Travels to the Ends of the Earth

In 1977 I visited the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. This is a brief, one page story about why I traveled almost a year to get there and why ten years later I completed what I started to do by going to a sunflower field in southern Spain.

Picture of Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia
Photo by Rickard A. Parker

Part I, Australia

My journey started November 1976 on election day. I had been discharged from the Coast Guard earlier in the year and I had both some money in the bank and an inclination to see the South Pacific. I started out from my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts (USA). For the first two nights of my trip I shared a hostel room in New York City with a graduate student from Perth. We traded some knowledge; I explained why the TV news shows were coloring in states on their maps and how the American presidency was won through the electoral college. He had a much easier job. He described how beautiful Perth and Western Australia was. I thought that Perth would be a nice place to go, and I was going to visit Australia anyway, but I also thought that it was a bit out of my way.

Some days later I gave more consideration to the idea of visiting Perth. I got some maps and played with latitude and longitude figures (I did say I was in the Coast Guard). Wow! I found out that Perth really was out of the way. It was on the other side of the world from Springfield! Well, almost. Actually the antipode was a spot about 700 miles south-west of Cape Leeuwin but that was remote ocean and the cape was the closest land to that point. I decided right then to make Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia one of my destinations.

I wanted to be surprised about what was there so I never did do any research about what was there. I did expect the area to be somewhat of a wilderness and that I might have to hike in but I was also dreading the idea that after traveling months I would bump into a high school chum there at some fancy resort. That would have taken some wind out of my sails! And such a meeting was not all that remote of a possibility either. During my trip I did run into a guy from my college dorm on one of Australia's offshore islands and, in New Zealand, I had met another fellow from my college class who had also just gotten out of the Coast Guard.

To keep this story short (I have enough digressions) I'll omit many wonderful months of travel. I may write about them someday and, if I do, I'll insert a link here.

On my final approach to the cape I stopped in Perth and joined up with Stella, a woman I had met near Darwin and had traveled with to South Australia. We had parted company for a bit so I could explore around the old gold fields of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie and take a trip to Exmouth on North-West Cape. After spending a little time in Perth, we hitch-hiked down to Bunbury the first night and to Augusta the second night. By this time I knew that just a few miles outside town was a lighthouse right at the south-westernmost spot of Australia. We rented a trailer at a campground. The next morning was the long awaited day.

In the morning Stella and I put on some warm clothes and walked down the road out to the beach. It was a partly cloudy day and very windy. The wind would occasionally blow away enough clouds and I was in sunny Australia. When it clouded over again I would be reminded that Antartica lay just south. Near the lighthouse was an old waterwheel. The water had so many minerals in it that, over time, the wheel had turned to stone. The other attraction at the cape, the lighthouse, was not open that day. We got out of the wind for a bit at the base of the tower. I still had just a bit further to go so I continued walking down the rocks to the south-west. I may have had 700 miles to go but was was going to do every bit of it that I could. As I turned around, Stella took my picture. It wasn't good enough for her. She had me yell out at the top of my lungs a funny near-obsenity that I had told her that a college roommate used to use. The picture that she took then caught the moment; my arms spread out wide with a mighty ocean behind me and two pieces of my life from two far-away continents connected with great laughter.

One of my few regrets of trip happened that day, though it took me too long to realize it. Because of the wind, I left my broad-brimmed hat behind that day. This hat was a rather beat-up, ugly campaign hat, looking much like the one Canadian Mounties wear. It kept the rain off me in New Zealand and the sun off me in Australia. It got me not a few rides hitch-hiking because of drivers' curiosity and it made a great conversation piece. It served me well many ways and it didn't deserve to be left behind.

Part 2, Spain

Although I didn't get to the exact opposite side of the world on my Australia trip, I made up for it in 1987. By this time I was married and my wife Peg, who had never been overseas, wanted to take a trip to Ireland. I said that if we went to Europe I wanted to go to Spain. I told her that there was a place there that I wanted to visit but I wasn't sure exactly where it was or what was there. That was good enough for Peg. She is happy going just about anywhere as long as it stays above freezing.

The place that I wanted to see was the antipode to Mt. Eden in Auckland, New Zealand. Sometime after my Australian trip I saw a special map projection in a Scientific American magazine. It turns out that there is only a very small percentage of land that has land on the other side of the world too. New Zealand was one of those spots and I noticed that it overlapped Spain. Once Peg agreed to Spain as a destination I pulled out more maps and gazeteers. I had spent a fair bit of time at a hostel in Auckland that was right at the bottom of Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano, and had been to the top of the mountain a few times. I found out where the antipode to Mt. Eden was and planned a trip through Spain that would give us some time to search for the exact spot.

The place I was looking for was a few miles from Ronda, Spain. Ronda is absolutely gorgeous and has been a tourist haven since the time of the Roman occupation. After spending a night in Ronda, Peg drove while I held up the maps and navigated. We passed though a town with white washed homes and houses built into caves. We eventually ended up at a sunflower field that had just been harvested. We got out of the car and walked through mud. We would take a few difficult steps at a time and then knock off of our shoes the 4 inches of mud that layered up on the soles. But finally I had the spot. Peg took a few photos of me in an Auckland University tee shirt and yelling out the same the same psuedo-obsenity that Stella had me shout out at Cape Leeuwin. I then took snapshots in all directions (and maybe I'll get around to turning them into some jpeg images for you someday).

Antipode Table

Place Lat. Long. Photo   Antipode Lat. Long. Photo
Springfield, MA 42.101N 72.590W     Antipode in ocean 42.101S 107.410E  
Cape Leeuwin, WA 34.375S 115.136E Photo   Antipode in ocean 34.375N 64.864W  
Mt. Eden, Auckland, NZ 36.878S 174.764E     16.76 km from Ronda 36.878N 5.236W Photo
Ronda, Spain 36.74N 5.16W Photo   Rangitoto Channel off Takapuna, NZ 36.74S 174.84E  

Additional Information and Thoughts

I have some recommendations for planning your own great escape.

I managed a return visit to Australia in 1991 with Peg and she has written a story about it entitled Australian Vacation.

Also, Peg and I have other travel stories accessible from our home page. Some stories are our's and some have been written by friends.

Here is a travel tip; picking a destination for a trip by some means and not knowing what is there can be really fun. You could pick the birthplace of some favorite author or maybe just throw a dart at a map. Try taking a small trip by picking it in some manner like this. The place you pick could end up being just typical or possibly very special; either way you get something out of the trip.