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


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. 

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