Team Awesome's trip to Exmouth and back
Exmouth, Western Australia
After a few days chilling in Freo with Josh and Hannah, and a lovely evening spent in the bars of Freo with Lauren I prepared for day one of my week long trip up to Exmouth. Excited doesn't really cover it! I was definitely looking forward to seeing some of the coast and meeting some new people - something you miss out not staying in the hostels. The only negative - a very early start, I did not enjoy my 5.30 alarm. However it was something I needed to get used to as I didn't sleep past 6.50 all week; I never thought I'd be getting up at 4 in the morning if there wasn't a plane to catch at the end of it! I can safely say I am most definitely used to seeing 4am from the other side.
Anyway I got into town on the early morning CAT (free city buses) and was picked up by Amanda, the tour guide for the week. Once everyone was picked up introductions were begun. We rapidly named ourselves Team Awesome and consisted of Nina and Keira from Taiwan, Cathy from Korea, Nat, Leslie and Kat from Germany, Fabio from Italy but brought up in Switzerland, and Hannah and myself from England, it's funny how people quickly hustle into friendships with people from their own country! There was also Jeff who was a trainee tour guide so Fabio didn't feel too lonely being the only male.
On the first day we were driving up to Geraldton with a stop off at Cervantes to see the Pinnacles. The Pinnacles, put simply, are (it is suspected by scientists but not wholly proven) petrified tree trunks sticking up randomly around the desert covering roughly a square kilometre. The Aborigines have a different story as to how they came about. Basically the area of land the Pinnacles are in used to be part of the 'forbidden desert' as it was well known that the sands would trap unsuspecting victims. A group of children ignored their elders advice and went out into the desert, subsequently getting lost and sucked into the sand, the Pinnacles are the remains of their fingers poking up from the sand. Creepy eh.
On day 2, Wednesday, we stopped off at Pot Alley to watch the sunrise, although as we're on the West coast it was kind of hidden behind the cliffs. 555. This area is called Pot Alley because of the crayfish pots fished there on the coast. Not as romantic a reason behind the name as I'd hoped! From there we drove up to Kalbarri National Park. This was one of my most favourite parts of the entire week. It was a scorching day and we began with a walk to the Murchison gorge. Now I have to be honest and tell you that, although the gorge was extremely picturesque it did remind me a little of Bronte waterfalls with the rocks all in the river and the trees all around, it has been a lot greener than I expected out here. It was a bit like standing at the foot of a giant jenga puzzle, with the ledges of red rock sticking out about your head, and I got to cool my feet down nicely in the stream at the foot of the gorge - which actually created it in the first place. I also got to go abseiling, a 35m drop which was exciting! Although being me I did manage to get a rope burn on my side - Oh well all worth it. An interesting fact I found out on this day trip (although I feel like I've been told it before) the Grand Canyon isn't a canyon at all, it's actually a gorge but the grand gorge doesn't have as good a ring to it so the Americans called it the Grand Canyon! Another interesting little fact for all you pub quiz and geography buffs out there, a canyon is created from the movement of the earth, and a gorge is created from the movement of water and weathering of stone to create the steep edges of a gorge. By the gorge we also saw some fossilised giant scorpion footprints, I would not have wanted to visit Australia when the mega fauna was scurrying about I'll tell you. Big spiders are bad enough. Also at Kalbarri is 'Nature's Window', basically a 'window' through a massive rock which has been created (I'm guessing) by the wearing of the elements on the sandy stone. It was very pretty and quite impressive when you stop and think about how it was made. Our final stop on our mini trek was the lookout point to see the Z-bend, of which Murchison gorge is along the bottom. This is a z shaped path of the river and thus the gorge itself, a natural alphabet if you will!
From Kalbarri we drove up to Monkey Mia via Shell Beach, a beach made entirely of tiny white shells that make the most beautiful looking beach albeit a little sharp on the old feet. The reason it is all shells is because the water has a high level of salinity due to the shallowness, so nothing can grow there other than a particular couple of shells and over time they have created this amazing beach. It looks like snow from a distance, and the locals used to build their houses from bricks made with the stuff, which I find particularly odd. I also finally saw a live kangaroo hopping around at the side of the road HOORAY.
