Denham to Coral Bay
I arrived in Coral Bay around 5pm after riding most of the day up from Denham (a whopping 556km) and checked into Ningaloo Club Backpackers for $31. I was going to camp but the weather was forecast to be showers in the morning and I hate packing up a wet tent (who doesn’t?). OK, OK – so I wimped out again.
The journey up was pretty quick on empty roads made easier by the welcome 110 kmph speed limit. I saw the usual dozens of splattered Kangaroos by the side of the road and I’m not looking forward to anymore close encounters myself. Almost everyone I have spoken to has either hit one or nearly hit one, or some kind of wildlife; Emus are another popular accidental target. My present wildlife count this trip is still only 1 after some kind of wild foul ran right into my left leg – natural selection, so I wasn’t that upset.
I appear to have discovered Termite Country as their well sculptures mounds are littered everywhere, some even taller than me. From here they stretch all the way to Darwin. Funny how the termites know where to start & stop building them.
I’ve finally discovered the obvious, but I may be powerless to alter my fate: the key to completing a long journey like this is to start early! That then allows time for plenty of sightseeing along the way without feeling any pressure to hurry. With fuel and food stops as well it breaks the journey up nicely so that you don’t even notice how far you’ve travelled. Shell Beach was one such worthy stop, made from billions of tiny cockle shells up to 5m deep. These are harvested and used for construction and other stranger uses such as chicken feed to make their egg shells harder!
At 23.5 degrees south I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, the southernmost latitude where the Sun is directly overhead at the height of summer.
TIP: Don’t buy any food at Wooramel Road House – I think they used dog food in my sandwiches.
The Ningaloo Club Backpackers in Coral Bay is pretty decent and I got a 4 man dorm to myself, which is always a winner! Right now they’re serving burgers for $8.50 and drinks for $4, which is pretty good for Australia, so I’m off to get one (or 2).
They say you learn something new every day, so today must have been my lucky day because I learnt 2 things:
1. My ‘camp stove’ proof dish is not halogen hob safe. I discovered this useful fact after it melted on the camp kitchen halogen hob whilst attempting to cook my baked beans (labelled Heinz ‘English Recipe’ strangely enough). I tried to clean up the molten, sticky mess best I could, but then opted for the ‘run away quickly and hide’ tactic when I realised no-one else had witnessed it. I’m sure the camp cleaner will sort it tomorrow with some industrial strength cleaner I don’t have.
2. The reason I have dropped my bike twice while making a U-turn to the right is not because I’m completely rubbish at them, but because my tank bag switches the engine kill switch when I turn the handlebars full lock. This was comforting to discover, as it allowed me to fix the problem. There’s few things more embarrassing than ditching your bike in the middle of the road as 3 ‘grey nomads’ (caravans) happen to appear at the same time to laugh at me – Sod’s Law, as I’d not seen any vehicles for the previous 50km.
Anyway, that morning I had planned to rise early and do a bit of snorkelling off Coral Bay, but my iTouch alarm battery went dead and so I slept in… Instead I checked out of the hostel and rode to Exmouth 150km up the coast to dive the Navy Pier, reputed to be one of the top 10 pier dives in the world.
I’d just heard from another old Club Med mate, Dee, that she’d be back in Coral Bay (where she lived & worked) on Friday (tomorrow) and so I thought I’d be able to snorkel the bay then. Dee was a fellow dive instructor when I worked with her at Club Med and now she works on a liveaboard taking people out to see Whale Sharks, Mantas & Whales off Ningaloo Reef. This reef is the largest fringing reef in the world, and you’re able to reach it steps off the beach in many places (reputed to be better than the over-dived Great Barrier Reef by some).
