Need a Hand with that Flat Tyre?

I’d wanted to check out Coral Bay while we were up in Exmouth but there wasn’t enough time to do it without getting stressed and being rushed. Instead, I’ve filed it away as something to do on the next trip up here. So, in exchange, we slept in and decided to take it easy, eventually choosing to go for a snorkel at Lakeside.

We packed up the cabin, put everything in the car, and then I went to the campers next door and asked if they wanted our leftover food (carrots, weetbix, garlic etc). The guy gratefully accepted it and then said, ‘Do you need a hand with that flat tyre?’

Excuse me? What? Flat what?

I popped me head out and looked at the car. Sure enough, the back right wheel was completely flat.

Oh.

The guy was happy to lend a hand. In fact, he changed the whole thing and saved us having to get our hands too dirty. Thank god we didn’t have our hearts set on going to Coral Bay early or else we would have been in a flap. He changed the tyre as if he’d been doing such a thing for years, said thanks again for the food, and we were on our way.

We drove around to Cape Range National Park again and then to Lakeside to go drift snorkelling. Glen stayed on the beach as he was extremely worried about jellyfish. Meanwhile I went in with nothing but speedos and flippers.

It was fun to drift on the current while looking at the fish. The water was warm. The experience pleasant. Although when I drifted down the current picked up a bit and made it harder to go back into shore. Luckily it wasn’t that deep and I could simply stand and walk back in. Snorkel and swim complete, we returned to the car and to town.

We stopped for lunch in Exmouth, where I ordered something revolted that I couldn’t finish. We filled up the tank and headed for the airport. Two emus sat beside a floodway sign so we stopped and looked at them. Strangely, an empty 4WD was parked near them, its occupants nowhere to be seen. Glen surmised that they had probably stopped to take photos of the emus and had subsequently been eaten by them. Sounds plausible enough.

Got to the airport, discovering that I was missing one beach towel. Very annoying as it was one of our favourites from Canada. I hope someone finds it and makes use of it. I then dropped off the keys…in the wrong rental car hire box. I’m sure they’ll get it in the end.

Short flight home, landing in much colder weather than we’d experienced in Exmouth. Time to rug up. And the cat looks like she wants cuddles too.

Whale Sharks of Exmouth

The bus picked us up at 7:20am and took us, along with 16 other excited passengers, to the jetty where we’d board the boat for our day of swimming with whale sharks. Despite having heard positive reports about a currently good run of sightings, I was a little worried we’d spend a day on the boat without much to show for it.

While we waited for the inflatable to take us to the boat, a sea turtle intermittently popped its head out of the water in the bay next to us. Kind of like an aquatic version of whack-a-mole. If nothing else, we’d seen a turtle’s head.

Once on the boat, we were given a safety briefing and provided with full body stingy suits, attractive things that make you look like a human condom. They also smelled of human sweat so it was a relief to get moving so the breeze could blow the smell away.

We went for a snorkel in the bay first, drifting down a ways as we floated above coral and a bunch of fish. I saw many of the same species I’d seen the day before including a large starfish and a cat fish. The water was warm and it was a nice way to, well, get our feet wet.

Back on the boat we were soon zooming out to see as a whale shark had been spotted nearby. The captain was happy we wouldn’t have to travel for 45 minutes to reach it, as they’d had to do the day before. Glen and I were in group two, each group consisting of nine people plus a spotter.

Group one hopped in and we got ready, slipping on snorkel and mask and flippers. Once we received the go ahead we jumped in and lined up with the spotter, waiting for the shark to come in line with us and then it was on for young and old as we swam hard to try to keep up.

The shark we saw was a juvenile male, about 4-5 metres long. He was so beautiful. The spots on his side are so well defined and the strange shape of its head and mouth is captivating. I swam as fast as I could, which admittedly isn’t very fast, but this shark, with a few flicks of its powerful tail, steamed ahead and left me behind. Others were much better at keeping up.

We had seen a whale shark. Mission accomplished!

Poor Glen didn’t have such a good time of it though. He often gets seasick so to be on a boat and then to have to snorkel through choppy seas made him feel decidedly green. Up came his breakfast and after two dives with the shark, he decided to call it quits and have a lie-down.

