M.L. Stedmen wrote the book “The Light Between Oceans” about a married couple on a remote Australian lighthouse island, right smack dab in the middle of the place where the Indian and Southern (Antarctic, as we were taught) Oceans meet. Her book is full of detailed and exacting descriptions of the lighthouse and the land. Now, the Leeuwin Lighthouse may not actually be on the fictitious Janus Island but it is where she did her research and it is smack dab in the middle of the place where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet. It is, and has been since 1895, literally the light between the oceans.
If you think the area where two huge opposing bodies of water meet would be rough water, well, you would be right. The spot where the oceans meet is only a mark on a map because the actually meeting point changes with tides and currents and winds. And oh! Those winds! We were there on what our guide admitted was “near calm” and still those winds whipped and whirled. I have never seen such breakers on a “near calm” day!
Jim and I were lucky enough to be able to climb the 176 steps to the top railing. You are not allowed to go up to the light itself because, even after one hundred twenty-nine years, Leeuwin is still a working lighthouse. The great Fresnel (the s is silent) lens still rotates, making its signature beam slide over the ocean every seven and a half seconds.
The light is now automated, making the need for lonely lighthouse keepers obsolete but their houses and many of the necessary buildings are still there. With the help of the audio tour these buildings, the ocean and the local flora make a very interesting tour.
Because of the lighthouse, there have been exacting measurements taken of the weather here for the longest of any place in Australia. These records have been invaluable, proving, for example, that rainfall in this area has decreased by 15 to 20%. That’s quite substantial for a farming region!
The best part though, is climbing the corkscrew
staircase up the inside cylinder of the lighthouse. The walls at the base start at two metres and slowly thin to one metre at the top. In fact, when you get to the top and walk around the deck area, what you are actually walking on is the top of the wall. We had to laugh; halfway up they have emergency oxygen available. Luckily neither Jim nor I needed it but if it is there it must be because some hyperventilating, vertigo suffering tourists have!
The view from up there is incredible. Those lovely slow swells undulating over the blue, turquoise, and green marbled sea, contrasting with the white, churning foam of the breaking waves. The earth is red here so I was quite surprised to see such white sand and dark rocks. As you gaze out over the vast expanse of ocean, sometimes you are treated by breakers as far away as the horizon. And this is a calm day?
It was wonderful seeing the stark tower of white reaching up into the clear blue sky but now I am left with the hunger to go back to “the light between the oceans” when wind is roaring and surf is crashing. Oh how exciting that would be!