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October 4-11 Shark Bay Marine Park to The Pinnacles in Cervantes

Shark Bay, and Monkey MiaShell Beach

From Coral Bay it's 378 km to the town of Denham. About 28 km beyond Denham is the Shark Bay Marine Park. This is a diversion off the main highway and we will have to retrace about 178 of those km. But this route will take us up the Peron Peninsula and into Shark Bay, a World Heritage Site. Monkey Mia is a location in Shark Bay that is famous for its dolphins.

On our way up the peninsula we check out Shell Beach. Yes, there are shells – acres and acres of tiny white shells undulating over the landscape in deep Shells at Shell Beachwave-like formations. On the the surface they are loose but when you dig down the calcium in the shells has broken down, forming a cement that glues the shells into a hard substance that can be carved into blocks. In Denham there is a restaurant made of these blocks.

We book into a nice campsite right on the water. The water is an extraordinary aqua blue, the beach is scattered with interesting shells, there are stunningly beautiful red rock cliffs in the distance - we would be happy as could be, except that there is a mighty wind blowing off the water and it is cold.

It is too cold for sitting around, but not for a brisk walk into town in search of pizza. The takeout at the video shop has been recommended and it is good. We enjoy it at Kalbarii Fishermen/womena picnic table on the waterfront, watching the locals fishing. This seems to be a passion here, with every dock, jetty and jutting rock holding a fisherperson or five. There is even a “cleaning station” right on the town waterfront – at least a half dozen people are cleaning some mighty big fish – speckled perch I think they called them.

We retreat to the van for the night.

The van's living space is about 50 square feet. Most of that is taken up by the bed which we leave made up all the time. Then there is the space taken up by the fridge/stove unit, a pantry/storage closet and the sink/cupboard unit. I reckon there is tops 6 sq feet of open floor space. We cannot both stand in that space together at the same time and do anything other than hug.

So in the morning one person gets up first, gets dressed and goes off to the shower rooms or ablution block as they call it here. Then the other person gets up, gets dressed, folds up the bedding and generally sets the living area of the van to rights after the night. When first person returns, second person heads out and first person starts breakfast.

Who is first person or second person? Changes all the time - dependent on one's urgency for "ablutioPelicans at MMn".

In the morning we head off to see the dolphins feeding at Monkey Mia. It's 28 km from Denham. Much ado about nothing really. Dozens of people line up, thigh-deep in the cold ocean for 30 minutes while the ranger gives his speech about dolphins. Meanwhile, about five dolphins came and went, just checking things out. Finally, the ranger tells everyone to get back on shore because it is time to feed the dolphins.

Some helpers come out with bright stainless steel pails. Obviously the dolphins know what this means because suddenly they are in close, nudging the helpers with the bright pails. People are chosen from the crowd - usually children. They wade back out into the ocean, the dolphin approaches and they slip a fish into its open jaws.Dophin Feeding at Monkey Mia

That went on for about 15 minutes and then it was over. The best part of it were these pelicans, bold as brass, who swam about and flounced all over the beach as if they owned it!

The beaches themselves basically go on forever here – at low tide they turn into endless miles of mud flats littered with variegated clam shells. There is a resort right at Monkey Mia but once you are beyond that you are into the Francois Peron National Park. Unfortunately, beyond what we can walk to, it is accessible only by 4WD.

Kalbarri

Wind howled something fierce through the night again, rocking the van like a child’s cradle. Cooked porridge for breakfast – it was that kind of morning, and got moving towards Kalbarri. This involves re-tracing the 178 km out to the highway, then heading south for over 280 km before turning west again towards the ocean.

We seem to have left the “flat and featureless” landscape behind now as we travel over rolling hills cloaked with trees, bushes, shrubs and wildflowers of all colours – yellows, blues, deep purples, all manner of pinks – just gorgeous. Also saw a fox and severa; emus, big and little.

Enroute we stopped at Hawk’s Head and Ross Graham Lookout . Very nice views of Murchison River and gorges. At Ross Graham you can hike down to the river – not a difficult or long hike – saw families carrying their coolers down for lunch. The flies here were so numerous and so persistant the idea of "lunch" didn't hold any appeal to us. I have a light green net that I throw over my hat and face in these situations. Steve makes fun of it, but every person passing casts me an envious glance. He says "appalled" glance. Who cares?

Booked into the Anchorage Caravan Park. It’s at the end of town, beside the river. We have a good view of the Murchison River from our campsite. Again, however, the wind is blowing cold – we are wearing full-length pants and fleeces.

Where the Murchison River meets the Indian OceanThe ocean directly in front of the town of Kalbarri consists of enormous surf breaking on a solid rock shelf of a beach. Fabulous to watch – powerful surf rolling in, crashing on the rocks. Where the Murchison River meets the Indian Ocean there is a sandbar as well as a rocky shelf – waves are travelling in every which direction, crashing into each other, riding over each other. Looks like a totally disorganized demolition derby.

