Trip: Western Australia

Roo-Bar, Crayfish and Swan Draught

- by Claudia Vogt -

„Chrissie, come on!“ I can hear myself shouting, not for the first but for the sixth time now. With a growingly unnerved tone in my voice. We are in the Internet Café - well, Café is maybe an exaggeration, considering that there is a coffee machine that is out of order, and the atmosphere does not radiate the same warmth that we know from the coffeehouses in Vienna. Anyway, this Internet place is located in Geraldton, W.A.

W.A. is synonymous for Western Australia, a local Aussie only refers to it by the two letters or by lazily articulating Westoz. For us windsurfers, however, that doesn´t really matter. It´s paradise and that´s enough. Just like Oz itself was born out of the little girl Dorothy´s lively imagination in the musical “The Wizard of Oz”, Westoz seems to be have its root in a windsurfer´s fantasy. Or in mine, Western Australia being the land of magic for a girl that has grown up in a landlocked country with an average temperature of 15°C – seen over the year!

Back to my shrill voice screaming “Chrissiiiiiieeee!”. Outright panic starts rising, when the person I am calling for still doesn´t show up, stuck to the computer for what to me seems like ages, when outside the wind is howling. No trees nearby to let me judge the actual wind force, just the electric air and clouds moving very fast.

That is what had taken me here, to the other end of the world: excellent wind statistics, sunshine 350 days of the year and, last but not least, tales of endless waves breaking at secret spots. Not everyone, though, has come for the same reasons. Chrissie, my sister, has come because she couldn´t get the necessary visa to the States and was therefore stuck in the Austrian depression season (just rain and fog, humidity that creeps up your trousers slowly driving all the happiness out of you). Bad luck with a guy had left me on my own in Australia, so I was grateful when she showed up in Australia and we bought our first van ever together. The dream could begin!

That was a week or so ago, when I yelled at her for making me wait. Couldn´t she understand how anxious I was to get out on the water? Was it that important to send a mail to her boyfriend right now?

I admit that it must have been a nightmare for Chrissie (or anyone, who wants to do things other than windsurfing but is travelling with a windsurfer). That’s true of just this part, not the whole journey, though, because on the other hand we had loads of fun driving in our Toyota Liteace van, made in 1982 and purchased for only a thousand Aussie dollars. We met an Emu in the middle of the highway and couldn´t believe our Austrian eyes. Made friends with the most amazing people, in spite of the weirdos that seemed to follow us wherever we went. And, above all, we learned how to live without the daily shower, without food that needed to be refrigerated and became experts in borrowing things from other, better equipped, travellers.

From early December to February my 22-year-old sister and me, 23, stayed in Australia’s largest but least populated state. Always somewhere along the coast, since it didn´t occur to us to drive hundreds of kilometres east just to hang out with millions of flies and some 50°C and nothing else. We were too spoilt for that, being European and girls and all that.

So we made our trip as comfortable as possible, which doesn´t mean too much: Mostly we stayed in Geraldton, where Internet was still available (further up north, especially north of Carnarvon, all you do is dream about it) and where we became part of an English-Irish-Suisse, and well, Austrian community living under a big tree. Not Geraldton directly, a mid-sized town with some 20.000 inhabitants, roughly 19.000 living off cray-fishing, but on Coronation Beach.

Coronation Beach is second after Lancelin, or third after Lancelin and Margaret River, when it comes to popularity as a sailing spot in W.A. So you can´t expect to be the lonesome cowboy (or -girl, to do justice to all the girls ripping it hard out there) on the water, but the bay is really big enough to share it. I liked it for providing perfect training conditions: flat on the inside, some waveriding further out – without any gnarly reef to cut your feet (soft like a baby´s butt from the Austrian winter) or kill your new skinny mast. The sail you mainly use is a 4.3 for the girls, 4.7 for the guys.

Those who stay longer at Coro´s form a small community, and since it was so comfortable to have neighbours who would help you out with milk if yours got spoilt, or open a can for you that just resisted all your strength and prayers, the two of us stayed. One week, two weeks. Six in total.

Our breaks from bushlife always led us to a friends´ house first, always for a quick shower, and sometimes for blow-drying our hair and putting on make up (Thursday night in Geraldton!). Second on our list: the “Internet Café”. And only third, although most essential: the supermarket, stocking up supplies of canned food and drinking water for the next few days.

Thursday nights were a break from the quiet evenings at Coronation, where by 9 (latest!) we were in bed, or, in our van, rather. Anyway, those nights meant: listening to a live band in one of the two local pubs (admittedly, most of the times we went to Freemaison´s and most of the times the same band was playing), at midnight sharp, when the pubs had to close, moving on to one of the two local nightclubs (the newly owned “Zuu” is more popular these days) and getting drunk along the way.

That was that.

