Monday, March 30, 2009

Back on the road again

We've been back on the road now for almost a week and we've made it to Monkey Mia. The earth has gotten progressively redder the further north we've come, and it's getting hotter too. It's forecast to be 40 degrees by the time we make it to Coral Bay which is a bit of a worry as we're both struggling with things as they are now.

The other thing that has notably changed for some reason is the clearness of the night sky. The stars are the best we've seen on the whole trip which has given me increased motivation to unleash my inner astro-geek. Last night (for reasons I'll come to) we slept in our little two-man backup tent without the fly on. This gave us an unbroken view of the night sky as we drifted off and we woke just before dawn in time to see a few of the Delta Pavonids meteors burning up. Awesome stuff, and there's only 5 or so of them an hour. Bring on the Perseids which show off around 90 an hour. In other Astronomy news we have of course just had the March equinox which means that the sunlight now lasts less than 12 hours per day. We also moved out of Daylight Savings in WA on the weekend (which might be the last time they have it as the city-folk don't seem to have the numbers for May's referendum) so the sun is currently setting around 6.30pm. Not a moment too soon some days. Oh, and also you may have noticed that Venus has flipped from being the evening star to the morning star.

First port of call after leaving Perth was The Pinnacles, an expanse of exposed limestone tombstones just south of Cervantes. Especially good at sunrise and sunset apparently but we were pretty tired so we pushed our way on to Jurien Bay.

Jurien Bay was a pretty sleepy little town with a nice quiet caravan park. There's a bit of a shortage of campsites around these parts so despite really wanting to go bush for the night we pulled in. I'm trying to ration my sunset photos but needless to say it was a pretty good one from the jetty, pleasantly interrupted by some friendly fur seals that came to say g'day (or more likely try and steal some food from the fishermen).

Next morning we carried on up to Geraldton, taking in the impressive monument to HMAS Sydney. We also topped up on camping supplies including a new jerry can to replace the one flogged from outside Leggie's in Fremantle, and also a couple of tent pegs for use in sand.

What I'd really gone in for was some self drilling pegs that you can use in rocky campsites but apparently they don't make them. I should probably just buy a hand drill and be done with it.

For our next camp we stopped at Coronation Beach, just north of Geraldton. Easily missed, not signposted at all, but our camping guide got us straight there. A top little spot, with the only downside of being set on a limestone base which is pretty hard to bash pegs into with a rubber mallet. I improvised and pushed one peg into an ants hole and secured the other with a big rock.
The other notable thing about Coronation Beach is the wind, which apparently makes it a world renowned place for wind and kite surfing. If we'd known just how windy we might have set up camp somewhere else, but the pegs thankfully held and we had a pretty good night's sleep.

Next stop was Kalbarri at the mouth of the Murchison River. The cliffs just before we hit town were pretty dramatic and as luck would have it the back road in to town also brought us directly to the Seahorse Sanctuary which Ness had been going on about since we left Perth.

The place is run by the Payne family and is a 'sanctuary' in possibly the loosest sense. It's really a breeding farm for the seahorse pet industry (although that does reduce the number pinched from the wild and also increases their aquarium survival time from a few weeks to six years as they are specially trained to eat frozen food). I enjoyed the visit a lot more than I thought I would even if I don't include the cream tea we had while watching a DVD about the breeding process.

We made it to the local pub in time for the weekly happy hour and Chase the Ace competition. The prize was up to $5,600 and seemed to have brought in most of the locals for an hour of quite astounding binge drinking. We had some fairly colourful conversations with the locals before catching the sunset and grabbing some fish and chips.

We got up early to watch the daily pelican feeding before heading into the national park to check out the Murchison gorge.

We got to see a few top spots but weren't able to do the loop walk as the rangers were culling feral goats. This turned out to be a good result as we still had a way to go to get up to Shark Bay and it was already ridiculously hot. I seriously thought the windscreen was going to melt and Troopie got through a fair amount of coolant (not topped up during the service only a week before so lucky I checked).

First stop at Shark Bay World Heritage Site was Hamelin Pool, home to the most abundant and diverse Stromatolites in the world. While the ones here are around 3,000 years old, Stromatolites are one of the earliest forms of life having been around for 3.2billion years.

By this stage we were both a bit over being in the car, and a bit hot, so next stop was Shell Beach for a dip. The beach is just made up of shells and is apparently 10m deep. Regardless, it had two key features that made it an ideal spot for me to have a swim. Firstly the water was over 25 degrees, which is about the minimum before I'll get in, and secondly it was hyper-saline which meant there wasn't much chance of me sinking. So in I went.

