A bumpy boat ride

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Where I stayed
Esperance Traveler Motel

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Friday, November 24, 2006

I bought a ticket on Mackenzie's Island Cruises for a half day Bay of Isles Wildlife Cruise - a bit later this morning and we moved over to the YHA backpackers which seems a much better place.  I had a delicious breakfast of Eggs Benedict at the Taylor Street Café (which is a sort of a period place - the period being about the 50's). 
Mackenzie's Island Cruises are a family company operating in the area (towing services as well as Tourism cruising) for over 50 years offering day cruises through some of the 105 islands of the magnificent Recherche Archipelago.  We cruised aboard the new luxurious MV Seabreeze II, a 24 metre purpose built catamaran licensed to carry 164 passengers in superb comfort. With three viewing levels, including a top deck with 360 degree views, and, as they said, we would be even closer to nature than ever before. We enjoyed a full commentary during the viewing of wildlife in its natural environment:
The morning started out with a cruise 'round the Esperance Bay and some interesting facts about it.  The Esperance Port Authority is an agency of the Government of Western Australia, operating under the Port Authorities Act 1999, and oversees the operations of the Port of Esperance.  The Port has grown significantly in the last decade. It is the largest nickel concentrates exporting Port in the southern hemisphere and is the gateway to world markets for Australia's principal nickel mining region.  With the completion of a $54 million port upgrade project in February 2002, Esperance became the deepest port in the southern Australia, capable of handling Cape Class vessels (they have to go round the Capes and can not go through the canals) up to 180,000 tonnes, plus fully loaded Panama class vessels up to 75,000 tonnes. As a result of this development, iron ore exports through the Port are expected to total 8 million tonnes per year by 2007. The Port is also a major grain exporting hub and handles bulk imports such as fuel and fertilizers.  Esperance Port is expected to handle 160 ships and more than seven million tonnes total throughput of trade in 2006.  Mackenzie's Tug Service has, I believe, three tugs capable of handling the larger Cape class vessels.  The company took delivery of a new tug Shoal Cape in October as some vessels now use two tugs instead of three.
The fellow running the catamaran really knew his stuff and told us about the Port (3 berths for deep sea ships; one for grain exports, one for metal imports and another for mineral exports) tugs (huge with a turning radius of its length within about 7 seconds) and ships (one was the third largest in the world I think - called a Cape ship as.  Apparently a new company is opening up a new mine - nickel, I think, just outside of Esperance (we saw it as we drove in to town, about 30 K out) and needs sulfur as part of it's refining process before loading and it is getting it from, guess where, Vancouver. 
On the trip we went 'round Esperance Bay we saw everything from great swimming beaches to rocky outcrops which only birds and sea life inhabit.  As the sea was fairly choppy, we saw wonderful breakers and blue, blue waters though it was a somewhat grey and expected to get rougher as the day went on.  We turned towards Charlie and Cull islands where there is a light beacon to help mariners navigate.  On some of the islands in the Bay until the 50's or so, sheep and goats were raised by Dan Mackenzie; sheep were taken off but goats remain they are feral.  There are about 80 of them and increasing.  The islands are very good to grow things on as the bird guano is great fertilizer. 
There are also colonies of Australian Sea lions and Cape barren geese here: we also saw oystercatchers and shags (cormorants) as we bounced by in the sea.  The sea really got kinda rough as we passed from those islands on to the next (Thomas and Gunton) and while I like to be outside, it was not a lot of fun outside.  A couple who did stay outside got absolutely soaked. 
On one of the Islands (Gunton, I think), there are a couple of sea eagles - beautiful birds - who came down to feed in the water right in front of us.  All right, the crew did throw a couple of fish out to them.  They are lovely birds with huge wingspans.  They apparently next on the Island and I was able to get a couple of very nice photos.  After curving around Seal Rock (One of the favourite spots to view NZ Fur Seals, Australian Sea lions and cormorants in close proximity to each other) we landed on Woody Island. 
This was the highlight of the morning.  It was a 1 hr (approx) stay and included morning tea (incl in cost) at the new Visitor Centre.  At one time, Woody as well as the other 100 or so islands in the Bay were imposing peaks on an extended coastal plain.  As the climate warmed, the sea rose and gradually claimed the plain, isolating each peak in its turn.  Around 8,000 years ago a land bridge that linked Woody Island rot hew mainland was submerged and the island became an ark for the wildlife that remained.
As an optional activity, I took a half hour short guided walk to Twiggy's Landing. On the island top walk I read that the islands of the Recherché Archipelago are extraordinary places.  Resisting tumultuous waters, salt spray and fierce winds, they rise above the sea.  Despite enduring such forces, island habitats are fragile.  Limited in size and clinging to only a thin mantle of soil, these habitats are vulnerable to physical and ecological disturbances.  We were encouraged to stay on the paths to avoid damage to this fragile environment. 
Winding through a mosaic of coastal scrublands and stands of tall trees, the Island Top Walk reveals a surprising diversity of habitats... each with its characteristic suite of birds, lizards, and other tiny creatures.  A short walk to a hillside lookout provides sweeping views to the mainland and islands of the archipelago.  We did not see much there as the weather was really closing in. 
The ride was very rough and I think if the boat had not been so large and powerful, we would have been in trouble and I would most definitely been sick.  We saw some barely visible outcroppings called Devil's Rocks which had waves just pounding over them.  They looked very dangerous.
We spent an hour or so on Woody Island - named this because it has about 4 meters of good growing soil and many trees most of which are eucalypts.  There were lots of bird life as well including wrens, finches, gulls, honeyeaters and silver eyes.   Dan Mackenzie used to have sheep here as well.  Also there is a cove called Twiggy's Cove named after his dog that was initially lost overboard many miles away.  Somehow, miraculously, she swam ashore and went wild for about 3 months, living on local lizards, birds, water, and was not found for some time.  Also there is a sunken ship out there which sank on her maiden voyage carrying fertilizer; much damage from leaked oil.  It is now used as a dive wreck but we could not see it as the weather is now getting really quite bad.  The trip back from Woody Island to Esperance was very rough and I felt rather ill; however, the "sea bands" I bought to combat nausea really did work.  Also, one of the crew spent some time during the journey chatting to me which took my mind of it a bit.
We got back to Esperance about noon and the weather had really worsened.  I continued updating my journal most of the afternoon. 
About 7 I headed out between the rain showers, for dinner.  The only place close by was the Esperance Traveler's Motel.  The café there had an event on but they had a pub attached.  I did not know what it was called but shortly found it to be a "Skimpy's".  I had never heard of Skimpy bars before.  The waitress had on gold tabs over her nipples, a pair of purple underwear which rode up her bottom and a mauve scarf around her waist.  That's all.  It was rather a surprise and I did not quite know where to look; however, the beer and burger were okay.  I also met a gal from town (formerly from Kalgoorlie) called Melanie and her boyfriend, a boilermaker called Russ.  Between the waitress and the clientele, it gave me rather a flavour of Esperance. 
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