The rest of the week we watched the pitch-dark night closing in, providing the background for our own, private open-air-festival: millions and millions of stars and absolute tranquility. Having gulped down whatever we had managed to cook on our gas-top stove after I had derigged my gear (the evening session was always the best) and Chrissie had come back from her run, at the arrival of night, we were overwhelmed by that serenity every single time.

Sometimes a generator would disturb the peacefulness, but who dares criticizing its owners, when you asked for electricity whenever your notebook or digital camera had run out of battery?

Almost as beautiful were the mornings, when I woke early and hiked up the hill. Sitting there, I could watch Coro´s come to life. People crawling out of their tents or vans, following their early-morning routine of walking to the sanitary hole in the ground, armed with a toilet roll. The sea was calm then, not at all like in the afternoons when the seabreeze came up and temperatures became bearable again, simply by the wind moving the boiling hot air that had its origins in the outback back to where it had come from.

You get up around nine in the camp: even Chrissie, a notorious long-sleeper, was by that time driven out of our Toyota by the heat. The wind, as mentioned above, only brings refreshment by 2 p.m. and then constantly picks up.

And yet, Geraldton was not the only place we got to love in Westoz. We saw quite a bit of Perth, a beautiful city of roughly a million inhabitants located at the mouth of Swan River and along the coast with an almost mediterranean climate and an amazing cosmopolitan attitude. The fireworks above Perth´s city skyline on Australia Day, celebrated on January 26th , seen from a boat is an unforgettable experience. 

If you like it a bit more touristy than Geraldton, but not as metropolitan as Perth, Lancelin is just right. Lancelin is the place where the annual “Ocean Classic” race is held, where widely known sailors such as Peter Volwater and Scott McKercher show up, the party after the race having got some fame of its own.

My sister and me liked to chill on the beach, before, in between and after sailing. We loved the fact that you could get coffee and a sandwich just around the corner (unlike at Coro´s) but were intimidated by the presence of hundreds of Swiss windsurfers. How come a country as small as Switzerland and as far away is capable of turning a village in Western Australia into its colony? That was what we were used to of the Germans, not the Swiss.

For a week or so, Chrissie and I also separated. Not due to a fight, as you might believe, although we had them – over jogurt, doing the dishes and almost anything else. The reason was that I had a dream that went further than Coro´s, further north and deeper into the true meaning of bushlife. “Gnaraloo” – the word in itself withstood any correct pronounciation -  even Ozzies had a variety of ways to pronounce it. My dream was about never-ending waves that would allow you ten turns or more that were consistent and perfectly shaped and waiting for me.

Unfortunately, Chrissie´s dream did not include sharing our place of living (and every breadcrumb) with an incredible number of flies, nor did it include being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tyre, awaiting the slow and painful death by thirst because our Toyota didn´t have a spare tyre. So my sister got the van and I left the two of them behind on my way to Eden, which I took up with two former soldiers of the Israeli army, who had invited me to come along. Their 4-wheel-drive looked much more promising than my Toyota Liteace 1982, so... nothing to worry about, I tried to tell myself.

That week, some nightmares and some dreams came true. I would have found out why Westaustralians are referred to as sandgropers, if I hadn´t already known. I saw parrot fish, huge and colourful. Coral reefs still untouched and waiting for me to discover their wonders. Tracks that led to the main surfspot, which, to me, rather resembled the surface of the moon than actual roads. What else? Flies, certainly, but not as many as expected. And girls, more than expected, considering the non-existence of fresh water and the reef that makes it wavesailing of the more hardcore variety.

Mainly from Switzerland (again!), but also from Germany and the Netherlands, we were a group of eleven or twelve girls that were ready to give up all comfort in order to get some good sailing. I only did so for a few days, but others had been at the camp for months already!

Although I didn´t get to see a really big day, I caught some of the endless waves I had dreamed of and would go back to Gnaraloo any time again – after I´d made sure that one extremely aggressive “local” guy (not local at all, as found out later, but Centraleuropean :-) ) wasn´t there...

Australia has been a good teacher to me: drinking beer whenever and wherever, estimating the time and cause of death of a kangaroo lying beside the road, changing tyres, checking oil and water, fixing some minor things on the engine and radiator, jumpstarting a car in the reverse gear, and, not to the same extent, but still, learning patience with non-windsurfers. A little, at least.

And Chrissie? Has she promised to herself not to travel with a windsurfer ever again in her life? Wrong.

My sister got out on the water a few times, and enjoyed it as long as I didn´t yell at her for everything that to me appeared easy but to her impossible at first. She lives with a windsurfer in fact, on Maui, and has learned the one rule: For the sake of peace, go and check your e-mails yourself or wait for a day without wind.

The latter, however, is hard to come by if you are in Western Australia.

THX 2: Chiemsee, Hot Sails Maui and Phoenix West Internet/Geraldton

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   text & photos: Claudia Vogt  © windgirls 2004