Published: February 18th 2011January 21st 2011
As we got picked up by Alan Fruin, Jay's second cousin at Perth airport in his bright yellow Arsenal shirt, little did we know what great hosts he and his wife Heather would be to us. They looked after us so well and we couldn't be more grateful to them. Over the next few days Alan and Heather gave us a whistle stop tour of Perth centre, some of the beautiful beaches, the Swan Valley wineries and breweries, Kings Park and the trendy neighbouring town of Fremantle, a golf corse full of kangaroos and Cavandish Wildlife Park, where we saw our first wombat and dingo. We also enjoyed a delicious meal at the White Salt restaurant, one of Alan's legendary BBQs and lovely home cooked meals each night before we booked our hire car to head north.
We were pretty disappointed with our old little green Hyundai Getz motor when we drove it away from Budget and weren't happy with the service at all. Our complaint to their head office is still being dealt with but that's a story for another day! We got on our way up the coast on 21st January and after a brief stop at a
random gravity museum we made it up to the Pinnacles desert rock formations in Nambung National Park. When we arrived we were chuffed to discover we could drive around the whole place and get out of the car whenever we wanted (normally you have to walk for ages to get anywhere good in a national park!) We spent a couple of hours taking humorous photos around the rocks, reading about how they were formed and running down the big sand dunes before moving on up the coast to Jurien Bay for a fish supper. We then pushed on to Leeman before stopping there for the night.
Driving up the West Coast of Australia is like nowhere else on the planet, we went almost 70km without seeing another vehicle at one point. The low lying bush and never ending hazy roads are simply memorising. Along the way we stopped off to see the leaning trees, one of the first churches in WA and the old heritage village of Greenough, which was one of the early settlement towns in the state and is now a kind of street museum. Then we stopped off briefly in a pleasant town called Geraldton (at
least we thought it was pleasant until we returned on our way back, but we'll come back to that in a bit). We sat on the beach for a while in the gorgeous sunshine which appears everyday without fail here on the west coast and always puts a smile on your face, then had a drive around the town before moving onwards and upwards. It took us a good few hours to get up to Denham which is the gateway town to Monkey Mia, one of our new favourite places in the world!
This whole area is known as Shark Bay, because as you might expect, it is famous for its sharks – sounds scary but it wasn't when you were there, as long as you didn't do anything silly like swim miles out into the sea. We checked into a hostel, made a very spicy chilli, chatted to our room mates and got an early night with the intention of getting to Monkey Mia early for the dolphin feeding. Unfortunately the next day Jay didn't see the turnoff and we went about 40km the wrong way before deciding we needed to turn back which meant we missed the
dolphin feeding for the day. However, it wasn't a big deal in the end as we loved the place so much, we ended up staying there for 4 nights instead of the original one we had planned. We watched the dolphins come to be fed every morning and also got to see them on our own on the first afternoon as they swam in the shallow waters just as we were having our lunch, so we quickly got in the sea to get a closer look as they bounced along. Jo even put her hand in the water pretending to have some food and one swam right up to her.
At Monkey Mia the dolphins return everyday for their feeding and have done since the 1960s. There are up to 3 feeds a day between 8am and 12pm – some days there were only a few of the adorable animals and they only came for one feeding and other days they came back for a second feed and there were around 12 mums, babies and juveniles all playing together. It was amazing to watch them float past all the spectators and turn on their sides to look at us
with their big smiley grins. At each feeding several people are picked from the crowd to feed one of the dolphins with a fish but with between 50 and 200 people at each feed it was a tall order to get picked. We did however manager to befriend a German girl called Caroline who was volunteering at the resort and had the job bringing down the buckets of fish and choosing people to feed them. We made a deal to get some photos of her with the dolphins if she would pick Jo from the crowd to feed them. A promise which we both kept and on our last day she chose Jo to walk up to one of the mummy dolphins and give it a fish. Funnily enough that day there was a second feed and Jo was picked out by a different volunteer for a second occasion, but as she had already had a go, she let Jay have the opportunity this time. So it was double mission accomplished.
