Tuesday 11th February
A number of times before I left the UK I had looked at various options to travel up the West Coast of Australia. I didn’t know much about the region but it all looked quite remote (there were no trains and few buses) and the scenery looked particularly unspoilt and spectacular. Each time I’d talked myself out of it for a variety of different reasons. It was only when I had been wondering around Sydney trying to find somewhere cheap to eat that I had stumbled upon a local tour agency. I’d gone in for a food recommendation but the assistant and I had also been talking generally about travel before she mentioned a budget company that she’d used which offered a 5 day tour to a place called Exmouth. This tour had sounded pretty perfect because whilst I wouldn’t make it all the up to Broome and the Kimberley’s I knew this wouldn’t be possible anyway due to it being the wet season up in the North. I still made no immediate decision and over the next couple of weeks I’d flicked through the brochure and started/finished reading Bill Bryson ‘Down Under’. As I knew I was unlikely to be over in Perth (or Australia) again anytime soon I finally bit the bullet.
I was one of the first people to be picked up and following the advice from Craig on my last tour i made a point of sitting near the front. This is because it’s always a bit more active and if the driver spots any wildlife or point of interest you’ll have more chance of seeing it than in the back. Aside from Jason our guide Nico from Germany was the only other guy so we sat together and in the passenger seat at the front was Nuria from Barcelona. The 4 of us spent the journey from Perth talking about various topics including good and bad travel experiences, whether the Spanish really take Siestas (they don’t) and whether we listen to music to make us think or to party.
We arrived in the Nambung National Park home to a quite phenomenal desert rock formation called the Pinnacles. Whilst I was on the way to the visitor centre I heard words I’d heard in random areas of Australia before “John, is that you?” This time it was Steffi who had left with Marco, Gabi and Quentin the day before. Soon the others arrived as well and I got to see their wild car as they prepared to leave. I had hoped we would see each other again at some point along the West Coast but hadn’t expected to see them quite so soon.
There are a number of different theories about how the Pinnacles were formed and Jason drew one of the easier to draw theories in the sand. This theory claimed that at one time all the area had been under water and that when the water levels dropped the area was still not as dry as it is today. There were a number of trees that grew up from a layer of sandstone and over time their roots held the sandstone together creating the rocks when the sandstone not held together disappeared. Or something like that.
Either way they were easily the most stunning rock formation I’ve seen in Australia to date. Each was a unique shape and size whilst it was also possible to make out the fossilised roots from the trees in the rocks. The view from the lookout across the rocks towards the sea was breathtaking and it’s amazing that so few tourists visit, in fact were it not for the other group we’d have had the vast area to ourselves. I suppose Australia is a huge country with many unique sights however most of the tourists and settlements are concentrated on the East Coast, many many 1000s of miles from where we were.
We had a brief stop in Cervantes for lunch where we again all helped to prepare the food before we eventually arrived in Geraldton. This is the biggest town between Perth and Broome and in terms of population it s roughly the same as Berkhamsted. The main point of interest was a lookout which featured a memorial to HMS Sydney which sank in the 2nd World War. As I was leaving I saw Marco, Gabi, Steffi and Quentin who had just arrived which meant at some stage we had overtaken them. Marco said they probably wouldn’t make it to Kalbarri National Park that evening so this time we did say goodbye until either they come to London or I go on my self made Belgium/Switzerland chocolate tour.
We moved seats for the next part of the journey and I found myself in front of Georgina (G) from Liverpool. Before we arrived at our accommodation at Big River Ranch we stopped at one final lookout along the coast called Pot Alley. Whilst it was very beautiful it was also very windy, especially once at the top of a small summit made up of rocks
We arrived at accommodation where there were a number of horses in a paddock and a tree which appeared to have parrots for leaves as there were so many of them sitting on the empty branches. Jason had recommended a Belgium style Mango Beer from a brewery in Broome. I had feared it would be a bit sweet like Friuli where one is enough but the mango taste wasn’t overpowering, more a hint of an aftertaste and as a result I’d finally found an Australian lager I could drink all day long. Now to get it exported to the UK…
I chatted to some of the members from the other group including Ashley and Olly from the UK and Rob from Netherlands. Perhaps I just had a perception our bus was quiet because most had slept on the long drive and there was a slight language divide. It had been a long day so after we had eaten we all went to bed fairly early as it was due to be an early start the next morning.
Wednesday 12th February
I’d set my alarm for 5.15am and as I didn’t want to wake G and Nuria who were still sleeping I went to have breakfast where I saw Nico who had unloaded everything. Somehow the time slipped by and I was soon rushing to pack my bag before the 6.00am departure.
We went to the Kalbarri National park and as we approached we could see a big rain cloud in the distance including one strike of fork lightning which looked like an end of the world scene. Soon it was raining gently where we were but fortunately there was no unbearable It is arguable whether the rain was refreshing or made the humid conditions even more unbearable
We made our way to the Z Bend lookout before going for a walk to Gorge along the Murchinson River. The rain had made some of the rocks slippery and we had to climb over a number of rocks to get down but I’ve got used to these moderate graded hikes over the past few months. Not that I’m any where near where I’d like my fitness to be and I think some tough gym sessions are required when I get home.
The rain stopped by the time we got in to the valley and by the time we got to the gorge Nico and I were more than ready for a refreshing dip even though the water didn’t look all that inviting. Nico and Jason also opted to jump from one of the ledges but I wasn’t so keen so just went for a swim before a few of the girls decided to join us. The other group came as we were leaving so we encouraged them to go for a dip as well.
