And that’s a wrap

Back to where it all started, almost. This guy featured in my first blog (the koala not Ian) and this is where we close the loop.

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The Big Koala – Horsham

25,334 Kms travelled. 142 nights under canvas. Actually 141 nights we slept in the car one night. Ok, ok, 139 nights we might have treated ourselves to a wee self catering cottage in Clare Valley…….

We’ve been reflecting on the trip as it draws to a close, its been beyond all we could have imagined. Time has passed too quickly of course but we have a bank of wonderful memories.

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Leaving our last camp

This is an amazing country full of contrasts, beautiful landscapes and vast stretches of nothing. The fact that people choose to live in some of its most inhospitable corners amazes me, but not more than the stories of the people who have survived its droughts, storms and blistering heat for thousands of years before them.

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Australia has a land mass of 7,692,024 square kilometre, a coastline 35,877km long and only 2.9 people but 6.5 kangaroos per square kilometre. Ian and I became Australian citizens this year and we were presented with a native plant, but we have been doing the maths and think we should be given a section of the coast instead. Split among the current population that would be 1.6m each.  I wouldn’t mind a sliver of some of the beaches we have seen on this trip.

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We’re visiting a smaller country next. Flying home for Christmas, just another 16,586 km to go.

Musings from the Nullarbor

The road connecting Adelaide and Perth is long, straight and monotonous. We were joining it at Norseman some 1986km west of Adelaide. The aim was to get as many kilometres under our belt as we could on day one and, with the destination that night likely to be a roadside camp, we didn’t want to arrive too early.

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We were on the road by 8am, after stopping for a very average coffee. However, our first stint wasn’t to be very long. 65kms north of Esperance we were waved down, someone else was in need of the Lindsay recovery service. Without our trusty side kick Ginie we were one man down but reckoned we were up to the job. A small Mitsubishi camper had spluttered to a stop at the roadside. Unable to get a mobile signal they were stuck.  We tried a jump start but no luck, checking my phone again there was the flicker of a signal, too weak for a phone call, until you stood on top of our trailer.

Road recovery was called, hands were shaken and we were on our way again. Not as exciting as our last rescue but in a day that was to be 765kms long with nothing to see but scrubby bush and the occasional bird it was the highlight.

As we approached the WA/SA border I got to thinking about the size of the state we were about to leave. Our WA journey started on the 23rd of September some 3000kms north as the crow flies. The weather, landscape, agriculture, population densities and accessibility was so different from the north to the south that you wonder how a state of this size and these contrasts can be governed as one.

Then we crossed into the, previously unknown to us, central western time zone, 45mins different from the rest of WA.

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A little research later we discovered that this is an unofficial time zone adhered to by a small area of far east WA and one roadhouse in South Australia, encompassing a total population of 200 not including the 50 odd campers at the Medina Bluff roadside camp for the night.

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Photo Source: Wikipedia Nullarbor entry

Day two of our Nullarbor drive and the landscape started to live up to its name. Nullarbor is Latin for treeless and all around us there was nothing but low lying scrub for miles. Below ground the plain is far more interesting. It is the largest single piece of limestone in the world at around 200000 sq kms with a net work of underground caves. Cave divers venture 90 metres below ground to explore the cavernous passages of crystal clear water.

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No we didn’t try out diving. Photo Source: Australian Geographic

Driving across you would never know the caves existed. Apart from a quick stop to take in the sea view where the road comes close to the bight we just kept on driving. 650kms later (1415km in total over two days) buildings, cars and people became more frequent sights. It felt like we were completing a marathon and I half expected there to be a red ribbon finish line and cheering crowds. Instead there was a guy in high vis vest who wanted to check our fridge for fruit and veg.

Food glorious food

We have been travelling along the south west coast of Australia for a few weeks now. A journey which has taken us through some breathtaking scenery and of course wine country. We happened to be in Margaret River on the weekend of their Gourmet Escape festival and were able to sample some yummy dishes and even yummier wines. We felt justified in indulging given we chose to cycle the 15kms there, much to the amusement of the car parking attendant when we arrived at the host vineyard, Leuwin Estate.

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All this lovely food got us talking about the meals we have had along the way. Our car was stocked with tins when we left Melbourne and the obligatory bag of pasta and jar of pesto. As it turned out we were able to have a more varied menu than chickpea curry and bean chilli. Fresh veggies were available fairly regularly and in the cooler temps at the beginning things kept longer than when we hit the Northern territory. Despite camp food being better than expected there were still times when we were tired, cold or just too plain lazy to cook and we would sample the particular delights of our overnight stop.

We quickly learned that roadhouse food focuses on quantity, not quality.

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Given the remote nature of some of these places its not surprising most meals come out the freezer, long life milk is your only option and bread is found with the frozen foods.

But there have been some gems like the cafe at Tumbling Waters Lichfield whose simple menus had us going back a second time.

