Colours of the Pilbarra

Finally an opportunity to visit Millstream/Chichester National park. Despite good intentions to visit this national park several times, something has always managed to come up that’s thwarted our planned visits. This time we made it, albeit only a day visit.

The drive from Dampier where we were camped was over 130km each way, much of which was on corrugated dirt roads. It would be an understatement to say the scenery on the way there was gobsmacking – the colours glorious. Words can’t describe the awesomeness of the wide open spaces, the deep red of the earth and rocks, the stunning flowers growing out of the seemingly barren earth….

Hopefully the photos will tell a better story than words ever could. This is what we saw:

Wide open spaces fringed by heat-hazed hilltops in the distance

The rich red of iron ore country

Sturt’s desert peas on the roadside

The approach to Python Pool

The cool clear waters of Python Pool dwarfed by the towering red rock back drop.

The only way to truly appreciate the magnificence of the rocks is to swim to where they join the water, and look up, and up, and up….

Spinefix Pigeons

and wildflowers

giant termite mounds built out of the red earth

And more wildflowers

and more wildflowers

The Fortescue river

Parrots in flight above the Fortescue River

And coming in to rest.

So, that was our day at Millstream/Chicester. The drive to the park with the promise of better things to come had us enthralled – then we came to Python Pool. I’m not sure if the pool is actually in the park, we found the pool before we found the entrance to the park. It’s amongst the best of any natural fresh water pools we’ve ever been in, those rocks towering above you when you look up – words, nor pictures can do that justice. It was awesome.

After our refreshing swim, we journeyed on with eager anticipation to the actual park. And from there on we were a bit disappointed. All the best scenery seemed to be on the approach to the park and at Python Pool, and in comparison the actual park was relatively flat and uninteresting. Are we pleased we went though – absolutely, I would go again. The 260 km round trip to Python Pool was worth every kilometre of the bone shaking drive. To float in clear, clean water looking up to the top of the rich rocks, and the contrast of the vivid blue sky above – an absolute pleasure!

Cape Range National Park

We’ve recently finished five nights at Kurrajong campsite in Cape Range National Park. There’s several campsites in the national park, all not that far as the crow flies from Coral Bay. However, not having the benefit of wings, the trip to get there from Coral Bay takes considerably longer for mere mortals than it does for the crows. Accessing the campsites means a road trip up the east coast of the Exmouth peninsula, through Exmouth, around the cape, and then down the west coast of the peninsula to reach the campgrounds.

The arid surroundings of Cape Range.

Local wildlife abounded.

The arid landscape means there’s no fresh water there, and the campgrounds have no electricity. There’s no phone or internet cover, and no TV reception. Our solar panels ensured sufficient power for our needs, and by being economical with our water we survived the five days using only our 180 litre tank, plus 4 additional 15 litre jerry cans. In fact we had water to spare, and so treated ourselves to a really good shower on the last day. TV, wasn’t missed at all, but the internet….. I think I had withdrawal symptoms. I think I’m addicted!

It was good to see one person had managed without the benefit of being able to use their mobile phone. We found a message written in the sand at one of the bays – clearly the meeting place had changed to Turquoise Bay.

A message spelled out in stones.

Being just up the coast from Coral Bay, Ningaloo reef is just offshore, so water based activities are high on most peoples agenda. Despite several fishing attempts, Paul only managed to bring in one Dart, which was one more fish than I managed to hook. Other people, however were bringing in some beauties. One of our fellow campers reeled in a Golden Trevally that fed two for four meals. Another caught a 60cm Spangled Emperor one night, and another of similar size in the middle of the afternoon the next day. The fish were there, just not for us.

Paul did a bit of snorkelling at Turquoise Bay, but somehow I couldn’t seem to get in the mood. Perhaps it was the wind that blew each and every day while we there, or perhaps it was those internet withdrawal symptoms….. Eventually, I started to feel sorry for poor Paul, out there looking at the pretty fish and coral with no-one beside him to share the experience. I donned my mask and headed out there to join him, only to discover as soon as I took my first underwater breath that the seal had disappeared from the end of my snorkel. Coughing and spluttering I returned to my towel on the shore and left poor Paul to it.

There’s plenty of walks in the park, and had the wind not being blowing incessantly perhaps we may have tackled a few more of them. We did one short walk at Yardie Creek. Yardie Creek is at the southern end of the park and signals the end of the accessible area on the north western side of the peninsula. The red shoreline provides a striking contrast between the deep blue waters of the creek and sky above. The photo below hasn’t been enhanced at all, so the colours you’re seeing are just as they were to our naked eye.

