Finally some sun, though the tan is undoubtedly just red dust

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Oceania » Australia » Western Australia
September 2nd 2007
Published: September 11th 2007
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After our jolly round the southwest, we spent a couple of days back in Perth with our surrogate family relishing all the comforts of home before the grand road trip starts. While we were in the city we decided to take a tour round Old Fremantle Prison, we hoped to do a spooky night time tour but they only run on certain days, but a day time tour would hopefully provide enough atmosphere to make it enjoyable.

Building the prison was one of the first tasks for the convicts in the 1850’s and it operated as a maximum security prison until 1991. It was the last prison in Australia which still used a ‘slop’ bucket, instead of having a toilet in each cell and sanitation concerns was one of the main reasons it was closed down. Each convict originally had their own tiny cell, which many years later was deemed to small for prisoners, so the dividing wall between two cells was removed giving each prisoner double the room. Of course due to overcrowding issues within the prison service they ended up putting two prisoners in each cell anyway so nothing was gained. We took two tours in the prison, the first was called ‘Doing Time’ which was a general tour of the prison facilities describing how the prisoners went about their daily lives, it even included a tour of the area where prisoners were held before being hanged and the gallows themselves. The second tour was called ‘Great Escapes’ which was a commentary on several escapes showing how and where they occurred, some were successful, some not. Both were really informative and we had a really enjoyable day.

Sadly the time had come to depart from our host family, and after another big farewell breakfast and goodbye hugs we jumped in the van and headed off into the sun, excited as hell. We drove for a fair while heading north, making a slight detour off the highway to visit the Pinnacles Desert, which is part of Nambung National Park. The desert is filled with thousands of limestone pinnacles which protrude from the desert floor, some are quite small, but some are huge towering up to 5m above the desert landscape. There was a track that loops through the desert so whenever we saw some that were photo worthy we jumped out and snapped away. Afterwards, we carried on driving heading north before finally stopping at Geraldton, where we found somewhere quiet and slept for the night.

In the morning we drove onwards to Kabarri, where we stopped to have a look in Rainbow Jungle, a very good bird park who’s main focus is parrots, most of which were native to Australia. It was especially good as we were finally able to put a name to many of the birds that we’d seen flying around. Many of the birds are in standard aviaries but there was also a huge walk through aviary filled with many of the species, and it was great to get so close to the birds without there being any bars or wire in the way.

After the bird park we drove the short distance to Kalbarri National Park, which after a long drive down some dusty dirt tracks led to the ‘Loop’, which included a huge rock with a hole eroded out of the centre, dubbed ‘natures window’ which looked out onto some gorges. From there, another dirt track led off to the ‘Z Bends’ a lookout onto some quite deep spectacular gorges. While we were walking to the lookout we also spotted some wallabies grazing amongst the rock, which was especially good as we’d been unable to get a good look at any since we’d been in the country, not alive anyway. The amount of roadkill on the roads can be quite saddening.

Our next long drive took us into the Shark Bay area, a lengthy deviation off the North-West Coastal Highway. Our first stop on this detour was Hamelin Pool, a small reserve containing some fine examples of Stromatolites. These micro-organisms (Cyanobacteria) are the same as organisms which existed before more complex multi-celled life, like us, evolved. Due to the hyper salinity of the water in the marine reserve, animals which normally feed on the bacteria can’t survive, so the bacteria colonies flourish, building up many types of different structures. There was a boardwalk that led around the structures and they effectively look just like rocks, but it was pretty interesting to see something which is identical to something that existed 1900 million years ago and remains unchanged.

Afterwards we headed further up the road to Shell Beach a small beach which consisted entirely of cockle shells. The shells can be up to 10m deep and in the past have been used for building materials and as a chicken feed additive, for stronger egg shells. We didn’t stay long though as there really isn’t anything there, so we continued our drive up past Denham and on to Monkey Mia, a beach resort made famous by the wild Bottlenose Dolphins that turn up like clockwork everyday to get a free feed. Sadly we missed the feeding sessions but while we were relaxing on the beautiful beach and taking a swim we saw a few pods swimming close to the shore. It was too expensive for us to stay in the area and we’d seen everything we’d come to see so we headed all the way back the way we’d come to get back on the highway to continue our journey north.

The next stop on our itinerary was the Coral Coast and we originally intended to travel all the way up the North-West Cape Peninsula to Exmouth, but as the main attraction in the area, Ningaloo Reef stretches all the way from Coral Bay up the west coast of the peninsula we read that if you only intend on enjoying the reef there’s nothing to be gained from taking the big detour up to Exmouth, only to have to come back on yourself again, so we decided to stop at Coral Bay. Ningaloo Reef is protected within Ningaloo Marine Park and we’d heard that it rivals the Great Barrier Reef on the East coast with its biodiversity and beauty but is far more accessible with parts of the reef lying just 100m off the shore. The main draw card to the reef though is that whale sharks reliably show up every year allowing people to swim with the gentle giants. Sadly it wasn’t the season for whale sharks so we did the next best thing instead, as soon as we turned up we booked a half day snorkelling trip to swim with Manta Rays for the following day, which would also be Faye and mines 2nd Year wedding anniversary.