Back at the caravan park there is a “sausage sizzle” on at 6 pm. This is where the caravan park staff barbeque sausages and hamburgers, serve them up in buns with generous quantities of fried onions and fired eggs, as well as all the usual condiments – mustards, mayonnaise, sweet chili sauce, tomato sauce.

Steve had a sausage in a bun and they put two fried eggs on the bun too – all for $2. They were also serving up big cups of home made vegetable soup for $2. We shared one of those – so dinner for $6. As well, the socializing was good – around a fire – met people from Adelaide and from the Sunshine Coast.

Tomorrow we are off on a tour of the inland gorges. This is not a difficult drive but it is 120 km over dirt roads unsuitable for our rental vehicle.

Kalbarri National Park – Inland Gorges

Today we’ll see – Z Bend and Natures Window, both gorge areas of the Murchison Sriations in Tumblagooda SandstoneRiver. These are truly spectacular, gorges cut out of the Tumblagooda Sandstone – bands of brown, red, and purple against white.

It is quite a walk – 800 metres down to the Z-Bend, over quite a bit of rocky terrain and steep rock steps. Well worth it though as the gorge is incredibly beautiful. Nature’s Window is also well worth it. The walk here is primarily level, Nature's Windowbut at the end, to see Nature’s Window you have to clamber down sandstone “levels” with no handrails, only your own sure-footedness to protect you. I waited above.

The road is 64 km each way – all driving on yellow sand in the Kalbarri National Park. Lovely wildflowers enroute and the driver stopped so that we could take pictures. Apparently there are some 800 different species of flowers blooming in the park from June through November. I was constantly trying to photograph them, but the blowing wind made it very difficult to get the auto-focus Wildflowers of Western Australiaworking properly. It was a good “tour” with only four of us in total, so lots of interaction with tour guide, a local retired fellow who gave us some interesting insights into the area and the lifestyle here.

Kalbarri to Geraldton

Heading south from the town of Kalbarri, the road remains within the Kalbarri National Park for13 km and there are great access points to some very spectacular beaches. This is the scenic route to Northampton, where we re-joined the Coastal Hwy to Geraldton.

At the first beach we watch the surfers. Had a long talk with one fellow who was probably 50 ...lots of long scraggly grey hair. He told me that he was farm boy but when he was 17 he got in a car and headed for the beach ...learned to surf there and has never returned to the farm.

According to him, these beaches off Kalbarri National Park offer some of the largest and most reliable surf in Australia. The “pipes” actually run at an angle to the shoreline so the fellows are surfing parallel to the shore rather than into it. There is no sandy beach to run out onto ...the waves crash into a rocky ledge so it takes considerable skill to surf here – not a beginners beach.

Kalbarri National ParkNext turn off brought us to a fascinating beach consisting of a rocky shelf indented by many interconnecting pools. It was calm and gentle in the shelf pools while just off the end, the surf crashed 15-20 feet high. Spectacular.

The pools and surrounding rocks are home to a virtual nursery of shellfish, literally millions of them. We were fascinated by the variety of shelled creatures, colourful red starfish, and fish Octopus at Kalbarri National Parkswimming through the pools. Highlight of the day was an octopus that scooted right across the middle of a pool we were watching. Moments later another good-sized octopus – at least 3 feet from tip to top scooted by too. What a treat that was. Octopus are very shy creatures not often seen by landlubbers.

Took a few hours out to stop at the Rainbow Jungle Parrot Breeding Centre. There are hundreds of parrots here, many endangered. I don’t really like looking at birds in cages, but too often this is the only way we get to see them – the endangered ones for sure. The parrots that are prolific in nature don’t usually sit still for us. We’ve seen magnificent flashes of colour fly past us, or spotted them up in the top branches of trees, but this facility gives us a chance to really see what we’ve only been glimpsing. There is also a large free-flight atrium with many birds bombing around and that’s pretty cool.

We continue on towards Northampton and Geraldton on what is a genuinely scenic road. It begins by leading us along spectacular oceanfront then carries us through rolling pastoral lands populated by thousands and thousands of grazing sheep. Lots of grain swaying in the wind too. Just lovely. The sides of the road are covered in wildflowers – lots of what looked like purple lavender then other areas a deep pink carpeting, lots of yellow accents and occasional sprigs of bright blue. And we’ve been told that we are seeing the end of the wildflowers. “A few weeks ago,” they say, “it was glorious.”

Geraldton

Geraldton’s downtown area is a real contrast in styles. There are the very old buildings – turn of the century type architecture. There almost always seem to be pubs in these buildings – lots of colourful beer company signage desecrating the building fronts and sides. Next door or across the street – rows of ‘50s style strip mall shops with little Mom and Pop style electronics shops or shoe stores. Then there are the new buildings – all clean lines and sharp edges. Lots of glass, metal, California style stucco finishes ....very “beachy” and yuppy in their appearance.

It’s a conglomeration of building styles that strikes one as disharmonious – like a group of people at party that don’t know each other and aren’t particularly inclined to get to know each other. What’s worse, it seems as if most of the buildings are unoccupied – especially the shiny new ones. Where the buildings are old they look neglected, where new, they look unlived in.

