Exmouth to Perth
13th August - 4th September, 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.

13/8/2001 Ningaloo Reef

We woke to patchy cloud. Panic! Clouds - do they mean rain? They have been so rare during the last 5 months.

We had a brief shop before heading off to one of the jewels in the crown of the Pilbara - Ningaloo Reef. The reef and the beaches encircle an enormous lagoon some 250 km long. Although the beaches are some of the best in Australia/the world (as is the surf on the outer reef), our main focus was snorkelling the coral bommies inside the enormous lagoon.

Our first experience was 'The Mesa'. It was good but underwater visibility was limited to about 4 metres.

Just before we entered the water a fisherman divulged that he'd seen a 3 metre tiger shark & a group of 2-3 metre white-tips. If you guessed that our hearts were not into an exhaustive survey of the assets of the site - you'd be correct.

Incidentally the morning cloud was gone by now. The day had devolved into the normal 28deg max; 14 deg min. Perfection.

Have I mentioned that the sun in the north is not as savage as that in Sydney, even allowing for seasonal difference? We all stay all day in the sun without protection - something we can't do at home when the sun is at a comparable angle (Derby in July equals Sydney in April).

Still in high spirits we moved 3 km south to our second site - Lakeside. This was officially rated higher than the Mesa. WOW. Viz of about 10 metres, coral & so many fish! We spent 45 minutes pointing & gesticulating. Thoughts of limb donations to 3 metre tiger sharks were driven far away. We were almost able to touch fish ranging from tiny neons through to unidentified guys up to a metre long, and the colours......

The adjacent small campsite was full so we moved to another site 1 km north. Here the sun sets over the sea EVERY NIGHT. Far offshore the large swell breaks on the reef with only a low roar reaching the beach. No south Pacific or Caribbean island we have visited can compare with this place, except for the total lack of palm trees. The cost is cheap by foreign standards but not by Ozzie standards - $14 a day for a drop dunny or nothing depending on the site.

While we slept, dozens of red roos & grey wallabies stood guard outside. Unfortunately there were sandflies - but nothing like the Kimberley. Robbie spoilt us again with one of her delicious concoctions - a pseudo-Laksa this time. She is so talented.

A few of our overnight sentinels

14/8/2001 Ningaloo Reef

Today should be a highlight - Turquoise Bay - 2 snorkel sights of which one has an excellent reputation (the other is only very good).

We got away quickly & were ready to hit the water at about 9.00. The aqua lagoon looked magnificent in the morning sun again with the white surf behind & the golden sand in front. We dived the lesser site first & it was very nice. Rays, coral & lots of fish kept us going for an hour or so.

We recuperated for half an hour then entered the water at the better site.

The usual stunning beauty of Turquoise Bay - this time with an old blemish


Now this was a treat. (Robbie now writing.) I've dived many places in my life and this snorkelling is up there with the best. On par with Orpheus Island (North Qld). We could do a list of the many types of fish and coral (if we could name them) but it does not do it justice. The dive strategy at this spot is to go south of the dive area and allow the current to take you north, parallel to the perfect, sandy beach. Our first few minutes of entry delighted us as we entered the warm, turquoise water and saw coral bombies 30' off the shore with about 5 beautiful types of fish, a school of trevally passing by and a reef shark about 50 feet away. And it got better. We went out 100M from shore to where we reached the stag coral, all at a depth of between .8M to 2.5M. The fish there were a little different, then there were the brain corals and many variations of other corals and sponges - and in colours of blues, yellows, olive greens, pinks. Small iridescent fish darted in and out of coral, while the bombies offered protection for many other types. Wrasses, parrot fish and leather jackets were brilliantly coloured and varied, some even wore pastels. Rays abounded and we saw some very skinny, long fish (like huge long toms) swimming in pairs - really weird. Then there was cute - small tiny box shaped fish, small yellow coloured darlings, some spotted.... Then there were the sand digging / burrowing fish. All this is with about 50' visibility. We thoroughly enjoyed our dive and left after an hour - to have lunch.

Some underwater pictures from brochures to give you the idea!

We had another 2 dives after lunch and the list of what we saw just got better, and longer. Zoe first discovered a couple of turtles. She managed to keep them there while calling Jake and Steve over. She then patted them on their shell while Steve and Jake looked on. Before Jake could do the same, Steve tried to ride the turtle and unfortunately it took off. Jake found me first (I'd been emptying sand from my fins) and then Zoe - excited about the turtles and sad I missed out. Zoe's mission was then to find me another one - which she did and we followed it for quite a few minutes. Then, more reef sharks and more fish and coral.

