Revisiting old favourites

I can’t believe it has been eighteen months since the end of our trip. Seems like such a long time ago, but we talk about it all the time with the kids. I am surprised at how much they still remember, people, places and certain attractions. Some memories are fading, but the experience has helped shape them as little people.

Carnarvon has been our home now for just shy of a year. During our trip, this part of the WA coastline was a highlight for us, so now we spend long weekends and school holidays revisiting some of the places we liked best. We have also had the opportunity to see some attractions we missed last time round.

Coral Bay was always one of our favourites. We have visited twice so far, where the kids have mastered snorkelling and just love having a go with mum or dad off the beach. At Easter, I booked a whale shark trip, and I finally got to see one. Not just one, but three, including a massive 8 meter male. That is one big fish. In the end, I had seven drops with three different whale sharks, and that was all before lunch. I felt like I had had a workout to rival Ian Thorpe, but the experience was worth it. After lunch, we had a swim with some manta rays too, and then a lazy afternoon just snorkelling on the inner reef.

Gnaraloo Coast

Gnaraloo Coast

Snorkelling was another highlight of our trip to Gnaraloo station between Christmas and New Year. We discovered a spectacular bay with loads of coral, fish and marine life, and we had the place to ourselves.

One big event for 2013 is that Coby finally had her heart surgery. After two cancellations, she had her repair in February. I am very happy to report that it all went well, with no complications. As a treat, once Coby was able to swim again, we spent a weekend at Monkey Mia, and visiting the sights around Shark Bay. Both the kids got an opportunity to feed a dolphin, as did mum. We also went on a wildlife spotting cruise and saw a tiger shark and a dugong. Best of all, we got to spend some quality time together as a family after a very stressful month.

As for new favourites, we have visited the Kennedy Ranges, and Mount Augustus. The family dusted off the old walking boots and spent most of the weekend hiking and enjoying the scenery. It had been very hot and dry, so we would like to see it all again after some heavy rain, so the water pools actually had some water in them.

Mt Augustus

Mt Augustus

The last school holidays we went back to Cape Range National Park for 5 nights. There is so much to do here we actually had a really full holiday. The four of us squished into our two-man kayak and paddled up Yardi Creek, spotting black-tailed rock wallabies. This was a real treat as they are an endangered species, and only live in a few areas. The kids also continued to perfect their snorkelling skills, and both of them got to see massive rays and reef sharks for the first time. We met some lovely families at our campsite, which really brought back memories of our trip and all the wonderful people we met along the way.

Rhys snorkelling

Rhys snorkelling

Turtle at Lakeside. Cape Range NP

Turtle at Lakeside. Cape Range NP

Yardi Creek Gorge

Yardi Creek Gorge

As a family, camping is just such a wonderful way to spend time together. Our new favourite family activity is fishing and crabbing. Mike just bought us a big tinny, and we are planning on using it. So now camping will involve tents in the boat, and off we go. I now can’t wait until the kids are confident enough swimmers to snorkel in the open ocean. Maybe next year…

Six months later…

We have been back in the land of reality for over six months now, what was the outcome of our trip…

It took us more than two months of waiting before we finally gave up on finding a suitable, affordable rental in Port Fairy. We took a lease on a house in Warrnambool and moved in. After months of hunting and numerous applications, Mike finally found a job as a Technical Officer at TAFE. It was by no means what he wanted to do, but it was a job.

Mike and I spent the better part of the Easter long weekend, and many days following, cleaning and making minor repairs on the caravan. We sold it relatively quickly. As its proud new owners drove it out of our driveway, I almost shed a tear. It signified the end of a remarkable chapter of our life, and it was more upsetting than I thought.

On a more positive note, we have had several catch up sessions with our wonderful travelling friends, the O’Callaghans, who only live two hours drive away. It was so much fun getting together and reminiscing about our adventures and the friends we had met.

Despite life getting back to normal, Mike and I still felt a bit unsettled. The cold weather was really getting to us, and it wasn’t great for Coby. Mike wanted a job with a future, which was nearly impossible at the moment in SW Victoria. So we went searching for other opportunities.

