A Room with an Ewe

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For the last month Christina and I have called Grandvewe Cheesery our home and place of work. Grandvewe is located about 40 minutes south of Hobart nestled in the hills of Birchs Bay. The name Grandvewe just about sums it all up. The cheesery is home to about 80 milking sheep, quite a few lambs, adolescents, older sheep, and rams (over 200 in all). Grandvewe is family owned and operated established by a a savvy business woman named Diane, her awesome her daughter Nicole, her son Ryan the head distiller and her partner Chris. The cheesery is located in a retrofitted house, where the dining room is where the cheese is made, the family room where the tastings are held, a small kitchen, and a terrace for patrons to enjoy the stunning view of Bruny Island and maybe some coffee or cheese.

Grandvewe Tasting Room
Grandvewe Tasting Room
Magdalie (France) working hard in the kitchen
Magdalie (France) working hard in the kitchen

From a WOOFers perspective Grandvewe is pretty idilic. In exchange for working a full 40 hours a week you get a free bed and food is provided all seven days of the week. The family also asks that woofers stay for at least four weeks since they train you to do a multitude of tasks from cheesemaking to caring for the sheep and lambs, preparing food in the cafe, or helping in the distillery. Plus all the odd jobs that come up on a farm. This requires the help a number of woofers to complete all the tasks.

During our four weeks there were nine other WOOFers, all of whom were fantastic wonderful people.

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WOOFers! top: Paul, Kieran (UK), Malaika (Germany), Florian (Germany), Yule (Belgium); below: Sarah (Canada) and Cheryl (Hong Kong) and a giant pan of lasagna
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Daily coffee break: Lydia (UK), Christina, Paul, *staff: Wiebke (Germany) & Pauline (France)*, Sarah, Kieran, Yule

The apartment for the woofers filled up quickly so Christina and I spent four weeks in a caravan parked under the Grandvewe terrace. This was only slightly inconvenient and cold, but did give us privacy which was lacking in the apartment.

Grandvewe Cheesery! wi
Grandvewe Cheesery! Our little caravan is tucked underneath the terrace.

Fortunately, the other woofers are wonderful people with whom we bonded over shared meals, drinks, board and card games, plus working eight hours a day together. These people enhanced our experience of Grandvewe in a way that is hard to put into words. In short, I am grateful to have met and got to know each and every one of them.

 

Farm

Sheep with doggies (Mylee & Rosie)
Sheep with doggies (Mylee & Rosie). Photo by Sarah Peterson.
Cheeky and her two new baby girls
Christina was the first person to greet Cheeky after she gave birth to two little girls, Itsy and Bitsy.
Christina getting pellets for the sheep. Photo by Sarah Peterson
Christina getting pellets for the sheep. Photo by Sarah Peterson
Paul & Christina milking sheep
Paul & Christina milking sheep. Photo by Claire Baker
Sheep derp
Sheep derp
'nuf said
Lambs!
Rams
Rams
Chickens!
Chickens. Paul named the one who liked to wander off on her own Beyonce.

Here’s a little video showing the milking process and more:

 

Cheese

We got to help make all sorts of cheeses, including roquefort, manchego, reblochon & camembert, pecorino, fresh, halloumi, ricotta, la mancha, crottin, extramadura. We helped make the cheese from the raw sheep milk, stir the curds, drain the whey, hoop the curds into molds, turn them, wash them with yeast (to make the rind), salt them (dry and wet), store them, cut and package and label them.

Diane, Yule, Christina & Pauline making blue cheese
Diane, Yule, Christina & Pauline making blue cheese
Yule, Pauline & Christina with curds and whey
Yule, Pauline & Christina over the vat of curds and whey
Finished products
Finished products

Distillery

On top of the cheese, they also make their own vanilla whey liqueur and the only sheep whey vodka in the world. I spent a lot of time down here.

Paul making Vodka
Paul making Vodka
Ryan and Paul with the new still
Ryan and Paul in the distillery. The new still arrived during our last week.

 

Days Off

Each week Christina and I had two days off together where we did our best to explore the surrounding area (or make a Thanksgiving dinner). Our first adventure was to the island visible from Grandvewe called Bruny Island. Bruny is accessible by car via a ferry which leaves from the town of Kettering ten minutes away.

Christina at The Neck. This tiny stretch of sand connects North and South Bruny Island
Christina at The Neck. This tiny stretch of sand connects North and South Bruny Island. It’s also the home of dozens of little penguins, who come in every night after dark and wattle across the neck.
Lighthouse
Lighthouse *NOTE* this is the farthest SOUTH we’ve been on the whole trip!

At the lighthouse we took photos, had lunch, and took a look inside the small museum that explains a little about the history of the lighthouse. The only thing that I remember is that at the height of the lighthouse before electricity, the lighthouse burned a pint of sperm whale oil an hour. After lunch we took a walk that lead us to one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen so far, Jetty Beach. Jetty Beach was much like the beaches we have back in Northern California with seaweed and other cold water plants.

