Tuesday, November 16, 2010

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.

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