Derby to Exmouth
Western Australia: 22nd July - 12th August, 2001

This page will take a while to download - it contains many images that we did not want to reduce! The good news is that as you read, the photos should arrive before you see them.

22/7/2001 To Broome

The kids asked if they could abandon us & accompany dad & Jo on the trip to Broome so, with dad's blessing, they roared off while Robbie & I shopped at Woolies.

Eventually we rendez-voused (that doesn't look like a real word does it) at the famous Cable Beach. It is a beautiful place. Would you believe it - there is a stunning surf break there. Only one metre today but a perfect left & right off a peak directly in front of the restaurant.

We watched as the tide escaped. The beach expanded from a white strip 5 metres wide to a white strip 150 metres wide which makes for a pleasant jog to the water. As the weather was perfect-as-usual so we swam until sunset & watched the sun violently extinguish itself in the Indian Ocean. I think we have had 5 cloudy, including 2 rainy, days since leaving 4 months ago.

Robbie cooked up a celebratory curry for the 6 of us in the car park and we retired for the night(without dad & Jo) in a layby on the edge of Broome.

Sunset at Cable Beach at low tide


23/7/2001 Dampier Peninsular

Dad hoidays even faster than I. Consequently we found ourselves in convoy travelling north up the coast. The road to Beagle Bay & Cape Leveque is the most dangerous road in WA at the best of times. The torrential rain of the previous week has made it a nightmare. Three vehicles rolled, with fatal consequences, in the last week. Dad decided to limit our trip to Quandong Beach a mere 50 km away.

The road deteriorated rapidly from highway through dirt road to track. About 10km from the beach dad's rented land-cruiser developed an alarming noise in the rear which defied our combined and miniscule mechanical expertese. We continued in the hope that the noise would stop before the car.

Our destination turned out to be a treat. We got the last camping spot & right on the beachfront. The tide was high & we had a great day swimming. I assured the kids that the white sand bottom would prevent crocs & sharks sneaking up on us. As the tide retreated it revealed an ocean floor of black rock. The sand here is so fine (more like silt) that it floats in suspension yielding a visiblility of 10cm. We could have been stalked by all the world's underwater predators & been quite oblivious until they removed a much-loved limb.

Robbie cooked up a roast in the Weber on the beach. We enjoyed it under the stars with an excellent red wine. Aboriginals have no mortgage on wilderness survival.

Jo was extremely nervous about the car noises so rather than stay the night we followed them the 25 km back to the Cape Leveque road. We stayed in a lovely forest clearing while they returned along the remaining bitumen to their hotel.

High life at Quandong Beach


24/7/2001 Broome

Without thinking, we did a few things before meeting dad & Jo at their hotel. We arrived to find a very tense couple. They had applied their anxiety to our trip back & were very worried when we hadn't arrived by 10.00.

After they had calmed down we wenton a fabulous tour at The Luggers. This is a display of the pearling days. The guide was a pearl diver (not a hard-hat diver) towards the end of the era. He gave a fascinating & very informative insight into the industry. We stayed behind to buy some pearls for Robbie but at $500 - $500,000 each they were a bit rich for us. Cheap imitations suddenly looked very attractive.

Dad took us out to a late lunch at a lovely outdoor cafe near chinatown.

We returned to Cable Beach where we again enjoyed the surf & sunset. We stayed on for dinner at the bistro overlooking the beach. It is a wonderfully ambient place to spend a few hours.

We returned to the layby of 2 nights ago for the night.

The Luggers tour

Steve's 50th birthday at Cable Beach restaurant at sunset

25/7/2001 Broome

It was disappointing to farewell dad & Jo at the airport at 8.00 - not only because of the early hour but because we have immensely enjoyed spending time with them. They are such nice people to be around.

We were a bit flat so the girls lifted themselves by hitting the shops. There is nothing like a couple of purchases to get the happiness pumping. We all, except Robbie, are now wearing new sulus. I am one of the few people in the world whose birthday suit is a sulu.

We again returned to Cable beach for a swim. I was going to hire a board today to try out the remarkable surf. Unfortunately there were no waves at all.

