Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some (necessary) time out of the water

We'd deliberately budgeted ourselves a full day off in Coral Bay following our whaleshark adventures to relax, snorkel from the beach, make use of the facilities and generally soak up as much of the atmosphere as we could before hitting the road again.

Unfortunately for us and the many others in town, a confused crocodile decided to drop by (200kms further south than any had been seen for a decade), forcing the more sensible among us to stay out of the water.

Not everyone heeded the warnings of course. There's a lot of crazy Europeans around at the moment, particularly Germams, who've spent a lot of money getting here and they're not going to be put off by a 5m saltwater croc. And in any case, there's plenty more in the water that can eat you up or paralyse your central nervous system so you drown.

Luckily things had cooled down somewhat and with plenty of shade around we got in some good reading time and took the opportunity to observe some of the land based wildlife, including this goanna, and some small fast moving dragons.

That's not his tongue sticking out by the way. We're pretty sure it's the tail of his last meal.

They finally eliminated the threat of the croc on Monday afternoon around 5pm some 30kms south of Coral Bay. According to DEC it took one shot and he sank without a trace. Happy hour at the Coral Bay Hotel starts at 5.30 so I've got a different theory to what really happened.

The Coral Bay Hotel is a top spot to finish the end of any day and we made sure we dropped in for a few on each of the six nights we were in town. We had a relatively flash meal out on our last night in town (accompanied with wine from a bottle) to celebrate what had undoubtedly been the best (and most anticipated) week of our trip.

But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and on Saturday we packed up our gear, filled up with diesel and headed up the coast on the Cardabia-Ningaloo 4wd track. Given it was the easter long weekend we were a little nervous about finding a spot to stay as Coral Bay was full, as were the national park campsites north of Yardie Creek.

First stop of the day was the Lagoon. We both had pretty high expectations, stoked by locals raving about the place, but I think we must have hit it at the wrong tide. Our trip to the Lagoon did though provide us with the opportunity for some extended sand recovery practice to get the troopie back over the large soft sand dune we'd flown down on the way in. Momentum and low tyre pressure are the keys to keeping things going in sand but with an almost non-existent run up and some extremely soft deep sand we really struggled.

The most important thing to do in a recovery situation is to get out of it before anyone else comes along. Provided no other day trippers came along we had around six hours before the sunset all-terrain vehicle tour came from Coral Bay. In the end it took around a quarter of that time, some hauling of big flat rocks from the beach to plug the numerous holes I'd spun with the rear wheels and Ness letting the tyres down to 15psi.

What went down had to go back up again once we were clear of the trouble and the compressor proved its worth once more. All benefit of the shower we'd had a couple of hours before was lost, and the next opportunity for one wasn't to be for another four days.

As we'd been warned, the track was pretty corrugated and slow going but it afforded lots of great uninterrupted views of Ningaloo reef. There were also lots of bush camping opportunities so we were less concerned about finding somewhere to hide out for the long weekend.

We ended up spending the first two nights on Ningaloo Station. Our camping book had said you needed a chemical toilet to camp here but no questions were asked and there was plenty of places to hide in the dunes for number twos and you had the shovel handy to deal with any snakes. A snake did come through our camp shortly after we arrived so we were a bit nervy on that score.

We'd been promised some solitude but ended spending the first night in the company of some kite surfers who were camping upwind of us and had their one Red Hot Chili Peppers CD on repeat. At least that was all they played for the first six or so hours. Around 11.30pm the volume was suddenly trebled and on came some pretty decent doof music, which normally I would have loved. However given we'd both been asleep for a couple of hours, I did as Nessa asked and went over in my underpants to tell them to keep things on the down low. My deranged hair and beard has some plus points which I'm slowly discovering and despite me being outnumbered four drunks to my one they turned things down straight away and were pretty apologetic about everything.

The second night we did get our solitude as the kite surfers moved on.

We were treated to some top astro action and shooting stars before the just full moon rose and ruined the show.

The wind was starting to pick up and there wasn't much shelter so we decided to take our chances and push on further north.

We wanted to check out the Yardie Creek crossing which would take us into the north section of Cape Range National Park (also accessible by sealed road from Exmouth, so was going to be busy). It's crossable with care at low tide, which unfortunately for us was pretty close to sunset so we decided to give it a miss and went back to the Boat Harbour campsite.

The BIG plus of Boat Harbour was the massive sand dunes which offered great protection from the consistently strong southerly. There was also a well protected beach with a baby blacktip reef shark patrolling the shallows in search of some food. Amazingly (for the easter long weekend) there was not a soul around and no sign of Mr Ranger to collect the camping fees. Our total expense for the four nights was $20, which was almost 99% down compared with the prior six day cash haemorrhage of Coral Bay. The second derivative (or rate of change of the rate of change) which the world's economists are so hung up on these days was working in my favour after a poor run.

There wasn't much to do other than read, play a few games of yahtzee, two of boggle (until I unsportingly bailed) and try to cool off in the 28 degree water.

Late afternoon / everning cloud may have denied us of a good star show, but it did provide for amazing sunsets, on the second night in particular. Another few gigs of precious hard disk devoted to the setting sun.

We had a couple of day visitors but no one stayed the night. Andrew & Leanne from Perth dropped by on the second morning while I was recovering from a late onset hangover. They had an ex-prison service troopie which they were busily pimping and it was a good opportunity to compare notes. When I opened our bonnet we found we had a stowaway mouse on board, perilously close to the wiring to the all important solenoid. There was also some mouse poo in the cab this morning so I'm thinking I'll have to put some traps down.

Due to the late low tide, we made our way back to Ningaloo Station this morning and then back on the bitumen to double back up North West Cape to Exmouth. It was a good chance to recharge the auxiliary battery (fridge power) which is struggling a lot more with the heat. We used to plan on getting away with being stationery for four days but with the higher temps up here I think we're going to have to invest in some solar back up support. We'd rationalised the warm beers on day three at Red Bluff as resulting from a perfect storm of hot temps, no shade and too much warm stuff going into the fridge. We've both gotten used to living without many home comforts previously taken for granted. I draw the line at warm beer so we'll need to do something quickly or face heading back south to cooler conditions.

We're in Exmouth for four nights. Not a great spot but it's the gateway to some more underwater action on the northern Ningaloo reef. Tomorrow we're back in the water, heading off for two dives around the Muiron Islands. The enthusiasm of the Germans in the next camp who did that today has got us pretty excited for that. And on Friday we get to dive the world famous Navy Pier, just north of town, which was closed when we were here two years ago. It's the sixth best dive site in the world apparently, but we must have dived twenty or more of the top 10 sites in the world so we'll have to see. I'll leave Nessa to fill you in later in the week.

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