There’s nothing like a rugby game between Australia and New Zealand to get the miles under the wheels. This blog starts over 900 kms from Perth, so when I say “the run into Perth” it’s not really like talking about a run to the shops, more like coming from Brisbane home to Frenchs Forest!
There are so many spots to stop along the coast heading into Perth, so this is going to be a very brief, flying visit to just some of them. First stop was north of Carnarvon at the blowholes at Point Quobba, what a quirky little place, there are corrugated iron shacks cobbled together for about 500 metres along the beach and you find a spot for your tent in amongst them. The shacks are made by the locals from Carnarvon, but most seem unlocked and available to anyone who happens along. We opted for the faithful old camper!
We arrived at a perfect time in the tide to watch the blowholes put on a spectacular display. The water shooting up through the gap in the rocks as the waves came in was only half the spectacle, the waves made an amazing whooshing and whistling sound as they came raging into the rocks.
We spent a couple of nights here, waiting for Monday to arrive so we could pick up some schoolwork that had been waiting for us in Carnarvon for a couple of weeks. There was plenty to do to fill the time though. The kids and I made an attempt to make it to the dizzying heights of the lighthouse hill, we started out on bikes but had to ditch those as the track became sandy and go out on foot, after conquering the third sand dune with a couple more to go we gave up and went home, returning later and taking the sealed road to the top in the car! There’s a little island just off the point here, joined to the mainland by a causeway/bridge of oyster covered rocks. We made the crossing one afternoon, realising that the tide was on it’s way in, so made a hasty retreat back. There are so many clams and sea urchins (kina for those kiwis reading!) in the rock pools amongst the oysters that you have to tread very carefully to avoid standing on any. The children met up with some friends they had made at Cape Range too, so they spent a fair few hours just hanging out. We also enjoyed a stunning sunset while here, the cloudy sky made some beautiful reflections of the sun as it went over the horizon.
We had a flying visit through Carnarvon and made the usual stops that we make in any town – in no particular order… supermarket, service station, water tap, bottle shop, book exchange and skate park. We even managed to meet the Toll man outside the supermarket for the school work delivery – brilliant service! All stocked up, we were able to get through a few more miles before a roadside lunch stop looking out over the eastern side of Shark Bay.
It’s been a fabulous few days in the Shark Bay area, after considering the bush camping sites coming into Denham we decided to make camp at a more central spot in Denham itself. We had a prime spot right on the beach, just behind the wind-breaking trees. From Denham we were able to take a drive into the Francois Peron National Park, near the entrance to the park is the old homestead from the days of sheep farming in this area. You can wander around the old sheep yards, sheering shed and shearers accommodation then take a dip in the artesian bore baths – I’m sure plenty of tired, sore shearers have soaked there’s weary bones in this bath in the past!
Further up the Peron Peninsula we drove out to Big Lagoon, you can camp here, but it was pretty deserted when we arrived, there was just one couple set up in a little nook out of the wind. The roads that we drove on the peninsula are fairly firm sand tracks, but they must get a lot tougher if you go right to the tip. The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) have a sand driving for dummies board at the entrance to the tracks and even air compressors to reinflate your tyres on the way out – how’s that for service! We passed several sets of sand graders Francois Peron style too – just drag a big old tyre behind you to flatten things out.
Of course, the major drawcard to Shark Bay is seeing the dolphins come in for feeding at Money Mia, so we were up early one morning to take the 20 minute drive from Denham to be at the ‘Dolphin Interaction Area’ by 7.45am – along with about 100 other people! We were not disappointed though, the dolphins arrived and did their thing. They are such beautiful animals and to see wild dolphins up this close is definitely a special experience. The DEC staff feed only five individual dolphins a very small amount of their daily fish requirement, so it’s not as if it’s a free for all to every dolphin coming in. What they feed amounts to around 3-4 fish for each dolphin at each feed and if all only one of the five dolphins in the feeding program come in for feeding that is not many fish to share among the crowd of people on the beach! We were unfortunately not among the chosen few at the first feeding. Although only five dolphins are fed (the same five dolphins all of the time) there are many others in the family groups who come in for a look too. The younger dolphins are the fourth generation to visit Monkey Mia on a regular basis to be fed, two are currently pregnant and if history repeats they will likely bring their day old calves into the shallows when they are born later in the year – now that would be a brilliant sight to see. There are up to three feedings for the dolphins every day, depending on whether they come in or not, we hung around for a second feeding and were lucky enough to be chosen to feed a dolphin this time. We fed Puck who is 35 years old, the daughter of one of the original dolphins for visit Monkey Mia. Her two year old calf came in with her and was zooming around in the shallows chasing fish while we were there.
