Western Australia is a land of big distances, big temperatures and big horizons. The sky seems bigger, cars and trucks are bigger; prices, rents, dreams, aspirations, beaches, properties, cattle, sharks, risks and rewards – all are bigger.
So where do you go to feel small in the ‘State of Big’? Like Alice, here’s where to enter through the looking glass.
Lake Ballard, Kalgoorlie
Standing alone in the middle of a vast, flat 50 sq km salt lake will surely adjust your personal perspective of the universe. Throw in 51 humanesque steel sculptures and soon you’ll be questioning what it means to be human at all. Time, the fragility of life, and the logistics of installing Antony Gormley’s famous artwork are plentiful subjects to digest while you scurry back to your hermetically sealed 4WD and floor the metal for the bright lights of western civilisation (aka, Kalgoorlie).
Southern karri forests, Southwest WA
There’s nothing like hugging one of the tallest trees on earth to make you feel both small and strangely reassured at the same time. Small because karri can commonly reach over 80m in height, and reassured because of their stability and longevity. Thankfully the great southern Karri forests are protected for all to enjoy in national parks such as Walpole-Nornalup, Gloucester, Warren and Beedelup. The towns of Walpole and Pemberton are perfect gateways to get your hugging on.
Burringurrah (Mt Augustus), Gascoyne
Watching the sunrise from the ancient summit of the largest rock in the country is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Twice as large as Uluru (Ayers Rock) and over a billion years old, it’s easy to feel tiny and insignificant as you make your way up the steep three-hour climb by head torch. But once the sun’s rays kiss the rock and you’re looking down on the golden plain, you’ll feel 1105m tall.
Cathedral Gorge, Purnululu National Park, Kimberley
The immensity of the most famous gorge in the Bungle Bungle range never ceases to amaze visitors. The almost circular gorge comes as a complete surprise after a hot walk in along a narrowing track. Cool and shady, the gorge is a beautiful example of water erosion, and makes for a pleasant lunch spot, while you ponder the World Heritage scale of it all.
Tunnel Creek, Kimberley
Now let’s up the ante and put a gorge underground. Throw in a river and a feeble head torch and you’re not small anymore, you’re almost invisible. Tunnel Creek, in Bunuba country, carves its way under the Napier Range (a remnant of a Devonian Reef) for almost a kilometre and was once used as a hideout by the rebel Jandamarra. With good shoes and some decent illumination, you can follow the underground river through the range to the other side. You’ll have to return the same way, though!
Gorges, Karijini National Park
The incredible water-worn gorges of Karijini National Park appear as deep, dark slots in an otherwise barren, rocky Pilbara. The soothing tinkle of distant water echoes up to the furnace-like surface, willing you down. Slippery, narrow, shoulder-width passages descend into deep, cold plunge pools while the sky above narrows to a slot. Make peace with your own fragility and take a guided adventure tour, the best (if not only) way to fully experience the gorge system. And it’s comforting to know there’s a dude with a rope handy as you slide into the next pool – the one you can’t climb out of.
Swimming with whale sharks – Ningaloo Marine Park, Coral Coast
If you want to feel truly small, then sizing yourself up next to a living behemoth is just the ticket. Every year from late March to July, the world’s largest fish, the curious and slow-moving whale shark, arrives in Ningaloo Marine Park to take advantage of spawning coral. You can snorkel alongside these incredible creatures (ignore the ‘shark’ word, the commonly used phrase here is ‘gentle giant’), which can grow to five or six times the size of humans. Admire its gracefulness while you flail around with your snorkel, remembering who’s the boss here.
Mitchell Falls – Mitchell River National Park, Kimberley
Known as Punamii-unpuu to the local Wunambal people, the sheer scale of Mitchell Falls leaves most people shaking their heads in disbelief. WA’s second highest waterfall descends through a series of layered (and culturally forbidden) pools for more than 80m. The walk to the falls takes roughly an hour and passes swimming holes and rock art sites. Taking a chopper one way has become popular, and the sheer massiveness of the area is magnified from the tiny cockpit.