The rest of us went in and out of the water with this juvenile male over the next hour or so before he finally had enough and disappeared. We then saw a much younger and smaller whale shark who was double the adorable level and was quite happy to hang around and have a look at us for a while.

Even though we didn’t see one of the giant ones, I’m really glad we saw what we did. I couldn’t get over how beautiful they look.

After the swims we had lunch on board and then were taken to a part of the reef for a snorkel. That is until they spotted a tiger shark near the boat. It didn’t come to the surface but based on how big it looked from above, it was likely to be a bit of a monster. After that sighting, the skipper wasn’t keen for us to go snorkelling so instead we drifted along spotting more sharks.

Apparently we saw different types but one tiger shark was enough for me.

We got back to land at about four, Glen very happy to no longer be swaying left and right. Despite the seasickness, I think we can claim that trip as a success.

I’d like to come back and see the humpback whales and the manta rays but I think Glen will abstain from them. Anyone else want to join me?

Mini-break in Exmouth

This weekend we’re continuing our exploration of Australia by heading up to Exmouth to swim with whale sharks (much to Glen’s horror). We saw so much of Canada that it seemed ridiculous to not see more of Australia.

We left drizzly and grey Perth at 11am, boarding an almost full flight up to Learmonth. We landed an hour and a half later, flying up the coast and seeing the pointy bit you see on the map. I think it’s Shark Bay, but don’t quote me.

After collecting our luggage and picking up the hire car, we drove into Exmouth and had a late lunch. Based on a recommendation we then drove around the tip to Cape Range National Park to reach Oyster Stacks.

High tide was at 4:20 and we got there about 3:30. It was windy and the water looked choppy. I was anxious about getting in the water, made worse by the signs warning of dangerous jellyfish. But FOMO won out in the end and I got in the warm water with my snorkel and mask.

Fish everywhere! Thousands of very small, silvery fish in a massive swarm coalesced around me. Large fish in a variety of colours, iridescent fish, tiny bright blue fish, yellow fish, zebra fish, a fish with a long snout that swam close to the surface, starfish, sea cucumbers and coral…all amazing.

I chose not to swim out to the actual oyster stacks (columns of rocks with oysters on them) purely out of fear of getting stuck out there and not being able to get back. Nevertheless, I saw a lot, and really happy about it.

Glen stayed on the beach, taking photos of sea snails and crabs in the rocks.

The sun was getting low in the sky on the drive back, casting a golden glow across the landscape. We soon saw an emu and later a kangaroo nearly jumped into the side of the car. We stopped and took photos of Sturt’s Desert Pea on the verge, then went up to the lighthouse. People were gathering with their chairs and bottles of beer to watch the approaching sunset.

Back in Exmouth we bought food at IGA, then checked into our accommodation, a caravan/camping/chalet place like the ones I used to stay at with my family in Albany. We cooked snapper with carrots, broccoli and sugar snap peas, and watched tv. It’s like being on holiday.

Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Glen and I went to Karajini National Park in Western Australia’s North-West for Easter this year. Two of our friends came along too and we made a bit of a long weekend of it. Karajini had been on our list for a long time, but it’s not the easiest place to get to. We flew from Perth to Paraburdoo and then drove two hours to reach the national park. Despite the distance involved, it was well worth it. Karajini lived up to all my expectations.

We ‘glamped’ at the Eco Retreat, each couple taking over a ‘tent’ with its own ensuite – hot water and a flushing toilet in the middle of nowhere? Hell yeah! Who cares about the cost? Highlights from the accommodation included nights looking up at the Milky Way, the ability to have a prepared meal, and scores of frogs inhabiting the ensuite. It wasn’t until the day we left that we were told that Stimson Pythons like to live underneath the toilet rim and feed on the frogs. Apparently the snakes are buggers to get out. I’m glad we only heard about this as we were leaving.

Gorgeous Gorges

We divided our days across different gorges, ticking off most of the accessible tourist gorges. (There are plenty of other off-road places but you need to either know about them or go with experienced guides. Maybe next time.)

