"A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
-- John Keats

*** As you cruise along the Indian Ocean Drive (which is actually a highway), north of Perth massive white hills materialize and juxtapose against the dark-colored shrubs.  However, they're not hills.  Scattered along the Coral Coast are enormous, shimmering white sand dunes.  Aside from their commanding size, Mom & I were more impressed by their distance -- easily 10 kilometers -- from the shore.  Can you imagine the force needed to deposit all those tonnes a.k.a. tons of sand inland?

***   The village of Monkey Mia offers a serene evening catamaran cruise where the ocean reflects the watercolor sky. It is the only location in the entire state where you can watch the sun set behind land.

*** The seaside city of Busselton boasts the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere.  Originally this wasn't the case, but due to sand drifts more extensions followed over time.  The wind was fierce and nippy as Mom & I stepped out of the squatty lighthouse next to the Visitors Centre and set off on foot toward the jetty.  At the site's entrance, the wooden pier curved right, disappearing into the horizon.  That's how long it is!

*** I hate beer.  I sipped it every semester throughout my college career, hoping it would grow on me, but it never did.  However, at Sail + Anchor in Fremantle's hopping market district, Mick a.k.a. Michael, my long-time Australian buddy, introduced me to Matso's Mango Beer. I was hooked!  Over the course of a few drinks [& one nasty local Custard Cider that looked more like lemonade] Mick and I poked fun at each other and attempted to catch up on our last 6 years living on different continents.  Brewed in Broome, WA, Matso's makes other flavors -- like Lychee or Chili -- though nothing was a tasty as Mango!

*** Residents of Western Australia's southwestern horn were buzzing, particularly fishermen and surfers, because a perfect storm situation was producing the largest swells in the past 10 years on the unhindered Indian Ocean.  Mom & I ventured from the one-roundabout town of Yallingup a.k.a. Place Of Love, to Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and explored a few of the peninsula's trails.  Though we hiked at least a kilometer from the shoreline & couldn't view the sea, we still heard the thunderous Indian Ocean vanquishing the helpless beach.  It sounded like a battering ram repeatedly striking something. Enraptured by the ocean's newfound power, we sat on a stone platform at Sugarloaf Rock and watched the massive swells swallow [what we referred to as] Cubical Rock as we ate a packed lunch.

*** There's something about sand that equates to beaches.  Adults lay on it and mush it between their toes.  Kids bury themselves in it.  Now, imagine a beach lacking that.  Instead of a tan shoreline, there was only blindingly white cockle shells that caused every photograph to overexpose, though it looked like a pristine white-sand beach from afar.  Shell Beach -- near the town of Denham, WA's westernmost establishment -- consisted of billions upon trillions of seashells.  A few were rose-colored and some featured bands of faded yellow or orange, but most were stark white, probably bleached from the searing sun.  And at some point throughout its lifetime, each and every one of the shells may have been a creature's home.

When waves rushed in, they dredged up a sound like a rain stick suddenly tipped vertically.  Frolicking in the shallow waters proved quite uncomfortable since I stepped on tons of hard, broken shells.  On the contrary, the real benefit was I didn't have to worry about sand getting into my body's crevices or shaking off before I entered the campervan.

Recently, I read a gob-smacking fact about Australia: in the best conditions, on any given night one can observe 5,780 stars from the country's outback.  Deep in the Pilbara region at Karijini National Park, there was scant light pollution.  A school bus outfitted with faux fur-lined seats (to ward off the desert cold) transported a dozen tourists down an unsealed road to the top of a hill where rows of folding chairs were set up.

Though lofty in price, the two rotund telescopes front and center gave visitors a glimpse into the heavens.  Despite the uncooperative clouds, Mom and I were fortunate to see Jupiter & its four moons in alignment, my star sign (Libra), the colorful Jewel Box (with a yellow, blue and red star), Eta Carinae (a star that could explode into a supernova at any moment), the mind-blowing Mega Centauri Globular Cluster that reminded me of a Petri dish jam-packed with glowing specimen, and -- my favorite -- a sideways Saturn with its rings bisecting the planet vertically.

However, the most interesting segment of the astronomy show was Australia's staple constellation, as seen on the national flag: the Southern Cross.  Once you identify it, the Southern Cross easily stands out at night.  I first saw it while living in Australia in 2009, and six years later it was still a cinch to find, but beware, there is a fake Southern Cross too.  In reality, the true Southern Cross and its imposter are light years apart, but to people in the southern hemisphere, the two are close in proximity.

To find the genuine Southern Cross, one must use the methods of the ancient wayfarers.  The two "pointer stars" [when connected], led explorers to the Southern Cross to the right.  The Southern Cross itself is comprised of 5 stars: the 4 that mark the endpoints of the cross, and a straggler in the bottom right quadrant.  Now, bisect the two forms (the Pointer Stars and the Southern Cross), following a straight line down to the horizon, and you have found the directional meridian running all the way to the celestial South Pole.  I have long been fascinated that civilizations navigated the world by studying the sky because it was ever-changing based on the seasons, latitude, and time of day.  I imagined Aborigines crossing hard desert plains with the sky as their guide. While the planets made me contemplate the outer reaches of our universe and Earth's future, reading the constellations felt so relevant and like a connection to the past.

*** Finishing up the series: "Wild, Wonderful, Weird, Western Australia."  You won't be disappointed!