That night we went to "the world's oldest ouside cinema". What a great place. The movie (Tomb Raider) was great fun but it was equalled by the setting. We sat in deck chairs under the fantastic stars with the half moon floating directly above the screen. Bats and a plane flew overhead occasionally. The kids found some newborn kittens in the gardens and cuddled them till the kittens patience expired. It was an outstanding package & the price was substantially less than Hoyts in Sydney.

We again returned to the layby for the night.

The outdoor cinema with pets

New sulus all round

26/7/2001 Barnhill station

Before leaving Broome we dropped in at the Japanese cemetery (the graves of over 900 divers, mostly killed by the bends), The Shell Shop & finally the historical museum.

The historical museum was outstanding. It contained lots of early documentation such as newspaper clippings & govt reports. There were also relics of the planes destroyed by a Japanese raid in WW2, lots of stuff about the pearling industry, a large shell collection, items of aboriginal & white life in the 1st half of the 20th century. We were a bit rushed to leave but we still squeezed in 1.5 hours.

In summary, Broome is still as great a place to visit as it was 25 years ago but for entirely different reasons. It is now a tourist town of unusual quality & variety. It is no longer a unique & extremely remote outback town.

Finally we left Broome for a short drive to Barnhill Station 100km south.

This was a pleasant surprise. It is a van park, sort of. It is very basic & very cheap. It sits right at the beach which is of Cable Beach quality. It is backed by weird & beautiful rocks & when the tide runs out its 5 metres it reveals a collection of shells (which were rapidly pocketted by the marauding Elliots). The truck suspension is starting to sag with our collection of rocks, shells, minerals, gems & boab nuts.

We watched the sun set over the sea from chairs under our awning & were lulled to sleep by the sound of small waves on the beach & the ever-present easterly breeze.

View of Barnhill from our campsite

Barnhill Beach


27/7/2001 Port Smith

We hit the beach again but turned north this time towards 'the castles' - a spectacular cliff-face formation.

Again we had the beach almost to ourselves. This time the rocks behind the beach were even better. So were the shells harvested by the Elliot collectors. Our van was bulging at the seams before today - now it is bubble shaped.

Despite the attractions of this place we must continue moving so we drove the short distance to the neighbouring Point Smith.

Though only 15km south it is entirely different in that it is inland of a large tidal lagoon.

We arrived after lunch. The tide was in & we couldn't see the sand for the mangroves. As the collectors wanted to find shells we ventured down a small sandy track hoping to drive the 5 km to the ocean beach. After a kilometre we passed a guy who suggested we would get bogged if we continued. Like an idiot, I immediately stopped & attempted a 3 point turn & got bogged at right angles to the track. Hopelessly bogged in fact.

We were adjacent to a wrecked building which provided a stack of tin sheets. After much digging, sweating, placing rocks & tin sheets & being decimated by sandflies we tried to move & failed. To our relief a 4-wheel drive arrived & extricated us by towing us till our wheels were back on the track. Whilst retrieving the tin the kids discovered lots of buried mother of peal shells. The building appeared to be the remains of an old pearl-shell collecting outpost. Needless to say they left no shell unturned.

We returned itchily to the van park where Jake spent the evening sorting shells & MOP.

The castle (with defenders) at Barnhill

Bogged to the gunwhales at Port Smith

28/7/2001 Port Smith

The tide was out so we walked a goodly distance to the waters edge with our fishing gear. It was very pretty but the fishing was not good. This is a common story since the heavy rain 2 weeks ago. In the lagoon we saw a big turtle & many small fish.

We then visited the private bird sanctuary which turned out to be excellent. We had heard about it when the owner was interviewed on ABC radio 3 days before.

Finally, before leaving Port Smith, we retraced our tracks to the 'bog' to collect yet more mother of pearl. This time 3-point-turns were verboten.

We camped that night at a road-side stop off the highway.

Everything at Port Smith was beautiful at low tide

Local cowhand escorts us out of Port Smith. Note ill-fated sunglasses.

