“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway


6 October 2015

WA Roadtrip: Through WA's secret principality and across the finish line

Thursday 11th June 2015 (evening):

As the embers of the afternoon sun died for another day our party veered off the coastal road linking Kalbarri to Northampton, onto a dusty track surfaced with loose gravel. The scenery changed abruptly from the raw, exposed canyons of the national park to rolling fields perfect for grazing livestock and nurturing crops. The coastal holiday homes making way for lonely isolated farmsteads built by independent pioneers. Unbeknown to us we had crossed yet another border to a land within a land, Western Australia’s best kept secret. The Principality of Hutt River.
At $5 a night the camp grounds at Hutt River were the best value and well facilitated we had seen  

This little known princedom occupies an area of 75 square kilometres and is home to a population of 23 (although it claims to have a worldwide citizen population of 14,000). As we pulled up to the main post office, chamber of commerce, immigration office and who knows what else we were greeted by the son of ruler Crown Prince Graeme who due to his day to day job as a local school teacher has been awarded various roles in his father’s principality such as Chancellor of Education & Advanced Research. Prince Graeme kindly informed us that the elderly Prince Leonard was not available this late in the day but would be hosting a tour the following morning. We paid AU$5 to stay in the grounds camping area which was very cheap considering the great shower facilities and numerous fire pits close to mountains of dead timber. 
not a bad spot to end the day 
We weren't the only foreign visitors to the principality, in fact the place seemed more popular amongst tourist than Australians. Perhaps it’s due to the regions isolated location and lack of publicity or maybe Australians are a little embarrassed that part of their territory has been claimed so brilliantly by one educated, determined individual keen to protect the livelihood of his family, who knows. We had plenty of time to ponder such theories whilst sharing beer and goon with some new Brit friends as we waited patiently for Dustin and Baastian to boil some pasta on the camping stoves (apparently you can’t rush perfection, especially on a stove that takes a day to boil a cup of water). 

Friday 12th June 2015:

By royal appointment: (Left to Right: Ross, Dustin, Prince Leonard of Hutt, Bastiaan, Jono & Dave) 

The guided tour kicked off at around 9am and it was totally worth waiting the night. Prince Leonard was stood behind the counter of the countries only post office. After a personal welcome to the Hutt River Principality he ran through a well-rehearsed routine detailing the events leading up to the foundation of his princedom. Sharing anecdotes of struggle, relief, victory and humour from beating a flawed system. It was clear that this short, unassuming gentleman who is now in the winter months of his life has much to be proud of and to reflect on.

As immovable as the man himself
In many ways the birth of Hutt River makes total sense. The local government was attempting to limit the amount of wheat produced on individual farm owners. Casley’s land had the potential to grow 4,000 hectares worth of the crop but the legislation was going to limit them to selling 40 hectares. 1% of what he could grow before. Any idiot could see from the figures that the proposed quota was a joke to people who depended on maximising outputs. Over many years Leonard along with his wife and friends fought the system and due to the Prince’s canny knowledge of local and international law he managed to outfox the opposition. Many see him as a passionate and eccentric person and I suppose you have to be to win such a David & Goliath tussle against Australian Government. But it certainly makes an intriguing story worthy of the movie screen. In fact I think there is an old film starring Peter Sellers called “The mouse that roared” which follows a similar plot.

The flag of Hutt River
Like the man the tour was a short and sweet. At the age of 90 he is sharp as a pin and unafraid to joke with visitors. “Feel free to write your compliments of the tour in the book on the desk in front of you”. He quipped to an English woman. “And feel free to leave you mobile number as well if you like” to which everyone burst into laughter. With local currency & stamps designed by one of Leonard’s daughters, flags, books, photo’s and postcards there are many great souvenirs on offer but the best thing about visiting is the compulsory visa (really it’s a day ticket) and passport stamp in and out of the province. A timeless keepsake and another blank space filled in our now bulging passports. That’s certainly more generous than the country that envelopes the Hutt River. They don’t even stamp the bloody thing any more.

The realm of Hutt

With the morning well under way we set out south following the gravel roads of the Hutt River region back to the welcome tarmac of Kalbarri Road with Northampton in our sights. We stopped briefly at the tiny seaside village of Port Gregory for another photo opportunity at Hutt Lagoon. The lake is more commonly known as Pink Lake due to its unusual hue created by bacteria trapped within the waters salt crystals. It is yet another incredible natural wonder in WA.

