Published: May 28th 2006May 16th 2006
Two adults with a calf in the middle - "Mum.......when we've finished with these people can we go to McDonald's ?"
Weeks 7-9 (25th April - 16th May 2006)
On April 25th we passed through Denham on the way to the Monkey Mia Resort. Denham is the poor relation to Monkey Mia - a nice enough place with lots of places to stay, but no wild dolphins swimming up to the beach 3 times a day. There is, however, no such place as Monkey Mia, just a gated resort that caters for all needs from 10-in-a-dorm backpackers right up to luxury apartments with spas. They've got it well stitched up! We needed to pay $9 just to get through the gates but it was explained that this money was for the Dolphins. I'm not sure if the Dolphins actually run the resort but if they're getting $9 a time from willing punters to come and see them then maybe they are the most intelligent lifeforms on Earth! We had to fight for a space to put our house in the rather crowded tent area but once we had settled we got an early night as the dolphins can be quite early risers.
They've been feeding the wild dolphins at the Monkey Mia Resort for the past 40 years but I
"It won't bite as long as you keep your hands away from it's mouth & don't touch it" - good advice for the
dolphin but I assure you that I am mostly harmless. By the way Debbie, I fed the dolphins and everyfink!!
was a little concerned that maybe the spectacle of the dolphins coming into the beach might turn out to be a bit of a wet fish (no pun in ten did). I was, thankfully, quite wrong and at 8:00am there were 10 fins heading in to shore and about 50 people milling about in expectation. The dolphin 'ranglers' handled the crowds well, getting us to stand in the shallow water and be patient. They explained the history of the dolphin feeding whilst the dolphins became more at ease with us standing there until eventually they were lying on their sides looking up as if to say "Hey lady, where the hell's my fish?". Two Italian children (with the biggest monobrows I have ever seen) were finding the dolphin experience too dull and had begun annoyingly digging in the sand behind me and shouting at the top of their voices so that most people couldn't hear the guide talking. They didn't seem to understand me when I said "shut it you freaks!" and began to get quite tearful when I stood on their sandcastle. International relations has never been my strong point so it was lucky that the time had come
Road to Cape Peron
Flat tyres are a necessity - only advice I can give is "stay within the sand lines, floor it and try not to stop". Claire did much better than me driving through this sand as she managed not to scream or swear, which I did on more than one occasion.
for the big feed and there were 3 dolphins to be fed out of the 10 that had gathered. Only the females with calfs are fed and the other dolphins just come along to watch and have their pictures taken! Silence fell across the gathered throngs as it was time for the rangers to pick people to feed the dolphins. "The gentleman with the grey shirt" said the nice young lady.......pointing at me! This probably really irked the little Italian brats but I manfully stepped forward, kicking sand in their bushy-browed eyes before chucking a soggy yellowtail in the direction of Flipper (or whatever it was called). Job done and the empty buckets are washed in the sea to show the dolphins that it's time to do one, which they swiftly did.......was that the sound of dolphin laughter we heard as they disappeared over the horizon......or was it"see you in 2 hours suckers"? The dolphins come into the beach several times during the day and are fed every time - quite a racket they've got going on if you ask me!
Following the rather humbling experience with the dolphins in which I began to think about my own existence,
The bizarre meeting of red dunes and golden beach - you need scratch and sniff to get the full seagull effect however.
I had a quick word with myself and decided that we needed to do something more 'Oz-man'. There is nothing that gets the blood pumping more than driving your big 4 wheel drive somewhere really stupid. The stupid place is called Francois Peron National Park and is just 20kms from the resort. We got through the gates and read the signs that spoke of "sand tracks" and "4WD tyre deflation" so we dutifully deflated our tyres to half pressure and set off along the deeply rutted, red sand track into the national park for a day of off-road fun. Driving in sand is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair and you don't really have much of a choice about which direction you go in. Following the ruts generated by the previous track users is basically the only thing that you can do - try to deviate from this path and the sand quickly grabs your flattened tyres, slows you down to half your original speed and throws you back to continue on in your original direction. Bit scary really but is a bit of a laugh once you get used to it! The delights of the National Park were well
Amazing contrast of colours, what more can I say!
