Holidays, part 7 – boats, pearls, dolphins and dugongs

On the last day, we went back to Monkey Mia to go on a catamaran, the Aristocat 2, which sails out into Shark Bay in search of dolphins, turtles, dugongs and black pearls.  It was a beautiful day, in contrast to the day before – we really do have the best luck!

The boat sails early, so we got there in plenty of time and had a breakfast coffee at the Monkey Mia restaurant.  Jay and Piper are both travel sick, so they were both dosed up with Kwells, but the sea was millpond smooth so I figured they’d be ok.  Everyone was sat on outside the boat and there was plenty of breeze too.

First up we went to the pearl farm, one of the biggest pearl farms in Western Australia.  Shark Bay was originally popular for pearl farming in the mid 1800s to around 1900 – but the people were greedy and generally not very nice and the industry collapsed due to overfishing and the depression.

The Pearl farm is run by Jamie, who was on the TV series ‘The Farmer Wants A Wife’ – he was pretty cool and explained how they made the cultured pearls – its a long and complex and careful process – each shell produces 4 pearls over 8 years.  Oh, and pearls and nothing to do with sand grains – natural pearls are caused by damage to the shell making organ thingy, apparently.

We sailed off in search of wildlife – there were lots of dolphins around – small pods mostly, but then a bigger one with a juvenile came over to investigate and swam with the boat for a while, which was very cool.

It was a gorgeous day so we pottered around a bit more in search of dugongs.  Dugongs are funny things – they’re mammals that graze on the sea grass meadows in the shallow waters.  Shark Bay has about 20% of the world’s population – something like 15000 of them live here, happily pottering about in the shallow water.  They spend a fair bit of time sleeping, and like dolphins, send 1/2 their brain to sleep at a time, keeping one half awake to deal with breathing and keeping a watch out for sharks.  They sleep just on the surface so we sailed slowly about to try to spot one.  They’re very shy, so we kept on seeing tails pop out of the water and they swam back down out of harms way.

We eventually found one snoozing on the surface – very cool!

We sailed back to Monkey Mia and we sat up front in the sun, enjoying the warmth and the gorgeous blue sky and turquoise water.

In all, a beautiful day really and well worth it.  We had some lunch before heading back to Denham.

On the way back, I took a some pictures of the Monkey Mia bay – its very beautiful set against the red rocks that dominate the landscape here.

Next up – the journey home – some last minute sightseeing and then the loooong drive back.

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Holidays, part 6 (part 2)

I just remembered that Jay took a video on her iPhone as we were crashing along the track back from Cape Peron

The sandy track

The claypan

Not gonna be doing that in a Nissan X-Trail!

Holidays, part 6 – off road to Cape Peron

The next day the weather wasn’t so good, so we decided to go to the Peron Homestead, an old sheep station in the Francis Peron national park and then take the car off road and go up to the top of the peninsula to Cape Peron.

The homestead was very cool – the people that used to do this stuff (and still do I guess) in these remote, hot and dusty places really did it tough.   We saw a bloody great big goanna lizard thing just sitting there in the sun – it was probably 3 feet long – eyeing us up for food 🙂

We pulled over to let the tyres down to 20psi for the sandy off road track to Cape Peron – 40km of sandy rutted 4×4 only track right up to the Cape.

The lady in the tourist place said it was ‘fine except for some sandy patches’, but I for city folk like us, it looked pretty gnarly with long stretches of deep sand.  We got stuck behind someone who got bogged towing a boat – right in the deepest sand, so it was really hard to get going again.  He eventually got underway, but we had to reverse so he could get moving, which meant we had to scrabble around to get going without bogging ourselves and managed to scratch the car on some bushes as we bounced about. Gah!

