Monthly Archives: May 2015

Millstream-Chichester National Park

A long unsealed drive North West from Karijini brought us to Millstream-Chichester National Park. A brief stop was required to investigate what looked like an old livestock yard. The visitor centre at Karijini had shown us that early settlers had relied on aboriginal labour, being the only ones who could handle the heat, to do much of the hard work on the homesteads and stations. The livestock pens were hand-made from roughly hewn logs and branches, held together by hand-tied wire, long rusted in the decades it had been decaying there. The floor of one was even roughly tiled with large uneven rock slabs. We contemplated what stories there would have been associated with the place, now lost in the shadows of the past.

On arrival at the homestead we found out that the planned campsite was no longer in use so we chose to stay at Miliyanha campsite next to the visitor centre. The short walk through the forest of date palms and snappy gums, next to the homestead takes you past gin clear streams issuing from the natural aquifer there. The spring enters a pool offering a constant balmy 28 degrees Celsius, but due to the natural beauty swimming is not allowed here. This region has strong significance to the Aborigines who used to congregate here to establish laws.

As it was so hot we drove a short distance to Deep Reach on the Fortescue River where we enjoyed a very pleasant swim, Millstream Palms, unique to the area lining the far bank, and rainbow bee-eaters sat in almost every treetop along the river. A clifftop lookout on the way back provided a different perspective of the river as the sun slowly descended in the late afternoon.

Bushfires in the last year or two have left the region fairly barren away from the river, many trees still struggling to regrow with charred scars still evident on their trunks and branches. The earth was still a rich vibrant dark red, darkening each day as the sun descends.

Birdlife was in abundance here and we caught glimpses of the blue winged Kookaburra, and hundreds of noisy Corellas flew in at dusk to roost next to us.

The next morning we headed to the other side of the park to visit the enticingly named Python Pool, near Snake Creek. Who could resist a swim there? A sheer rock wall almost 20m high conceals the pool at its base and a short walk through trees brought us to the pebbly shore and once again a swim was necessary before pressing on.

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Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, Walks, West Australia | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Karijini National Park

It was a long drive from Ningaloo Station to Karijini. We left late after saying our farewells and ended up having to stay at Beasley River rest stop. Being in the middle of nowhere in the Pilbara region we thought we’d have it to ourselves but as we pulled off the road we found ourselves circling around trying to find an empty site. Finally we headed for the riverbed, confident it wouldn’t rain, and set up next to a handful of other campers and joined them around their campfire. Another beautiful sunset then off to bed.

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The Pilbara region is a magical place and a thrill to drive through. Vast landscapes of dark red earth and mountains are covered with endless clumps of rich green spinifex provide a beautiful contrast with the clear blue skies. Sheer rock walls dominate the face of aptly named Mount Wall, and every corner encounters different geological formations of many shapes and sizes, enough to keep the drive interesting. Recent rains had also spurred a floral bloom and we were also treated to expanses of pink and yellow flowers as the kilometres sped past.

The rich red soil is a key indicator of the underlying mineral content and many mines operate in the region extracting primarily iron ore. Tom Price is a town that has grown to service the mining community and provides a remarkably green and well stocked oasis in which to re-fuel and restock before entering the Karijini National Park.

Dales Gorge served as a base from which to explore Karijini. Driving in for the first time could leave one to believe the place is over-rated but all the beauty of this park starts when you leave the car and start walking. Most of the gorges are well hidden below the arid surface and after steep descents cascading waterfalls and clear pools provide welcome relief in the heat of the day.

Dales Gorge offers a loop walk that takes you along the edge of the gorge, then returns back through the gorge showcasing Fortescue Falls, Fern Pools and Circular Pool all pleasant swimming holes.

Kalimina Gorge offers a gentle walk along the gorge with many water cascades, contorted rock formations, evidence of tremendous geological activity in the past, and finishes at the Rock Arch that dominates a corner in the river.

Further afield, near the Eco-Retreat, three gorges converge at the Oxer Lookout. Weano, Joffre and Hancock gorges all offer a variety of walks, and we chose the handrail walk in Weano gorge and Hancock Gorge, experiencing the others from the clifftop lookouts alone.

