Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The beauty that sprouts from the ground

(30 October – 2 November)

The wildflowers of Kalbarri NP are one of the features of the region, a perpetual kaleidoscope of colours throughout the year, so whenever you visit, there are always some plants in bloom – and we weren’t disappointed. Spotting the blooms are easy as there is the ‘dry’ green background and in contrast, any other colour shines like a beacon – I’ve uploaded some examples throughout this blog entry.

The stark dryness of the park should not be underestimated as the walk to Nature’s Window attested – the day’s temperature was around the mid-30s, but out in the park it was reaching the mid to upper 40s. The walk to Nature’s Window was not particularly long however the heat sure makes itself felt as we guzzled the water like it was going out of style.

The National Park also extends south along the coast where there are some great surf spots as well as rugged cliffs and stacks similar to those found along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The vegetation is very different to that of the NP to the north and inland due to soil and proximity to the sea – due to winds and salt spray. We were however, fortunate to spot the odd wallaby or roo here, whereas we only saw crows in the north.

The tribe had another experience of feeding the local natives, this time it was pelicans – where the feeding has been a daily ritual for the past 40-odd years – ‘Mr Percival’ was the greedy one forever hassling the lady with the bucket of fish as four other feathered comrades and a gaggle of seagulls waited patiently. Of course, the trick with these greedy creatures is to give them some food after everyone else has some of the feed.

Kalbarri is also renowned for Flynn’s Fish BBQ Restaurant – set in a former fisheries shed, with seating rambling outdoors and under pergolas, the venue is one of those ‘must visit’ places, with bric-a-brac and semi-antique-like collectables scattered about decorating the walls, pillars, display cabinets, and toilets. The menu is based upon what Mr Flynn buys that day. The featured fish for our dinner was red emperor – a robust and firm fish that is well suited to the BBQ hotplate. Also, there is the opportunity for you to sing for your supper, however, none of the tribe was inclined to sing despite them practising ABBA and the national anthem on the drive to the restaurant. Also, no other diner offered to exercise their lungs.

Pushing on down the coast, we viewed the Pink Lake (aka Hutt Lagoon) which is an iridescent pink due to high levels of beta carotene in the water. Quite a bizarre sight in itself, although I don’t recommend drinking the water to boost your daily intake of beta-carotene.

We paused in Geraldton for groceries, post and a spot of lunch, and then carried on with our drive as we aimed to reach the Pinnacles for sunset. Setting in at the caravan park in Cervantes, we quickly set-up before heading to the Pinnacles – another one of those odd geological formations where countless limestone ‘fingers’ sprout from the sandy desert over the landscape.

The tribe loved playing around the ‘fingers’ as it provided the perfect place to play hide-and-seek, as well as chasings. It truly is a magical place though eerie in the respect that it is a very alien looking landscape. The funny thing is, whenever you see images of it whether in books, magazines or on TV, the impression is that it is out in the desert, a million miles from civilisation – yet the reality is that it is barely 200km from Perth, a mere day trip away.

Mesmerising sites on the drive from Cervantes to Perth include the occasional brilliant white sand dunes on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – that is on the eastern side away from the beach – dunes which would not look out of place if you were on camel-back in the Sahara. Also along the way were the occasional grass tree forests – unusual for our east coast eyes as these were forests of only grass trees, whereas on the east coast, grass trees generally exist amongst plenty other vegetation, usually amongst eucalypts.

Thar she blows!

(24-30 October)

After one windy night in Carnarvon we’re heading back north, but this time off-road past the Blow Holes for a couple of nights at Red Bluff on Quobba Station. Talk about a wild and windy coastline – the Blow Holes provided great excitement for the tribe as they waited and screamed in delight at the blast of water sprayed by the Blow Holes, occasionally copping a spray themselves. And the wind was, well, on the gusty side as we could barely hear each other shout as our words sailed off into the wild blue yonder.

There is a homestead located at Red Bluff managing the northern end of Quobba Station, a sheep farm breeding sheep for meat in dusty desert-like conditions. The camp site is well spread out along the beach front, with humpies and the oh so chic safari tents set back on higher ground to capture the view. And what a place!

We are given a site with use of a humpy which also served as bit of a windbreak, though the wind pretty much got you wherever you were, buffeting the camper at night making for a disturbed sleep as we wondered whether we would be tent surfing over the bay.

