Monday, 3 June 2013

Dinosaur footprints and more - Broome again

Dinosaur footprints and more

Back in Broome, smack on low tide at 7.15am Wednesday morning we went searching for the 120 million year old dinosaur footprints at Gantheaume Point. It was much harder to reach than we expected as the rocks were REALLY slippery and hard to negotiate.  Thankfully another family had seen the prints when the sunlight hit them in a certain way so they showed us where they were – otherwise we’d never have found them. Another set was already under water by the time we got there (only 15 minutes after the actual low tide – see this water does move fast) so we were keen to get ourselves off the rocks before we all got wet.

Pretty amazing to have our kids hands in footprints of a dinosaur. Back at the shelter near the car we learned that unlike most places in the world that have dinosaur footprints of 1 or 2 different dinos, Broome is special because you can see the footprints of 9 different types of dinosaurs!  They also form part of the creation stories of the local Indigenous people so they have both paleontological and cultural significance.  It’s also the start of a songline that would’ve helped Aboriginal people navigate their way from Broome to Queensland!  How’s that?

Cable Beach was a surprise – it really was exceptionally beautiful. We saw two sunsets down there and the three camel trains which was fun. But we never went there during the day for a swim – too many other things to do! 

The biggest highlight for the whole family was going to Sun Pictures on Saturday night to see a kids movie.  It’s the oldest picture gardens in the world and it was pretty special – old projectors, old building, an antique rickshaw.  Local families were really organized and not only took blankets but also pillows for their kids.  At the climax of the movie a huge Qantas jet took off at the Broome airport located right in town and flew right over us…it was a thrill and just added to the atmosphere. It was a hoot!

I checked out Magabala – a not for profit, independent Indigenous publishing house that sells fantastic books. I’m learning so much by reading their books, and their kids books are just a delight to hold and read and look at.  I love them!  Chinatown was a bit of fun, Hugo got his hair cut there so he no longer looks like a teen rock star. 

We spent a fun afternoon at Matso’s brewery with Chris and Denise, we had a fish BBQ with our new friends from Carrawine Gorge and met up with the lovely Em and her little boys who we’d met up with back at Parry’s Beach in Denmark in Jan (they are locals). 

Broome is like no other town on this west coast and we thoroughly loved our time here.

Djoodoon and the winch - Dampier Peninsula

Full moon at Djoodoon 

Djoodoon was on the southern end of Cygnet Bay and was run by a Vietnam vet who hasn’t really left there in a decade.  It was beautiful country coming into it, and Cygnet Bay is just beautiful. But no swimming here as there were mangroves and this side of the peninsula is croc habitat for sure. Although the demountable that housed the toilets was gross, we loved the campground as we had our own outdoor cold shower (saved us having to use the questionable one he had), we had our own little sink and tap, shady trees and an endless supply of wood thanks to Jeff’s generosity.

Simon finally got to use his winch that he’s been wanting to use since we left Brisbane.  We helped out another family and they then bought us drinks at the Pearl Farm (turned out we were all heading there for lunch).  The Pearl Farm has a beautiful little café, sells yummy food at reasonable prices and it was a thoroughly yummy treat. 

The next day we had to use the winch again to get US out of a big puddle that just ate us. We’d slipped into some ruts left by some other poor people, and the winch had to work VERY hard to get us out as the wheels were turning the sand to quick sand as they spun. VERY stressful. Now Simon has no wish to use his winch again!  Thankfully.

At One Arm Point, right on the end of the peninsula we saw the most amazing tides we’ve ever seen come rushing around the point straight into rocks and small islands.  We saw the biggest tide of the fortnight coming in. The only time we’ve seen water like this was when the Brisbane River was in flood.  But this happens twice a day here!  It was a real hoot.

We also went to the Trochus Shell Hatchery and Barramundi Aquaculture enterprise they’ve got going here for a local industry.  It was heaps better than I was expecting.  They have giant clams that are just beautiful, lots of anemones, sea sponges and one of the best things we saw was a blue ringed octopus. How amazing are those little creatures?  As it swam up to the surface, annoyed at Simon having his hand near the surface, his rings were getting brighter and brighter and more obvious. What a stunner.