29/7/2001 80 Mile Beach

Poor Zoe had a major loss today. She appears to have dropped her expensive, 13th birthday sunglasses at Sandfire Flat roadhouse & they are gone. She was very upset as she was doing school work & didn't notice the loss for 30 minutes. Frantic calls to the roadhouse & random interrogation of arriving campers yielded nothing.

This next stop turned out to be a lovely van park on an endless white sand beach. When the tide is out it is enormously wide as well. The beach is littered with old ladies clutching plastic bags all bent to the task of denuding the beach of pretty shells - & doing a fine job. This didn't stop our kids collecting yet another pile.

We stayed at the van park which boasted fantastic showers & about 600 happy campers.

30/7/2001 Cape Keraudren

It's very difficult to find the will to leave these places. Each of them you could certainly spend the school holidays at if only closer to home.

The 3 collectors spent the entire morning rationalising their combined shell collections in the hope that we can fit into the van to sleep tonight. What that meant in practice was that we started to use storage space outside the van which was once occupied by our deceased foldout table & chairs. I anticipate that the next shell rationalisation will see my space used, with me & my meagre belongings being posted back to Sydney.

We left at lunch time after more beach time to head 100km south to Cape Keraudren. This place, about which we had received mixed reports, turned out to be magical. Again we found a colossal white sand beach with turquoise water off-shore. We parked at the mouth of a tidal creek with views forever. At this time of year the sun rises & sets over the ocean. This beach is both a bird & turtle sanctuary.

Before dark the collectors scurried off like hermit crabs to get new shells. Zoe also launched our crab pot which we had bought in Broome after much 'discussion'. She caught a fish 8cm long - a good first attempt I suppose.

That night after dinner we amused ouselves by working through the brain teaser book sent to me by the Deck's (along with an extremely rude card) for my 25th birthday last week.

Someone else's victim at Eighty Mile Beach

31/7/2001 Cape Keraudren

Today it was impossible 'to find the will to leave these places' - so we stayed. There was little wind with temp of about 28deg although the night temp dropped to about 9deg. We are dreading the nights in Karijini. It is about 250km south, contains WA's highest mountains & is some 150km from the coast. Snow is unlikely but only because the average humidity is almost as low as the birthday card sent to me by one of my sisters last week.

Just for a change of pace, today, the 3 collected shells. Worse, kind people around us even donated some of theirs. To make space I've started to get rid of clothes. I am allowed to keep 1 shirt, 1 pair of shorts & 3 undies. Once their space is needed I'll be in an Express Post bag to Sydney (I'm lobbying for airholes).

I wandered through the shallows for 1-2 km looking unsuccessfully for shells. I successfully found a sting ray wihout stepping on him and followed that up by finding a stingray BY stepping on him. I did a spontaneous corroboree as I attempted to get both feet off the sand simutaneously so that he could evacuate without stinging me. My carefully thought out plan succeeded so, except for the embarrassment, we both escaped unhurt.

More bad news this afternoon - our van resembles the pyramid of Cheops from a distance. Instead of rock, my tomb has been built with sea shells. Tomorrow the collectors are drawing lots to determine my immediate fate. I do so want to see the gorges of Karijini.

Looking east at Cape Keraudren

1/8/2001 To Port Hedland (nearly)

Karijini calls so, after our usual lagubrious lie-in we tottered off towards Port Hedland. Before we left, the collectors agonisingly discarded dozens of shells. We asked a passing couple if they would like to take some of the rejects. They took the lot - says something for our collectors' ability.

The extra good news is the space freed up means that I can continue - but I'm on probation, for a number of reasons

We stopped for lunch beside the De Grey River.....and decided to stay overnight as it was so beautiful. We bar-b-qued under the maleleucas & watched the sun set down-river. Fish jumped, a jabiru posed and darters & pelicans wrestled for fish. Every 6 hours an ore-train laden with 30.000 tonnes of ore passed to the west headed for Port Hedland. It felt like an earthquake. We slept like logs.