This was a wonderland - just magical. Good visibility, coral and fish about a metre under the surface which means great colours. Just imagine watching a brilliantly coloured wrasse feed from a coral bombie less than 1 M from your face. We found a bombie with 8 large coral trout sheltering - many schools of fish - some black, some silver, some barracuda, some multi-coloured. The light flickered and shone in rays under the water. Then we saw a moray eel. It swam across to a bombie then left that one for a larger one - Zoe and I just watched, mesmerised. Then an octopus! Zoe pointed it out but I couldn't see it on the sandy bottom. Then she pulled out her snorkel to say 'octopus'. And yes - there is was, perfectly camouflaged. Zoe signalled she would dive closer and the creature instantly, with one pulse, changed colour to red and propelled itself closer to red coloured bombie. The change was a shock. I tried to get closer and it moved around the corner and changed to a 'lumpy' colour to blend in with its change of scene - finally seeking a hideout under the coral.

We swam for hours - more long fish, sharks, schools, rays, colours, cow fish, angel fish, clown fish, parrot fish... Coral, sandy bottom, sun, warm water, light displays... I think you get the picture - just beautiful. From a mum's point of view - it was a privilege to watch Jake and Zoe free diving under me, amongst it all. As Jake put it: 'our trip can't get better than this last couple of weeks'.

We now need to get a book on fish so we can mark off the types we've seen. (We already have a bird book, diligently marked off with discoveries.)


We left late to watch the sun set from a new night stop site - T-Bone south (romantic names around here). We must mention the wallabies and red kangaroos and emus that abound in this park - the most wildlife we've seen. Galahs abound and it is just a must-see national park in Australia. En route to our camp spot for the night we saw about 40 kangaroos along the road. Apparently the rangers are reintroducing the bilby back into the park as they have the fox and cat problem under control.

15/8/2001 Ningaloo Reef

Just in case, we forsook Turquoise Bay & headed for an equally recommended site - Oyster Stacks North. This can only be dived at high tide. The high tides were at night this week but this day, as there were only 2 tides (instead of the normal 4), was our best chance.

The fish were fabulous again but the coral was badly damaged in the huge cyclone of 1999. It didn't match yesterday's dives so we wandered south to have a look at a couple of gorges including Yardie Creek. We had unfavourable reports about the road south of Yardie Ck plus the beaches north of Coral Bay are reputedly superior to those on Ningaloo station so we had decided against trying to cross the creek. On seeing the crossing this proved to be opportune.

After lunch we returned to Turquoise Bay. An emu led his brood of 5 tiny chicks across the road in front of us for a photo.

The dive proved spectacular again - sharks, turtles, rays & multitudinous fish. 3 of us id 2 more dives but Jake having had a brilliant first dive declined to take a second.

Dad & the kids out for a promenade

Mermaid at Turquoise Bay

16/8/2001 Ningaloo Reef

There were very strong winds last night with thick cloud. Sleeping in the van was a bit like sleeping in a hammock.

It was no better in the morning but we headed to Turquoise Bay yet again. The kids 'hit the books' & by 11 am conditions were good enough for a dive. Viz was not as good but the dive was still good. Robbie & Zoe floated nervously past a nonchalant 1.8 metre reef shark. Jake also had a very close encounter. (Robbie: I noticed the shark first, only 3M away, just sitting on the sand bed and nudged Zoe to look. I wasn't sure how she'd react - it not moving away and being so close.... she later told me she thought it was OK because I didn't seem to worry. Trusting soul).

We still hadn't had enough so when conditions improved even more after lunch we did it yet again. At one stage Zoe & I were surrounded by a large school (100+) of giant trevally. They quite happily encircled us for minutes till we broke out.

Unfortunately we couldn't justify spending more time here so reluctantly we returned to Exmouth from Cape Range NP & prepared to leave the area. On the way out of the park we asked a ranger to identify the bones we found a few days ago. The head was not that of a dugong but a 1.5 metre grouper. One of the other bones was confiscated as it used to belong to a turtle & possession of those bones can attract a $4000 fine.

On the way to town we drove up to the lighthouse for a magnificent view over the ocean & gulf. Like an exclamation point for the last week, 2 pods of humpbacks were patrolling the reef just off the lighthouse - no doubt farewelling us.