Pink Lake near Port Gregory
At around midday we stopped for lunch at the symbolic finish line of our overland travels in the “historic” (out here that means its more than 50 years old) mining town of Northampton. Established in 1863 the town was built on the regions lead deposits. There are a few old buildings including the church but otherwise there is not that much to do. But it wasn't the lack of sights that brought us here it was the fact that this isolated town in Western Australia’s mid-west was the finish line of our self-set objective. A final tally of 18819 miles through 27 countries and 1 unrecognised principality all without a single plane. It has been an incredible year of mostly highs and some lows. 372 days of amazing places, landscapes, cultures but most crucially people. Standing in front of the welcome sign of Northampton neither of us could really appreciate what we have achieved and even a few months after that day it only just beginning to sink in.  We are certainly not the same guys that left our home town of the same name on 5th June 2014.

Northampton to Northampton

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16 September 2015

WA Road Trip: Rowdy rangers, roaming rocks and reclusive mammals

View from Kalbarri National Park towards the Indian Ocean

Wednesday 10th June 2015:

We were awoken at around 5:30am to the sound of a disgruntled park ranger talking sternly to Dave and Bastiaan. As suspected our roadside camping spot was within the national park boundaries and we weren’t supposed to be there. Luckily the lads jumped into the naïve tourist routine and thankfully the officer let us off with a warning which meant we avoided an on the spot fine if we hit the road within 30 minutes. This suited us fine as we were close to a few sights of interest and then had plenty of time to reach a campsite relatively close to Kalbarri National Park to the south.

Eagles Bluff

The first of the sights south of Denham is a lookout known as “Eagles Bluff” where the guide said you can see dugongs, sharks and whales from the from the high cliff face. Sadly for us there were no creatures to spot other than the odd sea bird but with a great panoramic view along the peninsula it still worth a visit.

Heading south just before the boundaries of the protected zone is “Shell Beach” which as you may guess is a beach with plenty of crustacean carcasses. This is a much nicer spot and actually offers a beach scene unique to the area. Now all Western Australia needs is a beach full of pebbles and it may be able to recreate a typical British seaside scene.

A few kilometres away from shell beach is “Hamelin Pool” which is home to one of the oldest creatures on the planet. No not Bruce Forsythe, they are in fact Stromatolites. Layered rock made up of a colony of single celled cyanobacteria that use a sticky surface to trap sediment. The sticky solution reacts with calcium carbonate to form the limestone home. To be honest they are interesting if you consider their evolutionary importance but to be honest after five minutes of staring at a group of rocks even the most enthusiastic visitor gets bored and moves on but hey it’s another creature to tick off.

Stromatolites in Hamelin's Pool

The rest of the day was spent on the open road as we covered the few hundred kilometres south to our night stop at Galena Bridge free camp site. It was a nice spot by the river and had plenty of deadwood to make a cosy camp fire.

Thursday 11th June 2015

Another early start this time on our own accord as we hastily closed the 100km gap between us and yet another National Park, Kalbarri. Like its larger WA cousin Karijini, Kalbarri boasts stunning rust covered canyons and crystal clear rivers all within spitting distance of the coast and a town of the same name.

Ross Graham lookout offers great views of the Murchison River as it cuts through the landscape to form a steep rugged gorge. Unlike Karijini this was a case of passing through and grabbing a few photographs as we went. Sadly we had to make up for lost time to reach Perth but in all honesty the fly problem was a real factor. There are other lookout spots, abseiling tours and river trails to the north but you need a day or two to make the most of them.

If you visit this national park I advise you to wear some kind of face net. It makes you look like a bee keeper but it better than having to eat your way through the flies like we did.

Kalbarri: canyons, stunning coastline and waving whales

Still peckish following our crunchy fly starter we stopped for lunch in the coastal town of Kalbarri and made use of the petrol station to restock on the dwindling fuel supply. It a sleepy place populated by an ageing community of retirees and a steady flow of grey nomads but is rumoured to be a good place for windsurfing and sea fishing. Heading south are a few more lookout points along the rugged coastline. Red Bluff and Island Rock were our favourites as we managed to grab a few brief glimpses of a humpback whale as it hugged the coast north following the plankton blooms. A rare sight for most and one I was finally thankful to tick off after the lack of humpback sightings north in Exmouth.
It certainly blew the rock sighting out of the water.