The view from our site was of the beach and surf – with the occasional visits from kangaroos and ospreys. Possibly one of the best places we have stayed simply for its sense of being in the wilderness – like and unlike the Platypus Bushcamp in Eungella NP near Mackay. And while the bush showers at Platypus were one of the best things we’ve come across, the totally eco-friendly toilet at Red Bluff had an uninterrupted view of the beach and the surf – talk about being on the throne!

On our second day, we took the sandy track up to Gnaraloo Bay, passing through Gnaraloo Station, another farm eking out an existence in the desert conditions, however, like Quobba and Red Bluff, supplementing their ways with eco-friendly camping and cabin facilities.

Gnaraloo Bay, whose waters are brilliant turquoise, is located at the southern tip of Ningaloo Reef and offered us our last opportunity for a snorkel on the reef. On arrival, we were welcomed by hundreds of curlews (?) As for the snorkelling, the closest of the coral bombies are located merely 20 metres from the shoreline, and though the water was a little silty from the winds blowing the fine dusty sand, there was nevertheless plenty of fish life to enjoy. What’s more, we had the whole bay and beach to ourselves – talk about paradise – not unlike being shipwrecked on a deserted island.

On our return to Carnarvon after the two nights at Red Bluff, we made a bee-line for the fruit and veg plantations to grab some fresh, locally grown produce. The best fruit and veg we had in a long time too! We couldn’t say the same about the ‘famed’ pizza from the Old Post Office Café, apparently voted top 5 by Lonely Planet. Definitely the best in town, but nowhere near our top 5 – would even say it wasn’t as good as anything from the Pizza Express chain in England! (oh yes!)

Having talked a lot to the tribe about the dolphins at Monkey Mia, we were finally at the infamous location. But not before a quick visit to Shell Beach, which was, guess what, made up of shells and only shells (cardiid cockles) up to 10m deep – absolutely no sand whatsoever – and one of only two such places in the world – it was a strange place – and damn windy again! Nearby, there were shell quarries used to erect buildings previously made of carved out blocks of the compacted shells.

The tribe were excited at the prospect of seeing dolphins up close and personal in knee-deep water, so there we were joining over 100 humans on the beach at breakfast, some not as kindly as others as some refused to let (shorter) children in front of them. Soraya lost interest as she couldn’t sneak through the steadfast legs and played in the sand to pass the time, soon to be joined by Zak and Kaydin, though once the informative talk was finished, we were able to get the tribe up front.

The dolphins of which there were two to begin with, were joined later by another five (who cleverly timed their arrival for the end of the talk by the guide), are only given a small portion of their daily fish intake so that they are not dependent on the handouts. This means only a few people actually are given an opportunity to feed a dolphin – which proved to be lucky for Saffiya but disappointing for the trio who missed out.

And how to sum up the dolphin experience – too much hype, but yes you do see them up close and personal. However, reports from others suggest you can be lucky in other parts of the Shark Bay and down the coast and have dolphins swim close-by too. But those don’t rely on humans turning up promptly every morning at 7.40am.

One feature not advertised is the presence of emus in the campsite at Monkey Mia – and they don’t mind a bit beachcombing either.

We experienced another of those windy nights at Monkey Mia, again with the inkling that we’d be blown into Shark Bay, as the canvas billowed in and out with the passing of each gust, the trailer shaking by the buffeting, making for a sleepless night.

On the Friday, our last day at Monkey Mia, we celebrated Malika’s birthday, with some yummy cakes at the bakery in nearby Denham – M had an apple turnover, Kaydin’s new favourite is a jam and cream donut which Saffiya also had, Soraya tried the blueberry cheesecake but preferred my hedgehog (due to the chocolate obviously), Zak had a bacon and cheese roll, and liked bits of everyone else’s cakes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the road again

(17-23 October)

Like déjà vu, we leave Broome again and until we passed our accident location 96km from town, we were a little apprehensive about the drive. After passing that point, dark skid marks still evident, we let out our sigh of relief. Yes, we are truly well on our way now.

We have re-kitted ourselves in a replacement car and camper trailer – this time a Hyundai Terracan, a robust diesel 4WD tugger, though a little more squashed than previously, and with an off-road camper trailer of the canvas tent variety. We spent a final frustrating hour or so packing our gear in the trailer and on the car’s roof, still leaving a few things behind, BUT we were on our way!

