As published in the West Australian weekend travel supplement, West Travel.
So Chris Parry has packed the car and the kids, and headed north. Not really north. But still north.
In an article some time ago, Travel Editor for the West Australian, Stephen Scourfield, showed how to do the Pinnacles area as a weekender. Now for the cut-down version, designed to tick the box on a great experience and demonstrate great parenting by me.
School holidays should be relaxing but the pressure as a parent to deliver new experiences and encounters can become a quest. “Not another playground!” was the despairing exclamation the night before. Inspired by Stephen’s article, I thought I could do a version that would be cheaper and maybe leave the kids exhausted the next day (and on the following day there was cricket on the TV).
Stephen had left home at 10.30am on Saturday. Scratch that. Get up at sparrows, wrap some toast in some Alfoil for the kids and hit the road.
The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park is about 250km north of Perth and a trip is made all the more enjoyable since the 2010 opening of the Indian Ocean Drive. Trying to enjoy a northbound day trip on the heavily trucked inland Brand Highway is near impossible.
How good is the Indian Ocean Drive? If you ever spin a bottle to work out what direction you’re going to head for a day trip out of Perth, make sure the bottle points north. Indian Ocean Drive offers a great driving experience. It is scenic which is enough to tick the boxes of all the occupants in my car.
Looking at Stephen’s itinerary, we are experiencing the wonder of the Pinnacles just after he has left home. It’s a summer’s day and by 10.45am it’s warm but the Kids’ Driving Songs CD still hasn’t melted on the dashboard from my apparent carelessness. Yes we still like a good compact disc in the domain of my car.
While Stephen is still on Wanneroo Road, I have paid my $12 entry per vehicle and begun the 4km Pinnacles loop in my seldom-tested four-wheel drive.
Here’s a photography and driving tip in one: you don’t need a 4WD for the Pinnacles loop but your photos will look better with a rugged vehicle to match the landscape.
As Stephen explains, the Pinnacles are “limestone pillars thought to represent the remains of a forest covered by moving sand dunes and petrified”. Alternative suggestions for their creation include the raw material for the limestone coming from seashells that broke down over time into lime-rich sands and then a bit of research adds some descriptions none of us are going to remember, such as “vegetation forming acidic layers of soil and humus” and “precipitation of indurated calcrete with subsequent erosion of the aelolianite”.
The Pinnacles Discovery Centre has now taken it under my advisement that my kids’ explanation deserves a display board. According to them, the Pinnacles were formed in ancient times by a group of children competing in a sand castle competition.
All of the children coincidently built the same style of structure that we now know as the Pinnacles. To celebrate this coincidence, it was decided not to smash the sand castles at the end of the day and let them stay there forever.
While we’re at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre, I reckon on Stephen’s trip you would probably be somewhere around Seabird, a small community 100km north of Perth. The Seabird community of the 1960s rejected the proposed name of Chalon and chose the name Seabird after a schooner of that name wrecked nearby in 1874.
The Pinnacles Discovery Centre is a very well articulated display of history and local flora and fauna. While the displays of snakes and lizards easily impress, it is noticeable how intrigued people are by the display of sandgropers. All I’ve ever known about this elusive insect is that it is the colloquialism for West Australians.
The sandgroper is subterranean and occurs widely across Australia in sandy soils. In WA it was available in the 1970s as a soft toy to raise money for Telethon.
After stocking up on some cold drinks, snacks and other essential items, such as glow-in-the-dark tshirts at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre shop, we make our back to the now suitably dusty 4WD and back on to Indian Ocean Drive, but only for a minute.
Spying a track on the coast side of the road, I pull into it and we make our way along a suitably narrow, sandy track, a genuine air of concern in the car. Surrounded by scrub with just a narrow band of white sand ahead of us, we round a bend and there’s a vehicle in trouble, spinning sand like a sprinting sandgroper.
With the owner pulling the shirt off his back and kicking his floor mats under the back wheels I ask if he needs some help. I realise immediately it’s the wrong question to ask of a man in trouble being watched by his girlfriend. No man in trouble wants help. I should have said, “I’ve got some gear in the back. Do you wanna use it?” It’s too late. He’s committed to refusing my help. We look at each other, both of us understanding what I must do. Slowly I get back in the car and complete a 15-point turn. As slowly and as quietly as possible, I drive off back the way we came.
The silence in the car doesn’t last long. An even smaller track leads off to a massive sand dune that is crying out to be explored. We leave the car and climb this monster of bright, white sand, surrounded entirely by bush. I remember the kids just running, falling and laughing but my favourite memory is of my boy running off into the distance, at least 150m away, on his own, flat-strap and barefoot.
Back in the car, we continue the drive south, taking in the recommended scenic lookouts until we arrive in Lancelin. At the Endeavour Tavern we grab a massive wooden table outside in the beer garden and order some equally massive pizzas to fill it — and somehow make some space for drinks. The kids run off to explore the expansive lawns and roll down the grassy slope, occasionally colliding with like-minded happy kids.
Looking at Stephen’s itinerary he has checked into the Pinnacles Edge Resort, enjoying his exploration of the surroundings and looking forward to a luxurious evening before taking in more of the area’s sites tomorrow.
At about the time Stephen is slipping easily into the comforts of good service and good food, I’m making my way back down Indian Ocean Drive.
I will be home in a couple of hours, having provided my family with more stories to tell and more adventures to remember, and all done in just one day.