Monday, April 27, 2009

ANZAC long weekend special

I've long held the view that some people, for their own protection, should have to wear a helmet full time.

Luckily, this guy had one on or he might have done much worse than a broken foot following his fall at Hammersley Gorge from the top of the photo into the pool at the bottom - roughly 30m.

The bottle of OP rum he'd drunk to celebrate ANZAC day might have made a difference too. It was pretty sickening, we both saw the fall from start to finish, bounce, bounce, splash. His 'mates' didn't seem too concerned and were in no rush to help. When we asked what first aid they had in their ute they said a case of cold beer.

We prudently made a fairly hasty exit once we'd made sure he'd not sustained any head injuries. His Australian safety boots hadn't provided any protection for his left foot which was already blue. Neither of us thought he'd be a particularly compliant patient.

With all that excitement out of the way, we pushed on to the Rio Tinto Railway road and made our way up to Millstream Chichester National Park.

The road is generally pretty well looked after, but there had been a recent derailment and lots of very heavy vehicles had been using it to make repairs. Outcome was the corrugations were pretty bad.

A couple of iron-ore laden trains came past us, and a few empty ones the other way. One of the drivers gave us a toot of his horn which I think is Ness's highlight of the whole trip since we left Sydney.

Millstream Chichester National Park is really two separate distinct parks. We stopped at Millstream for a couple of nights on the banks of the beautiful Fortescue River. The river had recently been in massive flood which had done a lot of damage to the park, with large sections still out of bounds, but the Crossing Pool campsite was in good nick and we secured primo real estate with the end spot.

There are apparently 170 types of bird in the park. Our part of the park was dominated by noisy Corellas.

They provided us with constant amusement, particularly when they landed on or made their way along to a bit of branch too narrow for their claws to get sufficient purchase to hold them upright. Gravity took over, followed by much screeching and wing flapping to get right side up again. We witnessed some gymnastics of Olympic quality.

* reflections of the Fortescue, river crossing ahead, and payniac preparing some healthy bush tucker (beef and hopefully flu-free snags)

This morning we reluctantly packed up and made our way through the Chichester part of the park, stopping for Ness to have a dip at the Python Pool.

Lots more red dirt of course, and also Ness spotted some Desert Peas, although they probably weren't Sturt ones because they were missing their black centre.

We're now in Dampier and will hug the coast, and mobile reception, this week as there is a bit going on the office (silly me had thought it was a long weekend in NSW but apparently the NSW government doesn't hold the same respect for ANZAC celebrations when the day proper falls on a weekend). Result being I'm in a spot of trouble for not doing what I'd promised I'd do over the weekend (no reception). So had better stop procrastinating and get on with it.

Hope all are well, and please avoid Mexicans with running noses. If you have any spare Tamiflu please send it asap to me, care of Broome Post Office. We'll be there next Monday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Karijini and the Pilbara interior

* A shy new born lamb on Ningaloo Station. His nervousness was probably something to do with how close I'd just come to breaking our mammalian roadkill duck by running him over. The quality of the meat in the Exmouth IGA is so poor I was already thinking about how to butcher and dress him before we'd come to a stop. Better luck next time.

We finished our coral coast stay with a couple of nights back in Cape Range National Park at North Mandu. This promised to be a quiet spot on paper as it only had four designated sites (not big enough to warrant a 'camp host') and there was nothing particularly special about the beach.

We got there early on the Saturday morning and secured the only shady and wind protected spot, displacing a clearly disgruntled and mildly arthritic kangaroo. All was looking good until the 'Chillax Express' (an old coach with seven or eight international teenage backpackers) pulled in just after nightfall, closely followed by a campervan. A camp host (mostly former Sydney Olympic volunteers from what I can make out rather than the Bob Downe variety) would have sent them packing, or at least got some rent out of them, but instead we had to endure several hours of poor guitar work and conversation dominated by a boorish loud American. A slightly disappointing end to our three month coastal extravaganza, compounded by a difficult time of the month and some unlucky Yahtzee dice from me.

