As is so often the case the ocean presents wonderful things for us to see. This is the shell of a type of “hairy” sea urchin, sometimes called a sea mouse, that lives concealed in sand. They are extremely fragile, yet the ocean has treated this one kindly so that we may wonder at its beauty.
When an asteroid that weighs an estimated 50,000 tonnes hits the Earth it must have had a cataclysmic impact on the surroundings, but several hundred thousand years later it makes quite an interesting visit. Accessible from the Tanami Road along a very corrugated dirt track, its size is quite breathtaking, the crater walls pushed up from a very flat surrounding area. Walking around the rim gives a very different perspective than the centre of the crater, and the flora present is quite varied in both areas.
With three inquisitive young children there’s nothing better to keep them occupied that a few hours beachcombing on a remote beach.
The excitement of finding some fascinating creatures in rock pools, animal tracks on the sand, sea-bird eggs concealed immaculately by their coloured camouflage alone, would find us relentlessly exploring one beach after another. Sometimes we would find a sad carcass abandoned by the ocean, seals, crocodiles, turtles, sea-dragons, even a dolphin, but more often a treasure would left for us to marvel at, the chambered nautilus shells, colourful starfish, shark’s eggs and shipwrecks.
Unknown objects often had to be researched and extended the education process.
Collections were often converted into natural works of art too, a sea-shell Christmas tree, kids art projects for school, or just random creations.
The brilliance of the Pink Lake, also known as Hutt Lagoon, near Port Gregory in WA grabs your attention as you drive past. We had to stop for a closer look.
The colouration is caused by an algae that tolerates high salinity and produces carotenoids that give it the pink hue that changes dramatically depending upon the light.
As a kid growing up in the UK, the picture books I had of Australia displayed magnificent photos of places with magnificent rock formations like Uluru, Kata Tjuta, and Wave Rock. When you actually visit these places the impact is often greater, particularly spiritual places like Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but despite not being in a rush I felt I had waited long enough and was drawn directly to Hyden, and Wave Rock at the western end of the Nullarbor. When many folk reach the township of Norsemen they usually head north towards Kalgoorlie, or south to Esperance. Our map found what turned out to be a beautiful dirt road heading straight for Hyden so off we went. Along the way we found pristine quiet campsites by the side of mountains, and one called the breakaways with gorgeous rock colourations, even a “mini” wave rock (yes, there are more than one).
The rock itself did not disappoint from sheer height alone, and despite being a busy tourist spot, it was clean and never seemed overcrowded. The kids tried out their best surfing stances on the rock face, and with a lifelong dream met we sat and contemplated where to go next.
After weeks of rain and promise of a sunny weekend it seemed like everyone had made their minds up they were heading for the last camping trip before Winter. Coorongooba campground in Wollemi National Park beckoned and we headed off a day before the Easter break. The campground lies in the Capertee Valley, reputed to be the widest canyon on the world (not the deepest), approximately 135 km north west of Sydney, and is accessed from the village of Capertee.
The final 10-12km are covered across dirt road, through private property at one stage, leading through eucalypt forest onto a gently sloping grassy area, home in quieter times to a sizeable mob of kangaroos. We saw them on arrival but as the hordes started arriving they disappeared back into the solitude to be found in the forest.
The Capertee river runs below the campground, offering shallow pools for young kids to play in, and within a short walk deeper pools for the adults to swim in.
The campground was also punctuated with many wombat burrows too, and these animals waited until after most folk had retired at night before emerging to graze on the grassy areas. A bright moon helped spotting these creatures, though they could be heard quite clearly grazing close to the tents.
Simon (110AroundOz) took us on a drive to the Ben Bullen 4WD track, a very picturesque drive that follows a ridge through the hillside, then into a narrowing canyon that requires a steep climb out across a rock face at Baal Bone Gap on the track. Photos don’t do it justice and we didn’t have the time to complete the track and were content to watch trail bikers flying up instead. A challenge for another time.
The trip coincided with Gemboree too, in nearby Lithgow, so we had an excursion to see one of the largest gem shows in the country, immersing ourselves in all things lapidary for a few hours.
