Navy Pier Dive

Near Exmouth is a renowned shore dive site off a pier operated by the Australian Navy  The pier’s intended function is to allow diesel supply ships to dock every few months to offload diesel for the dedicated power station that supplies power to the nearby very low frequency (VLF) transmitter.    The VLF facility was built in the 1960’s by the US Navy to support communications submarines while underwater which requires both a low radio frequency and enormous power to penetrate under water.    In fact the town of Exmouth owes its existence to this facility as it was originally founded to support the US Navy Base associated with the VLF transmitter.     Although control was handed over to the Australian Navy in 1999, the facility still supports underwater communications for both the US and Australian Navy.

vlf antenna info
Information sign for the VLF communication station.  It was renamed by the US Navy in 1967 in honour of the Australian Prime Minister who famously disappeared one day while swimming in the ocean.    The antenna structure is quite impressive with towers taller than the Empire State building and to put it in perspective, the 1 megawatt RF transmission power is of a similar magnitude to the transmission power of all the mobile phone towers in Sydney combined.  
navy pier
The Exmouth Navy Pier

Although it was built as a naval facility, this is probably only its tertiary purpose as it is used by the Navy only once or twice a year when a supply ship docks.   On the other hand because the pier is normally closed to the general public (hence no fishing takes place) and it seldom sees shipping traffic, it has become a haven for wildlife both above and below the water.   So I would say its primary purpose is seagull perch/toilet and fish shelter.

Fortunately the Navy allows divers to access to the pier under very controlled conditions on days when they are not using it, which is most days, so its secondary purpose (based on frequency of use) is a dive site.   According to some references, it is one of the top ten dive sites in the world, so how could we possibly miss the opportunity to see for ourselves?

dive ed
Although it is a shore based dive, the Navy has licensed only one operator to run dives there. Before heading to the dive site a video explains the process of getting permission to dive, where photographs are permitted and prohibited etc.   Everyone needs to have their ID ready in case there is a spot check.    
navy pier exmouth
Looking back after arriving on the pier.    The 350+ metre high radio masts can be seen behind and some of the many thousands of gulls can be seen on the pier.  Consequently the place was rather smelly.
bird perch pier
More secret navy seagulls.   While there were thousands of them, it was merely a foretaste of the number of fish we were about to see.

 Getting ready to go

The entry involved jumping off a platform 2 metres above the water.

about to giant stride
Ready to jump
looking gorgeous
Made it – let’s go
barracuda
We were immediately struck by the sheer numbers of fish congregating around the structure – In this instance barracuda
come look at all the fish
Come – there are more fish over here.   Normally the nutrient rich waters and tidal currents stir up the silt and limit visibility to about 5 to 7 metres, so we were exceptionally lucky to have relatively clear water with visibility extending to 15m.    It made the schools of fish appear even more impressive.   We were told that conditions like this occur only a few times a year. 

The interesting thing was how relaxed the fish were.  Normally I am not able to get close photo’s of angelfish and butterfly fish like these side on as they usually swim away when I approach to take a picture.

long fin bannerfish
Long fin banner fish with striped snapper below
bad hair day
There was so much to see that Maddy forgot she was having a bad hair day.   As for me – well all I can say is that it’s not surprising that fish normally swim away when I approach.  S 
the mob
The place was a fisherman’s nightmare – huge shoals of spangled emperor, all off limits to fishing.  
bfg 4
The highlight of the dive was when this giant grouper came over to greet us.
bfg 5
He was not ashamed to give eye contact.
bfg 6
He was huge, probably about 2m long and definitely heavier than either of us – even with all our scuba gear.
maddy and batfish
Our old favourite – the batfish.
its amore
A moray eel lurking 12 metres down on the bottom

Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Marine Park

After a couple of days in Exmouth to do the Whale swimming trip we headed into the Cape Range National Park and camped at Tulki Beach for 5 days. This gave us plenty of time to get around to all the shore based snorkel sites along this part of the coast and also to do a few walks.

