The 1 year milestone

So here we are in Quorn after crossing the Nullarbor and about to head north to the famous Birdsville Track.   However today marks exactly 1 year after starting our big trip.  We have another 6 weeks or so to go before returning to Sydney to resume “normal” life, but worth a quick reflection on what we have done so far.

40,000 km driven; 32,000 km towing Keddie and about 10,000 on unsealed roads (6000 towing).  Below is a map of our route and camp spots, but a more readable picture can be seen by clicking the following link Travelmap 2.

travel map small

We have stayed in 168 different locations: three times in a tent, once under the stars, 6 nights on a boat, once with friends, 23 nights at home in Avalon Beach, 9 nights in a cabin/motel, 15 on a plane/back in South Africa (for Steve) and the rest (nearly 300 nights) in our now very familiar caravan, often with $500 per night resort views like this.

Cape northumberland view from keddie

We have had temperatures up to 44 degrees C and down to 0.5 degrees.  Two or three rainy days, a few too cold or too windy days, but mostly warmth and sunshine.

We have also spotted 333 different species of bird (I hope to get to 350 before the end of the trip), accumulated about 850 hours of driving time, put about 20 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere (plus whatever the boat and plane trips contributed) while the tax man lost out on many tens of thousands of dollars in income tax 🙂

 

 

 

 

The rush across the Nullarbor

As mentioned in the last post our plan was to rush across the Nullarbor pausing only at the Eyre Bird Observatory.   As can be seen on the map below, it is quite a long way so most of the time was spent driving, but we did have a couple of stops along the way and there were some interesting things to look at.

across the nullarbor

The first stop was at the Balladonia road house near where NASA dropped some space junk back in 1979 when the skylab satellite crashed to the ground.  The road house had a little museum, but there was not much original stuff to see apart from this bit of wiring loom.

20km from Balladonia we made the left hand turn onto the longest straight stretch of road in Australia finishing at the Caiguna blowhole – a small entrance to a large cave system that breathes in response to changes in atmospheric pressure.

weird time zone
Just east of Caiguna is a little known special timezone that applies to the tiny town of Eucla and 2 or 3 roadhouses along the last 400km of the Eyre highway before the border with South Australia.  Being on the extreme east of the state, I can understand why they would want to avoid the 3:30 AM sunrises in summer, but why they chose to be 45 minutes ahead of Perth and not a more sensible 1 hour is rather odd.
baxter plain view
At Madura, there is a bit of excitement as the road drops about 50m onto the Roe Plains.  Then about 250km further on it climbs back up again.

As if the vast open expanses, a 50m drop and climb and the occasional bend in the road is not exciting enough, The Eyre Highway also features a unique 18 hole golf course – the longest in the world.  Sporting astroturf tees and greens, the idea is that you play the hole, have a drink or even stay at the nearby roadhouse, then drive 80 to 150km to the next hole.  The photo on the left captures the moment where Maddy lost grip on her 7-iron during the downswing and the club went spiraling off to the right narrowly missing a parked car.

border town big kangaroo and joey
At the border crossing to South Australia, this giant kangaroo holds out a tub of Vegemite.  One then advances the clocks another 1 hour and 15 minutes.  I am not sure which is more weird.
nullabor sign
On entering South Australia, one passes this warning sign.  After 88km there is another identical set of signs warning of camels, wombats and kangaroos for the next 96km, then another and another.  I suspect this approach was either chosen to provide regular photo opportunities for tourists, or perhaps the sign design software did not allow for 3 digit distances to be signposted.  After 400km, the camel sign disappeared, but similar warnings for just roos and wombats persisted for another 300 or 400km.
koonalda sign
Roughly in the middle of our journey, we spent the night bush camping at this interesting old homestead which also served as a roadhouse before the highway was moved 12km further south.   Today it stands deserted as if the inhabitants just packed their bags and left.  National Parks is undertaking some basic ongoing preservation work to the homestead, but the surrounding buildings, shearing shed and yard of old cars is slowly deteriorating.  It is an amazing insight into remote life in the mid 20th century.   One is free to explore the area, so hopefully it never gets vandalised.   While looking around I could imagine how this would still be a bustling hive of activity if the highway had not been realigned.

