After leaving Coral Bay, we headed further down the coast on our way to Perth.
Our first stop on the way down was the Quobba Blowholes. This is basically a place along the ocean where there are certain holes in the rocky coast that water shoots out of 20 meters into the air when the swell hits them right. It’s also a place where you can get washed away by king waves if you’re not careful, apparently. Anyways we stopped for a look at it – pretty cool, if random.
We went to camp up in Gnaraloo as it was recommended to us by one of our earlier AirBnB hosts. The campsite in Gnaraloo is called 3 Mile Camp, and it’s basically bush camping with hot showers. The experience was quite nice as all the campsites have ocean views and the stars are pretty crazy at night. There is also a nice lagoon for snorkelling in where I saw a couple turtles and reef sharks. Chris decided the water was too cold though and watched from shore.
We also drove up to Gnaraloo Bay for a bit of snorkelling, as this area is still technically part of Ningaloo Reef. The coral is nice, but compared to Coral Bay it wasn’t super impressive.
On our way back from camping we also stopped to snorkel at a lagoon called the Aquarium. Chris liked it here because it was shallower (thus warmer) than most of the other spots we had snorkelled.
Carnarvon is the largest town in the area (though that’s not saying much) so we spent a night here just to check it out and get some groceries. The town seems like it has quite a bit of money (I think due to mining?) as it has some nicely maintained public areas, including a harbour boardwalk area called the Fascine.
The path connects to another walking trail along some old train tracks that lead to One Mile Jetty, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bit of a ways from the town centre but I ran there in the morning to check it out. It’s LONG but you can see turtles in the water 🙂
Carnavon was also a base of operations for NASA back in the day. I guess the reason why it was chosen is because it was pretty developed at the time and because it was right under the path of the Apollo spacecraft – perfect for assisting radio communications. It is also one of the places from which the feed of the guys walking on the moon was bounced around the world. There is a science centre there where you can go on a simulated Apollo mission, etc.
After Carnarvon we headed down to Shark Bay!
Shark Bay is a World Heritage Site, declared so mainly because of the abundance, diversity, and rarity of its flora and fauna. In particular, it contains the largest known seagrass meadows, and as a result also holds over 10% of the world’s population of dugongs. As its name suggests, it is also the home to many species of sharks, as well as dolphins, rays, and of course a zillion fish.
The sea grass meadows also restrict the tidal flow of water in and out of the bay, and that combined with the hot, dry climate mean that the water in the shallower areas of the bay is actually hyper-saline, containing up to twice as much salt as regular seawater. The hyper-saline water has allowed populations of cyanobacteria to thrive in certain areas, since few other organisms can survive in such salty conditions. In Hamelin Pool the cyanobacteria have built stromatolites, making it one of the only places in the world living stromatolites have been found.
In fact, before the stromatolites were discovered in Shark Bay they had only been found in fossilized form. Fossilized stromatolites are one of the earliest signs of life on earth and have been found dating back to 3.5 billion years ago. So it’s pretty crazy that you can go see them in Shark Bay in basically the same form. That being said (before you get too excited), they really just look like a bunch of rocks. If there hadn’t been signs I would have walked on them.
Shell Beach is a beach made of little white shells instead of sand. There are literally about a kajillion shells, as the beach is over 100km long with the shells being 7-10 metres deep the entire way. The fact that there are so many shells here is also due to the hyper-saline water, as the cockles that make the shells have no predators. People used to use the shells as a building material before the bay became a protected area, and there are still a lot of buildings in Denham made of seashell bricks. We took a look, but as the flies were driving Chris insane we didn’t stay long.
Eagle Bluff is a nice lookout along the coast. That’s all, really. On Wikicamps some guy said he saw a ray being eaten by a hammerhead shark, but we weren’t that lucky.
We rolled in to Denham, the westernmost town in Australia, and decided to stay at the seaside tourist park (despite it being more expensive) because it also had free wifi. After a quick chat with the very helpful lady at the visitor info centre, we decided that it was too pricey to dive here but that a visit to Monkey Mia was probably in order.