Our first destination/port of call was Eighty Mile Beach, located about 300km from Broome along what must be one of most dullest roads ever travelled – flat, with nothing of interest to divert your attention apart from endless tracts of Spinifex and mulga as far as the eye could see – more of this was to be our pleasure until we reached Port Hedland.

The Eighty Mile Beach caravan park itself is set 15km off the highway down a dirt road, but located behind the beach dunes. We pitch the camper for the night, our first in the new set-up, juggling what to unpack and what to lay out ready for bunking-in. We catch a glimpse of the sunset over the beach as we dine and then settle in for the night.

The next morning, we take a last look at this long beach – the beach that goes on as far as the eye can see in both directions. Our plan for the day is to drive and get beyond Port Hedland as the notion of hanging around a mining port strangely doesn’t hold much appeal. Apart from the mound of salt about 100metres high, there is not much of interest for us here so we stay long enough to fuel up and fill any remaining space in the car with necessary groceries.

We were looking forward to some free-camping and had ear-marked a couple of roadside rest areas as potential camp sites for the night. Having missed one, we find another and labour over an ‘ideal’ location. As we start to set-up camp, I try bashing a tent peg into the ground which proved to be as tough as the iron ore in the hills around here, so without any dynamite to tenderise the rocky ground, we pack and head off again, into the fast receding sun, gunning for another 100km to reach Roebourne, the next town and hopefully a caravan park.

Roebourne – well we make it as darkness sets in and we get a plot in the caravan park, which we discover in the morning to be well populated by mine workers as there is a local (rental) housing shortage. Oddly enough, we stay two nights, recovering from the previous day’s long drive (some 500km) and to take in some of the local sights – namely Port Samson and Cossack. The former is merely a holiday/retiree hamlet overlooking a small beach and bay – tranquil enough and bursting full of life, not.

Cossack is quite another story for it is also devoid of life but more so as it is no more than a ghost town. A handful of beautifully restored stone buildings make for what was once a bustling pearling town with shops, boarding houses and Japanese brothels – yet abandoned since the 1950s. Interesting to visit if you ever venture this way.

Continuing the journey south, we refuel and stock up in Karratha, another mining town that holds little interest for the tribe. We by-pass Dampier, its sister town and head towards Exmouth and Ningaloo Reef.

We stay at the Vlamingh Lighthouse Caravan Park just on the fringes of the Cape Range National Park – originally wanting to camp in the NP, we arrive again as sun dips beyond the horizon, so opt for the comforts of a caravan park. Needless to say, given its location, it was perfect for us to venture into Cape Range and visit the beautiful Ningaloo Reef.

The place that took our fancy for two days was Turquoise Bay – one of those rare places that not only lives up to its name, but is also a great place to snorkel over the reef – a great new experience for the tribe! They loved it – seeing the array of colourful reef fish blew them away – the excitement on their faces was beyond the joy any toy could bring them. Their favourite was the tiny electric blue fish.

The temptation would have been to stay longer so we could spend more days at Turquoise Bay, however we had to move on so off to Carnarvon we drive, where we were greeted (since leaving the Qld coast) by our first sightings of many fruit and veg plantations – like an oasis for our eyes after the dry shrubs, Spinifex and mulga we had experienced for the past 1000+kms.

Living in Broome-time

(10 September – 16 October)

In the meantime, we spent the first two nights at a lovely resort, with plasma screen TVs in each of the three rooms of our apartment, as well as the very large spa bath in the huge master ensuite. The luxury was the perfect antidote to massage the pains of our incident.

Since then, we have stayed in a cabin at a holiday park, the tribe enjoying the large free-form pool and meeting other kids staying in the park. We have resorted to getting about town by bus and now are familiar to all the bus drivers – Robyn, being the tribe’s favourite.

The boys even had their first haircut experience at the barbers, both sitting ever so patiently while their follicles were trimmed to create a pair of very handsome young men – “would you like some product in your hair?” The boys look back in bewilderment. . “huh?”, not quite the metro-sexual yet; the girls watching on with curiosity.

We have become members of the Broome library, the tribe joining in with their weekly craft activities, which became a near daily ritual due to their excellent school holidays program. This also provided the impetus to borrow books and DVDs every few days which presents useful distractions.