worth the visit and, sand permitting, we veered off-track to see 'Little Lagoon' & 'Big Lagoon' which were both quite spectacular, circular beached, salt water lagoons with the ubiquitous golden sand and turquoise water but curiously edged in red sand dunes. Getting a bit braver we decided to head down to the end of the Cape and see 'Bottle Bay' and 'Cape Peron'. Bottle Bay has a really picturesque beach again with the golden sand edged by red dunes. With only 2 people on the beach you could see that the sand-track entry was putting people off somewhat. Cape Peron sits at the very end of the national park and was slightly disappointing to be honest. After all of the effort of driving 50kms along deeply rutted sand-tracks our only real reward was a totally secluded beach that frankly smelled of fish. Claire pointed out that the fishy smell was probably coming from the hundreds of seagulls that had gathered further up the beach. Seagull poo = fish. Fair point I suppose!
With the sun setting and light along the sand-track fading we rushed back to Monkey Mia and hit the bar to ready ourselves for a nice lazy
Stromatolites at Hamlin Pool
The ancestors of these living rocks were pretty much responsible for life on earth crawling out of the water and onto the land - good work fellas!
day on the beach the following day. The strange thing about our travels is that although we are presently unemployed (over 2 months now!) we are still keeping ourselves very busy. It is actually quite tiring having this much fun, meeting new people and seeing new places. Days sat lounging on the beach are actually a bit of a treat!
It was time to leave the dolphins behind so we set off early to get a few more sights in on the way. Following our previous visits to the aptly named 'Little Lagoon' and 'Big Lagoon', 'Shell Beach' was the next place that had been named by the great think-tank that is the Australian Tourist Bureau. Shell Beach is a very large beach that is totally made up of shells! What a shocker. Very nice place though and the billions of shells made a nice crunching sound underfoot. Not so good for making pictures in the beach - some of you will know what I'm talking about!!
The next quick stop was to another prehistoric inland coral-type formation, this time the Stromatolites growing alongside 'Hamelin Pool'. Similar to the formation at Clifton Lake down south, the Stromatolite formations
Turtle in the shallows
Amazing what you can see just snorkelling off the beach.
are bacterial colonies that live inside mounds of calcifications that they construct from minerals taken from the water. It is thought that these formations are from the Devonian period of prehistory when the earth didn't have an oxygenated atmosphere. We actually owe our existence to the Stromatolite bacteria as they helped to process the atmosphere of noxious gases and produce a 30% oxygen atmosphere. That is 10% more than it is today and when lifeforms began to wander out of the water they were much bigger than their modern day equivalents. One of those lifeforms luckily turned into homo sapiens and here we are today! I bet you didn't know all that before you read this blog - unless of course you are a smart-arse palaeoanthropologist in which case you can probably pick huge holes in my explanation! Nice place though and you could almost taste the oxygen that the bubbling coral stacks were creating.
I was quite disappointed with our arrival in Carnarvon - they don't have a castle like their Welsh name-sakes but this was countered by the fact that they have a big inflatable banana! Carnarvon is a large banana producer and currently has the biggest
Whale shark number 2
The second whale shark that we saw was only a little 5 metre fish - the smaller fish underneath it are called ramoras and they hang onto the underside of the shark for protection and and easy ride.
banana crop in the country following $350 million of the east coast crop being destroyed by a tropical cyclone last month! Following a sunset walk to the end of the creatively named 'One Mile Jetty' we spent a nice day on the beach here, snorkelling with feathertailed stingrays and turtles. We also got to see 15m high plumes of water being jetted out of the coastal 'blow holes' - another phenomenon that we have seen before on the south coast. This was another cruisy day (ozzy-ism meaning nice & easy) and the next day we headed up to Coral Bay for our planned whale shark encounter. Seeing the whale shark migration was the only thing that we had actually planned upon landing in Australia and we were almost there. We set up camp next-door to 'The Beverly Hillbillies' it seemed, with Mr Clampit and his 12 family members taking up 2 sites for their caravan, 3 tents & 4 marquees! Nice bloke though - kept on asking me "how's it goin'?" every time I saw him which is the sign of a nice guy, I think. We've still not been able to get into the habit of say "fine, how
Whale shark number 3
This was a 7 metre fish - the red stuff in the water is the krill that they come here to eat on their way from no-one knows where! Seriously though, the scientists don't actually know why the sharks gather in these waters and don't know where they are going to or coming from.
about you?" and simply respond "hi there" with embarassed Brit politeness. We'll get it eventually I hope.