Exmouth Gulf was probably an amazing coral garden as well until 40 years ago. About that time the prawn trawlers arrived. Their nets suffered great damage from the endless coral bommies so they chain-cleared the gulf just as farmers cleared the land of trees. They justify it by boasting that the 14 resident trawlers have pulled 1million tonnes of prawns annually ever since for export.

17/8/2001 To Coral Bay

Although the Shothole Canyon had not been fantastic we decided to view its neighbour - Peter Knife Gorge - on the way out.

One should never underestimate the Pilbara. The gorge was outstanding. Very desolate, it reminded us of some of the amazing scenery that had wowed us in southern Utah (USA). As we drove up the steep road towards the head of the gorge we noticed a group of walkers strung along a knife-edged ridge in the distance. We were inspired to find the route & 15 minutes later were marching along the same ridge. The ridge line rose & fell sharply but for its full length of about a kilometre was not more than 2 metres wide. On either side it dropped precipitously to the valley floors some 150 metres below. All the while we were surrounded by desolate limestone cliffs in colours ranging from pink to orange through white and punctuated with enormous caves & balancing boulders. A white sand creek-bed wound through the bottom of each valley, the sky was its normally brilliant blue while away to the east sparkled the turquoise water of the gulf.

About to quarter the living Elliots

Strange place for push-ups

View of the ridge we followed in Peter Knife Gorge

We were pretty tired afterwards but nevertheless pressed on to Coral Bay.

What a strange place. It is potentially a tourist mecca with its protected beach-fringed bay, turquoise lagoon, offshore coral reef & spectacular coral outcrops inside the lagoon. But.........the bay is occupied by 10-15 moored boats (mostly glass-bottoms with some trawlers), fishing is encouraged from beach & boat. The settlement itself is bedlam - 2 big van parks which are chockers with salivating fisherman - packed with cars & boat trailers. It feels very congested amongst the general isolation. It didn't feel right to us.

By the time we arrived the clouds had come again. We intrepid divers took the plunge again & discovered this place is aptly named. The coral was brilliant even under heavy cloud. There were many fish but the vast majority take refuge in the huge coral condominiums. The cold wind truncated our dive so we checked into a van park ready to do it again next day. It seemed strange being concerned about the weather. The past 4 months' weather had thoroughly spoilt us.

18/8/2001 Coral Bay

View of the northern snorkelling area of Coral Bay

Determined to allow this place to impress we tried snorkelling further up the beach today.

It was a bit sunnier & the coral looked the better for it. There were quite a few smaller fish but we suspectthat their larger relatives have already been bar-b-q'd. It's not good to compare sites while travelling but, imperfect as we are, this place did not compare favourably so we left mid-afternoon southwards towards Carnarvon.

Trying to get us out of the tropics!

About 50km south we were very disappointed to re-cross the Tropic of Capricorn.

The many highlights of the last 3 months in the tropics we will remember for the rest of our lives.

We stopped roadside on the way to Point Quobba in time to watch a disappointing Aussie team draw with the 'Boks' in the rugby.

We slept well anyway.

19/8/2001 Quobba

The road we stopped beside for the night leads ultimately to Gnaraloo - one of the world's best surf & windsurf sites. We decided not to go the whole way as there was little swell & the wind was on-shore. Instead we went as far as the end of the bitumen - to Quobba station. This place is known mainly for its blowholes although we had heard that snorkelling the gullies in the reef at low tide could be good.

The blowholes on arrival were not too impressive so we drove south along the beach for a look. It was nice but not enough to keep us for the night. We were feeling lack-lustre about heading south into the cold. This was ridiculous as there are many outstanding places shouting for our attention.

Just before we left I saw a couple of guys returning from a snorkel so I quizzed them. They recommended a quick dive near the blowholes in the gullies on the almost exposed reef. I also saw 3 people sitting on the cliff above said reef. They were throwing pebbles, in lieu of bread, to a mass of small fish in the gullies below.

We had a loaf of mouldy bread so clutching it, and our snorkelling gear, we splashed out onto the reef. We had a super time feeding hundreds of fish in one of the gullies. That earlier description - 'like swimming in an aquarium'- was entirely appropriate. Needless to say our exuberance returned immediately as we realised that every day is a new adventure even outside the tropics.

The Blowholes

Whilst warming up in the lee of the van we saw the blowholes 'going off' in the distance.