Jetty Beach
Jetty Beach
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Beautiful seaweeds

Later that night we set out from our campground to find the animal that we came to the island to see, the fairy penguin (smallest species). The small penguins make their way from the water to their nests once the sun has set and it is quite dark out. The only way to see the smallest penguin in the world is by using a red light flashlight. Luckily, Christina had one on her headlamp so we were able to see these cute critters really well as they shuffled under the boardwalks and into their burrows.

The next day we took a short hike in Adventure Bay. Here we saw some really amazing dolomite cliffs as well as a boat touring around below us as we walked down from the top of the hill to the shore. And another adorable echidna 🙂

Christina at Fluted Cape
Christina at Fluted Cape

On our next weekend out we headed up to Hobart to check out the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The MONA opened in 2011 and is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. Curator David Walsh is a Tasmanian millionaire who made his money through gambling. MONA is difficult to describe.

All trash bins should be labeled such
All trash bins should be labeled such
Christina jumping on a trampoline connected to lots bells
Christina jumping on a trampoline connected to bells

The museum itself is actually underground to preserve the beauty of the surrounding area (and the winery). The exhibits inside are diverse and at times very strange—mostly centered around sex and death. The exhibit that MONA is probably most famous for is the Cloaca Professional, a machine that is specifically designed to recreate the human digestive tract—culminating in real poop. It’s fascinating and smells foul.

Cloaca Professional
Cloaca Professional

We also made the best of our evenings when there was something interesting to do. We were invited to a pirate beer party by one of the full time employees at Grandvewe, a wonderful and generous young french woman named Pauline. She knew the owners of the brewery and knew that I have an interest in brewing, and wanted me to meet the brewer.

Christina, Paul Pauline
Christina, Paul & Pauline at the pirate-themed beer party

The next evening we went to a traditional bush dance in the town of Woodbridge, a two minute drive from the cheesery. We weren’t sure what to expect from a bush dance, but we knew we had to go and find out. So, we packed six people into the Subaru and headed out for the dance. Whatever our expectations were, I can say for a certainty that none of us were disappointed. We arrived fashionably late to find that the whole town had turned out for the bush dance.

Cheryl and Christina at the Woodbridge Bush Dance
Cheryl, Claire & Christina at the Woodbridge Bush Dance

The dance was held at the Community Hall, which was 125 years old. There were people of all ages there from babies all the way up to eighty-year-olds. The bush dancing was all choreographed by one man who lead the group through the steps of various folk dances and partnered those looking for a dancing partner. It was a moment of pure bliss when you let go of all inhibition and just have a good time dancing with strangers and friends alike. And yes, I even danced for a little while.

For our last weekend Christina and I spent our time cooking pies and the rest of the trappings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Our hosts were kind enough to by us a turkey breast and most of the rest of the ingredients we needed to make two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, potato boats, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. For many of the woofers this was their first Thanksgiving dinner and everyone enjoyed the exercise in over eating. We still have stuffing leftover from that meal!

Paul & Christina making Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo by Claire Baker
Paul & Christina making Thanksgiving Dinner. Photo by Claire Baker

Overall we’ve had an incredible time working for food, helping out a family business, and interacting with people other than just the two of us. We’re both going to have a hard time leaving this place, the view, the people, and the sheep and lambs. We’ll miss them all. Thank you to everyone who made this an experience of a lifetime.

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Forests of South WA

Karri Forest Drive

One of the main attractions on our road east was the Karri Forest Explorer Drive. The drive is a jagged loop that covers three different national parks over 80 km. Along the drive we stopped at Beedelup National Park to view the falls and walk over a planked suspension bridge.

Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Paul makes the bridge look tiny
Christina & Paul & Falls
Christina & Paul & Falls

The main attraction for the drive is obviously the large Karri trees which can grow up to 90 meters tall. That’s just ten meters shorter than some of the tallest redwood trees. The Karri is a large straight eucalyptus tree with a wide truck, which is ideal for climbing. Within the drive there are three Karri trees that are used for spotting fires and are accessible to the public. They are the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, the Gloucester Tree, and the Diamond Tree with a heights ranging from 52 to 65 meters to the highest platforms. Gulp. These trees have had rebar poles driven into the trunks and platforms built amongst the branches to help you feel safe while taking in the view. I’m terrified of heights, but faced my fears and climbed to the top of all three of the lookout trees. Apparently, only 20 percent of those who attempt the climbs actually make it to the top. This statistic played out hilariously when a middle aged gentleman had started climbing up the Diamond Tree after his kids, but came back down after only ten meters and exclaimed out loud, “I just remembered, I don’t have to do this shit anymore.”

Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree - 71m tall.
Christina going down the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – 71m tall.
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree
Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree

D’Entrecasteaux

The day after climbing the trees we head south to D’Entrecastraux National Park. Nestled along the coast it had some very beautiful views of the southern ocean and amazing rock formations. Unfortunately, some of the coastal walks were closed due to fire damage, so we only spent a day exploring.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock

Albany

Continuing east we drove through a lush and vibrant landscape populated by forests, wineries, and a few breweries. Most of the time we just whizz by these things on our way to the next park, but just before getting to Albany, something caught our eye and we had to turn the car around to have a look. It was a meadery. Bartholomew’s Meadery, which had a variety of different meads to taste and even wider variety of honeys for sale, including a chili honey. We didn’t get any honey, but we did try some of the meads and actually bought a bottle for the potential cold night. The mead we bought was a spiced mead style called Methelglin, served warm. I can’t remember the spices used, but it was damn good and very special treat.

Bartholomew's
Bartholomew’s Spiced Mead

The next park on our list to visit was Torndirrup National Park. We wanted to stop here because the parks brochure said it had blowholes and we had yet to investigate Australian blowholes. I was under the impression that these blowholes would be visible with water or air spouting from them like what happens with whales. I was mistaken. These blowholes were not visible, but very audible. On days with particularly large swells, water and air are pushed up through small fissures in the granite rock creating a loud whooshing sound. It’s a bit shocking the first time you hear it, but it turns into something quite satisfying once you’re anticipating the whoosh.

Blowholes in Torindurup
Blowholes in Torndirrup
Paul
Paul blending in

Porongurup

Within 200km of Albany there are three very beautiful national parks: Porongurup, Stirling Range, and Fitzgerald River. And we were intent on seeing all three within a two day period of time. We were drawn to Porongurup because of the granite skywalk. This sounded interesting and it was on the way to the Stirling Ranges, so we decided to check it out.

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Looking down at Paul
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Christina heading up the ladder

The hike to the Granite Skywalk was two kilometers straight up a steep slope. Even though the hike was a little fatiguing, it was worth the climb. The Granite Skywalk itself is composed of stainless steel rods and rivulets, and see through plexiglass arranged so that it feels like you’re walking on air. In 2011 it was built by contractors who abseiled from the top of the granite peak along the sides to put all the nuts, bolts, and planks of plexiglass into place. The end result was aesthetically pleasing and offers some spectacular views of the surrounding area. A very memorable place.

Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
Paul at the top of the Granite Skywalk
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
View of the Stirling Ranges in the distance
Balancing Rock
Balancing Rock

 

Stirling Range: Bluff Knoll

North of Porongurup, and visible from the Granite Skywalk, are the Stirling Ranges. The tallest peak in the range is Bluff Knoll standing in at 1095 meters. The summit of Bluff Knoll can be reached from a carpark that is most of the way up the mountain. The rest of the way to the top is an short 6km return hike, meaning 3k all up hill (plenty of stairs). Since this was one of the only accessible hikes in the area we decided we had to summit this peak. The hike was by far the most strenuous hike that we’ve undertaken yet. We started off early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, and so we could get to our next destination at a reasonable time, with the peak of Bluff Knoll periodically shrouded in clouds. The ascent slow and steady, with breath taking vistas to give us an excuse to stop and rest. As always, the strain on our muscles was rewarded with expansive views and sense of accomplishment. Totally awesome hike.

Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Bluff Knoll from the carpark
Christina happy to be at the top
Christina happy to be at the top
Paul is also happy. No, really, I swear.
Paul is also happy.
Summit selfie
Summit selfie

Fitzgerald River: Kangaroo Attack

Fitzgerald River would definitely be on my top 5 national parks if it weren’t for a few factors totally unrelated to the beauty and splendor of the park itself. First, the road into the park was long, gravel, and corrugated. Second, the flies were horrendous! Third, the wind there was unrelenting, even at night. Ugh.

Fortunately, Fitzgerald wasn’t all terrible. It did have a couple upsides. One, was that Point Ann, usually a good place to see Southern Right whales, was one of the most beautiful places that we’ve had the pleasure of stopping. Second, while having dinner a small kangaroo came into our tent site. It was very curious about what we were doing and came right up to the table. I was very hungry and didn’t want to share the food so I stood to shoo away the roo, but in doing so it only jumped straight up in the air and scared me more than I scared it. I tried running at the roo, but it hopped away and shortly returned again. Christina recommended running and screaming, so I tried this tactic much to Christina’s delight and the roo ran away. The roo and I were both pleased that Christina and I were only staying one night.

Hakea flower
Hakea flower
Paul at Point Ann
Paul at Point Ann
Point Ann
Beach at Point Ann

Esperance

The next big town on our journey east was Esperance. But before arriving at our destination we had to make a quick detour to Stokes Inlet, which was said to be “one of the most picturesque and interesting estuaries along WA’s southern coast.” We didn’t find many birds but we did find this very interesting fish cleaning station.