The walk back was easier than going down and seemed to take less time. As we reached the top we looked down and could see a kangaroo sitting amongst the trees. The sky started to clear, the sky started to turn blue and as the sun shone we carried on to Natural Window lookout, a hole in a rock which looked down in to the gorge below. This was almost breathtakingly beautiful. The heat was becoming unbearable for some but on the way back some of us got a picture hanging from a ledge where if the perspective was correct it looked like we were hanging off a cliff and about to fall in to the gorge below. I’m glad we got to see the national park in the rain as it made the view in the sun even more outstanding.
After getting back on the bus and driving through a vast landscape which apart from the road we were on contained no sign of human life we eventually reached the Billabong Road House where we prepared our lunch. After eating we continued the drive to Monkey Mia but first we had a stop at Hamelin Pool To see the Stromolites.
How do I start to describe these? I guess if you don’t believe in the religious theories with regards to the beginning of life on this planet then these organisms are what you need to thank for your existence. I don’t remember hearing about them at school which i feel is slightly odd given their scientific significance and it was only in Bill Brysons book that I became aware of their importance. Now millions of years old these were amongst the earliest organisms on the planet and using a process similar to photosinphosis they pretty much single handedly changed the Earths Oxygen to 21℅ allowing life to develop outside of the ocean.
One of my main reasons for doing the West Coast of Australia was to see these because there are only 3 areas in the world where they can be seen and the only colony outside of West Australia is Barbados. Whilst they are living the stromolites don’t move and they basically just look like rocks. If you didn’t realise their significance it would be easy to overlook and dismiss them and I’m sure many do. The tide was out and whilst enough were submerged it was difficult to spot if any of them were bubbling/breathing but even so it was still an amazing experience to look at the living past.
We carried on to Shell Beach where the beach consisted of compacted cockleshells. The area is also part of a project called ‘Project Eden’ and a big fence has been built on land and out to sea to keep out non native animals. We went for a swim in the sea here and the water was like sitting in a warm bath. The water was quite shallow so it wasn’t possible to swim but it was very pleasant to just float.
We arrived in Monkey Mia and after a shower Nico and I chilled out sorting pictures whilst I had one of the mango beers. A small group were meant to go to an Aboriginal show but the local guide didn’t turn up which was a shame, especially for Ashley who had sounded quite enthusiastic about going. After dinner we played a few drinking games including Kings Cup / Ring of Fire. We didn’t want to wake up the other people staying at the accommodation so we headed down to the beach. We ended up playing Duck Duck Goose which I hadn’t played since my school days and it was pretty hilarious having to chase each other and at least the sand was soft so it was possible to ‘dive’ back to base.
Thursday 13th February
We had to be up fairly early if we wanted to see the dolphin feed but most made it down in time. The dolphins were already swimming around in the shallows when I got there but it wasn’t for another 15 minutes that one of the rangers appeared and started to give us a commentary. This was slightly different to the set up on Moreton Island. We were all invited in to the water but only a select few picked at random would actually get to feed the dolphins.
We all entered the water and the dolphins swam a couple of feet away and this included a mother and its calf whilst another turned on its side so it could get a good view of us all. We were provided with some information about the local dolphin population before eventually we were told to leave the water so that the dolphins could come in even closer for the feed. They seemed to be well rehearsed at the routine and after the 5 ‘residents’ had lined up along the beach area they waited eagerly for the chosen few to enter the water.
Neither Nico, Rob (from the other group) were chosen in our area which was a bit disappointing but possibly not so much for me because I’d had the evening experience on Moreton Island. I saw that G had been chosen from her area and I managed to quickly get a picture for her, but I don’t think many from our tour had success. Before heading back to the accommodation there was a pelican that was strutting around so we all got a picture with it. Their eyes really do look fake and exaggerated so I can’t help but laugh when ever I see them.
After having breakfast I headed back down to the beach for the second feed the commentary of which was already underway. There weren’t as many people especially where I was standing and this time when people were invited back in to the water I was chosen. It was nice to do it in the light but none of the group had come down with me and as I didn’t have time to hand my camera to anyone I didn’t get a picture of the event. As I headed back to the accommodation I saw Rob and whilst he had just missed the second feed that the final one would probably be taking place within 30 minutes.
I arrived back and with Nico helped Jason to prepare lunch whilst the girls relaxed. Rob came back just before we left and I was glad to hear he had been successful and after saying goodbye to the other tour including Olly and Ashley our group left to continue our journey North.
We had a long drive ahead, something I am now used to but our first stop at Eagle Bluff overlooking Shark Bay wasn’t far from Monkey Mia. Here we could see Reef sharks in the shallows and a possible turtle but no Dugongs. There are apparently a number of Dugongs in the area because there is a lot of sea grass along the shallows for them to feed on. It was also yet another spectacular coastal view, the sea made up of patches of both light and dark blue water depending on the depth of the sand.
After a toilet stop a group decision was made to eat our premade lunch on the bus because it was hot outside and it made sense to kill off a few extra kilometres to get to Coral Bay quicker. During the drive I spent the first half writing the blog and napping which only made me more tired. Eventually I decided the best option was to stay awake.
Jason hosted a quiz with the winning team receiving a free beer or ice cream each. I was in a team with Nico and Johanna?! The questions were a mix of where we had been and general Australian knowledge. We all contributed and it was more by chance that during the last question I remembered the gorge had been along the Murchison river winning it for us by a single point. ICE CREAM!!!!! The 3 girls from Switzerland were playing hangman on the windscreen with special marker pens and Nico, Johanna and I kept working it out before those playing and kept claiming more ice cream was owed to us as a result.