Just a little further along the road…
When visiting Western Australia, one of the most popular day trips tourists embark on is the hour or so commute to Lancelin, a popular beach side town north of Perth in search of an ‘outback Australian adventure’ . Lancelin, with its white sand and blaring sun, does deliver- beautiful beaches for surfing and relaxing, sand dunes for four-wheel-driving, sand boarding and of course, the icon of many small Aussie towns, the local bakery where children and adults alike laze around in chairs out the front, satisfying hunger on endless summer days.
However, by ending their journey here, they miss out on a location which could only be described as iconic Australian and its individualism would surely intrigue and satisfy the most well-traveled. Thirty minutes further drive North from Lancelin, is a place that feels as though you’ve shaken yourself of the frantic, technology fueled everyday life and stepped back in time where fresh air is the only prescription. I am lucky enough that I spent most of my school holidays at this destination and my fondness for it over the years has never faded.
Wedge Island; though there is an island off the coast, and yes, it is in fact a sloping topped wedge shape. The name more casually refers to the entirety of the area, the island, the lengthy white sand beaches and the shack settlement. Yes, ‘shack’ settlement. The dictionary.com definition for the word ‘shack’ is; ‘…a rough cabin; shanty.’ By “Wedginers’ (the name given in fondness to the locals who live and holiday at Wedge), a ‘shack’ is simply an invention of sorts, a dwelling, designed and built by its owner usually constructed by whatever one can scavenge and was able to survive the bumpy ute journey along a hairy bush track. In my family’s own shack we’ve got chandeliers discarded from a ballroom, abandoned street signs and surfboards as decoration. No two are the same, and together all three hundred and fifty or so form the largest settlement of its kind left in Australia.
Wedge started as a cray fisherman community, and there are a few permanent residents who call this their home year round. For most, it’s a weekend getaway, with those who have shacks visiting as often as they can and the beautiful stretch of coast attracting plenty of day trippers also. There are no shops, no mains electricity and no running water. And so yes, I survived my childhood without a screen of some kind for days or even weeks at a time. Days in my youth were spent exploring- bare foot, messy haired and slightly pink from the sun, and of course, learning. From the first time I drove a car, sitting on my dads lap, to successfully building a fire for marshmallow toasting and starting a generator- all skills that the outdoor lifestyle of Wedge forced upon me along with a sense of adventure. The Wedge community itself is a resilient one, the shack owners do not own any land as such and so over the years there has been many a ‘Save Wedge’ campaign, as investors want to grab hold of it or environmentalists oppose the access of the area. The community has banded together, and as yet no threats have persued. When people have a place they feel a connection to, their flame to fight is strong. The Wedge lifestyle, its beaches, its authenticy, is something worth fighting for.
5 essential Wedge experiences
- First off the rank would have to be, go to the beach. You literally cannot NOT go to the beach. It’s the main attraction, all tracks lead to it and everything about the lifestyle is based around it. On a perfect, hot summers day the crystal clear blue water could not be more inviting, whether it’s simply to cool off, to go surfing, snorkelling (though you may be chased by the couple of resident seals that hang around the island!), kitesurfing…. Park your car down there and enjoy the serenity. Bake in the sun (and bake you will, the white sand means the suns rays are reflective and if you paid any attention in Geography class you would know that the south west of Western Australia is in the direct line of the hole in the ozone layer. Take sunscreen.), go for a walk, build sandcastles, or play a game of beach cricket. If you like to throw in a line, do so. Wedge is known as a great fishing spot, from both the shore and for a day at sea. Please however respect the local fisheries laws and adhere to the Marine Park regulations as some areas are protected. My dad would always joke that he could hear the fish laughing at him from the other side of the invisible sanctuary line, but nonetheless it’s a no go zone. Marine life is abundant and we must all respect the laws in place to keep it that way.
- Head to the sand dunes south of the shack settlement and get high… into the sky. If you’re game and your car is equipped to do so, drive to the top. If you’re even gamer, and are prepared for sore muscles, walk/climb. Admire the view. Get out the body boards/sand boards and try to slide down. Be careful however, particularly when driving, the sand can fall away and you find yourself bogged very quickly and this is not fun. Don’t attempt to drive if you are inexperienced with 4WD. Pro tip: take your goggles. Yes, your snorkelling or swimming goggles. There is a 90 percent chance it will be windy. And there is sand. Lots of it. Trust me on this one.
- Take a walk inland and wander the bush tracks observing or photographing interesting sights. If you get lost, just head west, you’ll end up back on the beach and can work your way back. From the quirkiness of the shacks to the local shop (which works on a donation system and only sells bagged ice), and the town medical centre (first aid shack), the local sports oval (helicopter landing spot) and telecommunication point (good old fashioned noticeboard).
- Watch the sunset over the water over the Indian Ocean- Western Australia is not called the ‘Sunset Coast’ for no reason! I have seen many a beautiful sunset across the globe. From the beautiful descent over the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, to the famed Mediterranean sunset that hundreds flock to the small town of Oia on Santorini, Greece just to get a glimpse of. I can say with most certainty, on a clear day there is nothing more spectacular than a Wedge sunset over the water with the silhouette of a couple of crayfish boats. Grab your mates, grab some bevvies (that’s aussie for ‘beverage’) and park yourself to watch out for the ‘green flash’. It’s a thing, believe me. If you’re after the true local experience, join the procession of cars that converge at ‘the point’ at dusk. Stories are shared, praises of happiness heard and you’ll probably find yourself with a few new mates to wave at as you pass on the beach the next day.
- Finally, do nothing– this is the best part of Wedge. Here is a place where your emails can’t come through, you can finally find time to read that book or play a game of scrabble, and a siesta is an essential to escape the midday sun. Go ahead, enjoy it. Reality can wait a few hours (or days…).
Although Wedge is best enjoyed over a few days, staying there is actually a little difficult. Though not strictly enforced, camping is not allowed due to environmental reasons and there is no accommodation at the settlement itself. However, Lancelin and Cervantes, half an hour drive north and south respectively both have a range of accommodation from caravan parks to hotels. If you were after the outdoorsy camping experience, there are campsites around surrounding areas.
However its not a stretch to do a day trip from Perth. Getting to Wedge used to be a mission- tackling windy bumpy bush tracks or driving along the beach from Lancelin, however since the addition of the Indian Ocean Road in 2010, its a breeze, only approximately an hour and 40 minutes and the drive itself is an enjoyable one, do stop at the lookouts along the way and take in the scenery and be mindful of wildlife crossing. Although recommended for driving along the beach and sand dunes, a four wheel drive is not necessary to get to the settlement itself. You can park and walk around and sometimes the beach is compacted enough that driving would be fine in any vehicle. Remember, take plenty of food and water with you!
My final word would be to do as the locals do and please take your rubbish with you, leave only your footsteps behind but go away with many memories, sandy feet and salty hair.