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13 September 2015

WA Road Trip: Dolphin beaches & monkey villages in Shark Bay. What next hot tub time machines?

monkey mia 

Monday 8th June 2015

Veering off the North West Coastal Highway once again we hugged the coast around the apprehensively named shark bay (which sounds more like a location on Pirates of the Caribbean than a weekender’s holiday spot) for just over an hour before reaching the small town of Denham. I really think Australia needs to utilise words like village and hamlet a lot more. As it seems the definition of town out here covers anything that has a supermarket, drive through bottle shop (for those that have never been to Australia they never sell booze in a supermarket out here but you can happily pull up in a car or Ute and purchase a tonne of the stuff. It’s meant to discourage drink driving I think?), ATM machine and church.

Thankfully it’s not Denham’s uncanny resemblance to a model village that brings visitor it’s the surrounding regions geography and natural spectacles. The Shark Bay Discovery Centre and Visitor Centre is a good starting point for all your inquiries and if you wish to pay $11 you can enter the educational complex. Although as it was another bright sunny day we gave it a miss in favour of some exploring. A short 4km outside Denham on the road to Monkey Mia is the aptly named “Little Lagoon” a scene of white sand and turquoise water is appealing to the eye but we required sunglasses to view it on account of the swarming shit flies.  

Hot Tub Time
Denham sits on the southern tip of Francoise Peron National Park which occupies the entire peninsula. The park is named after a French naturalist who sailed on the Le Geographe in 1801. The park is renowned for turquoise waters, red dunes and white sand beaches. Although you do require a decent off road vehicle to make the most out of your visit. Sadly Dave’s Getz and Dustin’s Ford Falcon were a little wasted. If like us you are bound to tarmac or shallow gravel then there is a consolation in the form of the “Peron Homestead”. A former sheep station which now houses an educational centre which resembles Norman Bates’ root cellar from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho”. Specimens of native mammals found in the park have been kindly stuffed and exhibited for the public’s pleasure. It’s a taxidermists dream but really freaks out everyone else.

 The local birds were flocking to see us 

To our groups joy the historic merit of the homestead is nothing more than an interlude to the main attraction which sits out back in the form of an artesian hot tub. An ideal chance to kick back with the lads and enjoy watching the emu’s wander around. Sure the water pongs a bit but then again this bit of kit is more than fifty years old and who cares about smelling a bit when you have to sit back in a sweat drenched car anyway. Sadly this hot tub was not a time machine so we set off back to the main road and the remaining 10km to Monkey Mia.

The sunning shark bay at monkey mia

After hearing such good reviews about this strange named place (apparently it’s an Aboriginal name and has nothing to do with primates) in Broome we were all a bit surprised to find out that the place consists of a resort camp site, jetty and a beach. We checked in at the resort which cost $18 each per night per car. It’s got great general amenities you would expect from a camp site and a reasonable café, bar and restaurant. With a few hours of daylight remaining we set up camp and wandered the beach to see if the place lives up to the hype. The constant stream of tourists seems to draw the wildlife and walking the white sand beach and admiring the gentle sweeping coastline as the sun set we were pleased to see a few turtle and dolphins in the shallows. We even had our first up close encounter with pelicans after we strayed too close to a group scrounging for scraps from a fishing boat.

Tuesday 9th June 2015

When the wildlife practically throws itself at your feet even an amateur photographer can take great pictures

We all woke early to grab a good spot by the pier in time for the 7:50am dolphin feed. They have a few slots each day but we felt the first feed would offer the best chance to get a unique view of these extraordinary creatures. I have to admit when I heard that the dolphins come to shore I had visions of domesticated dolphins like the ones trained at Seaworld in the U.S.A that rely on humans and can’t be depended on to survive in the wild but I was wrong. The local marine biologists have used Pavlovian conditioning like you would train a dog to attract in dolphins mothering calf’s to help assist the young dolphin’s growth. They only allow a few visitors to feed the mothers and you are unable to stroke them as it has been found that they can contract ailments and virus from humans.  The young calves are left briefly in the shallows awaiting the mothers to return and allow them to feed. Basically what I thought was going to be a tourist gimmick that does more to harm the creatures is actually a well-managed conservation programme. They have even banned the ever prominent selfie sticks. Probably because they had to issue a few dolphins with eye patches after some over enthusiastic tourists poked a few porpoise pupils out with the bloody things. 