  The exterior and kitchen of the old homestead.  The outer walls built from sleepers from the trans-Australian railway.

The old scrap heap out the back featured cars from the 1940’s to 1970’s that had obviously not managed to complete the journey across the continent;  An old petrol bowser.

 

Koonalda also has a blow-hole, about 1km from the homestead.  The opening is much smaller than the one at Caiguna, but when we visited, the rush of cold air coming out of the hole was far more impressive. It was like natures air conditioner it was so cool!

blue bonnet
A blue-bonnet, a type of parrot, spotted near Koonalda.
bunda cliffs selfie
Apart from the 250km or so of the Roe plains (where the land drops to sea level) most of the Nullarbor coast ends in these strikingly abrupt 50 cliffs. Here we are at the Bunda Cliffs.
nullarbor straight road
Yes there is another straight road picture a bit earlier in this post, but we did see quite a few of them.  Also this one is in a different state, so subtly different to the earlier Western Australian straight road.
outback wave
The outback wave, a cheerful excuse to exercise the finger muscles on passing another vehicle.   At this point we had re-entered the wheat growing area and had only about 500km left to go. S  As part of the big caravan family we belong to now, one must wave to another caravan coming the other direction. I always give at least a 4, sometimes 5 finger wave. It seems to be mainly men drivers coming the other direction though and they rarely give more than 1 finger. Is this case since I gave 5 fingers, I got 2 in return. M

 

 

The big Galah at Kimba the second time around 7 months on. Doesn’t Steve look much more relaxed now? They did some renovations while we were away and I think even the Galah is looking better! Poor pathetic looking thing! M

 

 

 

Eyre Bird Observatory

From Norseman we turned East.  We had done a trip along the south coast of Australia a few years back and we wanted to spend the last few weeks of our trip on the Birdsville Track and back on the east coast, so we decided to not spend too much time stopping  across the Nullarbor with the exception of visiting the Eyre Bird Observatory as we had missed this on our last trip.

The Observatory is operated by Birdlife Australia and conducts regular surveys of the surrounding birdlife.  It is housed in a 120 year old restored telegraph repeater station which has also has 3 rooms for guests.  It is staffed by volunteer hosts who also provide 3 meals a day, making for an enjoyable relaxing stay.

road to ebo
The last 12km to the observatory is along a narrow sandy track, so we had to leave the caravan at an old microwave tower.  While it felt a little wrong to abandon Keddie, the microwave tower was already 18km off the highway in what is already one of the more remote parts of the country, so the chances of an encounter with miscreants was extremely small.

The slow drive in took even longer as we had to stop to look at wild flowers along the way

ebo sign

ebo veranda
In addition to being a good birding spot, the Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in an old telegraph station building so there is an interesting historical aspect to the place.  The history goes back even further as the telegraph station was built at the location where Edward Eyre camped on his exploratory trip across the Nullarbor in 1841.
telegraph station museum
The current building dates back to 1897 and served as a repeater station on the line from Adelaide to Albany then on to Perth, linking the west coast settlements to the east coast and up to the rest of the world via Darwin and Singapore.   Some old telegraph equipment is on display in one of the rooms.

Several interesting bones and skeletons have been washed up over the years including a turtle which must have been washed thousands of km beyond its normal range by a particularly strong Leeuwin current.

old old telegraph station
The current 1897 building was in fact predated by an older telegraph station nearby from 1877.  Today only the fireplace remains.

Out on one of the walks: a monument to Edward Eyre and his four companions: Baxter, an Irishman and 3 young aboriginals Wylie, Joey and Yarry.   In the end only Eyre and Wylie completed the journey.  Baxter was killed – allegedly by Joey and Yarry, who fled the camp taking two shotguns.

A distant view of the Eyre Bird Observatory nestled behind the dunes where Eyre found water on his 1841 expedition;  one of the many old telegraph poles with rusty wire still hanging.  Today the Eyre Bird Observatory is served by the NBN.  Unfortunately the 150 year old telegraph line was found to be in poor condition and not suitable for even a fibre-to-the-node service, so they have had to fall back to a satellite service.   However this is still better than the cutting edge wheatstone duplex morse system that was enjoyed by the original staff at this building.

