Published: December 13th 2011December 12th 2011
Today we have completed a full lap of Australia! Paul has just drawn the last line on Cazza’s map, as we are now in Geraldton, our first major stop just under 12 months ago. We have driven more than 43,000 kms, seen so many amazing places, done some incredible things, and shared some special times with family and friends, new and old. I can’t believe we have only two more sleeps left in our caravan, and then we have a day to empty her before she is booked in for a thorough clean out, in anticipation of being sold.
But first, let me fill you in on where we have been since Carnarvon. We decided to visit Monkey Mia, despite many people telling us it was very commercial and a waste of time. I am so glad we went, as it is is much more than just dolphin feeding (Monkey Mia is famous for the dolphins which come in every morning to be fed). We did go religiously every morning (well, at least the boys did) to see the dolphins being fed, and even though there was a crowd of people, it was still quite wonderful to see
wild dolphins so close, and if you knelt down in the sand and looked between everybody’s legs, you got a wonderful perspective of the dolphins - in fact, a few of the dolphins seemed to be looking straight at you, and it made you wonder who was actually watching who. Each of our boys was chosen to feed a dolphin on a separate morning. I was actually very proud of Quinton, as, on the last morning, Paul and I were in the water as the dolphins were swimming around and swam passed us quite closely, and Quinton, not interested in going in the water, made his own way to the dolphin feeding area, where, after waiting patiently, he was chosen to feed the very last dolphin. And this he did all by himself.
We had read that the waters around Monkey Mia are home to one of the largest permanent populations of dugongs, a marine mammal (whose closest relative, other than the manatee, is the elephant!) which grazes on seagrass but is known to be incredibly shy. So naturally, the first thing we did was to book on a cruise to see these ‘cows of the sea’.
We chose to go with Shotover as it was a catamaran which relied primarily on wind power rather than engine power. We spent a lovely morning cruising the waters, and we did see a few dugongs but, true to their reputation, as soon as we came close they dove under water. But one amazing thing we did see was a giant sea snake on the surface trying to swallow an eel. Unfortunately, we drifted quite close to the snake, and, being too heavy to dive down, it let go of its feast to make a fast getaway. The next morning dawned beautifully calm, and as both William and I were very keen to try and get closer to a dugong, we decided to do the cruise again. This particular morning was very still, and not only did we have dolphins regularly joining us playing in the wake of our catamaran, but we also spotted an uncharacteristically lazy dugong, dozing just below the surface of the water. We were able to drift quite close to this dugong, and watched as it would slowly drift to the surface to take a breath, before sinking slightly to continue its morning nap. Eventually we
did get too close for comfort and watched as it took another breath and then dived underneath the boat, only to emerge a few metres on the other side to continue its sleep. Beautiful.
At Monkey Mia we were finally able to keep our promise to William and join a ‘bush tucker’ tour. We booked on an evening tour, where Darren ‘Cape’s’ Capewell took us for a little walk to a camp fire, and then told us a bit about indigenous culture, history and tradition. He cooked fish for us on the fire, and then played some didge. Paul had brought his didge as well and it turned out to be a really lovely evening. Capes is quite a remarkable person, with boundless energy (he runs day and evening tours, as well as kayaking trips, most of which he seems to run himself), an incredible passion for his people and his country (he says Aboriginal culture has not died, but was merely sleeping, waiting for the right time to awake) and he is a wonderful role model for the younger generation; he is articulate, entertaining, and it was a real pleasure to meet him. As he explains:
"When you visit Monkey Mia it is easy to ‘see’ country, but to truly take something away with you – you need to feel the spirit of country. This is what I share with you. I hope you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of what country means to my people.”
Our attraction to Monkey Mia was not only for its dolphins and dugongs, but also because it was part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, an area which satisfied all four of the natural criteria for listing. On the drive in, we stopped at Hamelin Pool to marvel at the stromatolites, living fossils that survive today pretty much just as they did 3.5 billion years ago. Hamelin Pool has the most diverse and abundant examples of living marine stromatolites in the world. Pretty special.