From our travels, we had several ideas in mind of places we liked, and where we thought we might be able to call home for a while. All of them had warmer climates and career opportunities. Trying to get a foot-in-the-door job within mining or the oil/gas industry is not an easy feat, especially if you have no specifically relevant experience, or a skill that is not so much in demand in that industry.Coby Hanging out at the River Gum CafeRhys hanging out at the River Gum Cafe

But the Gods were kind to us, and I landed a job with Rio Tinto in a little town called Carnarvon in WA. It’s a Monday- Friday, day job, which suits me fine. I have to get up before 5 am to catch the employee bus to work, but I am home around 4pm, and get to spend more time with the kids after school than I did before. Mike also has a casual position with one of the local Electrical companies. A good start for now.

Best of all, winter temperatures regularly hit the mid twenties, though summers are supposed to be similar to Perth. The area has a big fruit and veggie growing industry, and we have been taking advantage of the bountiful fresh produce. Fishing and crabbing is also meant to be awesome, but we have yet to find out for ourselves.

We are now in the market for a camper trailer, to use on what we intend to be regular trips up to Coral Bay and Cape Range National Park. We also have some places yet to explore inland, and Monkey Mia and Kalbarri to the south.Dolly in Carnarvon

The kids have had a visit to their new school, and are really excited about starting after the school holidays.

So now we can really say, the trip has changed our lives in more ways than one.

Shake, Rattle and Roll

The Gibb River Road was always going to be one of the biggest challenges on our trip. With over 750 km of unsealed roads after the wettest wet in history, preparation was the key. Finally we had the chance to truly test our off-road caravan.

Gibb River RoadOur friends, the O’Callaghan’s, and we decided to do the Gibb River Road together. Besides the great company, we could get each other out of trouble in case we came a cropper with river crossings, mechanical issues or punctures. As Chris and Jayne use to work on tours in the Kimberly, we were able to draw on their knowledge of the area to plan our days.

First stop, Windjana Gorge camp ground and Tunnel Creek. Tunnel Creek was definitely a great first adventure. We armed the kids with head torches to find their way in the dark, but it took some coaxing to get them to walk through the water. We didn’t even tell them about the freshwater crocs that were known to inhabit the creek. But they all made it in the end; even though the three youngest kids had to be carried through the last section as the water was thigh deep for the adults.

Windjana Gorge FreshieThat evening, Chris took Mike and me into Windjana for our first night time croc spotting. We managed to find one young adult, under a log close to shore, but we spooked him and he moved on pretty quick.

The Windjana Gorge walk the next morning was perhaps one of the easiest walks for the kids, with level sandy banks on shaded paths. They had fun doing their own croc spotting, and in total we tallied up around 15 freshies.

We bush camped that night a place called March Fly Glen. Fortunately, it didn’t live up to its name. Jayne cooked us a wonderful dinner over an open fire, and made some delicious damper for dessert. It was a lovely, quiet evening under the stars.

The second gorge walk was Leonard Gorge, a moderate walk that was bit trickier for the kids. The view of the waterfall was gorgeous, but the younger kids were already tiring from two days of heavy activity. So when we got to Silent Grove, we played tag team for doing Bells Gorge and looking after the littlies. Daniel loved it so much; he did the walk twice with both sets of parents.Bell Gorge

Manning Gorge was our first stay at a cattle station on the Gibb. I loved the set up here, as there was a swimming spot right next to the campground. The owners provided pool noodles and tyre inner tubes for the kids to play with while swimming. Again we played tag team doing the gorge walk, which suited the littlies fine as they just had fun splashing around at camp.

It was Mike and my turn to do Manning Gorge the morning of our second day. We got up at first light to get an early start. Not early enough, as there was a tour group there when we arrived. But they soon left and we had the place to ourselves for almost an hour.

I have to say, Manning Gorge was one of my favourites. We could swim right up to the waterfall, and sit on a ledge behind it, watching the world through a waterfall. The water was so clean and fresh, and the surroundings so beautiful that I could have happily stayed there all day. But we were planning a diversion trip up to Mitchell Falls, and had to move on after lunch.

