My most recent trip combined work with a holiday. For the first week, I was visiting remote community schools to talk to principals about a literacy charity I’m involved with. I fancy myself as a bit of an amateur naturalist, and the abundant animal and plant life meant my eyes were constantly glued to the car or plane window.
I stayed in Kununurra, sneaking in two Ord River cruises – one at breakfast time, savouring the soft green of the water against tangerine cliffs, and one at night with fruit bats and freshwater crocs. At the high school, a teacher showed me a bowerbird nest. It was an astonishing structure of dry grass, painstakingly decorated to attract a female using a strict colour scheme – in this case, greens and whites.
I went by road to schools in Warmun, Wyndham and Dawul, gaping at novel sights along the way. Vast boabs that stood in the desert-like rotund old blokes in baggy trousers. An upmarket Indigenous art gallery in Warmun, where wild brumbies cross the road in front of your car and a gardener picks cowpats off the school oval every morning. Termite mounds taller than me. Tiny schools on cattle stations, some with as few as six kids. Whistling kites circling in the sky in the mornings, cane toads around the front door at night. A dam that flooded an entire valley, creating an inland sea. The old Argyle Downs Station windmill is (according to legend) still visible beneath the water in the right light.
We took a light plane to Kalumburu, a dry Aboriginal community that sits close to the WA/NT border. The Wyndham mudflats stretched below us as we flew, looking like gigantic tree root systems or lichen blooms. In town, the school was nestled in a little green oasis of palm and mango trees. Camp dogs wandered around the school grounds, waiting to clean up after lunch or walk home with their children at the end of the day. In “the wet”, the town is only accessible by plane, thanks to road flooding.
I took a few days off in Broome, where the dirt is so red it hurts your eyes and the ocean is an impossible milky aquamarine. Everything seems bigger – the sky, the horizon, the water. You walk on beaches the colour of peach flesh, where tiny hermit crabs creep from rock to rock in their perfect shell homes. Saltwater crocs coast by in the distance while locals swim at the town beach. Beach signs are a list of ways to meet your death: sharks, salties, Irukandji. You get the feeling you’re taking your life in your hands just by standing there snapping a photo.
People know the tides in Broome. Low or high tide can mean the difference between being able to swim or even using a boat. We took an early hovercraft cruise across the coastal flats at low tide, coasting on air above gleaming mud for around an hour. We passed clambering turtles, searching for the sea.
At Gantheaume Point our guide pointed out dinosaur footprints solidified in the mud from 130 million years before. He drew the other half of a baby sauropod’s footprint in the mud with one finger to show us the shape. “If you’re out exploring the beaches around Broome and you see something that looks like this,” he said, “it’s probably a dino print. Make sure you report it to the museum.”
Later in the day, my partner and I took a red-dirt drive to check out a bird observatory. We went so far along the sandy tracks, we weren’t exactly sure where we were anymore. Stopping to take photos on an abandoned beach, we noticed round depressions in the rock beneath our feet. Dinosaur prints?
I had my phone out ready to call the museum when I noticed a familiar scratching in the dirt: the line our tour guide had drawn to show us the shape of the full sauropod print. Somehow, we’d taken a wild loop of inland dirt tracks and ended up on precisely the same beach the hovercraft had delivered us to eight hours earlier. As an amateur naturalist, I still have a bit to learn.
This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com