Western Australia - 21/01-01/02/15

With Heather and Ian in King's Park, Perth.

We picked up a car at Perth airport and over the next seven days covered 2785 kilometres, in a triangle to the north and east.  Places in Australia are so far apart, but we had three specific places to see and we were not to be put off by a few hundred kms on a dead straight road with hardly any other traffic!

Our first destination was Nambung National Park, home of the Pinnacles Desert.  The nearest small town is Cervantes, where we were booked into a delightful B & B, which was definitely on our "they treat you like friends" scale.  Lynn and Gary, our hosts, were full of hints and tips about how to get the best out of our time and we were happy to accept their advice, even though we knew what we wanted to see.  First stop was Lake Thetis, just outside Cervantes, where we found stromatolites.  Now, Western Australia is full of very old stuff, but these are exceptional, being amongst the earliest known life forms on the planet - virtually unchanged for up to 3.5 billion years.  They are found at the edge of water and don't look very lively at all, being microbial mats over which hard crusts have formed.  They look a bit like giant cow pats, but I was impressed, especially given their place in the evolution of life from sea to land.  Where would we be without them?  (Answer:  Still in the sea.)  The Pinnacles are not alive, but owe their existence to living things.  The coast of WA is dominated by sand, and there are many huge sand dunes gradually moving inland, pushed by the wind.  In ancient times, vegetation managed to get a hold in some of the dunes, got covered by more sand, then rain fell, washing sand away and leaving mineral accretions on the trees and forming these strange pillars and outcrops.  Something like that, anyway.  Even the scientists can't quite agree on the process.  It's all very weird and wonderful (even more so as the shadows lengthen in late afternoon) and looks a bit like a set from Dr Who.

It would have been nice to enjoy the hospitality at Windbreak B & B for longer, but once you've seen the Pinnacles and the stromatolites, you've really done Cervantes, so next day we headed northwards again for another 700 or so km. We were off to a beach resort - something we almost never do on our travels.  Mind you, Monkey Mia is quite a special beach resort, as for many years it has been visited by a group of wild dolphins, who come to the beach to interact with humans and accept very small amounts of food.  I had mixed feelings about joining in with this, as even though the rangers explain that the dolphins are free to choose whether they come or not and are not allowed to become dependent on the food, there is no doubt that their behaviour is being manipulated and at least one female has become too lazy to teach her calves to hunt properly, and has not been a successful mother.  The rangers in charge are completely open about this and serious in their attempts to make the dolphins behave as naturally as possible, so I swallowed my misgivings and went along to enjoy the entertainment and very interesting talk.  Nobody is allowed to touch the animals, but people are picked at random to give them a small fish (only a fraction of their daily needs - they have to go fishing for the rest) and I did get to give "Nicky", the lazy mum, one of her treats.  I enjoyed that, and took the opportunity to have a few stern words with her, but I enjoyed it even more when I was swimming that afternoon and Nicky came swimming amongst us, with her calf in tow.  We spent two days at Monkey Mia, lazing in the shade, swimmimg in the sea, watching the dolphins and emus, which wandered around the resort, (including the unexpected sight of an emu bathing in the sea), and going on sailing cruises.  The cruises were to see wildlife and a sunset, but the dolphins were easier to see from the beach.  We did see a couple of dugongs, but the sunset cruise was more notable for its rather exciting bounciness and splashiness than for the magnificence of the sunset!  

After two days we remembered why we don't really like this sort of holiday (too hot, too much sand, too many seagulls - the restaurant at breakfast time was positively Hitchcockian!) and set off happily for the third very old destination on our WA itinerary - Wave Rock.  The rock lies about 400km east of Perth and would form the base of our triangular journey, so now it was time to sally forth along the hypoteneuse - a two day trip, with some interesting scenic stops along the way, including a much bigger and better set of stromatolites.  I remember watching David Attenborough extolling the importance of this location, at Hamelin Pool, so I know it must be a Very Good Thing.  Soon after this we collected a speeding ticket, travelling at 124kph on a completely empty, dead straight road.  No excuses - we knew the limit was 110kph, but it did seem a bit harsh!