With the whale shark tour booked we went to see what all the fuss is about Coral Bay. Ningaloo reef starts a bit south of Coral Bay and continues up the coast as far as Exmouth. It runs along at 1km from the beach and in some places further north is only 300m off the coast. Coral Bay is a gap worn in the coast that is completely covered in coral, in water that is not much deeper than 5m. We were thinking about going diving but when we saw the delights that snorkelling had to offer we changed our minds. A morning of snorkelling far out in the bay was followed by a sea-kayak expedition 1km out to the reef. In a group of 8 we moored up just off the reef and snorkelled with the wildlife once more, this time with a few sharks thrown in for good measure! Both extremely tired we were in bed by 8pm to recover before the early start the next day.
Whale shark day was upon us finally & 20 eager punters collected
Sunken coral citadel
Curious coral formations found just off the beach at Coral Bay.
inside the dive shop to try on wetsuits and gather fins and masks. We had our own gear so just hung around waiting - not really worth us getting there so early but an hour later we all piled onto the bus for the journey to the 2 minute journey to the boat. Onboard we were briefed on the etiquette for swimming with the biggest fish in the sea. Only 10 people in the water at any one time, no diving, stay 3m away from the shark and follow the guide! After a bit of a pre-shark snorkel the spotter plane had a whale shark in it's sights so the skipper hit the throttle and we motored at top speed over to get in front of the shark. Split into two groups, the first 10 people slid quietly into the water and then the scrum began as they all flapped about like mad, jostling for position to get their view of the big fish - we had been warned that we might only get to see one shark during the whole day so we had to at least make the first one count. Claire and I were in group two
Moody time in Coral Bay
And the sunset is quite moody too!
so once the first 10 people had seen the 9m long shark we had our chance. On the skippers command I was the first into the water and was greeted with the front view of the shark as it turned around the boat. I finned like hell and got in front of everyone else, swimming alongside the shark before it dived. Unfortunately Claire fell foul of some of the other people on the boat cutting in front of her and she came out of the water rather disappointed. It had not been explained to us how cut-throat the whale shark experience would be but we went in well prepared for shark number 2! Once the 5m long shark had been spotted we were the first boat on the scene and the first in the water so we both got a good view of the shark before it had had enough with us and disappeared into the depths. We had a nice meal onboard and the day looked like it was coming to an end but then the radio crackled into life and another 7m long shark had been spotted just up the coast from where we were. 3 whale shark
Er......it's a big freakin' prawn. You want fries with that?
sightings is apparently a very good tally but for the amount that it cost us to go on the tour we could have bought our own whale shark to swim with whenever we like!!
A well deserved relaxation day of snorkelling and lounging on the beach was ended with a fantastic sunset - something that the area is well known for. Not apparently as good as Broome further to the north but very pretty all the same. With the Carnarvon 'big banana' in our memories, our drive further north to Exmouth had a 'big prawn' along the route to indicate the fantastic seafood available in the area. This reminded me of the 'big mango' that we had seen over on the east coast in November. We'll be looking out for other 'big stuff' on our travels and will be reporting back our findings. Australia is not simply the home of cold beer and interesting yet deadly creatures - it also appears to have a thriving fibreglass industry.
The campsite at Exmouth had it's own natural alarm clock in the form of extremely noisy cockatoos. What I wouldn't give for a shotgun licence! Once rudely awakened we were happily
"Yeah? You lookin' at me, cos I'm gonna beak ya if you carry on!"
surprised to see wild emus walking around the campsite. They're about the same height as people and when we tried to approach the two smaller chicks their mother stuck her head and chest out in a rather agressive manner. Haven't approached any young emus since, thankyou very much. Exmouth is a very good base for diving on Ningaloo Reef so we booked on a trip to Mandu Mandu wall which is just around the coast. Very nice diving but I still prefer the murky waters of Cornwall - or the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast. Nothing special to report.