Once we got to Monkey Mia in the late evening we had an Aboriginal tour from Capes, a local Aborigine. Monkey Mia is in the Shark Bay area of WA and it was so interesting to find out how they live off the land, some of their legends, and to be shown some of the important objects in the night sky they use to work out different seasons and how they link this information to seasonal food that can be foraged. He told us that there are 16 Aboriginal countries in WA alone and they all have their own languages and dialects and holy places. Shark Bay in the local dialect is called Gutharraguda, and as the original Aboriginal languages were oral and not written there is an ongoing project to save the language by using the Roman alphabet to write the words down for posterity. Capes played a didgeridoo for us, although only the men are allowed to play it so I didn't get a go. Women instead use the conch shell which is a lot harder than it looks! I was also asked to 'bless' the land we were sitting in and welcome the group to the campfire we were sitting around by burning some sandalwood and passing the smoke around the group. No pressure! Whilst on the trip we saw an echidna which was really cute, like a cross between a hedgehog and a porcupine, kind of inbetween. We also tried some bush nuts, which didn't really taste of much to be honest although I was proud of myself for trying something new! The tour I went on was http://www.wulaguda.com.au/tour/didgeridoo-dreaming-tour if you're interested.
Thursday morning was spent at Monkey Mia, with a nice early start to see the sunrise, as well as sone sea turtles who were obviously keen to welcome the day! It was, so far, the most beautiful sunrise I've seen, and I've seen a few on this trip let me tell you. The colours were so vibrant and the setting so calm and relaxed it was an amazing way to start the day, which only got even better with the arrival of our wild dolphin friends. Now these dolphins are part of a conservation project and only 5 are actually fed of the 3 families which visit the beach. The dolphins were really cute, there was lots of playing by the baby dolphins which we were lucky to see as apparently the families don't all usually come together. You weren't allowed to touch them or anything and the women who run it for the government seemed to think their visiting the beach so close is a habit formed from being used to getting fish from the people who run the project.
After packing up the bus we drove over to Carnarvon via a small aquarium with local species and a rescued turtle with a broken leg. It was OK but nothing special, apart from the humourous voiceovers provided by one of the staff. On the way we also visited the Stromatolites, which provide some of the most ancient records of life on Earth, and it is believed they are partially responsible for the oxygenation of the Earth's atmosphere as the cyanobacteria within them constantly photosynthesizes thus creating oxygen. You could see little bubbles popping up to the surface if you looked carefully. They look like calcified brains on the seabed, since the water is so shallow you get a really clear view of them from a specially constructed walkway. It was pretty mind blowing to be around something that hasn't changed since before the dinosaurs. According to Wikipedia 'Modern stromatolites are mostly found in hypersaline lakes and marine lagoons where extreme conditions due to high saline levels exclude animal grazing. One such location is Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Shark Bay in Western Australia where excellent specimens are observed today'.
The evening consisted of a loooooooooooooong drive up to Coral Bay where I got to annoy everyone with my song choices on the ipod. Muahahaha.
Friday was a full on day of relaxation on the beautiful beach of Coral Bay. We went snorkelling on the reefs - which you could literally step out onto once the tide went out, I didn't realise there were such shallow reef beds you could snorkel on, and absolutely teeming with jewel coloured fish, small stingrays and silvery shoals floating about. I always thought I'd panic snorkelling properly, being a bit afraid of the sea and all, but I think this was a good warm up as it was so close to the shore.
