The walls of the Old Pearler restaurant in Denham are made entirely of shells!
20 Km south of Denham is Eagle Bluff. The boardwalk offers beautiful views across Denham sound. These waters support the worlds largest meadows of sea grass and are home to an estimated population of 10,000 dugongs which is 10% of the world’s remaining population of this lovely animal.
One of the interesting things about this trip for Steve and I is learning more of Australia’s history. We stopped at the Shark Bay Visitor Centre in the main town of Denham to see this historical display and excellent deep sea footage of the encounter between the Sydney II and the German ship HSK Kormoran. The 15min 3D film and exhibit tells the story of the World War II naval battle between these ships 200km off the coast of Shark Bay in 1941. This was the worst naval battle in Australia’s history with all 645 men on board the Sydney II lost. The Germans also lost men but most were able to get off their ship before it sank and made it to shore. It was these survivors that became POW’s that gave accounts of the battle and told the story of how both ships were lost.
Both Ships are now at the bottom of the sea 2.5 kilometers down and were found 67 years after the battle that put them there. In 2015 an expedition to the wreck sites used remotely-operated vehicles and took extraordinary images of the two ships on the seabed. They say a picture paints a thousand words and this exhibit shows in pictures the horrors of war. At the end of the film the footage was of soldiers boots abandoned on the deck as if they had run right out of them. Perhaps jumping overboard to avoid the entire ship on fire. Horrible war!!!!
Next we headed to shell beach. Here the Fragum Cockle shells take over the beach and there is no sand here- only shells. The water here was super saline (twice as salty as normal sea water from evaporation) which these shells can cope with. Though it is hard to get out to the water at low tide, Steve braved the gale force winds and walked out for an easy float while I enjoyed a bed of shells. M
It took a couple hours of walking the sand dunes near Monkey Mia for Steve to find this endangered Western grasswren which is another success story in this area. We had both seen it once before but needed a photo for a positive ID. The photo is not so good but this sign gives you an idea of what it should look like. A sweet little thing and it is bird 322 for Steve. M
When Nicholas Baudin and Francois Peron visited Shark Bay in 1801 there were 23 species of mammals in this area. Less than half remained in 1990. This was due to habitat destruction and competition for food by live stock and rabbits, and predation from introduced foxes and cats. Project Eden was launched to reverse this ecological destruction. Two species that have made a comeback after reintroduction are the Bilby and the Malleefowl. A new program has now replaced Project Eden- Return to 1616!. M
We then headed out to the Francois Peron National Park to the heritage Precinct where you can have a look at what is left of the Peron Station homestead. On the way we saw this very unusual sign on the road. It is not many places that you have to look out for Bilby’s as there are so few left. But here their numbers are growing, which is just wonderful to see! It is amazing what can happen when you just get rid of animals that don’t belong here in this country!
The Old Peron Station first leased in the 1880’s and bought by National Parks like many properties in drought areas that are no longer profitable. They used the old homestead as an office, so unfortunately you could not see inside but the walk around to the old shearing shed and artesian bore swimming pool was nice.
Next we headed to Monkey Mia with the plan of swimming with dolphins after finding out what the current regulations were in this area and stayed at the Dolphin Resort. This was brand new and lovely for a caravan park, but we missed our tranquil camp on the beach from the night before .
