Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The best "job" in the world

Travel writers don’t get a lot of sympathy. People think all we do is swan around from one exotic location to another, pausing every so often to meet some fascinating local figure or other or possibly, just occasionally, bang away at a laptop for a while. Of course this isn’t really the case and so, in the interests of ever finding a kind ear to moan into again about the downsides, I am almost regretting writing this post before I even start.

Because I’ve just had the most amazing day and I know that if I tell the world about it my chances of ever making anyone understand that travel writing is not an easy profession may well be scuppered.

It started in Kalbarri, a dreamy little coastal town where nobody seemed to wear proper shoes and everybody appeared to be permanently in a good mood. My “hotel” was actually an apartment big enough to move into, the sun had popped back up again after its dazzling closing show the night before and I had an appointment to get to – with a pelican.

Every morning for the past 40 years the Kalbarri community has fed a bucket of fish to the local pelicans. Far bigger than any pelicans I’d seen before, these huge birds were much more graceful than you would imagine as they came gliding in to land on the grass. I got picked out to grasp a greasy fish by its tail and fling it into the pack of excitedly waiting birds, and the whole experience had a real theatre about it – the pelicans fighting over the fish with a bunch of seagulls who cheekily tried to muscle in.

I was sorry to leave Kalbarri but called in at the inland gorges on my way out of town and was confronted with scenery straight out of an “Outback experience” promotional video. The gorges are part of a wildly scenic area of dramatic red-rock formations which stretches all the way along this coast and they were spectacular – one of those sights you find yourself staring at mouth slightly open, camera hanging obsolete around your neck because you know you’ll never capture it.

From here it was – yet another – long drive. My destination for the day was Monkey Mia, about 150km off the highway in the Shark Bay world heritage area, and a five-hour drive from Kalbarri. Fortunately there’s plenty to see along the way, including a beach made up entirely of tiny compacted shells, several bays with sand so white and sea so aqua you start drifting across the road for staring at them, and the lifeform credited with putting enough oxygen into the earth’s atmosphere for us to start evolving. The stromatolites at Hamelin Bay may look just like any other collection of rocks but looking out to sea here is like looking at the earth millions of years before we were even a twinkle in its eye and it’s hard not to be a little bit moved by that.

I arrived into Monkey Mia feeling hot and tired but it’s the kind of place that makes you instantly forget about all that. Stuck out on its own on the sheltered side of the eastern Peron peninsula it’s basically just a sweeping sandy beach with a simple resort ranged along it. My room was literally beach-towel-throwing distance from the sand, with nothing to impede my view of the turquoise, almost-waveless water and the marine life within it. Before I’d even brought my suitcase in from the car I’d seen two dolphins bobbing along the shoreline – more than enough reason to see me immediately bikini-clad and heading for the water.

After a few minutes I heard a commotion just along the beach and looked up to see people with cameras pointing at the water. Despite seeing some dolphins already, I couldn’t believe that it could be anything more exciting than a fish or a seabird but I started to float towards them nonetheless. Convinced it was nothing too exciting I took my time moving along the beach until I glimpsed a telltale flash of grey – it was a dolphin they were looking at and I couldn’t believe they weren’t all in the water themselves.
Before I knew it the dolphins were just three or four metres away from me and as I stood there in the shallows two of them broke off and swam past me, one on either side. I was literally speechless (a rare thing) and just stood there gawping as a nearby family screeched with delight. Over the next few minutes we all bobbed about in the water, watching the dolphins swimming around us and chatting like old friends over our shared experience. Then we saw a turtle, a pelican landed on the water in front of us and an emu wandered along the beach behind. It was absolutely, completely amazing. And yes, it was technically part of my job.

So go ahead, tell me travel writing is more like being on holiday than having a job. Just for today, I’ll agree with you


  1. Helen, that sounds amazing. For some reason, everything is put into perspective when surrounded by animals!

    Daniel x

  2. I'm more amazed that you're admitting to being speachless!

  3. Wow!! Sounds brilliant. Nice 'work' if you can get it !! xx