Denham & Monkey Mia

A week of dolphins, ‘roos and roadhouses

Waiting for my connecting buses in the Binnu and Overlander roadhouses gave me plenty time to ponder whether my 3 nights in Kalbarri had been long enough. It felt like it had gone past quickly, maybe too quickly, but I figured if I hadn’t done either the gorges walk or the coastal cycle I’d have had a whole day of doing very little and it would have felt a lot longer.

Roadhouses don’t really inspire much interest in many people, me included, but as far as time spent waiting for buses in them goes, the trip from Kalbarri to Denham was at least mildly interesting. In Denham we were passed by a convoy of lorries, each containing a rather large chunk of a mobile home – it was quite bizarre to see someone’s home – including garage/car-port – chopped into 3 and dumped on the back of a few lorries. Approaching Overlander, the descending sun set the fire alight with a palette of iron/blue hues that seemed typical of Australia, both in colour and intensity. Most of our wait in Overlander was spent chilling out watching the fading after-glow.

From what I heard from people I’d met previously, I was expecting the shuttle bus driver to Denham & Monkey Mia – Dennis, I think – to be very chatty but I think the general sleepy mood of most of the other passengers didn’t prompt much conversation from him so the journey was spent, between dosing in and out myself, watching the stars and checking the road ahead for kangaroos.

Arriving in Denham at night meant that, as I walked out of the hostel next morning, the sight of the calm, clear turquoise waters literally across the street had an even greater impact on me. Most of Tuesday was spent strolling up and down the main stretch of shore, in awe of the peacefulness of the village and the waters that it looked out onto. I also had a nice chat with a guy from the south-west who was up on holiday with his dog and who both seemed to be having a great time in the water, which still felt a little bit chilly to warrant jumping right into. The museum is apparently really good, although I only had a look round the reception and into a humbling gallery that documented the events of the death-marches, which saw so many Australians loose their lives.

Wednesday morning and we took the free bus to Monkey Mia for the day, arriving just in time to see, but not take part in the first dolphin feeding of the day. The dolphins are fed 3 times each day between 8-11am, giving them no more than 1/4 of their daily food requirement, allowing the volunteers to monitor the dolphins while avoiding them becoming dependent on humans for food. It was interesting to hear – and read in the visitor centre – about the local dolphins’ family tree as well as about the unique markings and deformations on their dorsel fins which make it surprisingly easy to identify each one. During the third feeding those who attended the earlier ones had a go, mostly successfully at identifying the dolphins based on their fins.

Monkey Mia definitely is just a resort at the end of a fairly long stretch of road and after watching all 3 feedings, a few of the screenings about the local reef including some excellent footage from the BBC Blue Planet series in the mini-cinema and walking the track that takes in the view-points and beach to the north east of the resort, there wasn’t a lot left to do without spending money. On the way back we did pass a guy running and he didn’t seem to have much in the way of water with him, which seemed a little bit crazy seeing as he was about half-way along a 15 mile road at the hottest time of day.

On Thursday morning I did a U-turn on my usual stance of ‘I don’t do wildlife/animal photos’ when I looked into the next room and saw some of the folks I met in Kalbarri cradling a 6-month old roo called Ericka. The owners of the hostel double up as carers for orphaned kangaroos and obviously this creates a sure-fire attraction for all the guests, especially when Erika isn’t feeling so sleepy and actually gets out of her pouch and hops around the room.

The rest of the time, before I headed off on the road again, was spent doing not much at all – pretty much working on the tan and walking along the coast a little bit. Dennis was distinctly more chatty on the run back to the Overlander and could probably have talked forever about how he could lay a perfectly flat foundation with a digger, he did seem to sound a little bit too passionate when reminiscing about hitting roos during his days as a truck driver though. That said, I couldn’t fault his choice of Johnny Cash tracks for the journey.

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.


Finally on my own, on the road and free. First: 6 hours on the Greyhound to the heart of the midwest.

This first bus trip probably set a precedent for how much bus journeys – especially on public transport – are not going to grow on me. With the seat in front of me reclined and the child of the mum behind me having made her goal for the journey to conduct a fairly rudimentary test of the strength of her window, the 6 hours certainly didn’t fly by. The film provided some hope of killing a few hours but only managed one before it started skipping.

After a dreary start in perth, it was great to step into a warm, sunny Geraldton even if it did make the 10 minute walk to the hostel with hiking and camera bags a bit of a sweaty experience. It took about as long again to navigate to reception due to a push door being fitted with a pull handle and that resulting annoyance distracting me from noticing the fairly obvious directions in the hostel.

As someone without a car or much in the way of a budget i didn’t find a huge amount to do in the city – renting a bike allowed me to get up as far as the the river and sunset beach and down round the headland where the lighthouse is. The HMAS Sydney memorial was interesting as well as giving the best view over the town. I didn’t find the impressively built cathedral particularly compelling once inside, but maybe that’s just a reflection on my beliefs.

The hostel was great, i think the number and friendliness of long term guests are what made it such a nice place to stay at and there wasn’t a night where there wasn’t someone outside to have a drink or barby with.

The Great South-West

This may turn out to be quite a half-hearted attempt at a documenting my trip as i’m writing it all on my phone but here goes anyway..

My first week in oz saw my uncle and i travelling along the south coast through Walpole and albany. After 6 hours spent on a train and then a bus, we were finally in the ‘town’ of Walpole. Clearly the idea of scale down here is somewhat different to what we have a scotland as sleepy little Walpole is really more of a well facilitated village than the rural hub than its classification implies.

Thanks to our host, dave, we saw a number of the best bits of the area including the tree-top walk, giant tingle trees, climbing mount franklin, the circular pools on the franklin river, denmark and mandalay beach which, gave me my first contact with the great swell of the southern ocean.

The latter half of the week was spent in albany, which initially i didn’t see the justification for being called a town. Once we braved the wind and rain to cycle to one the lookouts over the town it was a bit more apparent that the place does sprawl quite a bit. Staying at the Bay Merchants hotel near middleton beach meant that we didn’t have the luxury of having our host chauffeur us to the sights but they did have a set of bikes to use and which were in better nick than anything i’ve rented in oz. Unfortunately almost every day saw some rain and somewhat more wind so we were limited to covering the length of middleton beach and the lookout over the city.

After a week in a climate comparable to that of a scottish autumn i was quite happy to get back to the relative comfort of perth although freedom and warmer climates would ensure that I wouldn’t spend too much time hanging round there either.