Kalbarri – first views of the BIG side of Oz

Being off the main Greyhound route, my pre-welcome party to Kalbarri consisted of a taste of one of the more annoying parts of life in, and close to, the tropics as I awaited my connecting bus in Binnu: lots and lots of flies. Not just lazily buzzing around and getting in the way now and again, no, systematically attempting every attack vector on my face until they got swiped away or realised there’s not actually much to eat there. Luckily, the flies’ success was down mainly to the lack of wind at the road-house, so my weekend in Kalbarri wasn’t quite to tortorous as I was expecting.

After having my expectations of hostel facilities and other visitors set quite high by a great week in Geraldton, it was nice to find a new bunch of equally friendly people in my room at Kalbarri. Being an english (well, scottish) speaker and never having really bothered to pick up a second language, one of the first things I felt when I started this trip was guilt, or at least a recognition of a certain ignorance that I have to foreign languages. In a week I’d spoken to German, Dutch, French, Norwegian, Finnish Japanese, Iranian and Mexican people because they all had learned my language to the point where they could have a complete conversion with me.

Kalbarri’s quaint, compact seaside village feel was a refreshing contrast to the industrial bland-ness of Geraldton – it felt much easier just to walk out and explore the place and feel like I was going to see something other than shops and industrial units. Although a ‘coastal’ village, Kalbarri actually hugs the last meander of the Murchison river estuary, providing a shore-front with water that is always calm but with the massive swell of the Indian ocean constantly crashing in the distance, looking like an impending tsunami that never quite reaches the shore.

On the first night, Glenn, Erick and Yutah (some of my room-mates) decided to check out the local pub – later investigation uncovered that it was indeed the more ‘popular’ of the two village pubs that we went to but we still ended up playing darts to pass some of the time. In spite of a slow night, we had to walk Yutah home and then chuck him out in the corridor so we could get to sleep (even the guys in our room who hadn’t came out and got woken up by us trying to lift a sickly drunk japanese guy out of the room on his now minging matress found the whole thing hilarious :) and to this day we have no idea how get got in such a state from so few drinks.

On Saturday, Henrikka – a Finn who was the only other person on the shuttle-bus from Binnu to Kalbarri the previous afternoon – and I went the shore to witness the daily spectacle that is the morning Pelican Feeding. Every morning, at 8.45, a couple of pelicans and a mob of lout-ish gulls congregate at the end of a seating area built specifically for the event. After some introduction about the pelicans, the kids get a go at chucking some fish at the pelicans’ mouths, mostly resulting in the gulls swooping in on the short throws and providing some quite entertaining fighting and fairly bloody birds by the end of it. Then some fairly willing older folks get a shot at feeding, but they get to the hold the fish in their hand and watch a bird with a mouth as long as their arm come up and snatch it. I wasn’t feeling brave enough to try my hand at the feeding, that morning.

We then took advantage of the bike-hire package offered by the hostel and got a lift, with the bikes, about 20km down the coast to one of the more southerly coastal sights: Natural Bridge. The distinctly thick-looking cloud-cover over Kalbarri that morning had deceived me into not putting much sun cream on before leaving and as soon as we stepped out into the southern reaches of the national park I knew the day would probably end with an all-over stinging sensation. From Natural Bridge, we made our way back up the coast in a hot (by my standards so far), but perfectly beautiful day. On the road back there are a number of side-tracks leading to scenic coastal views including Eagle Gorge, Pot Alley and Red Bluff – the fantastic weather compelled us to sample the view from every one of the available spots so it took us around 5 hours to get back to Kalbarri, making it a cheap but worthwhile day of coatal sight-seeing. On the way, we saw a pod of dolphins cruising along the coast and a pair of whales which were so close to the coast that they put on an impressive show of tail-beating (apparently a way of communicating with each other when the noise of the sea crashing against the coast drowns out their normal noises).

Back in the village and after a cold shower – more out of the necessity due to my burning arms and face than a liking of washing in cold water – I finished a great day by catching the sun sinking down and breaking through some clouds on the horizon.

Meeting up with Rachel and Emma – two girls I’d met in Geraldton – was rather handy as, on Sunday, they gave me a lift into the river gorges of the National Park. From there we walked in to see the postcard views from Nature’s Window – a rock that has formed a hole framing the river gorge below, then carried on round the 8km ‘Loop’ track which follows the inner bank of one of the meanders of the murchison river. The first leg of the walk – down one side of the ‘U’ shape of the loop – was up high in the gorge looking down to the idyllic banks of the river; the second leg – along the bottom of the ‘U’ – took us down the water’s edge, sheltered from everything but the searing sun by the gorge walls looming all around us. Lunch was had on the sand, beside trees, water and beds of flowers before continuing along a fairly precarious part of the path which took us along a rock ledge which hung well over the river and, at one point, had to be scrambled through – fun, but I’m not sure if the signs made it clear enough that there was a relatively dangerous part of path to be negotiated. The rest of the walk was spent wondering just how far we had to go – most of the confusion arose from half the maps being mounted upside-down on the marker posts with the indicator of where we were being a hole drilled through them.

Evening saw me meeting some German, Dutch and French folks and eventually doing a bit of midnight star-gazing on the beach with the help of some goon. I don’t think anyone failed to be amazed by how many stars came out on my test shot of the Milky Way – after that we got some cool shots with people strobed in front of the epic star-filled backdrop.

Monday morning and, for want of anything better to do, I was back at the pelican feeding – even after seeing a person’s whole hand inside a pelican’s mouth days earlier, I still somehow decided I’d give the feeding a go – and now have the scar on my hand to prove it. It didn’t hurt at all and I don’t think their beaks are that sharp, but they are so quick at nipping the food out of peoples’ hands it’s pretty hard to avoid getting a wee scratch.

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