Deserted Islands and Daydreams

From Paronella Park, we headed back to the coast to one of our favourite places from our trip ten years ago, Mission Beach.

Our memories of Mission Beach were of a quiet, sleepy coastal town surrounded by thick, lush rainforest. Well, the place certainly has changed. The entire area really copped it from all angles, cyclone Larry from the south, and cyclone Yasi a few years later from the north. Hardly any of the old, big trees were left standing, and you can see the devastation as you walk through the coastal lowland rainforest (or what is left of it). The rainforest will recover, but the process will take decades to get it back to its former glory. This is assuming it is left alone to grow.Wongaling Beach

Alas, Mission Beach has grown in popularity over the past decade. Despite the never ending fight to conserve rainforest corridors for the critically endangered southern cassowary, money hungry developers and councils continue to push development. They estimate numbers of birds to be as little as 1000 in the wild now. Mission Beach used to boast the highest concentration within the wet tropics, but with all the environmental pressure, numbers are falling. Yet the close knit locals continue to fight for the birds, collecting seeds from poo, germinating saplings and assisting regenerating the rainforest. As it comes from the poo, the grown trees are native fruit trees providing food for the cassowaries and other native species. The process can take years, but the locals have not lost their passion.

So if you want to visit the area, and can spare a few days, arrange to do some volunteering at the environment centre to help save the cassowary. I wish we could have, but it is a bit difficult with young kids in tow.

While at Mission Beach, we took a water taxi to check out Dunk Island, and to explore Bedarra. Cyclone Yasi had pretty much totalled the resorts on these two islands, and they have been left closed to overnight visitors ever since. Dunk Island is on the market, but needs some work to get up and running again. Bedarra was famous for its rich and famous visitors, and also its celebrity price tag at $1600-$3200 per night. It has been abandoned now, with only two staff to keep an eye on things. A second resort at the other side of the island was abandoned in 1991. We were let off there for a few hours to explore the remains, and to swim off a deserted beach. It was actually loads of fun.Bedarra Island

From Mission Beach we had a bit of a meander down the coast, taking advantage of some excellent free camping spots, right beside the beach. Unfortunately swimming was out of the question, due to crocodiles and the start of the stinger season. But we enjoyed our long walks and the lovely views.

We managed a flyby stop in Townsville, where we visited our first Multicultural Playgroup. To read about our visit, click here.

We also spent a couple of pleasant days in Bowen, now on the Aussie map due to its Big Mango, and its massive role as the Darwin Backdrop in the film ‘Australia’. Boy, are they milking it.Murray bay

Our next big stop was Airlie Beach, and our stay coincided with the annual ‘Come Camp with BIG4’. Every year in November, BIG4 nationwide put aside one night for charity. Basically, anyone can camp for $20 per site, and all the money goes to a local charity nominated by the individual parks. It is a great way to put something back into the community, and give visitors a great excuse to get away and have some fun.

To read about our fabulous stay at the BIG4 Adventure Whitsundays Resort at Airlie Beach, click here.

Illusions CruiseLagoon @ DaydreamNow the thing to do from Airlie beach is to go on trips around the Whitsunday Islands. There are plenty of island resorts to visit and nice beaches with snorkeling. We couldn’t decide what to do, so we ended up doing two day trips. The first trip was on a sailing catamaran and have a go at snorkeling with the kids. The second we visited Daydream Island to check out the resort and its manmade ‘Living Reef’, and then spend an hour on the famous Whitehaven Beach. We tried to teach the kids how to play beach cricket, but after a while they just wanted to dig holes and build sandcastles in the perfect while sand. We all had a great time, but now we want to add overnight sailing trip to our to-do list for the future.

Whitehaven BeachKids at play on Whitehaven beachAll this swimming and water activity has finally resulted in Rhys losing his long-term fear of water. The BIG4 had waterslides into the pools, and he was constantly up and down. He is also learning how to jump into the pool, but the word ‘jump’ is lost on him, and he always looks like he is falling. Forever amusing.Slide time

We will soon be leaving the tropics, after spending more than six months above the Tropic of Capricorn. But that’s OK as the southern Summer is upon us.

Music and Fun for Everyone

After our second unexpected stay in Cairns we headed inland back up the mountain pass, towards the Atherton Tablelands…..again.

