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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

Down the West Coast

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 9 July 2008 | Views [12202] | Comments [1]

After a few days in Broome, Caroline, Mandy, Becky, Steve and I rented a couple of 'Wicked' camper vans for the journey South towards Perth.


Unfortunately, you don't get to choose your van.  We were quite happy with ours - swirly patterns and a clean joke, "Man who walks through airport turnstile sideways is going to Bangkok".  Very clean compared to what you see written on the back of some of the Wicked vans.  Mandy and Caroline weren't quite as lucky - one side of their van had teddy bears in various sexual positions, the other side had dogs.  The back of theirs said 'Sex is the most pure, wholesome and natural experience... [then below the number plate] ...that money can buy!'

Our first night was interesting... Wicked screwed up, meaning that we were five hours late getting the vans.  We'd planned to head down the coast straight away but couldn't, and hadn't booked a caravan park in Broome.  Nothing was available, and plan B to stay in a nice car park next to Cable Beach was foiled when we found out that it was illegal, and that the police turn up every night to hand out on-the-spot fines.

So we ended up sleeping in the car park of a local backpackers, always slightly worried that we were about to be found out.  We also discovered that sleeping three (Becky, Steve and me) in the van was technically possible using a top/tail/top arrangement, but the constant danger of being kicked in the face made sleep quite difficult!

After that, Steve and I decided to invest in a supermarket-cheapo budget tent each, and they were worth every penny despite the fact that they almost flew away several times!

Steve and Becky on Eighty Mile Beach, where we spent our first night on the road.

Mangrove near Port Hedland

Our timing was lucky for the 'Stairway to the Moon'.  Only a few places on the West Coast have beaches which face East, towards the rising moon.  For about twenty minutes there was a growing eery orange glow on the horizon over the sea, then the full moon rose very quickly, looking very yellow and egg shaped at first.

We broke convoy with 'the girls' (Caroline and Mandy) in The Pilbara when they continued down the coast while we headed inland to Karijini National Park.

Spinifex - it's all over the dry bits of Australia.  It's AKA 'kerosine bush' because one match and the whole thing goes up in a flash.  Most types are extremely spiky, and if you brush your feet by it when you walk past, you know all about it.  Some species have silica tipped spikes, which break off then go septic in your leg! 

A Road Train carrying livestock.  They get bigger - the max size is 52 metres long - 4 trailers.  Overtaking four huge trailers full of livestock or petrol or whatever can take some doing, especially in a 20 year old van!

After Karijini we took a couple of days to get back to the coast, then met the girls and stayed a night near Exmouth, after discovering that getting a place to camp in the Cape Ranges National Park was difficult.  The next morning we were up at 4.45am and dodged kangaroos (which are worse than rabbits at  panicking and deciding to cross the road right at the last minute) and joined a queue at the park entrance to be allocated a place to camp when the ranger turned up at 8am.

A tiny ghost crab scuttling along

The early morning was well worth it, we got a place at a tiny campsite right on the beach, looking over the calm water above Ningaloo Reef, with huge ocean  waves roaring as they crashed into the start of the reef about a kilometre out to sea, sending up plumes of spray.  We stayed for three nights, and spent the time exploring the national park, which included quality snorkeling over the coral.  One of the beaches had a strong sideways rip, so that you could walk a few hundred metres down the beach, swim out a bit, then drift across the coral and get the chance to be entertained by rays, reef sharks, turtles and hundreds of colourful fish.  

On the last day there Steve, Becky and I shelled out considerable cash to go off on a boat to the other side of the reef in search of whale sharks, which are filter feeding friendly monsters - the biggest fish of the lot.  This is quite a big industry around Exmouth, as Ningaloo Reef is one of very few places where whale sharks reliably turn up every year.  It's expensive because it's heavily eco-regulated, plus they use planes to fly overhead and spot the sharks, which come up from the deep to feed for a while, then dive back down. Our boat of twenty punters was divided into two 'teams', and on demand we had to don our snorkelling kit, get ready on the back of the boat as the skipper positioned it ahead of the big shark, then jump in, and find a safe position without getting in the way of it.

After that, we swam along around the beast, which seemed completely unfazed about the fact that ten tourists were doing their best to keep up as it lazily swished its tail from side to side.  Through the day we swam with five different whale sharks, some going at a reasonable speed (when swimming with good flippers), but one motoring along at an exhausting pace.  After those five everyone was knackered - some people gave up after two or three.  The whale sharks weren't the biggest that they can get, but at up to ten metres long, they still seemed pretty huge in the water. 

As well as flippered people, most of the whale sharks had several other hangers-on - smaller fish that were slipstreaming under their belly and fins.  We also swum in some deeper areas within the coral reef, and saw some big sting rays (I was careful not to bother these too much!), turtles and big shoals of fish from tiny brightly-coloured ones to salmon-sized ocean pike.