Off we went & sure enough. These are the weirdest things. There is the main hole about .5 metre across with a cluster of smaller ones. They blow in sequence and start with a very noisy air blast -make that deafening - followed by spray/pressurised mists. They blow hard but the wind dominated to the extent that the spout/spray ascended 10 metres but blew horizontally 50 metres. It is a spectacular place even in this small swell.

The Blowholes

As we watched the performance a pod of 20-30 dolphins cruised to within 10 metres of where we stood. They rolled, jumped and generally performed for us. They left after a few minutes & before they returned a manta ray swam past a few metres away. Robbie jokingly asked what else could happen here not long before a sea turtle swam in to check us out. The dolphins returned for a curtain call whereupon we returned to the van for some schoolwork. Life is tough.

We stayed the night and gorged on satayed pork for dinner - another Robbie masterpiece.

20/8/2001 Quobba to Carnarvon

The adventurers could not leave without feeding the fish again. So Jake, Steve and Zoe donned their snorkelling gear while mum manned the cameras. There were even more fish this time. We were thrilled by a large ball of bait fish that swirled around tightly.

Jake saw a couple of reefies and a squid and Steve saw another reefie. Fish feeding was a highlight. The sun shone, the breeze was light, the waves broke on the outer reef not too far away. Steve joined me on the rocky point to watch the brightly coloured fish below and enjoy the scenery. We decided to stay until later that afternoon.

The Fish Feeders - armed with bread

Jake with bread poised

We spoke to some retirees on the beach who really know how to make the most of their time during the colder winter months. We watched a turtle for some time close by on the beach. Zoe and mum had a fish .... then after a sun-bake, we headed off to Carnarvon.

On the outskirts of Carnarvon we bought some great fresh vegies at really cheap prices from farm outlets. The Gascoyne River mainly flows under the river bed and the water is used to irrigate the area so it has a great farming district with many varied types of tropical fruits and vegies.

This town has a nice feel but not a lot to see. We ended up staying overnight as we heard that we could get frozen, broken, peeled, green, king prawns for $13.50/kg at the 'prawnery'. We stayed in the factory carpark.

21/8/2001 To Denham

We grabbed 4 kg of prawns straight after breakfast and drove to Shark Bay World Heritage Area.

First stop was the remarkable Shell Beach. This is 100km of white shorefront comprised of tiny shells. The turquoise water beyond is really salty which noticeably limits sea life. This is a real contrast to the teeming waters beyond in the greater Shark Bay.

A relatively short drive took us to the delightful town of Denham - picture perfect nestled on the beautiful waters of Shark Bay.

We camped for the night at the speedway.

The white stuff is shells; not sand

22/8/2001 Monkey Mia

Today we devoted to the infamous Monkey Mia. I say infamous as we have received only negative reports about it from people we have met.

First impression is not good. It costs $12 to drive in so we walked. It costs an additional $33 to stay in the van park so we didn't. Once on the beach however, stagger me! It was fabulous!

The formal part was fun. This entailed standing with 200 people as some (up to 9) dolphins wander past a couple of metres away for 30 minutes; then watching about 15 of our number feed a fish to the adult dolphins. Zoe was overwhelmed when included in this privileged group.

As usual the informal part was the clincher. As the numbers of dolphins & onlookers in the formal area diminished the fun increased further along the beach. Dolphins cruised close to the beach and any willing person (mostly Elliots) by striding into knee-deep water could have a close encounter.

At one stage a dolphin caught a 35cm fish near the beach & presented it to a growing group of humans on the waters' edge. The idea was that as a person gave it to him then he presented it to someone else in the group, and so on. This game lasted for 20 minutes.

We spent all morning sneaking into the water to sidle up to finned friends who invariably ignored us but didn't object to our proximate admiration.

The afternoon we spent enjoying the view from the beach before returning to Denham for our first feast on the Carnarvon prawns. Robbie enhanced the taste with a magical garlic sauce. The speedway was our refuge again.

Playing with Pelicans at Monkey Mia

Zoe looking at Nicci & vice versa

Picolo playing fish swap

Jake & Zoe admire the locals

23/8/2001 Monkey Mia

We had such a great day yesterday we returned for a repeat dose.

Again the formal part of the proceedings were fun. This time Jake got to wield a fish in a dolphin's direction.

Then we found how privileged we had been yesterday. There were no informal proceedings today. The dolphins, when near the beach, were only interested in the hand feeding part of the program.