Doyle Family ShowDress upsOur destination was the Yungaburra Folk Festival for a weekend of music, markets and kid friendly activities. The Saturday morning had a massive market, selling local produce (tropical fruit is coming into season – Yay), crafts and novelties. We headed over to the children’s festival, where they had storytelling, crafts, hula hoops, and a dress-up box to ensure Coby was happy for hours. We sat in on some musical entertainment, and the kids got to try out some instruments. During the Doyle Family Fun Show, both Rhys and Coby got up on stage to sing with the band. Since this initial stage performance, Rhys has developed visions of grandeur, and practices his singing all the time.Dress ups - Nice hair

We set up camp at Lake Eacham Caravan Park, right next to the Crater Lakes National Park and in the middle of more rainforest. There was an abundant amount of wildlife just wandering around the park, including chickens, ducks, a turkey (of the Christmas dinner kind), bush turkeys and a gaggle of interesting birds I couldn’t identify. Feeding the birds scraps of our food was great fun for the kids, as was feeding the resident goats and enormous pig.

The sun finally came out, so we borrowed some swimming noodles from the Caravan Park, and headed to the lake for a swim. It was cool, but very refreshing.

The next morning we made our way north to Port Douglas for my special Birthday treat. The sun was holding out, so we were looking forward to a relaxing couple of days. We decided to stay at the beautiful BIG4 Port Douglas Glengarry Holiday Park. To read more about this lovely caravan park, click here.

As we have spent a lot of our time recently in isolated places, it has been a long time between Playgroup visits. Our family was welcomed to Port Douglas Neighbourhood Centre Playgroup. We managed to time our visit really well, because it coincided with National Children’s Week. This group got together with Mossman Playgroup and other groups in the area for a special Children’s Week Playgroup. We were all invited to this session as well, and it was one of the best mornings the kids have had during the entire trip. To read more about our wonderful North Queensland Playgroup experiences, click here.

Special thanks to Deb, Alex and Emma for your hospitality and kindness.

Ellis BeachEllis Beach SunriseMy birthday afternoon was spent strolling along four mile beach, and having a relaxing lunch at the local Surf Club. Late in the afternoon we went back to the Caravan Park for another swim and more relaxing by the pool. The kids insisted my birthday wouldn’t be complete without cake, so we put some candles on a chocolate muffin. I felt very special.

Now the children’s choice of birthday cards gives great insight into their subconscious. Coby chose a card with butterflies and flowers, no surprises there. Rhys chose a card with two chimps, which he thought was rather hilarious. It was of a mum chimp hugging her little chimp, and very cute. I wonder what was going through Rhys’ mind when he chose it.

Mike had a dream this trip to camp right on the beach. I think we got as close as we could to fulfilling it when we camped at Ellis Beach. At high tide, we were literally three to five metres away from breaking waves, quite a soothing sound at night. We also managed to sneak out together to watch the sunrise, while the kids slept peacefully.Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walk

The next big highlight was the enchanting Paronella Park. In the early 1930’s a Spanish migrant, José Paronella realised a childhood dream of Catalonian castles by building his own castle in the rainforests… He acquired 13 acres of virgin forest next to Mena Creek Falls to build his inspiration, complete with refreshment rooms, banquet halls, tennis courts, gardens and Queensland’s first Hydro Electric Generator. Despite several floods and cyclones over the years, periods of abandonment and a bad case of concrete cancer, the park is still a vibrant, unique and captivating attraction definitely worth a visit.Paronella Park Waterfall

Paronella Park also has a caravan park attached to it, which is free for a night if you have paid for entry into the park. I highly recommend staying for the evening, as it is worth doing both the day and night tour. The caravan park boasts all the usual facilities provided by other parks.

All of us enjoyed our visit, but for Coby it really was an extra special highlight. She got to indulge her love of all things princess and fairy, got dressed up and ran around the park pretending she was in a fairytale. I loved watching her have so much fun.

To read more about our fabulous stay at Paronella Park, click here.

We have been exploring Far North Queensland for just over 6 weeks, a bit longer than we anticipated. It’s dawning on us that we have only two months to go, so we have to make the most of it…

It’s all south from here.

You can’t have a Rainforest without the Rain

After our wonderful adventure of Cape York, we headed back to Cairns, so I could catch a flight to Melbourne.