The quirkiness of one eatery sticks out in particular. In Denham on the west coast the wind was so bad we had trouble keeping the gas stove alight so we looked for a restaurant.

This place seemed to fit the bill.

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Being a Friday night we thought it best to book, I asked for a table at 7.30 the owner looked hesitant and offered 7.15. Made no difference to us, I assumed they must be busy. We were later to find out the kitchen closed at 7.30!

The menu proudly told us that the building was constructed in 1975 and is made up of blocks of thousands of compressed shells.

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In keeping with its 70’s era of construction the food was a bit of a throw back with potato gratin and savoury rice sides. It was tasty but I think we over stayed our welcome. The waitress looked a bit crestfallen when our response to ‘would you like the bill?’ was ‘no we would like to see the desert menu!’.

The flies are back in town

The change in latitude travelling down the west coast is evident in the landscape. Driving into Kalbarri the everything was greener, instead of the low lying scrubby bushes there were trees and no red dust in sight.

While the north of WA is coming into the wet season and the landscape was at its driest we seemed to have crossed a climate boundary and the region south was headed into its dry period with the landscape at its greenest. Everything had been turned on its head and we found ourself at the start of the tourist season rather than the tail end.

With this change came flies. Whether we had just been lucky or the weather wasn’t quite right, we hadn’t been bothered by flies much since moving north from Alice Springs. But we were reminded very quickly how irritating they are.

They buzz around your head, land around your eyes, up your nose and in your ears. We have stepped out the car and been swarmed instantly. When you add food to the mix the situation becomes intolerable.

The fly dance has become mandatary before getting in the car. This involves jumping up and down with a twisting motion and arms flapping to dislodge them your body, before quickly jumping in the car.

Having done a bit of reading it turns out that these pesky insects have an important role to play. They are the eco warriors of nature recycling nutrients in organic matter. So I guess we just have to accept them.

While in Kalbarri we stayed at the Big River Ranch. The offer of trail rides with canters along the sandy river banks was the only inducement I needed. The facilities are basic but the cute factor is high. There were gorgeous horses everywhere and a little lamb and goat keeping the grass in check.

Little Lamb Billy Goat

We’re a little fed up of commercial sites with their square pitches and close proximity to your neighbours so this was perfect. And the trail ride was brilliant. It was my first river crossing on horse back and being ex race horses the canter along the twisty, sandy paths was exhilarating. Ian being allergic to horses sat this one out.

On leaving Kalbarri there was a pink glow in the sky which we discovered was caused by salt lakes in the region.  At the right temperature and salt concentration algae in the water produce beta carotene turning the lakes pink.

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The Dolphin who came to tea

Monkey Mia along with the Francois Peron National park is situated on a spike of land protruding from the west coast. Another world heritage listed site where the marine life is abundant.

From Skipjack Point at the furthermost tip of the park we spotted three of the big five within minutes. The water is crystal clear and just below the surface we saw a shark swimming in wide circles, possibly a lemon shark.

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Almost immediately large shadows started to move through the water, there were several groups of rays that were sailing close to the surface and then the most incredible sight, a ray leaping and flying completely clear of the water. Amongst the rays turtles popped their heads through the surface not just one but at least three or four. Unfortunately the elusive Dugong didn’t make an appearance.

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We didn’t see any Dolphins on this occasion but the Monkey Mia dolphins were true to form and made an appearance both days we visited. I had wondered if this experience would seem engineered and too commercial. The particular beach that the dolphins have been visiting for the last 30 or so years is owned by a large operator in the tourism industry with a resort on the foreshore. The dolphins visit the shallows close to the resort three times a day where they are fed. As excited as I was about seeing these amazing mammals up close I couldn’t help wondering if we were exploiting them and their curiosity. Having learned a little more of the areas history and the current management of the site these concerns were unfounded.

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The dolphins were first spotted fishing in the shallow waters around forty years ago. Although in the past access was less controlled the effects of this are now understood and the dolphin feeding and interaction is actively managed. No specific times are given for the interaction, it depends on when the dolphins decide to visit, sometimes they come three times in a morning sometimes only once. Each visit lasts 30 mins after which the public are asked to leave the beach to encourage the dolphins to head back to deeper water and they do. There are a limited number of dolphins in the feeding programme and each day they receive a tenth of their daily food requirement.

We were lucky, thirteen dolphins visited on our first encounter sometimes as few as two show up. This group of thirteen included some young males who put on an amazing display of water acrobatics.

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And there were babies too, almost a year old swimming close to mum.

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I had the privilege of being picked to feed Shock, looking into his eyes as he gently took the fish from my hand I was unexpectedly emotional. It was an amazing moment and I feel honoured that these gentle, playful and beautiful mammals allow us to be part of their day.

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There are no showers in paradise

Or mobile phone signal for that matter.

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This is Ningaloo marine park world heritage listed site and quite possibly the highlight of the trip.

