Kalbarri is another small town that I feel I know quite well now, having spent the best part of 10 days there. Kalbarri National Park is famous for its unusual rock formations, deep gorges, the winding Murchison River and Nature’s Window, an opening rubbed into the rugged limestone by erosion, creating a lovely vista. Roddy and I booked ourselves onto a tour that took us to the Window and other beautiful views such as the Z-Bend and the Westloop. I decided then that I wanted to finally buy a better camera. I have mulled this over for a while. Way back in the days of real film I had an SRL Nikon with zoom lens but traded it in for a digital compact later on. The iPhone takes good photos but it’s rubbish when you want to zoom in or take photos that need a more sophisticated lens for subtle colour or in dimming light conditions. We see so many beautiful views that I think it will be worth being able to capture them properly. At Nature’s Window I saw a Canadian girl with a Canon DSLR so I had a chat with her. This gave me major camera envy and a determination to go for it. I also love the wildlife, especially the birds (the other day I saw a huge number of green budgies fly up! I love budgies!) and I fail to capture them properly with what I have. So, soon, I hope to be able to enhance my blog with better photos. Had Paul not ‘sold’ his camera to NIGERIA I could have bought his off him but unfortunately that one went to a NIGERIAN LAY PREACHER who ‘forgot to pay’. This is many years ago and Paul is now worldly wise.
Kalbarri – where the Murchison river meets the Indian Ocean.
Our arrival in Kalbarri coincided with the annual crayfish festival. There were stalls on the shore selling crayfish and other delights, home-made chutneys, jewellery and handbags, a bonfire and a band at night.
At the campsite we met several grey nomads and the thing that struck me was their ordinariness coupled with a sense of adventure. Most are just ordinary retired folk who in Europe would probably just more or less stay at home but here it is so normal to do the big lap. I must insist that we are a bit younger than most, though.
Another new hobby that I have started is fishing. Three years ago Jane and I hired a campervan, bought a fishing rod and travelled to Denham for a mother-daughter fishing trip so this time I wanted to make the most of it and learn more about fishing.
Kalbarri was rubbish for fishing though. I knew that there were fish. In fact, quite often I could see them jumping out of the water, looking at me with an evil grin and then disappearing back under the surface to chew my bait off. I fished from the jetty, from the beach, from the river’s edge at various points… but nothing! Pelicans on lampposts watched me and I’m sure they, too, had a wee giggle to themselves. I YouTubed fishing techniques and problems with the rod and a few times I caught small, 10 cm fish but had to let them go. Still, it’s quite addictive and so I was off to fish for a few hours most days but never to return with dinner. Apart from our medical emergency, Kalbarri was very relaxing and I love being back on the coast.
Eventually we left to go further north, heading to Shark Bay and Hamelin Pool Telegraph station was our first stop. Roddy loves it there for obvious reasons.
Hamelin Pool is at the start of the road to Monkey Mia, about 20 km west of the Overlander Roadhouse on the North-West Coastal Highway. It’s a very basic but quaint campsite and the area is famous for Stromatolites, the earliest life form on Earth. The ocean is more than twice as salty here as it is an inlet not fully flushed by the currents, which concentrates the salt content. Fish can’t live here but the micro-organisms, the bacteria, love it and very slowly grow these rocklike lumps. Roddy was happy playing with the telegraph equipment and I grabbed my guitar and practised some scales – again, YouTube proving to be a useful instruction tool. In the evening, an hour before sunset, we fancied a mini-adventure so we cycled from the campsite to Hamelin Station Homestead, about 5km away. En route we saw a kangaroo and an emu and, when we had arrived at the homestead, a startled looking couple with the biggest camera-lense combination I had ever seen. I guessed that the Kardashian must be having it off somewhere nearby and the couple where actually working for Hello or some other rag. They seemed not at all pleased with us staring at their gear so, I guess, they cursed us: not a minute had passed since the encounter when Roddy’s tyre let out air – all of it! Gallantly he suggested I should cycle on and let him walk home alone but I was not going to leave him alone in the bush! So we walked back as the sun gradually went down and made it back intact.