Knowing they were going to be held up in Cairns for a few days, the kids asked if they could go back to BIG4 Coconut Holiday Resort. They just loved it so much, and great memories from our last visit. They wanted to do some of the activities they missed out on last time, such as the big screen movie night, and fire engines rides. As I was getting my treat, I just couldn’t say no.

Coconut Big Red fire EngineI know you have all been wondering why I went to Melbourne, so I won’t keep you is suspense any longer. A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call from Playgroup Australia. Their National Conference was coming up, and they were launching two new media awards. The Playgroup Profile awards would be ‘awarded to a journalist(s) or communicator(s) whose work is assessed as having most effectively communicated the value of Playgroup to the Australian public through traditional or online media’. There is a second category for a photographer whose pictures capture the essence of Playgroup.

Anyway, I was the winner for the 2011 Profile award, for my blogging of ‘Playgroups around Australia’. The prize included a trip to Melbourne to the National Conference. Of course I gave a little speech about our trip, and how much we enjoy the experience of visiting Playgroups. I am absolutely thrilled to win this award. For me, its acknowledgement that people really are reading, and getting something out of our experiences and my writing.

During my stay, I also was able to sit in on a few other presentations from some childhood and play experts. To read more about my trip to Melbourne for the National Playgroup Conference, click HERE.

While in Melbourne, I took the opportunity to do some shopping. Also, a mate of mine from Port Fairy drove up especially to see me, so we had a fun night out catching up. All in all it was a fabulous, if not somewhat busy trip.

Mike and the kids picked me up at the airport and we moved onwards to Mareeba. Mike had spent his days in Cairns getting the truck fixed. We had coolant leaking from a gasket, and needed this changing. A relatively simple job, but the mechanic managed to break the radiator spout in the process, so we had to cough up for a new radiator as well. Grrrrrr.

As the Bloomfield Track is another fun 4WD adventure, we decided to leave the caravan behind again, and camp it up to Cooktown and back. There are so many more options for sleeping in the rainforest when you have a tent.

Our first major stop was the southern side of the Daintree River, where we decided to go on a river cruise with Solar Whisper Cruises. Their vessel is a solar and electric powered boat, which made the journey quiet and without the diesel fumes. Our guide and skipper, Matt, had spent the greater part of his life in Northern Queensland, and was incredibly knowledgeable about the rainforest, plants, birds and animals. He took great care in pointing out plants to avoid touching while visiting the rainforest. I never knew some plants could cause you so much pain.

Solar Whisper CruiseWhite Lipped green tree frogOne of the great features of Solar Whispers is their croc cam. The camera can zoom in on crocs (or other wildlife) so you can see it on the onboard screen. You won’t miss anything. Unfortunately, we were at that time of the year that crocs rarely crawled onto the banks to bask in the sun. We only caught a brief glimpse of a submerged croc, who took off as we approached.

We found the entire cruise to be a lovely, peaceful way to experience the rainforest and river system of the Daintree. The quietness of the boat made it easy to do some bird watching. We were also lucky enough to see a white-lipped green tree frog. Rarely, this species of native frog is able to camouflage itself to its surroundings. This one was grey, like the bark of the tree he was sitting on.

They have cruises around 6 times per day, for between 1 – 1½ hours. Long enough to get a great feel for the place, and short enough to avoid the kids getting too fidgety. To learn more about Solar Whisper click HERE.

Noah BeachFungi in the Rainforest nr Emengen CkWe used the car ferry to cross the Daintree River, to the northern section of the National Park. We camped at Noah’s Beach campground in the Daintree National Park. Noah’s is located next to a beautiful and pristine white, sandy beach. We spent the next day walking all the rainforest boardwalks and making seashell mermaids on the beach with the kids. I could never get over the beauty, sights and scents of the lush green forest.Cape Tribulation

Both nights, it rained. Not too hard, but enough. Packing up that second morning in the drizzle was not fun.

We made it just over the halfway point of the Bloomfield track, when the truck temperature skyrocketed. Michael stopped the truck, and coolant was pouring out the bottom onto the ground. A lull in the weather ended and it started bucketing down. To top it all off, we didn’t have mobile reception. Luckily a local took pity on us, and offered use of her phone to call the RACV. Two hours, and a flatbed ride later, we made it to a mechanic in Cooktown.Whoops

Of course the upside to this was we got to spend the night in a Cooktown guesthouse, courtesy of the RACV. I was pretty happy about this as the rain poured and the wind howled overnight. The next day we were not so lucky. The truck was fixed, so we moved to a local campground, braving the elements. We spent the day trying to hide from the rain by visiting the library, the tourist shops, and the camp kitchen (it wasn’t very weather-proof) and eventually the RSL (for several hours). I had one of the most sleepless nights of my life as the wind threatened to launch our tent into space.