Our friend Andrew joined us for a week of snorkelling, with the reef starting just metres from the beach and several different stretches to explore we had plenty to fill our time.

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We saw turtles in the surf just off the beach, humpback whales beginning their long passage south and an array of wonderfully coloured fish and coral.

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Further down the coast at Coral Bay a section of beach becomes a reef shark nursery at this time of year. It was a bit strange to be seeing groups of shark shaped shadows in the shallow breaking water.

The camp sites here are strung along the beach some in behind the dunes, others with ocean views. Earlier in the season you need to book or queue from sunrise to get a spot. We stayed at Tulki beach. Facilities are basic but with a sea bath everyday who needs hot showers. The camp hosts were brilliant and encouraged everyone to get together for pre dinner drinks it made for a really social site. Also scored the best drop toilet in Australia award (as nominated by us and we have seen a lot). It pays to have a camp host who is a plumber.

We could have stayed forever but there is a reason its the end of season. Temperatures were rising and with it the flies had arrived. Time to move on.

 

Beauty and the beast

The drive from Broome south towards Ningaloo took us past some amazing coastline, but we also wanted to explore in land. Karinjini National Park lies 300 ish kms from Port Headland and is juxtaposed with Tom Price, a Rio Tinto Iron Ore mine.

Hills reach into the distance to the east while iron ore pits scar the landscape to the west.

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Gorges provide shady swimming  pools, while mining excavations reach the murky ground water made acidic by black shale.

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The presence of iron in the rocks is evident throughout Karijini. The park itself is split east to west by an access road and rail line used by the mines. Apparently its National Park status doesn’t protect it from possible mining activity in the future. But for now you can explore the rugged landscape.

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Dancing Boabs

I have been told an Aboriginal story about how this interesting tree came to look the way it does. Thinking itself beautiful the Boab tree was known to boast about its looks to all the other trees.  After a while this became tiresome so the trees got together to decide what to do.  Their solution was to pull the boastful Boab from the ground and replant it up side down.  Not so pretty now!

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They are an odd looking tree some more so than others but after seeing hundreds of them in our Kimberley travels you start to realise how different they all are.

There are little Boabs

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Fat Boabs

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Prison Boabs – hollowed out with age and used to hold prisoners

Prison Boab, Derby

And my personal favourite dancing Boabs   To me they look like they have their arms waving in the air to the music and when they grow in pairs they could be slow waltzing or dancing a tango…….

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RMYS trio to the rescue

An exciting day!

We have been surprised at the types of vehicles people are willing to take on unsealed roads, often seeing 2wd drive vehicles bumping along the corrugations behind us.. Little combi vans are not uncommon and for the most part they get away with it.

Water crossings are probably where your luck is going to run out. Driving from Tunnel Creek to Fitzroy crossing we came across a flooded section of road and an unfortunate Swedish couple.

Because they didn’t want to attempt this

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They ended up like this

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We leapt into action, finally we were going to use the gear we had been lugging around for the last 2 months. Of course all our recovery gear was muddy from our earlier training exercises so it looked like we were seasoned professionals

Out came the bridle and snatch strap, shovel and Max trax (boards with little bumps to help give your wheels traction).

It took a while to identify the points to attach the bridle but Ian figured it out.

Once we were all connected and ready to go Ian moved forward slowly (we weren’t attempting a snatch recovery instead hoping to gently pull them clear)

With a bit of wheel spin and mud spray the little van was eventually  pulled clear.

There aren’t any photos of the rescue itself, I was feeling bad enough that I was grinning from ear to ear with excitement while the poor couple were looking rather sheepish that I didn’t want to look like I was enjoying it any more  by snapping away.

Ian is disappointed his hero moment wasn’t captured on film.

I’m disappointed the van came free first attempt, I really wanted to use those Max Trax.

After a celebratory Tim Tam we were on the road again. We did wonder briefly whether to hang around as we knew there were four guys in a 2wd hatch back attempting the same road that morning. But even super man can’t be everywhere all of the time……

 

 

 

The hunt for the frog that wasn’t

Green tree frogs can be found in unusual places.

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Flushing the toilet set off a chorus of ribbits in Mornington where a family lived in the cistern. We have found them in toilet bowls, under tent flaps and happily napping above ceiling fans. So we weren’t surprised to hear a croak in the car.

Originally we dismissed it as a noise outside but when it happened a second time we were convinced we had a stowaway.

We set about removing everything from the car. With the car empty we still couldn’t spot him. Then we heard the noise again, only this time it was coming from our piles of stuff on the ground. The three of us stared at our belongings not sure what to do, when Ginie pointed to Ian’s water bottle. I was wondering how a frog could possibly get in there.

Obviously it wasn’t -the water bottle was the frog. The stopper hadn’t closed properly and was allowing air to escape sporadically making a noise that no longer seemed to mimic a frog.

At least the car got a tidy up.