Remember how I was recently exclaiming about how small the world is? Well, that may be the case, but Australia is flipping big.
Stirling Range, a national park in deepest Western Australia, provides a more than adequate example of the enormity of this country, as well as my first opportunity to undertake some proper outback driving in my (brave) friend’s 4×4.
In Britain, a national park that plays house to a 42km country road would be big enough to make a noticeable imprint on a map. But not here. Here, the park is as noticeable as a seem on a well-tailored suit, yet it still takes a good chunk of the afternoon to traverse.
Ok, ok, I know you get it. Australia is big (the sixth biggest country in the world, in fact), this isn’t news. What is news, however, is that Stirling Range has something I’ve yet to see since I landed here – hills.
So apparently unusual is it to see hills and mountains in this part of the world, the park looks somewhat out of place, like it’s been dropped in from a height, or created in a video game by a teenager with an imagination that far outweighs their social life.
Once you’re inside it, though, you can really appreciate its beauty. This becomes particularly apparent at the designated lookout points, which provide a marvellous view of the bush-and-tree-covered mountains. There are walks, too, but this is where I need to put on my stern face and have a word with the people of Australia.
Being relatively ill-equipped for a sizable trek, I decided to focus today’s efforts mainly on driving. However, at the park’s Central Lookout point, a 400m, mere Grade 2 walk to the summit and the promise of a splendid view was too good an opportunity to pass up on.
Now when I say Grade 2, I mean a difficultly level which is depicted, by people who presumably know what they’re talking about, with a symbol showing an adult carrying their child. Seems easy enough for a whipper-snapper such as myself, I thought, so off I went in search of another Monte Mauro-esque experience.
By the time I’d conquered the summit I was panting harder than a dog in a sauna, having tackled a rocky climb that most Britons would consider twice before undertaking. Yes, I know I’m not the fittest of individuals – I exhaust myself running a bath – but having tackled various “challenging” rambles back home, I can put my hand on my now rapidly beating heart and say that the Aussies are either much tougher, or much more ambitious than we are in the art of putting one foot in front of the other.
Still, as you can see, the view was worth the struggle, and as an added bonus, I didn’t get bitten by any snakes or spiders on the way up or down this treacherous hillock. (I’m now never walking in this country again for fear of tempting fate)
Then, as an added added bonus, I got to see a kangaroo in the wild for the first time whilst I was cruising along the sandy surface in me jeep, feeling (but not necessarily looking) like the coolest dude in the world. Sadly these timid beasts didn’t allow me to take a snap of them, but I did manage to shoot a lizard, which is something I’m fairly sure I’ve never said before.
One thing that this not-small-by-British-standards stretch of land did highlight was the sense of being alone. With the exception of a couple of far-too-smiley walkers I met at the Central Lookout, I was basically the only person in an area over 1,000 square kilometres (I don’t know what that is in miles, they don’t live in the past down here, must be why their time zone is ahead of ours). Listening to and seeing the silence for as far as your senses will allow you is a unique sensation that is equal parts wonderful and freeing, with just a hint of frightening thrown in for good measure.
A silence that was to be shattered later that evening with school teachers dancing on tables, tartare sauce packets flying over my head, and strange men approaching me and offering alcohol in exchange for some of my pizza. Apparently that’s how they do pubs on a Friday night in this part of the world.