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The darkness brought with it, unusual and uncomfortable sounds. A predator approached. It made a successful kill and masticated its prey crunching on bones or beetle carapace. It was cold now too, a stark and sudden contrast from an hour ago, when we took our seats in the sand to watch the crepuscular light perform its magic on the unusual shapes of the limestone structures.
I shivered and rose to my feet quickly, scared now of putting my hands on the rapidly cooling sand. We’d walked for miles but surely we could find our way back to the car. If only there had been a moon that night.
My mind wandered back to the morning, where an excited Sarah enthused, over breakfast, about seeing the Pinnacles at sunset.
The Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, Western Australia is an unusual wilderness of limestone towers. These ancient and porous natural sculptures, eroded by sandblasting winds, form monuments of extraordinary shapes and range from a few centimetres to over five metres in height.
We had arrived in the late afternoon, when only a few cars remained in the car park but the Pinnacles Desert covered such a vast area, we never saw anyone else out there.
Until the sun set, it was a beautiful and interesting landscape; predominately flat but interspersed with spiky golden sand dunes, coarse shrubbery and hardy plants.
After dusk, a darkness unfamiliar to a city dweller, surrounded us and brought with it, haunting shadows and a feeling that we weren’t welcome.
The temperature had dropped suddenly, and we were lost. We were however, well prepared. Our shopping list in Perth had included torches, cooking equipment, food, a first aid kit, a tent, a map and compass, which we knew how to use, and water; everything we needed for this situation. And they were all safely locked in the car.
Images of newspaper headlines and rescue teams searching for another group of lost British tourists in the Australian outback filled us with an intoxicating sense of uncertainty.
There were no signs of human life, no car engines, no headlights but we did know that the main road up the west coast of Australia, the Indian Ocean Drive, wasn’t too far away. We just needed the direction of the sea and the top of a sand dune might give us a clue, we thought.
It was a hard climb gaining only a couple of inches at a time as we slid back down a few feet with every step but it took care of the shivering and kept us focused on our goal.
Within two hours, we were back at the car and relieved that we didn’t make headline news. We were in Australia for a further six months that year, but we never left the car again on that trip without a prepared rucksack; the two people that walked into the Pinnacles Desert that afternoon, were not the same two that came out.