Coral Bay is a tiny resort in a very beautiful bay with amazing beaches and the reef literally lies just off the shore. The tour operator we booked with, Coral Bay Adventures loaned us some snorkels, masks and fins so we could try them out before our cruise the next day. We headed off to the beach to try our luck and see what we could find. We found a spot in the middle of the bay, donned our snorkel gear and headed out into the water. It took quite a while to get out of the shallow sandy area and onto the reef but once we entered the coral area the visibility vastly improved and we were left to explore the variable structures teeming with beautifully coloured fish. After a while alternating between snorkelling, and relaxing on the beach we went back to Coral Bay Adventures to hand back our gear so it could be washed ready for our trip the next day when we were told that the booking lady had made a mistake and booked us on a tour which doesn’t run on a Sunday. She was very apologetic and offered us a free upgrade to a whole day ‘Wildlife Adventure’ tour if we had the time; of course we had the time, so happily off we went for the evening knowing we’d just saved $40 each.

We arrived early the next day at the tour office, and waited while everyone turned up, after which we all bundled onto a minibus and headed out to the shore where there was a small motorised dinghy waiting to take us out to the larger cruise boat. As there were only 9 passengers we had a lot of room to stroll around while we moved slowly out along the reef to a nearby bay, waiting for the call from the spotter plane that a Manta had been sighted. It didn’t take long before we were given the go ahead to put on our wet suits and then given the necessary talk on how to behave in the water and around the Manta Ray so we would cause the animal minimal disturbance. The boat soon pulled up near it and turned off the propellers so we could slide into the water at the back, our guide jumped in first and gave the signal for us to join her. We all slipped in and swam towards her with anticipation of our first sight of this huge marine animal. It didn’t take long to reach her and there it was… this huge dark silhouette came gracefully gliding across into my sight. I was worried the visibility wouldn’t be good enough, the particles in the water being the reason the Mantas were there feeding, but it was fine and I managed to get a really good view of it serenely swimming around, mouth open sucking in and filtering out its food. We were also warned that it can sometimes be hard to keep up with them as they can swim really quickly but thankfully this one was happy to just cruise around allowing us to follow it with ease, taking in such an amazing experience. Sadly though, all things must come to an end and after about 20 minutes we left it alone and swam back to the boat to be picked up. Afterwards we found out from the guide that it was pregnant and quite unusual as it has an almost entirely black underside (they’re usually white).

Everyone on the boat was on a real high, and we all sat around looking at the photos that someone had taken with their underwater camera, when we were told that we were entering an area where the spotter plane had seen some humpback whales earlier in the day. The whales sometimes shelter in the bays along the coast for a breather whilst on their migration route so we all piled onto the bow, and stood scanning
Red Back SpiderRed Back SpiderRed Back Spider

I thought they were kidding with the old 'check under the dunny seat, for the red back spider' but there was 8 in this particular toilet.. :s
the water and horizon waiting for the telltale signs that a whale was around. We watched the water for quite a while before the classic spout from a blowhole was spotted and we all stood holding our breaths with anticipation while the boat moved a little closer. There was a mother and calf slowly swimming around and we got quite a good look at the top of their heads only occasionally seeing a flipper appear and disappear. Not much else happened for quite a while and people started to head back down to deck getting a little bored. The deck hand told everyone to wait a while longer though, as you never really know what they’re going to do and a very short while later he was proved right as the mother shot out of the water in a spectacular breach only 50m or so away. She wasn’t finished though and continued to breach a further five times in succession, while we all stood on the boat mouths gaping at the incredible sight we were witnessing. Shortly afterwards, when it was evident that she was done showing off we slowly cruised out of the bay in search of other marine wildlife.

We arrived shortly afterwards at a sanctuary area where a lot of sea grass grows in search of turtles who come to feed on it and it wasn’t long before one was spotted. We all swivelled our heads to see a small Green Turtle popping its head out of the water before it disappeared again. It didn’t matter too much though, as they kept popping up here there and everywhere, grabbing breaths of air before going under again. After about 5 minutes of watching the turtles someone pointed out a shape off the boat assuming it was just another turtle but the skipper had a closer look and we were told we were looking at a Dugong, it was easy to see what it was, once it properly surfaced and stuck its bristly snout out of the water. The excitement on the boat rose another notch especially as the crew were also really interested as Dugongs are rarely seen. We watched it for a short while and also caught sight of another one swimming around, then left them alone to go have our lunch.