Yardie Creek flowing out to sea.

The winds usually blow all along the WA coast from around September until around Easter, and then they drop. This year they seem to be continuing on much longer than usual. On one of the days the wind was almost gale force, and blew for the entire day. Most other days it either blew up strong during the night, continuing into mid morning, or it blew up in the mid afternoon. So, sorry folks – we didn’t get to experience the park as much as we could have, and don’t have the amazing photos that I’m sure were there just waiting for us to snap. Perhaps next time…

 

 

A day of cooking

Cooking on the road is different than cooking in a house. Consideration needs to be given as to what is cooked inside the caravan, and when. Fish, curries, and other highly fragrant meals aren’t pleasant in your bedroom! Additionally, cooking anything that requires several hours heats up the caravan considerably more than it does a household kitchen. Meals are more often than not something that we cook up quickly outdoors, with barbecues being the obvious choice.

Sometimes we miss the slower cooked meals, and will spend a day lazing around the caravan, doing normal household chores like washing, and doing some good old ‘slow cooking’ to stock up the freezer. Nothings cooked quite the same as it is in a household kitchen, as can be seen from today’s effort. Cooking in a confined space with limited  bench space and cooking implements means making do. It doesn’t look as pretty, but still tastes okay.

The bedding’s been changed, and all the linen’s freshly laundered and drying in the sun. Don’t you just love the smell of sunshine on your sheets after a day of drying in direct sunlight.

A rich, red bolognaise is simmering in the electric frypan outside, almost ready to portion up for freezing in small meal size quantities. I’ll cook up a box of penne to freeze in similar sized portions separately from the bolognaise. If we’re in a place without power I find it better to have the sauce separated from the pasta. After both are defrosted, I’ll heat the sauce in a large saucepan first along with any vegetable additions (frozen spinach if nothing else is available), then at the last minute stir through the pre-cooked pasta.

Sauce ready to freeze in meal size portions.

Later this afternoon I’ll cook a roast chicken with veggies. The left over chicken will make us a salad tomorrow, and also provide some cooked chicken and left over veggies to add to another couple of meals. As you can see everything is cooked in the one frypan. Firstly the chicken, then the potatoes and pumpkin. Then at the end I place the cauliflower and broccoli flowers stalk down with the flowers supported by the rest of the roast. Not as I’d do it at home, but it works a treat in the caravan situation.

A one pan roast dinner – cooking is very different on the road.

Paul (our bread baker) has made a couple of  loaves . He makes his own recipes in a Panasonic bread maker. He slices them up before freezing.

Yum, I’ve just been handed a crust from this fresh loaf spread with butter and honey.

And to top it off, a batch of pancakes for today’s enjoyment – what a pleasure!

 

A stack of irregular shaped pancakes cooked in the electric frypan

Pancake topping – chopped banana and fresh mandarin in a sauce of mixed maple syrup and bitter orange marmalade.

We’re fortunate that our caravan has a good sized fridge and freezer. I don’t know how people manage months on the road with only a tiny fridge. Our fridge is usually full, and that’s without drinks. We use the Engel for our drinks and for any spill over of fresh produce that won’t fit in the fridge.

We have almost two weeks ahead of us without power, firstly a week at Cape Range National Park, starting tomorrow,  followed by almost a week of free roadside camping as we make our way to Broome. Starting out with all the laundry up to date, and a freezer, fridge and pantry well stocked with the ingredients for easy meals is going to make the trip easier. We’ll  be out of range for phone and internet as of tomorrow, so if things go quiet – it’s only because we haven’t any internet connection. I’ll update with where we are and what we’re doing as soon as technology allows me to.

 

Coral at Coral Bay

As promised, a few shots of the coral accessible just twenty metres or so out from shore at Coral Bay.

The water’s had a bit of chop on for most of the week, but yesterday it was a bit calmer so we took the opportunity to photograph some of the coral. We’ve seen fish in far greater numbers on other occasions when we’ve snorkelled the reef. Isn’t that just Murphy’s law though, the day you take your camera, they all become camera shy and go into hiding.

A short walk from the main beach around to the start of Paradise beach, don your snorkelling gear and swim out a mere 20 metres,  (actually you can walk most of it). Then drift slowly back with the current…

The dark horizon is the coral reef.

