We arrived in Australia at midnight and it was great to be met by our friend Chris who took us to their lovely home in Duncraig - half hour north of the city of Perth. We enjoyed a nice cup of tea with Diane and Chris, whilst we said hello to the new addition to the family- Diesel the border collie cross husky, who's gorgeous. It was nice to enjoy some creature comforts and we soon felt at home. It's winter here, but not that you'd know. Its lovely and sunny during the day with temperatures of 20-25 degrees but cool at night. Unfortunately it's not quite warm enough to want to jump in the pool. We hired a camper van and went on a road trip up the coast from Perth to Exmouth - 3500km in 12 days. It was great- we drove for hours on long empty roads with only the huge trucks with 2 or 3 trailers (road trains) for company. We were surprised how soon after leaving the city suburbs the landscape turned to the outback - dry, sandy scrubland stretching into the distance. The ocean road was scenic with sandy beaches interspersed with rocky outcrops and the ningaloo reef just off shore. Our first stop was Nambung national park where we visited the famous Pinnacles - ancient rocky pillars sticking out of the desert landscape. After stocking up with provisions we headed to Kalbarri and another national park- famous for its deep gorges. 20km of the road was just dirt but as it had recently been regraded we risked driving the campervan in - it was a bit bumpy but as we had to go slow we spotted a thorny devil just in time to stop and rescue him from the road. As our van had a toilet and shower we bought a book that identified places whare you could 'free' camp. Campervans and caravans are very popular and towns quite remote, so there are places you can stay overnight enroute for free. The first time we free camped the ranger was waiting for us outside the van at 7am! He took Craig over to the sign that said 'no overnight camping $100 fine'. Oops. Luckily he was in a good mood and told us to open our curtains and make it look like we'd just arrived in case his boss went past. Apparently our book is not up to date. We stopped at Coral Bay and went out on a boat trip to Ningaloo Reef to swim with manta rays - an amazing experience. They're huge but slow and so graceful. We did some snorkeling on the reef too and tried out our new underwater camera. It was a good practice for a couple of days later when we did a boat trip from Exmouth to swim with whale sharks. Again we had a practice run to check our snorkeling gear at the reef where we saw lots of colourful fish and a turtle. Next the skipper took us to the remains of a humpback whale that had died and been washed over the reef and we saw several tiger sharks still hanging around the carcass. Then it was time to jump off the back of the boat into the deep ocean to be face to face with the worlds largest fish! The company we were with have their own spotter plane and once they spot a whale shark the skipper heads over, a guide is dropped in first before we are all told to jump in. The sharks move quickly so you have to jump in quickly and try and get alongside them to swim along with them. To get the best chance of seeing them you have to jump in right in front of them, and then get out of their way so they don't mow you down! A couple of times we found ourselves staring into the mouth of an 8m whaleshark! Whilst we know they only eat plankton it was still pretty daunting! (But exhilarating all the same). It's all very well organised and managed with only 10 snorkellers allowed to swim with a shark at a time; a distance of 3m must be kept from the fins ; and 4m from the tail; time is limited to 30mins at a time. We were very lucky and swam with 5 different sharks, and saw another 5 from the boat. We also spotted a dugong hanging out in the seagrass and some more turtles. It was an awesome day. We stopped at Monkey Mia in Shark Bay where a group of dolphins come into the shallows and can be hand fed. We arrived at 8am and the rangers had already started to explain to the visitors about the dolphins, how an Italian couple in 1970 had started to feed wild dolphins at the beach and now, 40+ years later the same dolphins, and their offspring, still come back everyday. The bay is a protected area and a base for research and the dolphins are only given a small number of fish to supplement their diet and are not touched. They are fascinating creatures and spend 20 minutes swimming in the shallows right near our feet, sometimes on their side to look right at you. When it's time to feed them we all leave the water and rangers pick people to feed each dolphin and Craig was lucky enough to be picked. He fed Piccolo, a 22 year old female. Another lovely wildlife experience. We visited Cape Range national park and spotted a couple of tiny black footed rock wallabies sheltering under the rocky cliffs and some kangaroos coming out to graze at dusk. We were also lucky enough to spot an echidna on the way to do some snorkeling at the beautiful Turquoise Bay. The park was on the opposite side of the peninsula to the town and involved a 90km trip each way- the distances in Australia are huge. It reminds us of holidays in Scotland where we have driven for a couple of hours through countryside to visit a 'craft centre' in the middle of nowhere (which is actually someone's garage where they're selling their home made knitted jumpers).. We were spoiled for lovely beaches and enjoyed a night free camping right near a beach where we watched a dolphin and her calf playing in the water. Craig made a fire and we sat out under the stars - it was an amazing sky with no light pollution and we could even see the milky way. The next morning Craig made the most of his boy scout skills and cooked toast over the camp fire! We had a great time in the camper- being on the road and cooking for ourselves for a change. We took it in turns to drive and play the game 'who will wave back?' Driving could be quite boring so when you saw a vehicle coming the other way we'd wave - Vanda was very excited when road train drivers waved back.