On Saturday we headed in to Francois Peron National Park. It's 4WD only once you get past the old sheep station which meant us letting a lot of the puff out of the tyres to avoid getting stuck on the soft sand roads. Heaps and heaps of fun and we made it without incident to our first campsite up at Gregories. While the water wasn't as salty as Shell Beach, it was almost as warm so in I went before hastily retreating as a shadow in the water made its way towards me. This area isn't called Shark Bay for nothing and I wasn't taking any chances. As it turned out it was a dolphin but better to be safe than sorry.

The only downer with the site was the wind, and the total lack of anything to get behind to break it. The tallest shrubs were around a metre tall so basically useless. I'd also only picked up two sand pegs so we couldn't put up our own shade. We therefore spent most of the afternoon sitting as close to the side of the car as we could get and then spent most of the night wondering whether the tent would take off or not.

The wind showed no sign of abating the next day so after checking out the northern part of the park we took on some more challenging sand driving and headed over to Herald Bight, allegedly a more sheltered spot.

While it turned out to be just as windy as everywhere else, it was one of the campspots that became an instant top 5 of the whole trip. Situated at the end of an 8km very soft sand track, the Herald Bight camp ground is basically a deserted beach, so we just drove on to the beach and set up.

There was heaps of stuff moving around in the shallow water. Shovelnose Rays, Green Turtles and probably Dugongs too. Also a lot of hermit crabs. Ness was in heaven. I even managed to rig some shade using some firewood I found to weigh down one end of the tarp.

The wind also required us to improvise with sleeping arrangements. We decided against putting up the rooftop tent in case it got damaged. So instead we put up our backup two-man tent for the first time of the trip. I wasn't sure it would stay up as we still only had two sand pegs, but miraculously it held. With hindsight I should probably have smoothed out the sand underneath the tent before setting it up. Parking it across two tyre tracks made for a less comfortable experience than we needed.

Nevertheless we were both pretty happy with our work and felt we'd partially adapted to our new environment. It was always unrealistic to expect that our gear would be suitable for every terrain we'd come across but we did feel that after six months we'd gotten pretty good at living like this fairly comfortably. Add sand based camping and a strong consistent southerly and no trees/shade and we were feeling a little disheartened.

A bit of (successful) problem solving and we're both feeling like we're back on the learning curve again. And that, after all, is what the trip is really about as much as anything else.

* Warning, rodents with massive ears ahead. * The main road through Francois Peron

Our night in the tent on the beach was awesome. Amazing stars which we could look at each time we woke up during the night due to discomfort. To top things off there was even a hot tub at the old station house when we came out of the park so I could soak my sore neck.

So, we are now at Monkey Mia. Another windy spot with a solid rock floor. But they have beer here, and dolphins which come in to the beach to be fed each morning, so on balance I think everything will be OK.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Great times with Great Friends

Wow!!! The last week has been such a whirlwind. I went back to Sydney for a few days, and we've spent considerable time (and caused significant liver damage) catching up with great friends from and on the East & West coasts.

But before I get on to that, here's a picture of Ness preparing her morning brekkie and a couple more shots of the Western Australia beaches.

The beaches are so crazily long over here you need a car to get from one end to the other.

These were from Hamelin Bay down south.

Anyhow, I flew back to Sydney on Wednesday afternoon. It was pretty cool flying over a lot of the terrain we covered to get here, especially when the plane crossed into the bight at Esperance. I was kicking myself I'd not taken the camera on board as there were sensational views of the beaches all the way along to the cliffs of the Nullarbor.

In the past I've never ceased to amaze myself with how pissed off I can get with other passengers on flights after a couple of hours on board. Maybe its late onset maturity or perhaps just my current state of being but this flight was different. I'd never seen anyone put money into a qantas 'change for good' envelope on a Domestic flight until this one. The guy was one row in front of me and decided to empty his pockets somewhere over South Australia, and he then spent the remainder of the flight jiggling the envelope in time to his overly loud ipod. Normally this would be grounds for me wishing really terrible things on him and/or start tapping a pen on the back of his headrest (surprisingly annoying - an incredibly effective payback). However testament to how mature/relaxed I must be at the moment I didn't even bat an eyelid. I even felt sorry for him. Maybe having the blog is a good outlet for any psychopathic thoughts I have?

I could not have packed more fun into my time in Sydney if I'd tried. Thank you Candi & Steffen for hosting me, keeping me up late every night, fixing my thong after Friday night's blowout, for not asking me how I managed to bring so much cut grass through the house, taking me to Martin Martini (yay, finally got to see him), and waking me up on Saturday with just enough time to get to the airport. It was great to catch up with so many people while I was back and to be able to bore them silly with the details of our trip.

