Sunday, May 3, 2009

Northwest Trip

G’day folks and blokes.  Its been a long time since my last post and a lot has happened in between. My family visited Perth after our NZ trip, I turned 21 (cheers), and my bro stayed in WA with me for an extra week of fun.  I attended an Aussie rules footy match  (amazing) and have fully fallen in love with WA. I also got a chance to go on a 10 day trip through the Northwest.  Detailed below are my travels.



10 day Northwest Safari: April 10th-19th (coastal to inland)

Total distance traveled: over 3,600 kilometers

Tour company: Australian Adventure Travel

Three weeks ago I returned from a 10-day safari / trek through the Outback of Australia.  The trip, offered only to international students, was designed to show us the real Australia; the one where it is hot, desolate, and filled with deadly snakes.  Through out the 10-day trip we covered a distance that would be roughly equivalent to driving from the east coast to the west coast in the US.  One thing I learned really quickly is that Australia is huge and pretty well unpopulated.  In the ten days worth of travel we covered only one state, never coming even close to the border of another state, and saw few people in the process.

The trip was comprised of 20 or so study abroad students.  We had two fearless guides, Barry and Allen, and our caravan totaled two 4 wheel drive “busses” pulling trailers; one filled with luggage and one which served as our kitchen and fridge.  Barry and Al were quite the duo.  Both a bit cranky, and blunt at times, but they were also very knowledgeable and funny, if you were on their good side.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they did these trips just to laugh at American tourists and how they attempt to survive in the outback.  The Busses were interesting contraptions; they lacked comfort and style, had a top speed of 70, and were capable of mowing over kangaroos without so much as acquiring a scratch (though we did take off a part of the passenger side door when Al smoked one on day 5…Roo!).  And so we were off…on a journey to God only knows where….

Day 1:

The first day was pretty much all driving.  We departed Murdoch University at 8am and traveled north passing through towns such as Eneabba, Pt. Denison, and Geralton.  In Australia it is a “law” that when driving long distances the driver must stop every 2 hrs to stretch and wake up.  Needless to say it was not the fastest road trip I have ever embarked on.  I soon found myself purchasing iced coffees at classy places such as the 25hr roadhouse along the way.  Basically there is not a whole lot to say about the first day of travel.  I slept a lot and jammed to a couple shows I had downloaded prior to leaving.  Overall the bus was really pretty quite with the exception of Barry chiming in every once in a while to point out areas of “interest.”  By the time we arrived at our destination the sun was nearly setting so it was quite the day of driving.  Our destination and home for the night was at Henry Sanford’s Stables (circa 1853; I think this is outside of Lynton…either that or the place we stayed at was Lynton….one of the two).  Essentially, where we stayed at was an old farm in the middle of nowhere…not a 5 star resort but it more than worked.  We pitched our tents next to some silos, climbed a hill that gave us a great view of the ocean and sun set, cooked dinner in a really really old barn and called it a night.  Everyone was pretty tired from the early start and long day of travel.


Day 2:

            We were woken up some time around 5 am’ish for a 6am departure….off to Kalbarri national park.  About 5 min into the drive just as most people were falling asleep, Barry swerved, it remains questionable whether or not on purpose, and hit a Roo squarely with all the tires on the right side of the bus.  The Roo was about the size of a small deer and it made quite a speed bump….no damage was done and I had a good laugh.  On the way to Kalbarri we stopped at Natural Bridge, which is essentially a rock bridge that connects to rock faces that drop off into the ocean.  It was a fantastic view seeing the waves crashing in around these sweet land structures…there were many tempting looking climbs too….but after 15 min we were off and on the road again

We made it into the town of Kalbarri a short while later, unhooked the trailers and set off to the national park.  The area where we went is called Natures Window (see photos online) which is essentially a large boulder with the middle missing, creating a “frame” that overlooks a large gorge / valley. (Enter Flies).  While the gorge was quite pretty and nature’s window was cool as well, the flies were in abundance.  Thankfully I had myself an attractive fly net to cover my face but it was still a little annoying having 40 flies buzzing around you.  Overall I give the stop a 5 out of 10…it was an impressive sight, but a little too boring and fly ridden for my tastes.

            After everyone was done being a touron and had snapped their respective photos we set off back into Kalbarri town centre where we went for a swim in the ocean and ate lunch.  I should note that lunch entailed the same food every day…sandwiches and more sandwiches…they were alright…but not great.  Kalbarri was a pretty cool town…beautiful beaches and I’m sure Kalbarri national park would have been sweet had we have gone for a hike through the gorges rather than just chilling on the top of them for 15 min like we had.

            After we had spent the allotted time in Kalbarri we set off for Hamelin Pool, which would be our home for the next two nights.  Hamelin Pool was located about 200 kilometers further north and 30 k west, right on the ocean. The place where were stayed at was an old telegraph and post office from back in the day.  It was only a 5 min walk to the beach where I watched one hell of a sunset (see photo with the dock and sunset right after it).  Hamelin pool is known for stromatolites which are apparently one if not thee first “life form” on earth…they supposedly also led to the creation of the atmosphere... they currently look like large colorful rocks.  The Hamelin Pool beach was really pretty and made up entirely of little shells (again see photos).