After lunch we cruised to a coral garden in another area of the reef where we were going to go snorkelling before heading back to shore. We all put our soggy wet suits and gear back on and slipped into the water following our guide around as she pointed out various areas of interest as well as naming the fish we were seeing. We also came across a Green Turtle gently swimming around and managed to swim with it for a short while as it didn’t seem to mind us being there at all. We were then left to snorkel on our own for a while until it was time to leave the reef, and once everyone was back on board the boat we cruised back to shore sad that the day was over but ecstatic as it been such a successful day.

Once back on shore Faye and I got freshened up, then headed to a restaurant in town that had some great specials and had a very nice 2nd anniversary meal, after which we headed to the resort on the beach to meet up with a family who were on the tour with us. We swapped photos from earlier and spent the rest of the evening chatting, drinking and celebrating a great day.

We decided to spend one more day at Coral Bay as it was too nice to leave, and went back to Coral Bay Adventures for the snorkel sets. We were quite lucky this time out on the reef independently as we came across two turtles, one of which was quite happy to be followed, but the second shot off the moment he saw us. We spent the day lazing around the beach area taking advantage of the sea as we’d be heading inland straight afterwards.

Back on the road it was a long drive to our next destination, taking a whole day to reach Karijini National Park, a park famous for its spectacular gorges and swimming holes. There is a loop that takes you through the park, most of it unsealed, and we really should of paid more attention to the signs when we entered stating that it can be hard on conventional vehicles as it’s very rough, rocky and corrugated in places, still we took it slow and Priscilla made it to Oxers Lookout without too much trouble, only a screw fell out of the dash, and the radio came un-mounted.

Oxers Lookout provides a spectacular view over a point where four different gorges meet, it was a really beautiful sight but we were eager to get into the gorges to see them up close and personal. The first gorge we chose was Weano gorge with a steep staircase leading to the bottom where a beautifully clear small river was gently flowing through it. The gorges are graded in parts to indicate the difficulty and experience required to tackle them, 1 being suitable for wheelchair access, up to 6 which requires specialist equipment. We started this gorge at level 3 which was not too bad some rocky areas which required clambering over and some pretty deep pools, which we got down to our underwear to cross. We kept heading along the gorge taking in the sheer cliffs and breathtaking beauty of the area and also the level changed to 5 which just meant that the rocky areas took more effort to climb, the river ran faster and the pools got deeper. We kept going though as we wanted to reach Handrail Pool, a large deep pool nestled within the gorge walls that’s perfect for swimming. It didn’t take too long, the most difficult part being at the pool as we had to climb down a hand rail and rope to reach the waters edge, it really was beautiful and luckily we were the only ones around to enjoy it. We both quickly ran in for a swim and learned how cold it was, it really took your breath away, still it was nice to cool off and clean away all the dust and grime from the last days of driving.
After a good swim we made our way back to Oxers Lookout where we had lunch before tackling one of the other gorges, Hancock Gorge. This Gorge started out at level 4 with a steeper staircase and a ladder leading to the floor and then quickly becomes 5 once you’re further in the gorge. This gorge has a larger river running through it with many opportunities for a swim; we kept going through it hoping to reach Kermit Pool, which is just before the gorge hits level 6, too difficult for us. The climbs were steeper and there was a really cool ‘corridor’ which had a steep climbable cliff on one side and the river completely covering the floor. Faye took our stuff while scrambling along the cliff face while I swam the length to the end, figuring we’d do it in reverse on the way back, thankfully this river for some reason was warmer than the last. After this corridor there was a wide circular area dubbed the amphitheatre with a very narrow channel (~1m) with cliffs rising up both sides running off it called spider walk. As the river is forced through this narrow channel, it speeds up so walking along the river floor isn’t a viable option, which leaves you to spread out your arms and legs between the two walls of the channel and shuffle along, like a spider. It was really good fun and not too difficult, and led directly to Kermit Pool, a very deep beautiful swimming hole which was totally worth the effort. We spent a good deal of time swimming in the pool, before slowly making our way back the way we came so we could check out the other gorges in the park.

The next gorge we wanted to see was quite a drive further along the road with a large section still unsealed before the final section which is. Priscilla didn’t fare so well on this section, blowing several fuses and now the left indicator periodically doesn’t work (even to this day). The gorge we came to was called Dales Gorge and it was a lot more popular (probably due to people not wanting to wreck their cars). It features a large waterfall called Fortescue falls which looks like water running over a huge staircase and a short walk through a forested area to another swimming hole called Fern Pool, a beautiful large pool, surrounded by vegetation, with two waterfalls plunging into it in the background. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so off came the clothes again and we had another relaxing swim. This was our final gorge in the park, before heading back to the car where we’d be spending the next couple of days making our way north.