On the day we visited there was a pod of around a dozen dolphins in total and everyone was able to get some great snaps for the photo album.

Its a nice spot but there are a few turtle heads floating by the pier
Encouraged by how unfazed the local wildlife was to humans Jono, Dustin and Bastiaan decided to spend the day snorkelling in the shallows while Dave and I wandered further down the coast to get away from the crowds and search for another pod. The other guys had the better luck in the end as all we found were more pelicans which made us feel like a couple of pelicans whilst the others performed synchronised swimming routines with flipper.

Just when we thought we had seen it all we stumbled across this conga line of caterpillars

As the day hit mid-afternoon we had no choice but to leave Monkey Mia behind as we searched for a suitable lay-by to pitch the tents. In the end we opted for a track close to a lookout spot called Eagles Bluff. Despite it being inside the national park Dave and Dustin assured us the spot was ok and if it wasn't the park rangers would move us on. 

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26 August 2015

WA Road Trip: Coral Bay to Canaervon

Our pal Raphael (image courtesy of our friend Bastiaan Terhorst)

Saturday 6th June 2015

Leaving the national parks and pristine beaches of Exmouth in our wake it dawned on us that during the excitement we had totally forgotten that it had been an entire year since leaving the lush meadows of home. 365 days of adventure, cultural enlightenment and personal enrichment gained by experiences obtained across 27 countries. They say that time flies when you’re having fun and if that’s true we must have had a cracking good time as it only seemed like the blink of the eye. The celebrations would have to wait until the evening as this band of blokes had a busy day ahead.

The southern reaches of the stunning "Ningaloo Reef"

Around 150km South of Exmouth just off the “Minilya Exmouth Road” is the tiny holiday settlement of Coral Bay. Like Exmouth Coral Bay is famous around Australia for its close proximity to the vast Ningaloo Reef and as such offers is a great place to scuba, fishing and snorkelling. As we only had one day in town we focussed on the latter and grabbed some snorkels and masks from one of the tour provider outlets close to the beach. The beach was relatively busy and judging by the swathe of silver heads on beach towels it turned out the small hamlet is a popular holiday spot for Australians of an older demographic or those with families. A bit like the southern hemisphere equivalent of Skegness or Blackpool (If the malnourished donkeys were swapped for pelicans and the floating sewage replaced by abundant pristine marine life).

Another turtle! I think I will call you Donatello (image courtesy of our friend Dave Fowler).
It helps to act like floating drift wood i you want to get close to these chaps.

Keen to escape the overcrowding in the shallow bay we wandered south around the headland to a snorkelling spot the tourist information desk had suggested. Swimming a few meters out the first thing that’s immediately obvious is that this place definitely lives up to the name. The sections of reef we accessed from beaches in Exmouth were great but Coral Bay blows them out of the water. The sheer scale of the coral blooms is incredible. It almost feels like your swimming through an alien landscape from the movie “Avatar”. The healthy condition of the reef was backed up by the diversity of marine life. Tons of fish of multiple colours and sizes living in a complex habitat alongside a plethora of molluscs, bivalves and crustaceans. Like Exmouth the highlight of the day had to be the turtles which seemed to be all over the place. Dave and I stalked one of these incredible creatures for what seemed like hours. Hypnotised by its effortless motions and carefree demeanour. Coral Bay definitely tops our ever growing list of snorkelling spots and if you’re ever in the area it makes for a brilliant day trip.