And who says Australia isn’t a bilingual country?  This community has Bardi AND Jawi people living here so the toilets used all three languages to let you know which was the end you wanted.

The Beagle Bay church is renowned for its mother of pearl and sea shell decorations around the alters, the architraves and everywhere. It was pretty special to see a church decorated out of truly local treasures.
It was a real treat to be welcomed to these communities, meet the people and see how cohesive and together these places are.  We actually experienced a bit of culture shock when we returned to Broome, especially seeing the Indigenous people there sitting around in parks, beside the creeks and along the streets. 
We planned to stay for two weeks up on the peninsula and cut our time short  only because the tides were perfect to see the 120 million year old dinosaur footprints back in Broome.  I think we’ll be heading back up that way again!  Next time.

Lombadina magic - Dampier Peninsula

Lombadina magic

We spent a day in the beautiful community of Lombadina. It’s one of the first Aboriginal communities we’ve been to (Middle Lagoon was really a family-owned thing, rather than a community) and I think it will be hard to find another one like it. 

A big, green lawn is the centre of the community with big, lush, tropical trees growing all around it.  Surrounding it is the bakery (wood-fired), store, health clinic, school, church, old op shop, art and craft place and the artefact shed (the admin office is at the entrance to the community). We made sure we were there on a day the bakery was cooking and devoured a whole loaf of piping hot fresh bread for morning tea.  We had butter and jam and vegemite and it was delicious!  The bakery works Mon, Wed and Fri and they only sell white bread. One loaf is $3.60 which I thought was a bargain given 2 L of milk, some ham and 1kg of carrots had cost me $17 in the shop!

We got special permission (in addition to our $10/car permit) to go to the beach…and none of us were prepared for such a spectacular beach!  We crossed at least 300 m of white sandy dunes and then were met by a big, beautiful bay. It was amazing. We had the beach all to ourselves for the first hour (the only other person we could see was a tinnie in the middle of the bay) and had a great swim.  The tide was going out and gee the tides move around here!  In less than 20 minutes where we were splashing around had gone from reaching the tops of my legs to only being around my ankles! 

A 4WD with some local men zoomed past us and waved cheerily and it’s then that we realized how big this beach was – they kept driving for at least another 5 minutes before they stopped and they still hadn’t reached the end of the bay.

Lombadina is magic.

We camped at an outpost from there, about 9 km south at Chile Creek. Not sure why but the campground felt very special and serene set in the bush. The bathrooms were just so lovely (the best we’ve had for ages) but unfortunately the mossies were out in force even in the middle of the day. And they just drove us away.  But not before we’d checked out the beach twice (again, all to ourselves) and had the best bit of beachcombing ever. We found shells the size of Simon’s feet while driving along the beach. 

We knew high tide was at 11am in Broome so we estimated it would be around noon here so we were on the beach by 9am and off before 10am and were lucky to get off when we did because if we’d left it even 10 minutes longer we wouldn’t have been able to reach the access point off the beach down near the creek!  These tides are so FAST!  

We managed to eat a whole loaf of bread for morning tea. 

Beautiful old church made from mangrove wood and it still has a paperbark roof under the tin.

Lombadina's magical beach. 

So much fun collecting these sea shells. 

The track to the beach at Chile Creek. 

Middle Lagoon - Dampier Peninsula

Middle Lagoon

The top half of the Dampier Peninsula (north of Broome) is all Aboriginal owned land and is meant to be really beautiful.  WE had a beautiful, relaxing time up here for 10 days and could’ve stayed here much longer. The people are warm and welcoming, the beaches are beautiful, there’s more campgrounds than you can poke your stick at and you’re a visitor in Aboriginal-owned land. It was magic.

We stayed at Middle Lagoon for 6 days, Chile Creek for one (or Chillie depending on who is spelling it) and Djoodoon for three. We also visited the communities of Lombadina, One Arm Point and Beagle Bay.

Most people only know about Kooljamon resort up at Cape Leveque (an Aboriginal-owned campground resort) but we’d heard along the way there were plenty of other places to stay. So glad we found out about the others as it really made our trip up here something special.