We carried on ploughing along, but got fooled by some deep sand that hid some pretty big dips so we bounced hard a few times, causing everything in the car, children included, to crash about. It was good fun though.  We got to the end and discovered that the bounces had smashed off the power coupling from the towbar and caused the right rear wheel to crack the underside of the wheel arch – oops

Luckily we met up with a couple and their young daughter who had some zip ties, so we managed to secure the bits that were hanging off.   They were in a new Landcruiser that was totally covered in red dirt – they had come all the way from Brisbane to Western Australia off-road, so had every spare part imaginable.  Awesome adventure – I suddenly have visions of wanting to do that kind of thing!!

Other than that, the Kia did very well off road – much better than its SUV classification would have you believe – its actually pretty competent.

Cape Peron is famous for the red cliffs that come almost all the way to ocean, a thin strip of white sand and turquoise blue ocean, but sadly it was high tide and overcast when we went, so we didn’t get the full effect, but on the plus side, we didn’t get our brains roasted in the heat either!  It was very barren, very striking and there were lots of goannas about in the red dirt.  I walked up to the top of the cliffs and looking down at the ocean below, I could see pretty big shark swimming lazily along in the blue water.  Awesome.

We had lunch, but there really wasn’t much else to see, and Jay’s back was starting to hurt, so we packed up the car and drove back again.  We did loads better off road on the way back, never even once looking like we might get stuck.  I was also much better at spotting the potential bouncers in the sand and we had a really good drive back. That’s my manly status assured then 😉

Back at the homestead carpark, I got the compressor out and re inflated the tyres whilst the girls went off to check out the thermal spring hot tub in the homestead grounds.  It was way too hot apparently.

The car done good 🙂

Next up – more dolphins, black pearls and dugongs

Holidays, part 5 – shell beach and dolphins

The next day, we had a poke around Denham, stocked up on food and beer ($50 for a carton of Corona – thats really cheap!) and decided that we’d do a little exploring.

There aren’t a great many things to do in Shark Bay that don’t involve some kind of water/fishing/swimming type activity, so we loaded up the car and drove to Shell Beach, which is 1/2 hour from Denham back down the road we came in on.

Shell Beach is, as the name implies, a beach made of shells.  Just shells.  No sand or pebbles or anything else, just trillions of teeny white shells.  There are so many and the beach is so thick with them that they are mined and bricks carved from the deeper harder almost rock like layers.  Amazing.

The girls packed their snorkelling gear as the water looked amazingly clear, but we discovered that the water looks that clear for a good reason.  It’s only kneed deep for 2 or 3 hundred metres or more out out to sea.

Still, thats enough for small children, but even though its a breathtakingly beautiful place, its not very interesting for adults.  Plus the sea floor being made up of, yes, you guessed it, shells, is not exactly comfortable on the feet.  That said, we had a good time, but there isn’t really that much else to do there, so we sat down, had a drink from the cooler and once the girls dried off, we went home again.

The next day, we stocked up with supplies and drove the 1/2 hour to Monkey Mia, where there is a self contained holiday resort (which we didn’t want to stay at, as there is only one restaurant and nothing else to do).  The interesting thing about Monkey Mia is that for 30 years or more, dolphins have been coming in to the beach to be fed.  This got a bit out of hand in the 80’s so the Environment Department guys created a managed feeding program.  3 times a day, in the mornings only, dolphins swim in and get fed a small ration of fish.  The DoE guys pick members of the public to come and feed them – its very cool.

The water was a bit cloudy with sand when we went, but it was still amazing to see the dolphins up close, to watch them swim on their side with one eye out of the water, sizing us all up.

It was a very cool experience and the girls had a lot of fun, even though they didn’t get picked for the feeding.  They swam in the sea for a few hours, playing with some American kids (who were perhaps the most loud bossy children I have ever seen) before we’d kinda had enough sun, so we packed up and went home.

As the ocean in Shark Bay is really calm in good weather, we made a plan to come back and go out on one of the catamarans that sail around the bay looking for dugongs, dolphins, sharks and turtles.

Holidays, part 4 – Kalbarri Gorge to Denham via Hamelin Pool

It was a long drive between the gorge and Hamelin Pool, long, hot and boring with most of looking like the road below.  For hours and hours.

