Heading up the West Coast (and back!)

Trip Start Sep 28, 2003
Trip End Sep 29, 2004

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Winstons Backpackers

Flag of Australia  ,
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Well it was early on a Saturday morning that the adventure began.

I jumped aboard a huge 4wd bus that turned out at my accomodation for the five day trip upto Exmouth. As I think I mentioned before, the 4WD bit was a good selling point for the trip, as was the fact that we would be camping (half at bush camps - basically in the middle of the bush, and the other 2 nights at campsites - for their proximity to where the next stop on the tour was).

I was greeted in typical Aussie style "Hello Mate" by our driver Kev. So I jumped aboard and we went to 3 or 4 other pickups in Perth to collect everyone else coming on the All Terrain Safaris tour.

Well it was not too long before Kev had started pointing out the wildlife and we soon had all seen wild Emu's. I was also introduced to another type of Emu today - Emu Bitter! Kev made sure that we were all aware that we were visiting the last bottleshop (Aussie Off Licence) we would see for two days. I was expecting to be trampled in the crush for everyone to go and get the drinks in. Instead, I ended up splitting a box of Emu Bitter with Kev. Luckily a couple of others bought goons (boxes) of wine.

The first official featured stop on our tour, was at Nambung National Park. This park is mainly know here for its formations of rocks called the pinnacles. Which as you can imagine are pinnacles of rock, of many different sizes sticking out of the ground. They are formed by lime hardening some areas of the ground and not others. When the soft stuff was washed away, it left the harder stuff which ended up forming the pinnacles. Amazing stuff eh! There will be some photos put up, when I get a chance! By the way there were quite a lot of these Pinnacles. Looking at groups of them in the distance was a bit like looking at a cemetary - very bizzare.

As we were driving today we noticed an awful lot of trees that did not look quite right. We were told that this was as a result of strong winds in one particular direction, and if you looked at the trees you could see, they had also basically been blown so hard and for so long that they were all bending over - literally at 90 degrees to the ground - quite strange!

Well day one involved a lot of driving and really the next stop of note, was at the camp when we arrived there. The camp was at a place called Kalbarri. This was a bush camp and the tour company had basically been given permission to use a specific area by the land owner. By this time, yours truly had ended up in the front seat as official CD Changer. However this was not an envied role, as Kev's selection of CDs were quite wide ranging (as he said though - noone could grumble if we hadn't got our own music) . This meant that I was the one jumping out to undo the gates and so on.

So as soon as we arrived at the camp, a Kangaroo hopped across it, showing how out in the wilds we really were. It was then that Kev reminded us that we should keep shoes on at all times while in the camp, because of the nasties (This term really keeps popping up in this country) that are about. Snakes, Spiders, Scorpions and the rest. That slowed us all down a bit. We were taught the proper methods for collecting wood for the fire, 1) ensure that you are not quiet when you walked around (this goes for walking around generally in the camp anywhere!) 2) when you find a likely bit of tree, give it a bit of a shake, so that any alive creatures can make a run for it. Yes we were really in the wilds.

We made a large campfire and a couple of people helped cook our dinner on it. It was Spag Bol tonight. A bush tucker classic! We later did the camp fire thing and got the marshmallows out.

We were then introduced to our swags. A Swag is essentially like a big canvas sleeping bag, with a thin foam mattress inside. This night was probably the coldest. I woke up many times that night (when I had got to sleep!) because of this. Despite the fact, I was still wearing most of my clothes and im my sleeping bag, in the swag brrrrrrrrr!

Now Kev had warned us that he was going to get us up early, but when he woke us sometime before six. I initially was a little confused as it was still dark! However, he soon had us up and out, enjoying breakfast while around the still burning campfire, to try and warm up a bit!

Today started off with a drive on the sand dunes adjoining the land where we were staying. We started following one set of tracks that seemed to vanish into a void. Kev turned round and made a comment about the previous group (he and another driver run alternate tours) being crazy, just as he continued to drive over it himself! However many photos I took of this, it will be impossible to demonstrate the incredible slope that we had just driven down. This certainly woke us all up! We then all had to jump out, so that Kev could drive up a (smaller) incline going on to where he wanted to stop. He took us down to the beach (it was too early and too cold for swimming!). We admired the views and then some of the guys had a go at sandboarding, before Kev got his Rugby Ball out, and taught some of us how to kick one. Great fun!