At Middle Lagoon we felt a little nervous about swimming despite the assurances that the rock bar into  the lagoon, the kilometres of beach and lack of mangroves meant that crocs don’t come here. So we swam in the shallows. We had a couple of campfires, lovely neighbours and a torrential, unseasonal tropical downpour that got everything and everyone soaked! 

Our tent just couldn’t cope with that much rain and a little creek running underneath it (it felt like we were walking on a waterbed). We spent a whole day in the rain digging small levy banks to divert water, kids just dug holes and mucked around in puddles and generally trying to dry everything that was well and truly sodden. Not so fun.

Our lovely neighbours, Lance and Marion, took the kids down to the beach for an hour or so the next day while Simon and I dealt with the aftermath.  The kids loved their kayak (and so did we!) and had a great time with their new friends. We were so grateful to them as we had a lot to do and it just made it easier knowing the kids were entertained and happy (and having an adventure all of their own).

We discovered another beautiful beach at Middle Lagoon on our last day and also learned about all the great fishing spots (why do we have these conversations on the 5th day and not the first?).  We also walked around and found some more beautiful campsite we didn’t realize were there when we were trying to choose one (too many to choose!). 

On our final night, two of Tamara’s kids and one of her dogs joined us late in the afternoon. Hugo and her son kicked a footy for a bit until he discovered his sister was in the tent playing with our train set.  Three days a week a big 4WD bus collects them to take them to the Catholic school at Beagle Bay – what an adventure just getting to school is in this part of the world! 

Broome for one night only


It was one of the worst drives we’ve done – the landscape did not change the entire 300 or so km and the kids were loud and raucous and Simon and I had not had our morning coffee as we had run out. A lethal combination. 

I was surprised by my own emotion as we drove towards Broome playing our favourite Missy Higgins/Ernie Dingo song “Driving up the dusty red highway”. It was what I was playing a lot when Simon was in hospital after his heart-attack and we began to dream to do this trip earlier than we had been planning.  The emotion caught me by surprise as it reminded me of how difficult those times were and the feeling of quiet happiness that we were ‘living our dream’ as they say. 

Driving up the dusty red highway
I’ve got this freedom blowing wind in my hair
Soaking up this wild desert country
All my troubles are gone I don’t care.
Hey Mama I can just smell your fish soup and rice
I’m coming back home to you
Not cut out for this city life
Soon I’ll be dreaming in Broome….

Stephen Pigram

We got into Roebuck Bay Caravan Park when it was dark after doing a massive shop, ate hot chicken sandwiches followed down by cherry ripes and enjoyed hearing the raucous noises of the locals in the next door park ALL NIGHT LONG!

In the morning when Otto woke up in the pre-dawn light we were really taken aback with the view we had over the beautiful Roebuck Bay!  One of the few pleasures of setting up the tent in the dark is discovering where you are the next morning.

Farewell to the Pilbara

 mid May 

The rain and the cold drove us out of the East Pilbara.  It rained from 2pm one afternoon all through the night so in the morning as it had stopped we packed up the tent quickly to escape.  The track out was getting pretty bad.  We stopped again at Marble Bar where the ‘hottest town in Australia’ was recording a temperature of 18 degrees! 

We drove down Doolena Gap to Doolena Gorge to take a look and it was another pretty, free campsite.  Then we headed out to Shay Gap, over the De Grey River which pretty much marked the end of the Pilbara for us. No more pretty hills or mountains to surprise us.  But we hit the plains and found our first camel for the trip!

Collecting shells along Eighty Mile Beach was a nice way to while away a few hours (and we caught up on our washing with the $2 a load washing machines) and then we headed to Broome.

East Pilbara – Marble Bar and Carrawine Gorge

11 May - 15 May 2013 
The drive from Karijini to Woodstock on the Great Northern Highway was spectacular.  The East Munjina Gorge was entirely different to the other gorges we’d seen at Karijini as it was wide and there was a road coming up the middle of it! (the Rio Tinto Gorge also had a road coming up it on the western edge of the NP but trucks had to radio ahead before entering it as the road/gorge is so narrow).  We were sad to farewell the beautiful Hamersley Range.  WE could clearly see when we left the range as we were driving along another plateau/plain.