Saturday arrived in Exmouth after driving up the night before, and with it a once in a lifetime experience swimming with whale sharks. Wowzer. It was an(other) early morning to get picked up and taken out to the boat we were to spend the day on. The team running the trip were all really nice and very knowledgeable about the area, so with a spotter plane flying above us off we set to hunt for whale sharks! Before we got to where our boat was allowed to roam we had a half hour snorkelling amongst more coral reefs - these ones a little deeper than the ones in Coral Bay but so tall that you literally felt like you could put your hand out and touch it - which I did by accident once or twice, woops. After swimming about like a mermaid for a while it was back on the boat and towards our first shark of the day. We saw three different ones in total, the largest we saw was 6m but the biggest recorded is 18m in 1924. Can't imagine how huge that is! They have really good camouflage, spots and stripes down their back, so when they dive you can't see them in the shadowy depths, which is a smidgen annoying when irritating French men keep diving in front of the shark, ignoring the guides warnings and scaring them so they kept diving and we kept on losing them, frustrating! There was also some more sealife to be seen - a dugong and a sea turtle although not sure of the type. We just missed a giant manata ray which I was a little gutted about but you can't have everything. It was a long day overall but well worth it - I don't think my bank account could cope with more than one of those trips. In the evening we all went up to the lighthouse to watch the sunset - I have so many photos of sunrises and sunsets I think they will last a lifetime! Also whilst getting my mermaid on I managed to get stung by some mystery creature but no lasting damage appears to have occurred, apart from a lumpy welt up my arm which I like to pass off as a battle scar.
The last two days of the trip were quiet and a bit sad as on Sunday we said goodbye to both Kat in Coral bay - she is off to Broome and Darwin - and Keira and Nina who got dropped off in Carnarvon. It was basically a day on a bus - a looooooooooooooooong drive down to Horrocks, lightened with the addition of moustaches to everyone's faces.
The evening was spent in a little hostel by the ocean so we got to eat tea and breakfast the next morning listening to the surf and watching the waves crash onto the beach. Bliss! An hour or so passed watching bob the goat on youtube and playing some card games; I learnt a good one I can annoy Nina with when she returns. In a bizarre turn of events there was also an attempt to lift up Jeff and Fabio using just our index fingers. Apparently it worked when Amanda was 11. I blame our complete cynicism for the failure of this very scientific test.
The last day of the trip started with a good few hours driving to the Greenough animal sanctuary. It's a lovely little spot and I managed to feed an ex racehorse which tapped its foot on the fence to get food, emus, ostriches (they like to peck really heard in the palm of your hand), mules, goats, alpacas (my favourite) and wallaroos, red and grey kangaroos. The kangaroos were AWESOME! Most of them are saved from traffic accidents or were saved after their parents were killed. My favourite was a really old grey one I named 'Grandad Roo' he looked like he needed a walking stick but was just so so cute. Some of the younger ones were a bit pushy trying to get to the food on your hand so I have some lovely kangaroo scratches up my arms. There was a lot of native birdlife, including a kookaburra which I can officially say sounds just like the didgeridoo version that Capes, the Aborigine who took us on tour in Monkey Mia, played for us. Very impressive Capes.
Our last adventure was sandboarding in Lancelin where I managed to brake too hard and fly head over heels off my board, luckily with no lasting injuries except bruised pride and sand EVERYWHERE. It was really fine as well so I still have it in my hair right now 6 days later…
To cap off an amazing week up the West coast I had a whirlwind last week in Perth. I walked into Subiaco on Tuesday, managing to get lost looking for the market and instead finding a different market with bargain pumpkins (that is not a euphemism). Wednesday consisted of visiting the art gallery with Nat from my trip and going out for drinks and food with the rest of Team Awesome in the evening. Thursday was spent meeting up with Nat and Amanda for dinner then wandering up to King's Park where I found a stray Fabio at the lookout point! So we spent the afternoon strolling round the park, seeing the botanic gardens, walking on the treetop walk - a free one this time! - and admiring the fantastic views of Perth from the lookout points. I was very tired after a long afternoon on my feet!
Nina returned on Thursday night ready for our flight to Alice Springs on Monday so our last few days have been spent catching up, getting last minute shopping, going to the gym with Lauren (for me anyway), packing, saying goodbye to Josh and Hannah *sniff* and a night on the wine whereby I managed to smack my knee on a bronze statue causing immense pain. What a fool!
Thus ends my time on the West coast. A time of unforgettable experiences, both good and bad, meeting friends new and old and creating memories I'll treasure for years to come (and photos I can put on my wall and pretend they are real art). All that is left to say is bring on the East coast!