First off. I did the most wonderful blog for you – took me ages – and, even though I say it myself, it was a stonker. However, as I may have mentioned before, WIFI is a little bit eratic at the best of times and after several hours work, I had not accounted for the fact that all the rest of the campsite would be on the internet downloading TV programmes and films and leaving bugger all left for me. Well, I thought I’d saved a draft but on trying to finish it off this morning, nothing could be found. So here I am, on the plane to Sydney (woo hoo!!) starting again….. I can’t promise it will be as pithy, humorous or coherent as the original, as I intend to consume various alcoholic beverages en route to compensate for the pain of losing my hard work, but I will try.
So, since my previous musings, we have passed through Exmouth, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Jurien Bay and arrived in Perth (via Freemantle). Lots to talk about but before I get started, I was reminded briefly of my most favourite quote from the very excellent film ‘Imitation Game’ starting Dominic Cucumberpatch (if you haven’t see it yet I highly recommend it) which goes: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine”. Now a bit tangential, but replace the ‘people’ with ‘place’ and I related immediately to this quote after an overnight stay at a remote campsite. We arrived at said site in the middle of absolutely nowhere and on first impressions, it didn’t look up to much; very few facilities, very dusty, hot (OK that’s not the fault of the campsite) with basic tin huts with no roof for toilets/showers. Although, not in itself a big deal, after a long, hot, tiring journey it didn’t bode well. Things improved a bit when a small, makeshift bar became a thing at sun-set with an array of beers (albeit at $10 a can) which was very pleasant indeed and after a nice, in-Bob meal the evening wasn’t so bad after all. Fast forward to bedtime and the need for a shower etc. Armed with the trusty headtorch, it was a bit of a stumble across the dusty track to the tin sheds. Deciding not to put on the light in order to avoid inviting unwanted critters, the shower went on – nice, hot water. But then… look up and O.M.G! The night sky was so amazing – more stars than I think I have ever seen – and all from the refreshing beauty of the shower!! No fancy pants hotel could ever match that I’m pretty certain, and although I’m sure there are similar remote locations offering such gorgeousness, this was something to behold. So, all in all the site turned out to be one of the favourites to date. Book, cover, judge, don’t etc etc. Great stuff.
Moving on, this time I thought we could consider the delights of cycling, lighthouses, losses, pointy things and creatures in wrong places….
I want to ride my bicycle…
I’m pretty certain good old Freddie would not have been actually wanting to ride a bike at all, but since our first outing in Darwin, our four-wheeled friend that is Bondi Bob is not the only one to have clocked up some considerable kms. First up was Exmouth where, after deploying the two-wheeled chariots initially just for a quick recce of the town, we decided to explore further afield and treat Tim to a lighthouse visit. On the morning in question, it was not only quite hot, it was also blowing a hooley, so cycling into wind was a bit of a chore. The road out was bereft of a cycle lane too – that finished at the end of the town – so it was a bit challenging but, to be fair, most vehicles were really considerate and gave us lots of room. Having covered a reasonable distance, it was time for a quick drink of water and consult the map. We must have looked a bit parched because almost immediately a guy in a Ute shouted over – ‘there’s a beaut of a cafe about 2 kms down there – great coffee!’ and then roared off into the distance. We didn’t take much persuading and off we set – even if it was in the wrong direction. Luckily, we did indeed find a beaut of a cafe overlooking the sea which became a welcome respite for about an hour. A coffee and naughty cake later, we sadly realised that we had to get back on the saddle and continue on to the lighthouse. Now, tell me something. Why is it when you ride into wind in one direction, when you turn back on yourself you are still into wind??? Every, single direction seemed to be the same. How on earth does that work? Anyway, we pushed onwards and eventually arrived at Vlamingh Head lighthouse which was first operational in 1912 and from the top of a very steep hill (yes, just to add to the pain), proffered some stunning views out across the Coral Coast and the Ningaloo Reef. It was such a strategic spot that during WW2, it was an important coastal refuelling depot and an airbase was developed at nearby Learmonth. This led to a radio station and gun emplacement being built just below the lighthouse. It’s also a notable location as being one of the few in Australia where both the sunrise and sunset can be observed.
After a good look around and reading up on the interesting information boards, we headed back down the hill to the beach for a well earned rest and some shade. We were able to enjoy several sightings of large humpback whales just off the coast line which was a real treat, but it didn’t detract from the fact that we had to get back on the bikes and head back to base – yes, into wind! Mind you, just to help us along was the random discovery of an icecream van at the side of the road which made for a welcome interlude. Eventually after a total of 50kms we were back and headed straight to the pool for a cool-down. After that, and a few beers/wines, the sore backsides were a thing of the past.