Mum on duty as croc lookout

2/8/2001 To Port Headland

It was a short drive to Port Hedland. This town is remarkably boring except for its reputed drug problems. However it is a good place to stock-up. We stopped for lunch on the sand spit poking into the 'harbour'. The high-light of the day was rescuing some tourists bogged in the sand in their car. In a way it lessened the embarrassment of our recent bogging.

We shopped & booked ourselves on a tour of the BHP facility next day before stopping overnight at the BMX track in the heart of town.

3/8/2001 Port Hedland to Port Hedland

We were last to board the tour & they had overbooked the coach. Despite the fact that we were amongst the first to book, we were ejected. Robbie was even more upset about it than I. She 'approached' the organiser so diligently that they refunded our $25 then gave us complimentary tickets on a hastily arranged afternoon tour as well as complimentary tickets on the town tour. We had intended to leave for Karijini at lunch time but we took their offer despite the delay.

The town tour was funny - half the 'points of interest' were vacant blocks of land where things used to be. It was a good way to fill in time before the main tour at a very good price.

The afternoon tour, however, was interesting. Everything about the ore handling & crushing facility was huge. The trains, ships & ore stockpiles were all of a size which beggared the imagination. There were few humans involved. Even the trains - 2.6km long, 240 ore cars, 4 locomotives, 3200 tonnes of ore - are staffed by one 'train technician'.

After the tour we hurried out of town pronto to get as far as possible before dark. We achieved 69 km before a roo bone pierced the side-wall of our tyre as the sun set. More frantic activity followed to try to change the tyre before dark & return to civilisation.

The wheel nuts had been tightened by Godzilla. Luckily, I had kept the length of rusty square tube from our last encounter. It was only with Robbie's & my jumping simultaneously on the extended wheel brace that we were able to loosen each nut.

It went pretty smoothly & we that night watched 'The Fugitive' on TV camped outside the local Bridgestone dealer in Port Hedland.

4/8/2001 To Wittenoom

It was 10.30 before we left the tyre dealer. The dealer recommended we continue to use the spare as a 'sidewall repair' is not reliable. I checked the air pressure just before we left to find the tyre had got squarer since our arrival. We monitored the pressure for a while & it certainly was diminishing so off it came & into the water tank. No hole revealed itself so onto the van it went again and drove nervously southward.

4 hours later we landed at Wittenoom Gorge - the asbestos place where tourist bureaux warn you off. What a beautiful place - colours, roos, birds, waterholes, flowers and ROCKS TO COLLECT. AAAAAAAAGH! The hairy blue rocks are magnificent but their collective weight in the van will probably cost us another tyre later.

By the time we returned to the Rock Shop & did the cumpulsory shopping, the sun had set spectacularly through smoke haze. It was too late to hit the dirt so we stayed for the night outside the shop.

That deadly asbestos in the raw

One of the many pools in WittenoomGorge

The road thru the gorge

5/8/2001 Karijini

We retraced our steps to Auski roadhouse then drove into Karijini (Hammersley) National Park. The corrugated dirt road into Dales Gorge camping area was awful. However a walk to Fortescue Falls revealed a beautiful place complete with swimming holes. It was late in the day so we deferred the swim until tomorrow.

We stayed, under duress, at the campground and were stung for $14 for drop dunnies & no shower.

Looking down at Fortesque Falls in Dale Gorge

6/8/2001 Karijini

Dale gorge is a shallow gorge by Karijini standards but with very pretty water falls & plunge falls at each end. We walked along the rim then returned via the valley floor having a swim on the way. The stratified, coloured rock is excellent. Along the floor of the gorge is a layer of that beautiful blue asbestos.

After the walk the rock collectors merged their latest additions & resorted & repacked their burgeoning collection then we snuck off & parked for the night in the bush near the recently departed information centre. The new centre down the road is made of rusted steel plate - it blends in with the rusted landscape but it radiates heat. $3.5 million is cheap for the world's largest radiator ( as long as you don't have to pay for air-con).

The beautiful Circular Pool in Dale Gorge

The swimming hole above the falls

7/8/2001 Karijini

More gorges today - this is where we start to see the amazing class of Karijini gorges.

