Carnarvon is a nice wee town which sits at the mouth of the Gascoyne River. There’s not an awful lot to do here if like us you don’t fish, bit it’s a good place to stop to fill up with fuel and foodstuffs. It’s also a good place to stop for repairs – especially in our case replacement windscreens. Carnarvon does, however, have a bonny setting and is famous for its mile long jetty, built in the late 1800s and which is really rickety now. We cycled along it, precariously, and can definitely confirm how rickety it is – we were shoogled to bits! It was built originally for shipping livestock from the surrounding farmlands to markets elsewhere in Australia and abroad. But this was short lived, along with other ventures such as the fish processing factory, and is now the realm of the fishermen and tourists taking a ride on the train that goes all the way out to the end. Another interesting fact about Carnarvon is that the Gascoyne River flows underground all the way through town, except in exceptional wet conditions when some water will appear for a short time. But despite being underground the river supports a flourishing banana, fruit and vegetable industry. We stocked up on fresh fruit and veggies direct from one of the farms on the way out of town our way north.
Leaving town, we were rather disturbed to see a huge sign saying that we were now in the cyclone season and giving information about the state of the roads. This was news to us because we thought the season had long passed and a check of the guide books reassured us that we weren’t likely to be blown away. The further north we headed the greener the landscape became – it was almost like Scottish moorland in some places. However, this part of the journey was important because it marked the crossing of the Tropic of Capricorn. We had crossed the Tropic of Cancer in the very south of China, the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn as we flew from Bangkok to Sydney so we were now once again back in the tropics where the days are appreciably warm but as we’re in the middle of winter, the nights are cool.. After more miles and miles of flat bush land, now prominently dotted with huge termite mounds, it was great to see the sea again as we rolled into Coral Bay. Coral Bay is really just a cluster of buildings and a couple of caravan parks and has developed because of its beautiful setting and the proximity of the Ningaloo Reef. It is totally laid back and relaxed – we could have put down roots here for ages. Ningaloo Reef is the great unknown, and as the Rough Guide describes it, ‘it is a barrier reef without the barriers’. Having snorkelled and dived on the Great Barrier Reef nine years ago, one of the fist things we did was to book ourselves on a kayak/snorkel on the reef. The reef is so close to shore and is so easily accessible that even we (with our limited aquatic abilities) were able to reach it. Our kayaks were tied up to a buoy and we had to don our masks and flippers – no mean feat in a wobbly, narrow little kayak – before plunging into the deep water. There were only eight of us and we were instructed to follow our leader who was on the look out for – sharks!!!!, well he did say harmless reef sharks (but there was recent case of a women being bitten by one whilst simply paddling long the beach just up the coast a wee bit!!), rays (wasn’t Steve Irwin killed by a ray?!!), turtles and other fish, coral and sea creatures. It was a wonderful experience and we saw so many things, including all of the above, a fanastic array of beautiful fish and coral (see Cape Range National Park photo album). We remembered from snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef not to smile and say hello unless we wanted a mouthful and noseful of salty seawater – but it was difficult not to. (Strewth mate, as we’re sitting writing this in our caravan park an emu has just walked past the window!) The highlight of the snorkel was most definitely swimming for several minutes with two green turtles which seemed entirely unfazed by our interest. You’ll see from the photo of the manta ray that it was snuggled down in the sand, but even so you can see how big it was. Although our next stop at the Cape Range National Park was not far from Coral Bay as the crow flies, it was a 250 km trip round the peninsula. The National Park has a number of small campgrounds with only half a dozen sites at each. It was important that we knew we had a site before travelling the last 90 km. We therefore popped into the National Park office in Exmouth who radioed into the Park to confirm that a place would be kept for us at Yardi Creek. But we were given only 75 minutes to get there and first we had to refuel and pick up some supplies. So it was a bit of a mad dash to get there in time. The site at Yardi Creek is at the mouth of the creek and only a few steps from the sea, overlooking the reef. Wonderful!! A walk up the walls of the creek to the gorge is a must and gives an opportunity to see rare black-footed rock wallabies. Although we didn’t see any on our way to the point of return, we did espy a couple on the way back. Luckily we spent a few minutes watching one, watching us because as we turned back to the path, a flash of green appeared to our right. It was a (we found out later) green whip snake moving at great speed and it was chasing a lizard. We stopped although the snake and lizard didn’t – until the snake caught the lizard a few feet in front of us. As the lizard was being devoured head first (see Cape National Park photo album), the snake was keeping a close eye on us. After a few minutes we thought we’d better move on – but what a experience of nature at the same time wonderful and cruel! We did a bit of swimming and lazing around and after an early BBQ it was off to bed under the stars. Next day we moved to another NP camp at Lakeside, with 6 pitches right on the beach. This is a good snorkelling site but because of the winds, the tides and currents were evidently unpredictable we didn’t take to the water. However, the time spent by on the beach was extremely enjoyable. In the evening we all gathered together for a drink and chat as the sun went down. Europe was well represented with us, 4 Netherlanders and 3 Swiss. As we were heading back to civilisation (Exmouth) that evening, we visited the excellent NP visitors centre at Milyering (where we succumbed and bought head nets to keep off the flies) then to Mandu Mandu where we took a 2 hour walk up the gorge this time along a dry creek bed and then up the sides of the gorge and back to base. Although we weren’t graced with any animal experiences the walk and views were all worthwhile. We had hoped to do one of THE experiences whilst in this area – swimming with whale sharks that come to the Ningaloo Reef at this time each year. But 2 things conspired against this – Saturday ended up as a very (welcomed) rainy day and the cost. We had picked up a number of brochures about tours all explaining about their spotter planes, prawn lunches, experienced guides, that numbers on board were limited, etc so expected the cost to be hefty. But we didn’t expect that it would cost $350 each so $700 for a few hours with no guarantees was $700 too much. It is a pity as it is something we would have loved to have done but hey, there will be other things to do on our travels. Now encamped in Exmouth, it is again good to have a wash, catch up with the laundry and learn that our flat has been rented for another year.
Spent another few days at Exmouth. Saturday poured and poured with rain. Much needed and it was another welcome opportunity for us to catch up with 'housework'. We've also managed a game of golf, and another trip to Turquoise Bay for some sun and snorkelling. We haven't really seen much of Exmouth but it is a really relaxing place.