Day 73: 10 August – Just another day in paradise

Author: Mrs A

Location: 14-Mile Beach, Warroora Station

Distance hiked: 11 km

We decided to stay away from so called ‘civilisation’ today and remained on the station. After a delicious Mr A special for breaky (bacon and egg sandwiches), we drove to ‘Turtle Rock’ (our mid way point from our last big walk here), a headland along the coast, and left the car there, walking north on new beaches. These beaches were more rocky than those near the camping areas, but certainly no less beautiful. Unlike our walk a couple of days ago, the lagoon had waves rolling into shore, making for a completely different scene. The turtles continued to emerge frequently to take their prescribed three breaths before diving again to hunt on the reef, often seen bobbing through a breaking wave. Surfing turtles. Not something I thought I would see!

We did not see another soul today, the only evidence of other life being the wild feral goat hoof prints, dingo paw prints and the unmistakable kangaroo tail and feet imprint upon the sand dunes… 

We stopped for some fruit and almonds at our mid-point, enjoying a scenic location on the beach. Our first choice of snack stop was right beside an Australian Pied Oystercatcher nest – we only realised once I spotted we were getting dirty looks from the black and white birds. Their clutch of three eggs was well disguised but the ‘nest’ was no more than a roughly scraped out dent in the sand.

We returned to camp via ‘Telstra Hill’ for a quick check in with reality (and downloading of recipes for tonight’s dinner), and then back to start preparations as the sun set. Tonight we have honey-mint-rosemary marinated lamb cutlets on a pumpkin hummus with sweet potato chips and peas. I am certainly going to miss the view out of my kitchen window when we move on.

Entertainment wise, I think we are reliant on some free DVDs from Australian Geographic and some dodgy copies of movies such as ‘The Matrix’ gifted to us many moons ago…

We are saving this location in our memories as a very special place…who knows whether we will ever return? Tomorrow we depart and head south to Carnarvon, the capital of the fresh fruit and vegetable growing of Western Australia. I have high hopes (imagining French style fresh fruit and vegetable markets), Mr A has low hopes (based on our experience so far and thinking all the good stuff is shipped to Perth and elsewhere and its a long way from France)…

Day 72: 9 August – A mucking about sort of day…

Author: Mr A

From: Warroora Sation

To: Coral Bay

Distance driven: 42 km

We awoke after the storm of last night to a blustery morning, so we decided a drive and a visit to Coral Bay was in order. We had skipped this little settlement on the way down from Exmouth so thought we would emerge from the wilds and get ourselves a fix of “civilisation”. We drove into this little place and were so glad we hadn’t stayed there. It’s basically two overflowing caravan parks that almost run together, a backpackers, a pub that must be raking it in for 5 months of the year, a bakery (more of that later) and a “supermarket” (corner shop). That was it. Basically somewhere to extract dollars from people going on some combination of whale shark, dive, snorkel, ride, swim, tag along tour…

Ok, so the bakery was really good. We spent a happy 20 mins there then turned round and drove back to our slice of paradise  – untouched by billboards, backpacker buses and tour operators with a gleam in their eye. 

It was time to brave the beach, the wind was still howling, but the sun had come out and we found a little rock to sit behind. I was so perfectly content. 

A cosy night in the Zone with beer and pizza entrees and salmon mains was all we needed – well some decent internet somewhere to download Netflix would be good. Blimey! I hadn’t quite realised how poorly served rural Australia is with useable broadband. 52nd in the world for fixed broadband speed is pretty appalling. Yes, mobile 4G is fast, but unaffordable if you’re with Telstra (and you have to be if travelling) to download any serious giggage.

If anyone wants to post us a big memory stick of movies there’s a fabulous bottle of wine waiting for you! 

Day 71: 8 August – Weather!

Author: Mrs A

Location: 14-Mile Beach, Warroora Station

Distance hiked: 3.5 km

Weather: Scattered clouds all day, wind and rain from 9pm

I’m writing just after 9pm and so excited to report we have our first experience of weather since mid May! Yes, I know that if you are in the northern hemisphere or southern part of Australia you don’t really understand, but where we have been travelling for the past two months it has been pretty consistent – blue skies during the day, clear starlit skies at night. Every day, every night for 70 days and nights.