Kill fish here
Kill fish here

Once in Esperance we had the intention of going straight to a neighboring national park, Cape Le Grand, but found that the all the campsites were full. Or so sign outside the park had proclaimed. Feeling a little defeated, we headed back to town to stay at a caravan park. Good thing we did. That night the wind was gusting ferociously and the rain came along for the ride. Luckily, the caravan park was well protected against the wind and we weathered the storm.

A couple days later we were back in Esperance and took a short scenic drive along the coast.

Observatory Point, Esperance
Observatory Point, Esperance

Cape Le Grand

Between our days in Esperance we did finally manage to get out to Cape Le Grand. Le Grand is about 60km east of Esperance and is home some very stunning beaches (whitest beaches in Australia), granite hills, and kangaroos on the beach. During our stay we climbed a medium sized peak, called Frenchman Peak, hung out with kangaroos on the beach, and generally took it easy. A great break from a very busy week.

Thistle Cove
Thistle Cove
Frenchman Peak
Frenchman Peak
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Christina dipping her toes in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo in Lucky Bay
Kangaroo mob
Kangaroo being mobbed by tourists in Lucky Bay

Perth

Perth is the capital city of Western Australia, situated in the southern part of the west coast, the geographic equivalent of LA. As a metropolitan area it is home to around 1.8 million aussies making Perth the fourth largest city in Australia behind Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Perth, like many of the great Australian cities, is cut in two (north south) by the mighty Swan River. The north side is were the Central Business District (CBD) resides and the south is more residential with trendy bars and restaurants thrown in the mix. The CBD also has a free museum of Western Australia of which we took full advantage. But, a lovely city and free museums are not the only reasons we stayed in Perth.

Before arriving in Perth we knew that we wanted to spend a little extra time in the area and extend our trip in an attempt to arrive in Tasmania closer to summertime. To accomplish this goal we signed up for this service called Aussie House Sitters. Basically you pay a one time fee, create a profile, see what house sitting gigs are posted, and apply. Some house sitting is for a week others for a month to a couple months and everything in between. We had applied to several different gigs, but were turned down each time, until a lovely lady named Katie accepted our request. Katie had actually setup the account for her mom, Sue, who lives with her and her family. The gig wasn’t so much to watch the house, but to watch Sue’s three Maltese/Shih tzus. The family was going on an eight day holiday to Bali and the dogs needed company. Normally I don’t really like small dogs, but these guys were alright, even if they were a little barky.

Paul, Thomas, Pugsley and Chuck.
Paul, Thomas, Pugsley and Chuck.

During our stay in the Perth area we did a lot of sleeping, watching Netflix, and baking various treats for ourselves. You know, cookies, quiches, casseroles, fries, and chicken nuggets. Comfort food. Even though it was exceedingly difficult to pull ourselves away from the cute dogs and comfort of a roof over our heads, we did manage to do a little exploring. On our big day out we played disc golf, went to a brewery, and a park.

Paul goes feral
Paul goes feral

On another day we visited the very popular suburb of Fremantle. Fremantle, or Freo, is known for its laid back, do what you want philosophy. It is also know for its weekend markets which offer a wide variety of fresh and cooked food, buskers, koala petting, and other treats for the whole family. Like good tourist we walked around, Christina bought some chocolate covered strawberries, and later we washed it all down with some locally made beer and cider. All in all, a very lovely little town.

 

Ok, to be honest, the real reason why we stopped in Perth was so that I could attend a beer event and for Christina to change her hair color. And that is exactly what we did our last day in Perth. While Christina sat in a chair for six hours turning her hair aquamarine, I went to a local pub to celebrate Zwanze Day. What is Zwanze Day? It’s an international beer festival created by Cantillon Brewery in Belgium to celebrate a serialist art movement that was started in the late 19th century in Belgium and continues to influence the life philosophy of the people of Belgium. Or at least that’s what the breweries website claims. Either way the brewery releases a special beer for the annual event and only a very select group of bars around the world get a keg of the beer. Last year a bar in Melbourne was the lucky recipient for all of Australia. This year the bar happened to be in Perth. AND as luck would have it, we were passing through Perth at the same time. So, I had to attend. At the end of the day, the beer was fantastic and Christina’s hair turned out beautifully.

Cantillon's Zwanze Day
Cantillon’s Zwanze Day
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Christina’s new blue hair! and Chucky

Begrudgingly, we had to leave our new friends behind and hit the road once again to explore the national parks right outside the Perth area. The first place we visited was Lane Pool. Here we walked through Jarra forests and acclimated ourselves back into camping life. For those of you wondering, Jarrah trees are a type of eucalyptus that only grows in southwest part of Australia.

Lane Pool. Jarrah forest (with control burn fire in background)
Lane Pool. Jarrah forest (with control burn fire in background)

Jarrah forests are also home to a very endangered marsupials called numbats. To try and find these elusive critters we head east to Dryandra National Park.

We didn’t find any numbats but we find a wild honey bee hive, went on a very cool night hike, and had a face to face encounter with a brush tailed possum who wanted to eat our dinner.