Monkey Mia is a resort area on Shark Bay that is famous for its dolphins. Dolphins get fed here three times a day in the morning. Back in the day, anyone could feed them, but then it was discovered that the dolphins were only eating the scraps given to them and not hunting anymore. As a result, their calfs had a much lower chance of survival as they didn’t learn to hunt for food. Since then, there are rules so that only a small portion of food is given (making them still have to hunt) and only certain dolphins (which the rangers know by name) get food. It is funny to see them hang around in the shallows while the rangers give their talk, because in order for the dolphins to see all the people they have to swim on their side so their eye is exposed. Apparently they can adjust their eyes independently to the different light conditions of water and air (i.e. they can see both in the water with one eye and in the air with the other eye at the same time), which is pretty cool.
Volunteers arrive with small buckets of fish after the talk and randomly select people out of the crowd to feed the dolphins. We weren’t chosen and Chris was sad because people on either side of us were chosen (including an old lady who got picked twice!).
Monkey Mia is a really nice area to hang out. You can’t swim in the dolphin area beside the jetty, but you can swim and wade anywhere else. There are a lot of pelicans hanging around trying to get fish scraps from the dolphin feedings. They also have a delicious restaurant where we had primo caesar salads. So good!
We also decided to take a catamaran ride out to look for dugongs and other wildlife, A) because I love catamarans and B) because if you go on a wildlife viewing ride you also get a free sunset ride. The boat doesn’t provide alcohol but like everywhere in Australia it is BYO.
The catamaran is really nice; it was originally made for a super rich guy in New Zealand as a racing boat. Unfortunately because it was a very calm day we didn’t get to see it racing along by sail in action very much. In order to hoist the sails they ask for some male volunteers to pull the rope. Chris volunteered to help and all went well. When we were on the sunset cruise he volunteered again, but this time he was stuck with two young bro backpackers with large arms but no brains, who in their confusion about how to pull a rope allowed him to hoist it alone, which wasn’t so fun for him. It was pretty interesting to see the skipper work, because he could actually sail the boat by himself by running about and pulling on various cranks and pulleys to adjust the sails.
Anyways on the first trip we saw some pretty gigantic turtles and of course a bunch of dugongs. Dugongs are pretty shy but fortunately come up to breathe a lot so its not too hard to get a good look at them. I like dugongs because they are big and lazy and cute, plus basically spend the entire day eating. The biggest danger to dugongs is boats, as they can be too slow/lazy to get out of the bay. Sharks don’t attack dugongs because they can’t get their jaws around their round body, and even if they could their teeth couldn’t puncture their thick skin. Also dugongs can apparently give a pretty hard smack with their tail. As dugongs only eat seagrass, depletion of seagrass meadows due to changes in sea temperature is the biggest threat to the species.
Our second day in Shark Bay we had planned to drive into Francois Peron National Park, however our car had other ideas and decided to start leaking coolant. Since it was Sunday we couldn’t get a mechanic to look at it until the next morning, so we spent the day wandering around town and going to the beach instead. Denham is really small; we had breakfast at one of the two cafes and visited a couple of little shops before we had exhausted everything there was to do on main street.
The caravan park we were staying at was basically on the beach, so we paddled around in the water for a bit. Unlike everywhere else we had visited on the coast so far, the shallow protected waters of Shark Bay are nice and warm, if super salty. So you can float really well! I was super excited because for about 2 seconds we managed to replicate the big dance lift from Dirty Dancing – until Chris dropped me on my head. To be fair, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey had a whole training montage to get it right.
After leaving Denham we headed down to Kalbarri, a small town next to the its namesake Kalbarri National Park. Kalbarri is another national park famous for its gorges, both inland and on the coast. On our way into town we stopped at a few lookouts and walked down to check out Murchison River.
After checking into our caravan park and investigating the visitor centre we took a quick peek around town. As we were getting closer and closer to Perth everything started getting busier, and there were a lot of families in town. After being spoiled by low season for so long it was a bit irksome at first to have so many other people around.
