CALL OF THE WILD


Camp of the Moon’s animal magnetism.

_______________________________________________________

I lay there knowing something eerie ties us to the world of animals.
Sometimes the animals pull you backward into it.
You share hunger and fear with them like salt in blood.

– Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

_______________________________________________________

If the world is your oyster, where do you go first? Australia’s outback was calling in a big way. I had a LandCruiser set up for remote touring, a couple cameras and a map that sprawled from the Pacific to the Indian, a vast orange ocean of sand and spinifex between those blue bookends of water. I could go anywhere my heart desired within the fractal confines of the Australian coastline, but one place was calling me, drawing me in for some reason: a strip of coastline stretching north from Carnarvon, nothing but salt flats, jagged limestone cliffs, barren dunes and wild goats, thousands of acres of scrub, named Quobba Station and Gnaraloo Station on the map.

It’s been four years since I first visited WA’s Coral Coast, first experienced razor sharp reef, sea-urchin laced walks out to a wave that, if your timing was wrong, could easily kill you. A few weeks before I arrived this time around, a guy was killed at Gnaraloo when a king set came through – washing through the lineup like a bulldozer, driving him headfirst into the reef. There are shark attacks out here, broken bones…Kirby Brown actually ended up in serious grief after a dolphin landed on him when they were sharing the same wave.

Even Eden was protected by Uriel and his flaming sword, as every paradise must be protected.

Maybe the point is that paradise couldn’t be paradise if every scrap of riff raff was allowed in, or maybe just that man might not recognise paradise without a struggle to get there. Or maybe mankind is just inherently masochistic.

_______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Quobba Station

At the end of a long thin road that slips between salt scrub and salt mine lakes is a massive wooden sign with a simple warning: KING WAVES KILL. Turn left here and you get to the Quobba blowhole, a fairly intense phenomenon where the ocean sneezes rather violently straight up into the air.

Beyond the blowholes is Quobba Point, with a campground dotted with dilapidated old fishing shacks and a shallow beach.

Quobba Station is still a working station, running damara sheep. These diminutive sheep are raised for meat and, originating from Egypt, are adept at dealing with heat and drought.

You can stay on the station here in a range of accommodation, but my mission takes me further north along the corrugated dirt road to Red Bluff, the last bit of land to jut out into the Indian Ocean before the fence line that separates Quobba from Gnaraloo.

A thinner dirt road bends back toward the coast, running straight toward the bluff, and one rise later, Eden is spread out in front of Ghost, a long red valley culminating in the eponymous ochre bluff.

_______________________________________________________

My little shack at the Bluff – sharing war stories and beers with Mitch Parkinson.

_______________________________________________________

’m here for the wave. I should have said THE wave. I haven’t travelled the globe and seen every wave there is…but there is something about the peeling left at the end of a long toe-stubbing walk down the base of the bluff that escapes description, something about this wave that has been calling to me since I first saw a picture of it in a book somewhere.

And I know I’m not the only one. Out of all of the waves along Australia’s infinite coastline, none have had such a veil of secrecy around them for as long as Red Bluff. Camp of the Moon was its official name in surf magazines for years, a way to give the place a name without giving away a place on the map.

_______________________________________________________

THE wave

_______________________________________________________

Now, the two only intersect on an old hand-painted sign at the turn-off to the camp.

There are camping options here for every budget and lifestyle, from posh safari tents up on the hill to pure bush camps and, my personal favourite, the old fishing shacks with propped up windows and palm front roofs.

These are the perfect base to sink into the Bluff from – shade in the day, a windbreak at night and only a few steps from the water’s edge.

_______________________________________________________

West coast thorny devils have more yellow colouring than their desert brethren, to match the sand out here.

_______________________________________________________

You can fish right off the beach, jump in and spear the reef beyond the shorebreak, or walk up to the end of the bluff and paddle out into a long barreling left-hander as mechanical and perfect as a wave can get on a good day.

Guys are catching reef fish and even pelagics right off the rocks here, almost year-round. Tigers and bronze whalers skirt the edge of the cliff in the calm water searching for an easy meal, and humpback whales cruise past the beach close enough you could almost hit them with a stone, new calves in tow.

_______________________________________________________

The dream in a picture: camped on the sand at the Bluff.

_______________________________________________________

Gnaraloo

There is a coastal track that runs up to Gnaraloo that’s a good trip and a little more scenic than the main corrugated road further inland. There are a hundred hidden coves, fishing spots and windswept stands of sand along this track, and the next real civilization you see heading north is the Tombstones carpark.

This is the premiere surf break on Gnaraloo Station – arguably one of the longest lefts in the world. It is brutal. A local told me that he watched one wave roll through and break no less than four surfboards and three leashes.

_______________________________________________________

That wave on the left doesn’t really have a name, it’s too shallow for any sane human to surf. To the right is Gnaraloo’s Monuments.

_______________________________________________________

When those big, long period groundswells trip up on the reef, the first bit of shallow water they’ve met since Antarctica, things get pretty heavy here.

Not far up the road is the Three Mile campground. This is the bush camp on Gnaraloo Station – spread out over a few flat acres. There are hot showers here and a small shop with the basics and slow satellite wifi.

I like to stay in the only shack here, dubbed ‘The Hilton’. It’s a little stone and wood fishing shanty right on the water, covered in so-and-so-was-here graffiti from decades ago.

_______________________________________________________

A mother humpback and her calf running just a hundred metres offshore.

_______________________________________________________

Coral heads extend out for a kilometre in front of Three Mile, with a small sandy beach on the northern end of the campground.

Even further north is the Gnaraloo Homestead. Here there are more substantial shacks and buildings, more suited to full time fishermen who just want a bed to come back to after a day out on the water.

From the homestead it’s a ten-minute drive north to the Gnaraloo lagoon – a calm tightly wound bay with intricate coral heads about a hundred metres offshore, but a pure white sandy beach too.

This is where you can launch boats or have a ‘day at the beach’ a little easier than almost anywhere else along this coastline. It’s a ring of pure blue water full of tropical fish and amazing coloured coral, though more and more of the coral here, and everywhere, is getting bleached from rising ocean temperatures.

_______________________________________________________

‘The Hilton’ at Gnaraloo. It ain’t much, but it’s my favourite place to base myself when I’m on a mission here.

_______________________________________________________

There are several more stations directly north of Gnaraloo, including Warroora and Ningaloo, but the road stops at Gnaraloo lagoon, and you have to head back south via Carnarvon if you want to keep travelling north along this paradise coastline…if you have any skin left after surfing the Bluff, that is.

_______________________________________________________

A few years apart, a few more grey hairs and a few more scars from the reef here…but the love for this place hasn’t faded at all.

THE END