We had no idea what to expect arriving at Cactus after a brief overnight stop in Ceduna. We were stocked up with food, water and fuel for the Nullarbor but arriving at Cactus, our first impressions may have jeopardized our whole plan!
Penong is a small town with a roadhouse that caters for 10 shops in one, not much else to the town at all except for a sneaky left hand turn down a dirt road. No sign posts for Cactus nothing! It’s a well known surf break in Australia, and you could miss it in the blink of an eye. You take the left and continue along a ( in parts) very corrugated road, passing a pink, salt lake and endless, low lying dessert shrubs with beautiful rolling sand dunes that seem to go on forever!
You come to a fork in the road after many Kms, with a sign that says ‘beach this way’ you travel on (in our case) at snail pace, as we thought the walls of the caravan van would shake off! Before spotting some unusal permanent ‘hut houses’ built over caravans..’we must be close!’ Just over the rise in the road we pull up to the camp gates. It’s right before a beach track and we’re pumped! This place looks so cool! We enter the gate and drive around to find our spot, there are fellow surfers everywhere ( April is a busy month for cactus ) but somehow this is comforting! We miss out on the prime locations of the camp ground but still find happiness in the back grounds with ample space and cleaner dunnies.
The old guy, Ron, owner and caretaker of Cactus keeps this place in ship shape condition and had built it up from what I hear, was a dust bowl! His fanatical about preserving the vegetation that is now surrounding the camp and comes around twice a day to clean the flushing toilets ( yes, flushing toilets in the desert!) stock the firewood, collect the money and take away your rubbish. Your literally camping on clean, white gypsome dirt and your meters from some of the best waves in Oz!
We quickly set up and all ride up to check the beach. It’s about 3-4ft and breaking perfectly! Take your pick. There are waves for everyone. The crazy hell men can surf the far right hand break ‘Caves’ or the smoking left in the middle ‘Castles’ or for the softer more fun waves you could head straight out front at ‘Cactus’ which is what we did. I say that like I’m not scared or remotely intimidated by these waves! But in every way I am terribly! For one, South Australia terrified me as a surfer just getting back into it. It seemed so remote, heavy and from what I heard, very sharky! But I’d come this far and suprised myself along the way with surfing a couple of places already along this stretch. I certainly wasn’t going to rule it out. The one thing that terrified me was the small doubt in Pons eye, that he too was confronted by the same fears and that only elaborated my own.
Our friends have a surfing atlas that writes about the shark dangers along this coast and in detail about this break, it speaks of the 200 bronze whalers that hang in the Chanel between Cactus and Castles and of the shark attack that also happened in 2000, of a man on his honeymoon, being attacked and taken by a great white shark at Cactus the day before the Elliston attack only Down the coast. We again, sat on this mans memorial chair to check the waves that we contemplate surfing, so I guess it’s got to be natural to have those fears ripe in your mind.
The locals were friendly and tough! And I guess we’re thankful that most of the day these breaks had crowds. Safety in numbers they say! And the waves looked too good to pass up! Pon braved the break a number of times scoring some great waves and memories! He seemed to dodge the early morning or late arvo sesh, but was loving having consistent good surf every day. I needed a big push to get in and once I did, I can’t say I was relaxed. I got one ordinary wave and warmed up enough to ride one of the best waves of my trip.. A long left hander that took me straight over towards that Chanel with the 200 bronze whalers, so instead of paddling back out I claimed my wave straight to the shore, it left me satisfied with a smile, and content I rode a wave at Cactus and came out alive.
The kids enjoyed hunting for blue star fish and making sand castles. They rode bikes, and made friends with other Cactus kidlets. Cant say there was a lot for the kids to do here, but I never heard them say they were bored once. They were busy all day with the bare minimum.
We took trips to the sand dunes for some hill climbing adventures and a big jetty for some fishing. Our experience at Cactus was amazing and like no other. If we didn’t have the Nullarbor planned we would have love to stay longer but our water and food supplies will only just make the crossing, so off we go again!