Next we head back towards the coast and the end of the West coast…

Ningaloo Blue

The Ningaloo Marine Sanctuary is a barrier and fringe reef that spans 260km on the north west coast of Western Australia. It also has long been high on our list of places we couldn’t wait to see in Australia. During our live-aboard trip at the Great Barrier Reef we talked to one of the crew who claimed that Ningaloo was better than the GBR, more pristine, what the GBR had been like 10-15 years ago. With that testimony, plus our own ideas of what Ningaloo would be like from our previous research, we developed some very high expectations. Simply said, our imagination did not even come close to the actual experience.

Turquoise Bay - voted #2 beach in Australia
Turquoise Bay – voted #2 beach in Australia

Cape Range

One of the great things about the Ningaloo reef is that a lot of it is accessible from shore and is in relatively shallow water. Meaning you don’t need a boat or scuba equipment to enjoy the natural wonders under the water. All it you need is snorkel gear. Some of the best snorkeling is off the shores of Cape Range National Park. So naturally we camped out there for a couple days. Little did we know, but Cape Range is a very popular National Park. Which means you have to queue up early in the morning just to get a camping spot. It was all worth it.

Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt's Desert Pea
Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt’s Desert Pea

Our first day of snorkeling was bittersweet. Sweet because we saw more fish on the first snorkel than our whole trip at the GBR. No, not really. But we did see a lot of fish, in large schools. And they were HUGE! On our second snorkel we saw blue spotted sting rays, an octopus (it changed colors right in-front of us!), and a couple of lionfish. The bitter part of the day was that some how, I got sea-sick while snorkeling and vomited up my lunch while on our second snorkel. It was extremely disgusting for me, but extra food for the fish. Ew. Gross. I know.

Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!
Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!

Our second day was equally cool with the addition of seeing a gigantic sting ray. It freaked us out since we swam almost right over where it had been hiding (and we were only in a meter of water). That day I took precautions and took some Dramamine before getting in the water so no seasickness. We also saw our first turtle during our second snorkel.

Exmouth

The next couple of days we laid low and enjoyed some beach time. This also gave me time to recover from the seasickness before our scuba trip. As we were sitting on the beach, I was staring out over the water and then all of the sudden I see the spouting of water, a whale’s back, and then a fluke. In shock and excitement, I called out to Christina, “WHALES! Christina, whales!!” The rest of that day we spent whale watching. They were migrating Humpback whales heading south for the summer and there were plenty of pods for us to watch. They put on quite a show too. We saw many breaches, tail and fin slaps. A truly unexpected treat.

View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)
View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)

There were also tons of emus all over the place, which was really fun.

Male emu with chicks!
Male emu with chicks!

Before our scuba trip we had to go out snorkeling one more time since we talked to a couple at our new caravan park who said that they saw sharks during their snorkeling adventures. On our next time out, what do you think we saw, a nurse shark! It was super cool, but also a little frightening. This was not small reef shark. It was at least two to three meters long. Christina assures me that nurse sharks are the puppy dogs of sharks. I trust her.

The next day we went on our scuba diving trip. First on our way to our dive site, we saw more whales. Some just swimming along peacefully, others breaching out of the water putting on a real show for us. Our two dives we very similar so here’s a run down of all the different sea life we saw: sea snakes, white tipped reef sharks, lion fish, nudibranchs (tiny flamboyant sea slugs–which are just incredibly beautiful), a frog fish, a wobbegong shark, beautiful soft and hard corals, a ton more fish, and an octopus. The shear diversity of aquatic life was just astounding. Best dive trip yet.

Coral Bay

First thing we did in Coral Bay was go to the daily free fish feeding on the beach. Everyone gets a few pellets of fish food (feeding them bread is very bad for their livers), and they come right up to your feet, and swim between your legs. Such a fun surprise!

Fish feeding in Coral Bay
Fish feeding in Coral Bay

After all that excitement you think things couldn’t get better, but they did. Ever since missing out on seeing Manta Rays in Japan, I’ve been looking forward to seeing and swimming with Mantas ever since. Luckily for us, Ningaloo is one of the best places to see Manta Rays in the world. Which means we used some of our scuba money for snorkel adventure with Manta Rays. The best place to see them is the southern part of Ningaloo Marine Park, off a town called Coral Bay.

Manta Ray!
Manta Ray!

The snorkel trip was equally stunning as the scuba diving trip. Not only did we get to swim with two Manta Rays, but we saw a bunch of white tipped reef sharks at a cleaning station (where little cleaner wrasse eat their parasites), some really gorgeous and abundant corals, a big tiger shark (we saw it from the boat), turtles, dolphins, and, again, a whole mess load of fish.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1012.

Snorkel Selfie
Snorkel Selfie

Overall, it was a truly awe inspiring week. I’m going to say it now: favorite part of the trip…so far. And to finish off, here is a video of our wonderful underwater adventures!

Pilbara Rocks!

