South Australia

The Nullarbor

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).

Best. Sign. Ever.
Best. Sign. Ever.

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.

Eucla's Old Telegraph Station
Christina entering Eucla’s Old Telegraph Station

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.

Nullarbor cliffs
Nullarbor cliffs

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.

Whale (not to scale).
Whale (not to scale).

 

Eyre Peninsula

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.

Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera
Christina & Paul putting s good face on for the camera

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.

 

Flinders Range

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!

Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range
Christina & Paul look out over the Flinders Range

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.

Don't wake the dragons
Don’t wake the dragons

At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.

Friendly neighborhood fly-killer
Friendly neighborhood fly-killer

 

Mt. Remarkable

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.

Hidden Gorge Trail
Hidden Gorge Trail

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.

Happy Goanna
Happy Goanna

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.

Paul and his flies
Paul and his flies

 

Adelaide

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.

Fleurieu Peninsula

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).

Christina headed for Granite Island
Christina headed for Granite Island

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.

Paul and Granite
Paul and Granite

The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.

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Stare down

 

Naracoorte Caves

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.

Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons
Naracoorte Caves fossil skeletons

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.

Wonambi Fossil Museum
Wonambi Fossil Center –  Thylacoleo carnifex (Marsupial Lion)

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.

Entrance to the Wet Cave
Entrance to the Wet Cave
Paul in the shadows
Paul in the shadows
Large Cave, with interesting roof bubbles from CO2
Interesting roof bubbles from CO2

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.

Echidna, being cute as a button.
Echidna, being cute as a button.
More echidna
More echidna

 

Bool Lagoon

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.

Long necked-turtle trying o cross the road
Long necked-turtle trying to cross the road

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.

Bool Lagoon Boardwalk
Christina on the Bool Lagoon Boardwalk

 

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.

Seaview Hike
Seaview Hike
Cliffs
Cliffs

We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.

Piccaninnie Ponds

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.

 

Red-Bellied Black Snake - highly venomous!
Red-Bellied Black Snake – Beautiful! -iridescent purple black on top, and red-orange belly. Lovely creature. One of the most venomous land snakes in the world.
Paul at the ponds
Paul at the ponds

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!

 

 

Cape to Cape

We have successfully finished the journey along the West Coast of Australia! From Broome to the Cape took us 50 days and we travelled 13,175 km!

Australia Road Trip Map - West Coast

As a grand hurrah (and a break from all the driving), we decided to go on a 4 day backpacking trip along the Cape to Cape track in the Margaret River area. It’s one of the most well-travelled trails, and we had plenty of company. Since there are a few towns along the way, many people opt for a more luxurious walk staying at hotels, eating out and even getting picked up/dropped-off each day, but we wanted to be true to form and pack-in pack-out everything we needed. We only did the first half of the trail which was 65km of gorgeous rugged coast and long sandy beaches, starting at Cape Naturaliste in the north and ending in Prevally–which includes crossing the Margaret River. [The full hike is 135km, and takes 5-8 days].

cape_to_cape_map

 

Here we are at the start of the trip, looking like normal people…

Start of the trip!
Day 1: Start of the trip!
Sugarloaf Rocks
Day 1: Sugarloaf Rock

Not even 2km into the hike, we saw a snake! Not just any snake, a brown snake…the first venomous snake we’ve seen the entire time in Australia (geez, only took us 4 months)!

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Christina with a brown snake!

The beach walking was grueling!

Beach
Day 1: Smiths Beach

One morning, we ran across this little bunny on the trail. We approached quietly so I could get a good photo, and slowly we realized she wasn’t doing too well. I got even closer and nudged her with my boot, and she barely noticed, and then almost fell over…poor little dying bunny…

Day 2: bunny
Day 2: dying baby bunny

Turns out A LOT of the trail was sandy, even inland. Sometimes we were on 4WD tracks, as a lot of good surfing beaches were tucked away along this coastline.

Day 3 : water break
Day 3 : water break
Our faithful track posts
Track posts…always happy to see we weren’t lost!

Days 3 and 4 we saw lots of goannas! We’d been missing them most of the trip, but here they enjoyed basking in the sun along the trail, so we were thrilled!

Goanna
Goanna

Finally, we made it!

