Follow The Discreet Traveler by e-mail!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Leave nothing but footprints: north to Shark Bay

In my last post, I gave Western Australia a hard time for its trash problem. One thing it does seem to be doing, even to a greater extent than other parts of Australia, is moving towards zero plastic bags. Of all the plastic curses that plague the world, bags must be the worst, as sea creatures can mistake them for something edible. You cannot find plastic bags anywhere in WA. The IGA, for example, lets you pack groceries in a cardboard box from other merchandise. The positive side of this is that for every bag we don’t use (e.g., by reuse) we can save up to 100 marine lives.

Our first stop north of Cervantes was Jurien Bay, so I could put my toes in the Indian Ocean again. It was a bit underwhelming. In fact all the sights we saw on that day’s drive were unplanned. First T. found an unmarked drive off the side of the road where we could visit the giant sand dunes. Fortunately the road was drivable sand!

Then she turned towards Illawong, which ended up being an idyllic picnic spot. We had the beach almost to ourselves.

We made our way just north of Geraldton to the Sunset Beach Caravan Park, where we got a discount (something Apollo got right) as well as the promised sunset. An older couple was also on the beach eating fish and chips, and offered us the rest of their chips! You know how you always get too many fries. Not sunsets though.
That day just goes to show how sometimes the best experiences aren’t planned. Swimming with dolphins in Mauritius was incredible; but what about the day on the Gold Coast when we saw them spontaneously with the surfers, just swimming for the joy of it?

It was also nice to be seeing the stars every night. Not sure anything beats central Australia, but the dry weather on a camping trip was a novelty after New Zealand. One thing we had not missed, though, was the Australian flies. Thanks, Europe, for bringing cattle and their concomitant plague to this beautiful country.

Animal plant
“Maze,” beckoned a sign on the side of the road. “Come and get lost.” It was almost impossible to get lost, in the sense of getting off the right road; yet the landscape was unlike any I’d ever seen, and that’s saying something. The alien features of the plants—banksia mostly; or the one that reminded T. of the Muppet, Animal.

The drive north from Geraldton followed National Highway 1, the road all around Australia that in Queensland was called the Bruce Highway and around here is the Brand. As on the rest of our trip, detours from the Brand Highway were necessary to see coastal features. The strangest feature we saw this day was actually a lake, Hutt Lagoon, which everyone calls Pink Lake.

It has a type of alga that colors it that way, and is used in dyeing products.

Our first big turnoff from the main road was Kalbarri. We had left plenty of time that day to explore Kalbarri National Park. We stopped first by the coastal cliffs, including the Grandstand and Red Bluff.

The inland area of the park is a starkly contrasting landscape of river gorges. Once again, you would never know the ocean was anywhere near. 
Tracks made by a eurypterid, one of Earth's earliest land dwellers

Hiking to the Z Bend lookout revealed a grand canyon carved by the Murchison River, and there was no one else around with us to see it.

Even more remarkable in some ways was The Loop.

The last part of this walk is not a manmade trail at all. You approach an arch in the sandstone through which you can see the bends of the Murchison upstream. It is called, appropriately, Nature’s Window.

Every campground has its character, and the foreshore park in Kalbarri had the character of rowdy old people. “All kinds of kinds,” as they say. One guy’s truck had stickers like “Vietnam veteran and proud of it.” We also saw fish leaping out of the water, and a perfect sunset in a cloudless sky. After shucking corn on the cob for supper, we took our beers and watched the sky glow with oranges and pinks that just seemed to go on. With a campsite umbrella in front of the horizon, it looked like a cocktail: “Kalbarri Sunset.” This was followed by a fingernail crescent moon, glowing so brightly that I could see the outline of the entire moon behind it.

These were among the romantic aspects of camping. The Apollo van continued to have less lovely aspects. Every time I bent over to get out of the back of the van, I turned the microwave oven on with my rear end. It was especially irritating because we have never really used the microwave in a camper van. It was just a literal pain in the ass.

One thing we did find at Kalbarri, and subsequent campgrounds, was the novelty of individual bathrooms. Readers know by now how much the loo makes a difference to our traveling experience, and I had never seen such a thing before (except at Katherine where each campsite had a locked “en suite”). Imagine going for one’s own toiletry and shower experience, not sloughing through everyone else’s flip flop effluent, even being able to brush one’s teeth in privacy. I love this country.

The big thing in the mornings at Kalbarri, which took place just across the road from where we were staying, is the pelican breakfast. There is a tradition of a volunteer feeding pelicans every morning, but they aren’t always the same pelicans, and one never knows if they are going to turn up. Our volunteer was a woman called Felicity who tore up on her bicycle, bearing a faint resemblance to a pelican herself. She was despairing of any pelicans turning up, when all of a sudden T. saw two birds winging in, followed by another pair.

We were doing pretty well with wildlife so far. The dragonflies in the area were huge, reminding me of the Hueys we saw on display in Vietnam. The pelicans, of course. And then there was the delight of (living) kangaroos, bouncing around displaying no road sense at all. Lucky for them they were on a side, dirt road that led to a lookout along the Shark Bay Road. The corrugations in the road led to my coining the slogan, “Put some hum in your bum.”

Shark Bay Road is also known as World Heritage Drive. Centered on the town of Denham, where we camped for a couple of nights, Shark Bay is one of an astonishing number of Unesco World Heritage sites we have seen on our travels, both geographical and cultural. The oldest and most impressive sight was an extremely salty area of water called Hamelin Pool.
This is the home of stromatolites, marine organisms that scientists say have changed little in 3.5 billion years. This figure is hard to wrap a human brain around, but stromatolites—kind of like layered hard coral—played a crucial role in oxygenating the atmosphere all those years ago, making it possible for the rest of us to live on earth. In the biblical image, stromatolites were present at the creation, when God spread out the firmament of the heavens.

We next stopped at Shell Beach, unique for being entirely made up of tiny cockle shells. 
It was a beautiful beach, with crystal clear waters, but spoiled by the incredible number of flies. They bombarded us relentlessly, and without bandannas it was unbearable. I can’t imagine spending the day there, but there were people swimming. 

Finally there was Eagle Bluff, a gorgeous lookout from which we could see the sea grasses of Shark Bay. It is these that make possible the rich sea life that feeds upon it, such as turtles and dugongs, which are endangered or absent in most other places. We kept thinking we saw these creatures, but they were only rocks washed by the waves. The view was wonderful though.
As we keep saying throughout our travels: You have to do it while you can. You just never know what is going to happen in this one earthly life.


Anonymous said...

A delightful read, with great views: "You never get too many sunsets!"; plentiful Banskia, muppet "Animal" plants; Pink Lake; "Nature's Window"; your unwelcome engagements with the camper's microwave; and magnificent Eagle Bluff views of Shark Bay. G & P

Anonymous said...

Stunning quest there. What occurred after?

Take care!