… I want to ride my bike
Next stop was Carnarvon where, again, we made use of their excellent cycle ways to get into town and explore the area. One such discovery was One Mile Jetty (no longer that length) which was built in response to a developing pastoral industry in the area in the late 1890s. It helped to get wool and livestock out to ships at the Port on the end of Babbage Island. A tramway ran over 3km through and out from the the town to the end of the jetty and its route now forms part of the cycle track which we were able to enjoy. The actual wooden jetty was closed for repair but there was a fantastic museum at the port area which not only relayed information about the early life of the town, but also told the story of Australia’s greatest naval tragedy, the loss of HMAS Sydney in 1941 further up the coast. The vessel was involved in a mututally destructive engagement with the German cruiser Kormoran. The Kormoran was masquerading as a Dutch Freighter but with heavy armaments concealed from view. The Sydney was returning to Freemantle further down the West Coast after escorting troopships to SE Asia and, having not received responses to signals from a seemingly imcompentent merchant vessel, came alongside only for the Kormoran to launch an attack causing significant damage. The Sydney did manage to return fire and the Kormoran was similarly damaged but the German crew knew they needed to muster the lifeboats and as a result, 318 of the 390 crew managed to make it to shore. Sadly, the Sydney thought that it could manage to limp back to shore and so did not deploy the lifeboats. Suddenly, the bow of the ship – which had been torpedoed – completely broke off and the ship almost immediately sunk with loss of all 645 young men on board. The museum showed an excellent video of both the events in 1941 and also of the later search for the wreck in 2008 which had by then been lost for over 60 years. Emotional stuff.
Later on a cycle ride in our next stop – Geraldton – we came across the HMAS Sydney memorial on the top of Mount Scott. It was quite moving as not only was there a tribute to all the lives lost – and the expectation that they would be never be found – but there was also a later memorial established after the wreckage was finally found in 2008. My two favourite parts of the memorial was the true-to-scale replica of the ship’s bow – the Stele – and the Waiting Woman facing out to sea symbolising all those that, until 2008, had watched and waited in hope of their loved ones returning.
After Geraldton we enjoyed the delights of the Turquoise Way cycle trail in Jurien Bay. Of course it was a windy day and the trail headed into wind but it was warm and sunny so who cares? Lots of interesting information points along the way and all clearly marked. Only saw one other user which was a bonus except, that is, for a glimpse of a snake and then a couple of Bobtail lizards. The lizards are very weird looking in that their head and tail are the same shape and its hard to tell which end is which – apparently by design as it fools their prey! The first lizard was pretty relaxed and didn’t mind us having a good look but the second was well miffed at having to stop his crossing of the trail for us to pass. On taking a closer look, it seems he wanted to make us aware of his displeasure by opening his mouth wide and showing us his blue tongue – looked like something out of a Kiwi haka. All very interesting but having told him to calm down we cycled off to leave him to his day. The trail was only 12kms long and thankfully, for a change, the wind was behind us on the way back so we could keep up a good pace – just as well given the fact that the heavens opened just as we got back to Bob!
I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with B…
Big glassy bottom.
The bicycles were only one of a number of things beginning with B that were enjoyed in Exmouth. Another one was a boat of the glass-bottomed variety which we took a trip on to visit the Ningaloo reef. Captain Craig proved a fantastic host, not only funny but extremely knowledgeable on the reef and its many inhabitants, and we were soon treated to sightings of turtles (big ones), a multitude of fish of various sizes, mantarays, and a sharky-ray type thing. The boat was a great way to see them and, as it was so shallow-bottomed, it was able to literally skim over the top of the coral so we could get a really good look. Although it was still a bit windy and the sea a bit choppy, we were able to get in and snorkel to get a closer look which was a real treat. On the way back to shore, we were told to look out for Big Bad Barry – can’t for the life of me remember what it actually was – and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse and he was a big ‘un for sure. I realise that this is a bit of a waste of anecdote given I can’t remember what it was – sorry – but it was very exciting and I’ll try and find out what it was in due course. I’ll probably spurt the name out later in the blog like I’ve got tourettes so watch out for it…
I thought that would get your attention. We have been delighted with the number of craft breweries we have happened across on our travels – not that we have actively sought them out, they just happened to be there…honest! I think I may have mentioned Matsos in Broome – their ginger beer was a delight if a little sneeky as it seemed very pop-like indeed. They did a very interesting dark lager – Bishops Best – which is a mix between stout and lager. In Exmouth we enjoyed the delights of the Froth Craft Brewery which not only did good beer but had a great sense of humour too – see the photos. We opted for the Captain Bunbury lager at 4% and tried the Tanned Petey (whoever he is) at 4.2%. As we are a bit whimpy, we decided against the You’re Driving IPA and Frazed and Confused IPAs both at 6.5% but I’m sure they were very good – maybe another time. Another very good evening was spent at the Gage Road Brewery in Freemantle – Tim had already tasted their Single Fin lager in Jurien Bay, so a bit of grub and a few Gage Road beers in the actual brewery was a treat in deed – made all the better by the fact that we spent the evening with Tim’s old school pal – Ray – and his lovely wife Sally. A reunion that was over 50 years in the making! There’s the chance of another one back in Sydney, so Tim is a very lucky boy indeed.