If snorkelling or diving doesn’t interest you the talc like beach is a great spot to waste the day away and is pretty well sheltered by small row of dunes at the mouth of the bay. 
good camouflage
With a lack of free accommodation in town we all helped ourselves to a free hot shower in the adjacent holiday park before grabbing a few crates of Emu and a birthday cake from the local corner shop and trundled 100km south to the closest free camp site. The small patch of dusty land ran alongside some bush land making it easy to find enough dry wood for a campfire. The birthday bonanza meant that we finally had an excuse to dust off the “shit shirts” we bought each other in Yangshuo, China all those months ago. We even bought some sparklers to complement the highly flammable polyester and create some awesome shapes in a landscape devoid of artificial light.  

watch the sparks doof you'll go up like a Christmas tree 

Sunday 7th June 2015

I suppose after a week of activities it was inevitable that we would have a day of boredom and Sunday 7th June 2015 was such a day.  A day staring at the sun scorched tarmac isn't the most exciting thing in the world but at least it was comforting to know that just over the horizon sat the dolphin hot spot of Monkey Mia.

We stopped for lunch in the town of Carnarvon, which naturally lacks the historic importance of its Welsh counterpart but does share the same humble atmosphere as a safe refuge for leisure craft and those who live off the seas fruits. The town is a popular pit stop thanks to a decent sized supermarket and nice public parks with communal BBQ’s and washing facilities. If you’re stick of sitting in a smelly car, eating pot noodle all day just find such a spot, crack open the burgers and get your fill. It’s a luxury you can’t get in the UK thanks mostly to the damp climate and the fact that if there were public barbeques they would probably be used as disposal points for dog shit.

scenic spot. I just hope the mosquitoes bug off 

The evening campsite was nestled on the banks of the Wooramel River and offered a pretty luxurious base considering it was free. With plenty of dead driftwood to burn, an hours’ worth of Wi-Fi and clean toilets it’s no surprise the spot was extremely popular with the aged campervan and Winnebago dwellers. If anything we were something of an oddity for these retired ramblers and it probably explains that contrary to the last few weeks many of them seemed keen to chat. By far the weirdest and eventually most annoying was a rough bearded Australian who looked like someone you would expect to see on a documentary about Big Foot sightings. He appeared from the gloom whilst we were tucking into our dinner and just stood in front of us starring into the flames of the camp fire. Stunned and scared out of our skins we stared back in silence until Dave asked him what he wanted to which the wiry haired chap said “just wanted a quick talk as we haven’t seen many backpackers about” (not sure why he said we as he was on his own). I think the definition of quick chat is a bit different out here because he continued to stand by the fire a talk for two and a half hours. This wouldn't have bothered us too much if the topic of conversation was interesting but he continued to stick to his guns and talk car mechanics (which none of us gave two shits about); foreign policies, which mostly revolved around how there are too many immigrants (again another strange topic to grace a bunch of foreigners with) and how their prime minister Tony Abbott was in his words “a c**t” (which I happen to agree with. He wants to drill for oil beneath the Great Barrier Reef). Eventually the chap ran out of steam and wondered back through the gloom to his campervan. I don’t mean to sound unapproachable and we have had many occasions where starting a conversation with other travellers is a great way to break the tedium but he was the sort of bloke that left me wondering whether his campervan was full of the belongings of murdered backpackers. We are after all in a country that contains paces like Wolf Creek and people like Ivan Milat (If you don’t know what I’m on about just Google it). 

15 August 2015

Broome to Perth Road Trip: The Gentle Giants of Exmouth

Having a whale shark of a time (Hope you like the walrus moustache). 
Monday 1st June 2015

With a 600km journey to Exmouth ahead of us we left “halfway bridge” at around 8:00am. The sunshine of the new day meant we could now fully appreciate this tranquil camping spot. Wild budgerigars flocked and foraged in the grasses along the banks of a trickling stream. Busily collecting food for the chicks nested inside hollowed trunks. We have fond memories keeping budgies as pets growing up. Our Nan had a blue and white one for years named “Charlie”. I had heard that budgies of this colour cannot survive long in the wild as they are too easy to spot. A theory backed up by the scene in front of us. It was yet another thing I had longed to see as a kid. Another tick on the bucket list.
(Left): Adult Budgie getting pissed at us. (Top Right): Halfway Bridge pit stop. (Bottom Left): Budgie chick 
We briefly stopped for supplies in the town of Tom Price, the closest sign of civilisation t Karijini. It’s not a particularly picturesque place but it is populated by large flocks of white parrots. Got to be nicer than pigeons though right.