On our first day we went to Oxer Lookout (very easy) and then hiked down Weano Gorge. Glen rolled his ankle before we’d gone five minutes down the gorge but he soldiered on. This gorge was narrow, filled with undergrowth, and led to a small pool, which, for some reason, I took forever to make the decision to get in. FOMO pushed me over the edge and I got in. Our first gorge, our first swim in a pool. Was magical.

On our second day we hiked down Kalamina Gorge. This one was stunning, a wide gorge with water trickling down over layered rocks, and at the end we went swimming in Rock Arch Pool, frightened of spiders and trying to find warm patches. Beautiful to say the least.

On day three we want down Dales Gorge and checked out Fern Pool, Fortescue Falls and Circular Pool. Amazing places (even if Glen described Fern Pool as ‘an ordinary pool’). Highlights were the waterfalls at each location, including the ‘warm’ one at Circular Pool (this pool is so cold that anything else feels warm), and the fruit bats and Olive Python at Fern Pool.

On day four, our last day, we attempted part of Joffre Lookout (and then I chickened out at seeing the sheer cliff face we had to climb down) and then left the Eco Retreat and drove a long way to Hammersley Gorge. Again, another beautiful gorge. We were worried we’d been rained out as the skies opened on the drive but it was intermittent and we enjoyed swimming along the 400-metres of this gorge, in between sheer rock faces. Unfortunately Spa Pool was out of bounds but we got to enjoy its warm waters trickling down.

Karajini is definitely way up there for special experiences.

To camp or not to camp

With the Queen’s Birthday long weekend on the horizon, I was anxious to make use of the glorious three-day stretch that would soon be available to us. We had considered going to Darwin to see Simon but due to Glen’s work and the limited number of non-stop flights from Perth to Darwin, we wouldn’t be able to spend a worthwhile amount of time there. There were few other options open to us that we hadn’t been to recently (namely Sydney and Melbourne) and so we fixed our sights closer to home.

Prior to leaving Toronto, we decided to make a concerted effort to be a “tourist at home” and see a few of those things that locals know about and direct tourists to but rarely check out themselves. One of these is the Pinnacles, an outcrop of limestone columns situated just two and a half hours north of Perth. I’ve lived in Perth my whole life and not once in 30 years have I been. Glen’s the same (though older and has failed at this even longer than I have).

Combined with seeing these geological wonders, it’s also wildflower season and if there’s something that WA is known for, it’s wildflowers. Once again, apart from the ones that I’ve seen locally, it’s not something I’ve made an effort to go look for. Fortunately there are a number of national parks near the Pinnacles so seeing one led to seeing the other.

The Pinnacles are near the coastal towns of Cervantes and Jurien Bay. Both are popular destinations on long weekends and school holidays which, in the case of the Queen’s Birthday weekend, happen at the same time. Originally I’d suggested to Glen that we rent a room at a motel or hotel in either of these places. We could go for two nights, see everything there is to see in the region, and it would all be wonderful.

Then someone mentioned camping.

Camping: who’s idea was it anyway?

Glen and I have been together for 11 years this October and camping has been mentioned a lot over those years. Glen used to be a scout. He used to enjoy camping. It doesn’t seem to matter that over 11 years we have spent one night in a tent and that was last year in Canada. I think the last time Glen went camping was probably when he was a scout. Nevertheless, I came on board with the idea because we’d talked about it so much and it seemed like a good idea.

We were excited to go buy new camping equipment and I got thoroughly into a beginner’s guide to camping website that told me all I needed to know. We then needed to go buy it all, but a couple of friends came to the rescue and offered us a lend of all their stuff. Grateful for not having to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment we may not ever use again, we picked it all up a couple of days before our trip.

We then had a problem. We had all the gear and I’d hired a car to get us there (our car probably wouldn’t make it) but we didn’t have anywhere to set this stuff up. The caravan and camping sites were all full but luckily, if you can call it that, the football oval would be setup for overflow camping at $25 a night. This seemed like it would have to do. After all, we still wanted to go. We had all the stuff. Why wouldn’t we camp?

On Saturday morning we loaded up the car with all the stuff and an esky full of food. We had plenty of snacks for the drive up there. The car was filled to the brim and we’re lucky we don’t have a dog or children because they would have had to stay behind.

