Day 84: 21 August – Walking the beaches of Shark Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Denham

Distance walked: 7km

We spent the morning getting organised for our final push down into Perth. Areas we want to see researched, campsites reviewed on WikiCamps and booked, road conditions checked (been some heavy rain up here), and scheduled our trusty 200 Series in for some TLC at Geraldton Toyota. 

The weather has been pretty chilly and windy, but we dragged ourselves out for a walk this afternoon and so glad we did. Heading down the to the beach, a short walk and we come across a mob (flock?) of five emus strutting around in the scrub. 

Further along the beach we were rewarded with a stunning late afternoon light show, captured exquisitely by Mrs A of course. 

Tomorrow we leave the coast for a few days and head inland again, a whole new adventure!

Day 83: 20 August – Another day, another shark…

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 12 km

We decided to stay in Denham another couple of nights, not quite ready to leave this beautiful area. As the campground is fully booked, we had to move to a new unpowered site just up the hill. Once settled we decided to explore the Denham locality a bit further.

Our first stop was just south of Denham, a typically quirky Australian feature – ‘the thong shack‘ (flip flops, not underwear!) right behind yet another stunning beach, and providing a great lookout along the coast beyond the rubber footwear.

From there we headed a short distance south to the Ocean Park Aquarium. This is not your typical aquarium – it is run by marine scientists, and many of the creatures have been rescued and are being cared for until they are released. 

Their speciality is sharks, and they have quite a number in a huge pool fed directly from the ocean, but in addition there are stone fish, eels, turtles, rays and many other fish and sea snakes on site. 

We learned a lot about them and also thanked our lucky stars we didn’t take our pack-rafts paddling in the Little Lagoon estuary – it’s full of poisonous stone fish! Ugh! Can you spot the fish in the picture below? We’re not sure we would. Once disturbed, these ugly beasts throw up a number of poisonous spines. Apparently the pain is excruciating, causing tissue damage and potential amputation, if not, death. Not pleasant.

We enjoyed a delicious and affordable lunch with an incredible view (are we still in WA?!) before returning to camp for the afternoon. Mr A relaxed with a good book while I got started on my presentation for my Chicago visit.

We finished off the evening with a seafood pasta coupled with an Italian Pinot Grigio and a fabulous sunset.

Day 82: 19 August – Dolphins on cue

Author: Mr A

From: Denham

To: Monkey Mia

Distance: 27 km

It was a 6.30am alarm and on the road by 7 to ensure we were in time for the briefing by the rangers who staffed the 'Dolphin experience' at Monkey Mia. 

For over 50 years dolphins have been fed here, initially by the fishermen who shared their catch with them. Dolphins, as we know, aren't daft and started turning up at the same stip of beach every morning licking their lips. Then the tourists started to flood in and the dolphins who came were breeding pups who didn't know how to hunt for their own fish because they had never seen mum do it. So the WA Wildlife folk stepped in during the early 1990s and now regulate the whole thing, with only a few snacks being delivered by the lucky few chosen from the hundred or so of us watching. 

It was a great experience to see these mammals up so close, literally metres away from the beach, rolling over, waving a flipper, and yet know although humanised they are still 'wild', and make a choice as to whether they turn up or not, and when.

We were back in Denham by lunch time and spent a very productive afternoon washing and cleaning…dull but necessary given everything is covered in red dust. That stuff can get inside a vacuum sealed flask…incredible.  

Day 81: 18 August – Spectacular Francois Peron National Park

Author: Mrs A

Location: Francois Peron National Park – Big Lagoon, Cape Peron and Snapper Point

Distance driven: 110 km return

Distance kayaked: 4 km

Distance hiked: 4 km

We left early after a light breakfast heading for Big Lagoon (they’re very creative with the names in these parts. There is also a Little Lagoon) in the Francois Peron National Park. We had been told by the information centre that today was to be both the warmest and least windy day of the next five days, so we decided to take advantage.

By 9.30am we were inflating our pack-rafts and setting off on the beautiful turquoise water for an explore.