Much to our surprise not too much along the road the Chichester Ranges came into view again and they were equally awesome here on the eastern edge of them. From Woodstock (halfway up the highway to Port Hedland) we took a dirt road to head east to Marble Bar. Surprises were the name of the game. It was a spectacular drive through rocky hills, amazing looking little ranges and we found a beautiful campsite in the middle of it all at Glen Herring Gorge.  We had views all around us, a little campfire and it was just so beautiful and serene – the perfect way to greet the morning on Mother’s Day.

The morning we left it took us an hour to reach the town of Marble Bar and in that short time we drove through a beautiful valley with the old Comet gold mine sitting at the end of it – making it look as though we’d just stepped 100 years back in time.  We then followed a sign to a “Flying Fox Lookout” thinking it would take us to a flying fox colony – but it took us to a flying fox across the river that must be used when it floods.  So funny!  We also saw the first dingo of the trip. 

The town of Marble Bar gets its name from a nearby waterhole where a bar of jasper was mistakenly thought to be marble. It was really beautiful and we sat alongside the river on green grass and had a cup of coffee, kids had a chai, and we ate some chocolate in celebration of Mother’s Day.  We’d also found the jasper deposit where you are allowed to take some of this amazing coloured rock.  What a great start to the day!  And all in under an hour.

We met a secret WWII airbase history buff who had just come back from camping at Old Corunna Downs where he had scavenged some relics from the base that the Japanese never discovered. He gave an old rusty propeller to Hugo that he said would’ve come off a rocket.  He told us there were two other bases never discovered; Yanrey across the Exmouth Gulf from Exmouth and I think the other was Truscott up in the Kimberley a peninsula over from Pago/Kalamburu which was built after that one was bombed.  We are discovering so much WWII history in WA.

The drive to Carrawine Gorge seemed to take forever – maybe we’re just not used to travelling on sealed roads!  It was one of the best campsites we’ve stayed at on our trip – better even than Crossing Pool as any nearby campers were either out of site or a fair distance away.  We had a little grassy site on the edge of the Oakover River with the impressive cliff across from us (so the Gorge is less a gorge and more a river with a cliff on one side). 

We met a lovely family camped next door and the next day we headed out to Running Waters a spring-fed crystal-clear swimming hole that is about 32 degrees all the time. We missed the turn off so we drove down more of Skull Springs Road which we’d not done on the way in as the station owner had advised us against it – but it was graded the day before the Melbourne family came in!  But it meant we saw another dingo (and we’d heard a group of dingos howling the night before so it must be good dingo country).

There was a couple of jumping ropes into the swimming hole so the kids had a great time and the blokes had a great time as it was quite a 4WD track for the last 200 metres in. We were both glad we’d done it with someone else as we would’ve all walked the last section (which I wouldn’t have liked as it was good snake country again). 

We took a different track back home via Upper Carrawine Gorge and as it was my favourite time of the day (late afternoon when the sun is golden) it was a special time to travel through a valley fall of mesas and escarpments. It was the kind of country we are used to seeing from American westerns but not something we associate with Australia. The Pilbara is a really special place.

Pilbara’s national parks: Part 2 – Karijini National Park

Pilbara’s national parks: Part 2 – Karijini National Park

Left Karijini Saturday 11 May 2013 
We had over a week here so clearly we loved it!  The national park includes pretty much the whole of the Hamersley Range and it is spectacular. WA’s two tallest mountains are found here Mt Meharry and Mt Bruce and nearby Tom Price is the highest town in the whole of WA. 

Karijini is famous for its gorges but the landscape above them is equally as beautiful and impressive as the gorges themselves.  Each gorge is different from the next and we loved them all.

Our first day exploring the park we did a short walk along the rim of Dales Gorge looking down into Circular Pool, around to the Three Gorges Lookout, and then down to Fortescue Falls.  From here there is an unmarked track we’d been told about that led to the magical Fern Pool. Aptly named as there were maiden hair ferns growing among the rocks and fig trees and giant paper barks.  It was a beautiful clear water hole with a waterfall over the other side.  Isobel said later that day “It’s the most magical place I’ve ever been to in my life.” We also learned that Isobel has been dreaming of standing under a waterfall.  A few days later she swam over with Simon and realized her dream. So special.

