Saturday, May 07, 2011

A New Season

The abruptness of seasonal change always amazes me. When we arrived in this part of Australia, the weather was searingly hot. Every day was 35 degrees, with the sun relentlessly beating down from the very moment it appeared at dawn until it relievingly sunk back down into the sea at dusk. Sun cream, beach shades and rashies were the standard fare for any day lest you should be burned bright red within minutes of exposure. And while those days were little more than a week ago and stretching back a good couple of months for us in WA, they already have faded into memories as the Indian summer has made way for autumn up here in the Pilbara. Days that screamed out for the beach, icy poles and a continuous supply of drinking water have now been replaced by more temperate days. The cool easterly wind blows forcefully through our campground, particularly strong in the  morning. While the sun is still warm and even hot at times, the wind takes the edge out of the heat and the beach no longer comes to mind with quite as much appeal. We were scheduled yesterday to go out for a day of snorkeling with the whale sharks but on arriving at the Tantabiddi jetty, we were met by a grim faced skipper who told us that, due to the strong wind, the seas were too rough and that the day's excursion was cancelled. I guess the thing that amazes me most about the change in season here is that on paper it still looks like summer to somebody who has spent most of their days in Melbourne. The forecast tells me that daytime temperatures are still 29 or 30 degrees. And while it is far more appealing than being in the cold and rain of the south eastern states, it definitely feels like summer is over. I guess it's not just the weather itself conveying this impression. The atmosphere in the Yardie Homestead campground where we have been based for the last few weeks has also seen a seasonal change. We arrived in school holidays just prior to Easter and the campground was full of young families here to take advantage of the close proximity to Cape Range National Park and the beaches fringing Ningaloo Reef. The pool was a summery hub of activity. Children screamed and laughed and cried, splashing and bombing and throwing balls. Their bikini clad mothers lazed around on the grass keeping a watchful eye out while working on their tans. Mating dragon flies and large black and orange native wasps flew in a large contingent around the human occupants of the pool, touching down regularly on the water's surface for a dip and a drink. Into the barmy evenings the kids would still be running around barefooted as their parents, often large groups of friends who had come away together for the holidays, would sit down for a wine or a beer and merrily exchange stories of the day's snorkeling or fishing. Campervans of young french or german or dutch travellers rounded out the campground population, the communal barbecue area often filled with the colourful sound of their different languages and accents. The nights were still and sweltering making sleep a difficult and somewhat sweaty affair. But like the dragonflies, the familes and international tourists are now mostly gone from Yardie Homestead. The vibrancy that they brought seems to have given way now to an autumnal atmosphere that is much more calm and sedate. The demographic has shifted in a very short amount of time to a significantly older crew. A large number of the grey hair brigade have moved in and taken up residence for the next three or four months in a bid to escape the winter further south. Many have been coming here for a few years and have advance bookings twelve months ahead to be camped in exactly the same spot. 
The Taj Mahal next door
Our neighbour Gary arrived four days ago and he has since spent the entire time assembling an elaborate construction of poles, rope and shade cloth around and over his entire site. There are now two fully enclosed rooms off the side of the van. An enclosed balcony region out the back. And a covered garage for his car. As he says, if he's going to be here for four months he might as well be comfortable. There is something admirable about these folk who have the get up and go to come up here to the Coral Coast to live in a caravan for the winter months every year. Most seem to bring fishing boats of some description with them so that they can while away the days on the water and reel in their dinner. The other activities that attract the families and young travellers to these parts don't seem to be of any interest. It's all about escaping the southern cold, fishing and the strong community spirit that is evident among them. Even though I've chatted with a number of the grey nomads around here and found them incredibly friendly, I still feel like an outsider looking in. I have no doubt that that is just as much about me as anything to do with them. They are at a completely different stage of life and I don't fully understand, as nice as it is around here, how somebody could come here every year for four months which many of this group seem to do. It's very isolated, being about 35km from Exmouth town, which in turn is hardly a bustling metropolis. But then, I'm not somebody that likes to go on holiday to the same place year after year as many with holiday houses and fixed onsite vans do. Many people obviously love the feeling of familiarity and being settled even when away from their regular home. I do see the benefit of getting to know a whole set of other people who also regulalry go to these places, kids all growing up together every summer holiday. But something in me always craves the different, the new. In town the other night we met a young Spanish couple from Madrid who had driven up from Perth in their rented Wicked Camper. I couldn't help but feel much more akin to them even though they were likely more than 20 years my junior. The wish to see new things, to have different adventures. Perhaps that will temper as I get a bit older. But I hope not. I hope that when my hair is fully grey and my children are grown that I still have the health and capability to travel around as these folks do. But whereas I may be up around northern WA one year, the next may be housesitting for somebody in the south of France, or visiting friends in Turkey or chilling out with Tori in a rented shack on a remote Thai beach. Or even just taking the van up to the Daintree for the winter or to the Northern Territory or just travelling as we are now, staying somewhere for a while and moving on when we're ready, indeed as many other of the grey nomads do. The world is big and I hope to spend my time exploring many different parts of it. That's my ambition for the autumn years of my life. Just as it's been for the summer.

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