Next stop was Denham – one of my all time happy places. It’s a small town with such a chilled atmosphere. It has one main street along the beach and three campsites. There are a few other holiday chalets but you don’t get the feeling that it’s over commercialised. Aussies are good at preserving the vibe that makes a place popular in the first place.
I fished from the beach and the piers here and actually managed to catch some squid! Initially I caught a few blowies. They look like little puffer fish but are just somehow fat when they first come up. Within a few seconds though, they puff up and it gave me the fright of my life! I wasn’t sure if their scales were venomous or spikey so I put on my fishing gloves and removed the fishy from the hook. After throwing it back into the water it quickly reduced its size and swam off. Phew!
Later on, I put on a squid lure. I had just cast my rod under the pier when there was a tug and I thought I had caught the hook in the wooden pile but no! I saw a big squid come up. It suddenly squirted its ink and then I saw that it was chased by three or four other squid who seemed to be after the lure too. I wheeched it out onto the pier and felt quite startled again at the prospect of having to take it off the hook! The squid looked at me accusingly with its big black and iridescent green eyes and I felt a bit guilty but I think that if we eat meat and fish we should be able to hunt it, kill it and prepare it. Mind you, I wouldn’t much fancy hunting a big animal. In the evening I went back and caught a few more. Cleaning them was messy as there seemed to be an inexhaustible amount of ink inside the little blighter and I will forever have a small black dot on my denim shirt from the ink but, again, YouTube helped me with the task. We ate the squid that night with some salty potatoes but it was not really the big hit… I think having caught and cleaned it didn’t help the eating experience after all, plus, the hob in the van doesn’t get quite as hot as at home so it was a bit more difficult to flash-fry it. Next time I want to catch a fish-fish.
Monkey Mia and Denham are at the top end of a beautiful peninsula which attained world-heritage status about ten years ago. The two places are located 30 km from each other at opposite sides of the peninsula. Denham is a town but Monkey Mia is a resort, which became famous in the 1960s when a local woman started feeding dolphins that came to the beach in the morning. Before this no one really drove up there but it caused a sensation and now tourists can go to the beach at 7.45am each morning and see the wild dolphins arrive and being fed a few fish. The rangers are careful not to feed them too much as this caused a problem in the past. The dolphins got so used to being fed that they quickly unlearned their hunting skills, which affected mainly the young ones who never learned them. The programme was therefore amended to only feed very little, thus forcing the dolphins to go out and hunt by themselves. The balance seems to work and it’s a huge privilege to get up so close to these wild and beautiful creatures. Roddy and I hired a kayak for a paddle in the bay and were lucky enough to see a mother dolphin with her calf. The sunsets at Monkey Mia are quite special as the light is so soft, creating pastel hues that are magically beautiful.
Canarvon is a bigger town and famous for its plantations that surround the town. Apparently 70% of WA’s fruit and veg come from here. The town is also famous for its space centre. Being at the most westerly point of Australia, it was the only place that could be reached by satellite communication in the 1960s. A huge satellite dish gracing the wee hill on the edge of town, used to track US space ships. Now there is a museum which has been visited by many very famous astronauts now all dead. For the occasion of our visit I decided to dress up as Captain Scarlett. This is a bit of an in-joke: while at Shenton I went to the Y7 social which had a Hero theme. Now I am lucky that I have a husband who has a number of dressing up outfits (no sniggering!) and I chose Captain Scarlett as the hero I was going to be. Well, it became a bit of a thing and I promised my line manager that I would have photos taken, especially with the BIG things around Oz, like the Big Banana or the Big Cray, etc, dressed as CS and with my glamorous Hollywood mug too (a gift from Jane in my school community which was called Hollywood, hence the glamour). The funniest thing at the space museum happened when I was posing for a photo outside and a school bus rocked up filled with primary aged kids. I saluted them in a manner fit for a Captain and they all saluted back. I almost died!
En route observation: This is the Gascoyne river running very low as you can see from the flood metre and as well as the width of the river in full flow.