Hancock Gorge was possibly Hugo and Isobel’s favourite gorge and was listed as a Class 5 walk. We had to walk through water and then swim through some of it.  When we reached a natural ampitheatre Simon went on to see if it was safe for the kids to follow.  Hugo and Isobel then walked through the ‘Spider Walk’ where you can reach the gorge walls on both sides and you’re walking through water on somewhat slippery rocks. This led into Kermit’s Pool which was freezing and from here you could look down a waterfall to Reagan’s Pool (named after a volunteer SES man who lost his life while trying to rescue a tourist).  It was fun and beautiful. 

We went to the lookouts overlooking the junction of 3 gorges and it was pretty amazing.  We also saw Knox Falls from up above and Joffre Gorge. We didn’t get a chance to walk down these as we just ran out of time. Next time.

The Kalamina Falls Gorge was one of my favourite gorges.  Not many people go here as it’s sometimes called Granny’s Gorge as it’s easily accessible and not so dramatic as some of the others. Isobel led the way and found a way on a ledge to the falls which were more a beautiful, gentle cascade over rocks. We then tramped through 100m of swampy grassland which just felt like snake country. I was relieved to leave that behind and then the gorge walk was lots and lots of fun.  It was so easy the kids could walk ahead and find our route (it’s not marked) and we did lots and lots of creek crossings, rock hoppings and walking around little ledges but it was all easy and safe and just so much fun!  It was fabulous.  We found a little gravel beach with clear water (much of the other water holes were a bit murky) and we all had a swim.  There was not one complaint or one mention of tired legs so it must’ve been a good one! 

We finally walked the rest of Dales Gorge which we were camped right alongside a few days later.  It was another fabulous walk that was heaps of fun. We took the short, sharp descent straight down and some oldies were worried about our kids. But they haven’t seen our mountain goats in action and it was really pretty easy.  It was another rock hopping adventure and much of it looked like little steps all the way up or down.  Circular Pool, which we’d seen from a distance up on the rim of the gorge days earlier was so impressive up close.  Again crystal clear waters but quite chilly as the surround cliffs means it rarely sees much direct sunlight.  This gorge was vegetated all the way through and much of it was giant paperbarks – not quite as big as the giants we’d seen at Palm Cove.   We climbed up out of the gorge near Fortescue Falls and were the last ones out – so nice to have it all to ourselves!  We got see the surrounding cliffs turn a brilliant red with the setting sun.  But it was practically dark a wee bit chilly by the time we walked 15 minutes back to camp.

On our final day we walked Weano Gorge which the people at the Visitors Centre said was one of the gorges we could do as a family.  But I reckon it was one of the hardest gorges!  We were warned by our friendly neighbours not to do the upper gorge walk as it was snake country, so we again took the short, sharp descent straight down and immediately had to wade through water. The gorge narrowed pretty quickly and Otto and I stopped at a little rock pool surrounded by tall rocky cliffs while the others went down to Handrail Pool and beyond. They reported it was FREEZING in that water and had to find a patch of sun so the kids could warm up to make it back to us.

We’re imagining another family holiday over this way when the kids are teenagers.  It will involve us flying directly into Exmouth and us spending a week at Ningaloo Reef snorkeling and swimming with whale sharks and manta rays.  Then we’ll head to Karijini for another week and take one of the tours which is the only way to see more of the gorges that are Class 6 and beyond where you need to abseil – now that looks like lots of fun!

While we were here we took a day trip into Tom Price to fuel up and stock up.  It was raining that day so we couldn’t have gone walking in any of the gorges as it’s unsafe.  It was a really pretty town but I’m just dumbstruck that they continue to call the peak on the edge of town ‘Mt Nameless’ since everyone now knows it’s Aborignal name. And to rub salt into the wound there is a Nameless Valley, and the town celebrates a Nameless Festival!  I’m outraged at the arrogance. 