We then travelled onto to the small town of Kalbarri where we had a brief stop for lunch before jumping back on the bus. The next stop on our adventure was at a gorge in the Kalbarri National Park, where Kev guided most of us on a guided walk, involving a little bit of climbing here and there. We enjoyed seeing the scenery in the gorge.

Our next stop (writing this, cannot believe quite how much we fitted into each day) was Shark Bay. As the name suggests there are many Sharks in this particular area. A coupl of Shark stories while I remember...

Once a large group of sharks rounded up a large number of smaller fish, suitable to eat and cornered them against a cliff. The sharks then had a feeding frenzy over the next two weeks, taking it in turns to go and take their fill. You wouldn't have thought the sharks were that clever?! The next story helps to confirm that fact, I heard this from someone who had seen this particular shark story on the news. Unfortunately a tourist was taken by a shark somewhere in SW Australia, but on the news they reported they they thought it was a premeditated attack!!! The news story did not mention if a whiteboard marked up with a plan had been found yet.

One side of Shark bay is formed by a peninsula where Monkey Mia is. Monkey Mia was our next billed stop, so that afternoon our last drive was to the Nanga Station where we were to stay on a campsite for the night. We went over a cattle grid there and Kev explained that in an attempt to save local fauna, they had effectively fenced off a large bit of the peninsula. Basically they had removed all animal species - that were not native - from within this area. In the town on Denham, they had even taken a vote which meant that people living in this zone were not even allowed to have cats, in an attempt to let the native species breed again. However, the problem was that various animals including foxes, were able to make their way over the cattle grid. So someone came up with the idea of having sensors detect movement near the gates and play sounds of dogs barking to scare away any potential invaders.

The Nanga station was a great campsite for two reasons, one we slept under cover in a barn with three sides - great luxury! Secondly it has a Spa that we were allowed to use, about half of the group tried this out before dinner. So we enjoyed a comfortable night here. We all enjoyed the showers there also.

The next morning, we were not allowed to sleep-in as we had to make it to Monkey Mia for one of the billed highlights of the tour. At Monkey Mia, a group of dolphins that live in the area (still in Shark Bay!) come in every morning to get food. This was started by a local who started feeding them in the 60's. Those dolphins and following generations have appeared in the area most days since then. A funny part of the experience was that a group of pelicans also gather on the beach at a similar time, and a bucket of food has to be laid on for them just to take them far enough away from the water not to frighten the dolphins.

It was quite bizarre, because suddenly these dolphins did appear. Only a few at first and at it most busy we saw about 7. One of the main ones came right up to the front and floated in the water, head tilted on one side so it's eye was out of the water to look at what was going on. This was pretty bizarre really. Unfortunately this phenomena in well known and many tourists and coach groups - us included - turn up each day to see what is going on. There wwas a crowd of about 150 there the day we were there. Unfortunately, some english speaking tourists, seem to lose the ability to understand their native language in these kind of situations and were not quick to obey the instructions of the park rangers who were asking everyone to take a few steps back. One American in particular, was left at the front "Wowww, is this not the most AWEsome thing ever!".

We only spent about 20 minutes watching this before it was time for the next part of our tour. Some of us had paid extra to go on a catermaran cruise on a well known boat called teh Shotover - for an hour from Monkey Mia to see much of the sealife that is in abundance there. Unfortunatly it was not happening that day and we only saw a couple of dolphins (didn't seem too impressive after the ones at the beach earlier) and a turtle. However it was nice to go sailing once again (shame about the bitterly cold wind).

For lunch Kev took us to a place called Shell Beach where as you may guess the beach was made of shells. Quite impressive and a great spot to relax for a bit.

Our next stop that afternoon, was to go and see a phenomonem called the Stormatolites, these are special stones, that some people believe to have existed sibnce the biginning and actually been the catalyst for producing live as we know it because they produce oxygen. Not impressive to look at, but an impressive story behind them if you believe it.

We then had a bit of a drive to get us to our next destination. On the way we went to a roadhouse (effectively a small service station) selling petrol as well as food and other bits and pieces you may expect. I checked out the music selection, because I suspected it may be a little old. One item that helps to illustrate this was the Star Wars soundtrack (from one of the earlier films) and yes it was on tape-cassette!