Until tomorrow we are in Coral Bay, which is north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It’s another one of my happy places. Coral Bay must be one of the most relaxed resorts with the laziest beach life ever. Even the Spangled Emperor fish swim right up to you and have a good look. The water is calm, the sand soft and white and snorkelling is easy. You can see clown fish, big turtles, stingrays, blowfish and the occasional baby shark swimming in the bay, literally metres from the waterline in shallow water. Yesterday I took myself off with my beach tent, flippers and snorkel equipment and spent a few hours snorkelling and lazing about. I was, however, a little bit worried about the warning signs about Irukandji: these are venomous jellyfish that can cause Irukandji syndrome and require immediate medical attendance. Apparently though, none had been sighted for the last 5 weeks. I was going to hire a paddle board today but it is a bit cloudy so I’ll wait and see. In Monkey Mia I was told that from a paddle board you see much better as you are standing up so I’m itching to try this out. I miss my Perth snorkelling buddies Kate and Jessica or it would be great to have Paul, Tina and Jane here for action because water sports is not really Roddy’s thing so I am on my own which diminishes the experience a little bit but we are all different and I will develop my solo snorkelling enjoyment. I have a deep respect of the ocean and find the underwater experience a little bit daunting. Company makes it less so. This is also why I am not planning on swimming with manta rays or whale sharks which is the big thing here – they are just too big and one flick of the fin could do you in. Manta rays just look spooky! Although I love it, swimming with fish is quite alien and when a stingray suddenly appears from under the sand just beneath me I almost jump out of my mask. However, I will enjoy swimming here while I can because the further north we go, the less likely it is that I can swim as we will enter deadly blue-ringed octopus and saltwater crocodile country. Cry!
At the moment we are only staying in one place for 1-3 days. Our next stop is Exmouth and then we will drive over to Karratha from where I will catch a plane to Perth. Roddy will stay with the van but I will fly to Scotland for a short 12 days for Paul’s graduation in Dundee. Extravagant, yes, but I don’t want to miss out on all these milestones and this is a biggy. He has done so well and I am immensely proud of him. Unfortunately I won’t see Tina as she will be in Asia on holiday but it will give me the chance to see wee maw (Roddy’s mum) and catch up with some friends in Troon.
Roddy’s foot has finally healed more or less. Due to the immense pressure caused by the trauma he developed nerve pain in his right leg, which makes itself known only at night. Initially he was prescribed Lyrica which is an epilepsy drug. It works by numbing the brain’s pain receptors. One of the cautionary notes alerted family to look out for suicidal tendencies. Great! He was quite spaced out and detached on this drug, somewhat inside his head. Eventually the prescription ran out though and he now copes well on Ibuprofen. Hopefully the nerve pain will vanish as these things can become chronic. One of his favourite toys is, you guessed, the HF roof antenna and his radio. In Carnarvon he bought a ladder that enables him to climb on top of the van. He did this yesterday in order to move the antenna forward by 5cm as this will then allow the TV areal to turn fully in order to be correctly orientated in different locations. I held the ladder and made sure he wasn’t going to fall off the van.
A little vignette from our lives: every morning around 7am Roddy makes me breakfast in bed: 2 slices of toast with honey and jam and Italian coffee, a cup of tea and Weetabix with prunes for himself. Then he assumes the “forward operating position” in the passenger seat and switches on his HF radio. A droning buzz shakes the van and you can hear crinkly noises and a rushing sound – the Shavers’ Network is on the air. Here a wee sample transcript:
Roddy: VK6Mike Hotel calling VK6QA. Do you read me?
Keith (his friend and ex-Q-Mac employee in Dwellingup): Signals here good this morning, Rod. Overnight rainfall .2mm and temperature here now 8 Centigrade. Over to you Ron in Busselton. VK6QA calling VK6QB.
Ron (in Busselton): 1mm in the gauge overnight and temperature here 5 Celcius. Quite a lot of smoke around from burn-offs. Is there anyone else on channel?
Rick (in Broomhill, another ex-employee of Q-Mac): This is VK6XT. Most signals strong here, old men. No rain overnight but got down to 1. Rod up in Coral Bay is a bit at the back of the box. Over to you, Keith.
And so it continues. You gotta love the geeks.