It was now time to turn inland again and experience the Pilbara interior. We put in a pretty big drive, 650kms, to reach Tom Price just as it was getting dark. We'd considered stopping at a road side rest area earlier on, but we've both been reading too many gruesome crime novels so we decided to push on. Our only stop en route was at the Nanutarra Roadhouse for some diesel ($1.60/l) and a pie ($6.50 + $0.50 for sauce) and a drink ($4).

* Road train approaching. Best strategy is to pull over and wait for the dust to settle. The longest one we've seen so far was about 30m long, but the problem is with all the dust you're never really sure how long it will be until it's gone past.

The Pilbara is simply glorious - deep red earth and golden spinifex, and surprisingly well vegetated.

The problem as we found around Alice is that the red dust just gets everywhere and into everything. A few minutes after a shower and your hand and feet are dirty red again. Being back on the dirt roads also means the car is shaking a lot more again and things are starting to come loose.

Tom Price is apparently the most affluent settlement outside of metropolitan areas. It's the highest town in Western Australia and sits under Mount Nameless which is nearly two thirds iron ore. For a town of only 2,500 people, it's incredibly well provisioned, several bottle shops, a decent sized Coles, reasonable priced diesel etc, and its own hospital.

Apparently the locals say the best feature of the town is the airport to get you out of here, but our reason for coming was Karijini, the national park formerly known as Hammersley Gorge, and Australia's second largest.

It's really unfair to make comparisons, but the gorges here were so much more dramatic than the ones we'd seen in the McDonnell Ranges either side of Alice Springs. This may have something to do with when we got here - ie a couple of months after the wet season finished so there was still plenty of water running through the gorges and the pools were full.

The rocks here are apparently some of the oldest on earth, around 2.5bn years. The high iron content comes from some of the earliest volcanic activity on the planet and the oxidisation provides evidence of some of the earliest life forms.

We stayed for three nights, and visited each of the gorges within the park. We stopped for two nights at Dales Gorge, and managed a four hour walk down into the gorge to Circular Pool and then back through twists and turns to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool.

* Circular Pool from above. The water was too cool for me to swim but Ness had a go

* Dales Gorge from above, and then Circular Pool from the bottom of the gorge

* Shots from the beautiful walk along Dales Gorge.

* Fern Pool, and Ness making moves for a dip before some fish started nibbling her toes and she made a quick exit.

* Welcome to our world - huge expanses, blue skies and lots and lots of red earth.

After our two nights at Dales we moved on to the Karijini Eco Resort, basically the refurbished Savannah camp ground which still had camping for the plebs, but there were also flash permanent tents which you could rent for $270 per night (a bit out of our price range).

The Eco Resort is adjacent to Joffre Falls and we packed a lunch and clambered down for a relaxing afternoon of swimming and reading.

The view down Joffre Gorge. Just below the gap is the Olympic Pool, a 200m swimming hole.

My walking shoes have finally given up so maintaining grip was a little difficult and I didn't want to risk taking the good camera down for a look.

The view from the tent, and the view inside the tent (me rushing through another Scarpetta novel) at the Eco Lodge.

The stars are amazing and now it's getting dark around 6.30 so there's plenty of time to get a sore neck staring up at them. We're slowly teaching ourselves the southern sky constellations and I have this cool app on my phone that tells me where the meteors are going to be.

* One of the many dingoes we saw around our camp. Despite Karijini being surrounded by pastoral land the dingo population within the park is pretty much left alone and used as a natural way of keeping down the kangaroo numbers as well as other feral animals.

Sleeping up on top of the car at night is becoming a better idea by the minute!

On our last day in Karijini we clambered our way down and then along Weano Gorge.

* Us and a giant termite mound.

Today we have a permit to drive on the private Rio Tinto road that follows their railway line from the mine here in Tom Price up to the port in Dampier (home of the famous Red Dog). We had to watch a 20 minute safety video but it all looks pretty straightforward compared to what we've been used to. Hopefully we'll get some good shots of the 2km long iron ore trains thundering along. Hopefully too we won't stall on any of the many level crossings.

The road goes through Millstream Chichester National Park where we'll stop for a couple of nights before I'll need to get phone coverage again and put in some more time in at 'the office'. Happy ANZAC day people, and happy belated birthday Mum!