Grassy Hill lookoutBloomfield causewayBy the next morning, we were well and truly over camping. We managed to pack up the tent in a rare spate of dryness, and started the journey back down the Bloomfield Track. The morning was spent travelling the 40 km down the road to the Bloomfield River, only to discover the causeway was impassable due to the high flow of water. Our inexperience strikes again, and I was cursing the fact we didn’t check road conditions at the Lion’s Den Hotel, where we had coffee that morning. We had to backtrack and go the long way round.

We made it back to Mareeba and our caravan by mid-afternoon, without breaking down or getting even more wet. I think I am happier dealing with the rain in a more weather-proof caravan. It could have been worse, Cairns received a particularly high level of rainfall, and there were stories circulating that going south were proving difficult.

But southward we will go (just not quite yet) there is still more things to do and rainforest to see. Find out why were headed back to the Atherton Tablelands in our next post. Despite the weather, the adventure continues…

Darwin Delights

Nine years ago, Darwin seemed like a big country town. Like a lot of places, in has undergone a massive boom, so we were really interested to see the changes.

First job when we got to Darwin though was to get the power steering on the truck repaired. Just outside of Jabiru, one of the belts had disintegrated. The truck was still drivable, but Mike needed nothing short of super-human strength to manoeuvre the rig around corners. We actually cut short our stay in Mary River, because we couldn’t contemplate driving down 4WD dirt tracks with no powered steering.

Howard Springs Caravan ParkThe staff at our new home Howard Springs BIG4 gave us a tip on a local guy who could help us out. A shopping trip later for a replacement belt, and everything was ready for the mechanic. He ended up replacing all four belts as they all had taken a beating and were looking like they had seen better days.

Our first Darwin delight was the Aquascene Fish Feeding at Doctors Gully. This little gem is a Darwin institution on every family’s itinerary. A local started feeding fish here at high tide years ago, and now every high tide, the place is inundated with a massive quantity and variety of fish, eager for a free feed. You can walk down the boat ramp and literally hand feed fish, some of them practically jumping out of the water in the frenzy.

Kids feeding fish at AquasceneHand feeding fish at AquasceneThis experience was a real hit with the kids. After hand feeding on the ramp, both Coby and Rhys were happy to sit back on the wharf and throw in titbits of bread to some of the bigger fish hanging back from the main crowd. It was a great opportunity to see some monsters in action just a meter or two away.

They also have a little pond containing a couple of mudcrabs, stingrays, barra and baitfish (ultimately food for everything else – but they chose to swim in). Entry in Doctors Gully includes bread for feeding. It is definitely popular, and something the family can enjoy doing together. You can visit their website to check tide and opening times here.

After several days at Howard Springs, we ventured a little closer into Darwin, and stayed at Saddle Court (Ph 08 8927 0894). There are only a few sites, but it is quiet and away from the flight path. They also do short term caravan storage at very reasonable prices, and the owners are the friendliest and most hospitable people you could meet.

One morning, we all woke up early so we could drop Mike off for a half day fishing with Fish Darwin, which you can read all about on Mikes Page. While he was enjoying his fun in the sun, the kids and I visited the Rossiter Street Playgroup Centre at Rapid Creek. Not only did we have a really fun morning playing, we also managed to rope in some very willing children and mums to help celebrate Coby’s fifth birthday. Yes, it was a day early, but you have to take advantage of a good situation. That night we went to the famous Mindil Markets, to admire the arts and crafts, and sample the extraordinary culinary delights available, all this while watching the sun set over the water.Mindil Beach sunset

Birthday Croc TimeBelairs lagoon MaleThe best activities we saved for Coby’s big day. We spent a fabulous morning at Darwin Crocodylus Park. We discovered the crocodiles were not the only highlight, as the park also contains a zoo with all sorts of interesting and exotic native and non-native species, including lions, primates, turtles and wallaroos. The croc show was fantastic, as we got to see them in action and participate in feeding them. To read more about our visit, click here.