Pilbara’s national parks: Part 1 – Millstream Chichester National Park

Pilbara’s national parks: Part 1 – Millstream Chichester National Park

30 April for 3 nights 
Before we left home all I knew of the Pilbara was that it was full of mines and industry and I didn’t think they’d be much to see.  Well how wrong could I be!  It is full of mines and industry and infrastructure for it, but the natural beauty of the area is breathtaking.

We left Dampier and followed the Rio Tinto Iron Ore Railway most of the way to the Millstream Chichester National Park.  The climb into the Chichester ranges was dramatic and a stark contrast to the flat country surrounding it. These ranges are older than the nearby Hamersley Ranges and we loved them. Unfortunately you can no longer camp in the Chichester ranges part of the national Park (unless you discover the unmarked track we did) which is such a shame. 

We camped at Crossing Pool on the Fortescue River across the river from the old Millstream homestead.  It is one of the prettiest campsites we’ve had as we could camp right on the edge of the river with beautiful views.  The drawbacks were the mossies and how close the other campsites were (cheek by jowl) and the bogans who camped there over the weekend right next door! 

One night we were getting ready for bed when Mr Pemberton (not his real name but the town from which he’s from) burped loudly – I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to burp that loud!  Hugo asked what the noise was. Simon explained quietly in the nicest way, in case Mr Pemberton overhead that it was the man next door burping. Otto piped up loudly, “No it’s not it’s a cow mooing.”

There’s a short walk around the homestead and the highlight of it was the crystal clear spring-fed waterhole (I cannot remember its name).  It was beautiful.  Years ago one of the early female settlers had planted water lilies on it which makes it look beautiful – like one of Monet’s famous paintings – but which has caused on-going strife for the native vegetation and ecosystem (along with the date palms she planted).

We swam at Deep Pool and moments after I got out (but Simon and the kids were still hanging off the platform in the water) I watched what I guess was a baby snake swim quite adeptly across the water. I didn’t realize snakes that were not sea snakes could swim QUITE so well and so fast and I was worried about a parent nearby.  We hightailed it out of there.

But the most impressive part of the national park was the drive we took back to the northern end where the Chichester Ranges are. You drive along a plateau that looks not that interesting (other than the view of the distant Hamersley Range in the rear view mirrors) when suddenly you realize the plateau is breaking up into small rolling hills and you catch a glimpse of something really spectacular…

We climbed Mt Herbert, the mountain I’ve enjoyed climbing the most on this trip – it took about 10 minutes to reach the top – and saw possibly one of the best views of this trip.  The range dropped away dramatically to the plains below and you could see mesas and a pyramind shaped hill and follow the line of the ranges around.  If we had longer, no small children, and another car at the other end I would’ve loved to walk from here on the old cameleer’s track through the ranges to Python Pool.  Next time.

We drove around to Python Pool and it was an impressive water hole with steep cliffs around one side of it.  We didn’t go swimming as I heeded the health warnings, much to Simon and the kids’ annoyance. But the ranger confirmed it probably isn’t the best place to go swimming as it hasn’t yet been properly flushed for months and thousands of people have been swimming in it. Would you swim in a bath after thousands had been in it previously?

We followed the road down until we hit the plains and it’s here we found a little track off to our right and discovered an unmarked camp on a stagnant waterhole.  A few tents were here and we continued to follow the track across the dry river bed but it didn’t look like the track had been used with all the growth over it. So we didn’t go on as I didn’t think we should.  Later I talked to the ranger and discovered the track leads on for another hour or so along the river, following the edge of the range and it would’ve been a lovely drive. The rangers haven’t yet decided what to do about the track – officially close it or leave it open. And as for those tents we found? They belonged to some researchers who believe that Python Pool is home to one of the healthiest quoll populations in the whole of the Pilbara and are doing research every night catching, tagging and releasing them!  How exciting. 

Burrup Rock Art at the Burrup Peninsula

Burrup Peninsula 27, 28, 29 April

We read about the Aboriginal rock art on the Burrup Peninsula ages ago and we had always hoped to get there to see it. It was a pretty major detour but one we’re glad we made.  We’re also really glad we knew about it beforehand as there isn’t a big deal made of it locally and we could easily have missed it.  Karratha was pretty unforgettable (but it’s having a townscape makeover so when we come back it’s sure to look like a strip from the Sunshine Coast – flats/shops/cafes/bars!)

