As well as a fishing paradise, the South West coastal terrain leaves the eye and heart aching at its unadorned beauty.
The first time we swept down the bending road to behold the majestic vista of Yallingup, I fell for her at first sight and it was easy to see why the Indigenous call this ‘Place of love’. That’s what Yallingup means in the tongue of the Nyoongar – the Aboriginal people who are the custodians of the country here. This is one of those occasions where the paucity of my words is simply not up to the job of capturing the dazzling magnificence of the scene…but what the hell, I’ll give it a go. Yallingup’s inspiring like that.
The first thing that hits you is the sheer weight and power of the ocean here – behemoth waves build and gather before exploding large on the limestone rocks in front of you. Gazing out across the expansive submerged reef platform to the right into the deeper silver aquamarine – surging walls of surf glide and roll for what seems like a small eternity before crashing down on the yellow-gold beach that stretches around the cape. When the swell and the wind are right for the boarders, it’s mesmerising watching the surfers, wind-surfers and kiters ride the waves. One day I will give surfing a go…I just need to get over the ‘the fat Pom who’ll get laughed out the water’ anxiety in my noodle. When I do, I’ll give Yallingup a crack one day so long as my knees don’t completely disintegrate before then.
Anyway back to my Shelley-esque(!) portrait of Yallingup….
Where the beach ends about half way around the cape, the rocks and cliffs begin and above them the hills snake away down to the cape-tip with infinity beyond. All is bathed in a silvery-golden haze of salty vapour and in the background there is the constant primordial roar of the ocean – liquid light, massive motion and cacophonous sound – it’s epic and spiritual – nature conducting its symphony, if you will.
It was in this hallowed place I appropriately caught my first Australian salmon – a powerhouse of a fish so named due to its vaguely similar appearance to the Atlantic salmon – although there is no actual taxonomic relation. That said they most certainly share the same fighting qualities – hooking up with one of these scaled speedsters is like latching into a small bullet train when the fish takes off on its first reel-screaming run. Alright they don’t taste anything like their northern namesakes, in fact some people unkindly dub them ‘mother-in-law’ fish (i.e. fish you’d only give to your mother-in-law) – but their fabled sport fishing qualities make them more than worthy as an angling adversary. For years, I’ve been messing around with the clunky couplets below trying to find verse befitting of the experience. Now thanks to this blog, I get to unleash them on you dear reader – lucky you!
Salmon Up at Yallingup
Glinting and jinking in the waking sun
Hooks dangle sharp with expectation
Hop, skip and a jump down the smooth soft sand
A cool, velvet carpet, in this parched, wild land
Blast-cast the lure to the vaporous horizon
Rip tugs at ankles grasping protestation
Winking metal slice arches distant, engulfed by waves
Massing like jumbo jets taxiing on the shore’s run-way
And all is a liquid moment in time
Stitched together by fishing line
Then crank the drum into a whirring blur
While staring hopeful at the frothing sur
The rod rocks violent
Breath is held inner silent
Adrenaline swells, heart erupts
Hands clamp hard on the rod’s butt
And all is now frozen – time, wind and space
Condensed, intense amidst this pregnant place
Then the reel releases…slow…inquisitive at first
Before building, fizzing then screaming the ratchet’s burst
Pulsating, powerful comes the vital surge
Affirming and reviving the piscatorial urge
“Does fishing make you feel a connection with nature?”
This, my friend, is hooked up hard to its rapture
The twitching, taut chord, rips and knifes
Through the blue, chasing the unseen might
And all that can be desperately done
Is be passively rigid as the savage force runs
Now the nerve endings fray and the bowel squirms
Prayers are offered for the hooks to stay firm
It’s the eternal running battle between skin and scale
But with salmon up at Yallingup, it’s beyond tooth and nail
A hungry, brutal, hunt in the surf’s suds
Satiating not just stomach, but heart and blood
Finally the ferocious force relents
And the angler first whiffs victory’s scent
He pumps his staff dogged, hard and fast
Willing the prize to within his grasp
But just when the end looks in sight
Crashing through the shallows
Comes the bolt of light
Glistening radiant with wild angry eyes
The salmon leaps large for wide open sky
Head-shaking furious, desperate for escape
Line loop lit curious in the leviathan’s wake
The angler animated utterly, rooted to the spot
Pleading pathetic for the truth of his knot
But it holds, thank the fishing gods,
And now the crashing swell turns the odds
Seized and spat out by the surf’s irresistible run
Beached, the fish’s struggle is all but done
Bionic tail thrashes ineffective the deadening sand
Mouth gapes silent terrible as the steel spine lands
A deep purple cloud drifts from the throat of the beast
Which shudders and judders to the end of life’s reach
And stillness now sits amidst the surf’s perpetual roar
Blood, love, life ebbing…and flowing again once more
You think you’ll never see anything as spectacularly arresting as Yallingup – but then head a little further up and over the cape and you find Sugarloaf Rock – a monolithic granite cathedral from which to worship the Indian Ocean’s vastness. It’s also a great spot for clambering around the rock formations that spill down to the sea from the hillside overlooking Sugarloaf. The kids love to explore the rock pools that are dotted around here populated by crazy crabs and manic minnows.
But just when you think you’ve seen a place of natural beauty surely more outstanding than any other – you encounter another mind-blowingly dazzling cape, bay or surf-lashed rocky outcrop…Redcliffe, Margaret River, Canal Rocks…these places take your breath all over. It’s as if the Western Australian coast is constantly trying to outdo itself – it almost gets ridiculous after a while.
So to give your weary eyes and heart a break – the obvious thing to do is to focus on the stomach for a while. One of our favourite feeding grounds is at Swings and Roundabouts winery on Caves Road just past Yallingup. This delightful little spot is a simple affair with a wine-tasting room and a wood-fired pizza oven overlooking a lush grass terrace dotted with tables and chairs and a little valley lined with regiments of old gnarly vines – and gosh darn it – the place is at it again, seducing you with its languid beauty. But the excellent crispy pizzas with their fresh and sumptuous toppings provide an acceptable distraction. They do a lovely, dry crisp rosé here called Kiss Chasey too – a perfect refreshing accompaniment to the pizza on a hot summer’s day.
Moseying to our table, I momentarily miss it as a teetotaler these days, when I see punters enthusiastically quaffing the pink nectar – but I content myself with drinking in the scenery and the lovely, lazy vibe that pervades at Swings. And having eaten your own weight in pizza, it’s one of the best granny knaps you’ll ever have sprawled out on one of the giant beanbags shaded by the canopy of the gums and palms with the distant echo of kids shouting and laughing happily playing boules, cricket and swing tennis to their heart’s content. And another day of mellow southern splendour ambles on…