This area has so much to offer, with some beautiful, highly accessible National Park campsites such as Newnes in the Wolgan Valley and Dunns Swamp to the north, as well as private camps like Turon Gates. Unfortunately, they are no secret and Easter holidays brought crowds that resulted in daily morning queues for the two toilets that were up to ten deep for several hours.
Treachery Camp is a privately owned property a kilometre down an unsealed road from Seal Rocks. I think I’ve been going there for over 20 years now so the chance to have a quick weekend getaway was jumped at – a Dads and kids weekend.
Approximately 4 hours north of Sydney, Seal Rocks is a little village with caravan park, and general store, just north of the Myall Lakes National Park. Twenty years ago it was quite an adventure to get to but the improvements to the Pacific Highway in recent years, plus completion of a sealed road to Seal Rocks in the last two years have opened the area up to everyone.
Because of this the camp was busy, much busier than I was used to. We found a large spot near the billabong, in a forest of paperbark trees, which in prior years I would have avoided for an abundance of mosquitos. The billabong itself was barely a puddle left, and full of tiny fish, but the marks on the trunks of surrounding trees belied days when it was over 1m deep.
Camp went up, the boys went off exploring, the campfire started and Simo set a high standard with his curry for the first meal. The boys found sticks and the obligatory marshmallows over the campfire saw the night draw to a close.
First thing Nick braved the surf at Treachery beach but after breakfast we headed for the more protected waters at Seal Rocks where the boys swam, paddled and tired themselves out. A friendly Kookaburra visited my rear tyre and coughed up it’s equivalent of an owl pellet – full of beetle shells, leaving it on the tyre.
The big sand dune between camp and the beach is a huge draw card for the kids, as they run up and down in the heat of the sun. Some of them even got an introduction to sandboarding by a man who makes them, and soon enough the youngsters were speeding down the dunes extolling the virtues of the board.
The short walk to Treachery Head offers magnificent views back to Seal Rocks lighthouse, and Lighthouse beach to the north, with Treachery beach to the south. In calmer conditions in the past I have watched whales and dolphins playing in the waters just off the headland here.
I had heard dingos inhabited the area but had never seen one at Treachery before. Maybe it was because we were close to a place called Dingo Flats but we had a few visits by very wary dingos cruising past looking for an easy snack – none around six very active hungry boys! Then there was the obligatory snake sighting, a red-belly black snake cruised through the camp followed by the curious boys, careful to keep just enough distance to be safe.
And when they weren’t exploring the boys resorted to the irritating but totally harmless current craze of bottle flipping
I was surprised how crowded it was but even then our stay was pretty peaceful in the magical forest and all the mosquitos, it turned out, had moved to live in the toilet block! Still beautiful but changing fast.
As we drove back to the Pacific Highway we diverted the 5km to see the 400 year old Grandis tree, once claimed to be the tallest tree in NSW, but since exceeded by some remote tree back in the Blue Mountains.
I found a bucket full of zip-lock bags in the garage at the weekend. Each bag was carefully filled with coloured sands from our trip.
The kids were excited to see them resurface, many of which had been squirreled into recesses in the trailer for some time. As we each only had limited space all got quite skillful at determining what they wanted to keep, and if required, tough decisions would be made to keep something or substitute it for a new arrival. Very precious finds would also be posted home every now and again!
The sands had made it and with some suitable jars a very attractive display resulted.
There is a saying that if you take sand or soil from a place you will be destined to return one day. Maybe that’s why so much came back with us!
As the weather deteriorates here in Sydney, with the arrival of winter imminent, our thoughts returned to those warmer places we visited last year as the temperatures started dropping. One of our favourites was a small eco-resort called Goombaragin, where we camped for a few days with two other families we had met on the road. Our hosts Cathy and John were very welcoming, showing us some of the local ways and putting on a communal campfire in the evenings for everyone. The area is magnificent to explore, and it is even safe to swim here from the beach. Heed the crocodile signs in this area though, particularly around the rivers and mangroves. It’s a rugged road from Broome but still relatively accessible if you drive carefully.
Look out for the Ardi festival around June, when many local artists from across the peninsula display their talents.