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.
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.
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.
Another day and many more beautiful beaches here at Ningaloo Marine Park
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.
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
It 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!
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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. M
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
Next we headed to the Pilbara coast and had a couple of days in Karratha. Another town built because of the iron ore mines inland and the off shore gas plants. The railroad tracks end at the shore near here at Dampier to load the ore onto waiting tankers. This town is not pretty but useful – for stocking up on groceries and getting the Prado fixed yet again :-(. We then headed to the Historic town of Cossack. Here there is a nice beach to camp on with only 4 campsites and is quite pretty. You can still see the industry in the far distance but it can’t be heard out here. M
We left the Kimberly coast and turned inland to the Pilbara. It was sad to leave the beautiful coastline behind but better for my shell collecting addiction. 80 mile beach was just littered with temptation. It was also exciting to be getting back out into the deserts again on the Marble Bar road.
This area had had a big dump of rain in March and it looked much greener than most places we had seen on this trip. The most exciting thing about this, was that there were wildflowers which you only see after rains. It was the first time we had EVER seen the Sturt Desert Pea in the wild and they are really striking little flowers. M
Our first night away from the coast was at a really beautiful free camp on a river bed at Dooleena Gorge. There was not much water in the river but it didn’t matter as we were surrounded by gorgeous red rock. It was all birdsong morning and evening but no new birds at this lovely spot. There were only a few other campers surprisingly. M
We headed to Marble Bar next which is in the Guiness book of records for being Australia’s hottest town by having 161 consecutive days over 37.8 in 1924. Oodnadatta which we had visited earlier on the trip was said to be Australia’s hottest town by having the highest ever recorded maximum of 50.7 in 1960.
After a quick look at the museum we headed to the Iron Clad Hotel for some “man food” as Steve is now calling it. We had the burger and chips, so it’s woman food for dinner! It was one of those interesting old outback pubs with plenty to look at while you ate.
Marble bar was named after a stone bar at the Coongan river crossing nearby. The only problem is the stone is Jasper not marble but once they figured that out, the name had already stuck. I think Jasper Bar would have sounded fine. The best thing about this town was the beautiful Jasper and lovely swimming area near it!
Above is the “marble bar” on the Coongan River. It is really jasper stone which you probably would not notice but for millions of years of it being “polished” by water flow, sand and rocks running over the top of it. Afterwards we went to a nearby fossicking area to get us a piece of this beautiful rock but there were none as beautiful as this polished river bed.
Marble Bar sprang up as a part of the gold rushes to the Pilbara in the late 1880’s. The gold rush was short lived and miners soon headed south for bigger discoveries. We stopped in at the old Comet mine on the way out the next morning. An old Dutch Farmer named Gerald told us the history of the mine as we sat on the veranda of the old mine managers house, now the museum. The mine is too “dangerous” to take tours groups through.
After a night at the caravan park in Marble bar it was great to get to our next free camp. It is another beauty at Tambina Creek which we have to ourselves. The screeching of the corellas here will be waking us early but that is OK.
The Station Buckjump above is a Kimberly invention. The cowboy rides his Bronc on a normal everyday saddle and must crack his whip at least 2 times in the ride while also staying on his bucking Bronc. This was quite hard to do as few could even manage to crack the whip and balance.
Barrel Racing above. There was a Ladies version and an open but the girls were better at this event.
The above shots are from the Bull Riding, Station Buckjump, Saddle Bronc and Bareback Bronc.
The above were some of the best riders of the day. They are all Aboriginals and before white man came and took their land they had never even seen a horse! It was nice to see pride in the crowd for these guys and in the riders themselves.