Weird

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes


Foremost, traversing the globe to Australia from the eastern U.S.A. is no simple feat.  In fact, it is futuristic time travel! On 1 June, Mom and I departed from LAX a.k.a. Los Angeles to MEL a.k.a. Melbourne well after dark, around 22:00.  From wheels up, we were locked in the cabin of the Airbus for 18+ hours.  Eventually, our vessel touched down in the land down under....on 3 June.  2 June had evaporated and was in limbo somewhere over the colossal Pacific Ocean.

If anything, I'd guess we were actually traveling back in time, since I had not seen daylight in over a calendar day (the 4 hours spent in Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX + the 21 aboard Qantas + the layover in MEL + the 4 journeying from VIC a.k.a. Victoria to WA).  No matter where I landed, it was still dark; only the scenery had changed.  My grandma at home in Ohio had passed two full days of summer.  Meanwhile, Mom & I had lived a perpetual night where we just ate and slept, ate and slept, ate and slept.  After a grueling anti-podean trek and time travel inside a hunk of metal, the sun finally rose in PER a.k.a. Perth.
 
Here are more absolutely astounding and mind-blowing sites in Western Australia.


*** Outside Yallingup a.k.a. Place of Love -- a sleepy surf town situated on a horn of land in the southwestern corner of WA -- lies Ngilgi Cave.  Discovered in 1899, I regarded it as a great specimen of the beauty and wonder hidden within the Earth's crust, though the Margaret River peninsula boasts many impressive caves.  Inside Ngilgi (pronounced "Nill-gee"), one area named The Jewel Casket showcased rare Dog-Tooth Crystals which form outward upon contacting water's surface.  They were a more fragile and natural version of a toilet scrub brush, though some resembled upside-down mushrooms straight out of Alice In Wonderland.

However, Ngilgi continued to get more and more weird as the self-guided tour progressed and I descended.  Around 37 meters a.k.a. 121 feet (and still not the deepest point), in the largest accessible area of the chasm, a guide placed broken stalactite and stalagmite chunks in a box enveloped in darkness.  Unexpectedly, the rock began glowing an alien green!  Had I been spelunking through Ngilgi back in 1899 and seen something glowing in the dark, I probably would have been scared to death.

Weirder still were the unexplained Helictites.  Spread throughout Ngilgi, these unexplained crystals grew from the rock walls at sharp angles to give the impression they were reaching out to poke you.  Others -- a key trait of a Helictite -- mysteriously grow upward like a plant, defying gravity and spiraling like a pig's tail.  Though scientists have postulated, no one is certain how a Helictite forms.
 

*** Before the construction of Indian Ocean Drive, Nambung National Park was a relatively isolated vicinity despite being home to a very famous Australian landscape: Pinnacles, found nowhere else in the country, to my knowledge.

Tucked off the highway rise the limestone rock formations.  Limestone is present on every continent save Antarctica, but what makes Pinnacles unique is the quantity of rocks occupying just this tiny speck of the globe. From a hilltop, I could see them in their entirety. It would be like staring at weirdly shaped fruit trees that only grew at a particular orchard in the outback of Western Australia. Jet-lagged from 48 hours of non-stop flying, Mom and I found new energy as we set foot into the yam-colored sand at Pinnacles.
The natural structures were formed as one solid bed of coastal seashells.  Over many eras, the Indian Ocean receded and wind aided in slowly stripping away the hardened layers.  Meanwhile -- working in secrecy -- acidic groundwater seeped its way through cracks made from plants and the drying earth, also eroding rock. The weaker sections were bludgeoned by shifting sands and only the strongest columns remained.

Some survivors were no taller than three inches.  They acted like booby traps belied by the fluid sand and repeatedly tripped us up. I was thankful to be wearing boots. I felt a tad guilty for stepping on these archaic wonders though and tried to cautiously navigate the empty spaces, as if I was exploring a cemetery.  Indeed it looked like a shrunken graveyard in some sections where we dwarfed the rock.  However, towards the center of the site were spires that rose to almost 15 feet. Birds and small lizards resided in the protected kerfs of the limestone.  Of the taller formations, most were phallic and a few sported windows.
 


