The Coral Coast, Western Australia

For four days, Spencer and I drove up and down the Indian Ocean coastline in Western Australia, in an area named the Coral Coast. We braked for kangaroos, fought off hoards of flies, and enjoyed some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Here are a few of the highlights of our whirlwind tour.

Sand Boarding

IMG_7752.jpgThe town of Lancelin is home to huge dunes of fine, white sand piled high as far as the eye can see. In the adventurous Australian spirit, we rented a pair of sandboards and trudged up the slippery slopes of the giant dunes, and then sandboarded right back down. Stand-up sandboarding proved to be more difficult than either of us expected (the dunes put some ski slopes to shame in height and gradient), and usually ended in a spectacular crash less than halfway down the dune.IMG_7749.jpg Sitting down, on the otherhand, allowed the board to pick up some erious speed without the risk of eating sand. It was a blast, with the only downside being the sand that managed to cake itself onto every inch of our bodies. Still worth it.

The Pinnacles

IMG_7550.jpgThe Pinnacles National Park is a place unlike anywhere else on earth. Out of the yellow sand rises an army of sandstone columns. These pillars, of varying sizes and shapes, dot the desert landscape, making it look like the surface of a sci-fi planet. It is a mesmerizing and beautiful place.IMG_7563.jpg

Hutt Lagoon

IMG_7594.jpgHutt Lagoon would be a fairly uninspiring body of water off the side of the highway if not for the fact that it is Pepto-Bismal pink. The flamingo-tinted lake gets its color from algae that produce Beta Carotene and thrive in the super-saline waters of the lagoon.

Stromatolites

IMG_7573.jpgWestern Australia has no shortage of geological oddities, including the stromatolites of Cervantes. Stromatolites are essentially living fossils – they are rock-like features that are made by a single-celled organism called cyanobacteria, the earliest complex life form on earth. Fossils of these bacteria colonies exist all over the world, but Australia is home to some of the only living stromatolites left in the world.  They aren’t terribly exciting to look at, but it is fascinating to try and grasp just how long these creatures have been chugging along.

Kalbarri

IMG_7639.jpgOur northernmost destination on the drive was Kalbarri National Park, a testament to water’s ability to carve nature and the rugged beauty of Australia. With deep red sandstone gorges and stunning oceanside cliffs, Kalbarri is a treasure chest of incredible Australian sights. On the ocean side of the park, towering cliffs plummet into the water below. We hiked down one to find our own private beach.IMG_7612.jpgFurther into the interior of the park, the Murchison River has carved deep red sandstone gorges into the landscape. It is a strikingly beautiful place, but we did not check out any of the longer hiking trails because the temperature was topping 100 degrees and the merciless flies were insufferable.IMG_7637.jpg

Beaches

Of course, all other attractions in Western Australia are secondary to its primary draw – the beaches. It was hard to wrap our head around the fact that for hundreds of miles from Perth northward lies a line of nearly unbroken, unpoilt beaches. Across the entire length of the country, white sand spills into shimmering, turquoise waters.IMG_7625.jpgDriving along, we could pull off at countless hidden beach turnoffs, each as perfect and quiet as the last. So many happy hours were spent snorkeling over the reefs and simply laying out on the sand under the hot sun.

One fantastics afternoon in Kalbarri was spent on a rented boat, that we rode up the Murchison River. Spencer captained the boat to a spot near an island, where we jumped off and swam to shore to cool off.

It was so hard not to fall in love with Western Australia.

Klipwal Gold Mine

I have been researching illegal gold mining in South Africa for the past few months, trying to understand this illicit industry and see what drives people to become zama-zamas (illegal miners). To help me get a better sense of what their underground lives are like, Spencer put me in touch with Lloyd, the owner of the mine he used to work at. Lloyd granted me a useful interview, and then invited us to visit his mine and meet with some of the illegal miners working on the property. We jumped at the chance, as it was also a great opportunity for Spencer to revisit the site where he worked from 2010-2011.

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Namibia: Part One

Southern Namibia is home to the most desolate, dramatic, and stunning landscapes I have ever seen. It is a land of contrasts, where German influences blend with African culture, where the desert collides with the sea. As we travelled around the country, it truly felt as though we had reached a hidden corner of the earth, or had landed on a different planet altogether. I could not get enough of this surreal place.

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Cradle of Humankind

Just a short drive outside of Johannesburg, unassuming tracts of farmland and rolling hills hide the scientific garden of eden.  Here, an area of just 180-square miles has produced some of the oldest hominid fossils ever found. More than 40% of human ancestor fossils found in the world have been unearthed here, and they have provided vital clues in piecing together the story of where humans came from. It was from this sites that science was able to determine that all of humanity came to be in Africa. The scientific discoveries made here, some as old as 3.5 million years, and the discoveries that continue to be made in the area, are why Cradle of Humankind is included as part of one of South Africa’s eight UNESCO world heritage sites.

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Vredefort Dome: A Johnson Family Adventure

 

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Growing up, my family had a tendency to get into exciting situations on our travels. We would find ourselves in scenarios that we really shouldn’t have been in, with no clear escape route. Like during a family vacation to South Africa almost 20 years ago, when we managed to get lost, at night, deep in a township. Or later on the same trip, when we parked our safari car a little too close to an angry African elephant, causing him to uproot a tree and come after us with it full force.

My parents always did a pretty good job of downplaying the true extent of the physical danger we faced until after the fact, by which time the euphemistically named “Hoffman Family Adventures” had become the stuff of family legend.

This knack for getting into perilous situations (adventures!) has clearly been passed down to me, because Spencer and I walked right into our own “Johnson Family Adventure” this weekend.

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Stellenbosch: 2 Days in South African Wine Country

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After our exciting train ride from Joburg to Cape Town, we disembarked and headed north for the mountains. This area is called the Bolands, which means ‘up-lands’, and it has just the right climate and soil to be a world-class wine making region. And seeing how I love wine, and Spencer loves mountains, it was the perfect place for us to spend a weekend.

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