So we are in Shark Bay at the moment, the weather has turned and although it is sunny the wind has picked up and last night it rained! It was horrifying, I think that is the first time we have actually had rain in months. But today the sun is back out, the kids are playing on the most amazing playground and I get to sit and write this. Small pleasures!
But I finally got my seaside adventure! We left Karijini and headed to Exmouth for 9 days of sea, surf and whales. We settled into the RAC park, the kids ecstatic at a playground – what clambering gorges isn’t good enough?! They also made friends with the kids next door and spent the next 2 days in a water fight, $2 dollars for 4 water pistols – bargain! And we got a reminder that school holidays were around the corner and we probably should forward book accommodation – could have thrown a wrench in the next couple of weeks without that vital bit of info.
We headed out on a whale watching tour on one of our first nights. Just a couple of hours pre sunset. The kids loved it, even better they got fed on top of whale watching, double win. I took a million photos of whales. They are everywhere out there, you can hear their breaching like gunshots going off around you. We even had a mother and calf swim right up to the boat and eyeball us. Apparently they are generally pretty curious, they turned the engine off and floated so as not to disturb them. I also learnt a bit.
The mother and calf travel with a male called an escort, he helps protect them and in return at the end of the journey gets to be the next Daddy. Win win I suppose. While they stay around Exmouth the mother teaches the calf to breach, flipper slap and tail slap to help build up muscles for the long journey to Antartica. This year is a trial for swimming with Humpacks. The kids need to be 13 and over to take part, so we’ll put that on the back burner for now. Instead I just got to witness the most mesmerising water show.
The final proof of Exmouth’s brilliance was that we arrived at about the same time as Jamie’s brother from another mother, Robbo and his wife Indi. They were camped down at Cape Range across the peninsula from us until Wednesday when they moved into the van park. So on Monday we packed up the snorkel gear and headed to the Oyster Stacks for some long awaited snorkelling. We were meant to go to Osprey Bay and see turtles but somehow we have fallen back into Langley time and didn’t leave the park until 10:30am.
Oyster Stacks were amazing, you need to go at high tide so as not to damage the coral. We must have spent almost an hour chasing fish around the stacks. Jamie’s go pro footage does not do it credit.
There were lovely bright blue neon fish, and huge long toms. Jack even spotted a white eel. The snorkel mask we bought Zachary was a life saver and he zipped about without a care in the world until he got cold. So we carefully climbed back over rocks – not an easy thing in flippers but highly amusing to watch and headed to Robbo and Indi’s for the rest of the day. While we were there a very friendly echidna wandered past the camp, the kids and I stalked it through the campsites. It was not the slightest bit bothered with the attention – apart from when someone tried to touch it – but mostly it just snuffled for ants and ignored our squeals of delight – ok mostly my squeals.
The next day the wind had picked up and we skipped the seaside for a couple of the gorges in the centre. I know I said I was over gorges but these are the lazy person’s gorge, mostly just driving and hopping out to take pictures white trying not to fall over the edge. The best one by far is Charles Knife gorge.
One of the last stops we made I disappeared off by myself and kept wandering closer to the edge until I came out onto a ledge overlooking the gorge. It just dropped away beneath me, slightly terrifying but so worth it. I took a million photos, none of which seem to convey its vastness! Then turned around to head back and realised I had no idea where I had come from. There hadn’t really been a path so I just kept walking back hoping I would stumble over the car. I was just about to start shouting when Jamie appeared and yelled at me for being so long and freaking him out. He doesn’t do so well with heights and spent most of the time yelling at me to get back (sometimes before I had even gotten out of the car).
Now Jamie and Robbo were back together they decided to rent a boat for a few days and try their hand at fishing. So on Thursday I waved them off with Jack, Phoenix and Shimmer.
It was kind of nice to sit back and do nothing while the kids entertained themselves, although I dragged Abi, Carsha and Zachary off for some snorkelling at Turquoise Bay. Seems a waste to sit in the van when you can visit the most amazing garden under the sea. Abi even spotted a reef shark – kind of glad I hadn’t. I do really need to learn to put sunblock on the back of me when I snorkel though, I am now sporting a lovely red shade on the backs of my legs and shoulders.
The fishing crew returned empty handed but having had a whale of a time (see what I did there??) So they saw whales, they had caught fish but most of them were taken by sharks before they got a chance to land them. It’s apparently an issue in the waters. Disappointing for them but the kids thought it was amazing. I even got to see some very wobbly footage as they attempted to coax the shark nearer with some fish on a line. There just seemed to be a lot of screaming and giggling.
They headed out on Friday morning again with the other half of the kids who hadn’t got to go and returned slightly more victorious with a couple of fish. Zachary after demanding to go had fallen asleep and shown next to no interest. In the afternoon Jamie took Jack and Shimmer and me out for a whale watching trip of our own. The sea was like glass, not the slightest swell as we took to the water.