*** As one would expect on the largest island in the world, there are some odd creatures.  On each end of the spectrum, there are profoundly wonderful specimen thanks to Australia's isolation. Many endemic fauna -- like Dingos -- have evolved as anomalies of their species.  They have specialized purposely for Australia's harsh climate, the driest inhabited place on Earth.  Based on Darwin's theory of evolution, they are the cutting edge of their species and will certainly survive.

At the other end of the spectrum of isolation, Australia is so untouched (the same size as the USA with 92% less population, mostly settled near the coast) that much of the country remains unspoilt; its interior still enigmatic.  You can find things that today -- in the new millennium -- are like taking a giant leap back in time.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in the state of Western Australia, and the epitome of gazing at the past is Hamelin Pool.

Turn off Highway 1 a.k.a. The Brand onto an empty, two-lane road and you enter the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shark Bay.  Within this peninsula, down a dusty outback road, is a parking lot and an eerily quiet beach known as Hamelin Pool.  Not a single wave crashed; not a single bird chirped; not a single person spoke.  My mother & I pulled in two hours before sunset and had the place to ourselves.
We jaunted toward the end of the boardwalk, the only manmade object around. Here, at Hamelin Pool, is the world's healthiest and largest population of Stromatolites.  I imagined them as immobile, rotund boulders showcased in the center of the circular walkway.  To my surprise, many of the Stromatolites were short and flat, though their tops were bulbous.  They were everywhere, underwater as far as the eye could see!
To experience these living organisms is to really contemplate life -- not just human life, but the short timeline of life itself on Earth.  The mats that spread out from the beach are comprised of microscopic life forms that slowly -- and that is a tremendous understatement -- created the world by exhaling exiguous amounts of oxygen.  The output of these countless cyanobacteria in combination with 3 billion years, produced miraculous results!
Throughout the planet's five mass extinctions the Stromatolites endured by moving into the niches of already dead species.  Despite these hardships, the cyanobacteria steadfastly stayed the course of releasing a nanogram of oxygen, thus unintentionally breathing Earth's atmosphere into existence.  Eventually this led to the evolution and sustainability of more complex life.  3 billion years, and to know it all started with the Stromatolites.  These organisms inhabited our planet at the dawn of time, long before the Pangaea and the dinosaurs. I couldn't fathom all they had experienced; oh the stories they would share if only they could communicate!  I couldn't believe how poignant I felt, staring at these banal rocks.  Sitting on the wooden planks observing them, it was like meeting my maker.  What a profoundly humbling moment to meet something singularly responsible for your existence.


*** Iconic Uluru a.k.a. Ayer's Rock in NT a.k.a. Northern Territory is partly so because you drive 4 hours from the nearest bonafide city through the endless, pedantic Simpson Desert, to find an enormous monolith rising up from the flattest continent in the world.  However did you know WA is the Australian state that submissively harbors the World's Largest Rock? More than double the size of Uluru, hidden in the outback off gravel roads squats the sprawling monocline Burringurrah a.k.a. Mount Augustus.

Imagine that same superlative on a smaller scale and you have WA's termite mounds.  Driving the entire western half of the state, the common theme on the road was barren.  In fact, more sheep populate this country than people! Having seen so much nothingness as we conquered the Exmouth peninsula, Mom and I questioned the weird rock formations sporadically scattered throughout the meadows.  Resembling dinosaur droppings some surpassed the stout trees in height.  Finally -- upon inspection -- we deduced these giants were actually solid termite homes.


*** Nothing was stranger than the day Mom and I attempted to find "pink lake."  I stumbled upon its mention on TripAdvisor and the directions posted were vague. Literally, the post read "when you round the corner you can't miss it." Since I refused to look at attraction photos beforehand, I figured there would be a pond with pastel pink sand (like in Bermuda) in the middle of Port Gregory, a tiny town on the Indian Ocean.

