So I am very much behind with this whole blog! I've spent the last two weeks making my way up and down the eastern coast of Australia, covering over 4000km of the coral coast.
We landed in Perth, after a slightly bumpy ride and a sharp turn to meet the run way, definitely not appreciated by T. Skipping through immigration much quicker than we thought we were on the road in our Europcar i30 before 1:30. It turns out Australia roads are rather simple, wide and damn nice to drive. Before we knew it we had got out of the airport, through perth and heading towards the ocean road.
We rented a car as we originally were going to stay in hostels and guest houses, so never considered a camper. However, once we realised the price of accommodation out here we decided camping was the way forward, so we just needed to find a tent, sleeping bags, mattresses and pillows..... Luckily Aus is all about outdoor living, and dropping into my first Kmart, which is essentially an oversized matalan, we found a $15 tent and two $6 kids air beds - sorted!!
We had over 400km to cover that day, so a quick food shop for lunch and we headed north. We knew driving at night isn't a good idea here, the Kangaroos get dazzled by car lights and decide to hop onto the road, but what we didn't bank on is every campsite shutting up shop for the night by 6pm. Rocking up to geraldton at 7 we found everything shut, even all the stores! But luckily at one of the campsites a couple of campers had called the out of hours staff to open the shop so we could be checked in. The lady made the most of our late arrival and got $35 out of us for our pitch.
We may have brought pasta for dinner, but we didn't actually buy anything to cook it in... So dinner that night was service station chips before setting out tent up and realising it was to small to properly fit in the kids air beds.
The next morning after a breezy walk on the beach we started on the road to cover the next 400km to Carnarvon. Leaving geraldton we stocked up on useful things like pans and plates, hoping to make a more successful dinner that evening. Along the road we saw signs for a scenic route North so followed that and ended up coming across the pink lake - a beautiful site where the bacteria in the water algae makes the salt water appear a brilliant pink. The road then followed the coast along the cliffs to Kallbari. When we got back to route 1 we figured we had covered a couple hundred km and were well on our way to Carnarvon. Turns out we had done a 150km loop around, and come out only 50km above where we had come off the road.... So as it got to 4pm we were 125km short of Carnarvon. After the hassle of the night before we decided to not try and get there late, and checked out a random campsite on the side of the road. It was a simple place, but $20 a night, everything we needed and run by the most lovely of couples. T wanted a beer after all the driving, and they fished out a couple of mango beers from somewhere and froze them up.
After spending an hour and a half cooking pasta for dinner - cooking with bore water that doesn't actually boil, we bunked down for the night. We had almost 500km to cover the next day, wanting to get all the way to Exmouth and make up the time we lost the day before, so were on the road by 8am.
Without any random diversions and loops we made it to Exmouth by 2pm and checked into a lovely little campsite. We had enough time to go and buy some snorkels and check out a beach for the afternoon. Consequently we discovered the ocean in Australia is bloody freezing.
On our first full day we headed the 45km into the national park and stopped at the visitor centre to find out about tide times etc. looking out the window I saw my first bouncing kangaroo, chilling out in the shade. The amazing thing about the coral coast is how close the shore the reefs are, in Exmouth they are as close as 50m. We headed to the famous turquoise bay first, where the current is quite strong, so you can follow the coral down the beach with very little effort. Snorkelling around on our first dip i something caught the corner of my eye, thinking it was just a random coral collection I looked back and realised I was actually staring at a giant 50cm wide turtle. Eventually getting T's attention to come back to look the movement made the turtle decide to relocate, and we spent a few minutes following this beautiful creature before letting it head off in peace. Kinda set the bar high in terms of snorkelling sites!!!! We did another couple of dips there, then headed to oyster stacks.
On the second day we headed back to turquoise, but the wind had picked up making it damn choppy and the current stronger - not the nicest of conditions to snorkel in an area known for its rip currents. We packed up and headed back to oyster stacks where we waited for the tide to come in enough to make it safe to swim. Here I saw my first giant clam, and Tash spied an eel hiding under one of the many coral rocks. Our final stop was lakeside. We'd been told my locals this was the best stop, but it looked pretty unimpressive from the shore. After a bit of swimming around we realised the decent coral was in deeper water at this point, and we started coming across giant blue coral formations.
Each of the stops gave something different, but equally breathtaking. Turquoise had the turtle, oyster stacks had coral in 1.5m of water and schools of massive fish hiding under giant rocks, and lakeside had stunning giant coral formations.
It was also turtle nesting season in Exmouth, and that evening we were booked on a turtle nesting tour with the wildlife and conservation staff. We reached the beach just as the sun began to set, and within minutes turtles began to emerge from the ocean. They would appear like giant rocks in the breaking waves, testing the shore line and heading back into the sea if not convinced. At one point one came to the shore, turned around and came back out mere metres away from the group. After that 2 emerged at the same time metres apart. In the end on turtle was happy and made its way slowly up the beach. Once it was settled where the sand and dunes meet we went to look at the tracks it made up the beach, the size was amazing, over metre wide! When we were there she decided that spot wasn't perfect and turned around, coming back down the beach only a few feet from the group and slipping back into the ocean. We stayed for an hour after the tour ended, Incase any others decided to come up that night, and returned at 4 30am to see if any came up at sunrise, but there were no tracks and no turtles.
After two nights in Exmouth we decided to start our slow trip back down the coast, making the small trip 150km to Coral bay.
Now I thought Exmouth was small, with its two supermarkets, of the same brand, opposite each other and a couple liquor stores all closed by 7/8pm. Coral bay was in a whole different league. We drove in and stopped at the first camp site to check out the price, then moved to the second, then we head reached the end of the road. The are consisted of 2 campsites, a small resort, a 'shopping centre' which made St Thomas shops look positively metropolitan, and a cafe. However, this meant that everything was within 5 minutes walking, including the most stunning of bays.