Friday, April 17, 2009

And back into the water - Exmouth

We've been in Exmouth for 4 nights now. And that's probably enough. After our adventures in the bush over the Easter Long Weekend it was very nice to pull in for a Brumbies pie and a hot shower. There's also a book exchange which I was in desperate need of as I'd exhausted our travel library. I've now stocked up on Patricia Cornwell which we have both got right into although we are reading them out of order which drives Andy nuts.It's also an excellent spot for all the scuba we wanted to do being so close to the Ningaloo Reef, Muiron Islands and the Navy Pier.
*Andy about to giant stride into a dive at the Muirons.
*Pretty fan coral at the Muirons - my experience of coral is that this stuff is usually found much deeper then the 20m we descended to. It was everywhere and in all colours.
*2 nudibranchs - don't have my "1001 nudibranch" guidebook so can't ID these little guys.

We've had 2 days diving and one day "free time"where Payniac has been in the office and I've been domestic goddess applying some new ideas to our eternally tainted water problem (we're trying milton baby bottle disinfectant). We will also restock here before heading back into the national parks. The weather has improved - we've had a couple of days overcast and cool (33C - it's very relative people!), so we'll head back into the northern section of Cape Range NP which is right on Ningaloo Marine Park - so we should have some beaut snorkelling opportunities in the days ahead.

*Coral garden.
*Another nudibranch - I told you I loved them
*Not a nudibranch, scuba-Andy

On wednesday we did a full day trip to the Muiron Islands with a real mixed bag of punters - snorkellers, little kids, professional underwater photographers, scuba courses and us. The diving is just stunning with the greatest coral coverage I've seen. As far as you could see it was like a paddock of coral gardens, both hard and soft corals. The Muirons are not renowned for their fishiness but the colourful invertebrate life more than makes up for it. And for the record the water is a balmy 29C.

Today we did two dives on the Navy Pier. This was a pretty big deal for me as the pier was closed to divers last time I was here and I'd wanted to dive it then. The navy pier was built by the US navy so that they could ship in all their secret squirrel radio transmitters (the tallest of which is the third tallest structure in the southern hemisphere FYI, our guide had no idea what #1 & #2 were) to Exmouth. There are conspiracy theories and concerns about radiation surrounding the almost deserted base that now houses the Ausssie Feds. It was all very high security to get into the base to dive the pier, IDs checked by a man in uniform with a gun!
*Payniac multi tasking, mask clearing and controlled descent. Very nice!

It is considered a shore dive and the entry requires a giant stride from a platform about 2m above the waterline at high tide.
After all the excitement of getting there and getting in it was awesome to stick my head under and see all the fish, just everywhere.

*Nudibranch moneyshot - I love the colours in this photo. You have to remember that most of the colourful things here are animals, very simple ones, but still animals.

A fantastic days diving. Like fish soup, and big-fish soup too. Barracuda, trevally, sharks and squillions of little fish. We saw morays and octpus. We just wove our way between and through the pylons looking at all the life - I could have stayed down all day but due to the location there are strict regulations so our bottom times were limited to 50 minutes per dive.
*Barracuda wall paper. These were just little ones, probably about a meter and they have big sharp menacing teeth and plenty of attitude.


*A moray posing for me.

*Big boy under the pier, a potato cod or queensland grouper. The area under and around the navy pier is a sanctuary so there's no fishing. This is the reason there are so many different kinds of fish, so many fish and why they're so big.

* A beautiful sea anemone. From tentacle tip to tentacle tip I'd say it was about 50cm, and really pretty soft colurs.

*Not a nudibranch, this is a flatworm, which also come in may different flavours. They look a bit like pieces of ribbon and are often free swimming.

*The biggest and fattest white tip reef sharks we've ever seen. There were quite a few around but they're pretty lazy in the day time unless some pesky diver tries to get them to shift for a better photo opportunity. I leave them be, despite what everyone says they still have a mouthful of sharp teeth and they're 2m+.

And so ends the diving for this leg of the trip unless something unexpected pops up as we're headed into proper crocodile territory - as opposed to phony crocodile territory where we are now. It always takes us a few weeks to find our legs after a hiatus and I think we're back in the swing of things now and ready for some adventures. It's been a great opportunity to get the maps out and start looking at the next few months as we venture into the great unknown for us. We're both very, very excited about the Gibb River Road but like us you'll have to wait.