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Western Australia

AUSTRALIA | Thursday, 10 July 2008 | Views [629]

Sadley this was the last leg of my journey, by this time i was running low on time and money. If i had longer i wanted to fly to Darwin and see the Kimberley Ranges and in particular the Bungle Bungles, however it is so remote i could not work it into my scedule either by air (which only had infrequent flights) or by land (which would have taken about 5 days round trip to experience just one day in the Bungles. So i decided to give it a miss altogether and do it another time, at least flying into Darwin at the start of a holiday would cut 5 hours off my flight time, and since Qantas planes have been dropping out of the sky recently that may be a good thing.

So missed out on the Kimberleys and also South Australai, it was never really in my plans to go there but since i have been in every other state it seemed rude to miss it, but there you go maybe next time.

So Cairnes to Broome, via Ayres Rock and Perth, 15 hours of planes and airports I made it! It was good because it gave me a chance to see Ayres Rock again a take some photos from the air (don't tell the pilot). Turns out i was the only one joining the tour in Broome everyone else had already done the 9 days travelling through the NT and out of 42 people 15 stayed on for the second leg.

So i was met at the airport by the tour director and driver Brendan and Pete and we went to the hotel where everyone else had already checked in. Since the second day in Broome was a day for people to make their own entertainment i didn't meet anyone until Saturday morning when we had our first days driving, but first Broome.

If the google it one of the first things that comes up is a camel ride on Cable Beach at sunset. I have done camel rides before and they were fun once you worked out a comfortable sitting position, which i found to be basicaly standing and hovering over the saddle (its and art i perfected).

Anyway my itinery said that on my arrival talk to tour director about booking additional activities. I should have organised it myself since obviously i left it too late, both companies were booked out. Although its mid winter WA seems got be very popular with people down south who holiday in the winter to escape what they think is cold. So I thought this maybe the case before i got there and if i was that desperate i would have boked it myself, however in hindsight i probably should have, since its nice to say you have done something that is basically expected to be done in Broome. Its like going to Paris and not climbing the Eiffle Tower its the thing to do.

Anyway that didn't go to plan so i decided to check out what Broome had to other on my own. The answer is not alot. It has a few tourist shops but the main attractions are the beach and the town is know for its pearling industry, so there is a tour of the Willy Creek pearl centre which i gave a miss. So i headed out in the blistering heat of mid winter and looked around the shops before heading on the rollacoaster ride that is the local bus. I found that many places in north WA don't have traffic lights and this guy was driving the bus like it was on rails, it meant i got to the beach in record time.

Cable Beach is nice but its getting to the point where its another beach with white sand and clear blue water. So many of these places would be great if i had time time holiday there for a while rather than travel, but when i'm in travel mode its a case of taking the opertunity to see as much as possible and lazing around on a beach isn't much fun on your own. Besides most of the people there have tanned bodies and white teeth and theres me with a white body and tanned teeth - so i think it was mutualy agreeable outcome for both parties.

One quirky thing about Broome (or at least to me) is it has the oldest open air cinema in operation built in 1916, its like a cattle shed with the back missing where the screen is. Indiana Jones was on which i hadn't seen so i checked it out. Its a bit strange at first but its great to experience something different to the multiplexes that dominate now.

Basically that was Broome, some shops Beaches and an old cinema. So Saturday morning i headed towards the coach and there were loads of people swarming around, they had all been told there was only one person joing the trip to Perth and loads of people came over and introduced themselves, then the majority had told me they weren't going any further they were there to see the rest of the group off, which was nice considering it was 7.30 am so they got up well before that. As i mentioned before only 16 of us (i was now officialy one of the group) were heading to Perth on a 44 seater coach so there was plenty of space to spread out which was a relieif.

Initially i was loking to drive the itinery myself, i had done so in Tassie and up the East Coast. Although the driving can get a bit lonely and certainly tiring it meant i could do what i liked when i liked, so if i ended up in a town where the tourist attractions available didn't appeal to me i could move on to the next place and not care what anyone else wanted to do.

Nothing prepared me for WA though. The rest of the country might be dotted with small towns with two houses a sheep, a goat and a hen in its late forties but the west is just red dirt and miles of it. The first days driving was probably the worst, when i looked at it i added about 4 extra days to beak up the driving. The first day we drove from Broome to Karratha which is over 800km and took a good 9 hours. The eye opener is that there were no towns and about i saw one petrol station only, about 500k's from Perth. The only highlight which didn't really do it for me was a stop at Port Hedland which is a shipping port for salt and iron ore, so we saw a couple of large tankers which are impressive i guess but not exciting.