It was the perfect way to see the shallow lake, which was unsuitable for motorised vessels. We explored right across to the opening of the lagoon, where it met the sea, and clambered up the iron rich sand dunes, cris-crossed with multiple animal and bird tracks, and no signs of humans at all.

We decided to stop and have lunch here, at the brand new national park kitchen and picnic area with the million dollar view. Not another soul was there!

After lunch we decided to drive up to the tip of the national park. I had read some incredible accounts of the scenery and wildlife up there, and couldn’t wait to visit, however as we drove up the extremely rough roads (corrugations and deep sand) for over an hour, I could tell Mr A was doubting my decision. Thankfully the view at the top was incredible, with spectacular scenery and out of this world colours.

Better still, as we reached Cape Peron and the Snapper Point Lookout the sea life appeared as if on cue – within moments of arriving we spotted several sharks swimming past and a huge manta ray, along with multiple shoals of gleaming fish. We both agreed, we could have spent a whole afternoon just there.

We walked along the headland, reading about the history of the point, with the first European visitors arriving from France back in 1801 and dancing to the maracas to try and convince the local Aboriginal groups they were there in peace. The Aboriginal people of course have been resident on this point for more than 26,000 years, and had never seen anything like it. I can only imagine what planet they thought these strange visitors were from!

Down on the beach we saw hundreds of Little Pied Cormerants, which are regular residents here. The fact there are so many on land in this photo, and not in the water, means there are tiger sharks about. Cormerants, dolphins, manta rays, turtles and the odd pack-rafter are favourite meals for tiger sharks. We remained firmly on land.

We returned to camp exhausted after our busy day, and thankfully had the foresight to defrost a pre-made red curry for dinner. 

Day 79: 16 August – Biking, bubbles and campfires

Author: Mrs A

Distance driven: 452 km

Distance cycled: 14.5 km

We awoke to a perfect blue sky morning and were packed up, hitched up and on the road by 8am. We had a lot of driving ahead of us and we wanted to ensure we made the most of our destination in the afternoon.

Several podcasts kept us company along the way, and by 2.30pm we had arrived. Today we are staying at Hamelin Station on the southernmost tip of Shark Bay.

Hamelin Station Reserve is a 202,000 hectare property, situated on 32 kilometres of coast line and bordering the Shark Bay World Heritage area.  The former sheep station is now owned by Bush Heritage Australia.  The reserve helps to protect Hamelin Pool, one of the only two places in the world where living marine stromatolites are known to occur.

Now, we had no idea what stromatolites were, so on spotting a sign directing us to see them, we jumped on our bikes and headed up to Hamelin Pool. As we rode down onto the beach and boardwalk we spotted Nick and Laura, the couple from Manly/UK who we first met (and last saw) just north of Broome while hunting for dinosaur footprints! On finding they are camped just two spots away from us we made arrangements to catch up for drinks in the evening.

So, stromatolites. These black spongy things are stromatolites, basically towers of living micro organisms, the origins of life on earth. Pretty interesting. We passed several Japanese tourists taking selfies with the rock-like structures – I wondered whether they had any idea what the information boards said or why they were there. Even Mr A and I found them relatively heavy going!

The beach on which we were cycling was made entirely of miniature white shells, a particular type of cockle which grows prolifically in this area. In one area we passed through quarry from the 1800s, where the original settlers in this area had cut bricks from the compacted shells to build their homes.

We returned to Hamelin Station and explored the beautifully landscaped grounds and onsite lake, rich in birdlife.

Before long it was time to pop the cork on our prosecco and raise a toast. On this day 15 years ago Mark and I became Mr and Mrs Anderson, supported by many friends and family at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Laura and Nick came over to join us, bringing some dips and biscuits, and we set about realising just how many people we know in common. Mr A and Laura in particular – Laura previously worked for SAS and Mr A worked closely with a number of her colleagues in his KPMG days.

We finished the evening under the shooting stars around the campfire with several good bottles of red. A fine end to an anniversary date!