We knew about the “dolphin experience” where people with rangers in attendance, feed wild dolphins in the shallows, but were not too sure about it. Feeding wildlife is always a selfish human thing to do, as it never benefits the animals/birds etc. M
Then we learned a bit of background about the place. Dolphins started coming into the shallows here to be fed in around 1960 when a fisherman and his wife began feeding them and eventually gained their trust. This soon became the place to see dolphins and this feeding continued and it was found that the dolphins were dying at a much higher rate than those not fed. Mothers were not teaching their babies how to hunt and avoid predators etc. Finally someone woke up to this and now it is tightly controlled by Parks and Wildlife rangers who feed a select few known adults, a very small amount (less than 10% their daily needs) in a controlled manner. So basically Parks and Wildlife are keeping the public from doing something worse by doing something they know is not natural but also conducting dolphin research. The good news is that the fed dolphins are now living as long as those in the wild. M
The dolphins at Monkey Mia are Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. They live up to 40yrs for the females (30males) and can swim 40km hr which thankfully, is faster than your average shark. They start to have young at around 10 yrs and are prey for sharks especially in the first year of life. They start life with nice smooth dorsal fins and then sharks take bites out of them, injuries from boats, fishing line etc gives them their identifying marked dorsal fins. M
The weather could not have been worse though. It was cool with temps in the low to mid 20’s with very cold gusty wind the whole time. The usually crystal clear water was very murky and cool. Visibility in the water was poor and not so good for snorkeling only seeing the length of your arm. Steve decided to brave the cold weather and after 45min of looking around had Kiya swim right towards him with a baby and then swim past. She didn’t find him so interesting without food, which I guess is how it should be. It was a wonderful visit but we will have to do it again it when it’s warmer! M
We left the heat of the ranges and headed back to the coast staying the first 3 nights at bush/beach camping on 2 goat/sheep stations that had water access to Shark Bay. The first place was on Gladstone Bay where there was an old historical jetty. It was an old jetty that wool was brought to be shipped overseas. The jetty was falling apart and there was the usual risk sign, but it was nice that you could walk out there if you felt like it. M
Shark Bay has a number of world class natural attractions. This UNESCO World heritage meets four of the 10 required natural criteria and remains only one of only a handful of places in the world to achieve this high criteria status level. M
Exceptional natural beauty
One of the many reasons for Shark bays world heritage status are the stromatolites. They look just like an interesting sort of reef area to us but to scientist these are mind blowing living fossils and only found in two places in the world. They are considered to be the best example of their kind in the world here. The organisms that built these stromatolites were the earliest forms of life on earth, dating back an amazing 3.5 billion years. M
Our next 2 nights were spent at a lovely beach site on Tamala Station- a goat and Dorper cross sheep farm. The most exciting thing about the place was there were birds around again. We saw three new ones in between the goats and the sheep. There were also plenty of emus and kangaroos on the station. They had a huge rabbit population too that looked like they needed a big dose of calici virus! M
From Tamala we were able to go into the Edel Land National Park and to Steep point- Australian mainland’s most westerly point. This area looks across the water to Dirk Hartog Island. Dutch East India man, Dirk Hartog was the second European to step onto Australia here in 1616 which was 10 years after Willem Janszoon another Dutchman, who was the first at the Gulf of Carpentaria. We were VERY close to wearing clogs, eating waffles and having really good cheese here in Australia!! We just didn’t have any spices of interest! M
We stopped at a beach for a walk and a snorkel and I found this live bailer shell on the shore. This one’s a bit smaller than that huge one Steve found on Ningaloo Reef. There were plenty of oysters everywhere. M
We just missed the spring wild flowers but I managed to find a few left over growing on rocks and in sand.
We continued on the Woolwagon pathway to the Kennedy Ranges. On the way we saw some interesting signs.