As well as seeing lots of dolphins we also met some lovely people and saw tonnes of wildlife. You could just be paddling in the shallows and their
would be lots of turtles, big fish, different types of ray and sometimes the odd dolphin swimming with you in the shallows. We also saw a massive monitor lizard, a HUGE wedge tailed eagle with a wingspan of bout 2 meters (the largest bird of prey in Australia), emus and lots of other reptiles and birds. We had heard a story that some lads had to hot foot it out of the water after some Hammerhead sharks were stalking them whilst they were fishing. We don't know if that's true but everyone had told us that there were loads of sharks in the area. We spent each day hanging out at the beach with Mike who runs the tourist boat hire and two girls Emma and Bex who had become his shadow over the last fortnight as they extended their stay from a couple of days to nearly 3 weeks because they loved it so much. We hired one of Mikes unique miniature glass bottom boats and he let us go out twice for the price of once. The second time we were able to follow a beautiful turtle for several minutes and caught a sight of a few rays.
We also spent Australia Day at the Monkey Mia Resort, which included a big social gathering of guests, staff and locals for a free sausage sizzle barbie, a bit of fun cricket and some fundraising for the Carnarvon flood appeal. Jay did his bit by volunteering to shave his head and beard, which by this time had grown longer than it has since he was a youngster, (the hair, not the beard!) so really he wanted the free haircut anyway but managed to raise $70 for charity to boot. We got drunk and met a lovely couple, Dave from Oz and Natalie from Canada and spent the rest of the night chatting to them.
The next day we left the stunning Monkey Mia, with its amazing beach, wonderful wildlife and crystal clear water. As we were driving away from the resort we checked out Bluff Point boardwalk where we got a birds eye view of lots of sharks and shovel-nosed rays from about 50 metres above. Then we met Dave and Nat at Shell Beach which, yep you guessed it, is a beach made up of billions of tiny shells and the only one of its kind in
the world. The water was so clear and as warm as a bath so we had a little paddle until we spotted a big sea snake swim right past us all. Although placid they are one of the most venomous of all snakes so we decided it was time to move on to our next destination, Carnarvon, which was definitely the odd place out. It didn't have a great feel to it and just seemed like a bit of a rough place to be. It certainly lacked the appeal of other places we had seen so far. However, we had heard that Exmouth was on red alert with Cyclone Bianca looking dangerous, so the road further north was shut. We had no choice but to stop where we were for the night and readdress the situation in the morning.
We drove around for ages trying to find accommodation but it was either way too expensive or looked really dodgy, so we opted to sleep in the car. A bit risky, but we done it a few times and never had a problem. We drove around for ages to try and find a quiet spot and eventually settled on a
aquarium car park which looked hidden from the road. We said goodnight and fell asleep. At around 2:30am, Jo woke Jay up panicking and telling him to drive away quickly as a 4x4 had just pulled up and someone was walking towards the car. Still half asleep Jay frantically tried to turn the ignition but before he was able to a tall dark figure appeared at his window and knocked on the glass. Jay reluctantly lowered the window and saw a police officer standing in front of him, shining his torch inside. Luckily he turned out to be a good cop and explained that although your not supposed to sleep in cars, but they didn't mind if people do. He thought the vehicle had been stolen and dumped and then when they saw us inside thought it best to take us to a camping spot as 'it wasn't safe to stay where we were!' We followed them and stopped there until the sun came up. Then we called the cyclone information line and found out that as of 7:20am the roads had been reopened and Bianca had headed south and further out to sea so we were free to head
on up to Coral Bay, hooray! Before we left Carnarvon we made sure to visit one of the fruit plantations which the town is famous for called Bumbaks, which is best known for its Mango preserves. We bought a tasty Mango smoothie and a homemade strawberry jam pot, then jumped back in the Getz and motored on to Coral Bay. We settled into our nice hostel, watched Andy Murray win his Australian Open Semi Final, well almost, the bar closed ten minutes before the end so we had to wait until the next day before we knew the result, chatted to some English and Scottish people in the lobby, then went to bed.
The next morning we headed down to the beach and topped up our tans, then did some snorkelling and spotted loads of fish, including lots of 80cm long ones swimming around us. After we'd had plenty of sun we headed back to the hostel and chilled by the pool. On the night we played a bit of giant Jenga with some friendly but slightly butch lesbians!