After a quick refuel and power up, we dropped off the caravans at Drysdale Station, and met up with another family, the Catterall’s, to do the Mitchell Falls trip. We had heard very different reports about the condition of the Kalumburu Road to the Mitchell Falls Track. It had been open for around four weeks, with the heaviest traffic it had ever seen, so we expected the worst.

Turns out, it was a challenging trip. It took us 6 hours to travel the 185 km to the campground, stopping for morning tea and lunch. Chris was having some issues with his fuel filter (we later found out that he had some bad fuel), so we had to take it extra easy. But we made it. After setting up the tents, we went to Little Merton Falls for a refreshing dip.

The walk out to Mitchell Falls was an 8.5 km round trip, with a couple of side trips to see Aboriginal Rock Art and other waterfalls. The trail involved a lot of clambering over rocks, and walking across unshaded savannah. Between the three families, we had eight children including three 3 year-olds. It was always going to be a big day.

Mitchell FallsKids are tired after swimming at top of Mitchell FallsWe made it to the famous falls for morning tea, and it definitely one of the most beautiful and spectacular natural wonders I have ever set eyes on. It is a four tiered waterfall surrounded by a magnificent gorge and untouched flora. After spending some time taking it all in, and posing for photos, the kids were rewarded for their tremendous effort with a swim in the whirlpool. This was a swimming hole just around from the top of the falls where the rock formation caused a little whirlpool that was so much more fun than any manmade water park. We must have spent two hours there, having a great time swimming with the kids. It took a lot of effort to drag the kids away for the long walk back.

The day ended with another swim at Little Merton, before heading back to camp for a rest.

The drive back to Drysdale took over 4.5 hours, and upon return, the Catterall’s discovered their camper trailer had a crack in the chassis. Luckily, there was a welder at the station for such jobs (people get all sorts of issues travelling on this road). But we managed to do the trip without any punctures or major breakdowns.

Coby's Pony RideThe next big stop was Home Valley Station, a working cattle station that has had a recent upgrade to its camping facilities. It was a welcome oasis after roughing it for the better part of the last two weeks. The lawns were green and lush, and they had the first playground and swimming pool the kids had seen since the start of the Gibb. We also had the opportunity to do some horse-riding. The mums took in a morning ride, seeing just a small fraction of this enormous station. The older kids, including Coby, got to have a half hour pony ride around the campground. Nothing could take the smile off Coby’s face, as she was led around on a pony called ‘Chocolate’ by one of the trainees.

Pentecost River CrossingOur final stop was the famous El Questro. From here we did our final gorge walk at Emma Gorge, which is in my top three. The station also has Zebedee Springs, a thermal spring in a luscious palm forest that is at a permanent 31°C. Loved it.

So we made it to the end of the Gibb River Road. But we weren’t about to stop yet. A quick shop and refuel in Kununurra, and we headed to the Bungle Bungle Ranges. It was such a long drive, that it was dark by the time we entered the park, and found our camping ground. We covered 24 water crossings to get there from the main highway.

Bungles ranges - Purnululu NPEchidna chasm - Purnululu NPBy this stage the kids were really over all the walks, and the word gorge was enough to get them winging double time. Chocolate and icy poles were used as bribes for the Cathedral gorge walk, but we tricked them into doing Echidna Chasm, because it wasn’t called a gorge. But they actually loved this walk, charging ahead once we reached the sheltered chasm. Some areas of this gorge you had to walk single file, it was so tight.

I’m actually really proud of how well the kids did during the past couple of weeks. Long walks in hot weather, and we rarely had any rest time during the entire Gibb trip. In total, we did over 1000 km of heavily corrugated and sometimes very bumpy road. Everyone was feeling pretty exhausted by the time we set up back in Kununarra.

It took Mike and I more than a full day to clean the truck, caravan and finish all the washing. I think we will be finding piles of Kimberly dirt for some time to come. But was it worth all that effort. I would definitely say YES.

So this week marks our halfway point, five months down and five months to go. Tomorrow we are finally leaving WA after more than four months, and heading into the Territory.

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.

Red Rock, Red Mud and Red Moon

Australia is one the most resource rich countries on earth. Many claim the resource boom has sheltered us somewhat from the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ that has heavily affected most westernised nations. With this in mind, we headed inland into the Pilbara, the self-claimed economic heartbeat of Australia.