So i was left thinking thank god i didn't try and drive this myself. For the others who had already been on the coach 9 days previous and hoping on and off alto more seeing gorges etc it was a long day. I was the youngest person on board, everyone else was at least 50 plus and when the tour director Brendan explained this when i was picked up from the airport i was a little daunted. I thought since i picked the low cost option it would be people my age and the premium package would apeal to the older people that wanted and could afford a bit more luxury. I wasn't too woried and that fact that half the group not going on came out to say goodbye meant that these people were easy to get on with and more importantly were there to have a good holiday. There were all Aussies too and one thing that i have imprinted on my brain is that they are proud of their country and lnwledge of it and want to tell you everthing about it. Being the new kid on the block (litterally) they were also interested in where i had been and what i thought of the country and people so far.

So anyway, day one (officially) was a driving day and the second was similar but we had more sightseeing stops rather than rest breaks. We drove from Karratha to Tom Price going through the oasis that is Millstream National Park . We saw Hamersley Gorge which is the type of thing i like, natural wonders. High cliff walls are met a bottom with cascading waterterfalls and swimming holes. We then journeyed into Karijini National Park where spectacular gorges, waterfalls and rock pools provided a contrast to the red Pilbara landscape. The whole area is littered with iron ore which is probably the most lucrative business in the country with China not being able to get enough. So there are plenty of mines and miners earning exceptional money, it doesn't come without a price as its dirty dangerous work and towns are very isolated, therefore the money has to be high to intice people to work there. Anyway the gorges are all this incredible red colour and you can see the layeres of thousands of years activity . To get to these places we had 300k's of dirt road which shows how remote they are that although they are a tourist attraction it too much hassel to make a sealed road.

Tom Price is a mining town a hence nothing there to talk about apart from dust that seems to cover everthing. Another day of travel broken up by lunch at Giralia Station , an area of outstanding biodiversity with its many different species of flora and fauna, some of which are unique to the station. It is an old sheep station but caters more for tourists with very basic accomodation and caravan spots. It was quaint and we got to see an learn by Air classroom which is how kids in remote areas are taught, since there are no schools around children learn over the airwaves and more recently via the internet, all powered by solar and generators since there is no power lines out there either. The afternoon we travelled to Exmouth, situated on the boundary of Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Park .

The next day we had a short trip to Coral Bay , a quaint seaside town where we went on a sub-sea viewer over the Ningaloo Reef , Western Australia 's largest coral reef . Its only 200 meters from the beach and you could easily snorkle it from the beach. Maybe its unfair to compare but i preferred Ningaloo to the Great Barriers reef, maybe its because the part we went to is in relatively shallow water and the sun shows the colours much better. Obviously with the Scuba Diving i was much deeper and it was just not a colourfull as i had imagined and this was more like i was expecting the GBR to be. Both are great and GBR is huge and i only saw a tiny part but if someone asked me which one i would do again if i could only do one it would be Ningaloo. The tour ened with fish feeding which the fish have come aware of since a couple of species followed us on the entire journey. Considering it was a glass bottom boat ride and can't compare to being in amounst the fish and coral it was a fantastic experience none the less. After lunch we headed for our hotel in Canarvon.

Most of the places (beach wise) we visited are very family orintated and  the Monkey Mia Reserve was proably the most popular, it is nestled against the pristine waters of the Shark Bay Marine Park. The main draw for people of all ages to enjoy is that Monkey Mia is a spot where dolphins come into shore. These wild mammals of the ocean swim into the shallows to mingle with people, they have feeding sessions and members of the public get to feed the Dolphins. That happened the following morning.

We arrived at Monkey Mia lunch time and the first thing to do was a boat ride to look for Dugongs, they are called sea elephants and basically a manitee. They are ugly buggers but there are only about 5000 in the world and most are in Australai, so it was a must for me. Its hard to know what to expect common dolphins don't play as much as Bottlenose and the whales i had seen at Surfers were very playfull. Dugongs or at least the ones i saw arn't natural born entertainers. They raise to the surface to breath and then go under the water again. Since the sea grass they feed on isn't too deep they don't need to put much effort going back under. I got a few shots of backs and a head in one shot but its hard to know whether we could have had a better experience. dugongs are aparently sensitive to vibrations and noise so we were asked not to move around the boat once one had been spotted but we had a few kids on board with parents that let them do what ever they wanted. I don't blame the kids cause they get bored, it was a 3 hour cruise i get bored sometimes, but the last one we managed to track was a large male that bolted as soon as it picked up we were there, even one of the crew said he wished the kids would stop banging the doors as it was scaring the Dugongs. Ah well, at least i got to see some and i also saw a loggerhead turtle with i had been wanting to see since the Whitsundays where we were told they swim around amongst the coral. So ticked two animals i wanted to see off the list.

