The 6th country on our trip is not a new one – we visited Australia in 2006 and 2007. Whilst we had 4 weeks there each time we barely scratched the surface of this vast country. This time we’re going to have the best part of 3 months to explore the bits we hadn’t seen on the last two visits – and we started by flying into Perth so we could see the state of Western Australia.
This bit of the trip is in two parts, first off NWA (north Western Australia), back to Perth and then to the south of WA taking in the wine region of Margaret River. This post is about the first leg.
After a thankfully uneventful flight from Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Airlines (someone on Facebook suggested they should give out “I survived MA” t-shirts when you land but that’s in remarkably bad taste…..), we picked up our hire car for the next 3 weeks and headed to our friend Sarah’s house in the ‘burbs. I’ve known Sarah from watching Cardiff Devils for over 20 years and she emigrated to Perth with her husband and daughter about 18 months ago. We happened to be the first people to stay in their lovely new house and were treated to a BBQ and copious amounts of wine (our first vino since we left the UK!). Best of all was the rare treat of watching Wales beat a southern hemisphere opponent, in this case the Saffers, at Rugby for the first time in God knows how long 🙂
This was a long road trip – over 3000km driving in 10-12 days but we’d been told that the driving was easy so we decided to risk it. We’d heard about some good diving up north and we’d seen this itinerary which seemed to fit well with our plans. We wanted to get right up north to Exmouth where the good dive sites were as quickly as possible so we just picked the two biggest towns en route and planned to stay overnight there.
We got to the first of these, Geraldton after a 4 hour drive from Perth, checked into the local Backpackers and went for a walk – only to find it closed. Not quite literally, but it was Sunday night and pretty much only the pub was open. Even the Bottle Shop (Off Licence – only places in Oz that sell booze as the supermarkets aren’t allowed to) shut at 8pm. I arrived there at 8.05pm setting a “just missed it” trend that would carry on for the next few days.
We were saved by a couple of Welsh lads who were in the hostel – Iolo and Dylan – who offered to let me help them drink their remaining beer stash as they were leaving the next day after a few months in the area working on the farms. From talking to them this seems to be a pretty lucrative way to spend a few months as they reckoned they could travel for another 6 months on what they’d earned. Excellent lads and hopefully we’ll see them again to repay the beers in Sydney at Christmas – if their rather ropey looking camper makes it that far.
Next up was Carnarvon (the Aussie spelling seems to drop the “e” from its namesake in Wales) another 4 hours further north. This one had no redeeming features other than a Welsh flag flying in a garden on the way in. Eat. Sleep. Move on.
After 1400km we finally reached Exmouth. This is where we’d come to potentially dive two sites, the Murion Islands and the Navy Pier.
The town had pretty much started to shut down for the unbearably hot and windy NWA summer – most of the Dive Shops had shut down as the Divemasters and boats head south to spend the summer in the Perth area. The one that was still open was only offering dives on the Navy Pier but Nikki’s back had started flaring up, so we decided to save our money for dives back in the Perth area and instead found Nik a Physio to loosen her back.
Due to the summer close-down there wasn’t a lot going on in Exmouth itself, but fortunately the area around is beautiful. It’s next to both the Ningaloo Marine Park and the Cape Range National Park and we took the opportunity to have a look around both. In one day we had close encounters with Kangaroos, Black Rock Wallabies and Ospreys – we did also see an Emu but rather like Rod Hull it had fallen off it’s perch.
The area is also home to huge termite nests – there must be tens of thousands of them in the area – often over 6 feet high and just as wide. It makes the main road look like a moonscape – very surreal.
Our journey back to Perth was rather more leisurely, mainly consisting of stays in small beautiful beach towns.
Coral Bay certainly lived up to that billing, only half a mile from end to end but built next to stunning beaches. The highlight of a couple of days here was a walk over to the Shark Reserve – a beach closed to boats and swimmers and hence home to large numbers of reef sharks. You can walk along the beach and be metres away from them as they bask in the shallows. Walking a small way into the sea, I also discovered that there are Stingrays hiding in the sand by the shore as well. I came a few steps away from squishing one before I noticed it’s eyes sticking out of the sand. The lowlight was walking into the sea with my iPhone in the pocket of my boardies – it’s now as dead as the emu I mentioned earlier. Muppet.
So our next stop south was Monkey Mia. We decided to stay in the next town Denham (it was only 28km away) as there was very little showing in the guide book for MM apart from feeding the Dolphins. In hindsight we should have stayed there as there wasn’t much more open in Denham, although saying that we did find a fabulous woodfired pizza place.
We had been told about MM before we left the UK and whilst it wasn’t in the original plan I am pleased we were able to head up there. Every day around 8am the dolphins would come into shallower shore and get fed. This has been happening for 15+ years but they realised they were feeding the dolphins too much so they weren’t going out and fending for themselves. So now they only get fed about 1.5kg of the 8kg of fish they need a day to survive, the rest they go get themselves. You get in the water and they swim around in front of you and you can feed them a fish (if you get picked, which we both did) – it’s pretty cool to be honest. The only thing you aren’t allowed to do is touch them.
Our next stop was Kalbarri some 375km south of Denham. Unlike most of the towns we had been to there was quite a bit that was still open!! In the morning we fed the Pelicans, although the lady who fed them was late, the Pelicans decided they were going to stay and wait for their fish.
Later we drove to the Kalbarri National Park which was truly amazing – it was so vast, it’s how I imagine the Grand Canyon to look like but on a far smaller scale.
On our final leg before getting back to Perth we stopped off at the Pinnacle Dessert which is part of the Nambung National Park. The Pinnacles are limestone formations which look like huge rocks in the middle of the dessert (funnily enough!)