We decided to take the dirt road shortcut to get to Tom Price. Halfway up the track, the heavens opened and the road turned to red mud. The floodway’s filled quickly. Visibility was low and we were worried we would get stuck. Luckily we made it back to tarmac only having to manoeuvre a few big puddles, and the rain was still heavy enough to give the caravan and truck a decent clean. Our final destination was Karijini National Park.

Karijini National Park is the second biggest National Park in WA. It is famously known for its spectacular gorges and challenging walks. We managed to time our trip with the start of wildflower season, where the first of the blooms started dotting the landscape, adding some extra colour to our surroundings. We decided that after the kids had had close to a week cooped up because of bad weather, they would tolerate a big walk without too much complaining. The walk we wanted to undertake was the class 3 Dales gorge. Class one is accessible by prams and wheelchairs, and class six requires abseiling qualifications, swimming ability and an experienced guide.

Needless to say, we managed the entire 4 km with no tears, tantrums or complaints. The one exception was when Rhys managed to place his hand over a baby scorpion and got a nasty sting. He shrugged it off pretty quickly though. It was so worth the effort, as we ventured into some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. I only wish it was a few degrees warmer so we could have swum in the freshwater pools and under the flowing waterfalls. Maybe next time.

We walked a second trail through Weano gorge the following day, which was another adventure we loved. In several places we had to cross the stream via stepping stones, and avoid waterways by swinging around rock platforms. The kids thought it was a fabulous exploration, and we all had such a great time. This is a place I would love to visit again when the kids are older, to walk some of the more difficult trails.

We had a quick power up and clean up in Tom Price, where I went off by myself to do the mining tour. Tom Price is an interesting little town. It exists exclusively for Iron Ore, and is pretty much owned by Rio Tinto. Lots of young families live here, and everything is scheduled by the mines. The main mine of Mount Tom Price is really impressive. Everything is big, the trucks, excavators, crushers and separators. There is over 40 km of conveyer belts in that mine alone, and the trains that carry the ore to port are 230 carriages long, around 2.4 km. Yes, the pay is awesome, with truck drivers earning $120,000 – $150,000 per year, with a house provided, but you have to work night shift, and put up with the heat and isolation.

The most straightforward road out of there to our next destination was a private road owned by Rio Tinto. Mike sat through a 20 minute DVD and induction in order for us to save over 200 km in time and fuel.

So we made it to Millstream-Chichester National Park. Some fellow travellers had told us not to bother, but we were actually really glad we went there. It was quiet and uncrowded, and it was great to see some trees again. It’s a natural underground water source for the Pilbara region, and the pools and streams were crystal clear, with lilies in bloom. The kids discovered a new game called Pooh Sticks.
The park had suffered a lot of erosion damage in recent years because of cyclone and flooding, but it held its own, and we had a great time.

Now the Pilbara is one of the biggest mining areas in the entire world. It supplies around 37% of the worlds iron ore, and is currently undergoing huge expansion and development. We got a major taste of the industrialisation when we moved onto Karratha and Dampier. We stayed in the Dampier Transit Caravan Park for 3 nights, which had a ‘lovely’ view of the iron ore loading facility. Ships are coming and going all hours of the day and night to collect ore, mostly bound for China. Rhys found this especially exciting, as he gave us a ship inventory a few times every day.

We managed to time our visit with the full moon rising, and ‘staircase to the moon’, a phenomenon where the moon rises at low tide over the mud flats of Hearson’s Cove. The reflection of the moon makes it look like a staircase, and the sight is really something. A full lunar eclipse was also occurring, which saw Mike and I get up at 4 am to see a blood red moon in full eclipse, something you just don’t get to see that often. The ash in the atmosphere from the recent Chile volcanic eruptions made the effect even more unique.