Both Town Beach and Cable Beach have continued to be draw cards, although one trip to Cable Beach resulted in only playing in the sand as the water had been affected by cyno-bacteria for a few days (the water takes on an oil-slick hue and the warning mentioned possible skin irritation though some people were swimming in the murky miasma).

In order to ensure we could continue our trip, we needed to replace both the car and camper-trailer. The car replacement seemed to be an easy choice given there are enough car yards around. Having chosen a car – a Hyundai Terracan – it has taken at least 10 days (and counting) to have a couple of minor repairs done before final purchase.

Broome-time means given the remoteness, spare parts aren’t that easy to track and getting them delivered takes some time too. We were told it would be ready last Wednesday, but now it looks like next Wednesday . . . who knows?

We contemplated getting a box-trailer and tenting our way to Perth before buying a replacement camper-trailer due to no camper/caravan dealer in the region, and very few opportunities of second-hand ones in the classifieds. There was even the suggestion of ordering one from Perth and shipping it up!

Broome-time means biding your time in finding a camper-trailer.

In the end, we found one via the classifieds – this time, it’s a canvas tent style camper-trailer – the whole thing being less than half the weight of our dearly departed Jayco Eagle. Anyway, it’s a roof over our heads with bed and kitchen – just got to sort out some electricals so we can have lights, recharge batteries and phones as well as run a fridge.

So it looks like we will be back on the road in the not too distant future . . . dare we hold our breath!

The tidal range up here continues to marvel – we had the ‘staircase to the moon’ phenomenon (a low tide and nocturnal rising moon) and the opportunity to see the dinosaur footprints which needed a low tide of a maximum of 1.46m to see all three sets of prints. The other tidal-related ‘must-see’ is the Catalina (flying boat) wrecks which require tides less than 0.86m.

The plane wrecks are located about 1.5 km across the Roebuck Bay mudflats from Town Beach, taking just under an hour’s squelching walk to reach. The walk traverses sand banks, mudflats and fields of seagrass, populated by little and big mud crabs, mudskippers, hermit crabs and starfish.

An eeriness befalls you as you view the wrecks – the knowledge that over 100 people were killed in the air-raid by 10 Japanese aircraft in 1942. The silence at the site is shattered by the constant ‘chattering’ of the sea-life now encrusted on the bits of fuselage and engine casings – barnacles and other shells. Or so you wish as you block out the chattering of fellow viewers: “is this a Catalina?”, “were people killed?”, “I could do with a coffee, how about you?”.

A must do when you’re here is a picnic dinner (or takeaway) to watch the sunset from Cable Beach – even better if you tailgate your dinner and drive onto the northern expanses past the camel rides – mind you, you won’t be the only one doing this as many locals as well as travellers will be joining you to enjoy nature’s daily light show.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The day the tow truck took four hours to reach the accident.

(10 September)

On Friday 10 September, we were on our way again, leaving Broome to head south towards Port Headland. We had spent a wonderful 16 nights in Broome and had thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, 96km out of Broome, it all became unstuck as we ended up the loser after our altercation with the highway.

Essentially, we caught a bit of gravel on the shoulder and in correcting our path on the highway, in our haste and surprise, we over-corrected and then over-corrected the over-correction . . . and as one of those principles of physics that I never studied at school took over . . . the momentum lead our camper trailer taking more control of the car as we lost control taking us careering down the highway for several hundred metres gouging dark black skid marks left and right on the tarmac.

The tribe screamed in fright, yet weren’t hysterical or maybe we were just concentrating as much as possible as those quick seconds that appeared to pass slowly until the car itself slowed to a stop sideways across the on-coming lane . . . but only momentarily since the camper trailer had not quite stopped, as it flipped over onto its roof, pulling the car over onto its side.

That final moments as we teetered for fractions of a second were like the bus in The Italian Job rocking on the cliff edge, though we don’t see the outcome in the film, ours was very real and over we went.

Luck was shining on us – strange you may think that I would say so, but hear me out – we were damn fortunate as we were all okay – not a scratch between us. Lucky also as there were no other cars on the road at the time. Yet within minutes, there were a few cars stopping to assist.

We were all okay – shocked, absolutely; stunned, yes. And the folks who stopped were fantastic.