Being the school holidays we were able to take advantage of the school holiday program run by the DEC, the fisheries guys ran a program of identifying, measuring and filleting fish and then we all got to pat a bilby!
The beautiful colours of the Indian Ocean continue in Shark Bay. We had lunch and a swim at Red Cliff, looking out to the pearling station. It was much more sheltered here than in Denham from the constant westerly winds that we’ve had over the last month or so.
Time to move on… we have a rugby game to get to!
A journey to Shark Bay would not be complete without seeing some sharks, so we stopped for a look at the highly recommended Ocean Park on the way out of Denham. The signs on the road into Ocean Park were definitely promising – in all sorts of ways!
We had a very enthusiastic tour guide showing us around tanks of all sorts of marine animals from the area, we saw squid, cuttlefish, stone fish, a loggerhead turtle (minus a foot), crayfish, lionfish, lots and lots of different fish that Ben would love to have on his hook and of course the sharks. There were lemon sharks, sandbar sharks and nervous sharks, all apparently fairly harmless if you were to fall into the tank – I wasn’t about to test the theory though! The sharks are certainly numerous in the ocean too, we saw at least 5 or 6 nervous sharks in the waters below Eagle Bluff.
Shell Beach is just inside the feral animal fence at the narrowest point of Peron Peninsula. Shell beach is made almost entirely of the shells from a small cockle – one of the few marine species that can survive in the super salty waters in this area of Shark Bay. The shells have been building up for about 4000 years and are about 5 metres deep.
The Francois Peron National Park is the home of Project Eden, an ambitious conservation project aimed at returning the national park to how it was when Francois Peron (the naturalist) first visited the area. Eliminating feral animals is a major part of that project and to help that a feral barrier has been created across the narrowest section of the peninsula. Along with the fence and grates there are motion sensors at the grate which trigger a barking dog recording. If you drive slowly across the grating with your windows down you can hear the dogs going wild! Project Eden has been successful in re-introducing five different species into the wild, including bilbies and malleefowl and the elimination of a lot of the feral animals has allowed other populations such as the echidna and woma python to recover to more sustainable numbers.
We made a quick overnight stop at the Murchison River on the way into Kalbarri and for the first time in eight months were totally overcome by flies! They were everywhere, doing their best to crawl into every orifice on your head. If I’d had a head net I would have been sorely tempted to wear it! Our savour came with the setting sun, every single fly left as soon as the sun went down… obviously resting for the daytime attack because they were up and at us again first thing in the morning.
We had originally intended on staying at Kalbarri for a few days and there seemed to be plenty to fill in that time here, but as you know we had an appointment to get to so had to settle for the whirl-wind tour of the Kalbarri sights. Gorges, raging seas, dramatic cliffs and Jake’s Point were the highlights here.
A journey down the west coast would not be complete without stopping at the Pinnacles, one of the iconic sights of WA. There’s no conclusive explanation as to how the pinnacles were formed, just several theories involving tree stumps, time and erosion. A great spot to take photos and have a game of hide and seek though.
As we continued down the coast the landscape started to change, we left behind the barren treeless plains and started into grain country, through forests of grass trees that would make a Sydney landscaper green with envy and eventually to forests with actual trees that were taller than a couple of metres.
The sand dunes of Lancelin must be the playground for every rev-head for miles around. We went out for the kids to have a slide down on their skim board, but ended up watching motorbikes, quad-bikes and 4WDs zooming and jumping through the dunes.
We detoured on our final leg into Perth to visit the house in Greenwood which Ben and I used to live in 16 years ago when we first left New Zealand – it’s still the same old dump and obviously still a rental. I wonder if it’s teeming with ten or more kiwis like it was when we were there!
We’ve made it to Perth and the kids are VERY excited to be staying with their cousins for a while… I’m sure it’s the excitement of their cousins, not just the fact that there is also a TV, go-cart, horses and a solid roof over their heads, but I’m sure all that helps with the thrill factor!
As I send this into the ether we are waiting for the much anticipated game of rugby this afternoon. With the kids barracking for the Wallabies and Ben and I in proud support of the All Blacks whatever the result there will be winners… and losers!
Go the Kiwis!