Sorry, I got side-lined by the beer (story of my life!) and have gone off track. Actually, we were well on track in Geraldton using their excellent cycle ways into town from the campsite. Once in town, we gave Tim another treat and visited another lighthouse – this time a stunning red and white candy striped number on Point Moore. Constructed entirely from cast iron by Chance Brothers of Birmingham, it was sent out in segments and bolted together on new foundations. It was the first all steel tower built on the mainland of Australia and first became operational in 1878 and is the oldest surviving Western Australia lighthouse under federal control.There, now you know.
Blowholes and Pointy things
Two exciting natural phenomena that we enjoyed enroute. The Blowholes were just north of Carnarvon and were a great sight. Not much to describe as it did what it said on the tin – big holes with water blowing up through them. Great to watch the Japanese tourists (ever keen to get the best photos) getting drenched but they were loving it. In itself not a day out but the nearby coral reef and gorgeous sandy bay certainly was. Didn’t have our snorkelling gear but swimming goggles and deep breaths were sufficient to catch sight of some lovely fish.
The pointy things were to be found in the Nambung National Park and were an amazing sight. It’s regarded as one of Australia’s most unique landscapes and it wasn’t difficult to understand why. The Pinnaccles Desert consists of thousands of limestone monoliths on a landscape of yellow sand with some reaching up to 3.5m tall. They are believed to have been formed 25-30,000 years ago. There’s a drive trail around the 18,000 ha site but we opted for the walk trail and we were so glad we did as it was a great way to take in this very unique and quite eerie landscape.
An interesting if unwelcome episode. No, not spiders, snakes or even cockroaches, but I’m afraid we have had to endure unwelcome guests. Having discovered a torn bit of bread bag whilst camping in Canarvon, thinking it had been snagged on the cupboard catch, it was only a little while after that little black bits of poo were discovered in the space where the bread bag had been. Yes folks, mice!!! Now, thankfully there was no other evidence so having cycled into town to purchase a plastic box (and new loaf obvs!) and a couple of traps (sorry, mice lovers they were not the humane ones either) we tidied up, put the new loaf in the box, baited the traps and thought ‘take that mousey!’ Indeed in no time at all, one of the traps was sprung and Jerry had bought it. Big guys 1, mice 0. Thinking we were home and dry we put it out of our minds. However, next morning whilst contemplating whether I could be arsed to make a cup of tea, there was the distinct sound of rustling around the breakfast cereal packet. Sure enough the little varmints were back. Off down to the shop for more plastic boxes and any remaining food was safely stashed away. ‘Ha, take that mousey’. Later, getting ready to prepare the evening meal, I reached into the cutlery drawer only to very nearly grab Mickey!!!!! I thought I was going to have a heart attack and soon leapt on to the front seat of the van because, well, because. Big Guys 1, mice 1. Didn’t really fancy a night in the van I can tell you, but decided a few beers, wine and a drop of JD would do the trick and it did. Next morning, the head was a bit worse for wear but at least Mickey was in the trap! Ha! Big Guys 2, mice 1. Another clear up and sanitising operation ensued and out we went for the day. On return all was clear but on sharing our ‘victory’ with a couple of fellow campers, we discovered that it was a regular thing on this site as we were next to fruit plantations and they regularly come across for a change of diet. One woman told me that they had had several in their van on one occasion – even running up their tee-shirts!!! I tell you, I would have flipped if anything even remotely similar had occured to us and I definitely slept with one eye open that night. However, all’s well that ends well and we were still clear the following morning – and from then on (fingers crossed) – but I was pleased to be departing mouse city. Honestly, you think we’re having a cushy time…!!!
Anyway 9,000+ kms later, we finally made it over to Perth and Freemantle where we had a bit of time to explore and catch up with old school friends before heading back to Sydney to see the kids and meet Caden – but I’ll save the meeting old friends and seeing new family until next time so watch this space!