Firstly, there was Les who helped put up a shelter to protect the tribe from the heat, who later took a ute load of our belongings back to his home in Broome. There was Peter and his wife who stopped long enough until other folks stopped to assist as they had their own car problems they had to deal with. There was the road train driver who parked his rig in the middle of the road and helped right our car onto its wheels and flip the trailer on its wheels. And the big thanks to John and Loretta who turned around and parked their caravan, pulled out the awning and helped look after the tribe as M and I sifted through our scattered mess on the highway.

It took the police over an hour to arrive due to our location, the ambulance longer, and the most anomalous of the incident, the tow truck arrived four hours later.

The thoughts of the police were that the car was a write-off. Similarly voiced by the highway cleanup crew, who happened to be passing on their way home to Broome. These are folks who see a lot of accident on these roads, so they have a depth of experience that would lend to their conclusion.

The repair shop in Broome also stated the same on the following Monday. However, our insurance company was not happy. They wanted a detailed quote of what it would take to repair the mess in addition to photos. And then they still weren’t accepting of the quote so they arranged to freight the car to Perth for a second opinion.

So, twenty days after the accident, the insurance company finally agrees, the car is a write-off.

On the other hand, our camper trailer insurers were happy with the information they had received and just needed to run through the formalities to accept that the camper trailer was a write-off - all within a few days. Easy to deal with, unlike our car insurers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Going Dutch

(7 September)

Given we were in this remote outpost of the Kimberleys, I took the opportunity to go even more remote and joined a day trip to Cape Leveque, some 200+km north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula. The first 90km was over a bone-rattling, spine-jarring dirt road that is the only route in and out barring flying. The road occasionally widens to a conventional 4-5 lanes, which offers some opportunity to find the thalweg to lessen the jarring ride over the corrugation with the red dirt creating clouds of dust in the trail of the tour 4WD.

The peninsula is home to many indigenous communities, the prime ones centred around Beagle Bay and Lombadina, originally set up as missionaries. And as we travelled the peninsula, we pass through some native land and one huge cattle property.

Beagle Bay, our first stop, is home to the Church of the Sacred Heart – most famous for its mother of pearl features. The church was built from locally made bricks fired in a kiln built to erect the church, with the mortar created from crushed mother of pearl shell.

The altar is unlike any other you are likely to see anywhere, resplendent in a glory of shining mother of pearl shells brightened by the sunlight from the windows with clusters of other shells adding additional relief in the layout.

Our next stop was the town of Lombadina (Djarindjun), further along on the dusty track, where another church beckoned our visit. This time, however, you couldn’t have found a more contrasting structure from the church at Beagle Bay than the one here. Christ the King Parish Church, constructed of mangrove wood, and a roof of paperbark covered by corrugated tin, with unfinished verandahs on either side, offers an insight into the funding received originally by the missions in setting up their respective churches almost a century ago.

There is an arts and crafts co-op where locals not only create works using traditional methods, but also study and produce works in untraditional styles, screen-printing being an example we witnessed. On offer were polished shell bangles and necklaces, basket weaving, some bark paintings and decorated rhythm sticks.

Cape Leveque (Kooljaman) is located at the northern most tip of the peninsula, and is primarily a resort unlike any other you are likely to experience. There is the central building housing the reception, a ‘shop’ (of limited supplies), and a café/restaurant. The resort is spread out combining powered and unpowered camp sites adjacent to the reception building, with additional camp sites further away, each with their own split log shelter housing picnic table and benches. There are also a handful of well appointed huts which set you back a premium. However, all have wonderful views of the turquoise waters.

It was around the camping areas near vegetation regrowth areas that I laid my eyes on the bird flower – a strange little flower that do look like birds feeding from the bush.

The lunch break was along the northern beach away from the huts and campers, on our own stretch of pristine fine white sand. While Roger, our guide, prepped lunch, we were left to our own devices which were walking along the beautiful sands and snorkelling. Accompanied by some garfish, I snorkelled some 30-50 metres from shore and dove for shells as souvenirs for the tribe. By the time we had finished our lunch, the tide had receded some distance such that some of the area we snorkelled was now exposed beach and shells were ripe for the picking!