One thing that we didn't make time for, was to take up the advice of the free tourist guide, and go 'Dogging Around Exmouth'!

Then south again, to a disappointing Coral Bay (it may have seemed worse than it really is due to the driving wind and rain), then on to several nights on a  big peninsula which is part of Shark Bay National Park.  The first night in an (unusual) free campsite was the cue for us to be eaten alive by sandflies, and was the start of overnight heavy rain which continued for about a week.  Didn't cause any problems except that the inside of the tents were pretty damp every morning.

It was difficult to tell where the sea stopped and the sky began!

Monkey Mia is an oddly named place, as the one thing it's famous for is not monkeys, but dolphins.  Since the sixties, people have been hand-feeding a few of them from the beach - this still happens but is very strictly controlled, and dolphins which don't already rely on being given fish aren't allowed any.  As well as seeing them come in for scheduled feedings, we saw several coming right into the shallow water, chasing fish into the beach to trap them.  The local Pelicans used this as an opportunity for an easy meal...

"What are you looking at?!"

Shell Beach - miles of beach made up of billions of little shells..

I hate having my picture taken!

Leaving Shark Bay, we went to have a look at some stromatolites.  These tiny primeval things (sometimes called 'living rocks') were among the first living  things on Earth, and were very abundant all over the planet for about 3.5 billion years, until creatures came along which started to feed on them, and almost ate the lot!  It was thought that stromatolites had been extinct for millennia, until they were discovered living happily in Shark Bay and a few other places round the world.  But it's hard to get extremely excited while watching them in action - the only hint that you're not just looking at slimy rocks is that little bubbles of oxygen occasionally rise to the surface!

Steve was driving when we started hitting big clouds full of juicy bugs, which splatted on the windscreen like machine gun fire until we couldn't see anything!

By the time we were getting this far south, it was only really warm when the sun was out during the daytime, and the girls very kindly shelled out a whole $1 to get me a leather jacket which they found in a charity shop.  As well as being very stylish, it was extremely warm.  They said I should give it to a tramp when I got to Perth, but I want to keep it!

Nature's window in Kalbarri National Park

The Pinnacles, a huge area of eroded limestone spikes.  Apparently this is where Billy Connolly chose to run around naked on his TV tour of Oz.  It was a bit chilly for that when we were there!

Once we were within a day or so of Perth, everything suddenly became much more agricultural...

Emu Downs wind farm.

By the time that we got to Perth, I'd been wearing thongs every day for over a month, so it was a bit odd having to wear shoes again.  In case you're wondering, Australian for 'flip- flops' is 'thongs'.  Posh restaurants sometimes have discreet signs saying 'No thongs to be worn'!

A pod of dolphins in the water below

We'd covered 4,300kms (almost 2,700 miles) in our camper, over two weeks of trouble-free driving, except for once, when we had to push-start the van in a lay-by. 

It all seemed too easy...


For some reason, Wicked policy is that campers are taken and returned with an empty fuel tank.  We felt quite smug about how well we'd calculated this, driving our last few kilometres through Perth's city centre to get to the Wicked depot with the fuel gauge showing empty.

Then, with not far to go, I felt a worse than usual lack of acceleration, and knew that we could be in trouble.

We were in trouble, and quite quickly - about 100m up the road we had to stop for lights, and the van spluttered and stalled.  Unfortunately the lights meant we were stopped on a hill, in the right filter lane of a busy intersection in the centre of the city.  The van wouldn't start, I stuck the hazards on and Becky and I did our best to direct traffic away from using the filter lane while Steve managed to accost some policemen, who gave him a lift to a petrol station, but then bizarrely left him to make his own way back.

Directing traffic to change lanes wasn't always successful, but we got a lot less abuse than expected.  About the worst came from a distinguished looking elderly man driving a convertible.  He stopped his car next to me, and behaved as if he was conducting an interview...
"What happened here?"
I decided to omit the running-out-of-petrol detail, "Our van up by the lights has broken down"
"What's wrong with it?"
"It stalled and we can't get it to start"
That was enough for him - he looked ahead, said "Bloody pommie tourist bastards", then drove off at speed!  I think he was being friendly!

Steve came back and we poured the petrol in, but then we were confronted with another problem - having the hazard lights on for 25 minutes had run the (pathetic) battery down, so much that the engine wouldn't even turn over.  We couldn't really try a reverse push start in heavy traffic.

But help came in the form of a friendly Perth resident who'd run out of petrol recently herself.  Once we found the battery (well hidden underneath the driver seat), we joined up her jump leads with ours to make the distance to her car behind us, and like magic the campervan roared back into action.  We even managed to get it back to Wicked without getting charged a late fee (though we were quite late!)

Tags: dolphins, monkey mia, perth, pinnacles, shark bay, western australia



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  Peter Graham Jun 26, 2010 2:14 AM



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