            At night I found myself eating a tasty dinner (I soon found out that all the dinners would be amazing).  Afterwards, about half of us stayed up and played a few card games and just hung out.  It was close to a full moon tonight and then stars were plentiful too.

Day 3:

            Today we were woken up at the pleasant hour of 5am so that we could be on the road by 545 ish.  The reason for such an early rising hour was that we were traveling up to Monkey Mia for the day and everyone wanted to be there in time to see the dolphin feeding.  Monkey Mia is a tourist destination, located in shark bay, which is famous for dolphins as well as bull sharks.  Each day there are 2-3 feedings where wild dolphins will swim in to the beach and people can feed them….under the very watchful and spastic eye of the Monkey Mia staff.  I attended the first of the three feedings, which wasn’t all that great really.  There were roughly 100 people all crowding around a few dolphins swimming in the shallows.  It was pretty cool to see dolphins up close but overall it was pretty touristy and I felt like a total gaper.  The remaining portion of the day was primarily spent cruising the bay on a very large catamaran sailboat.  We cruised to a pearl farm where I got the chance to see how pearls are naturally made and “farmed.”  I was also one of two people who got a chance to taste pearl meat.  While a delicacy in parts of china and Japan (the stuff sells for hundreds of dollars per kilo) I found it to be like a salty chewy scallop.  Not the tastiest of delicacies I have had but it was interesting none the least.  We also got the chance to do what is referred to as boon netting.  What it entails is essentially sitting in a large net that is behind the boat and getting dragged along.  It was similar to a large, cold, whirlpool that moved…great fun.  The catamaran also cruised to a place where we got to see an animal that is similar to the sea cow.

The remaining portion of the day was spent hanging out on the beach.  I got the chance to swim with some dolphins that swam in while I was snorkeling around….it was really awesome having dolphins within 1ft from me just swimming around and checking me out.  I also saw a large sea turtle cruising around on the ocean floor.  all in all it was a pretty good day…Monkey Mia itself was a total tourist trap but the sailboat and the snorkeling more than made up for that.  The night was spent back at Hamelin park “campground” where I watched another great sunset and called it a night after a few card games and a game of “taps” (read multiple games of taps)

Day 4:

Day four was one of my favorite days on the trip.  We did quite a bit of traveling as we heading further north to Warroora Sheep Station where we stayed for the night.  The plan was to get up to Warroora early in the day so that we could all have a swim at the 35 miles of private sandy beach on the station.  There was a bit of concern regarding the actual ability to swim as there had been a 5 meter salt water croc spotted only 1 kilometer up the beach from where we would be swimming.  Not worry, when we arrived at Warroora, which is in the middle of absolutely nothing (think middle of a desert and you would be closer to human life), there was a board informing us that the croc had been shot earlier that day…though that message was followed by “dead?”….hard to imagine one could shoot a croc without knowing whether or not they killed it.  Anyways…Warroora is a 300,000 acre working sheep station (we were later informed that this is considered to be a small station…the largest is 6,000,000 acres).  The day was spent swimming and relaxing on the beautiful private beach.  I also went and explored some sand dunes (see photos).  It was a great afternoon to say the least.

The night that followed was pretty hilarious and outrageous.  As we were sitting around a campfire back at camp,  a fellow by the name of Colby waltzed over.  Colby was quite the stereotypical Australian bloke.  Wine in one hand, harmonica in the other a few of us immediately took liking to him and we followed him over to his camp for some drinks. Turned out that Colby and four friends had escaped their wives, driven to the middle of nowhere and were spending a week drinking, fishing, and doing other manly things.  One thing let to another and soon we all found ourselves singing along to hootie and the blowfish, obnoxiously playing the harmonica, debating politics, and did I mention off key singing?  It was great and outrageous at the same time.  I have never had a night quite like it…and I don’t think it will be repeated anytime soon.

Day 5:

            Day five was spent at Coral Bay, part of Nigaloo Reef (smaller than the great barrier but supposedly it has more coral and wildlife).  Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy and cool when we were there but it was a really sweet area.  We spent the day snorkeling from a glass bottom boat.  The boat took us to 2 “dive” spots where we saw many variety of coral and fish.  It was really pretty sweet…but a little cold too.  The rest of the day was spent napping on the beach, eating a couple meat pies, playing some baseball, and just enjoying the views.  We watched the sun set from the pub during happy hour and enjoyed a jug with everyone on the trip.  The night was spent around the campfire where we played a few games, watched Adam almost start a bush fire, and looked at the amazing stars. Great day.

Day 6:

            Day six was the day that we headed inland to the unknown outback.  The entire day was spent driving from coral bay to Karinjini National Park.  The drive was somewhere around 8 hours with nothing to do but stare at flat bushland that went on for hundreds of miles.  Every two hours we would stop at a roadhouse for petrol, bathrooms, and a stretch break.  I would regularly buy an iced coffee and some sort of munchies as well.  A roadhouse is a uniquely Australian ordeal.  It consists of a gas pump, outrageously priced convenience store, a dodgy looking restaurant, and goofy people behind the counter.  Seems weird to me that someone would subject themselves to working in the middle of nowhere where the temperature regularly exceeds 120, people are rarely seen, and there is nothing surrounding you but dust and tumble weed.  Interesting to say the least.