Their waterfront is a strange place too ....vast tracts of lands with nothing on them but dirt ...but this is “new” dirt if you know what I mean ...areas that look like they have been recently cleared. There are vast empty spaces. And then there will be a row of these new yuppy-style retail fronts ...but most of them are empty. Same with shiny new condo type buildings. There will be a stand of them in the middle of empty space with nothing but dirt around them ...and they all look empty and deserted.

It is a town that seems to be at the crossroads of something. Didn’t understand until I picked up a brochure at the Visitor’s Centre that read, “The Central Business District is undergoing a $25m facelift which is turning the city to face its magnificent shores. Soon walking trails and landscaped gardens will line the beach front, while more alfresco dining establishments and the shopping outlets will grace streets overlooking the shoreline.”

What doesn’t seem to work about this plan is that the town has a real working class feel to it. There are no chi chi restaurants now ...just a few fast food joints and some beach shack style seafood houses. Where are all the chi chi people going to come from to live, shop, and dine in this gentrified new Geraldton? Seems like an overly optimistic vision of "build it and they will come."

The people who live there now seem to concentrate their activities around the local Woolworths and Hungry Jacks.

Down at the docks, the boats are lined up waiting for the rock lobster season to get started in November. Here there is plenty of activity, with boats getting their bottoms cleaned and sanded, trucks coming and going, machinery being oiled and prepared for the harvest in a few weeks. Lots of little fish and chip shacks here.

Went to the Museum of Western Australia.- Geraldton. There was all the usual natural history stuff here, exploring the landscapes, flora and fauna of the area. Also a big display telling the story of early settlement, with a nod to the Aboriginal inhabitants.

Highlight of this museum, however, was the Shipwreck Gallery which explored the tragedy and triumph of the many shipwrecks in the area. A good movie as well about the many recovery operations that have been undertaken over the years and lots of artifacts to look at.

Also enjoyed a display of photos by the local camera club – interesting photos that explored the local life of the area and its inhabitants. I voted on my five favourites which included a lovely one of a young girl fishing at dusk.

Museum was also hosting a stunning display of underwater photography. The photographer was there as well. These are photos of sea creatures and plant life ...lots of wavy tubular forms ..incredible colours, all blown up. Just amazing..

Carried on to the Old Geraldton Gaol Craft Centre. This is the old gaol, which was built in 1858 and closed in 1986. It now houses a collection of gemstones and rocks as well as hosting the work of local craftspeople. Lots of interesting old-world type crafts at very low prices. Unfortunately, things I don’t need – exquisite crocheted doilies, hand knit baby sweaters and bonnets, frilly home-made dresses for little girls, and so on. There was an old gent there, minding the store and spending his time fashioning little animals out of beer cans – emus, peacocks, kangaroos. This is the kind of town it is.

Geraldton’s main claims to fame, tourist wise, are its location as a base to tour the wildflowers from August to October and the Sydney Memorial. This is the site that honours the 645 Australian sailors who were lost without a trace during a WW II battle somewhere off this coast in 1941. The German ship Kormoron was also lost but many of her crew survived. Neither ship has ever been found. The memorial dome features a silver dome of 645 seagulls to represent the lost sailors. Very elegant.

Wind is blowing fierce and cold again. We are confined to the van for the evening again.

Cervantes

We’ve been told that the wildflowers are pretty much “done” already so we’ve opted for the coast road to Cervantes. Unfortunately, the “coast” road rarely ventures very close to the ocean. When it does we pile out for a look. So far, Pinnaclesall the beaches in this stretch are unremarkable – miles of white sand, but literally smothered in dead brown kelp. Not very pretty and usually home to the dreaded sand fly.

Cervantes is a very small town with one claim to fame – The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. The Pinnacles are limestone formations, thousands of them, that protrude from an undulating desert of golden sand. Eerily beautiful.

Nambung National Park is off the road to Cervantes, 17 km in. Once there, a 3.5 km loop on haEmu Family at Pnnaclesrd-packed sand guides you through the Pinnacles area. The track winds up, down, around and through the Pinnacles. We were so taken with it we went ‘round again once we’d been through once.

In the Pinnacles area itself we saw a large emu father with five or six chicks just marching along at his pace, the little ones running ahead or lagging behind according to their natures. Also ran into a couple of photo-hog Galahs – these are the large grey and pink parrots prevalent in the area. They definitely seemed to be posing, flying from pinnacle to pinnacle, letting us get very close before flying off. We must have at least a hundred shots of them to sort through – thank goodness for digital.Galahs at Pinnacles

Left there about 11 and continued on to Perth, arriving about 3 pm. We are staying at the Karrinyup Waters Resort – it is very nice and only $25 per night, which is excellent, considering how close we are to the city. Very clean and built around a lovely lake, with resident ducks and black swans. The bus into the city also stops at the front gate so tomorrow we’ll head into the big city for a look around.

NEXT: Perth

Carolyn Usher

TRIP DATA

This is one stage of a six-month trip around Australia and New Zealand.

Unless otherwise indicated, all costs are quoted in Australian $.