It's a strange thing about hire cars. They seem incredibly reluctant to leave behind the place they have been hired from. 'Metallica' our Wicked campvervan (she was swiftly renamed) took us on a stressful tour of Perth and it's surrounding suburbs for a good hour before finding her way onto Highway 1 and heading North.
Nick and I had spent an enjoyable but mildly crazy month and a half travelling through South East Asia and arrived on Australia's West Coast looking for a slow-paced, laid back place where we could rest up for a week or so. Which is exactly what we had in store when we arrived in Perth. Official statistics might tell you that 1.5 million inhabit Western Australia's capital city, but what Perth's residents get up to I couldn't tell you. I awoke my first morning in Perth, a Saturday, expecting to find a city teeming with life but as I strolled around, the amount of people was incredibly minimal. At one point in the early afternoon my random stroll took me past a classy cafe. it was 1 o'clock in the afternoon and was closed. Now I'm no business genius but if I were to open a cafe business the one time of day I would have it open would be 1 in the afternoon on a Saturday. This seemed to sum up the laidback lifestyle that seemed to go on in Perth.
I don't want you for a second to think that Perth is a lifeless city because it is not. In fact, it's quietness and remoteness adds to the charm. The people are among the friendliest I have experienced, the harbour and skyline are among the best I have seen and, as strange as it may sound, it has the most striking blue sky I have ever seen.
But it is not a place one can spend too long in. So it was a week or so later that Nick and I found our way navigating our new hire van around Perth's northern suburbs before eventually finding the route North and on our way to the incredibly distant Darwin, 4000kms away.
Apart from being unable to navigate her way out of Perth - which was, of course, her fault and not mine as the driver - the hire car had one other notable setback. She was loud. Very loud. Down one side in brash, blue writing was written 'Metallica' (hence the name) while the other was filled with a huge fireball, spraying yellows and blacks down the side. Now neither Nick or I are of the hardcore rocker variety- in fact we rolled into one outback town with Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer' blaring out of the speakers. So when we navigated our way onto the Hepburn Highway and saw a sign for Geraldton, our first night's accommodation, it seemed fitting to rename her Audrey. A splash of beer on the dashboard and the christening was complete.
As we made our way North along the coastal hightway it soon became evident that Audrey's loud appearance did not exactly fit in with the laidback nature of Western Australia. Let me give you a story that I feel sums up the relaxed nature of the people of Australia's far west. We were making our way from the incredible Cape Range National Park, on the Ningaloo Reef, towards Karratha an industrial town in the state's far north, when we stopped to re-fuel and grab some lunch in a tiny outback town called Fortescue River. Now this tiny community consisted of the petrol station we had stopped in, a tiny tavern of the sort you would expect in rural Australia and a bridge of the river that gave the town it's name. In short, a place in the arse end of nowhere with not a great deal to do.
While filling up the car, a friendly young lad who worked there came over and began discussing the artistic merits of our wonderful vehicle. After a couple of minutes our conversation got round to what life was like in this tiny place. He stood there for a moment scratching his head and staring off into some void space behind me. 'Well' he begun in that West Australian drawl that would remain just as calm if his hair suddenlt caugh alight 'it's pretty warm. And the flies can be a problem.' Then he gave me a little smile, turned on his heels and headed back into the air-conditioned shop, presumably where it was not quite so warm and flies were less of a problem. And that was it. Life in Fortescue River. Now I ask you to picture the scene. I had been stood out of the air-condition van (oh yes, Audrey is air-conditioned) for no more than two minutes and already I had great lumps of sweat falling onto my already sodden clothes. Pretty warm? I though to myself. Pretty warm is going outside in shorts and a t-shirt, not witnessing your own skin visibly crackling in the heat.
And the flies? 'A bit' of a problem? I think not, they are more of a catastrophe, akin to SARS or Bird Flu. Lord knows I'm susceptible to the odd case of over exagerration but as I stood there re-filling the car I must have had more than a hundred flies buzzing around me. And here's the thing about Australian flies, they are nothing like those back home. Those that buzz around you, rest on your shoulder for a shit or whatever it is they do and then move on to their next victim. Antipoden flies seem more intent on mocking you, or at least they do me. They fly around your face for a minute or so, allowing a whack that they cockily avoid. Then the onslaught begins. They go for you ear, then your nose, then your mouth. When they discover that the human reactions are better than they anticipated they grab a mate in the hope of distracting you from one orrifice as they attempt the other. But alas, when this attempt is blocked the process begins again but this time the amount of friends increases ten-gold each time. Eventually you get so frustrated and lash out so fiercely that you hit yourself full on in the face with a wooden spoon. The fly the allows itself a little chuckle, and I'm convinced I've heard this laugh, and flies on.
Aside from the heat and the flies Western Australia is a truly stunning part of the world and somewhere I urge you to go to while it remains a hidden gem. I intended to write about the places in this post but as I jot this down in the searing heat at Litchfield National Park a fly has just attempted a descent into my ear. I know Phase II of the attack is about to begin and I need to get inside before it does.