The next day we moved on to Exmouth which is the best place to snorkel on the Ningaloo Reef.
Many people say it is better than the Great Barrier Reef and we had an amazing time here too. The first night we saw Murray flop in the final, then the next day we went to Mauritius Beach, which is described as 'clothing optional' for a laugh. There was no one to be seen so we stripped off and ran down the sand in our birthday suits and taking some cheeky photo's (for our eyes only though I'm afraid). It wasn't the nicest beach in the world so we moved on fairly quickly and headed into the Cape Range National Park, where the best beach for snorkelling was. We arrived and watched a movie about the Ningaloo Reef in the visitor information centre, then went there to see it first hand. The beach was absolutely stunning and as we walked along it we spotted a shark swimming only about 15 metres out, then we saw a second one and it was coming closer to the shore. They were reef sharks, which are about 1.5 metres long and completely harmless to humans. As we went into the water to take a picture, an annoying French woman jumped in and waved her
hands at it and scared it away! Grrr. We did see a few more too, but as we'd seen so much about them and how safe they are it didn't deter us from snorkelling over the reef. We swam out and saw tonnes of beautiful fish and coral and even swam with a school of puffer fish. We didn't find any reef sharks when under there though, not sure if we were pleased or disappointed about that. After a couple of hours, we headed up a big hill to watch the sunset at the lighthouse, before heading back to the hostel for dinner and a shower, whilst spotting hundreds of roos all around us en route. At about 10:30pm we headed back down to Mauritius Beach which is one of the main spots for the huge loggerhead turtles to come ashore and lay their eggs. We took a torch and went in search of tracks in the sand and it wasn't long before we found some. Altogether we found 4 turtle tracks and sat and patiently to watch as two of them dug a huge hole to lay their eggs, then filled them back up with sound. The instructions we
were given is that we must not disturb them until they had laid their eggs, so we had to wait in the dark quietly for what seemed like an eternity, but once they had finished, we watched these beautiful creatures drag their way back into the sea after a hard nights work. We were almost lucky enough to see a baby turtle hatching break out of its shell and come out of the sand but we think we may have scared it with our torch light as after seeing lots of movement under the sand where eggs had been laid, it stopped and stayed still so we thought we should leave the little one alone.
The next day we did some hardcore driving and made it Northampton for a few site seeing opportunities, including the old railway, cathedral and cemetery before getting back to Geraldton for late afternoon where we went to McDonalds to abuse the free wifi, as we hadn't been able to use internet for a week. By the time we were done it was getting late, so rather than press on to Perth, we felt safe enough to stop in the car once more, how wrong
we were. We found a dark spot on a street which looked like a pretty nice area and settle in for the night.
A few hours later we were both woken by the hideous sound of someone smashing the passenger side window and shattering glass flying across us! Still in a daze and not quite sure what was happening, all our nightmarish fears of backpacker murdering, axe welding psychos ran through our heads for a split second. The only thing we could think to do to deter the intruder was to scream our lungs out. Jo shrieked in fright, creating a sound only matched in one of Hitchcock's finest horrors. Jay followed Jo's lead and yelled out as if being savagely tortured before we began to realise that there were 3 intruders, they seemed to stop startled momentarily before legging it off into the distance. Still shaking we drove to the police station to report the awful incident and cleaned the glass from the car. Once the sun was up we went about trying to get the car fixed. The rental company give you an insurance excess of $2,750 to pay, regardless of fault if anything happens, and they
take the whole lot from your account until they have the invoice for the damage. You can reduce the excess but only by paying and extra $30 a day to rent the car, so naturally we didn't take out this cover and decided to not tell them about the incident.
We discovered that it would be a lot cheaper to have the window replaced in Perth, so Jo had to endure the rest of the journey with no window but we made it back in one piece and got it fixed for $230 after shopping around. Funnily enough the cost of the window was almost exactly the same as what it would have cost for us to stay in hostels on the four nights that we slept in the car over our two week road trip, I think they call that irony! It was a shame that this incident slighted soured what was an absolutely amazing road trip, but overall it was a fantastic experience and we certainly learned our lesson about not sleeping in the car anymore!
There are more photos below