral gardens of Ningaloo Reef. The girls spent their days happily combing the beach for shells, discovering the underwater world, and jumping off the front of Daddy’s prized boat as it bobbed at anchor about 20m from the door of our van. “I can’t believe I have such a fancy boat” Dave exclaimed at one point, before continuing, “…and all the girls want to do is jump off the front of it like a diving board.” We feasted on freshly caught seafood while watching the sunset. Similarly special moments were shared as we tilted the camp chairs to maximum horizontal and spent some time star gazing under the clear night skies.
While we fell asleep at night to crashing waves, we were often woken up by the sudden change of weather, including some howling winds. So much so that on one night Dave had to go for a 2am swim to retrieve our 3.5 x 3.5m shade gazebo which had been picked up and blown off the beach. Not the first piece of equipment that our family had lost to a tempest, so there was no point getting too stressed about it.
As I began to unwind into a more natural rhythm I was able to connect deeply with the incredible nature and people that surrounded me. I was constantly reminded that going off the grid was not in fact losing control of my daily happenings, but rather a precious opportunity to realise I was never really in control in the first place.
I am sorry to say goodbye to this special place. A place where precious memories were created with family and friends, a place where good Aussie mateship was experienced freely and a place where my character was built by facing some of my fears. As we stopped at the end of the corrugated road to re-inflate all eight tyres before hitting the blacktop, a couple beginning their journey wound down their window to ask, “What’s the road like?” I replied, “Pretty rough,” but then quickly added, “…completely worth it. Have a great time.”