Nevertheless the view of the bay was outstanding, the weather was perfect & the excitement of the tourists as they drooled over the dolphins was infectious. Besides we had booked on a cruise to look for sea creatures generally & dugongs specifically.

Up close & personal


The cruise turned out beautifully. The boat was a 20 metre sailing catamaran but as there was little wind we motored quickly out to a sea grass sanctuary called, would you believe, Witch Bank (Commonwealth?). We found a group/pod/clutter of about 30 dugongs in water only about 5 metres deep. They weren't too shy so we watched them from within 20 metres. The front part of these creatures resemble a large pig whilst the hind part is that of a graceful mermaid. Shark Bay literally teems with tiger sharks & the adult dugongs' only defence is the ability to tighten their skin temporarily enough to deflect a shark bite. The sharks delete half of juvenile dugongs. Amazingly the dugong numbers are gradually increasing now that that they are almost protected - only aboriginals can collectively kill & eat 12 each year.

We also saw dolphins & turtles during the cruise. As the breeze increased a little some miles offshore we also enjoyed a significant time under sail. We returned after 2.5 hours thoroughly satisfied.

We drove back for showers & luxury at a van park in Denham. En route we stopped for a close up look at the 3 enormous wind generators used to produce more than half of the town's power. Reading about them & the associated flywheel energy stores was fascinating for all of us.

That night we munched on prawns - this time in Robbie's impeccable satay sauce de Denham.


Sunset at Denham - we don't have many sunrise pictures do we

24/8/2001 Towards Kalbarri

We headed for the Murchison River. Our first stop was a superb lookout over Shark Bay.

Almost the whole peninsular is now protected by an electric fence. Baiting & trapping have almost removed feral predators & rabbits so endangered species are being reintroduced. This is called Project Eden. At the road entrance canned dog barks are used to deter cats entering by the road.

Eagle Bluff lookout

Shell Beach

That afternoon we drove for 3 hours to the banks of the Murchison River, an hour out of Kalbarri National Park. We watched the low lying shrubbery which sparkled with the gold of new wattle change to forest then to lush farming pastures. The wild flowers started to turn on - with Zoe starting her frenzy of wild flower collecting. Mum drove for the last part of the afternoon before finding our camp site.

25/8/2001 Kalbarri National Park

After a rather chilly night next to the Murchison River (a cold front moved in) and slow get away, we headed for Kalbarri National Park. En route we had to collect samples of wild flowers as Zoe had brought her flower press expressly for this purpose. The flowers were lovely and the variety meant a few stops. We were now in rich farming country - river valley of the Murchison. Fields of canola are found here - which also makes for an eye fest of colour.

Soon we were in the Kalbarri National Park we headed for our first gorge walk - Z Bends Gorge. Unfortunately, just like Karajini, details about the walk were light on, being limited to info in the Kalbarri tourist booklet. Even when we arrived at the lookout and the start of the walk, the location map didn't show the walk.

Anyway, the directions didn't seem too difficult so we headed off after lunch, around 1pm. The walk was SUPPOSED to be about 4 hours. Past experience has shown that these walks have an inflated time estimate and the degree of difficulty is generous.

Canola Field in spring coat

One of the big steps up

The walk was not difficult although a little tricky in parts. The other 3 adventurers relished the parts that required some skill and daring. Mum just wished those parts weren't there. We scaled ledges, crawled along on our tummies on other ledges (my most unfavourite) and leaped across other areas. The overhanging cliffs glowed red and were imposing. We enjoyed the effects of the late afternoon sun and peach coloured reflections on the water pools.

The booklet directions said we'd come to a pool where we either had to swim 100M or climb 50M above the pool. Well, we think that may have been the tummy crawl section (in hindsight). This was supposed to be half way.

There is a reason for this description of our walk. The end was supposed to be marked by a section where the gorge opened out - called 'Four Ways'. After Karajini, we imagined another 2 gorges meeting at a larger pool - or something significant.

There is a reason for this description of our walk.

The end was supposed to be marked by a section where the gorge opened out - called 'Four Ways'. After Karajini, we imagined another 2 gorges meeting at a larger pool - or something significant. Time was pressing on - and when we reached another pool - about 100M in length we wondered if that might have been half way - so we'd better get a move on.

Steve went ahead to scout out the route. Jake and Zoe also went high and low, working out the way through the gorge. It was now 2 hours before sunset and we needed to make a few decisions. We had walked 3 hours and should be close to 'Four Ways' as there would be only half an hour exit climb and walk back to the car park once there. Surely we were close. Returning the same way we came would catch us out in the dark if we did not rush back NOW. But if the proper exit was close, that was the best route to take. Besides, we were tired from the trek so far.