cape range camp tulki beach
Our cape range view campsite at Tulki beach. The beach is just behind the dunes behind us. We saw the range out one side and the dunes and sea out the other.
ultralight
This is one way you can view the Reef without getting wet.
white eyed peas
We found a paler shade of Desert Pea with white centers growing on the side of the road.
green birdflower
Another really interesting wildflower was the green bird flower
bird flower with nt
This birdflower was not at it’s best and it was being attacked by ants so hoping to see another plant.
bird nest on tower
This little butcher bird looked like it had found a palace or 3 with these Osprey nests!
swimming risk
We took the chance and did the drift snorkel at Turquoise Bay. The current made the water not so clear but there was a lot of healthy looking soft and hard corals here. Many fish both large and small. We also saw a one metre long black tipped reef shark and swam with a turtle for quite awhile. It’s nice to see relaxed turtles that are clearly not afraid of ending up a meal! You could do this dive many times and see something new each time.
lion fish
Lion fish not liking the camera.
white tip resting
White tipped reef shark having a sleep in a cave.
digging ray
Blue spotted sting ray having a feed on the bottom with fish helping themselves to whatever he was digging up!

snorkelling maddy

coral garden
A coral garden. It was like swimming in an aquarium! Lots of healthy hard and soft corals and so many fish. It was a joy to see a fringing reef lagoon so healthy. We went to the Cook Isles a few years ago and although the islands were beautiful all their coral reef was dead around the 2 main islands. Any fish in their lagoons were there because they were fed. The reefs there are very shallow and are getting too hot and the coral has died as a result. You could see global warming in action. Very sad and we must protect what we have here in Australia.

coral fishies

clam
Giant clam.
turtle at oyster stacks
A very laid back turtle. It was like he was drugged. We swam with this guy for so long I got cold – he was so slow! He didn’t mind us, but he was not so sure about the camera.
big whoppers
We saw huge schools of very big fish at times.

 

feeding blue spotted ray and bumphead fish
Another ray feeding with fish helping themselves after the ray did some digging.

The next day we headed out to do the Yardie Gorge walk and then had a swim and a cup of tea at Sandy Bay Beach.

yardie gorge trail sign

yardie creek

yardie creek and ningaloo reef
Yardie creek opens into the sea when there is enough water but not at the moment. Waves in the background are breaking on Ningaloo Reef.

yardie creek

steve on yardi creek walk
Steve wearing his special bush walking thongs.
eastern reef egrets
Eastern Reef Egrets- “Ebony and Ivory living in perfect harmony”
little yardie flower
A perfect very tiny little wildflower we almost stepped on.

yardi creek walk

sandy bay
The beautiful Sandy Bay Beach with waves breaking out on the reef in the distance.
lesser sand plover 2
Red Capped Plover and a Lesser Sand Plover
sandy beach ningaloo reef
Crystal clear water at Sandy Bay with waves breaking on the reef behind. You just had to get in!

We got the folding boat in the water to do some snorkels further off shore on bommies and saw an amazing amount of turtles. At one stage we saw 7 turtles at one time while we were going along in the boat. It’s turtle mating season we were told but didn’t see any in the act. We saw more reef sharks out further these ones cruising around the valleys in between the coral outcrops. We saw many stings rays and a good range of different fish and corals. So nice that all is so healthy and there are so many fish.

shells in a huddle
Live shells cuddled up together on the rocks. I am not allowed to collect shells here as it is a marine park but I am amazed that there are few shells on the beach when there is so much diversity in the water here.

Another day and many more beautiful beaches here at Ningaloo Marine Park

steve out for a snorkel

blue fins
Down he goes in his new fins.
bat fish2
One of our favourites is the batfish. They seem to be very people friendly fish.
balor snail
A huge live bailer shell with its snail.   I had only seen these dead on the beach before this.
lots of fish
We saw a lot of huge schools of very big fish like these (not sure what they are as all our fish books are at home) and others. These were probably 60cm long.
gordons home
This groper was always hiding under something trying to get some privacy but he was a bit close to shore and easy to find. He was huge and probably weighed 60-80 kgs!
gordon close up
The groper and his friends. He has that “get out of my cave” look!
blue spotted ray
Blue spotted sting ray hiding.
clown fish
Anemone fish
white tipped reef shark
White tipped reef shark trying to get some sleep in this cave-and then Steve came along! There were many sharks on Ningaloo Reef which is a healthy sign.

