Ningaloo Station

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Ningaloo Station

The road into Ningaloo Station—50,000 hectares of land bordering Ningaloo Reef—is described by one Wiki-camps review as “the worst road in Australia”.  I reckon that’s not far off the truth.

Last Thursday we left Carnarvon, where I’d stocked up on as many groceries as our 60 litre fridge and trailer drawer would hold, and drove two and a half hours (on a lovely smooth sealed road) to the turnoff for Ningaloo Station. 

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The road, if you can call it that, doesn’t feel as if it’s ever been graded.  It’s filled with potholes in the best spots and cavernous voids in the worst.  We drove past shrubs and grasses and occasional herds of goats or sheep that looked feral, but I wasn’t sure—this was a station, after all.

It took us well over an hour to go 30 kilometres.  We passed some defunct trailers that never made it out—not surprising—and finally reached the homestead, a house with a goat on the front porch and an ancient caravan next to it.

A sign on the fence read, Private. Another read, Visitors: Toot horn and wait.  We did.

A few minutes later a tall thin woman with long grey hair emerged from the house.  She looked as if she’d stepped out of an Alice Munro story.  She didn’t say anything and so I introduced myself.

“Have you had any rain here?” I asked.

“No,” she said without looking at me.

“They had rain in Carnarvon last night,” I said.

The smallest spark came into her eyes.  “Really?”

It was the first rain Carnarvon had had in 12 months, and while the campers complained about packing away wet canvas, the locals were ecstatic.  One woman told me, “When I heard the rain last night I went outside just to feel what it felt like.  It’s been that long.”

The woman from the Alice Munro story looked wistful and said, “We could use some rain to wash down the dust.”  She motioned to the caravan that had another sign, office.  We went inside.

There was an exchange of $75 for five nights’ accommodation plus a hundred dollar bond for the key to the gate a further 16 kilometres down the road.  “Do you have a toilet?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lee and I said in unison. There are no facilities at the campsites at Ningaloo—no water, no pit toilet, nothing.

The woman gave us a map and drew on it—neatly, precisely—where our campsite was and which tracks to take.  As she drew I studied her face, lined by this relentless western sun, and saw that it had once been beautiful.  Not now—now, it just looked tired.  She wasn’t one for conversation—how could you be, living so far from other human beings?

We took our key and, reluctantly, got back on the road, which seemed to worsen.  K was still reading, despite the bumps.  R slept.  We passed by sheep and goats and termite mounds the size of my children.  I wished I’d worn my sports bra.  Lee said, “Whose idea was this anyway?”

At last we arrived at a sign that said, Reduce tyre pressure.  Towing fees apply in/out.

Lee let down the pressure in the tyres—way down; we’re learning—and drove through soft sand.  Finally we arrived at an old tyre with a “1” on it.  Next to this, where our sight was supposed to be, was a sand dune.

We got out.  The wind was fierce.  I felt nauseas and headachy.  It had taken us two hours to go 46 kilometres and we’d arrived at a campsite that no longer existed.

“Maybe we won’t stay five nights,” Lee said.

“Let’s wait and see,” I said. We’ve been in the same situation before, arriving at a place and feeling disappointed, before getting to know the beauty of what lay just beyond the dunes.  Luckily, there was plenty of space to set up, right on the track, overlooking the blue blue sea.  We didn’t unhook the trailer because we’d never get it on again in this soft sand.  WA sand must have some of the softest sand in the world.

The wind blew and blew and even with the beautiful sea just steps from our camper trailer, five days felt like a long time.

I gave the girls a snack, set R up with a bucket and spade, and went for a swim.  There was no one else on the beach.

As I approached the water, I saw a snorkel, or what I thought was a snorkel, just two metres off the beach.  Then it disappeared.  It didn’t come back—what was it?  Suddenly, a dolphin jumped out of the water.  It was so close I could almost reach out and touch it.  I shouted for Lee and R (K was still reading in the car).  They came out and the dolphin jumped again and again.

It seemed to be saying to us—this beautiful creature—that although the road we came down was rough as guts, and the basic life we’re living is sometimes exhausting, it’s worth it.