The view over the Joffre Falls was beautiful but the 3 hour walk deterred Robbie & Jake. Zoe & I took off alone. The gorge was very pretty and the walk took only some 20 minutes so we returned & convinced the 2 recalcitrants. Instead of returning via the path we climbed from the gorge up the waterfall which was a bit of a thrill. It turned out this climb gave us enough confidence to do some daring things in the following days.

The lookout at Knox gorge was nice and psyched us up for the gorge itself. We opted to dress in swimmers & sandals & not much else for these climbs as it was fairly hot with lots of water underfoot.

The descent to the gorge floor was very steep. At the bottom of the descent was the most beautiful emerald green pool surrounded by vivid green rushes and white gums. The omnipresent blue sky & the vibrant red, black & blue striated rocks preside over all. Dragging ourselves away from this idyllic spot we headed downstream & deeper into the earth. As we continued the sunlight diminished, the walls heightened, the gorge narrowed while we gaped & photographed more.

Robbie stopped where the gorge became a few metres wide and the water started to decend rapidly through a serpentine water shute. We continued only by straddling the gorge above the rushing water although the black & white striped rock was highly polished (hence slippery) by water action. Eventually even Zoe succumbed but not before the most incredible view appeared. Words can't describe it adequately but try to imagine .......the top 80% of the walls were bright rust-red banded with black with white splotches & the occasional brave tree somehow clinging to the 200 feet vertical walls; the bottom is comprised of the chute which resembles a black & white serpentine water slide; ahead, through the slit the water drops into 2 successive emerald green pools backed by the brilliant red (Ayers Rock at sunset type colour) wall of Red Gorge.

Apparently it is possible to let go & slide uncontrolled 30 metres down the shute at awesome speed then freefall 6 metres into the first pool, swim through the 2 freezing pools and emerge an hour later up another gorge. Unfortunately there was no way to confirm this from our point of no return. This was from a position perched on a boulder jammed across the gorge 4 metres above the water.

Reluctantly we retraced our steps & were greeted by different spectacular views as the sunlight was now striking the gorge at different angles.

We slept soundly at the Knox gorge campground.

The kids climb Joffre falls

The oasis at the start of Knox Gorge

The Knox chute conquerors at its start

More Knox gorge beauty

8/8/2001 Karijini

This day was the climax - we were going to attack Hancock Gorge and decide as we went when to stop as it is theoretically possible to do 'the miracle' mile which joins Knox and Weano gorges.

First we did the lookouts of the 2 gorges which were, of course, outstanding.

Hancock Gorge started off beautifully and improved rapidly. It was Knox gorge again but bigger & better. Once again Robbie was the first to drop out, in a similar sort of place to that which deterred her yesterday. She was not happy this time though as she was to return to the van while we might be completing the miracle mile. The kid's safety rested solely in my hands & she knows I am not the most conservative person around.

We started down the 'miracle mile'.

We alternately climbed high above the water clinging to the magnificent polished rock and waded through chest deep chilly water. We eventually descended to the coldest pool of all which had to be either flown over or swum though. We chose the latter.

After a quick splashdown to acclimatize we swam steadily across to Red Gorge. Zoe was having difficulty breathing towards the end & we took a while to do some exercising to regain our normal body heat. Retracing our strokes was not a popular option so I tried to find a path to the top of the sheer cliif alongside the 30 metre waterfall marking the start of Weano Gorge. I found a way up but the last part demanded a traverse of 20 metres, 30 metres above the rocks below. Part of it was too dangerous so I returned & gave the kids the bad news. Jake asked if he could look for an alternative ascent and I acquiesced.

While I was also searching for an alternative we got a shout from Jake saying he'd found a way but there was a difficult part ahead. I gave him permission to continue as long as he was absolutely confident unaware that he had arrived at exactly the same place from which I had recoiled. Zoe & I headed up. By the time we got to the trouble spot Jake was out of sight. We called out & as a reply heard only a clatter of falling rocks. Zoe prayed instantly. A minute later he responded to a much more urgent call and I breathed again. Zoe & I followed very carefully - I was more worried about Zoe than she was. Needless to say we made it across the traverse but not before I had to coax Jake back from a jump which I am certain would have been fatal if he'd tried. He intended to drop 2 metres onto a rock sloping steeply away from the cliff and poised 25 metres above the valley floor.

