Wave Rock, Western Australia.
Is It A Wave? Or Is It A Rock?
The car was lifting up huge plumes of red dust which trailed behind us as we drove along the unwavering straight, gravel road that stretched for hundreds of kilometres into the Western Australian interior, past dust, rocks, and field after field of wheat- there was little to see but wheat, dust and rocks. This was a road that would eventually arrive me at a rock, a rock shaped over time into the shape of a wave.
I’d read in a Lonely Planet guide book, that only in Australia could a 600 kilometre round trip be considered a short detour. This was true. Uluru, that most famous of Australian rocks, is thousands of kilometres from anywhere really, in the Red Centre, and tourists flock there. Wave Rock was decidedly closer to the inhabited parts of Australia- just a ‘short’ detour- and yet on the straight, red gravel roads it was still far from anywhere.
Equally true is the fact that no where else other than Australia is a rock really considered a tourist attraction. Perhaps it’s the otherwise empty and featureless landscape, a landscape that I’d driven through for hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres so far from the South West Coast, into the sparsely populated Goldfields of Western Australia, through old and decaying mining towns and an empty, empty land hiding secrets formed over hundreds of thousands of years of solitude and isolation. A rock was something to aim for, and a journey to Wave Rock seemed to be a positively exciting and unusual adventure to undertake, just a mere few hundred kilometres off the highway, and an oddity in an otherwise landmark lacking world.
The Tarmac ends and the red gravel begins
The tarmac ended, as it so often does when driving through Australia, and the red gravel began. I was driving south of a small unassuming town called Southern Cross. Unassuming, yet vitally important as one of the few stops on the rail line which stretches from Perth on the West coast, and across the vast expanse of land which leads to the Goldfields of Kalgoorlie. This was the start of the wheat belt, where Australian farmers forge a living through little more than perseverance and hard labour in a hostile and unforgiving environment. From the dusty, dry, arid land they have managed to grow little but wheat, but now they grow this crop in abundance. From the road, mile after mile of wheat grew across vast tracks of land.
Yet for hundreds of kilometres, despite the toil of European settlers, the red dust could never be tamed. The wheat disappeared and shrub and dust returned along the roadside as we drove further away from Southern Cross. We stopped by a lonely, sun drenched marker on the road side, a small memorial surrounded by the rusting wreckage of a Vulcan bomber which had crashed here during World War II.
The lone survivor of the crash had walked for four days in the baking sun before he found any other human life, and food, water and safety. This was hardly even the ‘real’ outback of Australia, not even desert or even semi desert, and yet living here was, to put it lightly, a struggle. I wondered what would happen if our little two wheel drive vehicle got bogged down, or broke apart on the corrugated, rocky gravel road. But we had plenty of water, and a car would pass by in a day or so, and we had a few tins of food and some beer. The only real travesty would be that the beer would be warm if I was forced to drink it.
A few hours of driving later the landscape began to change again, from dusty shrubs to rolling wheat fields. We were nearing the small town of Hyden- more a disparate collection of homes and a few shops than anything that would be classed as a town elsewhere in the world, but Hyden is the town which has made its rock its main attraction.
Surfing the Wave
In tourist brochures and on Facebook I’d seen pictures of this rock, complete with happy tourists posing for pictures, holding up surfboards or riding those surfboards on the rock. It looked enormous in comparison to the people below, a huge, curved, multi coloured rock face arching over the top of surfers and caravaners in the middle of Western Australia. Surely this would be worth the ‘short’ detour on the long dirt road from the Goldfields Highway which otherwise would have taken me straight back to Perth.
But the rock wouldn’t prove to be quite what I had anticipated. Despite seeing almost no cars along the road we drove in on, the caravan park by the rock was teeming with tourists. What road they’d come in on I don’t know, perhaps from the South Coast, or East from the empty Nullarbor plains. The rock was nothing like the monolith I’d imagined it would be like. I’d envisaged a huge rock in an otherwise empty landscape, and I suppose I was simply imposing that very Australian stereotype of Uluru on every rock in Australia.
The landscape here was rather empty, but it was rolling, and Wave Rock is hidden in the natural folds of the land, a feature formed over hundreds of thousands of years which doesn’t reveal itself until you’re right beneath it.
The bigger the better
From the path leading to Wave Rock, all I could see was a distinct and rocky plateau, slightly raised above the tree line. I walked upwards through the trees, and still all I could see a rounded rock face, clearly smoothed over millennia. And around this was hidden the Wave, curving inwards, and away from the sight of anyone who wasn’t looking for it, from anyone who didn’t know it was there, and I wondered what other secrets were held still in the vast interior of Australia, waiting to reveal themselves to whoever was lucky enough to encounter them or foolhardy enough to be lost in the outback.
Wave Rock had certainly been discovered though. Before I could admire the bright colours of minerals mixing with red rock I had to look past exactly what I’d seen in the tourist brochures, tourists holding up surfboards and trying to ride the rock while trying to look intrepid out here in the middle of nowhere. The rock was smaller than the pictures of it I’d seen had led me to believe, a matter of perspective more than anything, and a perspective that I imagine the tourist board of small Hyden want to encourage to get people all the way out here.
The bigger the better right?
Especially if you’re driving hundreds of kilometres away from the highway to see it.
But still, as far as rocks go, it was one of the best damned rocks I’d ever seen, and I forgave it’s smaller stature, and the people crawling over it, and instead embraced the marvellous colours and remarkable curvature. It was so unnatural, yet strikingly natural at the same time. It’s hard to comprehend the vast time that was spent forming such a rock, the eons and centuries of polishing and shaping…
And so I climbed up the rock myself and had my companion snap away hundreds of pictures of me looking as intrepid and explorer like as those in the tourist brochures I’d seen, and from an angle too of course, just to make the rock look that little bit bigger.
I didn’t drive hundreds of kilometres to see a rock and not get a good picture after all, especially after contemplating for so long that day the centuries it took to form the thing in the first place.
A practical Rock
Amongst its primary task of providing a backdrop to traveller’s photographs and giving people a reason to drive all the way to Hyden, Wave Rock also serves a more practical purpose in the sun drenched and water deficient land it lies on.
The rock is perfectly formed on top to catch the run off from the slight rains that this area of Australia sees each year. Across the top of the rock, a concrete funnel has been built to channel that rain into a reservoir. It’s the rain and the wind that formed the distinct curvature and colours of the rock in the first place, and now its being used to provide water to this vastly dry area and to Hyden.
The local Aboriginals had laughed at the white settlers as they first toiled in the sun, hacking into dusty red soil. Standing on top of Wave Rock, looking across at the water reservoir and into the dry land and salt lakes that surround Hyden, I wondered if it was right for such an alien way of life to disturb the secrets this land had hidden for thousands of years.