It was past the end of the season here and there was no longer a campground host so you were able to free camp in this national park at this time of year. It was also pretty hot and on our arrival. At 4pm it was 40deg C. We were only staying 1 night and we had 4 walks to do, so we headed first to Honeycomb Gorge and took the risk to do the short but lovely walk and then camped there the night. M
The Kennedy Range is an eroded Plateau about 160km from Carnarvon on the coast, in dry desert country. It’s harsh, hot and dry out here. 250 million years ago the whole area was a shallow ocean basin off the edge of the ancient Australian continent. The Range is what is left over of the land surface that elsewhere has been eroded away but here forms a mesa 75kms long and up to 25kms wide and 100mts high in places. The place is full of spectacular cliffs and gorges, eerie canyons, ancient marine fossils and strange honeycomb formations and what appears to be extruded lave. M
Well you would think that there would be no sleep camping with all the heat coming off this red rock after a 40deg day, but the wind came up and the CP5 is very well designed for flow through ventilation, so we slept quite well. We felt sorry for those in the campground sleeping in tents on the hot ground with no fans though . We got up with the sparrows and headed to the sunrise spot for breakfast. M
Next it was on to the Temple Gorge walk where Steve finally managed to find a new bird. Number 318! There was not such a good photo of the Chestnut Rumped Thornbill. It has been 4 weeks without a new one, so this was pretty exciting! M
We left Exmouth and the coast and the school holidays makers and headed back “outback” via the “Wool Wagon pathway” and Kingsford-Smith Mail run. There was a time when sheep’s wool was carted along these remote outback roads to the coast to be sent to England. This route goes from Geraldton to Exmouth but inland on remote dirt roads with very little traffic on them. Our first day out we lowered our tyre pressure again and hit the dirt and saw only one vehicle all day. It was such a quiet road, we just stopped on the side of the road and free camped where we had nice views over the plains. M
This is not the time of year to head outback and we knew it would be hot but also a bit quieter over the school holidays. We were also heading to Mt Augustus and the Kennedy Ranges. M
Most people only know Charles Kingsford-Smith as an aviator. He was also a transport pioneer who did the mail run from Carnarvon to Meekatharra via Gascoyne Junction and he was a bit of a character. Part of our route followed his old route.
The reason we were out here in the first place was to climb Mt Augustus. Mt Augustus is an “inselberg” or island mountain. It is 2 and a half times bigger than Uluru- Ayers Rock and it is the supposedly the world’s biggest rock! With these stats we just had to climb it.
After the Drakensberg trip it was off to the Kruger National Park where another friend and I had booked on a 3 night stay at a wilderness camp. The camp has only 8 guests and it is located in a wilderness area of the park far from the normal visitor areas and each day one is taken out on walks in the bush with ranger guides, so it is a very special experience.
After the wilderness walk we joined our parents for a couple of days staying at traditional rest camps and doing regular drives to look for birds and animals. As with most parts of the temperate Southern hemisphere, it was very dry. However we still saw plenty of game and many birds. During my stay in South Africa I managed to spot 115 new species of birds, bringing my total for the year close to 440. However to avoid upsetting one of the more competitive bird watchers that is following our travels, I will continue to count only birds seen in Australia on my main list.
Some animals seen on our drives. Clockwise from top left: vervet monkey, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, greater kudu, steenbuck, waterbuck
Sightings of lions tends to cause traffic jams in the Kruger park.
Above: rhinoceros, giraffe, common duiker, scrub hare. Below: A kudu sculpture at Skukuza; a night photo from Talamati bush camp; A Baobab, Elephants at Talamati waterhole; elephant calf bath time.
Below is a small sample of bird photos. Clockwise from top left: Helmeted guineafowl, scarlet chested sunbird, greater blue eared starling, white bellied sunbird, ground hornbill, red crested korhaan, white crowned shrike, brown snake eagle, black headed oriole, lilac breasted roller, golden tailed woodpecker, white browed robin, pearl spotted owl.
and some more birds: blue waxbill, secretary bird, purple roller, black helmetshrike, rosy faced lovebird, hadeda ibis, tawny eagle, coqui francolin
On the way back from the Kruger National Park we stopped off at the historic gold mining village called Pilgrims Rest. Initially established in the late 19th century, it contains several historic buildings and mine diggings which continued to operate until the early 1970s after which the town was converted into a living museum. One building has particular significance as being the hotel where my parents spent the first night of their honeymoon.
Main street in Pilgrim’s Rest, outside the Royal Hotel; inside the Royal Hotel bar which was originally a church in the Mozambique capital of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) before being relocated and converted to a pub.