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.