Perhaps the most unexpected bonus of our trip to Monkey Mia was a two night swagging expedition. We thought our swagging days were over, but a tip by Shotover skipper Harvey saw us leaving Cazza behind, and heading down the sandy roads of Francois Peron National Park. Here we found ourselves totally alone for three days and two nights
- and it rained only for 15 minutes on our second night! While our actual camping site was very sandy, and the boys managed to get very grubby, we did some lovely little hikes, the best one without a doubt being the hike above Cape Peron bay to Skipjack Point. Not only was the scenery striking - clear water and clean white sands hemmed in by spectacular red sandy cliffs - but the animal life was also fantastic. Here we watched dolphins hunting in a manner unique to this area: they would swim hugging the shoreline, patiently herding fish to the shallow waters and then, suddenly, changing tack and themselves lunging to the shore, almost beaching themselves to eat the fish now stranded on the sand. I was unaware that the beach was not to be walked on, and I raced down the dunes to get closer to the action. I quietly sat on the shore, and spent an amazingly peaceful 20 minutes watching the dolphins swim slowly past me, and beaching themselves only metres away to catch a fish. It was so calming, yet also so energising. I met up with the boys again at the lookout called Skipjack
Point, and here was another breathtaking view: we watched sharks hunt schools of fish, eagle rays cruising the waters and sometimes leaping out, giant turtles feeding, and so much more. Skipjack Point was so amazing that we returned here the following day, and watched the marine life, enthralled, for a good couple of hours (we could not tear ourselves away, so we even cooked dinner here). On our second day, Oliver and Paul decided to snorkel, but to get to the reef they had to swim through very murky water, pushing their way through thick seaweed. Suddenly, Paul says his leg was being tugged by Oliver, and when Paul looked down, he spotted a huge shark fin and tail, not even an arm length beneath him. He was swimming right over it and hadn’t noticed, but Oliver had. The shark was at least two metres long, and Oliver and Paul decided not to take any chances (there have been numerous shark attacks and deaths in the last month or so in Perth) and high-tailed it straight back to shore. They later worked out it was a Lemon Shark they swam over, which generally is harmless, but attacks have been known.
I was very relieved to hear that decided to play it safe, rather than sorry.
After a wonderful few days in Shark Bay, we dragged ourselves away to spend the weekend in Kalbarri. Here, we were finally able to fulfil our promise to Oliver, and took a kayaking safari down the Murchison River (he’s been hanging out to go kayaking since Byron Bay, but either age restrictions or inclement weather prevented him from kayaking until now). It was a lovely tour, but I think the highlight for the boys was the mudslinging fight they had at the end! Boys will be boys. We also enjoyed two lovely dinners by the foreshore (I was very spoilt) but the food and the setting was too good to pass up, and we haven’t enjoyed many fine dining experiences this trip.
And that brings us to where I am tonight, at Geraldton. The first thing we did was to visit the museum where Oliver picked up his Abrolhos Island discovery - the ‘sword’. William also managed to expand his precious gem collection, by adding about six Abrolhos Island pearls (he bought two, but the sales lady was so
impressed by his deep interest and knowledge of pearls that she added a few extras to his collections, ones that were flawed but to William was a bounty). Tomorrow we hang around the caravan park while the Toyota goes in for service, before heading back to Perth. We plan to spend our last night in GinGin so that we can visit the Gravity Discovery Centre there, before arriving in Perth on Wednesday.
I really can’t believe our journey is nearly over. I have such mixed emotions, but I am looking forward to spending three weeks with my family in Perth before heading back to Joburg. There are, I am sure, still a couple more blog entries left (like how we manage to empty the caravan of a year’s collection of books, stones, and numerous other things that seem to have accumulated), so stay posted. Until then, I am going to go to bed to make the most of my second last night in our beautiful caravan. Cazza really has served us well this past year, and I will be very sad to see her go.
Interesting tit bit of information. I mentioned in an
earlier blog that we saw emu dads with their chicks. Well, we have learnt that the males aren’t necessarily the fathers of the chicks. Rather, once a chick is born, it locates the emu with the loudest grunt, and then adopts him as the father. The more chicks a male emu can attract, the greater its status in the emu world.
There are more photos below