The rest of the day was spent driving along the endless highways. They started off as rough, unsurfaced sections with amazing views of flatlands running to the coast ahead and the rugged hilltops of karijini to the rear. We always had to treat these tracks with caution. The spare on the Ford Falcon was as flat as a witches’ tit and after only seeing a handful of other road users all morning another puncture would spell disaster.  Eventually we hit the tarmac again which meant we could finally put our foot down and enjoy driving along highway 136. Our overnight accommodation was a generic free campsite with no real character. It was essentially an extended lay by, excluding a greasy burger wagon. The grey nomad’s numbers were rapidly increasing the further south we travelled. It seems that elderly people the world over find warmer climes irresistible. It also explains by my grandparents enjoyed spending the winter in front of a coal fire or with the central heating turned up to a temperature that would make the Sahara seem temperate. 

another great sunset in the outback
Tuesday 2nd June 2015

Woke up early to the sound of grey nomads heading east to Karijini. We turned west against the grain with Exmouth in our sights only a mornings drive away. The small fishing town located on the rim of the Exmouth Gulf Peninsula would be a sleepy place if it wasn't for the hordes of domestic and international tourists migrating here every year to see stunning beaches and the word famous “Ningaloo Marine Park”. It’s well documented on the typical tourist guides that this is one of the few places in the world where you can snorkel and dive with three huge underwater creatures. The Whale Shark, Manta Ray and Humpback Whale. As a lover of “most” things wildlife (I would say all but I’ve seen too many rats and bed bugs I the last year) I set off with Dave, Dustin and Bastiaan to a local tour provider. There are many options in town but we chose “Charter 1” as one of the Canadian girls we met on the road to Karijini worked for them and we saw a prime opportunity to grab a bit of discount.    
Got to see our first wild kangaroo's 500m from the tent
With the tour booked for the following morning once again we were on the prowl for accommodation which unless you want to stay in a hostel is pretty easy as there only seemed to be one place. “Lighthouse Caravan Park” lies 10km north of the town and costs $10 a night per person, which includes cooking facilities, warm showers, clean toilets and a pool.  This was definitely a decent deal considering the site is located closer to Cape Range National Park than the town meaning early bird gets to the beaches before other tourists.

Wednesday 3rd June 2015

Dustin, Bastiaan, Dave and I had to wake up bright and early as we prepared for the pick up by Charter 1. I was a bit gutted Jono was missing out on this once in a lifetime opportunity but in his words he would “rather save up cash for a thrill seeking activity”.  This seemed a little short sighted as the waters the whale sharks occupy also contain Great White and Tiger Sharks. If you see these chaps snorkelling I’m certain that would be enough thrills for a lifetime. Or maybe I’m mistaking thrills with fear. 7:30am and with Jono left at base camp the rest of us hopped on the tour bus which just so happened to have our Canadian friend, Jo at the wheel and headed to the harbour.

Ningaloo Reef
The $345 (£173) day trip may seem a bit pricey but with a packed schedule and the opportunity to see such an array of underwater beasts it was well worth it. Before setting out to the big stuff the tour stops off at a section of the huge Ningaloo reef to allow you to get used to the snorkel gear. This turned out to be a nice 30 minute warm up session as it highlighted a smorgasbord of reef dwellers from tiny clown fish to the larger wrasse, gar fish, and cow tailed rays. I even had my first encounter with a shark not accustomed to eating plankton, the white tipped reef shark.  Like most sharks these eat meat although at a size not exceeding 1.3m it’s pretty safe to swim with. Apparently Ningaloo is a breeding ground for these Carcharhinidae. Even after a few minutes it’s amazing how healthy and vast this reef system is in this part of the world. We have snorkelled reef in Indonesia but to get to the good reef you often have to swim through a belt of bleached white dead reef. At Ningaloo it was as you expect a reef to be. Just one intricate ecosystem.

