Aussie Driving Tour
Aussie Driving Tour
We have officially finished our road trip around Australia!
The last leg of the journey, all along the southern coast took 51 days and covered 11,777 km.
In total, we drove 22,500 km in 5 months.
The Great Ocean Road
After leaving Tasmania, we had one final drive to complete the trip, the famous Great Ocean Road. Just west of Melbourne, the Victorian coastline has some beautiful cliffs, all in various states of erosion, falling into the ocean. There are many distinct features to stop and see.
The most well-known (and most-visited) are the 12 Apostles, twelve limestone towers scattered along a stretch of beach.
Did I mention it was crowded? We had to actively dodge selfie sticks for 1 km.
The best part of the trip for me, was, of course, a chance to see wild koalas. There were several places to easily spot them sleeping in the trees in various towns along the highway. We lucked out at the first one with this beauty, hanging out with a flock of king parrots.
Next stop on the way back to Sydney was a fantastic microbrewery, Prickly Moses Brewery at Otway Estate. Paul got to taste 10 beers, and I had a nice refreshing cider. A rain squall came through while we were there so we happily stayed indoors drinking.
We stopped briefly in Canberra, the capital of Australia, to see the unusual government center, check off the last Australian state ACT (Australian Capital Territory, like Washington DC)– and see Star Wars 🙂
We finally arrived in Sydney on December 23, just in time for the holidays. We spent Christmas with Linda, Fergus and the rest of the family in the Blue Mountains (where we visited when we first arrived in Australia). It was wonderful to be welcomed into their family celebrations for our first Christmas away from home. Needless to say, we were well fed. A great Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner, and a Christmas lunch of salads, cheese, dips, ham, crisps and more.
After that huge lunch, Paul, Fergus and Linda managed to go out on a Christmas hike along Darwin’s Track (again, the same one we did back in June). I managed to get on the couch to watch a documentary instead.
Christmas Dinner was spectacular, roasted chickens, potatoes, vegetables followed by a smorgasbord of dessert: Christmas plum pudding (steamed and covered in brandy sauce), minced fruit pies, fresh fruit, whipped cream, lemon & mango sorbet, chocolates and ice cream. We can’t thank them enough for including us in all the delicious meals and the sharing of gifts.
A few days later, Paul celebrated his 29th birthday at a great little Sydney microbrewery.
We also re-visited Bondi Beach, now in its summer-glory, full of holiday crowds.
And we finished up 2015 by going out New Year’s Eve to Darling Harbour, enjoying the beautiful light displays and a magnificent fireworks show!
It’s been a fantastic 2015, full of crazy adventures and unforgettable experiences, we can only hope to accomplish as much in 2016. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!
Christina & Paul
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a little video showing the milking process and more:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
After two months in Western Oz, we finally make it across the border, into a new territory! We also travel along the longest straight road in Australia, 146km long (although I can’t say it seemed different from most of the other drives we’ve done).
Right along the border between Western and South Australia, we visit Eucla National Park, famed for its old telegraph station ruins, half-buried in white sand dunes.
The road east takes us through our last expanse of emptiness, the Nullarbor. The name comes from “nullus arbor” meaning “no trees”, a fact we can confirm. It also looks uncannily like Nevada/Idaho. The reason for this treeless plain is the rock underneath: 200,000 square kms of limestone—the biggest, flattest piece of limestone in the world, up to 300m thick. Even more amazing is that this giant slab of limestone juts right up against the ocean, along the Great Australian Bight. The resulting cliffs are stunning.
All along this coast we looked for Southern Right Whales, but sadly we were a little late to the party. The whales spend the winter here giving birth and resting in the shallow waters, sometimes only a few meters away from the cliffs (which has created quite a tourist industry), and spend the rest of the year in Antarctica. However, we don’t feel as bad about missing them when we find out it’s been a bad year altogether. It used to be you could spot several dozen mother and calf pairs at peak season, but this year the most they saw at one time were six. And they didn’t come nearly as close as years past. I think it’s probably a combination of climate change and El Nino.
We made our way down along the Eyre Peninsula to Lincoln National Park at the very tip. We had a nice time here, with a quiet little beach next to our campground in Spalding Cove, and lots of kangaroos and emus running around to keep us entertained. This is also the best place in Australia to see Great White Sharks, so we basked in the warm, fuzzy feeling that they were nearby. However, we were also being tormented by a much more horrible and terror-inducing beast… the Great Australian Fly. Although we brought one fly-net with us, we were wise enough to buy a second in Esperance. Most of hikes from here on out would be overshadowed by them. Literally.
From here we drove north towards the mountains, through a town called Whyalla, but it’s also known in some circles (my kind of circles) as Cuttlefish Mecca. Yet again, we missed the season. But something tells me we’ll be here again… Hundreds of giant cuttlefish court, fight and mate here in the winter, all with dazzling color-changing flashes and shows. Yup, we’ll be here again, somehow.
Here, the flies worsened. In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, camping with swarms of flies is one of the least-enjoyable things you could do. Cooking is a pain, everything has to be constantly covered and fanned. Eating is impossible with a fly-net on, so we end up sweltering in the car (after killing the 5-6 flies that inevitably get caught inside with us). Our only escape is the tent. So after a difficult night, we hoped by climbing a mountain maybe the wind would keep them away.