We’d asked on the official trip about the rules of approaching whales. Basically stay back, don’t get into their path and if they get too close shut down the engine or back away slowly if possible. It didn’t take long to realise that was harder to do than you would imagine. These amazing creatures would often appear out of nowhere, one breaching so close to the boat I might have screamed and run to the other side. You can see the explosion of white water as they breach one after another. We watched a mother and calf take it in turns to flipper slap, and then suddenly leap out of the water together. It will be something I will never forget. I sat at the front of the boat as we raced the setting sun, the salty wind whipping my hair and thought it’s these types of moments that make me realise how lucky I am to live in this country.
The last day in Exmouth was the 50th celebration of Exmouth, we went to the local market, met Captain Barnacle and got free face paints.
But the best of it was the free afternoon at the local pool, Zachary took to the diving board without waiting for me to get his swimmers!
They also had a free inflatable. It was remarkably lacking in adults until Jamie and Robbo challenged the kids and then it was all out war. No better way to spend a few hours on a Saturday and the perfect end of our week or so in Exmouth. It was a bit sad to pack up but I’m already making plans for a return, still want to swim with whale sharks!
So after Exmouth Coral Bay was a change of pace. It was packed to the rafters in the van parks – our neighbours next door woke us round 4/5 every morning with their 18month old screaming. So glad we are past that stage. I can see the attraction of Coral Bay if you have small kids, the sea is crystal clear on beautiful sand and you can paddle for miles before a drop off. Perfect for little ones. On our first full day we took off down the beach for a spot of sand driving and snorkelling at five fingers reef.
The next day Jamie had booked himself on a fishing charter so headed off early to get some dinner for us. The kids and I hung out and then walked the beach to a nearby shark and stingray nursery. I love wikicamps, lots of useful markers. Apparently it’s a nursery for black tip reef sharks (and occasionally white tips, lemon sharks and a few others), pregnant sharks and stingrays. We bumped into a couple on their way back who said there were 20 or 30 sharks. We sloshed through the shallow water sending blue dotted stingrays skipping away in front of us. And then we saw them, in water up to ours knees lots of black shapes slowly circling. We crept in nearer and watched them swim, occasionally a black tip would break the surface. They never came closer than 4 or 5 metres, more nervous of us than we were of them.
Jamie was back with his catch when we returned, including an elusive red emperor, apparently the one catch everyone wants. So now we have a freezer of fresh fish for the future. We had some for dinner, lightly battered, it was delicious.
On our last day we took Jamie back to the nursery and in a brilliant parenting move I gave Jack a mask and snorkel and he happily went off swimming amongst the sharks. Some of them came pretty close, very curious about this new fish. I guess they must be used to people visiting. We finished our day off with some free fish feeding on the beach. A lady comes down and talks about being careful what you feed the fish and then hands out little fish pellets. The fish arrive every day at 3:30, all ready for feeding and swim up and down the line of people, in and out of legs.
In the morning the storm clouds rolled in, and we packed up a dew soaked van ready for Shark Bay.
On the way we stopped over at Carnarvon, I told Jamie we needed to restock which we did but mostly it was because they have blowholes. I dragged everyone out there and watched the ocean explode out and upwards. The kids and I were soaked through but it was so much fun. Definitely worth a stop.
To top it off we finished by cruising the local farms – who supply 70% of Perth’s fruit and veg – and picked up fresh organic strawberries, leeks, corn, cherry toms and bananas. We actually had to go back twice for bananas as the kids ate the first bunch straight away. Zachary has consumed 6 in the last 24 hours which is concerning but I guess I should be happy he is eating fruit.
We pushed on to Denham and the infamous Monkey Mia but after much reading we decided to skip Monkey Mia and the dolphins. After seeing the whales I kind of think it might be a bit of let down, especially as it is now school holidays and everywhere is packed. Instead we headed out to Shell Beach. It was one of only 2 beaches made entirely of shells, bit uncomfortable to sit on but the kids were amazed at all the little shells. And I had fun being photographically artistic – or at least attempting it!
We stopped at Eagle Bluff boardwalk and spotted sharks and school of fish down in the sea. And then finished it off with a trip to Ocean Park Aquarium. For an hour or so we were toured around the not particularly big but fascinating pools filled with fish.
The tour guide was fantastic and the kids hung on her every word. We saw sea snakes – and watched the guide scoop one out of the water – learnt about all the fish you could eat in the waters (and were strongly encouraged to eat calamari without guilt as they are seriously plentiful) and saw Lionfish and Stone fish. Slightly terrifying how well the latter blends in, I have a new found respect for them. They are apparently pretty common in this area and stepping on them results in the most horrific pain imaginable to the point when victims are begging for you to remove the limb in question. We finished off with a tour of the shark pool and watched some lemon sharks circling the lovely fish head on offer.
In the evening Jamie took the kids down to the jetty to try and catch the squid by torch light. A bit of a late night but we got a dinner of fresh squid, yum. Now we are packing up and heading to Kalbarri and a bit of bush camping before we hit Perth.