The Handrail walk in Weano gorge requires negotiating a few pools and rocks to the final pool where a handrail has been placed to assist the final descent. The kids had a peek into the pool but were reluctant to negotiate the final few slippery steps. Xavier accompanied me down Hancock gorge where we encountered the Amphitheatre, Spiderwalk and Kermits Pool, finally after quite a bit of wading and shimmying precariously along cliff edges

 

Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Photography, Travel, Travel Adventure, Walks, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Schooling on the road

Seven months in and we haven’t mentioned the kids schooling yet!

Before leaving Sydney we met the kids teachers and they provided us with learning materials, pencils and bags. It was good for the kids to meet them in person at the start so they who they were working with.

Ningaloo classroom

Ningaloo classroom

Sydney Distance Education Programme (SDEP) provide all the work packs and reading books in fortnightly folders and send these to us to pre-agreed post office addresses. Whenever we can we arrange to phone the teachers, though given the lack of Telstra coverage in the outback it tends to be sporadic, or an opportune call from the teachers catches us in the car with a single bar reception making communication patchy.

 

Oscars Percussion set

Oscars Percussion set

OplaysSnorkel

Playing an improvised snorkel trumpet

 

We then have to ensure the work gets done which can be quite a challenge when other kids are running around the campsite playing, or a new exciting beach, river, or forest beckons beyond the canvas awning. The best time of day for them to focus is after breakfast rather than tired in the afternoon, but often we find ourselves de-camping at this time so it is very hard to get a consistent routine going.

Our best results, which are few and far between, are where we have a big camp kitchen table that we can occupy and spend a couple of days catching up (or getting ahead). Every two weeks we have to find a town post office to send everything back.

In between, where we can, we send photos or voice recordings to keep up the communication with SDEP and they are very accommodating and flexible letting families do what works best for them. They have been providing reading books on a regular basis and sending the kid’s favourite authors on request.

We’ve had a couple of mad scrambles to make post offices before they close, twice entering less than 5 minutes before closing, after hours of driving. On both occasions it was in a town where we had no intention to stop so missing the post office could have really put a spanner in the works. One of those times required banging on the closed door when we discovered we were one package short, missed by the lady, who based on her demeanour clearly wanted to go home.

Another self-imposed challenge we have is data! We underestimated the amount of data required on our mobile plan, especially when skyping. Twice we have used Skype early in the month and ran out, which then restricts how much we can email back to the school (not to mention silence on the blog publication!).

That said we are very happy with SDEP and their flexibility, and we fully appreciate how hard a teachers job can be. We have even considered swapping supervisor roles with other families we have met using SDEP, as kids don’t listen to their own parents as much as other peoples.

Any tips from readers would be much appreciated!!

Categories: Adventure, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, School, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Ningaloo Station

Ningaloo Station is a homestead to the south of Cape Range. Historically, four-wheel drive enthusiasts have used the crossing at Yardie Creek to make the trip from Coral Bay to Cape Range considerably shorter than having to go via Exmouth. Unfortunately for us the recent cyclones meant Yardie Creek was several metres deep and there had been a recent incident where someone had tried to cross the sandbar and ended up with his car written off. It was stuck for two days before it was retrieved. We took the main road, taking a brief diversion into the eastern side of Cape Range to visit the Charles Knife gorges, the main one, ShotHole Canyon was still closed from the recent cyclone. As well as commanding fabulous views across the peninsula, there are a number of well sites throughout the North West Cape where oil exploration had taken place in the mid 1950s. After drilling almost 4700m and not finding commercial hydrocarbons the wells were plugged.

 

On recommendations from WA locals, Brett and Doreen, and Gary and Pam, we had set our minds on visiting South LeFroy campsite on Ningaloo. The road in to the homestead was very corrugated and after an hour we arrived at a very dilapidated looking house surrounded by a huge flock of sheep and a handful of goats. Most of the coastal stations are for pastoral grazing and their 99 year leases will expire in June. The government is trying to reclaim the 2km coastal strip seeing potential to protect and/or develop the resource and regulars are concerned that their paradise will be lost forever, or will become too expensive. Currently dog-friendly, but lacking toilet and rubbish facilities, chemical toilets are required and rubbish needs to be taken with you when you leave.