With our fly-nets on, we set out on the trail. Most of the hikers we passed also had nets, so at least we weren’t the only people who looked like idiots. We even passed a group of people with multicolor streamer-wands to swat them away. As we made our way toward the trailhead, we were stopped by a mob of juvenile delinquents:
With our spirits lifted by the friendly encounter, we hiked up Mt. Ohlssen-Bagge, and were rewarded with a spectacular view. And fewer flies!
And we had plenty of company from the reptiles running around, too. The trail was very steep and rocky, and it seemed like every time I laid my hand down on a rock, it ended up inches from a skink or dragon, who just looked at my wondering why I was trying to steal her sunbathing spot.
At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.
Remarkable for somehow having more flies than any other park. And with the weather taking a turn toward hellish (38C), our usual respite, the tent, was quite unbearable. Luckily, the next day was going to be much cooler, so we planned a long hike to keep ourselves busy. We chose the popular Hidden Gorge trail (18km) which turned out to be one of our absolute favorite hikes of the trip. Since we started early, we saw lots of kangaroos, and even a pretty yellow-footed rock wallaby hopping straight up a cliff.
We also saw at least five goannas, one of whom wasn’t the least bit concerned about us and went about digging for food right in front of us.
And yes, the flies followed us the whole time. The photo below shows how many flies we typically carry around with us, but at their peak there were easily three times as many.
After a brutal week of flies, we were so excited to be in a city (and indoors at an Airbnb) that we completely forgot to take any pictures. We did manage to eat some fantastic indian food, though.
The marine emblem of South Australia is the extraordinary leafy sea-dragon. A spectacular animal (related to sea horses) they are native to these seaweed-rich coasts, and nowhere else in the world. And although we desperately wanted to see them in their natural home, the weather and water was pretty cold, and another scuba-diving trip was not in our budget. But at least we scoped out the dive site for in case we come back (Rapid Bay Jetty, in case you’re wondering).
On the southern side of this peninsula is Granite Island, a little island connected to the town of Victor Harbor via a 630m wooden boardwalk. Turns out it’s also South Australia’s most-visited national park, and it’s home to a small colony of Little Penguins (they come ashore in the evening).
The large granite boulders are what’s left after the limestone around it eroded, and has the same geology as “Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island to the west (which I visited 10 years ago). Although not as large and strangely-shaped as those of Kangaroo Island, these granite rocks still had some character.
The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.
From the coast, we travelled inland to several other parks, including Cox Scrub (where we went on a rainy 4km hike through sandy terrain), Padthaway (where we searched unsuccessfully for koalas on a 4WD adventure…pushing our poor Subaru to the limit), the Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.
South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, this cave system was excavated in 1969, and was found to hold some of the best fossils of ancient megafauna marsupials from 200,000 years ago. They have a strange old museum/animatronic display with recreations of these bizarre animals…which sounded too intriguing to pass up. It was meant to bring the creatures back to life and give visitors a chance to walk back in time, but now it just “frightens small children” as the receptionist said. And he was right. Even for a 28-year-old, the creepy jolty-movements of the moving stuffed animals was enough to give me scary flash-backs…especially the snub-nosed kangaroo that looked like an evil, giant Tim Burton-esque rabbit… Most of the displays were clearly 30 years old, showing wear and tear and molting fake fur underneath a good deal of dust. Unforgettable, I suppose.
After shaking-off the strange experience of the museum, we then made our way to the Wet Cave, where we explored the various caverns at our leisure.
Just as we where about the leave, we were graced with the presence of an animal we’ve been desperately searching for, and had nearly given up hunting. They are nocturnal, timid and yet fairly common across the whole country (which made us even more annoyed), and here we found one in the middle of the afternoon only a few meters from the parking lot, and happy to walk right up to us. Relative of the platypus, the echidna is the only other egg-laying mammal alive today. And again, impossibly cute.
After the caves we drove over to our next campsite, at Bool Lagoon, and immediately made a new friend. This turtle was trying to cross the road (wisely doing so right past the turtle-crossing sign). After snapping the photo, I decided Paul needed a better look (he was waiting in the car), so I picked her up and brought her over to the car window. He was not amused.
The next day we walked along the many boardwalks in the reserve. There’s usually water under them, but with the drought everything was very dry and there were barely any birds at all.
Canunda National Park
We thought we’d visit SA’s coast one last time, so we spent a few nights in Canunda National Park, where we went on a nice 10km walk along the cliffs and beaches on the Seaview Hike.
We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.
This little park (along with Ewans Ponds, nearby) is special because of its crystal-clear limestone pools, which you can snorkel and scuba dive in. We opted for a just a little walk around, which turned out be a boon for snakes! We saw 4 snakes within an hour (3 red-bellied black snakes, one eastern brown), all highly venomous, of course. Three of them were shy, and disappeared off the narrow grassy trail as soon as they saw us, but one of them was a bit more nervous. She stayed perfectly still, but she started flattening her neck (a sign of unease or aggression in snakes). We had to pass by her to get back to the car, so we waited a minute, and slide by her VERY slowly, and made it out without any trouble. Sure got our hearts pumping, though.
Although we didn’t jump in the water ourselves, we got a glimpse of the strange underwater world thanks to the GoPro. Here’s a little video of what the ponds look like underwater:
That wraps up South Australia! Victoria here we come!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There were also tons of emus all over the place, which was really fun.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!