We lunched at Leanyer Recreation Park, which is a gem of a place within Darwin. We loved this place so much; we actually visited it three times during our stay. It is a water park with an aqua park for the littlies, three big slides for the bigger kids and a huge pool with areas and depths for kids of all ages. Best thing about it, it all FREE. There is also BBQs, picnic tables, shade and a massive playground. If only every major city had a place like this to go.

Alas, our arrangements for Coby’s special birthday dinner did not go to plan. It’s not often I write anything negative about an experience we have had, but this one was so appalling, I just have to warn my fellow travelling families. We planned to go to Darwin Trailer Boat Club for dinner. As usual, we checked it all out in the internet before we finalised our plans. First thing, we found out their prices were greatly inflated from what was advertised online. It must have been a while since they have updated. Secondly, they refused to honour our ‘Kids Eat Free’ voucher we had picked up at the tourist info office. When Mike politely queried the manager, he simply asked if we were members (we weren’t) and suggested we could leave, turning on his heel without a backward glance or chance for further discussion. In all our travels and experiences, I have never witnessed such rudeness and lack of professionalism, especially from a manager in hospitality. You have been warned.

Cake TimeBy this stage it was too late to book anything else, so Coby’s special night was spent eating takeout pizza in the caravan. Our little princess didn’t seem to mind, as pizza is a favourite. But this soured what was almost the perfect day.

Putting that one bad experience behind us, we absolutely loved Darwin. It is almost a different place compared to nine years ago, so much bigger and with so much more. But we have been here long enough so it’s off to explore the remaining parts of the top end before heading across to Queensland.

Sunsets, Crocs & London Buses

Broome was always a major point in our trip. It’s another isolated major town, and a key hub for the grey nomad annual northern migration. The town has been around for almost 150 years, but has recently undergone a major tourist boom.

Speaking of the oldies, the first question most of them have asked us as we have travelled up the coast is ‘have you booked Broome yet?’ You all know we hate to book, but the questioning had us worried. So we caved into the pressure of missing out, and manage to book in a week at the park out of town. Apparently we got the last weeklong spot for June/July.

Ironically, Broome was also the place we met up again with our travelling friends, the O’Callaghan’s. We last saw them two months ago, as we left them behind in Perth, post royal wedding. They have caught up with us, and the kids were so very excited about their impending arrival a few days after us.

Camel trainCable Beach Sunset FootyThere were so many things we wanted to do. We dived into it straight away by bouncing away on a camel ride on the famous Cable Beach. As the kids were both under five, we all squeezed onto one very strong camel, called Cairo, for the 30 minute trek. This was an absolutely fantastic way to start our week. We all loved it, and even though we didn’t do the sunset trip, our photos are pretty good.

Another first adventure was the Broome Top Deck Bus Tour. We realised early on a week in Broome was probably not enough, as there was so much to see and do. We decided to condense it all a bit by doing the bus tour around town early on, and then planning the rest of our stay. To read more about this fabulous trip around Broome, click here.

We managed to find time to visit both of Malcolm Douglas’ wildlife parks during our stay. We first went to the Crocodile Park on Cable Beach Road. It’s only open for 3 hours in the afternoon, but we had a great time looking around the park and watching the famous crocodile feeding tour. A few days later we visited the Malcolm Douglas Wildlife Park, which holds heaps of different species of birds, reptiles and marsupials, including bilbies and other nocturnal creatures in the new night walk. The parks were a bit hit with the kids. To read more about our park experiences, click here.

Coby catches a waveBroome was also a great opportunity to chill out a bit. We made use of the pool at the caravan park, having some great pool parties with the O’Callaghan’s. We also visited the free playground and Aqua Park at town beach. We also managed to find time to meander around town to shop and take in the sites and history of the place. I kept getting major feelings of Déjà vu with the climate, architecture and scents of the place. I felt like I was in an Asian town.

I was very disappointed that we missed out on going to the Sun Picture Theatre, the world’s oldest running cinema. Our friends went the night after we left to see the latest kid’s film, and they all had a great time. I’m adding this one to my list of things to do.