Today we awoke to blue skies with scattered white clouds. This was unheard of for us, and we were very excited. I even got out our weather station – first purchased as a Christmas present from a long out of business company (Gowings) for Mr A about 14 years ago, it is famously always right. 

Straight out of the drawer it forecast sunshine with scattered clouds…impressive…but not long after being released from captivity it changed, forecasting rain, with a drop of -3 in the pressure system, showing us it was serious. Rain at this time of year in this area is virtually unheard of, so I somewhat pooh-pooed the forecast, but Mr A took it more seriously, recognising the times in the past it has saved our bacon.

We continued with our day. After paying for another 3 nights here (yes, $60!), we visited the dump point (toilet and rubbish) and then the famed ‘Telstra Hill’, where we could get uninterrupted phone signal. There we spoke to a caravan repairer in Perth about our issues and organised a date for repairs, booked Miss Tassie (our 13 year old Burmese cat fur child) on a flight over in September, and uploaded some blog posts.

After a salad for lunch we decided to explore south, driving to Sandy Point and then walking along the beach. The colours were spectacular, and at low tide, the beach scattered with perfect and stunning shells. Such an interesting location. 

We returned in time for sunset. I predicted it would either be spectacular or a complete fizzler due to the clouds – and sadly it was the latter – no sunset to note. It went down. It got dark. We retreated to the caravan to hibernate, Mr A first packing away the BBQ and chairs, despite the clear starlit sky above us. If the weather station says rain, then beware…

So. 9pm and we suddenly notice the caravan is rocking with the wind, and are then aware of the torrential rain blowing from the sea. All I can hope now is that it is washing off some more of the orange dust we have accumulated over the past couple of months. I am really ready to have a clean mobile apartment again.

It feels very cosy, and I’m pleased Mr A trusted our weather station once more…

Day 69: 6 August – $20 rent for a multi-million dollar view

Author: Mrs A

From: Cape Range National Park, Mesa Camp

To: 14-Mile Beach, Warroora Station, just south of Coral Bay

Distance driven: 216 km

Distance hiked: 4 km

Footsteps from a soft fine white sand beach bordering the world heritage Ningaloo Reef, panoramic turquoise water views, fall asleep to a million stars and the sound of the surf breaking 1km away and the gentle lapping of the rising tide on the sand just metres from your bed…all for $10 a head per night. Not bad eh? This is tonight’s camp spot – we think potentially the next two nights as well, given we are well stocked up on water, wine and food.

We rose early and went for a walk along the beach near Mesa Camp, in an attempt to savour the last of the beautiful location, unsure of where our day would take us. We then packed up and pulled out of our campspot at the allotted 10am departure time, heading back into Exie to fill up on water.

From there, we headed south to just south of Coral Bay. We skipped Coral Bay itself – even the Lonely Planet WA book suggests it is extremely overpriced and overcrowded – and decided to be self sufficient for a few days, ‘wilderness camping’ on a sheep station. Warroora Station clearly has been offering camping for some time, with a camp host (volunteers who stay for free and certain perks, welcoming visitors in, taking their money and allocating sites) and a number of camp areas along the coast. We missed out on the last beachfront site by seconds, and instead opted for an ocean view spot on ‘the ridge’. The Ridge is actually only slightly up above the beach (about 5 metres!) on top of a sand dune. Sites are quite large and the views commanding. There is very quick and easy access to the beach, and we are very happy with where we are. 

We had a short walk along the rockpools at low tide – so many interesting shells and creatures, beautiful green crabs and even a huge octopus trapped in a tiny pool, biding his time until the tide came back in. We thought of that time with Jenny and David when we rescued a moray eel from a similar situation…

We watched the sun set with a glass of Pino Grigio and then enjoyed a Thai green curry with the last of our Netflix. We haven’t seen good broadband download speeds in a long while, and have now run out of entertainment…what shall we do now?!

