Exploration is a term loosely used these days. You could be exploring anything physically, emotionally, mentally, maybe just exploring what you’d like to eat.
This journey was about trying to explore the deep South of Western Australia with the foresight that we will come unstuck from time to time whilst down there, passages will become impassable and there are just some places the landscape doesn’t want a vehicle to get to. I recruited my good friend Cameron to join me on this adventure. Cameron was eager to grow his knowledge of the area’s countless hidden bays, fresh water streams and empty surf breaks that he had only been able to see via Google Earth until now.
I’ve only really ever travelled solo to these destinations, so it was great having the comfort in knowing we had each other’s back if things were to go pear-shaped.
We kicked things off mid-morning in Perth, making our way South, planning to reach the coast by nightfall. We turned off the main road and let our tyres down in preparation for the unfamiliar tracks ahead. There was a maze of tracks on my Hema Nav so our focus was on following the right one whilst avoiding getting stuck before it got dark. There were a few 15 point turns and steep drop-offs on the very narrow tracks due to some of the downhill tracks being heavily washed out. After an hour we were cruising along the untouched, empty beach with no signs of people having ever been there. The glow of the fading sunset was quickly disappearing so we set up camp, got a fire going and sat back to look at the clear night sky above.
At the end of the beach there was a freshwater stream running down from the vegetated limestone cliffs above. The next morning we filled up our water bottles, boiled a coffee using the water and said goodbye to our first camp. Getting back up the hill we noticed an esky lid with ‘if you can’t get back up, DON’T GO DOWN’ scribbled with black marker. We managed to get up ok, just needed to give it a few revs in low 3rd.
We drove up to a vantage point where we could snap a few photos of the surrounding bays and planned our next destination on the map. As we pointed our camera out to the bay, a large Humpback Whale came into frame. This whale was huge and decided to keep its head out of the water the entire time we sat and watched. An awesome start to the day!
Our next goal was to drive 3-4hrs further East to reach some large sand dunes we thought could be great to camp atop of. We had all day to make it to the dunes so it was good to have the freedom to explore a few sidetracks and take some photos along the way.
A few of the tracks that we decided to follow became very hectic, these turned into kangaroo tracks leading to who knows where. The screech of the branches on both sides of the cars was louder than the music I had on! We had a chat on the two-way to discuss options. Cam was further ahead and told me that it only got narrower, so narrow in fact, it would be scratching you if you were to walk down the track! We couldn’t get out of our cars and lack of visibility meant that we couldn’t reverse out either. Just picture a hedge that closes over as you walk through it and this is the situation we were in. Oh, I forgot to mention, it was now night time. We decided it was time to turn around and find another track to the dunes as this one clearly wasn’t working. I counted it to be a 14 point turn which was not being friendly to the trees around me.
We found a new track leading to the dunes that were not too far away, at this point our spotlights became incredibly handy, lighting up a trackless maze of dune entrances around Butty Harbour. Racing up each dune came with the frightening possibility of a steep drop-off over the other side. The largest dune appeared to have a wide area at the top and we chose this as a good pit-stop-point to work out a plan. When we made it to the top it was discovered to be a good place to make camp and we decided to work out how to get around to a few of the other bays in the morning.
It’s such a good feeling to wake up without a schedule, plan or time frame. It opens up possibilities to explore tracks you wouldn’t otherwise take a chance on.
First things first, we made a coffee, sat and watched the waves peel across the bay and then made a move to get out to the point. We looked on the Hema Nav to work out the best route to make it around each headland. So many of these tracks led us to boulder climbing sessions in the cars, we were basically driving along the water’s edge on these beautiful rocky headlands to make it to the next bay. What a learning curve that was!
Our plan was now to make our way back to Esperance and camp down near Cape Arid for the evening. There are two ways to get back to the town site from Butty and that’s back over the dunes, through the bush tracks and then to the main road or along the beach. We decided to go along the beach. There weren’t any tracks along there and to be honest we didn’t even know if it was possible. On the map, there was a track leading down to the beach so we figured we’d give it a crack. There were some soft spots on this narrow beach with a steep slow into the water so it was a matter of ensuring our tyres remained in the tracks, otherwise things could go pear-shaped very quickly.
We knew there were some rocky outcrops ahead so we didn’t want to let our tyres down as much as we normally would for beach driving, to maximise clearance on the rocks. There were two rocky out-crops and boy were they sketchy! Navigation down the drop offs was crucial to prevent bottoming out and then having the nose stuck in the soft sand between the rocks. On one section it was a slow descent down the rocks, followed by having to put the foot down to get across 5m of soft sand, before climbing back up onto the next section of rock, complete with waves lapping up on the sand. We managed ok, made it to town and had a beer whilst laughing about how sketchy it was. We drove out to the Duke of Orleans that evening to set up camp.
When we woke the next day I suggested to Cam that we make our way to an old spot I’ve camped at before. It’s an incredible bay in the Duke of Orleans area that requires driving along a beach and through some dunes to make it around to the next bay across. In the corner of this stretch of beach is an incredible headland that looks down on a small island off the coast making for a very peaceful bay to camp at. Somehow the dune area was flooded to get to this spot and we could see some tracks that had made it to the water and then turned back. We had to find another way over to the bay. We were hungry to get there so we raced over some dunes, weaved through some dead trees and then through to the bay. The sun about to set greeted us, low tidal flats and some of the bluest waters I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t have been happier!
We took some photos at the bay, parked up the cars and sat around the fire sipping on our cold beers. What a way to wrap up our last evening in the South before an 8hr drive home in the morning!
Salty is an internationally acclaimed photographer who’s passionate about his constant search for new personal and photographical challenges. His work is widely renowned for pushing the limits and blurring the lines of lifestyle and adventure photography. You can keep up with Salty’s latest work at www.saltydavenport.com and on Instagram and Facebook.
Caleb Davenport’s goal is to explore the raw and rugged Australian landscapes, capturing the uniqueness of the land we live in whilst raising awareness to its fragility.