A National Park style development would be ideal, however, the prospect of developing expensive eco-resorts would surely not bode well for the pristine coral reefs that lie metres from the beach in the crystal clear waters. We’ll watch this closely to see what happens.

A week at Ningaloo was not enough. We spent hours beachcombing or swimming over the reef. Reef sharks, turtles, abundant corals, and fish life proliferate. A short drive from the campsite took us over the sandhills, past the water bores to Norwegian Bay, the derelict site of an old whaling station. The rusting hulks of boilers and machinery littered the land behind the beach and made for some interesting exploration. The remnants of the old jetty and more machinery sit peacefully on the beach, now a marine reserve, and a solitary dolphin was hunting in the shallows 50m further along the beach.

A short diversion off the same road takes you to a popular fishing spot called Shark Alley. We visited several times, and couldn’t resist a snorkel. This was probably the clearest water but a strong current meant the kids had to be careful not to stray too far from the shore. Surprisingly though no sharks were spotted but more turtles and plenty of fish. Oscar’s new favourite fish was the giant unicornfish that really does have a unicorn protruding from the top of its head. We fished there and caught some of the most beautiful coloured wrasse and trigger fish. Nothing for dinner that day though.

On our last day Oscar and I were taken out fishing in the lagoon. One monster nearly pulled Oscar off the boat as he tried to reel it in, with me holding onto him, before it shook the hook. On the last cast of the day, with the sun having just set, I managed to land a legal sized spangled emperor, so no sausages for dinner!

 

Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Beach, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A surprise visit

Amanda’s parents had hatched a plan for a surprise visit in Exmouth and had booked the accommodation. We had managed to keep it secret from the kids, despite a couple of times when the cat was almost let out of the bag.

Unfortunately, flying in on the day that cyclone Quang was sweeping through the region meant they were stopped in their tracks in Perth, with the following day’s flight fully booked. When they finally arrived we were cutting a deliberately belated birthday cake for Hannah, and as they walked in the kids were a little confused at first. When the penny dropped big grins filled their faces and a round of Happy Birthday got things going again.

The PotShot Hotel over the road was our dinner venue and Grandpa Geoff went for a stone-grilled steak, where they provide the raw steak and an extremely hot volcanic rock on which to cook it to your specification. Those having fish and chips were impressed too, despite the apologetic barmaid who said it was a red-mouth emperor, rather than spangled emperor. It was so delicious we returned a couple of days later to try a variation on the stone-grill menu.

Geoff and Leonie joined us on the whale shark trip they were amazing and despite the rough conditions it was all smiles on the boat at the end of the day.

We took a trip down to Yardie Creek where they took two of the kids on a boat cruise, and whilst visiting Cape Range we swam at Turquoise Bay, Oyster Stacks again and visited the Turtle sanctuary. Despite the turtle egg-laying season having finished it was great to find a turtle had dug two holes the previous night and we could clearly see the laboriously made flipper prints emerging from, and then returning to the ocean.

The week that was shrunk to 5 days passed all too quickly and we farewelled Grandma and Grandpa as they left for the airport, and we repacked the trailer and set off for Ningaloo Station. Amanda had been so pleased to see her parents and a few tears were shed when they left.

We will look forward to perhaps meeting them on Heron island towards the end of the year (hint hint)

Categories: Beach, Big Lap, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, West Australia | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Waroora Station

The drive between locations has started to increase and the drive to Waroora Station included a brief pit stop in Carnarvon for restocking of fuel and food. We had a brief lunch by the water next to a kid’s park with an impressive flying fox. Some energy expended in the park means less to vent in the car (in theory anyway).

When we finally found the Waroora station turn-off it was corrugations for the next 45 minutes or so. Interestingly, Google and Apple maps did not agree on the directions, as Amanda and I didn’t, and some time later we arrived at the wrong campsite! We had heard wonderful things about Maggies but ambiguous signposts lead us to 14 Mile beach. On the way we admired a vista of giant red termite mounds, rising up to 3m skywards scattered across the pastoral landscape.

