Thursday, 18 September 2008

Shark Bay World Heritage Area and Steep Point

Carnarvon - After another long day of driving we camped at a freebie "Miaboolya Beach" which was quiet beach camping behind the dunes.  Next morning stocked up on lots of fresh food from a roadside stall in this "fruit basket of WA" area; a massive bag of green chillies, green peppers, tomatoes, green beans and some delicious little sweet bananas.  It also rained in the service station whilst we were filling up.  I mention this as this is the first time it has properly rained since we were on the East coast, that's almost two months ago!  It had spat in Cape York and the Bungle Bungles, but not showered like it did in Carnarvon.  I went to turn on the windscreen wipers and they didn't work as the nuts holding them in place had shook loose on all the corrugations!  Quick tighten and we were off again toward Shark Bay, refuelled with diesel and fresh locally grown fruit & veg.

Once inside the boundary of Shark Bay World Heritage Area it quickly becomes a much more interesting drive than the other 400kms to get here!  On the way up the cape is Shell Beach (the shell is farmed for use in cement and to make chickens eggs harder) and some views of the largest sea grass areas in the world, amazing stuff!  We stopped in the pearl farming town of Denham, which had enough services and some jettys for fishing off, but was otherwise not much of note, to ask for info on camping from the visitor info centre and to get details about Steep Point, then decided to ignore their advice about camping and we went straight to the Francois Peron (a French botanist) NP which was a sandy, corrugated road in, but well worth the they have an outdoor hut tub.  Yes a hot tub, for public use (once you have paid your WA NP fees which we had).  Basically the homestead there used to be a working sheep farm, and the original owners had drilled an artesian bore about 500 metres below the topsoil and were pumping out 130,000 gallons of 44 degree water every single day!  Awesome.  We plopped in for a little relaxing dip before making our way another 20kms to the campsite, where we were the only bods there.  I tried some unsuccesful fishing, then we watched a nice sunset over Big Lagoon with a beer and some fresh food for dinner.

The next day was the Monkey Mia experience.  This is a bit of a circus and I wasnt sure I wanted to go (Em had already swum with dolphins before somewhere else in WA with Tanja), but we decided we had come all this way so better had.  We got up stupidly early (5:45) and packed up in the dark, driving out of Peron NP to the resort of Monkey Mia, and ultimately the "Dolphin Interaction Zone"!  We were so early we were among the first 10 people on the beach where these semi-wild dolphins - about 10 of them inluding an 8 week old calf - all come right into shore to investigate the human activity, every day at about the same time and have been for about 20 years now.  It was pretty cool I have to admit, until the bus loads of other tourists started to turn up then it was circus time.  The rangers feed the dolphins (which is why they are really there) and ask people to step into the water to assist with the feeding.  It was all a bit sick so we watched in awe a few idiots pushing each other out of the way for their mobile phone photos then pushed on ourselves....


We had the cheek to go back to the Hot Tub and have a cup of tea at the free BBQ area on the way back and ranger came over and said "so you are back again"...he had obviously spotted us yesterday, I explained we were from Bath and therefore couldn't resist thermal springs.  After this we made a stop on the long road back down the cape for some fishing and lunch.  Unsurprisingly we didnt catch anything with our newly purchased plastic squid bait.


Our next stop for the night was Hamelin Pool.  This is mentioned in Bill Bryson's Down Under book and is famous, for it's the only place in the world where you can see Stromatolites.  Now I find this fascinating, but many many people won't.  Stromatolites are the world's oldest living organism (cyanobacteria again), or at least were around at the dawn of life itself.  3.8 billion years old.  The earth is what, 4.8 billion years old?  These things were the only living things on the planet for 2 billion years before they alone had produced enough oxygen for other forms of life to evolve from the shallow warm seas that covered the planet.  Now that's impressive huh?


Before we went to visit the stromatolites in the morning, we needed a shower and I needed a shave.  I decided my beard had to come off as I have strange sunburn marks.  So I shaved it off, and it is coming right back on again as I write this.  Neither of us were impressed with the old Chaz, so decided the ginger beard, with dashes of grey for sophistication, was the go.  So you may notice a distinct lack of photos of me whilst I return to my former ginger bearded self.

After being mesmerised by the Stromatolites and their incomprehensible timescales, next up was Steep Point...we rang the ranger to get some details on the road in, it was a sandy 4wd track with some sandhills to cross, so lower tyre pressures were a must, there was no fuel, food or water within 150kms and it was a small entry cost and camping fee per person per night as it was private property, not National Park.  I'm writing this just after we have left Steep Point and we are both so glad we made the effort to get there, as we almost didn't.  It is the most Westerly point in mainland Australia and something we had to tick off on our list of things to do here, it's possible we may never come back to this particular place as it is so remote too.  It reminded us both of Scotland, but much harder to get to!  Anyway we spent 3 days there, originally planning on 2, but extended as long as our fresh water lasted!  We had such a great time, it is definitely one of our top places to visit in Australia.  We were camped right on the beach front under some small cliffs at a spot called "Blackies".  The very helpful ranger (nont really rangers, more an old couple who lived on the property - we were both quite jealous of their lifestyle in fact - to be so far from anyone or anything!) suggested grabbing some oysters from the rocks and using them as bait to catch a whiting (small fish) then using the whiting to catch something bigger, which we duly did....the first day we caught 4 or 5 whiting, Em caught a Yellowfin Bream and a very cool Wrasse with tattoos on his face, he was too cool to eat so we put him back, and I caught a smelly little bream which we didnt keep.  This was all fried up for tea.  The second day we both caught more whiting and subsequently a tuskfish each!  I reckon Em's was about 2kg and mine slightly bigger at 2.5-3kgs apprx!  We thought they were impressive looking, but ugly fish with little white tusks.  They live under the rock ledges as predators so are bit tricky to catch, but we persevered for several hours (in fact it was all we did all day every day, plus drink beer).  The third day I caught an even bigger tuskfish, it gave us our last dinner of two whopping big fish steaks with green beans and lashings of mayonnaise, mmmm,mmmm. 


Whilst fishing we saw large bream in a school of twenty or so, a 1.5 metre shark cruising around looking for trouble (bait came out of the water each time he came past), jellyfish and a massive turtle - his head was easily the size of a football and his body was, well you put it in perspective for a size 5 football for his head!  Huge.  He came up for air right in front of me a few times and even though he was 5 metres away the noise was still loud.

So after three days of eating fresh fish caught by our own fair hands and we were understandably sad to leave.  Two mornings we had two dolphins swimming around about 10 metres from our tent, flipping a fish about for fun (I missed this as was being lazy at getting up, but Em saw it).  We had some friendly old fishermen as neighbours from whom we learnt a thing or two about bait and "floaters" and some tips for places to stay as we headed South.  The weather was good, a bit windy, except for the last day when it was a bit squally and damp - everything in the tent felt damp, plus the zip for both doors has now completely packed it in, so we are looking at a repair job or a cheap, new tent :-(  On the second day we took a drive out to Steep Point itself, about 10kms North of our campsite, to visit the most Westerly point; very impressive scenery all the way there.  Also False Entrance on the way out on the last day was stunning (it's where the Dutch in the 1600's originally aimed for to get to a safehaven from the massive swell on the Indian Ocean around the coast here, but it proved to be not the way in, hence the name, apparently) and had amusing blowholes at the top of the cliffs.

Em chopping up some whiting for bait:


Em with her Yellowfin Bream:


Look at all this fresh fish (this is our first catch of tuskfish):


Blackies campsite on the beach:


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