Paul at end of the trip!
Day 4: Paul at end of the trip, looking back at Margaret River behind us

The next day (after a nice shower, pizza and cocktails) we drove down to the southern tip to officially finish our route along the West Coast!

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse!
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse!

Now, time to head east for the last leg of the trip!

Parks with Perks

Wildflowers

While we may not have timed our trip well for whale sharks, we did happen to visit southwestern Australia at the perfect time for spring wildflowers. From Kalbarri south, we marveled at the bright colors all around us. They brightened all our hikes, brought birds and bees right next to us, and made the landscape come alive on the long drives. Here is a little taste of the rainbow – all from one day in Kalbarri:

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Jump for Joy

As our little guide book describes it, Geraldton is the “key port and administration center for the region” – meaning there’s not much to do. And sadly, we had to occupy ourselves for a whole weekend in this town since we arrived on a Friday and had to wait til Monday to get the car serviced. Even worse, every shop in town closes at 1pm on Saturday, and nothing is open Sunday. There was, however, a nice little market (where we bought some fudge) and a nice museum about Western Australia’s natural history, local culture and the fascinating shipwrecks off the treacherous coast. The stories of the dutch ships Batavia (1629) and Zuytdorp (1712) include some serious blood-thirsty episodes, if you care to look them up…

The best part of our visit was hands-down the jumping pillow pad at the caravan park. There’s something amazingly satisfying about bouncing around like idiots until you fall over from laughing too hard you can’t move anymore. If you know of one nearby, go visit it NOW.

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More Parks

Although we were eager to get to Perth, we couldn’t skip over the last few parks on the way. And as luck would have it, just after entering Beekeepers Nature Reserve, where we planned to camp, I spotted a tiny creature on the road, with a unique wobbly gait, and I wailed for Paul to stop the car. He dutifully turned around and we manged to find the little lizard we were desperate (and unable) to find while in Shark Bay… the one and only Thorny Devil!

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Moloch horridus is a remarkable being that would be nightmarish if only it weren’t so small and cute. With pointy scales all over its body, and skin that changes color, it sits around eating tiny black ants and nothing else. Even more amazing, is its ability to collect moisture from dew on its body that flows via tiny channels between its scales straight into its adorable stubby mouth. BEST DAY EVER.

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While few things could ever top finding a Thorny Devil, we continued onward to Lesueur National Park for a wonderful hike to a lookout over the area. Apparently, it has more plant species per unit than anywhere in the state (200 of 800 are endemic to the park).

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Next, we made out way to Jurien Bay. We were hoping to see some friendly Australian Fur Seals, but alas, they hide away from humans on the offshore islands. The beach was still very pretty.

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Pinnacles

The most famous site in the area is undoubtedly the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. Thousands of limestone pinnacles pop out of the sand, up to 5 meters tall. They were formed when plant roots cemented with calcite in the dunes, exposed by wind and shifting sands.

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You can drive right between the strange structures, giving the place a very other-worldly feel.

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Paul wandering between pinnacles
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Pinnacles Drive

Our last stop before Perth was Yanchep National Park, where we spent a rainy morning wandering around the wildlife and flowers.

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Christina chats with a friendly kookaburra
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Christina walking with roos

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While we have yet to visit any captive animals parks (every creature we’ve seen so far has been wild), we stumbled upon the (free) koala enclosure in the middle of the park, and got to see our first koalas of the trip.

Deadly drop bear
Deadly drop bear

Coastal

Shark Bay

The next stop on our way down along the west coast is Shark Bay. It’s a huge marine park comprised of multiple national parks and World Heritage Areas. The first bay, Hamelin Pool, is home to some of Earth’s first creatures: stromatolites (cyanobacteria). While they’re not much to look at, walking amongst them is like walking back in time, to see the organisms responsible for making the oxygen in our atmosphere.

Paul and the stromatolites
Paul and the Stromatolites
Pied cormorants
Pied cormorants

A little farther up the peninsula is Shell Beach, a suitable name for a vast stretch of beach made entirely of little cockle shells that thrive in the super-salty water of the shallow bay, 25-30 feet deep in some areas. They used to make stone bricks out of them, too.

Endless cockle shells
Endless cockle shells

Farther still, is an amazing rugged cliff looking down on crystal blue ocean where the casual onlooker can sit back and leisurely watch all sorts of sea creatures wander into the bay. Within a few minutes we saw shovel-nosed sharks, several reef sharks, stingrays, a pod of dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales in the distance. Not bad!