Steve literally ran on ahead and we had a signal of cooees if he found the exit (ie. Four Ways). Finally he returned - concerned about the approaching sunset. Jake had already scouted a junction up the gorge wall and checked out what could have been a path if you used you imagination - but he only saw animal tracks (with plenty of cob webs) and no return path or road. Besides this did not look anything like a "Four Ways" opening of the gorge.

Steve took another climb out of the gorge - as I was wondering if the rim walk may be easier or maybe there was the road above somewhere.

Belly flopping through clefts above the water
The Kalbarri Z Gorge in the later afternoon sun

I started heading back as I was the slowest, depositing Zoe and Jake at intervals - they would relay a cooee signal if Steve found the way out. During Steve's absence, Zoe could not get a response to her cooee. The bends of the gorge and water noises meant we could not separate very far, so I returned with Jake - to keep Zoe company, as she was feeling very lonely at this stage. We were seriously considering the option of spending a night in the gorge - as climbing in the dark would be virtually impossible. We had come a long way.

The kids enjoy the acrobatics

Steve finally returned 45 minutes before sunset, disappointed we had not gone on ahead. He had bush bashed for quite a distance and ended up coming down Jake's original exit area. We decided to rush back the way we came in - with Zoe and Steve going ahead and Jake staying with me. I was the slow one. After 2 knee operations and due to a much lower fitness level, I was not as confident as the others.

Jake was a great help - he's now strong enough to pull me up and lower me down. It was all a matter of choosing the faster way of travelling.

Part way back we heard a cooee from those in front. Finally we reached Zoe who had stayed so she could show us the way she had found. There was no time for trial and error. She also help push, poke and advise me on the walk. Jake and Zoe were great - responsible and caring. We hurried as fast as I could.

In the meantime, Steve had reached the car and collected torches, drink, chocolate and aeroguard. When he returned to the gorge floor he was so disappointed to not hear a return cooee. He'd hoped we'd progressed further than we had. He hurried to find us after sunset (around 6:10pm) just past the tummy crawl. We were glad to see him. We still had one area that would be difficult for me - a leap across the water from one dodgie rock to another. This is not good for knees and I was not confident. When we got there, the 'experts' decided there was no way around - mum just had to do it. Steve sent the kids on ahead. I scrambled down - only just keeping on the steeply sloping launching rock. The landing rock on the other side seemed so much further away when approaching it from this side. Steve was trying to reassure me that he'd catch me and secure me on the other side. I wasn't sure - and if I busted my knee? We couldn't see the rock lying under the water which I had used when coming the other way. The darkness made it all the more dramatic. I wanted to find that rock. I couldn't, felt so out of control and had to do something that I was scared to do. I lost it for a while and abandoned myself to Steve's instructions. There was no other option. Ready, 1,2,3, leap. I was so grateful that Steve managed the other side. I made it. Now relieved, I burst into tears - glad to see that Steve could not see his woosie wife following closely behind, in tears.

Soon we caught up to the kids and the light was now gone. We still had quite a way to go. Thank God this night had an almost half moon. It was much easier to its light than torchlight, as the torches can distort what you're seeing and blind you to the general surrounds. We made it to the ascent. I've never been so glad to see a 4M ladder. We were so tired - well I was. We just kept going, and after a few more helps up from Steve, we finally reached the top. There, as promised, was a drink of water - we guzzled heaps and rested at the bridge. Zoe had some chocolate. Jake had already gone ahead and reached the van. Soon we walked up the path, .5 Km to the van - so sore, yet very happy we were home. Every muscled ached. It was now 1.5 hours since the sun set. Steve was totally cactus. He'd done the walk plus heaps more - including the gorge ascent and descents which are the most taxing.

We should comment that the gorge was one of the most striking we have seen. It was also one of the best for climbing, squeezing & clinging. It did not have the adrenalin rushes of Karijini though.

We were not suppose to camp in the parking area and were suppose to drive 35km out for the night, on corrugated dirt roads. Needless to say we stayed where we were. The night was very cold - glad we were not in the gorge!

26/8/2001 Kalbarri area

We checked out the Loop Gorge this morning (after another cold night!). This gorge, which starts with Nature's Window is supposedly more popular. It is nowhere as pretty as Z Bends but a much easier walk. Zoe and Steve walked the gorge in very quick time as there was no cause to slow down anywhere. Jake and mum, still weary from yesterday's effort, just had time-out in the van - doing web site and drawing.