Tropical fish – this one must be an under water Eagles supporter!

Soft mauve tipped coral.

An underwater field of cabbages

Blue tips

A gigantic Rose

Twenty minutes or so later we were back at the main beach. Time for a  welcome drink of iced water, an apple and then a good read relaxing in the shade of our beach shelter on our beach chairs – talk about living the Life of Riley – what a pleasure.

Looking out from our beach shelter.

 

Tentative plans for Gibb River – feedback invited

Today Paul and I put together some rough plans for the Gibb River. As it’s our number one bucket list destination we want to get it right, so any feedback or suggestions will be welcomed. We’ve decided against driving up to the Mitchell Plateau, opting for the flight from Drysdale Station instead.  Our plan is to take the trip at a leisurely pace. I think we’ve allowed enough time at each campsite – two nights at most of them. If you think we’ve allowed too much time, or not enough time please let us know. Also, any must sees on the way that I haven’t mentioned. The rough draft of plans are as follows:

Day 1. Put caravan into storage in Broome and head for Derby. Stay in accommodation for first night to avoid unpacking the car. See some of Derby’s sights in the afternoon.

Day 2. Windjana campground. Peruse the general area after we’ve set up camp.

Day 3. Tunnel Creek day trip – another night at Windjana.

Day 4. Silent Grove campground. Peruse general area after we’ve set up camp.

Day 5. Bells gorge day trip – another night at Silent Grove.

Day 6. Manning Gorge campground with a stop at Galvans Gorge on the way.

Day 7. Peruse the area – not sure what’s in this area. Another night at Manning Gorge. (Please let us know if this second night here will be wasted).

Day 8. Drysdale station.

Day 8. Flight over Mitchell Plateau and falls – another night at Drysdale. Famous hamburger for dinner.

Day 9. Ellanbrae Station. Famous Devonshire tea in the afternoon.

Day 10.Home Valley Station for two nights.

Day 12. El Questro for two nights.

Day 14 Kununurra

After which we’ll have to head back to Cape Leveque for a booking we have there three nights later.

Feedback and suggestions most welcome please.

Coral Bay – a Ningaloo Marine Paradise

Book a week at Coral Bay and I can almost guarantee your first impressions will be, ‘what on earth am I going to do for a whole week.’ It won’t take you long to realise how wrong you are. For such a tiny town there’s a heap of adventures to be had.

Our first major trip here was twelve years ago when we rented a house for a week and came up here with eight friends and relatives.

Twelve years ago dressed for our Hawaiian night to celebrate our 50th milestone.

After dinner we watched the sunset over the bay.

and after the sunset -the ladies dancing in the moonlight – it was a great night, great memories!

The trip was to celebrate Paul and I reaching the mid century mark, and to commemorate the occasion we decided we’d like to swim with the Whale Sharks. What an experience that was – AMAZING!

There’s so many experiences to be had. As I mentioned there’s boat tours from here that take you out past the reef to swim with the Whale Sharks. If you enjoy snorkelling – this is definitely a ‘bucket list’ experience not to be missed. They visit Ningaloo from around April to June to feed on the coral, so plan your trip here at the right time of year to coincide.

There’s also boat trips that take you out to swim with the Manta Rays – gentle giants not to be confused with Sting-rays. This is still on our bucket list, but we’re undecided if we’ll do it on this trip, and whether we’ll do it from Coral Bay, or a little further up the peninsula from Exmouth.

There’s quad bike tours that take you out adventuring through the countryside and to surrounding bays where you’ll see turtles swimming.

There’s deep sea fishing charters. We’ve seen people coming back with some fish worthy of a photograph or two for their albums, not to mention several tasty meals from each fish.

There’s canoe coral snorkelling trips too. On our 50th birthday trip here we went on one of the canoe tours courtesy of our daughter. It was something we would never have looked at doing ordinarily, but I’m so pleased we did it. The coral we saw was awesome. I’d suggest another bucket list adventure for any snorkelers – it won’t disappoint.

And for the Littlies (and the not so little) there’s afternoon fish feeding of the North West snapper that live a protected life, in the protected bay. The crowd gathers in the shallows at 3.30pm Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, standing with legs apart. Small portions of fish food is distributed to the visitors to drop for the fish. Squeals of delight abound as the 50cm long Spangled Emperor dart in and out of legs with the sun bouncing off their iridescent blue scales. What a delight!

One of many Spangled Emperor, most of which are around 50cm long.