After re-boarding the ship the crew directed the craft through a gap in the breakers to deeper waters where the whale sharks were rumoured to be hanging out. The odds of seeing these creatures are stacked in your favour thanks to the network of search planes scanning the horizon and relaying sightings to the ground crews. Finally we were told to quickly form two groups of ten as there was a shark heading our way. We were in the first ten so we excitedly plunged into the cool water and waited.  The aim is to line up, wait for the shark to pass and then swim after it in two smaller groups so everyone can see. What actually happens is that as soon as you get a glimpse of the creatures gapping mouth that all goes out of the window as arms, elbows, legs and selfie sticks are used to batter away anyone who might be in a better position. Quite content allowing the rabble destroy any chance of savouring the moment Dave, Bastiaan, Dustin and I swam around the first whale shark (which was a youngster at round 5m long) and swam along this majestic creature. For sharks these guys have taken a completely different path. Preferring to be passive, gentle vegetarian using their sheer size as protection. If any creature lives up to the term “gentle giants”, it is the whale shark. The speckles on their back are as unique as a fingerprint and the tour operator’s double up as marine biologists documenting every sighting. I was surprised to hear later that we know more about the outer reaches of the solar system than we do about whale sharks. Migratory patterns and breeding grounds are still a mystery.
larking about with a whale shark

Across the entire day we saw a total of three whale sharks with three attempts to view each and to top it off we even saw a rare glimpse of a Dugong (a kind of salt water manatee). Sure it would have been nice to tick off a manta ray and humpback whale as well but to see one of the big three was a real privilege.

5:30pm: We arrived back at camp completely knackered from all the exercise and exhilaration. Keen to view the footage from the day. We were met by Jono who had a lazy day sun bathing. Think he was pretty annoyed at all the whale shark talk.
(Left to Right): Dustin, Joe, Bastiaan and yours truly hitting the champagne
As typical with road trips we once again bumped into a couple we had met at the free camp site close to Karijini. Steve (Eng) and Andrea (Ger) had just arrived in Exmouth and were keen to swim with the whale sharks. Something tells me we will bump into this cool couple with their clamped out camper van again on our travels.  

Thursday 4th June 2015

  It was a sluggish start following the events of the day before but we couldn't hang around as there is always more to see. We headed into Exmouth for supplies, a spare tyre and the tour footage from charter 1. In the end we replaced the destroyed tyre but and fitted the slow punctured one as a spare. Like Port Hedland the cost for two replacements would have ruined us so Dustin decided to see if things were cheaper further south. Better than nothing I suppose.

Squiddly Diddly Octopus
With the boring errands out of the way we drove north out of Exmouth, past the camp site and pressed on towards Cape Range National Park. The park sits on the western shore of the peninsula looking out across the vast Indian Ocean and was rumoured to have incredible beaches. Being mid-afternoon we only had a few hours until dark so could only stop off at one spot. Dave chose the quiet spot of “Lakeside Bay” close to the visitors centre. I know this may come as a surprise but once again we were presented with a stunning beach all to ourselves. The best thing about this spot was the rock pooling. We arrived just as low tide hit and that meant there were many creatures caught I the pools. I have never seen so many octopus in shallow water. Everywhere we stepped we disturbed one of the little suckers (like what I did there). Added to “squiddly diddly”, we saw large clams, crabs, sea cucumbers, a ball of catfish and even a toxic sea snake (which Dustin almost stepped on). It’s the kind of diversity you expect in an aquarium but not whilst paddling through a shallow pool.

Lakeside Bay
Friday 5th June 2015

    Over a baked bean breakfast we mutually decided to stay one more night in Exmouth. There were still other beaches to visit and if they were anything like Lakeside Bay we would kick ourselves for missing them (Also the camp site was cheaper than in Coral Bay to the south).
Cape Range Beaches. Oyster Stacks (Top & Bottom Left) and Turquoise Bay (Bottom Right)

At 11:30am we drove to “Oyster Stacks”, another nice beach for high tide and more snorkelling opportunities. Unfortunately our luck had ran dry as the combination of a strong tide and low visibility made viewing you’re an outstretched hand impossible let alone a fish. So we had no choice but to knock it on the head.    

 Holding onto a small amount of hope the next spot on the list was “Turquoise Bay” which judging by its name is probably usually more teal coloured than when we visited. I’m not saying the spot was ugly, far from it. The bay would beat any British beach hands down but if anything the visibility was worse than at “Oyster Stacks”. It just seems that on this occasion the conditions were not favourable.

To ensure the day wasn’t a complete right off we returned to Lakeside Bay and poked some octopus with Bastiaan’s GoPro before dodging suicidal kangaroos on the ride back to camp.