In amongst all the fun I also had two action packed days back in the office. My hair is starting to have the Kramer look and I didn't have any smart clothes so it was a bit nerve wracking going back into the Corporate environment. But other than a few odd stares everyone seemed pretty pleased to see me. You'll think I'm only writing this because my boss might read this, but I am genuinely looking forward to going back in October. For what we do, it's an incredibly fun and stimulating environment which is pretty important as I get easily bored! PS Thank you Alex for reminding me it was mother's day in the UK.

I got back to Perth on Saturday and we had more east meets west catch ups.

Yesterday was the first proper Sunday that felt like a Sunday since we started the trip. We nipped down to Cottesloe to look at the Sculptures by the Sea, then had brekkie at a cool spot overlooking the surf. Leggie put on a massively gourmet (and rich) lunch for us and our west coast friends (as opposed to the imports) and then after an afternoon nap we headed down to the beach for what what turned out to be (unexpectedly) the best sunset of our trip since Parachilna.

* One of a series of Emus made out of old tyres

* Beach fun with Leggie and Jasper.

I've never seen a dog enjoy the water as much as Jasper. He's becoming an increasingly proficient body surfer and knows no fear.

A glimpse of the sunset. I have another 100 or so shots very similar to this if anyone wants them.

Provided the car passes muster at its service today we move on first thing tomorrow.

While it has been awesome to catch up with such great friends, talk about the trip and catch up with what has been going on in their lives, we're both pretty anxious to get back on the road. It's hard to believe we're only half-way through. Asking my boss for a year to do this has turned out to be an act of genius!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Esperance to Perth

Soooo, it's been a while. Andy last blogged from Esperance which seems like a long time ago now.

*A bloom on the side of the road - a bottlebrush?

After leaving Esperance we wanted to spend some time in the national parks along the coast in this beautiful south west region as we made our way to Fremantle. We ended up in a council run camp ground called Munglinup Beach nestled back in the dunes with the all important protection from the wind. It also had conveniently spaced trees for the hanging of hammocks and the awful, awful bloodsucking giant flies.
*An almost full moon rising over the dunes at Munglinup.

*West coast sunset.

The next day the weather was bad, the weather in the car was also turning foul with too long on the road, rain and the camp we'd set our hearts on closed for the salmon fishing season! The good thing about the place we ended up, East Bay on Two People's Bay was that we met a Hungarian drifter who gave us a few good tips for the days to come. Oh, and we could hear the surf from our tent.

*The view as we approached Shelly Beach in West Cape Howe NP.

Albany proved to be a nice town. We particularly loved that they provide free showers to weary travellers in the public block which we took full advantage of. We stopped for a latte and to write a few postcards before heading to Shelly Beach in West Cape Howe NP (one of the Hungarian's tips). Shelly Beach is up there as one of my top 10 ( probably too early to commit to #1) beach camps. We had a primo spot, perhaps not entirely legal, right on the beach.
*Our camp at Shelly Beach.
*Payniac in the living room reading.

We had set up camp and I was sitting just soaking up the atmosphere and I noticed a commotion a couple of hundred metres off the beach. There was white water on an otherwise glassy surface and the birds were going nuts. I got the binos out and it turns out they were fish. Big ones jumping out of the water. Some of our fellow campers, somewhat better equipped than us, also noted the action and got down to the beach with a rod.Within half an hour one of them had a fish that went from hip to ankle.The salmon were running! This provided entertainment on and off for the rest of the afternoon/evening and the following morning. Shelly Beach is a commercial fishing spot and there were professional fisherman camped among us who were all business when the salmon were on. In all I saw 5 fisherman land their prize from the beach, they're big fish and seem to put up a fight, one took half an hour to bring in - a beauty.

*Giant tree grove where I could hear birds but could not see them.

From Shelly Beach we headed into D'Entrecasteux NP to find a place to camp. Using our trusty camping bible we went in search of the Banksia Camp - a 4km sandy, 4WD only track off the main road. And what an amazing spot.As well as a camp ground there was a lodge, Banksia Lodge which was no extra charge to stay in. Even though we had no intentions of sleeping in the well appointed rooms (bare wooden bunks, no doors) we made ourselves right at home taking up deck space. Strung up the hammocks and lay like broccoli and pretty much had the joint to ourselves until Tim the shearer showed up. We heard trouble on the corner coming into the camp ground - as he came around the corner his dog knocked his vehicle out of gear and he sank in the sand, he then let too much puff out of his tyres and you could hear his rims on the gravel in the camp ground. He came over and asked to use our compressor - no worries. He was a pretty funny bloke. I'll let Andy elaborate on his reward with Tim the shearer.