And of course what would a bird observatory be without birds.  There were heaps including 4 new species for my list: Chestnut backed quail thrush (too fast for a photo unfortunately); brown headed honeyeater; western yellow robin and blue breasted fairy-wren.

Other birds included (from top to bottom) hundreds of singing honeyeater and new holland honeyeater; brush bronzewing; fantailed cuckoo; inland thornbill; white-browed scrubwren; dusky woodswallow; and unidentified fledgling; white-eared honeyeater; and the spectacular Major Mitchell’s cockatoo.

major mitchells cockatoo 2

Other fauna and flora at the Eyre bird observatory including a fruiting quandong tree just outside the observatory.

Heading outback again

Our last night near the coast was a lovely free camp on the golf course at the historic town of Northampton, we then headed inland through the wheat belt. We stopped at a nature reserve for lunch and found the sign below at the lookout. It tells a story of what goes on quietly out here in these lands of drought.

wheat belt lookout sign

roadside beauty
Very tiny but very sweet side of the road wildflower
roadside fluffy
More leftovers from Spring on the side of the road.
the multicoloured bungle bungle termite mound
While we were about 1500km south of the bungle bungles, this termite mound reminded me of their beehive formations.  S
varigated fairy wren
Variegated fairy wren singing
wheat belt loading
A big pile of Wheat ready to load into a road train.
outback sign
Suddenly the wheat stopped and this sign appeared on the side of the road just in case we didn’t notice. The temp went from 23 on the coast to 34 before we knew it!

roadside beauty

yalgoo sign
We are on the Miner’s Pathway now and Yalgoo was hive of mining activity long ago.
grasstree sculpture
Yalgoo grass tree never needs water!
jokers tunnel free camp view
The view from our free camp at Jokers Tunnel.

jokers tunnel sign

jokers tunnel and maddy
Maddy making her way into the tunnel.  At this point she had not yet noticed what was on the roof just above her head…
tunnel crickets
…thousands of crickets.  It was rather gross.
tunnel redback spider
We also spotted this fine red backed spider specimen.
tunnel bat
Continuing on the gross theme, we then started to encounter hundreds of these little guys – microbats.  Their bodies are about 5cm long.  Individually they are actually quite cute.
microbats
But seeing them in these seething huddles turned up the gross factor again.  If you shone the torch on them too long they started to drop off and fly around.
big tunnel bat
We also encountered a few of these slightly larger but more handsome fellows
dr spock bat
Once they were flying around, the microbats would swerve just an inch or so before hitting you.  However this one seemed to have hit its head a couple of times too many and was sporting a few bald patches.  Maybe its sonar was not quite up to scratch.
bat swarm
Here a couple of the bats can be seen flying about.
exiting the joker
While it was an interesting experience it was good to emerge again as the sun was setting.  Despite the sign at the entrance, we never saw any snakes.
miners pathway
From Jokers Tunnel we drove back into Yalgoo for a quick look at St Hyacinth’s Chapel before continuing east.

St Hyacinth’s Chapel is a quaint little building – originally part of a larger convent designed by an interesting character called Monsignor John Hawes – an architect who became a priest, but used his prior skills to great effect in designing several interesting buildings in the area.

The next two days were spent covering kilometers in dry, mostly flat mulga country as we headed towards then into Australia’s gold mining region.  Of course we had cause to stop on several occasions to see the odd attraction, more wildflowers and to avoid a few grossly oversized vehicles.

Just south of a small town called sandstone are some basalt capped outcrops that were worthy of a small detour.  One such outcrop was used as a brewery with a hollowed out cave serving as the cellar.  A bit further along – a nice arch called london bridge.

peter denny free camp
Being in the middle of nowhere allowed for some amazing isolated free camps.   This site perched on the edge of another basalt capped outcrop gave great views over the endless mulga plains and at night some lovely dark skies.
magelanic clouds
A one minute exposure towards the south celestial pole with large and small Magellanic Clouds
jokers tunnel milky way
The milky way with the tail of scorpius and Jupiter setting behind the trees
jokers tunnel andromeda galaxy
The vertically oriented fuzzy patch just left of centre is the Andomeda Galaxy.   Lying about 24,000,000,000,000,000,000 km away it is normally regarded as the furthest thing one can see with the unaided eye.   It feels amazing to gaze on something so unbelievably far away and to consider that the photons hitting my retina and exciting the sensor in my camera left its stars at around the time that my Homo habilis ancestors were roaming around east Africa.
agnew panarama
Along the way we saw bits and pieces of old mining relics – like these at the abandoned town of Agnew.  However these were just a foretaste of those to come at the beautifully restored ghost town of Gwalia, which will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five days in the Abrolhos Islands on the Eco Abrolhos boat

