As of the last entry I was on my way out of the Pilbara - the only remaining stop was Paraburdoo, which at 7am on Sunday was a quiet town indeed.
So onto the road down from the hills it was - and no less stunning a trip than the days before it. The lowlands of the Western Pilbara saw the scenery change from the isolated tussocked hills of the East and gorges of the centre, into sets of ridges of exposed layered rock towards the coast. There's something spectacular about ranges like this - the same type of formation that makes up much of the Macdonell Ranges near Alice, an association which can hardly be a bad thing. The road out here first follows then crosses range after range of mesmerising formations, until finally crossing one last, long, definitive range. It's amazing the effect natural border phenomenon like this have upon a traveller. A new country wasn't just symbolised, it was felt, by a drop of a good 2-3 degrees in temperature. The drop was badly needed and highly appreciated - the day's riding might have started relatively early, but it was relentlessly hot, almost dangerously so. As sad as it was to leave the hills of the Pilbara behind I was by this stage looking forward to a whole new land.
I have been to Exmouth before, on a family trip some years ago, but my memories of the place are fairly scanty. The town is not in the least familiar - though it doesn't take familiarity to recognise how new the fancy marina area is - 'marine living at its finest!' A far cry from the mining towns of the hills where the deli attendant couldn't conceal her amazement that a couple of guys would buy a quarter chicken and a single stick of cabinossi.
A little late into town I was pleased to discover the tourist influence had meant the conveniences I would have earleir taken for granted actually were still open - supermarket, petrol station, fish and chip shop, even a dive shop. So no need to resort to the emergency Deb and baked beans for dinner!
The next morning - having found myself a piece of quiet flat land to roll out the matress - I was up early as usual, and with a range of things circled all over my map of Exmouth. I'm probably more excited about Exmouth than I had been about any aspect of my trip for a long while. I didn't necessarily think I had anything special to look forward to, but chilling out, swimming reefs at my own pace, national park camping and a little bit of tourist infrastructure - simple things which nevertheless should make for a great few days. Doing a day trip on the water of the Great Barrier Reef was nice and all, but I have to say being able to take the beach to an isolated stretch of coast and just swim out to the coral is much more appealing - that's without considering the cost difference. I was up too early for any of that, though, so instead I opted to try out one of the roads up into the ranges from the East.
The big and beautiful Goshawk I got to watch gliding along the road two minutes later was just the start of the morning. The ridge road up the range was soon winding up the hill in front of my, and as I ascended above the shrubbed plains of the gulf I was wondering why I hadn't made the trip down here to set up camp (I think tomorrow night that is probably what I'll do). The morning sunshine angling across the lowland hills was spectacular, but as the road climbed its winding way up the ridge the scenery only got better and better. Somehow managing to twist myself backwards in both directions to admire the view, and simultaneously dodge the morning wildlife, I found myself defenseless against the still air and morning beauty of the range. I couldn't possibly even see it all, let alone get photographs to prove it!
Perseverance pays off, however. I stopped on the way down in a little side bay to check the view atop a rock to my left. I couldn't believe what lay before me. I took enough photographs to capture the image, but how could I do this view justice? I sat, presently, upon that rock. And sat. And listened to the three-tone song of a bird drifting through the perfectly still temperate morning air, echoing from some nook within the gorge which lay before me. I watched in wonder as little navy bomber birds darted and dove. I watched the light change as the sun progressed through the same cycle it does every day - but has never done quite like this before. I pulled out the billy and nestled into a shady hollow within the rock to have breakfast, planned the day, and pulled out the laptop to write this. I'm sitting in the cool shade of the gorge wall, and with the clock having just passed 8:30 the first car of the day slowly makes its way up this road up the range. I first climbed the range just after six - I have had this land all to myself for nearly two and a half hours. They pass, of course, slowly on up - probably not realising the view that awaits them just metres outside their airconditioned box. But that's okay. I realise.
But the morning needs to end sometime. I may very well be back up here - if not tomorrow, probably another day. For the meantime, Exmouth, the North West Cape, Ningaloo reef... the Coral Coast awaits!
Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jsbaxter/tags/coralcoast/ (though admittedly, as of writing I hadn't uploaded any)