Friday, August 14, 2009

The Pilbara - Karratha to Karijini National Park

We left the beautiful shores of the Coral Coast to head for Karratha. Upon arriving here we attacked the visitors centre and although their brochure made out that there was a lot to do in the area, in reality there was not.

We drove out to a few neighbouring areas - Roubourne, Point Samson and Honeymoon Bay. We then headed for Dampier where we had a look around and checked out the ports where they load all the iron ore that is mined in the area. Speaking of mining there was lots of temporary housing for the miners and on the road into Dampier we saw car after car after van after bus FULL of miners all leaving work for the day. There were hundreds of them - lots of work in the area obviously!!!

After driving around the peninsula we headed to Hearson's Cove to watch a phenomenon called "Staircase to the Moon". This happens three nights a month at full moon time where the moonlight reflecting on the mud flats at low tide is supposed to look like a stairway up to the moon. We were a day early so didn't expect to see much (as each of the three nights it's an hour later each time so its best to see it in pitch dark for best effect - it was only just after dusk when we saw it so still fairly light) but it was still pretty impressive watching the moon rise for a change!

The place where we watched it from was really pretty and you can see how it would be more effective in the dark.

The next morning we drove South onto the rail access line towards Karijini National Park. This land is owned by Rio Tinto (who mine the iron ore) and being a private road we had to obtain a permit after watching a 20 minute DVD at the visitors centre on driving safely on the 330km road (90kms sealed and then 240kms unsealed).

We veered off at the 'Python Pool" at Millstream National Park which took us to a neat little area where Dave had a quick dip in the water:

Along the way we saw quite a few Rio Tinto trains lugging the iron to the ports. These were over 200 carriages and 2.5kms long and took three engines to pull them!!!

The landscape in the area was very interesting with lots of green spiky spinifex covering red, rocky hills.

We arrived in Tom Price, another town inhabited largely by miners. We went to the visitors centre, shopped, had lunch and hung around for a bit before going to a carnival which was on as part of the "Nameless Festival". It was pretty tacky but we managed to find $25 on the ground. Bonus!

We left at about 8pm and managed to see some good fireworks on the way out. We drove to the R.I.P Lookout which was a memorial lookout where people have written names and messages to loved ones who have passed away on rocks all around the lookout. A little spooky at nighttime but not so bad in the morning!

R.I.P Lookout:

The next morning we drove into Karijini National Park - an area we had been looking forward to visiting for a while and filled with many beautiful gorges. We called in at the visitors centre and then headed for Weano Gorge Recreation Area where we booked a site at the Savannah Camp.

We drove to Oxer Lookout where four of the gorges meet:

We then did the walk to the Handrail Pool in the Weano Gorge. There was lots of water and clambering around rocky bits.

When we got to the end it narrowed off suddenly and then the water dropped down to a large pool. We had to navigate our way down a handrail over slippery wet rocks and then a rope to get down to the bottom. You can see the handrail in the pic below:

The pool was pretty stunning but it was way too cold to go swimming. We met a nice couple from Freo -Ben and Zoe - who had left Freo about the same time as us to travel right around Aus. We bumped into them many times during the next few days!

After returning the same way we came down we headed to another gorge on the other side of Weano called Hancock Gorge. This involved yet more navigating down rocks and a ladder and through more water:

and after having to do a "spider walk" through a narrow chasm with hands and legs splayed against each side (no photos of us doing this as it was rather unflattering but here is a pic taken from the net - you can see the spider walk in the background):

we were again rewarded with a beautiful pool called "Kermit's Pool". This time we all went in for a quick swim in the freezing cold water:

Unfortunately my watch was lost to the murky depths of this pool, never to be seen again!!
Both of these walks were just amazing - the gorges were so tall and the colours just weren't able to be captured by our camera.
That afternoon we returned to camp for a lovely hot shower. A wonderful way to wash the red dust off ourselves that is accumulating everywhere (You do get used to this after a while as everyone is covered from head to toe in it!)
The next morning we drove out to Knox's Gorge. It was a really slippery and steep descent down loose rocks to the bottom of the gorge and then a lovely walk, skirting pools along the way. This made for some great reflection shots in the water:

We saw some abseilers on the way back who were going on further down the gorge past the Grade 5 walk we were doing and into the Grade 6 area which you need a guide with you to do.
We saw a number of stone cairns on all our walks and couldn't help but add an extra stone to a few of them!