The highlight of the afternoon was a session of mud-crabbing amongst heavily clustered mangrove tidal flats towards One Arm Point. The location, within the local community meant we could only visit accompanied by an aboriginal guide (Vincent and some relatives). So off we went into the thick mangrove forest, shod in trés chic neoprene booties to ply our metal hooks into holes and between the exposed roots to capture us some succulent mud crabs.

The humidity in the mangroves is stupefying, obstacles are the roots that jut in all directions, a complex maze of tangled wood ready to trip a stray foot yet you clamber through to find those crabs as you are on a mission. Stand still just for a short time though, and you become a feedbag for the mozzies, yet you are compelled to stay rooted to a spot as you coax a crab from between the tentacled roots of the mangrove or attempt to hook one from its burrow.

It was through this experience that I now appreciate the high price to pay for crabs – testament to which I ‘collected’ at least 20 mozzie bites per arm as well as sweat buckets from the humidity.

In the end, we caught four crabs which were roasted on the open fire and shared between us. The tender fresh crab meat being our trophy for our troubles – and damn nice it was too! A tangy saltiness just cutting through the juicy morsels we feasted upon.

Once our crab barbeque was over, it was a quick dash back over the dunes and through the bush to join the road back to Broome – a three hour trip home. The journey in the pitch black darkness over the dusty corrugations was pretty uneventful apart from spotting an unidentified snake making its way across part of the road.

Uneventful on a dirt track is good mind you, as eventful includes wandering cattle that you don’t see until the last second in the high-beam that could be a life-changing experience if it doesn’t just mean a change of pants!

Broome Broome Broome or Another Bunch of Firsts (Week 2)

(2 September – 9 September)

One of the more interesting features in the town centre is the Sun Pictures open-air cinema which opened in 1916 and is the longest running cinema of its kind in the world, a marvellous venue to experience the silver screen with a handful of disused old-world projectors on display.

The seating, mainly deck chairs and some benches, has only a few rows under cover with the majority under the skies. The big tip here is to bring your mozzie spray!

Another aspect of the town centre is that most of the buildings are no more than glorified sheds of corrugated tin, even those selling pearls – quite a contrast to their respective retail outlets in Sydney or Melbourne.

An event as part of the Shinju Matsuri was the speedway racing with a variety of racing on the agenda including super saloons, quad bikes, speedway racers, road cars, and juniors. Most viewers had reversed their utes towards the safety fence and plonked themselves in seats on the ute tray. We dragged our camping chairs between the utes and the fence and ‘enjoyed’ countless mouthfuls of dust and dried mud spat out from under the tyres as the cars sped past doing power slides. This, plus the incredible noise and pungent smells of burning nitro made for an early exit as we only lasted about half an hour – the tribe were so excited about going, yet the reality was nothing like they expected thanks to their knowledge of motor racing being that of the movie ‘Cars’.

One thing you have to do at Cable Beach is a camel ride, which was another of these things that excited the tribe a lot until we actually got up close to the camels. They were so up for it, yet when it was time to climb onto the camel’s backs, the tribe were having none of it. After some quick coaxing, and amidst the tears of fright, we got all of them up, with M and the boys riding ‘Connor’ while the girls and I rode ‘Lazee Daisy’.

Once we were up and plodding along the beach, the tribe were in their element – the initial fears subsided soon after the jerky rise from the camel’s knees. So for half an hour, we rode about Cable Beach like Lawrence of Arabia, admiring the views of each other, the long shadows from the late afternoon sun, while M admired the view of the male nudist sunbather.

The Shinju Matsuri closing ceremony took place at Cable Beach in an amphitheatre-like setting above the beach. Again we were entertained by some of the folks who performed at the opening – some of the dancers and the like. Also we got to see Sammy the Chinese Dragon again as he farewelled the crowd until next year’s festival.

The feature of the evening including the fireworks included a performance by a group of Indian musicians accompanied by a didgeridoo followed by Dan Sultan and his Band. The former provided some wonderful grooves punctuated by some sonorous tones from the didge. Dan Sultan belted out some of his stomping rock ‘n’ roll, yet nothing actually bettered his rendition of ‘Nyul Nyul Girl’ from the film Bran Nue Dae, shot on location on the West Coast and around Broome.

So another bunch of ‘firsts’ for the tribe as it was their first concert and might I say, Dan Sultan is not too bad a choice as the first concert – I’m sure it would rate well with the Espy audience on Rockwiz!