After a light lunch we headed off to Kalbarri for a caravan park and washing! We were surpised to find we had mobile phone connection so we made some calls home (including a birthday call to Vicki) & did our email.

Decoration in Natutre's Window (loop Gorge)


Flowers collected from the roadside near Kalbarri

27/8/2001 Kalbarri area

Kalbarri coast

We started today with no itinerary in mind. Consequently we spent the day drifting from scenic place to place down the newly opened road towards Geraldton. Most of the places we visited were lookouts showing the various aspects of the specacular cliffs along the coast immediately to the south of Kalbarri. Some walks were involved.

As most of us were still recovering from the Z Bend Gorge I was the only one willing to a tackle longer walk of about an hour. Although that walk again showed the startling beauty of the area, it was more of the same. For almost the full hour I was apparently straffed by sub-sonic swallows. After a while I realised that they were using me in the same way that humans used bush-beaters in bird hunting. My walking scared numerous small insects into the air. More often than not their ascent was met by a 50kph beak travelling at right angles to my path and within a metre of my body. It was very spectacular to watch once I interpreted the violent aerobatics.

Our final destination turned out to be a bush stop next to one of the seemingly infinite almost perfect, deserted beaches on the west coast.

28/8/2001 To Geraldton

We stopped for lunch & schoolwork at the beautiful Coronation Beach. Zoe & I, armed with fly-swatters, decided to reduce the plague of flies that inhabited the area. The resident ants were ectsatic at our efforts. Amazingly, it only took an hour to virtually eliminate the plague.

After this monumental achievement we headed off to Geraldton. This is a very nice place. We stayed at the beach that night after watching 'Shrek' at the local cinema. This is the most hilarious movie. We recapped the movie over a humungous pile of chips bought from a nearby fish & chip shop.

29/8/2001 Geraldton

This is also a nice town with all facilities. When SE Queensland overflows with retirees, this area from Geraldton to Carnarvon has all the qualifications to become the new retirement Mecca. The only negatives are the sandflies for a few months a year & the isolation from east coast relatives.

We drove past the bizarre cathedral which is a Byzantine style - so out of place here. We ended up at a very interesting tour of the grain handling port facility. Its nice to see Oz exporting renewable commodities for a change. We city slickers now have seen wheat, canola, lupens in the fields & in the silos. We were even briefed on farm practices & the like.

We ended with a visit to the museum with its comprehensive display on the major dutch shipwrecks in the area in the last 400 centuries. The Batavia story was particularly grisley with the murder of 125 people.

We eventually left town as it started to rain & drove uneventfully to Mullewa - the wildflower centre of the central west - & booked in to the van park for hot showers. The temperature is noticably cooler now.

30/8/2001 Mullewa

Robbie, Jake & Zoe visited the wildflower show in town. It was very folksey, the flowers were nice (not as much as in the wild though) & the locals were impressively friendly.

I sat outside the PO & watched the local action. It was pension day so the black community was out in force collecting their money from the PO. As was the case up north, unemployment & young mothers seemed common. Drunkeness seemed much less common here however although that may increase as the pensions are spent. On the whole the community seemed integrated, healthy & happy.

On the advice of the tourist bureau we headed further east to look for the wildflowers including the famous wreath flower. Unfortunately, not only is it a bad year for flowers, but also the flowers are late so we we didn't see the long anticipated carpets of colour. We did see some sorry wreath flowers & others each carefully marked on our mud map & indicated on site by star posts with coloured tape. It was a bit like a treasure hunt organised by Crazy Prices.

We were returning to have lunch at Mullewa when we saw some huge birds dancing in a paddock beside the road. They were ostriches courting. When we stopped & ventured to the fence we became the centre of attention. A few really bold ones got in our faces & demanded to know all about us. After a lengthy interrogation we returned to the car & they became very active. Some sprinted at amazing speed along the fence, some did Whirling Dervish impressions & some resorted to strutting their stuff - wings akimbo.

We headed off after watching for a while and blew another tyre - the one we bought at Halls Creek. This dramatically changed our plans. Iinstead of heading further south for wildflower watching, we returned to Geraldton. We ended up replacing all 4 rear tyres as the price was competitive & they were almost bald - even when we left Sydney.