Day 70: 7 August – The best spot yet

Author: Mr A

From: Warroora Station

To: Up the beach and back!

Distance: 8 km

This is the most stunning beach we have EVER seen. Today we headed north up the pure white sand armed with cameras, bins and water. This is the most pristine coast – turtles continuously pop their heads up out of the crystal clear waters. Whales wave their flippers at us the other side of the reef. The only footprints we can see are ours. We don’t see another soul for hours at a time. 

We both fall in love with the place and work out a plan to stay a couple of extra nights. We are only limited by our water supplies, the drinking water tank is still cloudy, so a fair bit of juggling will be needed to use that for cooking, washing etc. It means we can’t have hot water from our system, and basin washes rather than showers, but it will be worth it to stay here. I’ve been having upset tummies so I’m blaming the drinking water system…I’ll have to swap to beer instead. 

We met a couple on the beach who told us there’s a guy here who lives in his van for 5 months at a time here, just surviving on the bore water delivered by an old  pump, and presumably bringing in drinking water from Exmouth (over a hundred kilometres away). I think 5 days will do us fine! 

We were back with a few kilometres under our belts by 2pm, and settled down to a quiet afternoon of reading. Ah the bliss. Where else in the world could you get a place like this to stay, with no litter on the beach (so that rules out most of the world), wildlife everywhere, perfect blue skies every day, and safe to leave your things just lying around. We lock up valuables but tables and chairs are just outside and could be easily taken if someone was so inclined. They aren’t. Everyone we meet is so friendly and just enjoying the same things, the serenity, the natural world in all her glory. There’s a real mix of people, grey nomads of course, but also families with young kids being educated in the “school of life”. 

Catherine pops into the van and emerges with “wrap-pizzas” – a trick learnt from her sister who finds they go down well with hungry kids. Well they also went down well with this hungry 60 year old kid let me tell you. 

Every day feels like a blessing, and the best thing –  its $20s a night! With the rent coming in on our house we hope to stretch the budget even further…longer….

Day 68: 5 August – The Ningaloo Coast – paradise regained

Author: Mr A

From: Exmouth Caravan Park

To: Mesa Camp, Cape Range National Park

Distance: 60 km

The day started as all good days should with a sausage roll for her (now, now) and a pie for me. The bakery in Exmouth is superb – I even tucked away a custard tart in the bottom of the bag for later. We were off round the tip of the Cape into the National Park. The water tanks were full, the fridge was straining at the seams, and we only were able to book one night here! Damm and blast. We rocked up to find the best campsite we have been to in all of this trip. A little slice of paradise. Right next to the beach, sea views, a bit of shade, a corner spot. Just perfect! 

We set up quickly, then dashed off down the coast to the end of the road where we wanted to paddle this little creek that we had read about. Out come the “bumper boats”, inflated in a jiffy, and off we dash up the creek (with a paddle). Yardie Gorge is a tranquil little creek with sheer rock walls, ospreys soared overhead and fish were darting around under the rafts. We had heard a rumour that the naval base nearby used to hide its submarines there in the war. No periscopes appeared on our trip, and we were soon back at the boat ramp, deflated and on our way. We were on a bit of a mission given our limited time here.

We stopped at a couple of the bays on the way back, and threw ourselves in at Turquoiuse Bay for a snorkel (guess what colour the water looks), sat on the beach and watched the surf pounding on the edge of the lagoon a few hundred metres out.

Back at camp we climbed the dune behind the van and Mrs A, also know as the dolphin whistler, soon had a small pod of them fishing literally metres off the beach. We watched the sun set, again, I predicted what would happen, the whole going down thing and the red bit, and it did. 

It was time to retire to the van, a spag bol was the perfect end to this fab day. 

PS I better mention that I didn’t do up the drain plug on one of the tanks properly, so we have a 100 litres less of water than planned. Ah well…still learning the art of vanning. 