Looking down into Knox Gorge from the lookout:

From Knox Gorge we headed to Joffre Gorge which was a shorter walk over the top of some waterfalls and then down a very steep climb to the bottom of the falls. In the pic below you can see where we went for a swim and then had a nice sunbathe on the ledge where the red arrow is. To the right hand side of this you can see the steep walk down:

After this we drove out to the other side of the National Park to the Dales Gorge Area and to Fortescue Falls. We walked down to the falls:

...and on a bit further to Fern Pool. Both these spots were popular for swimming.

A nice tree we saw on the way to Fern Pool:

We drove back to Dales Camp in the afternoon and were lucky to get a camping spot, squeezing in with another group.
In the moring we awoke for our last gorge walk of our stay at Karijini. We drove back to Fortescue Falls carpark, walked back down to the falls and then walked in the other direction to circular pool.
Dave stopped for a game of chess along the way:

This walk was much green than the other with lots of rushes and paperbark trees:

We ended up at Circular Pool which was very pretty. We went for a swim (freezing!!) and climbed up under the waterfalls (lovely and warm!)

We climbed back up to the lookout over Circular Pool and the walked back to the carpark via the rim of the gorge.
From here we said goodbye to Karijini and headed towards Port Hedland to stay in a caravan park and give all our electronics a good charge.
Karijini was a real highlight for us and a definate recommendation for anyone heading to that area. There are plenty of walks to do and the great thing is that each gorge is unique and different so its impossible to be bored with them. Go there!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On the Road Again.... Perth to Exmouth

Well, after a night of farewells, we left Fremantle feeling a little under the weather, to say the least. We drove up past Cottlesloe and up Highway 71 heading for Lancelin which was a sleepy fishing town - beautiful, but not a lot there. For most of the trip I resumed my much loved position:

From Lancelin we headed to the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park - a great time to see them in the afternoon light. It's believed the Pinnacles were created millions of years ago as seashells were broken down into sand and then eroded by water and wind. I woke myself enough to head out to see these unusual formations of limestone located in amongst the sanddunes where we walked / drove around and took some good pics:

By the time we finished it was getting late so we headed to our free camp spot at Tuart Reserve. It didn't take us long to get back into the swing of things and get ourselves set up for the night. Being rather tired we were in bed by 7pm and then awake at 10:30pm thinking it must be nearly morning... but no, back to sleep we had to go!
The next morning we continued past many small towns to Geraldton. Headed to the info centre but found there wasn't a lot to do (as many people had told us before we set off) so we headed straight for Kalbarri - a detour off the mainroad. There is a lot to do in Kalbarri so we organised a few activities and decided to stay for a couple of days in this lovely beachside town. Unfortunately, being peak season we found the caravan parks were full that night so we booked into one for the following night and instead drove out to a free spot about 70km away on the Murchison River.. This was a HUGE free 24 hour camp spot and there were lots and lots of other campers (mainly caravans) out there.
Next morning we awoke at 7am so we could drive back to Kalbarri and watch the Pelican feeding . Two pelicans showed up for the feed and we got to listen to a good spiel about them:

After this we headed to the Gorge to do an 8km loop trek around it. This was very spectacular and we got some great views of the gorge throughout the walk which started up high...

"Nature's Window"

...and ended up right down the bottom on a sandy base. You can see me in this picture which gives it a bit of scale:

After this we had to walk along the rivers edge, making our way via rock ledges. Some parts were rather tricky!

But it was really beautiful.

That night we watched the sunset and looked at many of the lookouts along the coast - Red Bluff, Natural Bridge, Castle Island and Mushroom Rocks.
The next morning was another early start to another beautiful morning. We headed out to meet our guide at 7:45am to do a canoe safari along the Murchison River with five other couples.

We drove in a 4WD for about 30mins up the river where we were dropped off and we paddled for about 45 mins down the river where we met our guide Colin who was cooking us up a mean breakfast.

After refueling we paddled another half hour or so, stopped for a bit and then did a final leg to meet Colin who took us back to our cars. It was great fun - vey tranquil and calm and gloriously sunny. We did encounter a few sandbars but coordinated ourselves pretty well and managed not to argue any of the way!
We did some fishing, snuck into the motor camp for a quick shower then headed to Jacques Point to watch some surfers:

Following this we drove to a rest stop and had toasted marshamallows in front of the fire.