The next morning we visited Hamelin Pool to see a colony of ancient Stromatolites, the world's oldest display of living fossils. They look like a bunch of rocks in the water but are believed to by the worlds oldest living organism. We then went a few miles down the road to Shell Beach , which consists of millions of shells up to 10 metres deep. There are buildins in the area made out of shell bricks its quite bizzare, and like many places where people can state their presence the beach is full of scratchings where people have left their mark. We went through Kalbarri National Park for lunch then walked up to Hawks Head Lookout for marvelous bird's eye views of the Murchinson River Gorge, it was a bit windy and a little grey and this was the point where the weather started to turn from consistant blue sky and sun to more unpredictable weather the further south we went. In the afternoon we had an orientation tour of Geraldton, located on the Batavia Coast , renowned for its many shipwrecks. The main one being the HMAS Sydney which was involved in a battle with a German battle cruiser in 1945, both ships were damaged and sank neither of which were found. A memorial was built and its one of the best and well thought ones i've seen, with a dome of seagulls over a propellor and a statue of a mother looking out over the sea for her lost sons, it was the biggest loss of life on a navel ship in Australias history therefore it was quite a storey when they found the wreck of the German ship in March this year and then only 12 nautical miles from that they found the resting place of the Sydney.

The weather report for Perth was not too good and a storm was predicted and when we got up on our final morning it was grey and windy. We drove through the rain to Nambung National Park to view the spectacular mystical Pinnacles . Made from Limestone, these pillars provide an almost eerie landscape, there are thousands of rocky spikes varying in size scattered around the area. It doesn't sound too exciting but we don't get anything like it back home and it just defys logic its not like a canyon thats created by earthquakes or a gorge worn away by water, they are just independant spikes of rock sticking out of the ground. We got really lucky with the weather (like i have the majority of the trip) the wind pushed away the grey cloud just as we got there and although it didn't die down it stopped raining and i was able to get some good photos while getting sandblasted at the same time.

From the Pinnicles we headed for our final destination Perth. Again it started to rain and Perth was indeed having stormy conditions. The Swan River that the city stands on was more like the sea and some roads were closed next to the river where water was coming over its banks. But once again as soon as we got to Kings Park that overlooks the city the wind made the rain dissapear and left blueish skies. After a short stop there we had a brief coach tour of the city. That night we had our farewell dinner which was a little sad as everyone had had such a good time.

In the morning we informally agreed to meet up for breakfast as some people were flying home that day and others like me were staying on a few days. After brekkie i met up with some freinds for a more in depth tour of the city. The weather was much better than the day before even though the forcast was 2 days of rain, it was hot and sunny, so we went back up to Kings Park and climed the DNA tower which is a lookout shaped as two strands of DNA, and walked around some of the parts i'd missed the day before. We then went for a drive to the city beach and then onto Freyo (Fremantle) which is a quaint little twon. It has some nice architecture and we went through the market and got some lunch. In the arvo I had a look around the shops back in Perth which was good but like i have said before a city is a city therefore most of the shops are the same as anywhere else.

As the weather forcast had 2 days of rain and then sunny on the sunday I planned to go to Rottnest Island on the Sunday. Whoever first discovered it saw the Quokka which inhabits the island and thought it was a rat and therefore named the place Ratnest but this obviously isn't too inviting and they weren't rats anyway so the name was partially changed. Quokkas are all over the place and they do look like rats but have feet like roos and there hop around rather than scurry on all fours. Anyway its a 90 minute ferry ride from Perth so i got the firtst ferry out to give myself maximun time. Its a small island (from memory) about 18km long and 7km wide, but its a no car zone so the only way to get around on land is by foot or the more popular bycicle. I decided on the former, if i was on a bike i'd try and see as much as i could and probably kill myself doing it. I saw plenty of people struggling with their bikes and felt smug and superior as i had made the right choice. The drawback however is you can't see as much as someone on a bike, so i mapped out my morning route through the centre of the island and decided to go on a scenic flight in the afternoon to cover the rest. It has some really nice lakes and it was a nice scenic walk, eventhough it was sealed road it was still a challenging walk as my loop was about 6km in a fixed time frame.

So i did all the walking i wanted then headed to the airport to take my flight, it wasn't booked and the terms stated a minimum of two people. I got there and said to the pilot i would be more than happy to hitch a ride with another party. Only problem was no one else turned up, so i paid for two people and had a flight on my own, well me and the pilot at least. I had the admire this guys confidence it was the first time i didn't have a safety briefy or got to wear a lifejacket, when i mentioned this he told me the safety breifing was telling me how the door worked, little did he realise if we did get in trouble i would probably have passed out from fear, haha.