Cape Leveque BeachesCape LevequeAnother must do for us on this trip was Cape Leveque. Mike saw a ‘Lonely Planet’ documentary about the Cape around 15 years ago, and it was cited as one of the world’s best beaches. We couldn’t book a campsite for love nor money, as you had to book months in advance, and it was expensive. But we camped 60 km down the road and went up for a day trip. We spent the day treating ourselves to coffee and cake in the restaurant, and swimming on the pristine beach. Horizontal falls FlightHorizontal falls

Mike also had a big desire to have a flight over the Buccaneer Archipelago and Horizontal Falls. Mike had a great time viewing the spectacular scenery from a five seater Cessna plane.

Now I am going to have a little soapbox moment. There is currently a contentious issue within the Kimberly. There is a huge reserve of oil and natural gas just off the coast of James Price Point. Woodside (who have a huge plant at Dampier) are planning to build a plant to take advantage of the reserves here. Obviously there are many problems with this. The Kimberly’s is one of the most untouched and pristine places on the face of the planet. No know species of fish or animal have become extinct here, and they have healthy populations of many endangered species. They also have some of the strongest aboriginal cultural communities, and sustainable industries (pearling, tourisms, controlled fishing etc).

Anyway, James price Point is currently one of the biggest humpback whale breeding grounds in the world. If this Gas project goes ahead, they will be dredging around 7 km of the bay, destroying any possibility of humpbacks breeding here. Personally I find it ironic than a government that is supposedly for the whale, with the anti whaling campaign against the Japanese, would then have no problem destroying a prime calving ground for one of the most endangered species of whale.

One top of this, Broome is such a lovely place. It is built around long term sustainable industries. This project would turn it into another industrial wasteland such as Karratha and Port Hedland. Once it’s gone you could never get it back.

The alternative to building a plant at James Price Point would be to pipe it all to Port Hedland. This place is already set up for these industrial activities, and they want it there. Building the plant here would just open the region up to bauxite mining, at Mitchell’s plateau, and other major projects which will threatened and destroy the unique environment. You also have to consider the social cost, as rentals for normal people in places like Port Hedland and Karratha are $2000 per week for an average house, and all retail outlets cannot get staff because wages would not even cover their rent.

OK, I’m getting back off my soapbox now. But speaking of unique, local and sustainable industries, we decided to visit Willie Creek Pearl Farm. Pearling has been a part of Broome’s history for over 100 years, and has been the pearling capital of Australia for almost the entire time. This region is home to the gold lip and silver lip South Sea Pearl, the largest species of pearl producing oyster. The pearls they produce are the largest and most lustrous in the world. The industry is also well managed to protect the wild oyster populations.

Matts Pearl Farming TalkAnatomy of a south sea oysterThe tour takes place a Willie Creek, in the gardens overlooking the beautiful blue waters. Our guide, Matt, took us through a 30 minute demonstration of oysters, seeding, pearl characteristics, and how pearl farming works. I found it especially interesting that absolutely every part of the oyster is used and nothing is wasted. The shell is used for other products, and the pearl ‘meat’ is sold as a delicacy to the Asian markets.

After our demonstration, we had a wonderful fish and salad lunch on the terrace of the cafe overlooking the magnificent view. We were also treated to ‘Kimberly Damper’, which is damper made with beer instead of water. Yum

We were then taken out on a boat, to see where all the action takes place. Of course, only Keshi, (poppy seed in Japanese) pearls are actually grown here. They are oysters where the seeding was unsuccessful, so they produce misshaped pearls that can still be used for jewellery. The real oysters are housed in a secret location, for obvious reasons.

To all my British subscribers, they do employ backpackers for 3 month stints to help with the oyster cleaning. This would qualify you to a 12 visa extension under the agricultural work rules, and you get a certificate showing you are a qualified marine shellfish cleaning technician.

Willie Creek ViewWe then had an opportunity to look at their showroom, and perhaps buy a pearl or two. Unfortunately our budget doesn’t allow for such a treat at the moment, but at least now I have some education into what to look for when buying a pearl. Perhaps I am also happy Mike also knows (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). We all really enjoyed the tour, as it was really different to anything we had seen before, and learning about the process was just fascinating. Because it was quite a hands-on tour, with touching and seeing examples, it held the children’s attention as well. I felt like they were getting something out of it. I’m also starting to notice that Coby is becoming a really girly girl, as she was captivated by the jewellery and pretty products made from the shell.

