Too good to be true: David Whitley

From disappointing weather to disobedient wildlife, few things ever go the way you'd hoped when travelling. But beware when perfection seems tantalisingly within reach

By David Whitley
Published 21 Dec 2015, 08:00 GMT

"You've got the perfect day for this," says Sean from Margaret River Discovery Tours, as we launch our canoe onto the river. The sky is blue, the sun is gently blazing and the silver marri and jarrah trees soar up from the banks.

It's a phrase that continues to crop up. As we sit by a waterfall, it's again the perfect day. They had heavy rains a few days ago, and the river is in majestic, photogenic full flow.

At the winery, "it's the perfect day for this" as a bottle of Chardonnay is cracked open. And along the clifftops staring out towards the Indian Ocean, it's the perfect timing for the wildflowers. I've hit that sweet spot when the early bloomers are still out, and the rest have just sprung up to join them. The Cape To Cape Track is surrounded by a beautiful field of pinks, yellows, blues and purples.

It's hard not to be disgustingly smug when this sort of thing happens. This is largely because it happens so rarely — a sad truth of travel is that picturesque spots are often encountered under heavy cloud. Timing it just right for everything to align is nigh on impossible. So getting the ideal conditions for all elements of a day out to be spot on is always going to lead to a heavy dose of self-satisfied swaggering. Throw in generous wine sampling over lunch, and frankly I'm going to be unbearable about the whole thing.

We head off down the track, and Sean insists on going ahead. I amble along behind him, half in a dreamworld, staring out at the ocean and the craggy headlands. Sean doesn't seem all that interested in what's around him, though, and seems to be spending a disproportionate amount of time staring at the track in front.

"We're the first people who've been down here today," he says, sending my smugness quotient into a whole new stratosphere. "I know that because I keep having to swipe away spider webs in front of m… WOAH!!"

Sean suddenly about-turns and leaps backwards. It takes me a second or so to register what's happened, but then I see the 5ft snake charging down the track at me like a burly Australian batsman dancing down the wicket to a part-time spinner in a Twenty20 cricket international. Sean has evidently disturbed it; it's flung itself at the intruder and, after narrowly missing the target, has decided to burst down the path at lightning speed towards another possible threat.

There are few things that wipe the sheen of smugness from a perfect day like having a fully grown adult dugite — one of the world's most venomous snakes — bearing down on you in an entirely justified state of rage.

Earlier, the instructions for what to do should a snake be spotted were fairly clear: stand still until it slithers away. This, however, is a course of action entirely dependent on the snake remaining still. When it's chasing you, instinct takes over.

I bellow "RUN!" even though the only person I'm instructing is myself, and leg it faster than I've managed for about 20 years towards a clear patch of grass where there's more space.

Mercifully, the snake disappears into the bush instead of following me, and Sean comes over, probably shaking as much as I am. "Unfortunately, it's the first properly hot day of the spring," he says. "It's the perfect day for our legless friends to come out for food and a sunbake."

I'm not so keen on perfect days any more. And if there's one learning experience to take away from the day, it's that once you've been chased by a 5ft dugite, every noise or movement from there onwards is another 5ft dugite. The rest of the walk is a fine exercise in jumping at shadows.

We stop by some rocks on the clifftop. The water below is unusually calm, and when there's a burble of white on the deep blue, it turns out to be a humpback whale. It thrashes its tail against the water repeatedly, like a boisterous teen letting off steam. And just keeps going.

Sean is more excited than I am. "I've never seen one do this for so long before. You know what…?"

"I've picked the perfect day for this?"

He smiles and nods. A rambunctious whale is one creature I'm prepared to share perfection with.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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