Anyway it was all good and not only did we tour the island we also saw a migrating whale which we circled a couple of times. I got a slightly longer flight than advertised probably cause i paid twice and maybe he felt sorry for me having no friends to travel with, so sometimes it works in my favour. After the flight i headed back to the ferry which was a disturbing 90 minutes for my sense of smell since a couple of guys decided to bring thier catch of the day home with them.

While in Monkey Mia i met a couple of ex pats from the UK who made their way up from Perth but were also going to go to Albany South West WA for a whale watching tour, since my fixation on these creatures had not subdued I decided i wanted to see whales in WA too. AAT Kings also do a tour that covers south of Perth so i asked Bredan and Pete what a good route to do was. I was running out of money and time so i didn't want to spend time doing things that weren't really of an interest to me, wave rock was one such sight, not that it didn't interest me is was so far away and a little underwhelming for the people who told me they had seen it.

We agreed that i should stay in WA another 4 days and i could take the coastal road down to Albany and then take the inland road which was the shortest route back to Perth (410km). The destination for day one was Margaret River, its a region mainly renouned as being a wine region, which doesn't interest me in the slightest. I got there about 2.30 which didn't give me too much time, i wanted to see the mammoth cave in the region but when i got to the visitor centre to find out where it was i discovered there where another two caves in the area, lake and Jewell cave. This caused slight problaems as ideally i'd liked to have been to all 3 although they are a little samey they still had individual qualities. Mammoth cave was the only self guided cave the other two were guided tours but all 3 closed at 5pm, so basically i had to pick one to go to. I decided to head for the self guided Mammoth cave as that was the one i was originally going to see. When i got there a coach was parked in the car park but i passed them once and got wierd looks from a few of them, maybe is was my fashion concious headphones. But most of the time i was on my own which meant i could take my time since i decided i didn't have time to see more than one i could spend more time here. I won't go in depth as caves like cities are pretty similar, they vary in size and formations but to describe them would bore me let alone someone having to read about it. If anyone is that interested I'm sure they have a website.

After the cave i had the doubleback north to Dunsborough where i was staying. The following day i was driving to Albany but had several stops on the way planned out. The weather for the next day (the one i had planned to whale watch was not good, so i was debating driving straight there then doing the other stuff in reverse, but i didn't). The first stop was the spectacular Valley of the Giants with its huge Tingle and Karri trees. You can (and i did)explore the canopy of the magnificent tingle forest along the Tree Top Walk. The highest point was 40 meters high, i'm not too bad on buildings as they are locked to the ground, but 40m high on a bridge that sways in the wind made me feel a little uneasy. Its good to see the trees from that prospective and a novel way but really frustrating that the trees are so bloody big they don't fit in the frame of the camera. After the twalk i got a book with pictures better than mine and got talking to the guy behind the counter (i must be lonely and craving human contact) but he told me to go to William Bay to the Elephant Rocks which was on my way to Albany but not on my list of things to see. I took his advice and really glad i did, it was a fantastic bit of coastline and the elephant rocks are well worth seeing. The only disapointing part of the day was missing out on seeing the enormous Gloucester Tree, the highest fire lookout tree in the world. I thought it was at the Valley of the Giants and then got distracted with the Williams Bay excursion. After the Elephant Rocks i continued to Torndirrup National Park, home to the Natural Bridge and The Gap, I went a bit further down the road to the blow holes too but the sea wasn't rough enough and although you could hear the waves crashing against the rocks it wasn't strong enough to pust it through the gap creating the spray above. I then had a quick look around Whaleworld for an insight into the region's seafaring past. Call me thinck but give me pictures to explain a storey over words any day. The two highlights were both visual, the first was the hologram film explaining the life of a whaler and the effect it had when whaling was banned in Australia, Albany being the last Whaling station in Oz to be shut down. The second was a series of films on sharks, marine life and one of whales ofcourse in 3D. One good thing about coming this time of year is its off peak and you don't have to worry about getting a prime seat or having annoying people around you. So i watched the films and walked around the old whaling station seeing the cutting area and other departments that were nessesary in the whale industry.

As expected the following morning the whale watching got cancelled, it seemed to be a one man business who pretty much decided whether he wanted to go out or not. Some places guarantee to go out as long as its not dangerous but they won't cvancel due to lack of numbers. They kind of assume that you are there for sometime and what you don't get to do one day you can do it the next. Ah well i pretty much expected the outcome and it gave me a head start on 5 hours of driving in pelting rain.

That's pretty much it for my travels, back in Perth I killed some time in the city before flying back to Melbourne. Now back in Melbs I'm relaxing after a month of being constantly on the go. This weekend I'm going to an AFL game at the MCG and hopefully on Sunday I want to go to the surfing museum again in Torquay and maybe go to Bells Beach to pay homage to Patrick Swayze who died there in the documentary Point Break.

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