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands are a chain of 122 islands in the Indian Ocean about 60km west of Geraldton, Western Australia.   A combination of beautiful reefs, rich fauna, intriguing history and interesting recent fishing and pearling culture make the Abrolhos Islands a fascinating destination.  The best way to experience them is to take a 5 day cruise aboard the Eco Abrolhos – a small family owned vessel that takes you to the various points of interest while the owner (previously an Abrolhos Island cray fisherman) provides intimate insights into both the history and life on the island.

docked in geraldton
We traded our compact caravan home for an even smaller cabin on the Eco Abrolhos.  However it was great to have all meals prepared, no dust and no flies.

The Abrolhos Islands are an important seabird breeding site and after a rather rough 4 hour crossing from Geraldton we were pleased to pull into the sheltered lagoon of the southern most island group and go ashore on Pelsaert Island to view some of the birds that had recently started to turn up in their thousands to breed.

wedge tailed shearwater
A wedge-tailed shearwater weaves alongside the boat providing a foretaste of the rich bird life to come
boats on boat
The Eco Abrolhos carried 2 glass bottomed boats, 2 large surveyed tenders (one can be seen on the lower left) and an all purpose fishing/diving vessel was towed behind facilitating activities for the 30 odd guests on board.
bow shot
Arriving at Pelsaert Island, a 20km long sliver of land.
pelsaert island
A drone photo of Eco Abrolhos parked off Pelsaert Island on a calm day.
fancy tenders
Arriving ashore on Pelsaert Island. The island was named after the commander of the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia which was initially believed to have been wrecked in this area until the early 1960’s when the wreck was found in the northern part of the archipelago.

One of the crew is also a professional photographer and provides guests with a record of the trip.  Here Paul is seen in action leaving Geraldton and one of his fantastic bird photos – a crested tern taking a bath at Pelsaert Island

pelsaert island sign
Pelsaert Island information sign installed by the Western Australia department of fisheries who managed the islands until national parks took over in July 2019.
bird viewing pelsaert island
A huddle of birdwatchers with common noddy wheeling overhead (photo by Paul Hogger).
fairy terns
Soon after stepping ashore I spotted a new bird for the list.  Fairy terns – the first of 5 new species I saw in the Abrolhos Islands.
crested and roseate
Soon after, number 2: roseate terns were spotted with their pink washed chests next to a much larger crested tern
noddies and turnies
However most of the nesting birds on Pelsaert Island are made up of an estimated 250,000 sooty terns (no 3) and common noddies.

Birds on Pelsaert Island: sooty tern; common noddy and roseate terns – photos by Paul Hogger

happy maddy in the shells
Although sunny and mild, the 35 knot southerly winds were a bit chilly.  A wind-proof jacket and occasionally sitting down in the shelter of the low heath helped Maddy stay warm.
abrolhos islands skink
Several skinks and dragons can be found on the Islands  (Photo by P Hogger)
pacific gull with lipstick
The large pacific gull applies lipstick whenever it ventures out in public.   The more common silver gull behind is not so particular.  (Photo by P Hogger)
hey seal
I gave this sheltering Australian sea-lion a bit of a fright when I stepped off the platform above it.   The Abrolhos Islands are one of the few places in the world where sea-lions and tropical coral reefs can be found together.
king diver sunset
The King-diver, a small fishing/diving launch, followed us around on a lead. Photo by P Hogger
lifejacket drill
No cruise would be complete without a life jacket drill
top deck drinks
At sundown drinks on the top deck.   The prevailing southerly winds and high latitude means it does get a bit chilly in the evenings so we traded the life jackets for more comfortable fleece and down.
morley island
On day 2 we explored another island in the the central “Easter Group” of islands called Morley Island
lesser noddy 2
The mangroves of Morley Island provide a breeding habitat for the vulnerable lesser noddy (4th new bird).  The only other place that this bird is known to breed is in the Seychelles
morley island lagoon
Morley Island’s central lagoon – home to thousands of lesser noddies and a sea-lion sheltering from the wind
sharp tailed sandpiper
A sharp-tailed sandpiper on Morley Island
seal n samphire
Hey, you woke me up!
bridled tern
Bridled tern
lesser noddy and chick
Lesser noddy and chick.  Photo by Paul Hogger
silver gull eating lesser noddy chick
A silver gull – normally known for stealing ones chips on the beach – took the opportunity to scavenge this poor noddy chick that must have fallen from its nest.  Photo by P Hogger
hayden and sea lion
Inquisitive sea-lion at Morley Island