It was a beautiful day for a roadtrip. We soon got out of the city and headed north up the Indian Coast Drive. We made our first stop at a lookout where we could see out to the ocean, took some snaps of wildflowers, dodged some Japanese tourists and then, feeling righteous that we were exploring this great nation of ours, got back in the car and continued up the road.

We arrived into Jurien at 12:30, stopping in at the Visitor Centre for some information about Lesueur National Park, the nearby caves, and where to go for fish and chips. We found the place, parked, ordered our food and then headed to the beach to eat our dhufish.

Jurien Bay was heaving with people. There were cars everywhere, people wandering aimlessly across the road like they were on holiday, morons throwing food to seagulls so they’d swarm, and a general throng of humanity. We sat and ate our food, a cool wind coming off the ocean and blowing away our initial thoughts of spending the afternoon on the beach and going for a swim.

We’d earmarked Lesueur National Park for the next day, after we’d braved a night of camping. You may notice that I said a night. I think the day before we’d decided two nights was excessive and we wanted to enjoy a bit of the weekend in Perth so we chiselled it down to one night only. It was about at this point though, sated with fish and chips, windblown and cold, that we decided one night wasn’t necessary at all.

That’s right. We were forgoing camping entirely.

Wildflowers and Flies

We figured we could quite easily see wildflowers at Leseur and the Pinnacles and still be back in Perth at a reasonable hour. The drive out to Lesueur was filled mostly with us trying to find good reasons why, after telling everyone we were going camping, we didn’t actually go camping. I don’t think we managed to convince ourselves but in the end we were ok with that because we were going to be sleeping in a real bed that night. We figured that at least we’d been prepared so that if the car broke down along the way, we had something to sleep in.

Without the stress of having to go pitch a tent that evening, we enjoyed what the region had to offer. Lesueur National Park is an 18km loop that you can drive. There are a few set tracks that you can explore on foot but otherwise it’s a 40kmh drive around the loop seeing an amazing diversity of flora. Even one side of the road is vastly different from the other. We stopped along the route to take photos, though the flies quickly reminded us what we hate about Australia in the summer. I’d packed fly nets that went over our hats so that made things much more bearable.

The wildflowers were beautiful. There’s no doubt about it that they put on a good show at this time of year. We saw plenty of banksias and dryandras. We even saw some donkey orchids (which remind me of chromosomes). And one part of the park just seemed to be dominated completely by grass trees. There must have been hundreds of them dotted along the slope looking like green-headed Grugs.

We didn’t just see flora of course. A bearded dragon ran out onto the road ahead of us and we slowed to watch him while he watched us. And then further down the track a bird of prey flew beside the car. When we left the national park and drove down the dirt road back to the main road, we stopped to watch a blue-tongue lizard ambling along. We got out, took some photos, he hissed at us and we continued on our way.

The Pinnacles

After Lesueur it was about a 45-minute drive to the Pinnacles. Being mid afternoon the light was starting to shift and we were beginning to get excited about how the Pinnacles would look at that time of day. We drove into the carpark, had a quick look around at the shop (where Glen bought some wildflower seeds) and then we went looking around the Pinnacles.

It’s a really unusual landscape. One person said how much it looks like something out of Star Wars and I suppose that’s a fitting description considering it’s a desert. But what’s weird is that to get there you go through coastal bushland and then suddenly you’re in a desert area with shrubs dotted about the place. It looks so plonked, so alien.

We wandered amongst the stones. I had expected all of them to be incredibly tall but most are about 6 foot tall or shorter. There are various stands of them, which does lend itself to the theory that they’re petrified tree roots. We took plenty of photos, even getting down at dirt level to get a different perspective. A galah flew out of one of the stones but that appearance paled in comparison to the sudden arrival out of the bushes of an emu. I’ve never seen one in the wild before so to watch this oddly designed bird stalking across the sand and violently pecking at bushes was a real treat.

Satisfied with what we’d seen we headed back to the car and began the journey home to our comfortable beds. I’m glad we took the time to see this part of the state, even if it was only for a day. I wondered afterwards if I would recommend visitors to check them out and I think, if they were into weird natural landscapes, that it’s worth the trip to see them. However, I’d definitely suggest combining it with either a look at wildflowers or a swim at Jurien Bay.