We stopped at the Billabong Roadhouse for lunch – this place is really in the middle of nowhere and offers an oasis of fuel, food and erm, a place for a much needed ‘comfort break’  They did a good range of gluten free food too, which meant Anja could at least eat well, rather than having to live on just chips (not that she would really have cared too much, she’s a starch machine)

We turned off the highway and onto the road to Denham – there’s still an hour or so of solid driving to go from that point, but we were making good time so we stopped off at Hamelin Pool, a tiny homestead and former telegraph station at the bottom of Shark Bay.  It’s famous for its Stromatolites, which are rock like structures, formed from the actions of tiny cyanobacteria that grow in the hyper-saline waters, slowly trapping sand and mud which forms new layers, growing only few mm a year.

These creatures are some of the earliest life forms on the planet and and form a major constituent of the fossil record for about the first 3.5 billion years of life on earth.  Using sunlight, they synthesise carbon dioxide to produce oxygen.  In fact, it is thought that during those billions of years, they were pretty much solely responsible for creating the oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today.

It is also totally unspoiled here, being a protected world heritage zone – the place is gorgeous!

We drove the hour or so down the only road to Denham, undulating its way though the scrub like bush, before the first signs of human habitation appear and we pulled into town.  Denham is a lovely little place, a few restaurants, caravan parks, a hotel or two, some supermarkets and petrol stations.  Its really the only town in Shark Bay, so it has everything you could want.

Our self catering apartment was nice – basic but clean and with lots of space and only 30 seconds walk from the beach and gorgeous sunsets every night.

Next up, Shell Beach, Monkey Mia, Dolphins and adventures off road.

Holidays, part 3 – Kalbarri Gorges

Day 3, we set off from Kalbarri early as we had a long drive (again) to Denham in Shark Bay.

Stopping briefly for petrol and a quick walk along the beach (we arrived in the dark the night before so we thought we’d at least have a 5 minute poke around), we quickly decided that Kalbarri is a place we’d come back to.  Clean, pretty, lots of variety of food (for vegetarians, vegans and gluten and dairy free) and enough to keep children occupied for a week.

We drove up the Ajana Kalbarri road towards the Kalbarri National Park so we could have a gawp at the amazing Murchison River Gorge.  This was a little way off road – 20km or so along well made dirt tracks – through the vast open bush.

It was a pleasure to see to no evidence of mankind (the road excepted) as far as the eye could see in all directions.  We even saw emus wandering through a thin patch of bush just off the road.

We parked up at a little car park and walked out into the heat – it was really warm compared to Perth – and took a walk down a little rocky track to a lookout over the Murchison River.

Wow – it was an awesome view.  Not very many folks about either, just a few brave souls and a teenage kid who was curious about my Hasselblad camera.  This was also the first time we really got to see the red rocks that make this part of the world so famous.

It’s spring in Australia at the moment, so there were a fair few desert flowers about – very pretty.

We still had a long drive and Anja was in a foul teenage mood, so we didn’t get to see the fabled ‘Nature’s Window’, which I was ok with – it was hot and there were lots of flies about, and besides, its such a stupid twee name for a gorgeous rock arch.

We drove back down the track and continued north along the highway into ever more barren countryside and ever increasing temperatures.

Next up – Hamelin Bay and Shark Bay

Back from the North

Sorry for the hiatus, we’ve been on holiday, far beyond the reach of internets and mobile phones and such modern conveniences. No, seriously, there’s no phone signal anywhere near where we went.

Australia – its a big place and it doesn’t take much travelling to leave civilisation far behind.

So, 2300km (1430 miles for the imperially minded) later, we’re back and I can tell you all about it 🙂

We went to Shark Bay – a World Heritage Area (as they are fond of reminding you at every turn) due to its unspoiled, diverse and unique flora and fauna, both land and marine. It’s also quite a long way from where we live (but not really that far, given the enormous trans-continental distances that Australia has to offer if you really are determined to ‘go walkabout’)

We drove to Lancelin first, then on to Kalbarri and then finally to Denham in Shark Bay. I’ll have some stories and pictures for you this week 🙂