The Abrolhos Islands are the centre of Western Australia’s biggest Western Rock Lobster Fishery.   It was Australia’s first fishery to be certified as sustainable and is closely managed through a quota system for commercial fishers and bag limits for recreational fishers.   Today rock lobster fishing is a $400m industry making it Australia’s most valuable single species fishery.   Since its establishment, rock lobster (or cray) fishers have set up camps on some of the islands where they base themselves during the fishing season.   The fisher’s camps certainly stick out on these low lying islands, however their bright colours lend a certain appeal.

big rat shacks
Some brightly coloured fisher’s huts on Big Rat Island.   While rats were accidentally introduced in the 1800s (hence the name), they have since been eradicated.
fish eye view of big rat
Gathering on the jetty to visit Big Rat Island
big rat island with terns
With the rats gone, sea birds have returned to breed in their thousands.
russell the cray fisherman from big rat island
The owner of the Eco Abrolhos was a friend of one of the fishermen, named Russell.  So we dropped by and he gave us an interesting account of his life on the island.

Scenes from the fishing camps on Big Rat Island

eco abrolhos on the mooring
On day 3 the wind dropped, so it was great to join the owner on a trip to retrieve that cray pots that he had set the previous day.
cray pot pulling
We got quite a haul.  From 6 pots we got 26 crayfish of legal size, many more small ones and some pregnant females that were all thrown back. Because we had a bag limit of 24, we also had to throw two legal size ones back too.  Here the two deckhands, Josh and Curtis, haul up a laden pot.
curtis and wobbegong
Some rather large wobbegongs managed to get into the pots too. Remarkable considering the size of the hole in the trap.  These were also thrown back – carefully to avoid loosing a finger.
dinner
Tonight’s dinner
half crays
Under preparation.
crayfish dinner
The final product
tender pulling
After pulling the crays, it was time to offload the tenders to visit Leo’s Island – named after Leo Seppala, a finish immigrant.
leos island drone
An aerial view of Leo’s Island (back right with the green lagoon) and others in the group (drone photo supplied by Eco Abrolhos)
jays story
On Leo’s Island listening to one of the Jay’s stories.  Jay is the Eco Abrolhos owner and grew up and spent much of his early life on the islands.  As a result he knows plenty of recent island history and gossip.
leos huts
The beautifully painted lone cottage on Leo’s island
surf abrolhos
Although the wind had dropped, the swell was still quite impressive – we were hoping that it would drop off as we were planning to snorkel on the Batavia wreck in 2 days time and it would have to be much smaller to do so.
estuarine cod feeding
Maddy feeding an Estuarine Cod that had been placed in the lagoon on Leo’s Island.  According to Jay there were previously some cod there that were perhaps washed in during heavy seas, however some thoughtless mainland fishermen got to hear about it once and killed them spear-fishing so some of the locals caught a couple of new ones to replace them that have since become rather tame.
shells on leos
Clam shells and urchins on the seaward shore of Leo’s Island
little shearwater chick
Shearwaters (aka. muttonbirds) also nest in their thousands on Houtmans Abrolhos.  The adults incubate their eggs and rear their eggs in burrows.  Here a little shearwater chick sits at the entrance to its burrow on Leo’s Island
fisheye tender
Heading back from Leo’s Island on a glass bottom boat to get changed to go snorkeling on a nearby bombora called anemone lump
anemone lump
A drone photo of the anemone lump on a much calmer day than we had (Leo’s Island in the distance).   While the wind had dropped, we were there during the year’s biggest tides, so the current was a bit too strong to explore the lump properly.  Instead we had to be content to swim at almost full pace just behind the boat to keep up.  However we did see a fair number of fish including spangled emperor like those below taken by Paul Hogger.  Unfortunately I accidentally deleted all my day 3 snorkeling photos which showed some of the amazingly coloured coral of the Abrolhos and a sandbar shark.  While there were fewer fish than I had seen further north in Ningaloo Reef, the coral colours and diversity made up for it.