The next morning we headed into the park to check out the main lookouts, Nature’s Window and Z-Bend. It was rainy at first, the first rain we had seen in quite a while. Despite that there were a lot of people about, so we decided to take the longer hike at Nature’s Window to lose the crowds. Nature’s Window is named so because the rock has eroded away to form a window that frames the river below.
Nature’s Window is also the start of a hike called The Loop. It was nice, but not super impressive compared to Karijini National Park. We were some of the only people hiking it because it is decently long and you can see Nature’s Window from the car park basically. Most people do the ten minute walk and take a picture thing.
Z-Bend is another lookout point where the gorge makes a big Z shape. Not much else to report.
Since we had had enough hiking, the next morning we decided to go horseback riding at Big River Ranch. We were there early for the morning ride and had a lot of time to kill while the horses were saddled (apparently Kalbarri is not a very timely place) so we entertained ourselves by visiting all the animals that lived at the ranch, which in addition to horses included a goat, a donkey, an adorable llama, and a very nice dog. We overheard one of the guides saying that another guide had taken the goat home to his house for some free lawnmowing. Unfortunately he decided to tie up the goat to the bullbar of his car for the night. The next morning he found a lot of wiring chewed up, making his “free lawnmower” pretty expensive in the end!
Once we were all saddled up we hung out in a line by the fence. Chris’s horse already tried to turn to kick the horse beside him so it wasn’t the best start, but soon we were off. We crossed over into the neighbouring land where there are a lot of sheep. The landowners allow the trail riders to come on their land and in return the guides help the landowners muster the sheep when it is time.
We got to cross a river which is pretty fun. The river is quite wide and the water comes up to your boots as the horses wade across. After that there are some pretty sand dunes that you head up on top of to see great views of the ocean and town. The horses for some reason like to pick up the pace when going up the hills, which makes it pretty exciting. Our group then split up into people that wanted to take an easy meander amongst the dunes and the ones that wanted to gallop down the beach. After being reassured that we wouldn’t die, of course we chose the beach gallop. As we were splitting up from the group, Chris’s horse decided to take a full on kick at another horse passing behind. That didn’t impress the guide who basically said it was Chris’s fault for not kicking the horse enough. Chris figured it was because we are used to riding the very well trained horses at his grandpa’s farm. Those horses need just a bit of a squeeze to move to a trot, no huge kicks required! Overall actually it seems like Australia hasn’t gotten into the natural horsemanship thing so much yet as you have to yank the reins a lot more than we’re used to to steer the horses. But anyways no one was hurt so it was all good.
The luck continued with neither Chris nor I falling off our horses as we galloped up and down the beach. It was pretty exciting. We aren’t sure if it was because we were riding more English style saddles or what, but we both felt more secure at that speed than in the past. Chris says it is because we were galloping instead of cantering which is a harder movement to adjust to. I think it may have also been because we were riding on soft sand instead of hard dirt. Regardless it was super fun!
After our morning ride, we drove up the coast to look at all the coastal gorges. There are (I think) 8 lookout points you can drive out to and see the rock formations. The coastline is pretty impressive, if same-y after a while. Chris got bored and hot pretty quick.
Before leaving Kalbarri we went to the daily pelican feeding. Much like the dolphins in Monkey Mia, this tradition was also started by fishermen who fed their scraps to the pelicans, so now they always come to the beach in the morning. Nowadays jolly volunteers bring a bucket of fish and let little kiddies throw them to the pelicans. This seems slightly dangerous, as the pelicans are pretty big and could probably fit the head of some of the tiny kids in their beaks… But I guess it’s only a problem if the kid doesn’t throw the fish fast enough.
We stopped in Geraldton mainly because it was an actual large-ish city and Chris wanted to see The Revenant (the Oscar nominations had just been announced and everyone was talking about Leo). SPOILER: Leo walks in the snow for about a jillion years and everyone looks cold. I really only went to remember what Alberta winter was like for a bit. In addition to a movie theatre, Geraldton also has a quite cute town centre with lots of little shops, cafes, and fun graffiti along the waterfront.
Geraldton is also famous for this nice stripy lighthouse it has.
After Geraldton, it was on to Perth for Australia Day!