The pool & climb were the 2 danger points of the miracle mile. We were left only to scramble upstream through Weano Gorge - probably the most beautiful of all the gorges. It is the narrowest & wettest of all. It involves wading through beautiful pools & even crawling on all fours under a super slippery waterfall. The only way out of Handrail Pool is via a knotted rope. I came unstuck twice on vertical walls & disappeared completely under the surface of the deep pools below. The kids had no such problem. Lara Croft (Zoe) ran ahead & collected Robbie from the van. She & Indianna Jones (Jake) then guided her down to & past Handrail Pool. This was a great performance as the pool is the start of the miracle mile. We were all absolutely stoked. I suspect we may represent the youngest and oldest of the very few people who have completed the 'miracle mile'.

After collecting Robbie we met an older lady struggling to reach Handrail Pool. Jake & Zoe, without a second thought stayed with her, helping her painstakingly over the difficult portions then insisted on helping her return. They are both caring kids. Incidentally, these same Elliots have washed & wiped up virtually every meal so far. They normally prepare breakfast & lunch. Zoe has cooked dinner a number of times & Jake has had a couple of attempts.

We agreed this adventure could not be matched so after regaining our collective breaths we left Karijini to partially climb Mt Bruce (the 2nd highest hill in WA) to watch the sunset. As it turned out the sunset was not spectacular but the wildflowers were. The rain a few weeks ago has triggered them.

We drove on after dark to a van park in Tom Price for washing & showers (it's been a while). Luckily the only wildlife we encountered en route was one dingo.

Karijini was the highlight of the entire trip for Zoe, Jake & I. Even Robbie, who missed some of it, rated it as equal first with the Bungle Bungle.

3 Elliots 'on the edge' way above Junction Pool

Going thru the slot near Junction Pool

Picture perfect in Hancock Gorge

Above the falls entering Weano Gorge

About to start the chute in Hancock - Robbie got this far

The exit from handrail pool deep in Weano - Robbie has rejoined us after the magic mile.

No camera could be risked thru the miracle mile.

Handrail pool in Weano Gorge

Robbie's artistry on the mountain caps the wonders of Karrijini

9/8/2001 Towards Exmouth

I woke to the sound of magpies, galahs & correllas outside. I woke Zoe & she was out the door & handfeeding a large group in 5 seconds. Galahs were using her head & arms as a perch. Jake took longer to wake but joined her in the frenzy.

I checked with the family that we should not return to Karijini. Zoe summed up the sentiment by stating 'nothing will compete as we've already done the best ever'.

We left early to book on the Hammersley Iron mine tour but missed out. We were able to get onto the 12.00 tour so after stocking up at Coles we donned our hard hats & safety goggles and went to Mt Tom Price - the mine. Actually most of said mountain is but a memory; some is even a hole. 100 million tonnes of almost pure iron ore has been removed & shipped to Japan & co. The tour was quite interesting. After a quick lunch we hit the road for start of the long & lonely drive to Exmouth.

After a brief stop at Paraburdoo (mainly to phone dad) we drove for a couple of hours before activating our cloaking device (that's for Star Trek fans) in the scrub miles from anywhere (although there was a malodourously dead red roo 40 metres away downwind).

A Galah gets a good response to his stand-up routine

Jake casually befriends a 240 tonne truck

10/8/2001 Exmouth

It was a beautiful drive today. The road covering the 250km back to the highway was almost empty. We stopped numerous times to photograph emus & collect wildflowers. All the while the Hammersleys dominated the skyline. Once we watched the blood drain from the face of an approaching Britz van driver as a speeding emu missed him by centimetres.

It was the longest day's drive of our trip to date - nearly 6 hours - and we had a light tail-wind for over half (that is our 6th time in 5 months).

