Friday, November 14, 2014

Mario and Steph's EPIC AUSTRALIAN ROAD TRIP Part IV: Coral Bay to Exmouth and back down to Perth

Hello again and welcome to the final installment of this epic saga of memories from our Australian road trip! We left off in Coral Bay, Western Australia. We spent four nights in Coral Bay and did some fantastic diving. 

RECAP: On our first afternoon in Coral Bay, we went snorkeling at the beach. I saw an awesome sea turtle and swam after it, keeping just about 3 meters behind. As it effortlessly glided through the water and what was probably a leisurely pace for the turtle, I frantically scrambled to keep up. I looked behind me to check if Mario was following the turtle too, but I didn't see him. Instead I saw a shark, following me, following the turtle! The shark was also only about 2 or 3 meters away from me. Luckily, it wasn't big enough to be interested in eating me. I think it was more interested in the turtle. 

We also walked to a shark breeding area that was a couple of km down the beach. The black-tips come close to the shore to give birth and then leave their babies there to grow. Once the baby sharks are big enough and hungry enough, they venture out alone into the deeper waters.

* * * *
THE NEXT DAY we kitted up for a couple of the best dives we've ever been on!!!!

Here are some highlights of the photographs taken of the Coral Reef dives by Ed Cardwell of Migration Media (with some fantastic underwater photography equipment). It was definitely the right choice to buy Ed's photos of the dives - the quality of the images is outstanding.

The Gap
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

On the Shark Cleaning Station dive, we saw 20+ reef sharks allowing themselves to be cleaned by small fish. As we were admiring the very hygienic sharks and some elaborately decorated green sea turtles, an eagle ray blasted past us at an incredible speed! It was hard to get a good look at him, but we could see that it was very big. 

How many sharks can you count in this picture?
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Here you can see very well how the sharks glide at an angle, sometimes almost vertical, with their mouths open, allowing small cleaner fish to chow down on any algae or nuisances that have accumulated on the shark's body. The sharks and the cleaner fish have a symbiotic relationship - and usually the little helpers don't get eaten even when they're flossing their big buddies' teeth!
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Manta ray swim
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging
On the same day we also did an awesome manta ray swim. Our boat circled around, in radio contact with a spotter plane above. Once they found a group of manta rays, we jumped off the boat with our snorkels, swimming like mad to chase after the gentle giants. We got very close to the majestic creatures, who did not seem bothered by us at all!

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

You can see how close we were to the manta rays
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Little fish ride along just under the ray's belly with hopes of snapping up any excess crumbs of plankton that the ray drops.
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

The spots on manta rays' bellies are always unique (like a fingerprint) and therefore are a good way to identify them
Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Ed Cardwell - Migration Media Underwater Imaging

Next, it was on to Exmouth 2.5 hours away and the northern-most point of our trip.

We camped for 3 nights at in Exmouth. We stayed at a nice campground with pool and mean, biting cockatoos. We ventured for day trips to a nearby lighthouse and turtle hatchery (saw one turtle attempting to come up onto the beach, but we think it saw us and wouldn't come). We also went snorkeling, to the beach, saw a shipwreck, cooked some nice meals for ourselves and met some nice germans who invited us to party with them at a hostel down the street.

Cockatoo playing with a fishing rod that someone left sticking out of the garbage can

Oh no! It spotted me! Attack bird!!

On our trip to the lighthouse we saw these very imposing towers - 13 of them standing in a flat landscape and arranged in such an interesting way. 

US Naval Communication Station North West Cape - Back during the Cold War, the United States built these towers to close a gap in the communication network used by their nuclear submarines. The tallest of the 13 towers - known as Tower Zero - is taller than the Empire State Building at 389 meters high!

"You are to go to the world's most remote capital city. Then go another 700 miles (1100 km) or so north, and build a technological and engineering marvel. Oh, by the way, you will need to build a town, roads, a power station and a pier. And did I mention the heat and the cyclones?" 
- Brian Humphreys in "Calls to the Deep"

The 13 towers that comprise the main VLF (Very Low Frequency) transmitter cover an area of 1000 acres and have foundations buried up to 17 meters deep. The communication station was renamed in 1968 in honor of the Australian Prime Minister Harold E. Holt, who disappeared while swimming off Portsea in Victoria in December 1967.

The pier that was built as part of the VLF nuclear submarine communication center is still guarded by the Navy, but is accessible with permission and is one of the top dive sites in all of Western Australia!

Navy pier dive - saw lots of interesting animals, including a Wobbegong shark that tried to attack me and some very loving (and some not so loving) octopi! One octopus and I really bonded, as it clung on to my hand and changed colors emotively. We had to jump off the pier into the water (about 8-10 feet) with all of our gear on. Lots of white tipped reef sharks, and some instructors who were just diving on their day off saw a tiger shark a little ways out in the depths off the pier. LOTS and LOTS of big fish - all swirling around us like a cyclone of color! 

A sunken ship, also in the Exmouth area

Turtle hatchery - those marks in the sand are from a large female turtle pulling herself up the beach to lay her eggs. Or possibly heading back down to the ocean, leaving the eggs in a safe place.

When flies attack - - - we were used to it by then

Chilled out echidna

After our 3 nights in Exmouth it was time to head back southwards to Perth where we would spend a few days exploring the most remote capital city and trying to sell our beloved Jeep (with success!).

We had to drive through a wildfire to get there!

Keeping my cool...? Two hands on the steering wheel, two eyes straight ahead!

We passed lots of termite mounds along the way too

A lovely campsite near the river

After two full days of driving, we were in Perth! We visited our friend Alex, who we had met in Oslo

Alex had a couple of very nice-lookin' chickens

and believe it or not, he let us hold them!

We hung out with Alex's friends and went to a market. One guy had shaved his Chow Chow to look like a lion!


Non-creepy: clown in his natural habitat
Creepy: Clown out of his natural habitat, still wearing clown suit and balloon hat

We went for a stroll in Kings Park and spotted Santa and his reindeer doing some training for Christmas eve (it was the 30th of November, after all, so they only had a month to prepare)!

Car trouble

Around this time we sold our Jeep and all of our equipment to a couple of German guys.
Goodbye and god-speed, White Blizzard / Albino Kangaroo!!!!!!!

Exploring the city
Other highlights of our time in Perth: Jus Burgers (mmm), the Mustang bar (where Catherine danced swing), Moon milkshakes, basketball, endless motorcycle-cade after the DMV, mechanic kicked our exhaust system so hard with his boot that it came loose, but then a kind exhaust specialist in the city fixed it FOR FREE and wished us a Merry Christmas!

We also did a day trip to Freemantle where we went on a bus tour, visited Little Creatures and Monk beer and went for a ride on the ferris wheel.
Not Perth's most famous bell tower, but a bell tower nonetheless

"Ein Stück Heimat" for Mario

Film screen in the square - we met a very strange "prophet" there. ...So far everything he told us has been wrong.

We stayed 9 nights in Perth at the Northlodge in Perth. The last night, we got moved up to the master suite on our last night, with a wonderful balcony over the main street. We invited Danielle, Alex and Catherine up there to visit us, then we all went out for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant.

And that was it - the end of our Great Australian Adventure but the beginning of an even bigger, even better adventure!