The coral here was more hard coral, lacking the colour and beauty of the soft coral in Exmouth, but forming giant structures that were breathtaking in themselves. The bay is known for its resident mantaray population, and on going to the bay I was certain of going on the trip, although when we got there and it was $140 without a guarantee of any interaction it took a few hours of deliberating before booking. T spent the day on the beach and I headed out at 9am with 17 others hopeful that the spotter plane would find some rays for us!
Our first snorkel site was quite simple, but it still had 2-3m coral formations - a couple of guys saw a turtle and a couple of reef sharks - I wasn't so lucky! Back on the boat we sunbathed, drank tea and ate biscuits whilst we waited for the spotter plane to go up and tell us where to head. It found the Rays within a few minutes and before I knew it we were kitting up and jumping off the back, swimming to the guide who had not one, but 2 rays swimming below him. The time of year meant the water was Murkey and visibility not the greatest, so after a 20 minute swim we got back on the boat and went in search of another Ray. This time it was only in a metre or so of water and was so clear. We were allowed to dive down and get closer to the 3.5m beauty.
Leaving the Ray to get on with his day we got on the boat to head to our final spot - the shark cleaning centre! Here the guide took us to an area of coral where the microbes clean out the Sharks gills, meaning you'll always find a couple of sharks hanging around.... But there were 7 swimming around below us at one point, joined by an adolescent turtle chilling on the reef.
It was an amazing day, swimming with turtles, sharks and mantarays, and even a dolphin came to say hello in the end!
We contemplated an extra day in coral bay, but the currents had brought in a ton of small jellyfish. Although they weren't stingers they were bloody annoying to swim through, and made the bay far less appealing - we decided to move on to shark bay.
I wasn't convinced we would make the 650km in one day, especially as we wanted to stop at the blow holes outside of Carnarvon. I wasn't sure what to expect of the blow holes, and we ended up arriving at quite a low tide, but watching the waves crash in and then blowing the sea water up metres in the air was pretty mesmerising.
Somehow we managed to hit shark bay by 5pm, and get a campsite by the beach with wifi - a rare luxury in Aus (and another lame excuse for me not updating this blog more frequently!). In the morning we headed up to monkey Mia to see the Dolphins. I knew they came close to the shore, but I wasn't expecting them to be literally 50cm from us! A pod of 10 came in for the final feed of the day and swam around happily whilst waiting for the fish. They only feed them a small amount now, previously they fed them more but the mums were neglecting to teach the young how to hunt, and survival was low - with 1/20 calves surviving, with the new rules that is up to 15/16.
After the show we went for a swim, but they decided not to come and play - staying out deeper and we didn't want to go to them. We spent the afternoon on a catamarang, watching out for dougons, turtles and even a hammerhead shark, and followed it up with an evening
Sunset sail - all in all a pretty epic day!!
We left the next morning, stopping at the aquarium along the way. Unlike others, here you get taken around by a marine biologist who gives talks about the fish, sea snakes, Rays, turtles and sharks they have there. It was a great and informative hour and a half, learning far more than I ever have about sea animals. Who knew sea snakes are the most venomous snakes in the world!! But they are very docile so rarely attack - which is why they are considered harmless.
We stopped at eagle bluff on the way to see if we could see the shadows of any sharks - but it was low tide so very little was around. Then after a short stop at shell beach (made entirely of cockle shells - why aren't all beaches like this??!!) we headed on the road to kallburi.
I loved kallburi when we drove past it on the way up, but I think by now I'd had my fill of small towns. We stayed one night, and checked out some of the cliffs the next day, but decided to make our way to Jurian bay a day early.
An equally small town, we found a overflow campsite on a football field that meant a free nights stay. We cooked a BBQ on the beach and had a relaxing evening, heading out of town at 7am.
We arrived at the pinnacles just as it opened. I wasn't sure what to expect but the ticket lady explained that our entrance fee also included a stop at a national park closer to perth - 2:1! The pinnacles was a strange experience, you could walk or drive around - naturally we were lazy! There were many spots you could get out of the car and have a look around, but i didn't expect the sheer size of it, it was like walking through a Star Trek movie set.
Heading into Perth we stopped at the free stop, another national park that had koalas in! Now, turns out koalas aren't too fussed about sitting in a nice spot that will actually let you get a pretty picture of them. In fact, they were either at the top of the tree, facing the other way or facing inwards! But, it was great to see them - something I didn't think I would get to do on this trip!
As we had had enough of small towns we decided to head to the popular town of freemantle for the extra few days we had the car. Turns out camping there was damn pricey, hitting $55 a tent. So, after a few hours of driving around we stayed with T's friend. Turned out to be a great decision, as a storm came over that evening and our tent would definitely not survived it!!
I stayed in freemantle for a couple nights, we checked out the town (quite cute actually! Looking quite w lot like a European town, but a very young one) and relaxed :) dropping off the car at the airport, only getting a little lost on the way, I then headed into Perth - and I'm still here!
It's a small city, on my first day I did the classic walk around everywhere and take in the, limited, sights. The main thing that's been going on is te perth fringe, so I went to see a play the first night and comedy last night - it's always nice to get to do something new. It's my last day here today, and we're flying out to Melbourne tonight. Perth is nice, but it's a little small and it seems to lack culture to me - even with the fringe going on. The East Coast has been amazing, full of wildlife and beautiful scenery, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the west coast has to offer - in a totally different way, excluding PENGUINS of course :)