Approaching Exmouth we detoured down a track to get our first glimpse of the Exmouth Gulf. Magnificent. There was not a breath of wind so the turquoise water blended seamlessly with the cloudless sky. On the beach Jake found what appeared to be a dugong skull & bones. Needless to say, the collectors grabbed it as it wasn't nailed down.

We arrived at Exmouth late so we dashed into the tourist bureau to find out about boat tours for whale sharks, manta rays, dugongs, whales & dolphins. Whale sharks are well out of season although we met a tourist 3 days ago who swam with one on a tour last week. Despite our anorexic bank account, we booked a half day cruise (for $400) for the day after tomorrow. The operator says we should snorkel with manta rays, we will probably see humpbacks up close but the other 2 are unlikely. Two out of four would be wonderful. They send a spotter plane up to direct us to any quarry about.

Robbie was a little apprehensive about free camping as there are 'No Camping' signs everywhere. However we found a really secluded place on the edge of town and slept soundly.

Lots of chooks seen on the way

Zoe in typical school mode en route

11/8/2001 Exmouth

We drove up the Shothole Canyon in the morning. Robbie & Jake both had headaches so only Zoe & I climbed to the top of the gorge wall (past the sign which read "path closed due to dangerous sections". The echoes were great but the general scenery paled after the Karijini gorges despite our best attempts to not compare.

We hurried back to the beachside for lunch, but more importantly, to watch the Ozzies thump the All Blacks at Dunedin. The poor Kiwis had never been beaten there before (96 years) until this game. The All Blacks didn't play well & payed dearly. Robbie & I were exceedingly pleased despite feeling for Ian, my black & white eyed Kiwi in-law who would no doubt be much less pleased.

The kids missed the game in order to collect numerous fossils & shells on the adjacent & deserted beach. Robbie joined them afterwards.

Robbie spent the rest of the afternoon improving the kids' snorkelling technique at town beach while I sat in the sun & read. We returned to last night's stop for the night.

12/8/2001 Exmouth

We spent the morning doing more snorkel practice in a state of high anticipation.

After lunch we (4 Elliots plus 3 others) selected our wetsuit, booties, fins, snorkels & masks. The boat used in the quest was a flyer of the same type used in the boat races in surf championships. The swell was moderate so we felt like we were in a marine rodeo. The ride out through the channel was exciting with the spectacular waves breaking on the outer reef on both sides.

With the spotter plane guiding from above our first contact was a pod of humpbacks - a huge male, mum & tiny calf with a cheeky attendant dolphin riding mum's bow -wave. We shadowed them for about 15 minutes getting as close as 10 metres or less. Why are they such breathtaking creatures? Just their size or grace? I don't know but we loved them.

A memorable moment with a humpback

Next we were rocketted to a pair of manta rays wandering outside the reef. We jumped into the 5 metre water with almost no qualms. Unfortunately they were not interested so we didn't even see them from the water. Undaunted we rejoined the boat & waited for the plane to direct us to their new location. Again we hit the water. They were still shy but this time they approached within 2 metres of us before effortlessly banking right & gracefully gliding away. What a blast.

The skipper decided that these recalcitrants were not worth further effort so we followed the plane's directions to a group of 6 manta rays pirouetting about 10 kms further south outside the reef.

Into the water again & this time it was GREAT. The water was much deeper at about 8 metres so we must have resembled 6 succulent pieces of shark bait. Neverless we didn't care because 5 metres below us were these magnificent creatures nonchalantly floating in single file then twirling in circles. As Jake & I dived to within a metre or two they showed little interest. The only sign they noticed us was the execution of an occasional effortless half roll. This lasted for probably 20 minutes before they casually disappeared. Apparently they can be playful & will allow divers to tickle their tummies.

All smiles after diving with the manta rays (Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth Peninsula in the background)

After recovering our breaths we returned to land, again at exhillarating speed, excitedly discussing the adventure we'd shared.

We couldn't just return to normality immediately so we we shouted ourselves to cod, chips & wedges. We sat under the stars thoroughly contented & recounted the afternoon's highlights.

We again returned to our favourite place for the night. This time we watched the start of the boring 'Titanic' then raised the tempo by changing the channel to 'Lethal Weapon 4'.