 

moorish idols
Moorish Idols
ospreys
These Ospreys had a killer view overlooking the beach at the top of this sand dune.
osprey and chick
They were very busy feeding this ugly big featherless chick.
marine park sign
We were hoping all the fish swam to the left!
weird snorkel
First time seeing these weird mask/snorkels. I think they may be for people scared of snorkeling as many were pink!
idiot sign
The idiot sign! Risk of the day!
grey haired urchin
There were a lot of these “grey haired” sea urchins washed up on one beach.
rock life
Interesting rock residents.

A perentie on the rocks near the beach

barracuda head
I love walking the high tide line to see what the sea has brought up. This looks like the head of a large garfish.
crab
A crabby crab not happy to see us on it’s lonely beach.

mandu mandu gorge sign

mandu mandu walk view
Mandu Mandu Gorge walk.
wildflowers
Wildflowers in the creek bed.
outdoor shower engine cleaner
The outdoor shower is good for cleaning us and rinsing the boat motor!
moon and saturn
The moon about to move in front of Saturn with it’s rings.       I was watching a program where an astronaut was describing his view of the earth from space. Each time they orbited they would see different areas of the world but there were always clouds obscuring many places. The only place he was ALWAYS able to see (due to lack of clouds) was the Australian outback. Maybe that’s why we love it so much. The moon and stars at night is hard to beat out here too.   M                           About a minute after taking this photo, Saturn disappeared.    Amazingly this image was taken with just a handheld camera (Panasonic Lumix FZ300) – I took a 7 second video sequence, then used image stacking software to combine 160 frames from the video to increase the clarity.   S

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ningaloo Reef Whale swimming

Since 2016 it has been possible to get in the water and swim with Humpback Whales here at Ningaloo Reef. We traveled to Tonga a few years ago to do this as it was then one of the few places in the world that this was allowed and we had an amazing experience. After this, a whale watching boat was just not the same for us. We decided to try it again here in Australia. It was the end of the whale shark dive season and we told there were not many whale sharks around and the humpbacks were in full swing coming and going on their annual migration.

waiting to board
Steve waiting to board the boat with his lucky whale shirt on.
whale swim boat
This was our boat for the day with Ningaloowhalesharks. It was a really well run trip that we would recommend. They are one of the whaleshark boats that is now doing the swim with Humpbacks trial.
inside the whale boat
We were given stinger suits and short wet suits and all gear required. Don’t think the stingers suits were required for stingers but they did help you keep warm!
frogman
Frogman ready to go and looking cosy.

We warmed up in the sun between dives. Water temp was only 20deg C. This may be warm to some people but we admit we are wimps! Too much tropical diving!

The day started with a snorkel inside the reef where the conditions are more gentle. The wind was blowing and there was a 1 metre swell but we were told the conditions were amazingly good. I’m glad we didn’t have the usual big swell. I drugged myself up with seasick tablets but there were a few people feeling sick on the boat once we got outside the reef. We had a quick look at some coral bommies and the staff saw how everyone was performing with their gear and ability etc.  M

whale swim photo
Steve and I doing water ballet. They don’t give you weights so it is hard to dive down.
stingray
There were a lot of sting rays on the bottom.

puffer fish

guitar sharks
Very unimpressive go pro Guitar Sharks
cow tailed ray
Spot the Cow tailed ray hidden in the sand.
bull ray
Bull Ray half hidden under a bommie thinking we can’t see it.
maddy swimming
Me diving down to look under a ledge but without weights it was hard to stay down. M
dolphins
First wildlife spotted were a number of turtles. We were told it was turtle mating season at the moment. Then a pod of 7 bottle nose dolphins came and swam at the bow for a while.