Lake Hillier, also located in Western Australia, is a much more famous pink lake since it is surrounded by smooth white sand, a forest of green, and the vivid blue of the Great Australian Bight.  However, it is located on Middle Island off the desolate southern coast of the state.  Years ago I sent an email to the tourist centre in Esperance inquiring about a visit there.  Due to its protected status as a nature reserve, no visitors are permitted on the island, nor is there any water transportation to it.  The employee suggested chartering a helicopter to view it.

Two years later, the full on sunshine made me mildly optimistic as our campervan finally veered off toward this forgotten town.  Zoned out from driving on the open road, we passed a vast body of water in the middle of nowhere. I was distracted, scanning for signs to Port Gregory, that when I looked to my right and briefly saw flecks of pink, I assumed I was seeing my mom's shirt reflecting onto the passenger-side window.  Eyes still searching, I honestly thought I was hallucinating as the pool of water to my right fluctuated between crisp blue and pale pink.  In perfect timing, my mother randomly stated "That water is pink!"

After confirming something was indeed askew, the droll body of water  -- actually named Hutt Lagoon -- morphed into a sea of rose.  I carefully maneuvered the campervan off the bitumen's a.k.a. paved road drop-off, into the rust-colored earth.  Completely agog, I grabbed my Sony Action Cam and immediately descended the talus to investigate.  At the shoreline I totally expected to see clear water, knowing the pink was an optical illusion since the water ahead still showed a clean shade of blue.  However, on the banks of Hutt Lagoon the shallow water remained carnation pink. I shoved the handheld camera into the lagoon and it disappeared into the milky liquid.  Then, I thought perhaps that was a bad idea since caustic chemicals, alien life forms or a deadly type of protist could be giving the water its creamy carnation appearance.
After lunch [using the free BBQs] at Port Gregory's chilly public beach, Mom and I proceeded north. As we pulled onto Port Gregory-Kalbarri Road, toward the horizon Hutt Lagoon stretched on like a rosy finger.  Mom & I discussed the pink lake days later because it was the coolest freaking thing, but found better topics of conversation once we arrived to Monkey Mia (the dolphins).

Three weeks later -- after Monkey Mia, after Exmouth, and after Karijini National Park -- we begrudgingly set off on the first of three 10-hour days of non-stop driving.  We had crossed the 26th parallel into the northwest of the state, traversed the Great Sandy Desert & now, needed to make our way back toward WA's only city with an international airport, Perth.  Basically, we were driving everything it took us 3 weeks to cross (and more, since we were headed to the SW corner of the state) in less than 3 days!

We left Auski Roadhouse in the Pilbara around 08:00 and vowed to stop at every fuel station down Highway 95 a.k.a. Great Northern Highway since we practically ran out of petrol getting to Auski.  Thank God for Capricorn and Kumina Roadhouse otherwise I'm positive we would have been stranded along the road en route to Meekatharra.  Kumina Roadhouse consisted of two pumps for gas and two for diesel, entirely caked in dirt.  The lonely pumps fried in the desert sun and looked straight out of a 1960s magazine.  Other than the nostalgic petrol dispensers, the one-story house that doubled as the convenient store, and this clearing of earth, there was absolute nothingness for hundreds of mile; only the bush.  This was unmistakably the outback.

Legs stretched and expensive fuel paid for, Mom and I departed Kumina Roadhouse to conquer another chunk of the map.  Shortly after -- in the middle of the desert mind you -- a Cantaloupe lake materialized!  I suspect many other passersby before us had the same idea because I pulled into a bay off 95 with tire tracks.  Save the baby blue edges of the water, the entire pool was melon-colored! 



From ocean to desert, lush river regions to arid, red soil, Western Australia's extremes are certainly its highlight... but so is everything in between! From traversing rock formed 420 million years ago and finding Earth's most steadfast life, to the future of tidal energy, this state is dichotomously past and future.  If you're willing to go the distance, Western Australia offers countless unequaled wild, wonderful, and weird treasures!

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