The grey nomads appeared to be well established there, with all their neatly lined up caravans facing the ocean, many with boats. Flags were hoisted, TV aerials in place, and many seemed to be set for long stays. The camp host directed us down to the “blow in” campsite, ostracised from the main sites, beyond the car turning point. It was exactly what we wanted, away from the rest, with only beach beyond us and metres from the lapping ocean.

It was our chance to try out our own chemical toilet, researched prior on the internet, as you are required to have one, or rent one from the homestead. We were all pleasantly surprised at its success, and with a dump point nearby it passed with flying colours.

The water here was beautifully warm and for the first time the Ningaloo Reef was tempting us, just out of swimming range, maybe half a kilometre out. The intention was an overnight stay but after an early morning walk down the beach revealed a small reef closer to the beach we decide to stay and try it out.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the flies were at their most revolting here. This is where the flies were so thick we had to eat dinner in the car to control their numbers as we hadn’t bothered using an awning!

The reef was fun, quite small with a bit of a current but we all saw turtles, plenty of fish life and first glimpses of coral. The kids scoured the beaches looking for shells, and built houses in the sand dunes as the sun went down. The sunsets were marvellous, though we still haven’t witnessed a green flash sunset yet.

Interestingly, in July the 99 year leases on the land expire and for the first time the Department of Environment will not be renewing the coastal land. It looks like it will go under National Park management, resulting hopefully in better waste management and proper toilet facilities, rather than the makeshift open site provided by the homestead.

 

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Beach, Big Lap, Camper Trailer, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Mitsubishi, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Cyclone Quang – Exmouth

Our new friends, Helen and Matt the “Drought Breakers”, as they had quietly confessed, decided they would head out the next day seeking refuge inland. We suggested that they might seek government funding to tour some of the inland farming regions that are in dire need of rainfall. Another family, from Perth, the “Grismacs” that we had shared dinner with also decided it was a better option to get out and seek drier conditions, despite having paid for five nights. The next morning the campsite evacuated leaving us with only a couple of other neighbours prepared to wait and see, monitoring the conditions. This was pretty hard without any mobile phone reception, so we were relying very much on updates from our camp hosts.

Later that day “Roving Reeves” arrived, having pre-booked five nights at Osprey Bay. We had met Natasha and Steve at Francois Peron national park and the kids had got on really well. We had evening drinks in their luxurious caravan, after a late afternoon snorkel in perfectly calm conditions.

We could see rain and lots of weather to the west and east, but it looked like we were going to dodge it. Before going to bed it was supposed to be heading south crossing the coast at Coral Bay.

The rain started at 2am, with the wind strength gradually rising constantly shortly after. By 5am I was up in the driving rain hammering pegs in harder to keep the awning up. Ironically, I had bent three pegs driving them in as the ground was so hard when we had arrived but now, with a bit of rain, the ground softened very quickly.

At 5.30am Dennis the camp host was driving around in the dark telling us all to get out at daybreak as Cyclone Quang had changed direction and was now going to touch down at Cape Range and Exmouth.

De-camping was ridiculous! Driving horizontal rain soaked everything, and packing down the awning was like wrestling with an angry dragon as canvas flapped and whipped in all directions. Steve “Roving Reeves” very kindly emerged to help us complete the task, stating that they would probably sit it out, but by the time we left, 30 minutes later they had been told they had to go.

We headed out of Cape Range, hoping the roads hadn’t flooded yet, towards Exmouth, hoping to find refuge there. The wind and rain got worse and worse, and we slowed down to 60km/h. In Exmouth we had a unit booked to spend a week with the in-laws and we were lucky to get early access. Like drowned rats we all poured out of the car and into our new luxury home.

It got worse and worse, the unit started leaking then all power went. We waited and watched through the windows, then suddenly by early afternoon I heard corellas squawking and flying around. Thinking it might be the eye of the storm we stayed put but by 4pm we had glorious sunshine again, enough to open up the trailer to start the drying out.