Karijini

According to a Western Australian website, “The Pilbara region in Western Australia has some of the world’s most ancient natural landscapes, dating back two billion years and stretching over 400,000 square kilometers… and the Pilbara is also known as the engine room of Australia – home to a massive mining industry in crude oil, salt, natural gas and iron ore”. We didn’t spend a lot of time in this region, but we can definitely confirm that there are quite a few rocks and that there are numerous mines. I remember driving the highways and seeing a sign for a mine site every hundred or so kilometers. Fortunately, in the middle of this rugged and formidable terrain there is an oasis called Karijini National Park.

In Karijini there are a number of different gorges that lie within it’s borders. The gorge that is the most accessible and therefore the most visited is Dales Gorge. Dales Gorge campground is where we called home while we explored the different features of the gorge. Unlike other gorges where the campgrounds are situated on the floor of the gorge, this campground was on the terrain above the gorge, meaning all hikes would be downhill first and uphill second. Not our favorite way to hike, but the features of Dales Gorge made all exercise well worth it.

First day we visited Fern Pool.

Fern Pool
Fern Pool

Fern Pool sits at the most western part of the gorge and is a beautiful waterhole. It was a particularly warm day so we decided to test the waters. The water turned out to be pretty cold, around 22 degrees celsius, but refreshing for a short swim. While we swam some other tourists pointed out a colony of fruit bats perched in the trees along the waters edge. Very cool.

The next day we set out to walk the gorge. A cool feature of Dales Gorge is that you can walk along the northern rim, look down into the gorge from a number of look outs, and then descend into the gorge itself.

Christina at the top of Dales Gorge
Christina at the top of Dales Gorge

The gorge hike takes you from the surface, past a cascading waterfall, and into the floor of the gorge itself, traipsing along the banks of the river to where it ends at a feature called Circular Pool.

Fortescue Falls
Fortescue Falls
Christina with stunning geometric rocks overhead
Christina with stunning geometric rocks overhead
Christina overlooking the river
Christina overlooking the river

Clearly it was my turn to take pictures (expect for the animal shots).

Along our hike we found many butterfly chrysalises and one newly pupated butterfly!

Fresh butterfly
Fresh butterfly drying its wings

We also found a skink hiding in the bushes. We didn’t notice it at first but if you look closely it only has one arm!

One-armed skink
One-armed skink

Not only were there cool animals on this walk, but really interesting rock formations.

Round on square
Round on square

Once we reached the end of the gorge we decided that it would be a good idea to cool off in the crystal clear water of Circular Pool. Where Fern Pool was cold but refreshing, Circular Pool was just frigid. I can’t stand cold water for too long so I was in and then out with in only a few seconds. But it was very beautiful none the less.

Paul gathering strength for the plunge
Paul gathering strength for the plunge
Circular Pool from above
Circular Pool from above

Overall, Dales was an average campground and a spectacular gorge. But this was only a stop over for the area which we had been anticipating before we left on our trip: Ningaloo!

The Top End

A Capital Time

No tour of Australia’s Top End would be complete without visiting the capital city of the Northern Territories, Darwin. Named after Charles Darwin, but ironically Darwin never set foot on that part of Australia. Yet, this hasn’t stopped Australians from naming a university and a national park after him. Admittedly, Darwin is a pretty important historical figure and did visit Australia on his trip around the world, so a little leeway should be given.

The city itself is nothing outstanding as cities go, but it did hold a few treats for us weary travelers. First and foremost, it provided us some much needed rest and reprieve from the swelter heat that typifies the weather of the Top End. Reprieve came in the form of a room in the house of a woman named Ursula, through Airbnb. She lives with her daughter, a roommate, and much to Christina’s and my delight, a female Australian Bulldog and her puppies!

Christina with Victoria and her puppies
Christina with Victoria and her puppies

 

Christina and Matilda
Christina and Matilda

Ripping Christina away from the puppies was difficult, but we did eventually get to explore the city. One of the major tourist attractions is the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. From time to time extremely touristy things live up to their hype. The sunset market was one of those times. The sunset market has the feel of an american county fair, but as you make your way down “food alley” you notice that instead of cotton candy and deep fried everything, you find samosas, chicken satay, fried spring rolls, and fruit smoothies. Obviously, Christina and I were happy has kids in a ball pit. The rest of the market is filled with booths selling the usual handmade jewelry, paintings, photos, boomerangs, assorted nic-nacs (or x if your Australian) all with an very aussie twist to it.

Mindil Beach Sunset Market, complete with fire juggler
Mindil Beach Sunset Market, complete with fire juggler

One of the truly stunning things about the sunset market was not just the awe inspiring sunset, but the shear number of people who populate the beach during this daily event.

Mindil Beach, complete with tourists
Mindil Beach, complete with tourists. Busiest beach we’ve been on!