The rock art at Deep Gorge (on the road out to Hearson’s Cove) is not signposted for it’s art or even the gorge. Not sure if it is low key because the traditional owners don’t want thousands of tourists tramping all over it or because this is an area ruled by mines and mining interests come first, so if too many pesky tourists see it, it might make it harder to expand the current mining/industrial landscape.

The art has not yet all been surveyed and can be found all over the peninsula and surrounding islands.  But what they have surveyed is so impressive they’ve concluded it is the oldest and concentrated area of petroglyphs found anywhere in the world. The artwork spans from the last ice age through to the mid 1800s or so.  We had a fabulous morning walking through the gorge and finding the artwork. I asked if there was a local Indigenous guide who could give us a tour but no-one does that – which is such a shame as it would be great to learn more about it and to find some of the harder to spot ones – like the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) which is depicted. We did find the image that looks like an alien so that was interesting!  Later I discovered a magical book that has full colour photos of much of the rock art found here, all over the peninsula and the islands and next we come to the Pilbara I’ll be buying it and reading up on it and trying to see much, much more of it. 

The town of Dampier was a real surprise. The town itself is rather luck lustre but it’s location is absolutely stunning.  It’s got to have the best footy oval in the whole of Australia though – green lawns, surrounded by palm trees, right on the edge of the coast with islands in the near distance.  It’s also full of rocks, so we’re guessing that’s why Karratha (newer) is now the major centre because it would be a bit tricky trying to develop land around Dampier and that’s not taking into account the rich, cultural heritage attached so many of the rocks there!

We accidentally struck town when we could view the ‘Staircase to the Moon’ promoted in towns from here up to Broome.  So we hung out with at least a couple of hundred locals and fellow tourists at beautiful Hearson’s Cove (about 15 minutes out of town) to watch the moon rise over the water coupled with an extreme low tide (hence the name).  It was a bit underwhelming for us Brisbanites as you can see this at Sandgate!  We call it ‘fish n chips by the sea’ and don’t make too much of it other than thinking it looks really lovely.

Getting to Dampier was a fun beginning to the start of our adventures in the Pilbara.  The drive to it from our overnight camp beside a river near Emu Creek Station was just magic – we couldn’t wait to see more of it!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A whale of a time - Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef 12 April to 26 April (or thereabouts)

We had a fortnight on the Ningaloo Reef and we could easily spend longer there.  Snorkelling, fishing, snorkelling, walking, snorkelling and talking was a pretty good summation of our fortnight.  We saw whale sharks, turtles, giant fish, pretty fish, coral reefs, reef sharks, sea stars and Simon even saw that elusive sea snake!  Simon and I swam with a reef shark, much to Hugo’s disappointment (he loves sharks).

The huge highlight was the swim with whale sharks.  The weather was ideal, no swell, low winds, beautiful and warm water.  We saw 4 whale sharks and swam with three. They are big and beautiful and graceful. They swim towards you out of the deep blue and you see their spots first and it is just so exciting!  The kids just astounded us by snorkelling every chance they got – I reckon they might’ve jumped in the water 10 times during the day – no mean feat given we were in 60 metres of water!  There were older kids on the boat who sat out to rest but not our kids – you couldn’t keep them away from these enormous fish.

Isobel swam with Esther the guide/spotter responsible for our group of 10. Hugo swam independently with an inflatable noodle and even Otto was swept away by the excitement of it all and donned a snorkel and mask and jumped in. Unfortunately I was rushed (when the whale shark is near there’s not much time to get prepared to jump) and jumped in with him rather than leaving him on the marlin board and then taking him from there…so as soon as we jumped in he wanted to get straight back out of the water!  We would have to swim over to the zodiac to get us as the big boat has to move away from the on-coming whale shark. As it happened, that whale shark dived and no-one got a chance to see it.  But Otto couldn’t be persuaded to try it again. He got some great views of ‘Ginormous Jack’ though as they swim close to the surface.