I got in the water—so warm up here, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn—and tried to swim to the dolphin.  I didn’t have a chance in hell.  These mammals can swim up to forty kilometres an hour.

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K in the water–“It’s warm!”

 

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Lee, off for a snorkel

In the days that followed, we got into a rhythm of snorkelling in the reef that lies just off the coast, playing in the shade, reading in the shade, socialising with the others camped on the beach, many of them for three months.  When the girls ran out of paper, they collected dried cuttlefish and the jawbone of a goat and painted them with watercolours.

Time seemed to stand still there in the sun on Ningaloo. 

The winds died down and we swam with tropical fish—angel fish, unicorn fish, clown fish, tiny electric blue fish.  We let the current take us over the coral reef and studied what was beneath: sea cucumbers, bright blue starfish, dark rays. 

We climbed the dunes to spot sea turtles swimming in the waves with their cumbersome grace. I cooked nearly all the food we had and brushed the sand off our plates before we ate from them. When a couple of boys caught a huge maloo from their boat, they shared it out among the campers and we all ate fresh fish that night.

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R and Lee at sunset with the uke

Each evening we had sunset drinks as we watched the sun sink into the sea.

After five nights, we said goodbye and drove back down that dreadful road to return the key.  The same woman—tall, waiflike, sturdy—came out to give us back our deposit.  She moved slowly, deliberately in the heat.  “How long have you been here?” I asked.

She looked at me. “All my life,” she said, as if it were obvious.  As if there were nowhere else on earth to live.

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Red Dirt; Blue Seas: the West Coast of WA

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Francois Peron National Park

imageShark Bay is best known for Monkey Mia, the touristy destination where you can, for a fee, feed a dolphin.  We skipped this, avoiding the crowds and headed to see the stromatolites, staying a night at the classic Hamelin Station:

We headed to Hamelin Pool.  At first glance, these large dark clumps are rather underwhelming, BUT, this picture (sans R) is what life on earth may well have looked like 3.5 billion years ago.

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R checking out what the planet looked like over 3 billion years ago

These organisms, or something very similar, is what the first life on earth was like. They can, and do, live in extreme conditions–very salty water and temperatures up to 50 degrees C.

After visiting the stromatolites we drove to the stunning, remote, 4 wheel-drive-only Francios Peron National Park, where red cliffs meet the bright blue sea.image

This was our, ahem, Lee’s first time driving on soft sand, let alone with a trailer.  And it was SOFT.  Once we entered the park and reduced our tyre pressure, we had to drive another 25 kms to our campsite.  We started off strong.  A father emu and seven chicks crossed the road in front of us.  We drove on.  And then we hit some soft sand.  Bogged.  Lee swore.  I said, usefully, “It’s OK, honey.”  We got out into the hot sun, shovelled sand, took the Max Trax off the roof and let out  some more air from the tyres.

Lee gunned it out of there.  I ran after with the Max Trax, which we kept handy in the back seat.  We drove on for several kms . . .

And got bogged again.  The French backpacker in front of us, driving the other direcion, was also bogged.  We all got out in the heat, dug out tyres, let out more pressure, everyone pushed, and after five goes, we were out!

From then on, we followed a friend’s advice, “Drive it like you stole it,” and flew through the sand all the way to the campsite.  Beauty.

 

Hot Days; Cold Nights

At the start of the week we found ourselves just north of Geraldton at a stunning little campsite, Coronation Beach,  where K and I went for a sunset swim (see above left).

As soon as the sun plops down into that vast Indian Ocean, however, the temperatures drop and it gets down to 8 or 9 degrees at night.  Burrrr (see R, above right).

After two nights near Gero, where we got to see remnants of the infamous Batavia shipwreck, we drove to Kalbarri.  Here we’re staying three nights at Murchison House Station, right on the river.  Lee was lucky enough to pick up some work.  The girls and I have been checking out the gorges at the local National Park (HOT) and snorkelling at Blue Holes (refreshing).

 

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Tomorrow we head north again, not sure where . . .