dolphin

sea snake
Olive sea snake coming up for air
a bloody seabird
Finally! A new bird! A wedge tailed shearwater.
our spotter
Then the boat headed out through a gap in the reef to the open ocean where the whales roam. The spotter plane goes up looking for the whales and talks on the radio to the boat who talks to the whale spotter in the water with a radio in their hand. We stay close to the person in the water with the radio and the plane tells us where the whale is and which direction to swim to connect with it.
fancy fins
All the staff on this boat were fantastic at their jobs. You could see they loved the sea and were having fun but keeping it safe. One has the radio and the other a camera waiting for the OK from the plane to jump in. The are both wearing free diving fins so they can swim fast.
ready to go
It was pretty hectic (and fun) jumping off the back of the boat into a swell as the boat was moving on the open ocean. We all had to jump in at the same time, keep together and swim like crazy to keep up with swimming whales. Here we are waiting for the signal to jump in.
grey haired man
Steve modelling the dive gear!
return to boat
This photo makes it look flat but it wasnt!
its behind you
The spotter is in the water and sights the whale and lets us know the direction its traveling and which way we must swim. You can see the dorsal fin behind the spotter. But this isn’t a humpback, it’s a whale shark which we just happened to find out there this late in the season. We were told we were pretty lucky. M
shark coming
A juvenile Whale shark just swimming along not seeming to notice the 9 people in the water with it thrashing away on the surface! It had the most beautiful blue and white spots!
maddy and whaleshark
VERY EXCITING being this close to a whale shark but trying hard NOT to smile or you get water in your mask!

behind sharkIt was all pretty amazing and made us forget why we were there. What was amazing is how totally comfortable they are with a bunch of people swimming along next to them watching them eat. At times we had to be careful it didn’t come too close to us. Once all the groups had seen it, they let us get in for another swim with it!

side shark

beside shark
It was swimming slowly for a whale shark but you still had to kick pretty hard to keep up.
whale
When they finally spotted a  humpback that was appropriate to get in with, it was all a bit of  an anticlimax. The whales you are allowed to swim with here are busy migrating and on the move the whole time. You jump out of the boat in the path of the whale and hope you get a glimpse of it swimming around or under you. You can just make out the form of this one which saw us in it’s path and swam under us. These guys do not move slowly so many people did not even sight it.

Had we know the limitations with humpback whale swimming in Western Australia beforehand, we would NOT have booked. We would recommend people do this in Tonga where you are allowed to interact with settled mothers and babies who are relaxing. Interestingly in Tonga you are NOT allowed to be dropped in a boat in the path of a moving whale like you are here. We know from our experience in Tonga that if a whale is not happy with you near them they just don’t hang around. They are the boss. M

Having said all that, we had an amazing day with the whale shark and other wildlife and we highly recommend a whale shark swim to everyone to do at least once in your life. It is unforgettable! M

 

Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef

giralia bay station stay
We spent our last night on the drive to Exmouth on a station stay. Giralia Station was a sheep farm that is now de stocked and operates as a low key tourist facility, rather than an actual farm. There was a lot of old interesting farm stuff around the place to look at and we parked our van next to the old shearing shed and had a lovely quiet night under the stars. You could drive all the way to the coast on this property but we didn’t. We knew we would be getting a much better coast very soon. M

urrabiddy

 

 

exmouth on Ningaloo Reef
We were last in Exmouth about 16yrs ago and things have changed a lot. There are many roads now paved and much more development. There is a biggish marina and a lot of money has been spent on different projects around town. There is a lot more competition from the tours etc. The best thing is Ningaloo Reef is still here and most importantly in 2011 this coast line was added to the world heritage list acknowledging it as one of the outstanding natural places in the world, following a mighty environmental fight! Now we hear that fight continues as now there are some that would like this area to be like the Pilbara and propose to put gas and oil pipe lines right next to the reef in the Exmouth Gulf!!!!!!They have wrecked the Pilbara now they are working their way down to this beautiful, unusual, untouched coast! Unbelievable! M
big prawn
The big prawn was not as big as the one in Ballina but more realistic!  Exmouth is apparently famous for it’s prawns which we have yet to try.

We had a walk and a swim on town beach which we can walk to from where we are camped  and found these sculptures down at the marina development. The emus and Kangaroo were made out of old motorcycle and car parts and looked amazingly real from a distance.

There are a lot of real Emus that just walk around the town here. Steve had to chase one away from the bush at the back of our caravan, when it looked ready to taste his tea. An adult emu is 6 feet tall and when you are sitting down and they are coming at you with that big beak they feel huge. There should be an “Emu risk” sign here but we haven’t seen one yet.  M

Above is one Emu to keep a look out for around here. It likes to come                                       around campers sitting outside and see if it can steal a free meal.