Eagle Bluff
Eagle Bluff

That night we celebrated with margaritas! Our tequila even came with its own sombrero.

Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.
Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.

The next morning we made friends with a shingleback skink who was happily sunning herself in the middle of the road, who, when provoked by a waving hand, showed-off her fabulous blue tongue 🙂

Skink!
Skink! AKA bobtail, stump-tailed skink, bogeye, pinecone lizard or sleepy lizard.

Monkey Mia

Our next stop was a very touristy spot called Monkey Mia (I still haven’t figured out why it had that name) where local humans have been hand-feeding wild dolphins for decades. In the ’60s they used to let people feed them as much as they pleased, and the dolphins loved it, coming back every day to get a free meal. However, after about 20 years they noticed a sharp decline in young dolphins. Turns out all the free meals meant the mother dolphins weren’t teaching their calves how to find wild fish, and so they couldn’t survive on their own. These days, they are limited to 3 feedings a day, starting at 8am. All the humans line up on the beach and listen to the rangers while awaiting the dolphins (they all have names, and we saw mother, daughter and granddaughter). Some special people get picked to hand-feed the dolphins, while trying the evade the hungry fish-stealing pelicans. We were not the chosen people.

Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite

The dolphin experience was a nice treat, but the real draw of Shark Bay for us was the dugongs. Relatives of the freshwater manatee (with a forked tail instead of a rounded tail), dugongs are the only true vegetarian marine mammal, eating seagrass all day long. They are actually negatively buoyant, with very heavy bones, so they don’t need to exert any energy while feeding on the bottom. But this means they only have time for one breath each time they surface. While they remain a threatened species, about 20% of the world population resides in Shark Bay. The best way to see them is to jump on a wildlife cruise, so we dutifully followed suit.

Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a dive
Dugong taking a dive. 

The cruise also stopped at a pearl farm, which is a huge industry all the way up to Broome and beyond (and has its own crazy history involving kidnapping aboriginal women and forcing them to dive down to collect pearls, and later a huge migration of asian labor, including the still-best Japanese). We got to see some of the new inventive techniques they use to create unique shapes under the shell (hearts, anchors, dolphins, etc) and imbedding gold and gem stones to be covered in nacre (the white, iridescent coating that makes a pearl a pearl).

Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)
Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)

 

Kalbarri National Park

This park has both red rock gorges and rocky ocean coast, making it one of my (Christina’s) very favorite places in Australia. We started inland with a lovely loop hike (imaginatively called The Loop) starting on the rim at Nature’s Window (a large wind-created hole) and followed the trail down into the red and white banded gorge along the Murchison river.

Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Nature's Window
Nature’s Window with squatters
Tree with flowers
Tree with flowers
Interesting patterns in the rock
Interesting patterns in the rock
Pretty cliffs
Pretty banded cliffs
Friendly lizard
Cute lizard

The second part of the park, and its most spectacular in my opinion, it the wild coastline. Even though we’re farther south, the water still has that tropical light blue color, paired with white limestone cliffs or iron-rich sandstone. What is truly stunning about this part of Western Australia is the mix of warm-tropical and cold-water marine life. The west coast of Australia has the only southward flowing current in the southern hemisphere (the currents along South America and Africa both flow north). The Leeuwin current brings down tropical marine species from Southeast Asia, while the cold waters from Antartica bring the nutrient rich water north. They meet here and form a wonderful seascape that mixes coral reefs and bright tropical fish with seaweeds and kelps of the rocky intertidal.

Rock Island
Rock Island

One of the best places to explore was Eagle Gorge Beach, which was a small beach, but had an amazing amount of marine life, from little snails in the tide pools, to a huge crab-eating gull, and the remnants of creatures washed up on the beach (endless shells, urchins, cuttlebones, etc). I could have stayed there for days exploring all the nooks and crannies!

Paul in the tide pools
Paul in the tide pools
Shells galore
Shells galore
Urchin shell with seaweed
Urchin shell with seaweed
Literally every color of the rainbow...in shells!
Literally every color of the rainbow…in shells!
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.

We continued along the coast to other beaches, lookouts and bluffs, each one presenting new and beautiful treasures.