spangled emporer

top deck sunset
Sunset on the top deck at the end of day 3.

The islands are the site of many shipwrecks including Dutch ships the Batavia (1629) and Zeewijk (1727).  The Batavia’s story is one of the most interesting shipwreck/mutiny stories ever. A Titanic and Bounty story all rolled into one that Maddy has described in a separate post.   So day 4, had us visit the island where the shipwreck survivors came ashore and where the horrific subsequent reign of terror followed while the Batavia’s captain and commander were away on the Batavia’s longboat to seek help.

beacon island with morning reef
Drone photo of Beacon Island (where the Batavia survivors initially camped) with Morning Reef (where the Batavia ran aground) behind.  Fortunately the swell had dropped off dramatically so we were eagerly anticipating being able to snorkel on the wreck the following morning.
restricted access sign
Permits are required to visit Beacon Island to protect the Batavia relics.
beacon island group
The Eco Abrolhos mob at the Batavia commemorative cairn

batavia plaque

beacon island sermon over the graves
Commander Jay giving a sermon at one of the archaeological dig sites.   Several graves and mass graves have been found where people were buried during the reign of terror that ensued before the rescue ship arrived.
bridal tern
A bridled tern looks on seemingly oblivious to the islands dark history.

Back on board we steamed north and anchored off East Wallabi Island – one of the largest islands in Houtman’s Abrolhos to visit a picturesque beach for some walking, snorkeling and final sunset drinks.

cliff side
The view from one of the highest points in Houtmans Abrolhos.
skink on wallabi
Being a bigger island it supported quite a variety of fauna including tamar wallabies.  Unfortunately we didn’t manage to find any wallabies, but we did see a few skinks and dragons.
turtle bay
Turtle bay beach
bearded dragon
An Abrolhos dwarf bearded dragon (photo by Paul Hogger)
dr howard gray
We had an historian on board (Dr Howard Gray – white jacket).  He has written several books on the Abrolhos Islands and their history and he provided much interesting background.
brain coral
Brain coral skeleton on East Wallabi Island
osprey
Many ospreys nest on the islands.  Here one has just launched itself from its nest.  Photo P Hogger
snorkel herd
Snorkeling off Turtle Bay – East Wallabi Island
abrolhos coral
It is amazing that such vibrant coral can survive in such a cold environment.   The water temperature seldom exceeds 22 degrees.
turtle bay sunset drinks
Final sunset drinks.  The young ones in the photo are crew members (apart from Maddy and I who are, of course, also young).  Even the Eco Abrolhos’ captain Bronson is still in his twenties (he is the one on the far right with the beard).   The captain is actually the owner’s son.  Jay the owner is not in this photo – he was back on board preparing his famous seafood chowder
turtle bay sunset
Sunset drinks – the shelter was build by a company that does fly-in day tours to the island.
jay and tara in the kitchen
Jay finessing his seafood chowder assisted by Tara.  For more details on how to prepare it, click here
dinner sign
Food on board was generally pretty good. Best of all, someone else cooked it.  However the menu above had us slightly concerned.

