Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
32Trip End Aug 20, 2007
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On the way up the coast we stopped at various places including the Pinnacles (limestone columns that look like a petrified forest), Northampton (for all you location junkies out there), several big gorges in Kalbarri National Park down the end of intensely corrugated dirt roads, windswept beaches that were deserted (and bloody freezing, though not as cold as the UK), and other bits that I'll go into in a bit. One place we did find that I wouldn't mind having at home is a wind-powered hot tub. General premise is pretty easy - put up a big windmill that is attached to some sort of bore in the ground, the water gets drawn up when it is windy, this then gets sent into a huge cattle trough (which, as the water is warm, can now be called a hot tub) and the overflow goes back into the ground. All you need to do is to drill deep enough to get some warm water (when it came out of the pipe it was around 40 degrees, leading to quite a hot dip).
After some frolicking dolphins at Monkey Mia, halfway up the coast, it was onwards and upwards. A place than may not be too happening, but which made everything happen, is Hamelin with its area of Stromatolites. A tough call as to which does more between these and drying paint, with out the diligent creation of a breathable atmosphere by these things several billion years ago, it is unlikely anything would have happened on this hunk of mostly molten rock. The tide was out when we were there, but I'm told that when it is in, they put on a Las Vegas style show (not really, just a few bubbles if you're lucky).
What is striking about the west coast is how much more pleasant it is than the east, with hardly any development, and strict rules in force to safeguard against the environment being destroyed by tourism. Even the relatively large place of Coral Bay has a bed capacity of 2600. Up on the peninsular that encompasses Coral Bay and Exmouth, the star attraction is the Ningaloo Reef - a pristine, smaller version of the Great Barrier Reef, without the tourists, and with quite a bit more wildlife. Though you can just walk out to the reef in some places (as we did in Turquoise Bay further up the coast) it was a bit further out at Coral Bay, so it was onto a boat and out to it. Apart from loads of reef sharks, regular fish, etc, what Coral Bay is famous for are Manta Rays. Able to reach up to 6 metres across, the bigest one we snorkelled with was around 4. As they can move like anything and are tough to spot from a boat, a plane is called out to spot them, before the skipper takes the boat to where they are, and you get into the water in small groups to swim over to them. Pretty damn cool when they're so close to you in the water. From now until June there are also Whale Sharks (biggest fish in the world) around the Ningaloo Reef, but it costs an arm-and-a-leg to go and see them (not physically before you ask). I was quite happy with my Mantas and selection of reef sharks for a fraction of the price.
As already mentioned, one of the best parts about the Ningaloo Reef is being able to walk off it, especially at Turqoise Bay. Once you negotiate the thousands of red bell jellyfish (only sting a little not much, but I still wore a rashie as I was not messing around), it's out into the open reef that goes no deeper than 4 metres, and the amount of stuff in pristine condition is quite staggering. I was quite please with the number of things that could have potentially killed me - stingrays (only do it is you piss them off a la Steve Irwin), stonefish (step on them and their spines inject you with a poison), star fish (yes, they can be nasty if you play with them) and reef sharks (more scared of you than you should be of them unless you go out of your way to annoy them). With the last point, I remembered to let sleeping dogs/sharks lie, as I came across a pair having a kip under a coral ledge, and though their tails sticking out of one side did look inviting, one of them partially woke up as I glided over, and gave me a 'I wouldn't if I were you' look. I thought better of it.
On the way back down to Perth we called in at the resident crackpot (sorry, ruler over an independent soverign state), Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Province. If you believe his blurb, he seceded from Australia in 1970 after he found a loophole in the constitution, and hence pays no taxes. His 'province' consists of a drought ridden, dust blown area of arable land, with a 'pyramid' made out of corrugated plastic, 'government offices' where he issues visas/stamps passports/carries forth etc, an army (probably the local drunks rounded up from the nearby ditches), an airforce (a mate's crop spraying plane) and a navy (small tin boat at the local jetty). Nevertheless, it's always amusing to go an visit someone like that, especially if they're not related to you.
Vast distances, scrub, emptyness and heat characterised much of our time going up and down the coast. I imagine it'll be a bit different in the coming week when we head down to the South West, with its vineyards (yes!!) and other bits. I had to find my trousers today, as shorts were suddenly a bit too chilly. All of a sudden it feels like home (grey, overcast, bit of rain, chill in the air), but then you look outside and see the limes and palms and hear "g'day" bellowed down the street, and you know you're in Oz.