Port Hedland, well what can I say? A full day there was just too long. From here we spent just over a week meandering up the coast to Broome. This is probably some of the most untouched coastline in the world, and there are very few places with beach access. It is peak season for the grey nomad migration north, and we got to experience it in its full glory this week, where all the caravan parks were popular (and karaoke from the 50’s and 60’s was well attended). But the coastline is beautiful, and the weather divine, especially after our recent washouts, one highlight was Barn Hill, a cattle station with a caravan park. It has a ‘no booking’ policy, and is cheap for this stretch of coast. We had two wonderful beach days with the kids, and Mike even managed to catch a fish, which was thrown back due to being slightly undersized.

So Broome, here we come. From there we head east for the first time, and are almost at our halfway point, geographically speaking. How time flies.

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.

The Coral Coast

Inevitably when you travel, you meet many other travellers, experienced and newbie’s. When I happen to encounter a serious chat, I always ask two questions; what has been your favourite place, and what has been your least favourite. The Western Australian Coast is often an answer to both.

Our trip is truly getting to the most isolated areas of Australia. It is evident by the prices of fuel and food, and the chunks of time between passing other vehicles (and being overtaken by others, which use to happen quite frequently). I never thought this year I would get to a fuel station and say ‘$1.70 per litre, that’s cheap’. It can be a long way between roadhouses and towns, and there are signs everywhere warning about the shortage of available drinking water. Water is starting to become a limiting factor when planning sections of our trip now, as the amount we can carry will only last us for 4 days, if we are careful. Then landscape just doesn’t seem to change over hundreds of kilometres.

But there are so many diamonds in the rough.

Carnarvon Jetty & BayShells @ Point QuobbaHomestead Beach - Point QuobbaCarnarvon is the last big town we pass through for about a month and our last opportunity to stock up on reasonably priced food. For those of you not in the know, Carnarvon is a major fruit and veggie growing region for WA. The average temperature all year is a constant 28°C, and something is always in season here. We had a great several days rest and relaxation here at the Carnarvon BIG4 Plantation Caravan Park, which is situated amongst the plantation area of town. We were able to treat the children to gorgeous vine-ripened bananas, mango fruit ice-cream and tasty tomato’s. I even cooked banana pancakes for the family one our mornings there. Rhys was especially impressed.

We got into the true spirit of Carnarvon, and did a plantation tour. Here we learned all about bananas, mangos and grapes of the eating variety. The tour ended with tastings of their homemade jams, sauces and chutneys. Delicious.

Stocked up and ready for adventure, we had a big drive of nothingness to the absolute gem of a holiday destination, Coral Bay. Apart from Perth over Easter, we haven’t really had to book much this entire trip. Fortunately we listened to advice we got a couple of weeks ago, and booked Coral Bay. After spending five days there, I would have been gutted if I missed it.

Into the tropicsCoral Bay is at the southern end of the Ningaloo Marine Park. There really isn’t much there except two caravan parks, associated cafes and supermarkets, a bakery, pub, tour booking shops and that is all. Somehow, this is one of the reasons I liked it, but a small one. The main reason is evident in the name. Just a few meters off shore, on a pristine blue beach, the reef starts and goes on for longer than I could swim out.

This is honestly the best snorkelling I have ever experienced. So many fish, so much variety, beautiful arrays of coral in many different colours (although not the bright vivid colours of tourist brochures). The kids were happy playing for hours in the shallow water, looking at baitfish and the large Western Snappers that hovered around the shores. Mike and I took it in turns to go out on mammoth snorkelling expeditions, probably over 200 meters from the shore without any trouble. Personally, I couldn’t get the Beatles song ‘Octopus’ Garden’ out of my head as I carefully manoeuvred over the coral that almost scraped my tummy when swimming at low tide.

Coral Bay ShallowsThe Lagoon - North of Coral bayGlass Bottom KayakI only wished we had taken more time to try and teach Coby to snorkel before we got here. No matter as we hired a glass-bottomed kayak for an hour so the kids could share the joy. Rhys having previously been impressed by ‘Finding Nemo’ the movie, kept finding Nemo, or at least a lovely black and white species of clownfish. They were both impressed by the fish and coral and happy to be passengers as Mike and I paddled them around.

It was with great regret we left Coral Bay after just under a week of fun in perfect sunny weather. We only managed to tear ourselves away with the knowledge our next destination would mean more sea and swimming adventures.

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