We returned to Exmouth to recharge our supplies and headed off to camp in the Cape Range National Park in a bush campsite. This proved to be a good testing ground for our 'solar shower' which we purchased in Perth and had not yet gotten out of the box. Due to the lack of showering facilities in the bush, the solar shower allows you to harness the daily heat of the sun in order to get a nice warm shower in the evening. Okay, it's a black plastic bag with a hose on the side but it gets
Spotted whilst diving off Mandu Wall, this occy wasn't the usual shy & retiring type & sat changing colour and shape for ages.
the daily grime off, which is just what you need after a day of snorkelling in the conservation areas within the national park. Once dark the bush experience took on a whole different slant. Claire bravely ventured out to the bush-loo wearing a light on her head only to be greeted by hundreds of tiny spider eyes shining back at her! The redback spider in the toilet was also a nice introduction to our first bush-camping experience. With Ningaloo Reef running along it's full length, Cape Range was a great place to spend a couple of days and nights close to nature. Even the wireless internet card didn't work so we rushed back to Exmouth to get clean and collect our emails before setting off further north towards the oddly named town of Tom Price.
Tom Price is an Iron Ore mining town that sits at the base of 'Mount Nameless'. The mountain has had a perfectly good aboriginal name for thousands of years but when the miners settled there they couldn't think of a name so 'Mount Nameless' just stuck. One night at the Tom Price Tourist Park was enough with noisy Pink Gallahs flying about all over
The coral heads are home to hundreds of little fish that dart back inside for safety when you stick a camera in their faces
the place and frogs swimming around down the gents toilets. Although we are quite well kitted out in terms of our mobile technology, the geezer in the tent next door put us to shame with his widescreen TV complete with satellite dish! It was time to move on & the red-rock landscape of Karijini National Park was only down the road.
We had prepared ourselves for a more 'bush' experience at the campsites in the Karijini National Park as the previous bush site at Cape Range had only been half an hour drive back to civilisation. Karijini was actually more organised than Cape Range with a proper reception area where the camp 'hosts' give you maps and information about the area and take your camping fees from you. The site was very well laid out in a series of loops laid out in the bush. We were staying in 'Kangaroo Loop' and camped nextdoor to Bruno & Manuella, a Swiss couple that we'd met in Exmouth who were also venturing into the bush for a few days. We set up our tent in about 20 minutes as we've become professionals in what I think should be called tentology -
Even snorkelling can give you a look at interesting sealife, like this stingray hiding in the sand, waiting for a tasty meal to swim by.
it could be campingology but I think it might get mixed up with that bell-ringing lot. There was still some light remaining so we went off for a walk down the nearest gorge, red rocks glowing in the late afternoon sun, white trunks shining down from the trees growing precariously up the sheer cliff edges. 'Circular pool' was at the end of our walk to the bottom of 'Dale Gorge' and a swim beneath the waterfall was certainly worth the walk. There were a few leeches on the way out but everyone got out safely with all of their blood intact - more for the mosquitos to suck later on as we sat out drinking wine underneath the stars.
One of the problems with Karijini National Park is that most of the best bits are only accessible using 4WD vehicles - Bruno and Manuella were driving a tiny camper van so we offered them a ride around the amazing gorges that Karijini is famous for (I know you've probably never heard of Karijini but it's quite famous once you get here......trust me!). We hopped out of the truck to have an early morning walk to the 'Oxer Lookout' which
Gallah Alarm Call
Aww....cute, pink & fluffy and the devil all rolled into one. Whole flocks of these things scream you awake once
the sun has risen. In the background you can see our nextdoor neighbour's bush satellite dish.
is where four gorges meet at one point. We were standing 100m above the gorge floor but 250 million years ago where we stood was on the sea bed! The multicoloured layers of rock were made by sedementation compressed under the weight of the sea and the gorge was created when the sea retreated and washed out less densly packed sand. The best part of this whole geological process is that the layers of rock have themselves been eroded over the years creating stepped cliffs which are reasonably easy to climb down.