On the final day we awoke to calm conditions and a nearly flat sea – yes we were off to snorkel the Batavia wreck.  It was truly amazing how much there was to see – one of the best snorkels we have done.   While the West Australia Museum salvaged most of the wreck site and relics are now on display in museums in Geraldton and Fremantle, there are still many cannons and anchors scattered on the site as well as a deep sandy depression where the ship originally gouged out the coral on impact and subsequent settling as it pounded on the reef in the months after it ran aground.

batavia wreck site
A drone photo of the Batavia wreck site taken on the previous week’s trip.  The sandy depression on the left is where the wreck was located and the snorkelers are over the area where cannons and anchors remain.  Many of which were thrown overboard in an effort to refloat the ship.  We had similar calm conditions when we visited, although it was overcast.   Still, considering that conditions were suitable for snorkeling on only 3 out of this year’s 14 trips we were very fortunate.
batavia sand site
Maddy diving down into the wreck depression

Various cannons and anchors on the 390 year old wreck site.  The large fish in the last photo is a bald chinned grouper.

long island coral
The coral rubble beach on Long Island – our final shore excursion before heading back to Geraldton.

Long Island lies about 200m west of Beacon Island.   Some of the Batavia survivors were sent here by the psychopathic mutiny leader Cornelisz – initially on the pretense of reducing the demand on the limited food resources on Beacon Island – but in fact this was simply a divide and conquer strategy and he eventually had all of them murdered, except for one or two who managed to swim away to another island about 2km away where Cornelisz had cunningly sent all the soldiers who had been on board – without their weapons – on a pretense to search for water.    While he had hoped that the soldiers would not find water and would soon die, they did find water and plentiful food too.  When the swimmers alerted the soldiers of the massacres going on, they were able to prepare and defend themselves from subsequent attacks from Cornelisz’s henchmen and ultimately foil the mutiny.

long island coral beach
Although over 40 people were massacred on Long Island and several of the mutineers were ultimately hanged there too, all we were able to find were coral skeletons.
flotsam art
Long Island art: depicting the gallows, skulls and hangman’s ropes of the Batavia history.  Medium: wood, polystyrene, polyethylene, sea sponge.
spannish dancer
A spanish dancer.  A large hand sized nudibranch in the shallows off long island

sea star long island

daves corneliusz reenactment
A re-enactment of the hanging of Cornelisz, featuring Dave from the Eco Abrolhos amateur drama society.
ancient stone wall
Could this stone shelter be a remnant from the original survivors of the Batavia on Long Island.  While there is no known reason for anyone else to have built it, who knows for sure?

 

 

 

 

 

Kruger National Park and 115 new birds!

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.

Sa trips

brindled gnu
Brindled gnu seen on our transfer to the wilderness camp
on the trail
Walking through the bush lead by two rangers.   The rifles are carried as a safety precaution.  Although there are large predators and other potentially dangerous animals about, they are seldom threatening to humans.
camp waterhole
Approaching a waterhole with warthog, kudu and impala
rhino rampage
We startled some rhinoceros which panicked and came running directly towards us.  While I still have the mental image of thundering beasts with horns bearing down on us and frantic scrambling down a rocky embankment, by the time I got my camera out, the rhinos had turned to the side and were starting to disappear into the bush.   So all I have is this photo of the slightly anxious ranger getting his rifle ready and a couple of grey beasts disappearing into the bushes.

 

elephant at sunset
We had another great encounter when we sat on this outcrop for sunset drinks and a herd of elephant came wandering past us.  When the elephant on the left started to approach a bit too close, a small, well aimed stone to the forehead and a few shouts gave it the message that it was time to back off.
giraffe painting
Being on foot also gave us the chance to see some ancient San (bushman) rock art.  Unlike the Australian aboriginal rock art, which is normally more figurative and stylistic, the San seem to depict animals in more realistic proportions, although human figures are normally portrayed in a stick figure form.
rhino painting
Black rhinoceros painting
more paintings
One of the rangers explaining the rock art.  Although not very clear, at his eye level is a curious image of an elephant with a man standing on its shoulders.  I wonder if this means that the San once had contact with the asiatic elephant riders of south Asia?
breakfast spot
Packs down for a breakfast break on one of our walks
wolhuter camp
Named after the Kruger National Park’s first ranger, the Wolhuter wilderness camp where we stayed is well hidden in the bush.  Accommodation is in small A-frame huts just big enough for 2 single beds. There is also a dining area, a kitchen and a couple of shower and toilet huts.
dead elephant
This elephant had died about a week ago of unknown causes and was largely eaten out by scavengers with only bone, skin and an awful stench remaining.  It was interesting to see fresh tracks of other elephant around its remains.  One can only wonder if this is part of a mourning process or if they are simply being inquisitive.  The rangers have to remove the tusks to prevent them falling into the hands of illegal poachers and traffickers – it must be a pretty gruesome job.
watching elephant rhino and buffalo
While we saw a fair bit on our walks, it was also great to sit at the camp and watch over the waterhole.  Here 3 of the so called big 5 are visiting at once: elephant; white rhinoceros and cape buffalo in the distance.
baby elephant
A very young elephant calf.  Probably only a few weeks old.
hyenas
Spotted Hyena