Day 67: 4 August – Diving the Navy Pier…with sharks

Author: Mrs A

Dives undertaken: 2 plus 1 in a swimming pool

Water temperature: 21.5 degrees C (brrr)

Wetsuits worn: 2.5

Mr A and I went out separate ways for the day as I had booked a couple of dives on the Royal Australian Navy Pier, considered one of the top 10 dive sites in Australia. I haven’t dived in a few years, so I was picked up shortly after 8am to do a refresher dive in a swimming pool, remembering how to remove and replace my mask, weight belt and BCD and tank underwater, and how to do an equipment and buddy check.

I had a brief 40 minute break in between that and being collected again, where I quickly ate breakfast and collected some extra layers.

11am the bus returned to collect me plus a few others to do the dive proper. In total there were 15 people doing the two dives and we were paired up with a buddy with similar experience. I got paired with a very tall bearded Simon from Denmark, who had learned to dive in Danish waters, no warmer than 2 degrees!

There was a lot of briefing involved in order to prepare us for this dive. It is located on active Naval land so we had to hand fill out a form with our name, address and date of birth, ensuring it accurately matched our photo ID. It took the 15 of us three turns to fill in this form with no errors! We then had to drive to the Naval base for the key to the pier, and line up at the side of the road while a man in a bullet proof vest with a gun checked us off against the form. Once on Navy land, there was a no photography rule until we reached the pier…not that there was really anything to photograph…

As we arrived at the pier we were immediately entertained by three humpback whales swimming past, just 50 metres off shore – just magical, and a sign of things to come. We we-suited up and climbed carefully down two flights of metal steps (not soft underfoot when you are carrying a heavy tank on your back!) to the platform. 

The jump into the water from the platform is about 3 metres, and it looks much further. It’s important to keep a hold of your weight belt and mask to ensure they don’t get lost on the jump down. I took a big stride off the pier and I was in. They then lowered all the cameras down to us via a hook. There were a lot of cameras – almost every diver had one, and I watched with dismay as mine was accidentally unhooked and sank down to the bottom of the ocean! Oh no!

We descended down the line to almost 12 metres below the surface and began our exploration. The sea life was incredible, just like I would imagine swimming in an aquarium. Every surface of the pier’s structure is covered in sponges, corals and fish of every colour and shape imaginable, huge shoals of fish visible everywhere – above, below and beside you as you fly gently through the water.

The sounds are of clicking and crunching shells, as we see fish attacking clams for the sweet meat inside. All this time, however, I was also anxious for my camera, which we hadn’t seen once on the ocean bed. Before long, it was time to ascend for our shore break, and another workout as we carried our heavy tanks up a ladder out of the water, and back up the two flights to the top.

We had a cup of hot soup, connected our breathing devices to a new full oxygen tank, and got ready for dive two. I was handed my camera, to much relief, by another dive guide who had found it and carried it around with her during the first dive. I decided to not put it on the hook this time, and attached it firmly to my wrist and again stepped off the pier. This time I lost both my fins! I watched in dismay as they both sank to the bottom of the ocean. Swimming with no fins is not fun at all! Fortunately a replacement pair were found for me, and again we descended.

This time the dive was even better than the first. We explored much further, seeing groupers, a grey nurse shark, a white tipped reef shark, moray eel, octopus, lion fish, flat worms (sound uninteresting but are stunning)…the list was endless.

A brilliant dive site, mishaps aside, and much fun had by all. We ascended for our final time and packed away our gear. Out came a cry ‘Manta ray!’ And another, and we all rushed to see at least seven huge mantas swimming just below the pier. They were huge beautiful fish, swimming on the surface like giant black rippling birds. Just incredible.

It was impossible to capture the mantas on camera as it was into the sun, but believe me, it was wonderful.

I returned on a high to camp to find Mr A on the phone to the bank trying to organise new cards. This is how his whole day had transpired, after realising he had lost his wallet on yesterday’s boat trip – farewell Medicare card, drivers licence, the lot – probably also at the bottom of the ocean somewhere. A far less enjoyable day for Mr A.

We ended on a positive, however, enjoying a delicious meal out at a local restaurant; Whalers. Crocodile wontons and a smokey grilled kangaroo loin for me, soft shell crab tacos and a reef and beef for Mr A, thank you very much – delicious!

Day 66: 3 August – Whale Sharks!!!