We began our walk down into 'Hancock Gorge' and had to climb down a ladder to get to the gorge floor below. It was at this point that Manuella began to doubt her canyoning ability and as we worked our way around the terracing rocks we found ourselves at a point where wading was the only way to go any further. I'd already got my walking boots off and was in upto my knees before I saw the look on our Swiss friends faces - they decided that canyoning wasn't for them and they'd sit and eat their holey cheese sandwiches whilst Claire and I went and
Karijini - Oxer Lookout
4 gorges meeting at one point - the aboriginal symbol for this place is a big cross.
had some adventure. Hancock Gorge has a section called 'spider walk' which takes you through a 1 metre wide corridor in which you suspend yourself like a spider and traverse above the torrent of fast flowing water below. This is actually quite a tricky manoeuvre but once mastered we advanced further down the waterfalls to see the fantastic quality of light spilling into the blue waters of 'Kermits Pool' and bouncing down the narrow gorge walls above. This was the best part of the National Park for me and we only turned back because the gorge ahead was unstable due to heavy rainfall about a month earlier. Returning to find Bruno & Manuella we carried them back to the truck and continued our bumpy ride to 'Weano Gorge' for a rather hot walk down to the gorge floor with rock wallabys peeking over the cliffs at us looking puzzled - I could have pointed out that we were British and I'm sure they would have soon understood our midday sun madness. Even though the end of Weano Gorge was flood damaged we got as far as possible and then had a freezing cold swim in the fresh waters. Manuella was
Hancock Gorge Ladder
I don't think that I read the instructions on how to operate the ladder correctly.
having a winge at this stage and refused the swim in a rather flamboyant fashion. We've met quite a lot of Europeans on our travels and I've come to notice that they can be extremely passionate about things but it is usually about the smallest of things - and the passion is usually directed in a moany, negative fashion. The last gorge on our list had a lovely waterfall to swim under but our guests had decided on no more walking down into gorges - I thought quickly (odd for me) and suggested an alternative drive to nearby 'Mount Bruce'. This did not involve walking down at all, merely walking up the side of a mountain. We didn't get very far up as we were all tired but I felt a bit annoyed that we'd had to change our plans, and I thought that the Swiss had mountains & gorges as far as the eye can see? Shame they've not got enough stamina to walk up and down them!
Following an evening of howling dingos we awoke early and pointed the truck in the direction of Broome. As this was over a reasonable day's driving away, we had a
Hancock Spider Walk
Claire spidering her way back up from the bottom of Hancock Gorge. The girl got top skills!
night in the salt producing 'Port Hedland' on the way. The port is another place where iron ore is shipped out of the country - an information board indicated that for the ore this was "the beginning of a journey which ends on the other side of the world". Written in black magic marker below the board was "and is then sold back to us for triple the price - not very smart". Remember kids, graffiti is not big nor is it clever - except when it is! There are lots of places here where tourism seems to flourish in the face of an obvious lack of resources, simply because they are at the mid-point in otherwise lengthy journeys between actual tourist destinations. Port Hedland was one of those places so apart from a quick stop to buy Claire a classical guitar (I know!!), we were on our way again. A brief stop at 80-mile beach (the clue is in the name folks) and 6 hours later we were at Broome - where "Australian's eyes glaze over at the mere thought of the place" according to the tourist brochure bumpf. My eyes were slightly glazed over upon arrival at the
The light quality down here was what made the difficult journey worthwhile - people were sat around the edges of the stepped waterfall with their mouths open and a distant look in their eyes. We couldn't hear Manuella whinging from here either so it was well good!
'Cable Beach' campsite but I'm not sure if it was due to the hypnotic power of Broome or a combination of 80-mile beach sand in my eyes for the 6 hour drive and the fact that we had to get the truck serviced again! 10,000kms in 9 weeks.....hate to think what it's going to be when we finish our trip.