*Brekky at Banksia Lodge - soft boiled eggs are on the menu about twice a week these days.

*Camp at Banksia - note the hammock.

*The road to Banksia was a single lane, deep sandy track.

Apart from the very cool quarters the highlight of Banksia camp ground was the biggest pod of dolphins I've ever seen. There must have been about 60. They were surfing and playing not too far off the beach. All before breakfast - pretty happy with that!

*The flies!
*Sue's Bridge on the Blackwood River - a picturesque place to camp.
Although we were loving this part of the world we thought we'd head over towards the West Coast as the weather was forecast to be great for Sunday. We thought it'd be nice to be close to the beach and not have too far to roam to the Margaret River. We had been in touch with some friends, Tommy G and Dee, from Sydney holidaying in the Margaret River, specifically in a cottage at Evans & Tate. They very generously invited us for dinner and to stay with them for the night.

Being the Saturday night of a beautiful weekend, and Payniac deciding the Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP would be too popular and therefore too busy we headed for an inland camp. We ended up at Sue's Bridge in the relatively new Blackwood River NP. After driving through some beautiful forests this was a great option and we ended up with a lovely shady spot near the river.
*Snake (Dugite according to local opinion, looked a lot like a brown snake to me ) about to eat a large skink. Obviously wouldn't usually go anywhere near a snake like this but he was pretty tied up with his lunch so we watched for a while with morbid fascination. The lizard was still breathing and moving its legs as the snake started to ingest it.I had never seen anything like this before.
On Sunday we made our way to the coast with a stop at Augusta - for the sights and for a bakery
brunch. Then we did some beach time at Hamelin Bay. We had intended to beach hop up Caves Road towards Evans & Tate (where G & D were) but we took a turn off so we could drive through the incredible karri forest with a general heading toward the coast - the next thing you know we've been driving for ages and it's all sandy again - - if we'd kept going we'd have ended up on the beach back at Hamelin Bay where we started from.
*Catching some rays at Hamelin Bay.
*More giant trees this time in Leeuwin-Naturaliste NP.
After a quick shop in Dunsborough we arrived at Evans & Tate around 6:30pm very excited. We hadn't seen these guys in quite some time and were really looking forward to spending some time with them. Their lives have changed significantly since we'd seen them with baby Juniper 5&1/2 months old. With all the excitement we all talked and drank too much and stayed up really late and some of us felt very average the next morning. It was a top evening spent amongst the vines of the lovely E&T vineyard so a great big thank you to Tommy and Dee for putting us up for the night & for your fantastic company. Meeting up with people as we go has played a really important role in us workshopping the trip. It sounds a bit silly but being together 24/7 and living this trip-of-a-lifetime together means we don't talk a huge amount about the experiences as we have them. It isn't until we start imagining other peoples curiosities that we delve deeply into our experiences. So, thanks to G and Dee for that too.

From the Margaret River it was a quick scoot, and very painful for me with the worst headache I've ever had, up the highway to Leggie's in Freo. As Andy went to Sydney for work (sounds more like fun to me!!!!) from Wednesday and got back y'day I had a chance to explore Perth and Fremantle a little on my own. Firstly I got my dive computer back - the one the guys took from Kangaroo Island a month ago-thank you Divers Service Adelaide!I went to the WA Museum, walked around the city, shouted myself lunch at a cool city cafe, looked in the shops, bought some books, visited Kings Park and intended to get a "ferry" back to Freo to take in the river.

*The incredible view of Perth city from King's Park

This was thwarted as I had missed the last one of the day and so trained it back.
It's about 20km from Fremantle to Perth city and takes under half an hour. Yesterday I had the day in Freo - what a cool place! Last time we were here it was all a bit of a whirl wind and never got my bearings so it was nice to see it at my pace. I walked to the Fremantle Prison where I did a tour, then wandered through the markets and down to the harbour.
*The accomodation circa 1860 in the Fremantle prison.
Leggie had also given me a heads up on an art gallery that he really liked called the Moores Gallery - in an old warehouse with a really great exhibit that I enjoyed. Freo has lots of old buildings so the city has heaps of character. It's been lovely to have these few days with my own company in the day as Leggie's hard at work making the upcoming West Coast Blues & Roots festival, and in the evenings we've been hanging out here with Jasper the chocolate labby.