Author: Mr A

From: Exmouth Cape Caravan Park

To: Somewhere out beyond Ningaloo in the big blue

Distance: Quite a few bumpy kms in a boat

Well the day dawned when we would find out if whale sharks would grace us with their majestic presence in the UNESCO World Heritage area of the Ningaloo Coast. We were shipped out by mini bus to transfer to a little ferry and then onto our home for the day – a quite lovely cataraman. 

It was pretty nippy first thing (17 degrees) with a wind chill out on the water from a fresh breeze, and climbing into wet suits was done with some tripidation. We had a very good briefing on the code of conduct for whale shark snorkelling  – basically don’t get in its way – they will tend to dive and we’ll lose them. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this stunningly graceful fish (yes  – not mammal) they are called a ‘whale’ shark becuase of their size, growing up to 18 metres, and commonly seen around 6 to 8 metres here. A local doctor in Exmouth first noticed them hanging around in the 1980s and the book he wrote about his observations of them was the stimulus for the tourist industry that has now grown up around them. The coral here spawns stuff that the krill they feed on likes…and by the way it’s not a bad place to hang out if you’re dining for free. Turquoise waters, the longest fringing reef in the world, and lots of grey nomads to show off to. 

So in the water we went for a ‘Lets make sure you can snorkel’ session, inside the reef. I managed to remember which way up the mask goes, Catherine on the other hand was provided with a leaky snorkel (more like a straw than something you can breathe through!). So after a bit of equipment juggling we were sorted and ready to hit the open ocean. 

We all sat around shivering (except the really overweight people – very politically incorrect I know) and watching humpback whales splashing their tails in the water, until the spotter plane flying circles overhead (I know – pretty cool ay) finally located a grey shadow under the water. Full throttle, we were soon off racing over the waves, stomachs lagging a little behind, then pulled up ready for the “Go, go, go” signal! Mrs A, looking fetching as ever, I must say, in rubber, was slightly ahead of me I think (well I did land on something soft before hitting the water), and we were in hot pursuit.

Now what the whale shark was thinking at this point I can only imagine…’Bloody hell, here they come’ is my best guess. But we had strict instructions to keep at least 3 metres off its flippery bits (anatomical terms here you know). This particular whale shark had obviously had its fill of being gawked at and promptly set off the ‘Dive, dive, dive’ bell after about 10 seconds (potentially encouraged by the annoying bloke holding the Go-Pro in its face – not me!).

Ah well, back we went to the boat. Now came the tricky bit…..getting back on the bit at the back which was rising and falling like the Venezuelan bolívar. Catherine of course sprang up like the sprightly young thing that she is….let’s just say that my exit was….different. 

More hanging around and shivering…then…we’re off again..another…hopefully more obliging beast has been spotted. In we go, and…yes…this whale shark clearly was seeking fame and glory on Facebook. He (determined by a crew member who swam underneath it with a camera) just ambled along just under the surface of the water, cruising at the perfect speed for us to kick like crazy and keep up.

What a stunning sight. They are so beautifully marked with spots, each one sporting a uniquely identifiable cluster of markings. I think he winked at Catherine. All too quickly it was time to get back on the boat. Catherine again springs up likes she’s got a submersible pogo stick. I…well I…I get onto the deck, put it like that. You know you these terrible clips of whales getting beached. Well..something like that. 

More shivering…I had mixed feelings about how good I wanted the spotter’s eyesight to be…but we got the signal “Tallyho!”. In the water I sprinted ahead, feet thrashing (I’m surprised there wasn’t a tsunami alert issued), and get right alongside this chappie. The swim seemed to go on for ages..I spotted Catherine kicking like a mad thing (a very elegant mad thing of course), and then we were together with this magnificent creature. 

A great experience, and delivered very sensitively (I think) to not encroach on the whale shark’s personal space. Another dream convereted to a memory. Just wish our friends Jenny and David could have got lucky when they did it. There are no guarantees when it comes to wild creatures. 

So we’re off for fish and chips to celebrate (is the fish bit wrong?)… It wont be a late one tonight!