 

 

badjirrajirra walk sign
We did this walk in the Cape Range National Park not far from Exmouth

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We think Western Australia spends the most on danger signs than any other state. No less than 4 risks in our life in just one day. The only real risk was the emu attack but there was no sign for that one.

capr range hole
Looking down into one of those dangerous sink holes!
shothole gorge
Looking down into Shothole gorge from our lunch spot
purple flower at cape rnage
Wildflowers along the way.

spikey blue flowers at cape range

yellow flowers at cape range

purple flower near mangrove bay

bird flower
The most amazing green bird flower.
Nankeen Kestrell 2
Nankeen Kestral
SS Mildura sign
The ship wreck SS Mildura at low and high tide below was the reason this point got a light house. It was a snorkel site but the currents were a bit strong going around the point here, so we didn’t see this one except from the shore.
vlamingh head lighthouse
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse with Ningaloo Reef in the background.
jarabi turtle centre
A loggerhead turtle at the Jarabi turtle centre. There are 3 types of sea turtles along this coast. The Green, Loggerhead and Hawkesbill and they are all in decline in the world. It was good to see so many (green) turtles where ever we went though not sure if we ever saw the others. The Hawkesbill has the most beautiful shell that combs etc used to be made out of. We really must protect these gentle creatures.
french artist comment
The Dutch and the French were in Australia before the British and I thought this was an interesting impression from a European in 1818 for this wild and beautiful coastline.
SS Mildura sign
This ship is now a snorkel site on North West Cape just off shore but the currents are a bit strong on this point so we didn’t do it.

Mildura wreck at low and high tide.

steve sun bathing
We decided to try the clothing optional beach as we thought there would be few people on it and we wouldn’t need to wet our swimmers. It was a lovely beach and this is how a red head sun bakes after a swim.
mauritius beach
Mauritius beach yet another beautiful beach you could sit and watch turtle after turtle come up for air.
steve bird hide
The mangrove bird hide in the Cape Range National Park. No new birds here.
shot hole canyon
Afterwards we drove up shothole canyon to see it from the other direction.

shot hole canyon 2

in shothole gorge

charles knife gorge
Looking down from Charles Knife Drive.

 

Pilbara Industry

The north west corner of Australia has some unique and dramatic natural landscape – but that is not all.   I agree that is more pleasing and serene to gaze over a blue pool fringed with green reeds and ferns in a deep red gorge than it is to look out over a massive iron ore mine with it’s hustle of giant trucks, processing plants and trains.   However it would be wrong not to mention the latter and while some hold that it is ugly,  I for one can’t help but be impressed by most of it.  S

Iron ore mining is probably the most well know industry in this region and depending on one’s information source, it accounts for 3 to 4% of Australia’s GDP.   Rio Tinto is the major iron ore company in the area, however there are also many other large players such as BHP and Fortesque Metals.

iron ore mine map
Map of some of the iron ore mines around Tom Price in the Tom Price visitor centre.  Rio, BHP and FMG are shown in orange, green and blue respectively.   Several other players are also present and there are several other mining areas to the north and west of this map.
mt tom price mine
View of some of Rio Tinto’s Tom Price mining operations from the summit of Mt Nameless.
iron ore trucks at mesa mine
Famous of the iron ore mines (and other open cut mining operations), are the large trucks that carry ore from the extraction point to the next phase of processing,   While it’s hard not to think of a toy truck when looking at their shape, they are actually over 9m wide, 15m long and can carry over 350 tonnes.
iron ore truck
While many of Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore mines now operate self driving trucks to save on labour costs, we noticed that this particular mine (Mesa A) still had drivers in the cabs.
iron ore road trains
From the mines, the processed ore need to transported to shipping ports on the coast.   Some mines use road trains to transport ore to a rail head
iron ore train
However many mines have private rail lines leading directly to the port 
bhp hillside base station
Here a road train carrying ore from Atlas Iron’s Mount Webber Mine is crossing BHPs private iron ore rail line.    The tower in the background is of particular interest to me as it supports 4G base station equipment from Nokia (my employer) that BHP uses in a private LTE network to support data communications along the rail line.
bts close up
Here the Nokia radio modules can be seen beneath the large flat panel antennas.  While I could identify the radio units,  I could not identify what bird had built the nest. 
rio tinto rail map
We visited Dampier, which is Rio Tinto’s primary port location where it runs 2 ship loading facilities.  Leading to Dampier and the adjacent Cape Lambert, Rio has over 1700km of private rail which is shown on this map at a lookout in Dampier.  
iron ore rail trucks
Here two iron ore trains are lined up for offloading at Port Dampier.   These trains have over 200 trucks and are several kilometers long .     These two have already commenced unloading at the port which is nearly 2km from where this photo was taken
ship loading
The port isn’t open to the public, but from our caravan park we got a serene view of iron ore pouring off a conveyor into a ship at dusk.