We were here at this same time of year in 2005 as we’re here this time. However, last time it was considerably warmer. This time the breezes are a bit stronger, and any breeze seems to drop the water temperature several degrees. My memories from twelve years ago are that we were all in the water virtually from sun up till sun set. With the breezes up this year, we are getting in most days, but it’s not ‘bath warm’ as it was then, so an hour at a time seems to be the longest we can manage.

As the main bay is a sanctuary zone, there’s plenty of tropical  fish swimming in the shallows just a metre or two off shore that will keep you spell bound for as long as you can stay in the water. There’s still remnants of the coral that used to abound in the bay, but unfortunately most of it has been eroded in this section now. Sadly things like coral reefs and tourists don’t co-exist very well without sanctions, and, in this case, the sanctions came a little too late to preserve the reef in it’s entirety. I’m pleased that the sanctions did come though, and in time to still preserve enough of Ningaloo Reef for us still to enjoy.

Fish living the life of Riley in their protected zone.

Tropical Zebra fish.

Pretty Sting-rays happily grazing on the sea floor.

Unlike the Great Barrier Reef where you have to visit on a big boat taking an hour or two to get you out to the reef, the Ningaloo Reef comes almost up to our shore. As I’ve said you can row out in a canoe taking less that half an hour to get to some amazing coral structures. However, you don’t even need a canoe. Apart from the small bits left in the main bay, a short walk around the point will bring you Paradise Beach.

A short walk past this point to Paradise Beach – amazing coral only twenty metres from shore.

Drop your towel at the point and walk about 100 metres south, don your snorkelling gear and swim out about 20 metres. Then drift back with the current – I’ve seen more fish and better coral on this 100 metre drift only 20 metres off shore than I saw on several snorkelling stops at the Great Barrier Reef. We haven’t as yet done the shore to Coral swim this trip as the breezes are creating a bit of water chop – but watch this space in few days time when hopefully we’ll have some awesome pictures of coral for you to see.

Galena Bridge to Coral Bay

After our night at Galena Bridge we headed for world heritage listed Shark Bay.

Green ‘twenty eight’ parrots at Galena Bridge

Reading all the Wiki camp reviews (our travel bible), it appeared that Hamelin Station had the best atmosphere, so that’s where we headed. We gather after our two night stay, that most of the positive Wiki reviews had been written by patrons who had been lucky enough to be there when a sociable crowd had gathered. On the two nights we were there, the travellers seemed to be more solitary, and stayed in their own caravans, so the reported atmosphere of commoradie wasn’t in evidence.

With Hamelin Station being close to the main highway, and over 100kms from the townships of Denham and Monkey Mia, we felt too far away from everything. However, we did enjoy the birdlife on the station.

A Rainbow Bee-eater

Zebra Finch

We took a drive to Nanga Station on Mother’s day, approximately 50 kms away, for an ice-cream. Then a visit to Shell Beach, and the Stromatalites. Shell Beach is literally a beach of undulating Shell dunes, millions and millions of tiny shells.

Small shells that make up Shell Beach.

If you’re not familiar with Stromatatlites, they’re the oldest living organisms known to exist on our planet, and I gather are one of the main reasons Shark Bay captured the attention for World Heritage listing. All interesting, but not as captivating for us they would be to Marine Biologists. There’s a boardwalk that goes out over the warm, shallow water so you get to look down on the rock-like, living, formations. While for us it was only mildly interesting to see, the ambience created by the water softly lapping over hundreds of Stromatalites was amongst one of the most peaceful ambiences I’ve yet to experience.

Rock-like living Stromatalites.

From Hamelin Station we travelled onto Carnarvan for another two nights, staying at the Winter Sun Caravan Park. An enjoyable two days there that included a successful mornings fishing. Paul caught a lovely flathead, several good sized whiting, and a few undersized bream. I only managed a couple of undersized bream, so nothing to keep for me. We’ve ear-marked Carnarvon and the Winter Sun for a return visit, with a longer stay next time.

Yesterday we arrived at Coral Bay. Temperatures are expected to be around 30 most days, the skies are blue, the water’s pleasantly warm, and there’s a gentle breeze blowing. We’re here for a week. What a pleasure!

A mix of blue waters in Coral Bay

And more of the same….

I’m pleased to say, so far we’re sticking to our plan of shorter travel days. All trips between destinations so far have been between two and a half and three and a half hours. Not exhausting at all.