Without power in the unit we had to transfer all our new shopping into our super reliant and trustworthy Eva Cool fridge-freezer in the Camprite. Some eight hours later it resumed, though half the town still had no power the next day.

Luckily the cyclone was diffused quickly by another weather system that collided with it, resulting in it passing with minimal damage. An interesting experience indeed for Fifty Toes.

 

Categories: Adventure, australia, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Waterhouse Point (Tasmania) – Flashback

Leaving Deep Creek we checked out some of the other sites in the park and were very surprised to find that many of the beachfront ones were totally empty. Whilst visiting the Stumpys sites (there are 4) the kids got out to try to pump an old bore handle with varied success as the photos show.

To the North-east of Bridport in North Tasmania there are a few camping spots within the Waterhouse Conservation area. Driving around some of these we were very surprised to find some of the beachfront camps empty. After visiting Stumpys 1 to4 we ended up settling for Waterhouse Point. Once again we were the only people there until a late arrival. The beach was home to thousands of soldier crabs who fled when the kids descended, burrowing rapidly in a clockwise circular motion into their holes. At the far end of the beach the kids searched through knee-deep weed for “sea treasures”.

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The site looked like a great place for Tassie Devils so I got the camera ready, rugged up and sat quietly. My hopes sank when a feral cat showed up but when I scared it off as soon as the sun set a particularly brazen brushtail possum swaggered into the camp, and after repeated attempts to scare him off I decided it wasn’t the night for devils.

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Categories: Adventure, Animal Action, Australian Outback, Beach, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Location, National Park, Offroad, Photography, TAS, Tasmania, Travel, Travel Adventure | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Cape Range National Park

Coral Bay  was a short drive north from Waroora so we had to go and have a look. The caravan parks looked way too crowded for us so we headed out towards Five Finger Reef for a snorkel. The road looked very sandy so we quickly unhitched the trailer in the car park, let down the tyres and headed out. Luckily we did unhitch as the going got pretty soft and we witnessed a couple of bogged cars that managed to get out before they needed our assistance.

Some mindless fisherman had discarded a partially filleted reef shark on the pristine beach, but once in the water we were treated to beautiful coals and fish, even a dolphin cruised past the beach when we exited. A quad-bike tour roared along the beach and soon we were on our way again. The recent cyclone meant the Yardie Creek river crossing was out of the question so we took the long road back via Exmouth to Cape Range.

Our destination was Osprey Bay, only recently re-opened after refurbishment, about 10km north of Yardie Creek. One of the few places where land fishing was allowed, but also offering coral reef for snorkelling right in front of the campsite. Many hours were spent with the kids looking for lionfish, turtles, crayfish and much more besides. We saw leopard sharks, reef sharks, Hannah and Oscar even came back from a snorkel together boasting that they had patted a friendly turtle! We even had an invasion of jellyfish who came in one morning with the tide.

I explored Pilgonaman Gorge, and saw many black-footed rock wallabies. The walking is hard work and a 4WD is required to get to the gorge entrance. The hike up the gorge at Yardie Creek was easy for all of us and we got to see fruit bats, a western bower bird and dozens of budgerigars. We marvelled at the abilities of the rock wallabies who had scaled the gorge cliff faces.

The nearby site called Oyster Stacks offers great snorkelling between and around 5 oyster coated limestone pinnacles that jut out of the water at low tide. Whilst a little tricky underfoot to get in, a snorkeller is immediately rewarded with rich fish and coral life only metres from the shore.

Turquoise Bay is the next beach up the coast, offering more friendly, albeit less diverse, snorkelling from a sandy shore. Potentially dangerous currents are clearly signposted here so a quick briefing for the kids made it an enjoyable visit. The kids got their first close up of a shark, encountering two white-tip sharks.

Five days in Cape Range flew by, then we got the bad news about a Cyclone that had formed off the coast and was heading towards us. Our new friends, Helen and Matt, who we met at Osprey Bay confessed over dinner that they had a knack of being “drought breakers”. Wherever they go the rains follow.

 

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, Animal Action, australia, Australian Outback, Beach, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Photos, Travel, Travel Adventure, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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