Another first was their baptism of seeing fireworks (not on TV) that closed the festival, the dark sky over north Cable Beach lit up by the floral bursts of multi-coloured lights that brought lots of “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” from the crowd.

And how did the tribe handle all these ‘firsts’? Well, with Dan Sultan, the girls did a lot of dancing to the boogie stomp until Saffiya got a little too self-conscious that people were watching her. As for the fireworks, they just couldn’t get enough as they were calling for more long after the end of the damn fine display. The camels, well the jury is still our on whether the tribe would like some as pets. Lastly, the speedway action – fine as long as you are Kaydin and not close enough to hear the noise, smell the exhaust and get hit by flying dirt spray!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Broome Broome Broome or A Bunch of Firsts (Week 1)

(26 August – 1 September)

Broome. Well, here we are for a fortnight and timely too for it is their Shinju Matsuri – the Festival of the Pearl. Running over ten days, we enjoy the festival at the opening and closing and parts in between. But first, what is Broome like, you ask.

After our drive from the NT it is a welcome stop – a town by the coast with the famous Cable Beach, a place not too big and not too small, with enough on offer to keep you interested and engaged for at least a week, if not more.

Much is written about its history, from the days it rode on the back of the pearl and mother of pearl, an industry that was responsible for 80% of the world’s button production and cutlery handles until plastics became mass produced. The bombing by the Japanese in WWII devastated the community – ironic in that the Japanese were significant in originally developing the pearling industry. And now, it is still the centre of Australian pearl interests (think Paspaley, Willie Creek, etc) yet tourism per se is now key with Broome being a base for travels around the Kimberley and the Dampier Peninsular. It’s a sizeable town 100s of km from any other decent sized town. Yet it must be the only place in the world where you can walk from an international airport to the centre of town in 10 minutes.

And of course, Cable Beach – the beautiful pristine fine white sands that go on forever and turquoise waters is a site that will always be easy on the eyes. The only thing it isn’t, is easy on your pocket if you were looking to buy property as the median price for a house is well above that of Sydney.

Not long after setting up camp in the caravan park did we experience our first meeting with a frill-necked lizard. It (for we don’t know how to tell gender) didn’t get its frills out however it did its funny run on its hind legs, head held high in the air with the frills flopping back like a horse’s mane and its small forearms dangling by the sides. It climbed a jacaranda and tried to camouflage itself on the tree trunk.

We were timely also to be able to see the ‘Staircase to the Moon’ phenomenon where the rising moon’s reflections at night over the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay create a staircase like imagery – something that occurs with the combination of the full moon a few evenings a month with a low tide only between May and October. Also, with the low tide, we were fortunate to be able to find dinosaur footprints in the rocks below Gantheaume Point – although the first morning we seeked and failed to see them as there are no signposts directing your way – you just have to clamber the rocky foreshores in the hope you chance upon them.

For the tribe, it was their ‘first’ experience of a moonrise at night, plus a first in seeing dinosaur footprints. The latter was first for M and I too!

The festival’s opening takes place on the oval behind the information centre, and is comprised of entertainment from local community groups and performers, some of whom had partaken earlier in the street parade. The community spirit is strong with the audience of locals and tourists alike enjoying and showing huge support for the performers.

The tribe met Postman Pat and Spot the Dog as well as marvelling at ‘Sammy’ the (Chinese) Dragon who is the mascot for the festival. While Postman Pat and Spot were friendly, Sammy was a little too loud (banging drums and symbols) and scary-looking – but the tribe were cool with that.

They shook their tooshes to the music on offer, as well as marvelling at the dancing – the traditional Indonesian dances were of particular interest for Saffiya and Soraya as well as those performed by the local dance schools.

The Town Beach playground and waterpark is big hit for the tribe as is Cable Beach with its wide stretches of sand and shallow water – a perfect combo for the tribe to run amok, mucking about in the water and making muddy pies.

As a change from the norm of being chauffeured about in the car, the tribe also took a couple of bus trips about town – such a simple yet highly enjoyable novelty for them. Also, they took in the story time and craft activities at the local library, making a donkey the first week and a sheep in the second week. (A good tip here is that the library also has a small and limited range of books to swap instead of borrow).