We then proceeded to our bush camp for the night where we enjoyed steaks for dinner and I made (under Kev's guidance) a Damper bread for the group!

The next morning, our first stop was at a very small town called Carnarvon. This was just a pitstop (luckily v. small town!). However the next stop we made was a bit of a highlight! This was a restort called Coral Bay. From the resort, some of us had chosen to take an optional snorkelling excursion to some reef areas, so that afternoon when we arrived we were measured for wetsuits and picked out appropriate flippers and so on. Later that afternoon we took our flippers and snorkels for some swimming off the beach. I had bought an underwater camera, so I tried a couple of shots with that. We saw some interesting fish. However the best was to come.

Later that night we stayed at a resort campsite. It must have looked a bit strange all of us sleeping in our swags where a caravan or tent would normally be! However we had a good meal and a few beers on the campsite to relax. After a drink or two at one of the resort bars. The next morning we were up bright and early waiting for our boat trip to leave. This was very, very good. Six of us from the tour (including Kev) were taken out in a little motor boat, with our own skipper and also a snorkelling guide. We were shown an area where there were a few reef sharks (small sharks) and we also saw some other great sealife, including huge starfish and other amazing fish. Hopefully some photos will appear soon, but I am unsure how good they will be!

After our snorkelling adventure, it was time for a Sausage sizzle as my last lunch with the tour. They were to drop me and a few others off in Exmouth before picking up a few more people to continue the trip with them to its conclusion in Broome. On the way, Kev was happily driving up the motorway, when suddenly he braked and could not stop the bus quick enough! He turned the bus around and belted a couple of hundred metres back up the highway, to where he had spotted something. He had in fact spotted a Thorny Devil, which is a very strange and relatively hard to spot type of reptile. He was very pleased with his spot, and we took turns to hold the little creature.

My last stop on the tour prior to getting off was the Exmouth Lighthouse from where there was a nice vice of the coastline. (Again have taken photos, but no chance to put them up yet!). I said my goodbyes and clambored off the truck with my gear and booked into one of the resort hostels (Winstons Backpackers) which was very good. I was lucky enough to get a four-share room to myself for the night.

I wandered around Exmouth that night, not an awful lot to do there. However I ate at a pub. I was a bit worried that it was going to be a locals place, but it turned out OK. (I guess because Exmouth is a tourist town).

It was another early start in the morning to jump on the return leg of another companies trip from Perth. This was not so much for the trip, but because it works out as a good value way of returning to Perth. The trip was with Redback Safaris, whose trip I had considered in place of the "All Terrain Safaris" trip I did. However this was not in a 4WD vehicle and meant staying in hostels rather than camping. As it was a return leg, it was not going to involve seeing too many different sights on the way back.

One of the main things that did happen though, was when we stopped at the Overlander roadhouse (Star Wars soundtrack on tape place) for lunch, our driver (another Tim) asked the owners if we could see the orphan kangaroos; Pinky and Kevin. They were duly brought out and I got a chance to hold one. (Another photo on its way - watch this space).

We stayed overnight at Northwood Farmstay. Essentially this is like a few large hostel style dorms on a farm ,where the evening meal is prepared for us. Unfortunately Kangaroo was on the menu, as well as chicken. I had a little Kangaroo, but I could not bring myself to eat any more after seeing the little orphan kangaroos earlier that day, so it was chicken for me!

When we had also walked into our rooms early, myself and an American guy (teh two of us had not been on the original tour) had thought it strange that when after the two girls from Brunei had picked a room, the rest of the girls all piled into the other room really quickly. We found out later when we discovered that one of them snored for their country!

That evening we spent chatting about music around the campfire, toasting marshmallows and drinking beer!

The next days return to Perth was uneventful really, except that I booked a hire car to pick up the next day and got the train back to Fremantle for the night. (I didn't fancy trying find my way out of, or back into Perth in a hire car on my own). That night I went to a trendy pub called Little Creatures, which brews its own beer. I met up with Sally Martin and Alan, the guys that I met on the Indian Pacific. It was good to catch up about events of the last week or so.

Well that is all for this exciting instalment. The next day, I started my exploration of the South West corner of Australia. The next instalment includes Whales, Kangaroos, Trees, a Cave and Creature Comforts.

Bye for now
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