Willie Creek Pearls have showrooms in Broome and in Perth, well as Willie Creek itself. But if you ever visit Broome, it is certainly worth doing the tour for yourself. Check out their website for yourself.

Getting back from our camping trip, we really wanted to do a Playgroup before we left Broome.  Playgroups will be few and far between for a while, and school holidays starts this weekend.  We had a wonderful visit to Broome Jack and Jill Playgroup Centre.  Read about our visit here.

It was with great regret we had to leave. We are now headed mostly eastward, coast to coast across the Savannah Way (with aside trip to Darwin & the top end). The National Parks and gorges of the Kimberly beckon, as we watch our last sunsets over water in WA.

Whale Sharking

Coral Bay felt like a bit of a holiday away from our holiday. We stopped for almost a week without moving, and with the luxury of power and a camp kitchen. We also had no internet, so after two afternoons catching up on my writing, I ran out of electronic distractions. We all felt a bit refreshed when we left.

This feeling continued for a few more days. After a quick shop in Exmouth, we headed on to Cape Range National Park.

Lakeside Beach VisitShell NamesThis park runs along the coast on the northern end of Ningaloo Marine Park. There are close to a dozen camp sites, but with only 3 – 15 spots at each. There is a plan to control this number to minimise human impact on the reef, as it is so close to the shore. Also, they are trialling an online booking system for 4 sites, which is fairly unique to WA. It isn’t advertised, and we only heard about it through word-of-mouth. I’m glad we did though, as the place was booked solid. Oldies we spoke too were telling us horror stories of having to get up at 2 am to line up for a spot (the good old days according to some). Apparently, the police had to be called once when there was a dispute between an early queuer, and the mate of a camp host who was given the only vacant spot available. Because of the popularity of the place, the entire park might be bookable in the future. Needless to say, we were happy to have no such fuss.

Kurrajong CampKurrajong SunsetBesides the peace and quiet, beautiful sunsets and pristine beaches, there are several highlights of the park. Oyster Stacks is a great snorkelling spot, only really accessible at high tide. Lakeside is another, but the real reason people go there is to see Turquoise Bay. This spot is famous for its drift snorkel. You walk up the south end of the beach, swim in around 50 – 100 meters, and just let the current drift you across the bay to look at all the coral and fish. Again, the beauty and variety is amazing.

It was here in Turquoise Bay that I had my first swimming encounter with a turtle. I think it was a Loggerhead, but may have been a Green. I managed to swim with it for around 5 minutes before it decided it was bored and took off for lunch. But I was happy that I got close enough to touch it if I wanted to, and I love turtles.

We headed back to Exmouth, via Tantabiddi Boat Ramp to do a coral viewing and snorkel tour with Ningaloo Ecology Cruises. This was such a great idea for the family, because everyone got to see the coral and fishes together. We were welcomed aboard by Alek, and incredibly knowledgeable and passionate skipper with over 11 years experience of the Ningaloo area. He is also an underwater photographer, and had an amazing array of photos on board in his portfolio, to help us identify the fish we saw.

Ningaloo Ecology Cruise Captain AlekFrom the boat, we had great visibility through the glass at the fish and coral below. We started off by looking at some of the pristine reef areas near the surface so we could really get a close look, without damaging any coral. Alek really knew his marine life, and the area. The kids were ecstatic that he knew the exact spot to find some ‘tomato clownfish’. He could identify anything and everything we pointed out, including all the coral.Coby swims in the Deep

After a bit of fun learning about the reef, we ventured onto our snorkelling spot. Everything was provided, including fins, mask, snorkel, lifejackets for the kids, and swimming aids. Although we couldn’t convince Rhys to take the big step, Coby was quite happy to jump straight into the open ocean to have a swim and a look. She just loved it. I got to see my second turtle, and both Mike and I saw some new species that we hadn’t seen close to shore.

Angelfish danceAfter we had had enough time in the water, Alek took us over to some bombies, large slow-growing corals that were over 1000 years old. They grow only a centimetre or so every year, and were now huge and home to fish large and small. Unfortunately, reef sharks were still eluding us, but we had a great trip. Most importantly, we were able to include the kids on our discovery of the reef.

In Exmouth we stayed at Exmouth Cape Holiday Park. To read more about our stay, click here.