A special treat for the tribe was a visit to the cinema to see ‘Toy Story 3’ – a first time experience in the cinema for Kaydin and Zak. Initially they complained at the loudness of the sound, but were soon settled into the film and the enjoyment the big screen brings. Afterwards, they exclaimed to M that they saw the movie on a “really big TV!”.

Another first for us was an attempt at fishing from the jetty – we could see some big fish around the pier posts and we got a good nibble on Soraya’s and Zak’s lines to the extent we lost the hooks (and of course the bait). One of the locals fishing was using a mud crab as bait to catch whatever was big enough to gobble that. Mainly, there was to be family-dinner sized catches of barramundi

The markets at the old court house were fun with the usual array of gifts, knick-knacks and food – but more so for the entertainment by the couple who juggled and performed acrobatics with a healthy does of comedy thrown in. The tribe were a little frightened of the fire juggling, but were in awe of the overall performance.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Amazon and the inland reef

(21-24 August)

The massive floodplain that is the Fitzroy would be an impressive sight at the height of the wet season, where the river extends up to 40km wide and the volume of water through Fitzroy Crossing is second to that of the Amazon, being able to fill Sydney Harbour in five hours. Alas, we’re here in the dry season and good reason too as we would not be able to drive around much of the Kimberleys.

The Fitzroy River Lodge, on the eastern banks of the Fitzroy River is an inviting oasis along our drive along the edge of the Kimberleys. And after three days of solid driving (around 1200kms) since leaving Katherine, we feel like a break – and we owe it the tribe after all that time cooped up in our car.

Nearby is Geikie Gorge, one of three reef gorges (the other two being Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, accessible from the Gibb River Road) - created during the Devonian period (the age of the fishes) when much of the far north west of Australia was a coral reef within an inland sea.

We take a fascinating cruise down the Fitzroy through the gorge, enchanted by the ranger’s commentary, full of interesting information covering the geology, ecology and history of Geikie Gorge. The tribe get to spot some freshwater crocodiles, some brolga and whistling kites but alas, no sawfish or stingrays which are reported to breed in the river. Any alteration to the ecology of the river will affect the breeding capabilities of the sawfish and stingrays to the extent they would head down the path of extinction such is their current fragility.

The cruise commentary described the devastating affect of the cane toad – where it takes a generation or two of the local native animal to realise not to eat the toad. The fact is around 80% of the annual freshwater crocodile birthrate is decimated by natural causes in addition to the cane toad effect. So far, there are no toads around the Geikie Gorge, however it won’t be long. There are swathes of native flora being strangled by the South American passionfruit vines.

The temperature is already in the high 30s and it’s only the mid-morning when the cruise ends so we opt to return for a walk alongside the reef cliffs the next morning. When we do return the next day, it’s very warm and the tribe get a bit annoyed that we end up taking a longer walk - just an extension to the short walk we set off on. We don’t complete the walk as it’s too hot and the walk, while level is not easy in sand for small feet.

During our stay at the Fitzroy River Lodge, we take to the pool a couple of times a day to cool off – the pool is set amongst trees and shade and is amazingly cold despite the surrounding ambient temperature. A real pleasure and wonderful way to relax in the heat.

Derby is our final port of call before our long scheduled stay in Broome. Located on King Sound, it is also the start/finish for the Gibb River Road, and a base to see the Buccaneer Archipelago. Reported to have the highest tidal range in Australia – in the region of around 11 metres, we only see the mudflats, so we are obviously only wandering about when the tide is out.

I wonder about some of the property overlooking the mudflats – sold on the days when the tide was in to maximise the “waterview” spiel perhaps?

We spend the afternoon at the local pool, which has a great little water park and gym-exercise area, where the tribe run amok and the girls develop their confidence in dunking their heads underwater, holding their breath. Later, we enjoy a spectacular sunset from the jetty, where locals and travellers were casting lines for their dinner. A barra perhaps?

Just outside of town is a prison boab tree – a reminder of the cruelties of the colonists, and now a sacred indigenous site.

Further out and along the Gibb River Road (the part that is still tarmac), we visit the Mowanjum Cultural Centre to view the local arts and crafts – the paintings were mainly of Wandjina the supreme spirit, while there were some fine examples of boab nut carvings. The centre itself offers gallery space and workshops, is an impressive building which has been unfortunately unfinished due to the builders disappearing before completion.