Litchfield National Park

After resting, playing with puppies, and washing the car it was time to hit the road again and head south to complete the Savannah Way. As we headed south we made a few stops along the way. The first of our stops was at Berry Springs. Yet another warm water river that flows in the Norther Territory much like that of Bitter Springs previously mentioned. We enjoyed a refreshing swim and lunch, but in our relaxing we failed to take a photo. But Darwin and Berry Springs were just warm ups to the main event: Litchfield National Park.

As you might have noticed, water has played a central theme in almost all the places that we visit. Either wading in the ocean or playing a spring, but nowhere has water played a more central role in our day to day activities than at Litchfield. Water and the effects it has on the landscape is the main attraction for Litchfield and you’re extremely happy it’s there since the weather requires you to have access to cool refreshing pools of water.

Litchfield has about six major attractions and we did them all. On the first day we setup our tent at Wangi Falls, but drove up the road to Walker Creek. To get to the swimming area at Walker Creek you have to hike about a kilometer and a half up a small incline. The hike alone is worth it complete with a boardwalk and really cool looking palms.

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Christina on the way to Walker Creek
Christina on the way to Walker Creek

Our next stop that day was at Cascades. At Cascades you have the option of either going to the upper falls, a hike of about two kilometers return, or go to the lower falls, about one and a half kilometers return. We were feeling a little lazy at this point and decided to do the shorter of the two hikes. We were not disappointed.

Cascades, with Christina flailing
Cascades, with Christina flailing

The next day we lounged around at Buley Rockhole and splashed around at Florence Falls. Buley was by far my favorite part of Litchfield.

Buley Rockhole, crawling with peoples
Buley Rockhole, crawling with peoples

As you can see from the photo the river has cut away at the rock creating a staircase platform effect leaving small deep pools of water to swim in at different levels. This was by far one of the most popular places in the park with people all over the place, but not so crowded that you couldn’t find a spot jump in and cool off.

As the day started to warm up we decided to walk to the next swimming area at Florence Falls. But before we got to the falls and the plunge pool below Christina spotted, I don’t know how, these really cool harlequin beetles.

Harlequin beetle. Stunning!
Harlequin beetle. Stunning!

Florence Falls didn’t disappoint either.

Florence Falls
Florence Falls

Another very popular area and for good reason. The water’s a bit cold, I could only be in for short periods of time, but very refreshing after our hike out to the falls. One particularly interesting thing that happened while we were there was that a few people climbed to the top of the falls and jumped back down to the plunge pool. If I were to guess, I would say that the height of the falls was about 13-14 meters or about 40ft. This all wouldn’t have been that interesting except that the rangers came by and gave all who were involved a very stern lecture about how jumping from rocks was not permitted. Luckily the climb up to the top of the falls looked too difficult, so I avoided being one of those being reprimanded.

On our way back to the car we saw the dried up corpse of a Cane Toad.

Cane Toad, extra crispy
Cane Toad, extra crispy

We should mention here that cane toads are invasive and are considered a menace since they endanger local wildlife who try to eat them (they eat everything and they’re toxic). So don’t feel too bad about this dried up toad.

The next day we started making our way south once more, but not before we finally explored the falls around our campsite. Wangi Falls had a beautiful plunge pool where we swam around for a bit and had a surprise for us in the form of bats!

Fruit bats hanging around, sleeping. There were hundreds!
Fruit bats hanging around, sleeping. There were hundreds!

 

The next stop was at the termite mounds. Termite mounds usually don’t inspire a lot of awe, but these termite mounds are really quite cool. What makes them interesting is that the termites construct their mounds along the magnetic poles, north-south, so that one side of their mound is always in the shade helping to regulate the temperature within the mound itself. Cool, right!?

Magnetic Termite mounds
Magnetic termite mounds

There were also some giant mounds that stood about 4-5meters tall. So, we pulled over at a particularly large one and took photos in front of it. I’m not a fan of jumptography—but Christina insisted.

Paulie being abducted
Paulie being abducted

The last stop we made before continuing on the Savannah Way was at the Katherine Hot Springs.

Paul soaking in the last of the hot springs on our journey
Paul soaking in the last of the hot springs on our journey

You can’t tell, but I’m actually quite cold during this photo. Who else gets cold in 32 celsius water? No one? Just me?

And top it all off, a photo of me in our home.

Paul in our tent, our home.
Paul in our tent, our home.

Overall, the Top End was extremely beautiful and definitely a place I would visit again if given a chance, but maybe in a different season just to see what it’s like in the wet season.

Next, on to Broome!!!

28 Going on 70

Right before the border of Queensland and Northern Territory on the Savannah Way
Right before the border of Queensland and Northern Territory on the Savannah Way

Up until this point not many of the names of our campgrounds have caught or kept our attention, but with a name like Hells Gate, you have to stop and take notice. The accommodations were actually quite nice for a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Hot showers, sink for washing dishes, delicious water, and the front desk had a free book exchange which we took advantage of.