We dashed off just before sunset & stayed at a roadside stop an hour south towards Perth.

Inside the flower show at Mullewa

Who's gawking at who?

31/8/2001 To Perth

This was a long drive for us - 4.5 hours. We only had 2 stops en route.

The first was a loo stop at Leeman. We managed to buy our first seafood from a fishing boat. It is amazingly difficult all over Oz as the catch is normally frozen at sea & sent straight from the boat to Japan. This time we got a lovely Dhufish (not the east coast Jewfish) for consumption in Perth.

Our next stop was a beauty at the Pinnacles. This was a bizarre desert landscape dotted with rock spires up to 3 metres tall. It was very pretty. It also turned out to be an adventure when we ignored a rangers advice to walk the park rather than try to drive between the spires as the track was very narrow (The only motor home to make the attempt recently had been damaged).

The Pinnacles

As it was a single lane 4km circuit once you started you were committed. Jake & I walked to the supposed problem area & using my sulu as a ruler I decided that we would be OK; just. As it turned out the worst ones were elsehere & Robbie gained a few ulcers guiding us through the tighter ones.

We came though unscathed & headed for Perth. A strong headwind slowed us down & we arrived in the city at 5.10 on Friday afternoon - rush hour. That was a shock - bumper to bumper traffic.

We crawled for 45 minutes & eventually arrived to an overwhelmingly warm welcome by John (Robbie's dad) & his wife Jennifer.

Robbie's cousins, Felicity & Joanne arrived later for dinner. We had beautiful showers, Dinner & company then died than nights in real beds with proper linen, doonas, blankets, etc.

Felicity & Joanne admiring Jake's art

1/9/2001 Perth

First day of spring day today but no-one told Perth - it was cold & grey. We took a long time to get moving but Joanne coaxed us outside & took us to the Freo (Freemantle) markets.

The kids spent some time buying a collection of shells whilst Robbie & Joanne browsed. The rest of the party lunched on pies & pasties but I munched uncouthly through a square metre of beautiful Turkish bread.

We ended up wandering through the old part of Freo. It is beautifully preserved. Most of the opulent buildings date from the 19th century.

One of the streets has been devoted almost entirely to outdoor cafes. It has a nicer Meditteranean feel than much of the Mediterranean.

Returning 'home' Robbie' taught some web crwation techniques to John & Felicity before a beautiful roast lamb dinner with the extended family plus Joanne's boyfriend (Brad).

I snuck off early to watch the Ozzies beat the poor All Blacks again with a miracle try in the last minute of the game. It's lucky hari kari is unknown in NZ.

2/9/2001 Perth

Fathers Day - rude, insulting cards & sleepins were the order of the day.

John took us for a drive to Kings Park. Great park with Kangaroo Paws blooming as an adjunct to panoramic views of the the city & the Swan River.

We drove through the city centre & had lunch with the whole family at John's investment unit on the river's edge. The city skyline looms in the distance. It is an outstanding view. We are really loving the hospitality & company of the Langmans.

We spent the afternoon at Felicity's new home. It is in an award-winning development. Every home is different & distinctive - very modern & nice. Her home is a bachelor pad with a loft bedroom.

That night Robbie cooked the Dhu fish from Leeman to perfection. It was too much even for the eight of us.

We finished off a lovely day with a 7 person game of ten-pin bowling at the local alley.

Chez Felicity's

Extended family dinner

3/9/2001 Perth

Robbie & I concentrated on getting me a job today (Robbie really doesn't want to work much this year). Phone calls to Sydney, CV updates & e-mails to agents all with no immediate result. The position in AMEX has evaporated - presumably another casualty to Indian contractors. This country's IT industry is shrinking rapidly but the governmemt insists on granting endless work visas.

Robbie was very anxious for a while but calmed down. The rest of the day was spent washing the van & getting some replacement parts.

Whilst we were slaving the kids absconded with Felicity, Joanne & Sky (her border collie) to Cottesloe beach for the day. They had a brilliant time but missed seeing a sea-lion who came ashore & went shopping at that same beach.

Felicity left for work & the rest went to see the movie Shrek - the kids loved it even more than the first time.

That night we had pizza at Joanne's place & watched Beauty & the Beast on video.

Joanne's place sans pizza

4/9/2001 Perth

Another relaxed day mainly revolving around van cleaning & a bit of shopping. Langman's hospitality continued unabated.

We were due to leave tomorrow but Robbie got teary at the thought - we will stay an extra day.