Exmouth is the gateway to Ningaloo Reef, but the biggest thing about Exmouth is it is the best place in the world to go Whale Sharking. This is one of the most amazing life experiences you could have, swimming with one of the oceans most majestic and unknown creatures. Both Mike and I did our whale shark trip with Ningaloo Reef Dreaming, who had a superb setup, and the most enthusiastic and dedicated team imaginable. They really go to great lengths to make sure you enjoy your entire day, and the experience of swimming with whale sharks. For a full story about our day, and information about why Ningaloo Reef Dreaming it the best company to do your whale shark trip with, click here.WhaleShark (1)

Alas, our time on the Coral Coast has well and truly come to an end. We are now heading inland for a week or so, before heading further into the tropics. We are trading in swimming for bushwalking, and getting a taste of the iron ore mining towns of the Pilbarra.

Australia’s first Europeans – The Batavia Coast

The British colonised Australia first, there is no doubt about that, but were they really the first Europeans to live in Australia, or were they just the first to land on the fertile grounds of the East Coast. We learned about some other possibilities as we explored the Batavia Coast.

From the eccentricities of Hutt River, we arrived at the beautiful Kalbarri, eager to have a nice relaxing coastal break for several days. We weren’t disappointed. Kalbarri is set on a beautiful estuary, where the 700 km Murchison River flow into the Indian Ocean. As we expected for the landscape north of Perth, the land is dry and arid, but the coastline is beautiful. While we visited, it was also surprisingly calm, which makes the phenomenon of the Batavia Coast a little difficult to picture.

Along this stretch of coast there were 4 known shipwrecks of Dutch ships in the 16th and early 17th centuries, including the Batavia where some of the crew executed a previously planned mutiny. They were finally defeated and two of the mutineers were marooned on the Western Australia coast,

Anyway Red Bluff, just south of Kalbarri, is possibly the landing point of the first true Europeans to live in Australia. These two characters possibly interbred with the local aboriginal tribes. Being of Dutch heritage myself, I’m kind of interested that we are one up on the POMs, even though we landed on the wrong coast. I also have to point out that as of 2006, I officially became a POM, and so now my loyalties are divided.

Local history aside, Kalbarri is a fabulous beach holiday destination. It is a tourist town, and there is just so much to do here for people and families of all ages.

The biggest highlight for us was Kalbarri National Park, and having the opportunity to canoe the Murchison River that flows through the park. Further upstream, the river has created some spectacular gorges and rock formations in the red and orange rocks. This includes Natures Window, which is one of the most interesting natural rock formations I have ever seen, not to mention a brilliant photo opportunity. We spend a good deal of time walking the shorter walks along coastline and along inland gorges to take in the unique scenery and ambience of the area.

One of our days there we decided to take in the scenery from a different perspective and went on a canoe trip with Kalbarri Wilderness Canoeing. During the trip we were able to get off the main tourist track for a while, and explore the National Park further downstream to observe a different landscape again, while having an amazing time canoeing and enjoying time together as a family. Even the kids loved this experience. This canoe trip was such a great day out; I have written a separate post about it. Click here to read all about our adventure canoeing on the Murchison River.

Another fun family outing was at Rainbow Jungle. They have a very large collection of difference species of parrots, focusing mainly on Australian species, but also including some rare and endangered foreign species. They have a very successful breeding program, especially for endangered parrots such as the scarlet McCaw and blue-yellow McCaw. The centre also boasts the largest parrot free-flight aviary in Australia.
Apart from the parrots, a lot of care and attention has gone into providing a lush and tropical environment for both the fauna and visitors alike. If you wanted, you could just sit in the aviary, or by the tropical garden, fish pool or waterfall and take in the peace and atmosphere of the place. We just couldn’t believe the abundance of different species were available to view, and they make a huge effort to ensure breeding keeps the species as pure as possible. This is especially important from a biodiversity perspective when dealing with endangered birds. To find out more about Rainbow Jungle, and to visit their website, click here.

One of our last stops for Kalbarri was the local and friendly Kalbarri Playgroup. The kids and I had a morning of fun before we had to pack up the caravan again and move on. Of course, playgroup tuckered out the kids, so they slept well during the afternoon drive.

While we were at Playgroup, Mike got a morning to himself quad biking in the National Park. He has written about this in his latest post on Mike’s page.

Our Batavia Coast adventures have now ended. Our trip takes on a new dimension as we head into the World Heritage Area of Shark Bay.

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