Hells Gate also lived up to it’s name not only because the weather was about to get consistently warmer, but because the road conditions between the roadhouse and the Northern Territory border were some the worst we’ve encountered yet. Indeed, we felt like we were in hell during that part of the drive, creeping along in second gear (sometimes only first). But as soon as we reached the boarder the corrugation diminished (the dirt remained for another 100km).

The Northern Territory

Wahoo a new territory!
Wahoo a new territory!

All the corrugation and endless dirt road was worth it as we saw our first emu run swiftly across the road in front of us. No picture was taken because those things move fast! Instead of getting a picture of an emu we did find time to take a picture of some really cool termite mounds (they are a constant feature along the entire northern road).

Outback in the outback, passing by thousands of termite mounds
Outback in the outback, passing by thousands of termite mounds

The other constant by the side of the road is cattle. They roam around everywhere, including crossing the highway at whatever pace they please.

Brahman cows looking fiercely curious
Brahman cows looking fiercely curious

Our first day in the Territory ended with us camping at a free rest stop outside Cape Crawford. The rest stop had no toilets, but it did provide for a very pretty sunset and bird watching the next morning.

Sunset at Cape Crawford
Sunset at Cape Crawford
Beautiful gallahs
Beautiful gallahs

After a leisurely morning of breakfast and birdwatching we headed out for the Stuart Highway and our next stop, Daley Waters. Daley Waters was recommended to us by some greys nomads and their son who said that the roadhouse was famous for its pub and food. So we thought, hey, why not? This turned out to be a fantastic recommendation. Let me tell you why.

Daley Waters

First, when you walk into the bar you immediately can see that it has a lot of…character. And by character I mean your typical country/dive bar kitsch: panties and bras hanging from the ceiling, student IDs and international currency stapled to the walls, and lots of silly signs with purposefully bad spelling. Basically every square centimeter covered with some kind of crazy decoration.

Daley Waters Pub
Daley Waters Pub

Second, their was live entertainment in the evening. But before the show started we looked around and noticed that about 90% of the people around us having dinner were over 70 and confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Christina and I are living a retired couple’s life. Hence the title of the post.

Paul drinking a XXXX Gold
Paul drinking a XXXX Gold

Then the live entertainment started. This was by far the best part of the night. The show starts with a man named Steve standing on stage with a electric guitar slung around his shoulder and what looked like a small television setup on a table next to him. I wasn’t sure what the television was for but soon found out that Steve would be playing guitar and singing along as the words to the songs were shown on the screen next to him–essentially doing karaoke with a guitar. He played the hits from the 50’s and 60’s and even had his own rendition of ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rodgers. In a word it was fantastic. Just pure entertainment. I suppose the heat or the beer was getting to our heads, but we had a really good time watching this older gentleman serenade a group of his peers. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Christina drinking cider with Steve behind going to town
Christina drinking cider with Steve behind going to town

Mataranka

Our next stop, Mataranka, was another recommendation from greys we met way back on the road to Carnarvon. Mataranka is in between Daley Waters and Katherine on the way to Darwin, the capital city. The draw to Mataranka are their lovely hot springs, the best being Bitter Springs where you float down the river, hop out, walk back and jump back in again (over and over). The temperature of the water is what makes Bitter Springs special. The water temp is a consistent 32 C. That’s pretty much 90 F! The water comes from a limestone aquifer that is filled every year by the monsoon rains and spills over into Bitter Springs. The color of the water is what is most striking. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it other than beautiful.

Crystal-blue hot spring waters of Mataranka's Bitter Springs
Crystal-blue hot spring waters of Mataranka’s Bitter Springs

It’s also been the only water so far that I could have stayed in all day and not get cold. In fact, we had to get out of the water to cool down!

Edith Falls

Our next stop was Edith Falls, which is part of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park and the falls are located on the north side of the park. Edith Falls has three different parts to it. The bottom plunge pool, which was only a few hundred meters from our campsite, the middle pool, and the upper pool. The upper pool is only accessible by a short walk, 1km, and the middle pool is not accessible at all, but could be viewed from a distance on a return walk to the plunge pool. We decided to do it all!

The upper pool was extraordinary beautiful. Cold, crystal clear water, cascading down the side of a basalt rock into a deep emerald pool. The water was extremely refreshing after hiking almost straight up hill, but I couldn’t stay in too long since I get cold easily. But, I soon found a place to get out of the water and jump from a rock.

Paul at Edith Falls' upper pools having a blast
Paul at Edith Falls’ upper pools having a blast

On our way back down toward the plunge pool we had to stop and take a photo of the middle pool.

Paul and Christina at Edith's middle pool
Paul and Christina at Edith’s middle pool

Once we arrived at the plunge pool we had warmed up and decided to take a dip. The water was again very cold so we didn’t spend too much time swimming around, but did manage to snorkel (always looking for freshwater crocs, but only saw fishies). A bit tired from all the swimming and hiking we decided to retire for the day to rest up for our next part of our journey at the Top End.