While definitely second to Iron ore, offshore natural gas is also a very large economic contributor of the region with several processing plants located along the coast.   Woodside Petroleum and Chevron being the lead operators.

karratha gas plant
The Karratha Gas Plant near Dampier processes gas and some oil from wells about 150km offshore producing liquified natural gas (LNG) for export by ship; domestic gas which is sent by pipeline to Perth and surrounds; LPG and some heavier hydrocarbon condensate.  The latter being sold to petroleum refineries overseas or on the east coast or Australia.
woodside gas art
A monument to injured workers at the Karratha Gas Plant visitor centre.

Visitor centre photos of two of the offshore platforms (Rankin A and B) and an aerial shot of the gas plant.  The platforms rest on the seabed about 130m below the water level where shafts over 3km deep reach down to the gas and oil.

nws gas
A view of the Karratha Gas Plant from Angel Island in the Dampier Archipelago.  
gas and iron ore ships
A loaded LNG ship and iron ore ship make their way out from Dampier.

Finally salt mining also presents a very visible impact in the area, albeit probably some orders of magnitude smaller from an economic point of view.  Interestingly, the salt mines appear to be mostly owned by Rio Tinto.

salt mine facts

dampier salt mine
One of the salt evaporation ponds seen from a viewing platform. 

Warning: Don’t buy a Toyota Prado to travel in remote Australia

Unfortunately our decision to buy a new Toyota Landcruiser Prado for our tour around Australia has turned out to be a bad one.   It seems that recent developments in engine monitoring technology have lead to a regression rather than an improvement in its utility as an off-road vehicle for touring remote parts of Australia.

While we are normally reluctant to publish negative matters on this blog, we understand that several people are following our blog with the aspiration of doing something similar to us and we feel that they should be aware of our experience in this case.

On opening the bonnet of the latest Prado one is immediately stuck by the number of wires connected to a myriad of sensors attached to various parts of the engine.  When I took delivery of the Prado I certainly wondered what would happen if one of the sensors malfunctioned.   Well we have had such an experience, which over the last few months has cost us dearly in wasted time and missed opportunities.   However, the truly frustrating thing is that it was not a faulty sensor that caused our woes (in fact the sensor was valid in reporting a compromised situation*) but that the car’s designed reaction to that sensor’s input is so totally inappropriate.  What is even more frustrating is that despite prolonged discussions with Toyota, they don’t seem to feel that there is anything wrong with the current design.     So on reading this please let me know if you come to the same conclusion as I do (or if you feel Toyota is right).

* We have also learned that the actual compromised situation is caused by a known design flaw that has been reported in the media: https://www.carsales.com.au/editorial/details/toyota-strikes-diesel-and-dust-drama-113482/     Incredibly not only did Toyota not proactively raise this to us when discussing our problems, but even went as far as lying about the problem and saying that we were the first to raise this issue with them.    Given this mind-boggling arrogance and dishonesty, we would now go further:  don’t just avoid buying a Prado, avoid buying a Toyota – period.

Prior to publishing this (and prior to becoming aware of the known design fault with the air filter), I sent the wording below to Toyota to give them the opportunity to correct any possible misunderstandings, however they have not responded.

We first became aware of a problem when cruising on an open sealed road and the car suddenly let out a bong and the words “check engine”; “pre-crash safety malfunction”; “reduced engine power”; “visit your dealer” appeared on the console.  At the same time the corresponding indicator lights for the engine, pre-crash safety system as well as the traction control system came on.   So we stopped and looked at the engine, but could not see anything obviously wrong.  Knowing that the pre-crash safety system relies on a radar mounted behind the Toyota logo on the front of the car and a windscreen mounted camera and both were a bit dirty, I cleaned both and restarted the engine.  After this, the words “reduced engine power” were no longer appearing and the engine power certainly felt normal, however the “check engine” and “pre-crash safety malfunction” messages were still there, so we abandoned our immediate touring plans and headed as directly as we could to the closest Toyota dealer which was about 400km away.