Christina on edge
Christina on edge
Crab!
Crabs!
Sandy path around the beach dunes
Paul on a sandy path 
Kangaroo on the trail
Kangaroo on the trail
Christina at Red Bluff
Christina at Red Bluff
Paul at Red Bluff :)
Paul at Red Bluff 🙂

Where ever we went, the whales weren’t far, and today we managed to get a photo!

Humpback whale breaching!
Humpback whale breaching!

 

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.

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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 Kimberley

One of the most well-known and awe-inspiring landscapes in Australia is the Kimberley. It’s in the North West, and takes us into a new territory—Western Australia (the largest, and most remote). But before we cross the border, we stop at one last park in the Northern Territory.

Judbarra National Park (Gregory)

We hadn’t heard of this park until we spotted it on the map, right along our route, and thought it would be a nice stopover. Indeed it was! We did two short hikes, one up a steep escarpment for a fantastic view of the whole valley, and the other went up to some stunning cliffs with rock art.

Christina wiggling through the rocks and roots
Christina wiggling through the rocks and roots
Lookout over the Victoria River
Lookout over the Victoria River

One noticeable feature that popped up in this region, was the funny-looking, shapely boab tree. It’s a distant cousin of the African baobab, there’s one species in Africa, and thirteen in Madagascar—all much larger than the stubby boab. Their haphazard appearance in the bush was a wonderful treat along the long stretches of highway shrub.

Christina under the boabs
Christina under the boabs

 

Lake Argyle

After crossing the border into Western Australia and disposing of all fruits and vegetables (strict quarantine), we arrived in Kununurra. It’s a larger town thanks to the rich agricultural fields surrounding it, which were created when the Ord River was dammed up in 1971. The dam also created Lake Argyle, a thriving tourist haven.

Ord River, the dam is just to the left
Ord River, the dam is just to the left
Lake Argyle. The caravan park where we stayed at is in the top right corner.
Lake Argyle. The caravan park where we stayed at is in the top right corner.
Paul enjoying the clear waters
Paul enjoying the clear waters
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo eating eucalypt nuts
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo eating eucalypt nuts

After the lake, we visited Mirima National Park, made of ancient Devonian reef, layers of red silt and black reef.

Mirima National Park's beautiful layered rock formations
Mirima National Park’s beautiful layered rock formations

That night, while staying at a particularly remote rest stop/campsite, we got a great view of the sky.

Our little spaceship tent floating in the galaxy
Our little spaceship tent floating in the galaxy

 

Geikie Gorge

While we couldn’t do the real Kimberley (the Gibb River road passes through rugged terrain and many gorges, but it’s 4WD only), we did manage to see one of our favorite gorges of the trip, Geike Gorge. This gorge was also formed by ancient reef, but the weathering and sediment types produced vastly different outcomes—stunning sharp jagged rocks and black and white faces along the Fitzroy River. The whole place had a very other-worldly feeling…

Pointy rocks in Geikie Gorge
Pointy rocks in Geikie Gorge
The gorge itself
Gorgeous
Paul walking across this strange planet
Paul walking across this strange planet

Most importantly, we finally saw freshwater crocodiles! One on the hike, and two at the edge of the sandbar where we went swimming 🙂 No worries, folks. ‘Freshies’, as they’re called, are fish-eaters, and much smaller. Still a bit exhilarating to be in the water with!

Can you spot the freshwater crocodile?
Can you spot the freshwater crocodile?
Christina lounging by the water
Christina lounging by the water

Derby

The ocean! The Kimberley region ends at the coast near the town of Derby. On the outskirts of town is a site home to the Prison Boab, which was a sacred aboriginal site until it was carved out and used to hold aboriginals during their forced relocation.

Prison Boab Tree
Prison Boab Tree

Derby has Australia’s highest tidal range (8th highest in the world) a whopping 12 meters (38 feet)! We got a before/after shot to show the difference between high and low tide, but the low tide photo is only halfway to actually low tide… so use your imagination!

Derby at high tide
Derby at high tide
Derby at (half) low tide
Derby at (half) low tide

At the jetty where we took the tide photos was a great sign reminding fishermen to clean up their line and hooks. Best part is the pidgin-australian in red.

Clean up your fishing gear!
Clean up your fishing gear!