Anywho…we finally arrived at Karijini National Park…home to millions of flies, spiders, dingos, snakes, red dirt that stained everything, and did I mention flies.  It was great.  We set up tents, made dinner and watched the thousands of insects climb in and on everything.  One individual was brought to tears with all the spiders and bugs flying around…it was great.  I did not sleep much that night due to dingos walking within 1ft of my tent all night…just so happened that I was the one who grilled up steaks and brats for dinner…perfect I must have smelt like one tasty meal.  It was a long day of travel but I was anxious for what was to come the next day.

Day 7:

            According to the itinerary, this day was going to be “full on”…what that exactly means I do not know…but I had some high expectations.  We unhooked the trailers from the buses and set off to the other side of the park to hike through gorges and to swim in waterfalls and pool.  In an attempt to discourage anyone from acting like an idiot, there was an information board at the entrance to our “trail” that listed the typical rescue timeline and process should anyone need medical help.  Between notifying rangers, getting to the site, setting up the equipment and actually pulling the person out of the gorge, it took 13.5 hours. And then they have to be flown back to Perth for any treatment, which is 750 miles away. When I found out you have about 5 hours to be saved from a snake bite, I made sure to watch where I was walking and kept a close look for snakes and such.

This was by far the best day and highlight of the trip.  We descended and climbed through gorges and steep cliffs requiring ladders to get down.  In total we climbed through 3 or 4 different gorges, all with natural pools and waterfalls, which we all swam in.  we also did a little cliff jumping and some sketchy rock climbing.  The pictures capture the day more than my efforts at explaining it…

The day was capped off with a damn good chili dinner, which I devoured until I was fat dumb and happy…. Really really good day.

Day 8:

            We spent the morning swimming and cliff jumping back at one of the pools.  It was a really nice day, and what a way to start a day by hucking yourself off of a 25 ft cliff into a shallow waterfall pool…good fun.

After a morning swim at Fortescue Falls, Unfortuately, the main fun of the trip was over at this point…it was time to leave the dingos, spiders, and flies of Karijini behind and head south towards Perth…though we still thousands of miles out.  So basically we had another long driving day from Karijini to Newman.

Newman is known for mining…and that’s about it.  We arrived in town, set up camp and enjoyed the luxury of running water, showers, and a pool.  After a bbq, naturally being university students, we broke out a deck of cards and a few drinks.  Within 10 minutes or so, 5-10 miners started drifting towards our contingency, beers in hand…could have been due to sensing females within 100 miles for the first time in ages.  The miners were a friendly bunch of bamfs and I struck up a conversation with a few of them.  In particular I talked with a local chap and a bloke from NZ.  A little background info on the newman mining industry:  starting wage for miners is  around $3,000 a week, housing is provided by the mining company, yearly salary is around $100,000 USD, they work only 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts for 4 weeks then they get one week off…most just work for a few years to make some money and buy some toys / house.

Anywho…we soon found ourselves following one of the miners, Allistair, to a bar called the Red Sands.  While we were specifically warned not to go there due to its reputation as a ‘punch up’ (fighting) pub we took our chances and ended up having a great time.  The pub far exceeded my expectations and I found myself chatting up the local Newman he and shefolk.  Unfortunately no fights broke out, but it was a great time none the less.

Day 9:

            Day nine was another long travel day.  We essentially continued south through mining towns, and through the middle of nowhere.  It was not the most captivating drive to say the least.  We did see some red clouds during our lunch break.  Neither Al nor Barry knew exactly why the clouds were red but the guesstimate was that it was caused from a dust storm…either way it was pretty cool…similar to a sunset in the middle of the day.

We eventually found our way to Wogarno Sheep station where we stayed in a tin shed used for shearing sheep….a great accommodation for the last night.  The night was characterized by a great meal cooked over the open fire, a fantastic sunset, and a sky full of stars.  I stayed up long after most had gone to bed, which ended up being one of the better decisions all trip.  The sky cleared and the stars came out….millions of stars.  It was really sweet to say the least.  You could see stars spanning horizon to horizon, which allowed you to see the actual curvature of the earth…it felt like I was standing in the middle of a large dome.  I saw numerous shooting starts, planets, satellites, and did I mention stars…great night.

Day 10: Finale

            The final day we were up long before sunrise such that we could make haste on our long day of travel ahead.  Nothing exciting to report on the day…pretty much just slept on the bus all day and enjoyed a 9 hour drive.

Overall, the trip was fantastic. I met some great people and traveled through some beautiful country. I saw manta rays, dolphins, many spiders, dingos, coral reefs, gorges, sharks, waterfalls, pools, nearly every sunrise and sunset, and many other things.  I took hundreds of photos, and traveled thousands of miles.  All in all it was amazing and good fun.  To see photos from the trip use the links posted below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3: a few edited favorites