The day was just a dream come true not only for Hugo but for Simon and I.  To see our son realizing a long-held dream and enjoying it was so fulfilling and satisfying for us – we’re so proud of him!  He’s been saving for 18 months to swim with whale sharks and he was so determined and committed.  He loved the morning and afternoon snorkel and practiced his duck diving and even tried to dive down to do a ‘swim through’.  Well done Hugo – you’re an awesome individual!

And our Isobel is so full of surprises. I didn’t think she’d do it as she’d been reluctant to swim on the reef in the days prior.  But we couldn’t hold her back and the only swim she missed was the first one while we figured it all out and everyone got rid of the collywobbles. She loved it and did so well swimming in 60 metres of water!  She enjoyed jumping off the boat and swimming around during the morning and afternoon reef swims and we’ve got some great footage of her on the DVD we bought from the day snorkelling her little heart out!  What an amazing 6 year old we have – also full of adventure and determination.

Our favourite time of the day at Tulki was sundowners when we’d join Mary and Rob the camp hosts and other campers. The kids just adored Mary and Rob, and Otto grew very attached to “Mary, Mary, Mary!”.  Rob started to make a habit most mornings of coming by to have a chat with us and ended up spending an afternoon with us teaching Simon and Hugo fishing knots and tips.

And we also got to hang out with Chris and Denise, surrogate grandparents for a few days!!  They are the grandparents of my cousin’s children and Denise said to Otto one night that he could call her Denise or Granna. He thought for a moment and then chose Granna. So cute.  It was lovely to get to know them and to spend time with someone who we had an extra connection with (we all knew/related to the same people) rather than just sharing travelling tales. Denise was also a champion as she bought us 3 towels from Carnavon after we left nearly ALL of our towels on the clothes line at the caravan park there! (We’ve since realized we probably left half a load of washing in the washing machine too).

We loved Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Reef and I wouldn’t mind betting we’ll be back for a family holiday again (although next time we might just fly into Exmouth!).

Burringurrah (Mt Augustus) - some say it's Australia's biggest rock

Burringurrah (Mt Augustus) 8 – 10 April 2013

While the trailer was getting repaired we made the 500 km trek out to Burringurrah.  It was an absolute hoot!

We stayed at Cobra Bangemall Inn/Station with Jim (the owner) and Rob (the ex-dogger).  These two blokes made our trip out here really memorable. We followed them in their 4WD that had no doors and roo blood on the floor, to their own private lookout.  At one stage, Jim drove with his head out the door as his windscreen was so dirty he couldn’t see out of it while driving into the western sun.

The view was amazing.  We looked over Burringurrah and it’s neighbouring hills, the Barlee ranges and the so-called centipede ranges (not sure what they’re really called) that disappeared into the distance heading off towards the Pilbara and the southern end of the Kennedy Ranges. The sunset was spectacular, the snags were edible, and the company was fun.  That night they taught the kids how to divine for water and we enjoyed another beer with them in the backyard while it was still a balmy 30 degrees or so (the kids all scored a free icecream from Jim who was a real gentleman).

But what about Burringurrah?  Touted as Australia’s biggest rock, it was well worth the 500km return drive. The drive was fun and the mountain was very impressive. It is not a rock, like Uluru, but a monocline – a bit of the earth’s crusts jutting out from the surface.  We climbed to Edney’s lookout and the view was impressive and the silence and solitude something really special. It was hot so the kids stayed in the car for the remainder of the sight-seeing that day which consisted of Aboriginal rock art, water holes and a natural cattle pound.  It was so beautiful and our photos just don’t do it justice.

On the way back to Carnarvon we drove at least 300 km and it was when we reached the Kennedy Ranges National Park we struck our first car for the day.  The Kennedy Ranges were equally as impressive and we could see them off in the distance for some time (as the NP entrance is in the southern end of it and we approached them from the north).  It’s a 150km escarpment with a sheer edge along it’s length – again our photos don’t do it justice.

We stopped at one of the gorges for lunch but the heat was radiating off the rocks so we decided not to attempt the walk into it.  Next time.