Our next destination was Broome, a seaside holiday town in the north of Western Australia, popular for its beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear water, striking red sunsets and tropical atmosphere. We spent a lot of time in Broome generally soaking up the sun and trying to tan our white parts on the nudist part of Cable Beach, an amazing beach with fine white sand as far as the eye can see. We did manage to spot some humpback whales from the shore but they were quite far out, still someone was on hand with some binoculars so we could get a better look. Seemed a bit weird chatting to someone with all the goods on display, whatever you do just don’t look down.

There was also a lot of things happening in town for the 5 days we were there, the annual Opera Under The Stars event took place, which was as the name suggests, an opera played out in an outdoor arena set up near the beach. Faye and I figured we’d sit near the action and try and hear what was going on over the fence but then someone walked past and asked us if we wanted two free tickets as they got them for free and didn’t want to go. As we’re always up for anything if it’s free, especially if it should cost $120, we went in not really knowing what to expect. Having never been to an opera before I can’t comment on the quality of the performance but it sounded really good, just not to my taste at all and after the first act I was doing all I could just to keep my eyes open. Faye really enjoyed it, but the interval dragged on for an eternity and she was getting cold (?) so we left the opera loving public to it.

We were also in town when the tide is at a point low enough to see some 120 million year old dinosaur footprints fossilised in the rocks off Gantheaume Point just south of the town centre and we also stayed an extra day to catch ‘the staircase to the moon’, a phenomenon which occurs when the tide is low and the moon is full enough to reflect light off the mudflats in Roebuck bay as it rises over the horizon. This creates an illusion which looks like a stairway all the way to the moon and it only happens for a few days each month. It was quite a celebrated event with loads of people jostling around for a good look and when the moon made an appearance there was a great big cheer. The atmosphere was really cool all evening, and it was actually a lot better than I expected considering its just moonlight reflecting off mud.

Straight after watching the ‘staicase’ we jumped in the car to get a head start on our drive, going round the Kimberly, a large remote region full of rugged gorges and amazing scenery… apparently! You need a 4WD to appreciate it and as Priscilla is lacking that luxury (as well as air con), we’ll have to leave it for another time.

Our final big stop in Western Australia was to visit the Purnululu (Bungle Bungle) National Park, another area which requires a 4WD to see (they won’t let you in the park without one) so we stopped in Halls Creek, the nearest town and booked a day trip to it with a company called East Kimberly Tours. The park is on the world heritage list and houses the famous Bungle Bungle rock formations, striped black and red beehive shaped mountains which are pretty unique. No one really knows how they got their name, but our guide gave us a number of possibilities, the most widely accepted being when a settler pointed at the range and asked an Aborigine ‘what’s that’, the Aborigine, thinking he was pointing at some grass said ‘that’s bundle bundle’ which is quite common in the park, this was then misinterpreted and the name stuck.

Our guide was excellent, giving us a very detailed overview of both the geology of the park as well as the flora and fauna that resides in it. The park has a couple of other major attractions, the first one we visited in the north of the park, Echidna Chasm is a narrow split in the range and it’s possible to walk between the sheer cliff faces. The other one we saw in the south of the park, near the Bungle Bungle formations is Cathedral Gorge, a huge impressive space carved out of the sandstone with a towering ceiling. Although a little expensive, we had an enjoyable and memorable day, and the national park was definitely worth visiting.

After visiting the Bungle Bungles we headed to Kununurra for our last stop in Western Australia to pick up some supplies before our long drive over the state border into the Northern Terrritories and up towards Darwin. We really enjoyed being in Western Australia, It’s sadly overlooked by most people who head solely to the east coast, but because of its size it showed an incredible diversity which can’t fail to impress.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Our route so far....Our route so far....
Our route so far....

Map courtesy of Lonely Planet! :) Stats: Distance travelled: 6484.7km (4029.4 miles) Fuel Cost: $990.63 (£417.99)

11th September 2007

Keep on truckin!
Excellent storylines, pictures are very good, had to have a cuppa tea halfway through, Loads of love Dad!XXX
12th September 2007

finally some sun but the tan is undoubtedly red dust
What fantastic pictures, i've got plenty now to put on a postr i'll have to get that done soon. Once again you have surpassed yourself with this recent blog. Keep them coming darlings love you mum Jxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
12th September 2007

Fantastic blog
Swimming with the Manta Ray and seeing the Humpback Whale. You lucky devils.That would be my dream.Great writing wonderful photos.Love you both.
7th July 2010

First of all, one of the most informative travel blogs if not the most informative on this site. Second, that photo of the green turtle is probably the best underwater photo I have seen on this site. Just gorgeous. I have not looked ahead as I don't want to ruin the location surprises ahead. Thanks for going to western Australia. Most people don't and I have always wondered what it is like and if it is worth it. Definitely worth it for the landscapes alone.

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