To cut a long story short, we have now experienced this problem 3 times and after 3 inconvenient visits to get it fixed and numerous calls to Toyota we have developed the following understanding of the problem.

One of the many sensors in the engine is the mass airflow sensor (MAF sensor).  It sits just behind the air filter and is intended to monitor if too much dust has managed to get past the air filter.  Toyota tells us that when this sensor triggers, it reduces engine power (to protect the engine) and disables the traction control system.   The pre-crash safety system (a technology to automatically apply the brakes if the car detects an obstruction ahead) in turn relies on the correct functioning of the traction control system, so this is therefore also disabled.

So basically the messages “check engine” and “pre-crash safety malfunction” are related to dust in the air intake !?!

To me a far more informative message would be “dust detected in air intake”.  When I suggested this, one person at Toyota gave me the excuse that with all the inputs from many sensors it is hard to design a system that can correctly report all types of faults.  Seriously?  In an age where car makers are developing driverless cars is it really too hard for a system to conclude that when the sensor that detects dust in the air intake triggers, that the likely cause might well in fact be dust in the air intake?    Furthermore for a car that is purported to be suited to off-road travel, and hence be expected to travel on dusty roads shouldn’t it be even more important to get this right?    I have raised this with Toyota but have been told that their technical experts have reviewed our case and concluded that nothing needs to be changed.

I was also told that the car is designed to limit power when this sensor triggers “to protect the engine”.   Yes, this did happen initially, but as soon as I restarted the car after these messages first appeared (and all subsequent starts) it resumed operating at normal power.    Now if Toyota’s intent was to protect the engine, surely a more appropriate way to do this would be to advise the driver that there is dust in the air intake so that they could decide on an appropriate course of action to actually protect the engine – like changing the air-filter (or at least cleaning it).   Again, for a car that is purported to be suitable for off-road use in remote areas, Toyota should understand that it is not possible to simply drive up the road and visit a dealer so why not give the driver the opportunity to proactively prevent further dust damage in the meantime?    However, I am told that their technical experts again disagree and in one call was told rather patronisingly that by changing an air filter I could risk allowing something to drop into the engine that could result in serious damage.   Firstly, this would be extremely difficult to achieve as air is drawn upwards through the filter so whatever it is, would have to be deliberately thrown upwards to get towards the engine.  Secondly there is a barrier that would prevent all but the smallest of items going through anyway and thirdly, anyone who is familiar enough with engines to change an air filter will know to be cautious.

When I asked why the detection of dust in the air intake requires the traction control system (and hence pre-crash safety system) to be disabled.  I was given an explanation to the effect that “multiple systems get disabled to protect the engine”.   Again, for a car that is purported to be appropriate for use in remote areas where the owner probably needs to drive several hundred kilometers to visit a dealer, why disable systems that are designed to increase the safety of the occupants?   On this matter, like before, I have been told that Toyota’s technical experts have reviewed this and conclude that nothing needs to be changed.

While one could hope that our experience with this one issue is an exception, the fact that Toyota’s technical experts have reviewed this case and come to the conclusion that nothing needs to be changed (or so I am told), makes me wonder how many other algorithms in Toyota’s electronic engine management and supervisory systems are either half-baked or designed by people in ivory towers.     The fact that Toyota is facing a class action over an issue with their diesel particulate filters further affirms to me that they have lost the edge where it comes to such things and also appear to initially adopt a position of denial and attempt to brush things under the carpet when problems are first raised.  

So in this light I can only conclude that the designers of the Prado have the mindset that it is only going to be used on sealed roads where dust is not a common issue and operated close to cities or major regional towns so that you can easily visit a dealer whenever one of its sensors feels a bit uncomfortable and causes it to throw up a random message or warnings.