Perth: The Last City for More than 9,227 kms

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R counting (in Auslan) the buildings on the Perth skyline

With a population under 2 million, Perth is hardly a rat race.  But it’s the last city we’ll see until we get to Brisbane (on the other side of this continent) which is 9, 227 kms away, via the top end.  Knowing us, we’ll take an extra ten thousand kms to get there.  We’ve already driven nearly 20, 000 kms from Sydney to Perth.

We paused in Perth for two weeks so K could attend Mosmon Park School for the Deaf.  She loved it!  “So many of the teachers are deaf!” she told me enthusiastically after her first day of school, “and they have three playgrounds!”  Like Klemzig, the school she visited in South Australia, Mosmon Park had Auslan Language Role Models in the classroom, along with the teacher, which is an excellent addition to any classroom with deaf signing students.  Not only are these deaf adults an excellent language model, they’re also a great role model. Unlike Klemzig, Mosman Park had a separate classroom for deaf students.

K loved both schools, but I suspect the integrated model at Klemzig—where hearing and deaf were in the same class, but everyone signed—was more challenging for the deaf students.

That said, the staff at this Perth school were fabulous, and K had an amazing experience.  She even suggested we move to Perth.

Both schools that K has visited in Adelaide and Perth were much more laid-back than her school in Sydney, but I think that reflects the different cities, more than anything.

Perth is a lovely lazy city with pretty beaches and an excellent art gallery in the city.  People say, “hi” when you pass them on the street and, as one teacher from MP, who’d moved here from Sydney told me, “Everyone drives like it’s Sunday afternoon.”

Lee found it hard to pick up work.  It seems that all the carpenters have come back from the FIFO (fly in, fly out) mining jobs.  Mining’s slowing down, and everyone’s looking for work.  And Perth is expensive!  It’ll be good to get back to the Bush, where there’s nothing to buy.

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Grass tree at Avon Valley National Park

Last weekend we camped in the Perth Hills at Avon Valley National Park, which was full of what R calls “poof trees”.  They remind me of Truffula trees in The Lorax.  And they are, in fact, grass trees that live to be up to 600 years, maybe more.  It’s hard to calculate their age.  They are, obviously, slow-growing, and more like a “woody plant”.  The trunk takes ten years to grow.

We said goodbye to Perth on Friday after school and hit traffic, not getting to our campsite until well after dark.  Lee set up in the dark.  I cooked a late dinner and put the girls to bed at 9.30.  It rained all night and all the next morning when we were packing away.  I could hear the mildew on the canvas cheering gleefully as we packed away.

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On the road again . . .

On Saturday we drove to the very touristy Pinnacles, took two photos, then came to Jurien Bay, on the aptly named Turquoise Coast for Mother’s Day weekend.

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R running round the Pinnacles National Park
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Jurien Bay, WA

 

Fonty’s Pool, Hamelin Bay and Margaret River

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K jumping into Fonty’s Pool

In the southwest of Western Australia near Manjimup, among the apple orchards and tall trees, lies Fonty’s Pool, otherwise known as “the fountain of youth”.  It’s “half an acre of fresh spring water”.  The trees were changing and you could feel autumn in the air.  K and R and I spent a whole day in and out of the pool.

Our two nights at Fonty’s pool–there’s an adjacent caravan park–were cold. We slept with hot water bottles, long underwear, fleeces and beanies.

On our last morning it was about 14 degrees outside and K and I enjoyed the pool to ourselves.

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Sunset at Hamelin Bay

Next stop: Hamelin Bay, home to some friendly stingrays.

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Inside Jewel Cave

Lee took the girls to one of the many caves and let me do part of the Cape to Cape trek one day–an arduous walk with stunning sea views–10 k was enough for me.

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K helping herself at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory

We couldn’t resist the famed wineries and chocolate factory at Margaret River, home to 150 wineries.  I showed great restraint (and respect for our budget) and visited just one.  The girls enjoyed free samples at the chocolate factory.

We stayed the night with Lee’s friends from Wales, Suzanne and Kev, in their beautiful house in Busselton. Ah, to be indoors!

Next stop, Perth.  K will go to a local deaf school for two weeks and Lee will look for work.