We've also had the opportunity to catch up with some easties in the west while we've been here. Great to see Caz & Sam, Nat New, and the gracious hostesses Kimmy and Fluff. Thanks guys for such a lovely evening last night - we intended to drop in for an hour or so but didn't get home until well after midnight, good to have a laugh and a chat and listen to the daylight savings debate.

This morning we saw the Sculptures by the Sea at Cottesloe before a delicious sunday brekky with an incredible Indian Ocean outlook. I'll let the Payniac take over from here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Swimsuit Edition

Hi Ho everybody.

Our ‘follower’ numbers have levelled off at 14 and our sponsors are getting nervous. We were therefore hoping this special ‘Swimsuit Edition’ would swell our readership, but as you’ll see the beaches have been deserted and there just hasn’t been the opportunity for covert snapping. So, sorry to disappoint. Maybe we can make up for it when we get to Cottesloe, although I’ll have to delegate that to Ness as I’ll be hopping back to Sydney for most of our time in Perth.

At risk of bringing back some of the horror of our Nullabor crossing I wanted to add a few personal points to Ness’s commentary.

Firstly, the only thing I can think of that is comparable to 1,500kms of straight flat road with period pain is sharing a car over a similar distance with someone with period pain. Secondly, I hadn’t had white line fever like that since London, or maybe it was Vancouver Island. Yes, probably Vancouver Island. Either way it was crazy stuff.

Lastly the long distance exposed some serious cavities in my mp3 collection which I had to fill on arrival in Esperance. Unbelievably the only Elvis I had was Christmas songs. First morning in coverage I hopped on to and picked up 30 #1 hits. The US$50 in my account was my only real hedge against the plummeting Australian dollar. Not to worry, take it from me - the renaissance of Australian cricket is a good sign that the global economy has now hit the bottom (albeit fairly hard). Good times are just around the corner for the Lucky Country.

We were more than a little disappointed to learn that the first cane toad to hop under it’s own steam from NT to WA had been apprehended by authorities on the day we arrived here. Apparently they have been moving west at the rate of 50-80kms a year, which is a lot of hopping. They're up in the Kimberley so it will be a few weeks before we need to pick up a DEC cane toad pack. I'm keen to help anyway we can.

I've wanted to come to Esperance for a long long time. Esperance has the best beaches in Australia, and therefore by definition, the world.

My first real attempt was in January 2007 when I had a few spare days between picking up a rental car in Perth and having a VIP appointment at Southbound. I was sadly thwarted that time around by the remnants of Cyclone Isobel which came crashing through, killing 37,000 sheep around Esperance and washing the road from Albany away. Probably all for the best as the distance would have been a struggle and I'd already picked up some double demerits just shy of Albany.

Cool Rig shot. Very Knight Rider I thought. Normally there seems to be an inverse relationship between wealth and imagination, but occasionally you meet someone mad enough to do this!

Anyhow, back to those empty beaches. Check these out. Wild horse thrown in for good measure! In another part of the multiverse I would have vaulted onto the back of this one and taken Ness for a bare back ride up the 22kms of hard white sand. Alas in this one the poor thing had a bit of a limp so I thought better of it. Nevertheless what a great time to start my first Dick Francis novel. My dad used to rave about them and I can't wait to hit the second hand bookshop tomorrow to pick up some more!

The sunset over the Recherche Archipelago wasn't too bad either.

The campsite at Cape Le Grand provide some great shade and the saltwater paperbark trees were just substantial enough for us to get the hammocks out.

And when it was too cool in the shade, the beach was a good backup choice.

After two days at Cape Le Grand we pushed on a further 100 or so kms east to Cape Arid.

The ranger said that the previous weekend every one of the big shady spots (in the welcome shelter of huge sand dunes) were taken. Not so when we got there - we had the whole of the place to ourselves. The exciting 4WD track through some soft sand followed by massive corrugations must put a lot of people off.

Not us of course, and when I work out how to add video without crashing everything I'll add a funny clip of Ness driving us back out again after two wonderful days and nights.

Cape Arid was pretty remote and meant I could only pick up the cricket on AM once the sun had gone down. ABC Adelaide luckily came through loud and clear each night just before the lunch break. In some ways I was sorry that there was a game on at all. Had it not been for the cricket this may have been the last opportunity for us to listen in to Peter Goers's evening show. He might be a little eccentric, but the guy is an absolute dead set legend. You might be able to stream it from the ABC.

Ness looking in a huge clear rock pool at Cape Arid.

And in case you were getting withdrawal symptoms from Cape Le Grand, here's one more glimpse of its beach perfection.

Oh, and Goodnight Mr Goers wherever you are.