It reminds us a bit of the story of the princess and the pea so we have decided to rename our car “Princess” – we even found a suitable bumper sticker at a roadhouse.   S

princess sign

Very pathetic! A four wheel drive that complains about dust! Hope there is a Toyota dealer on the Birdsville track!!!! M

 

Dampier and Red Dog

Next we headed to Dampier. Well if Karratha was “not pretty” then Dampier is EXTREMELY plain! Steve is amazed by mega industry having grown up in a town dug up by mining but I am mostly shocked by it as I grew up surrounded by Pine Trees. The industry where I grew up was the timber industry which is a bit easier on the eye, now sustainable and they have to clean up their mess- unlike mining. M

Dampier was just what I expected. I have never been here before, but have seen the movie “Red Dog” which was filmed in the area, about the area and it’s residents and they portrayed the place pretty well. Red dog is it’s claim to fame really. There’s even a “Roaming with Red dog trail” which takes you all around points in the town. M

red dog statue dampier
Dampier’s most famous resident- Red Dog the Pilbara wanderer.

red dog pilbara wanderred dog history

Dampier was until recently a closed mining town owned by Rio Tinto.  For this reason the town is situated in sight of and sound of the loading facility. The housing architecture could only be described as “prison camp”. At the caravan park after being checked in by the lovely Lorraine, we could actually sit right outside our caravan and watch Rio Tinto loading iron ore into a tanker! You could hear it too! You don’t get that everywhere! The loading facility runs 24hrs, 7days a week and for entertainment you can go and watch the trains (that we saw leaving Mt Tom Price Mine) that come from 250kms inland end at the wharf to dump their load. That is THE most entertaining thing to do here.

dampier sundowners
Watching the iron ore being loaded over a cocktail
dampier beach
The “beach” in Dampier with a view of the loading facility in the background. Even when you are not working you can see where you work. Great for morale I’m sure.
sams island
Sam’s island can be seen just off the foreshore and yes it too has a view of the Rio Tinto loading facility. Known as Sam’s Island after Sam Ostojich who settled here in 1965. He was supposedly stranded out there for a few days after a storm blew up and fell in love with the place. He then went back out whenever time allowed and began constructing a castle in 1966. He built layer after layer of rock walls carting soil, timber and provisions from the mainland. Don’t know if Sam is still around and we didn’t get out there but it is a nice Picnic spot supposedly. You can get out there by kayak easily from town.

OK, I am not being totally fair because we came here for the Burrup Peninsula not far away but again that is the problem, it is not far enough away! You can still hear and see the industry whatever you are doing out there. You practically drive through the Woodside gas plant to get to the National Park. Steve decided to take the “guppy” out from the boat ramp there and I had a free day and the ENTIRE caravan to myself! M

With the guppy I visited the Dampier Archipelago, which despite the industry to its south is actually quite stunning, with scores of uninhabited islands with white beaches and translucent blue water contrasting with red rock outcrops and the yellow-green spinifex.   It was great to spend the day hopping from beach to beach and bay to bay jumping into the water as I went along.  The tidal variation in this area can still exceed 4 meters, so the currents cause a fair bit silt to remain suspended in the water.   So while there was some coral below, the visibility was poor so not much good for snorkeling.   However I did spot a couple of turtles and a dolphin from the boat as well as several birds including the caspian terns above.    I also got some good views of the north west shelf gas production facility and associated shipping, but I will cover that in another post.  S

The Burrup Peninsula did have something special though. It was Deep Gorge in Murujuga National Park. It is recognised as one of the most prolific rock art sites in Australia with over 10,000 individual engravings or etchings located. It is a new park and has been nominated for world heritage status. Unfortunately we could not do a tour with a local on the Sunday we were there. It would have been nice to have the site explained to us. Mdeep gorge signmurujuga national park

rock risk
There is always a risk!
deep gorge
Industry peeking it’s ugly head between the rock art.   In this case one of the world’s largest ammonia plants using natural gas from the adjacent onshore gas processing plant 
real rock roo
A kangaroo guard not far from a roo etching!
rock boomerangs
Boomerangs
upper deep gorge
Millions of rocks and thousands of art works

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Boomerangs, emus, kangaroos, manta rays, turtles, lizards, fish, emu tracks

hearson cove
Hearson’s cove beach nearby was nice for a swim at high tide

We left Dampier a bit late and were told about a “secret” free camp on the Maitland River which turned out to be a lovely spot for the night. We are a bit fussy about where we will free camp and we loved this quiet, clean, side of the river spot which we had to ourselves. M

waterhole wildlife
While Steve sad waiting for birds to come for a drink the cows stood and stared at him sitting on their “trail” wondering what they should do! Big decision for a cow!
white plumed honeyeater and flowers
White plumed honey eater on a flowering tree on the river bank