Perhaps now is the moment to sing the praises of the Satnav.  We didn't really need it on the open road, but used it anyway, just for the pleasure of hearing our Charlotte Green soundalike say things like "Continue on Indian Ocean Drive for 278 kilometres."  After a twenty minute download in England (not in Harberton, of course, that would have taken for ever - thanks Lisa for the use of your wifi!) it seems to have committed to memory every road, sealed and unsealed, in this vast continent. When we strayed for a moment off the appointed route in search of breakfast, Mrs Satnav instantly exhorted us to "Turn around when possible" and get out of Harris Road.  How could she possibly know that this little track in the middle of nowhere, probably leading only to the Harris homestead was called Harris Road?  And if she knew that, why didn't she also know that there was a roadhouse there and that we were hungry and wish us "Bon Appetit"?  Never mind, it's been brilliant and has unerringly guided us to several remote destinations and into the driveways of various friends that we haven't seen for twenty years or more.  We may not remember what they look like, but Mrs Satnav knows where to find them!

Wave Rock itself is a smallish area of Hyden Rock, named for the little town nearby.  The rock is granite and, much like Uluru, has been left projecting from the landscape when softer rock around it eroded away.  Over millions of years, the wave-like formation has been sculpted by rain and wind and is now a world famous image.  I was interested to learn that until 1964 it was not an attraction at all, but a local schoolteacher took a very good photo and had it published in a newspaper, triggering interest from afar.  To be honest, while impressive, it's not as spectacular as some of its pictures and perhaps rather a long way to go for a rock....

We polished off Wave Rock and its associated points of interest in the morning, then turned the car westwards and keyed the address of Ian and Heather Simon into our trusty electronic guide.  Liz first met Ian and Heather in Bougainville in 1973.  Ian worked at Panguna copper mine and Heather, a teacher, came up to join him, first as his fiancee and then his wife.  Liz met them through the Panguna church and they came to visit the gang at Kekesu.  On at least one occasion they were trapped there by bad weather (no road then, only a six or eight seater plane when weather permitted).  That was when we first learned the adage "Never strip the visitors' beds until the plane has taken off!"  We only met a few times, but somehow we have kept in touch over all these years.  Don't knock the Christmas Newsletter!  They visited us in Devon a few years ago and it was lovely to catch up with them again in their Lesmurdie home, in the hills east of Perth.  When we arrived, Heather had just got home from her first day of in-service before the new school year and was surrounded by names, notices and reward charts to be laminated and cut out.  It all looked so familiar!  Liz set to with the scissors, happy to help, but rejoicing that all that lies in the past for her.  We had a great couple of days, including a fascinating tour of Fremantle Prison - built by convicts for convicts, although it's constructed of sandstone (Perth is mainly built on sand) which meant prisoners could literally dig their way out with a spoon - and many did!  By the time the authorities got around to sending convicts to Western Australia, a few lessons had been learnt, so instead of packing off any old ne'er do wells, they picked people with skills that would be useful in building a new society - a better class of convict, so to speak.

The Pinnacles in Nambung NP. There are literally tens of thousands of these outcrops in all sizes.

Just for perspective!

We hear it's freezing in UK. View from our room at Monkey Mia Resort - high30s C!

A quick morning dip at Monkey Mia and then .............

.... I'll join you for breakfast!

Patiently waiting her turn ........

Early morning feeding at Monkey Mia.

Dugong and dolphin watching off Monkey Mia. Not quite our own private yacht, but pretty close!

Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, Shark Bay - as admired by David Attenborough. If they're good enough for Sir David .......

Murchison River Gorge in Kalbarri NP. We're told it's a raging torrent in "The Wet" - but not on this day!

Wave Rock - part of Hyden Rock

Almost the full length ........

"Hippo's Yawn" near Hyden.

Freo (Oz nickname for Fremantle) Prison

Not so different from HMP Dartmoor!