The next morning we allowed ourselves a sleep in til 8am and woke up to a lazy breaky of toast and coffee.
We continued up the coast towards Shark Bay. We turned off at the Overlander Roadhouse and drove to Hamelin Bay to see the Stromatolites. According to Google - "Stromatolites are rock-like structures built by microbes (single-celled cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae). Shark Bay’s stromatolites are only 2,000 to 3,000 years old, but they are similar to life forms found on Earth up to 3.5 billion years ago! They provide a unique insight into what the world was like at the dawn of time."
They helped pave the way for evolution as the expelled Oxygen and built up the level of this in the air enough for new species to evolve.
Viewing platform:

Stromatolites in action:

We drove up to Peron Peninsula and stopped at Nanga for lunch. We then stopped at Shell Beach which is made entirely of cockle shells - some up to 5m deep!

We drove on to Denham and stopped at Fowlers Beach for the night.
The next day (1st of August already!!!) we awoke early at 6:30am in order to make it to Monkey Mia in time for the 7:30am feeding of the dolphins. When we got there there were already quite a few people there and many more by 8am when they actually feed them.
There were a number of friendly pelicans who got very close to us and were happy to pose for photos:

The dolphins arrived a few at a time over about 45 mins and by 8am there were about 5 adults (females) and 2 babies.

Only the adults were fed and they are only allowed to be fed up to three times per day.

We didn't hang round in Monkey Mia but headed out of Denham and up to Canarvon about 300kms North. It was pretty barren scenery and that stretch of road had the most amount of roadkill we've seen so far (kangaroos and emus mostly).
Canarvon is known for growing great bananas!
We checked out One Mile Jetty in Canarvon and drove out to Miaboolya Beach to camp.
The next morning we drove up to Quobba Point where we saw the most spectacular blowholes!! It was a pretty treacherous area and apparently a few lives have been lost off the rocks.
And here's a video:

After this, we decided to drive north to Coral Bay. It was a fairly uneventful drive but the land was dotted with hundreds of termite mounds - quite a funny site!

We checked in at a caravan park as no free camping in Coral Bay and then headed for a quick arvo swim before dinner.
The next morning we headed out to the bay for a snorkel - my first time ever, amazingly! I was rather nervous at first and my breathing felt a bit Darth Vaderous but I got used to it and it was AWESOME!!!! Thank you for the flippers Lynda! We went out to the reef a little bit and saw a number of fish and some cool coral formations. It was a good taste and left me ready to do some more in Exmouth.
We decided to head straight to Exmouth to try and get a camping spot in Cape Range National Park. We stopped at Visitors Centre and found out the National Park was full so booked into a caravan park just out of the park for two nights as we knew there was lots to do in the area.
We went up Vlamingh Lighthouse and managed to see a group of whales out in the sea which was pretty amazing. Couldn't get any good shots with our camera unfortunately.

The next morning we awoke to another beautiful day and headed straight for the National Park. We drove to the visitors centre to get info on the best spots to snorkel and booked in for a boat trip up Yardie Creeek Gorge at 11am.
We called in at Turquoise Bay and decided we had enough time for a quick snorkel. Here's me all snorkelled up:

A "cheeky" shot:

Dave proving he was there too (and see me doing the ungainly backward water entry):

Upon entering the water the first thing I saw was a big turtle!! Great to see but we ended up losing track of time and had to rush quickly to make out boat trip. We were the last ones there but at least we made it!
It was a lovely trip up the gorge:

We managed to see lots of native plants and animals including some Egrets:

and a Rock Wallaby (with her joey):

Following this we drove back to Turquoise Bay to do the drift snorkel where you enter the water at one end and let the current pull you to the other end where you get out (before being sucked away out to see forever!) This was an amazing snorkel with heaps of fish and coral life to see. We did this twice and then drove to Osprey Bay to try our hand at fishing:

Unfortunately we had no luck and drove back to camp at dusk - not the best time to be driving because of all the Roos about. There were so many lined up along the sides of the road - an awesome sight and we made sure we drove slowly.
The next morning we drove back into the park to do the snorkel at Oyster Stacks which we had missed the day before as it is very shallow and needs to be snorkelled in high tide. We swam around for a while but then I had to get out as the current was pretty strong. We did see a huge bright blue starfish plus a multitude of other colourful fish.
We stopped to take a photo of a Sturt Desert Pea which are a wildflower beginning to bloom all over the place now - very pretty!

We drove back into Exmouth and saw an Emu with her chicks right outside the army base.

We stopped at Town Beach and Learmonth Jetty where Dave had a quick fish. We then drove out onto the Main Highway again and as the light was fading and the landscape changed we were treated to incredible colours on the red sand and green scrub. Another paradise evening in Australia!!!