impala and elephant

dwarf mongoose
As with any camp in the wild, human activity inadvertently attracts a few critters.  In this case a dwarf mongoose hunting for dropped crumbs.
wolhuter sundowner dam
Sunset over a dam near our camp.
yellow billed hornbill
Another camp critter – yellow billed hornbill

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.

Ukhahlamba – Barrier of Spears

About 9000km west of Exmouth – and a bit south – lie the majestic Drakensberg mountains (or Ukhahlamba in Zulu – which means barrier of spears).  While this might be a bit of a detour off our current path, a 30 year high school reunion provided a good excuse for me to hop on a plane over the Indian Ocean for a couple of weeks to South Africa to visit my parents and also take in a few sights while there.   S

While visiting South Africa, my friend Mike and I took a quick trip down to the northern part of the Drakensberg for an overnight hike.  This mountain range is the highest in southern Africa reaching over 3400m and offers some really dramatic scenery of craggy spires and plunging cliffs.  It is one of my favourite parts of the country. S

 

sentinel peak sign
At over 3100m, Sentinel Peak is a tempting summit.  However without a rope descending the tricky chimney at the start would have been a bit hectic, so common sense prevailed and we skirted around the peak up to the escarpment summit behind.
view to tooth
Gazing across the Amphitheatre from the slopes of the sentinel towards the Devils tooth and Eastern Buttress
chain ladder view
Hikers making the final ascent up the escarpment aided by a system of chain ladders over a rock band. 
second ladder
Mike ascending the chain ladders
tugela falls dry
Looking over the lip of the dry Tugela Falls.  This is normally regarded as the world’s second highest waterfall, however being dry I guess it has now lost that title.   Like most of Australia, most of South Africa is also in the grip of a drought.  I have certainly never seen the Tugela Falls dry up before.
mont aux sources hut
The old hut near the top of the falls – one of the few permanent structures along the escarpment edge.  Still standing but looking a bit neglected.
readt to jump
A crazy baboon about to make a leap across a chasm in the escarpment edge
jumping
Who says baboons can’t fly?
admiring the view
Baboons relaxing and admiring the view after their acrobatic antics
camp on amphitheatre
Aaah.  Time to relax and make a cup of tea.
camp and mt sans sources
A prominence in the escarpment wall provided a great sunset view back towards the main wall.  Our blue tent can just be seen on the left.  Mont aux Sources (or should I say Mont sans Sources) looms in the background.    Mont aux Sources at 3282m. was once regarded as the highest point in South Africa, but now days it is surpassed by several others further south.  Whether this is due to recent tectonic movements or better surveying can be debated.   The current highest point in the Drakensberg, just over 200m higher, actually lies in neighbouring Lesotho.
berg sunrise
Sunrise viewing is an obligatory activity on any overnight Drakensberg walk.
morning view
Dramatic cliffs and peaks at sunrise.  Sentinel on the right with the dry Tugela falls just right of centre.
stone chat
Ok. I could not go without spotting some birds – a stonechat
sentinel rock thrush
Given our proximity to the peak, it was rather apt that this bird is called a sentinel rock thrush.
cape bunting
Cape bunting on the left with an unknown grey and white job on the right
cathedral and bell from mt aux sources
We could not resist a jaunt up Mont aux Sources – near the top we got some glimpses of Cathedral Peak about 50km to the south.  Unfortunately smoke (probably from grass fires and power stations a few hundred km to the north) hindered our views. 
mt aux sources summit
Mont aux Sources summit
sentinel path
Looking back at the Sentinel on our descent from just below the chain ladders
sentinel path 2
The final 2km of zig zags leading down to the car park.   By now a rather fierce wind had blown up, but this had the benefit of clearing away some of the smoke.