Friday, November 14, 2014

Mario and Steph's EPIC AUSTRALIAN ROAD TRIP Part III: Kalbarri National Park to Coral Bay

Welcome back! We resume our tale of action and adventure with the next stop after Hutt River Province: Kalbarri National Park. 

On our way to the next campground we saw a couple of kangaroos peeking up through the dry brush beside the road. A sight that now seems so quirky and almost unbelievably surreal, was then a positively mundane, everyday occurrence. 

We drove straight from Hutt River to the Kalbarri area and found ourselves a nice campground overlooking sand dunes and the ocean beyond. We rolled up just before sunset and pitched our tent next to three other travelers who had met while on the road and were sharing a car, a tent and just about everything else. We had dinner together, although we cannot remember their names. The guy who owned the campground seemed a bit strange; but strange was becoming the norm the longer we stayed in Western Australia. The campsite was very windy but had a stunning view from up high on the hill.

The next morning we awoke at dawn (or maybe just a couple of hours later...) to get an early start on our big day in the national park.

If you look very closely, you can see a bunch of wild goats on the other side of the canyon - we heard them before we saw them!

Mario sports the long-brimmed hat with strings - high style in Western Australia

Add a fly net and electric fly swatter, and you're the height of fashion! Here I am, poised and ready for battle

After we had had our fill of fly-swatting battles and bellowing wild mountain goats, we headed back onto the main road, north to Shark Bay and Monkey Mia.

Overlooking the ocean as we drove out onto the peninsula where Monkey Mia is situated

Overlooking the peninsula with the mainland in the background.

Emu crossing

That's 115 degrees Fahrenheit

After a hot drive out to the peninsula, we arrived at the campground in the afternoon and decided to take a refreshing dip in the lukewarm waters of Shark Bay. As we meandered along the beach toward the turquoise water, we were overcome with the quiet sense of calm that pervaded the whole beach. Nobody was running, playing or splashing about. Everyone seemed to be just standing in the water, about waist-deep, looking peacefully out into the bay as if entranced by the natural beauty of the remote place.

The first thing we saw when we waded into the water was a sting ray, closely followed by a dolphin, which actually brushed against a woman's leg as she was standing in waist-deep warm turquoise water. Both animals were in very shallow water and were apparently not bothered by people. Later we saw emus taking a swim further down the beach as the sun set. It was immediately evident to us that, not only was Monkey Mia beautiful to look at, but also teeming with wildlife.

Sunset at the beach

The next morning we were awoken by yet another type of plentiful wildlife in the tree just above our tent: Cockatoos. Very loud cockatoos. At least it got us up in time to see the dolphin feeding!
Second dolphin sighting in 24 hours

The staff who feed the dolphins every morning to impress the tourists have been instructed not to reward the dolphins in any way for behaving in an un-dolphin-like fashion. As you can see, this dolphin learned (probably at a young age back when people working at Monkey Mia would reward the dolphins for doing tricks) to swim on its side and flap its fin to impress visitors. The current thinking is that encouraging this type of unnatural, attention-seeking behavior is bad for the dolphins.

We booked a wildlife catamaran sailboat cruise hoping to see more of Shark Bay's marine life
Mario got to help raise the main sail


Relaxing on a net between the hulls

Francois Peron National Park as seen from the catamaran. The Monkey Mia campground where we stayed borders the National Park, where there is only limited dirt road access for all-terrain vehicles. 

Dolphin sighting #+/-50

We saw a dugong!!!!!!! (A large marine mammal that sort of looks like a fat dolphin from above but is actually related to manatees)

The boat was called the Shotover
We also saw sting rays, possibly an eagle ray, lemon sharks, a sea snake and a spanish dancer

Fashionistas again in the polarized sunglasses they lent us for the trip

We saw this handsome and friendly green sea turtle swimming around the doc

Later that day we went on a sunset cruise, which came included in the 2 for 1 package deal we got (woohoo!)

That night we took a drive to visit a natural springs hot tub that we had to enter in the complete darkness. The stars were incredible as we luxuriated in the hot water under the endless sky. It was very romantic but also scary because we didn't know what the tub that we were sitting in actually looked like! We didn't know if the water was clear or murky or what materials the tub was made from. All we knew was that it was nice and warm. In the end it turned spooky, especially when we had to get out and walk back to the car in complete darkness. We could tell from damp footprints that someone else was there, or had been there recently, but we did not see or hear them. We jumped in the car and high-tailed it out of there!

On the way back, we were driving very slowly on the dirt road approaching the camp ground, being very careful and vigilant as we knew there would probably be kangaroos bouncing around the street. Sure enough, a whole group of kangaroos jumped out in front of our car and we stopped right away. Luckily, we missed them and they jumped away. One of them took its time, jumping back to check out the front of the car before hopping away. 

After two nights at Monkey Mia, we had to head out again. We stopped off at Eagle Bluff on the way off the peninsula to spot some more wildlife from up high.

Eagle Bluff

Lemon sharks

Sting ray

Our next stop was a town called Carnarvon. First we stopped to fill up and spotted this interesting duo of duos:

In Carnarvon, we camped on a mango plantation with a couple of roosters for neighbors. We stocked up at the local supermarket and made a delicious meal at the campsite.

The next day we drove on and crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on our way to Coral Bay

In Coral Bay we stayed at Ningaloo Club Backpackers (there did not seem to be a campground in the area). The hostel was nice enough, it even had a pool and this resident bird of prey:

Sting ray
In Coral Bay, we saw a black tip reef shark nursery right at the beach (saw 50+ baby sharks). The baby sharks keep close to the shore in a fairly secluded part of the beach until they are old enough to venture out into the reef. 

Snorkeling 1st day: I was chasing after a green sea turtle I had spotted a few meters beneath me, swimming as fast as I could to keep up with him. I turned around to look for Mario, but instead I was faced with a grey reef shark, which was chasing the turtle too!! 

We went diving at the Shark Cleaning Station and the Gap. We saw 20+ sharks, an eagle ray (which swam past us super fast!), and did a wonderful manta ray swim (they are enormous!). We bought pictures from underwater photographer from this dive. Next up: some highlights of the photographs taken of the Coral Reef dives by a photographer for Migration Media Diving Photos (with some really nice, very expensive underwater photography equipment).

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