When I arrived at Exmouth I dumped my luggage in the camp 4 berth cabin I’d rented (it was forecast rain again, so wimped out of camping yet again) and jumped on the bike to explore the northern peninsular and Cape Range National Park. It feels so good to ride the bike ‘naked’, without the burden of lugging around too much equipment. I ‘m really looking forward to getting to Asia so I can ditch all the camping equipment (half my load) and skimp down the very bare minimum. I’m also thinking a tail box would be useful after all, mainly to save me worrying about my tank bag getting stolen when I’m away from the bike, as I hate lugging it around with me. However, I’m not so keen on the look of them.
Having emptied all my luggage, I also realised I’d emptied my wallet, and so couldn’t pay the $5 to ride into Cape Range National Park, and so instead explored the free area to the north which had some lovely beaches, turtle nesting areas and a lighthouse.
At the tip of the peninsula stands Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, named in honour of the late Australian Prime Minister who mysteriously disappeared while swimming in 1967 at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria, presumed drowned. The station provides very low frequency (VLF) radio transmission to US and Australian Navy ships and submarines. Geeky Stuff Warning: with a transmission power of 1 megawatt, it is the most powerful transmission station in the Southern Hemisphere. There are 13 radio towers in all, the tallest being Tower Zero at 387 m (1,270 ft) and was for many years the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
The dive tomorrow is at 7.20am which means a 6am rise to pack up and get to the dive shop in time. This will be my 3rd rise before the sun this trip, if I make it! (I’d better because I’ve already paid $155 for it). Actually, on that, have I mentioned lately how BL**DY EXPENSIVE Australia is? (I like to do that at least once a day to total strangers). I mean, $155 for 1 dive?! A beer costs anything around $10 and a meal at least $20, which makes Australia the most expensive place I’ve ever been to. This is another reason I’m looking forward to arriving in crazy cheap SE Asia.
However, in comparison to local wages, the cost of living is actually cheaper here than the UK and America, particularly if you’re a mega-well paid miner. Even the worst jobs pay a decent salary due to the high minimum wages (compared to the UK), and I even met a cleaner at a motel who’d saved $30,000 in 5 months! If I knew that when I was 18 I’d have been over here quicker than Jack Rabbit!
That evening I had the pleasure of meeting Andreas Kieling, a German film maker and photographer for National Geographic and all round jolly nice fellow, who was staying in the cabin opposite me with his film crew (his son and 1 other cameraman). They were there to film the Whale Sharks around Ningaloo – can’t wait to see his film when done.
The next morning I was up before the sun – no problem! I don’t know why I don’t do this every day… As it turned out, I didn’t need to get up that early as the meet time was actually 8:20am (I got duff info from someone), but it gave me another hour to enjoy breakfast and do my hair.
The Navy Pier has been protected for a number of years, which means it has thousands of fish swimming beneath it, including great schools of trevally, barracuda, snapper, emperor and a variety of different baby reef fish. I also saw my first Wobblegong Shark, which looks like a large shag pile carpet. Sod’s Law made a guest appearance again making this the first overcast and rainy day for ages, which meant the colours and visibility weren’t as good as they could have been, but it was still a great dive.
After the dive I set off to have another go at riding into the NP, this time with some money, but as I approached the entrance it started belting down with rain – not just a little downpour, but bucket-fulls. The heavens opened the floodgates and it didn’t look like it was going to stop. I waited for a while under a shelter, and then decided to head back to Coral Bay a bit earlier to meet Dee and dry off. And good job I did, because if I’d left it any later I would have been stranded in Exmouth due to the extensive flash flooding that was soon to occur. I remember thinking on the way up that there were a lot of ‘flood way’ signs where non-existent rivers crossed the road, and with the bone dry weather that day I couldn’t imagine enough water ever landing there to cause a problem. But now I saw how quickly problems can develop, as after only an hour or so of rain numerous rivers engulfed the road and I found myself on the pegs boot deep. I found out later that an hour after I had crossed a bus got stranded and the passengers all had to be rescued. Now I know why all the jeeps have ‘snorkels’ fitted to the air intakes.
After 10 months of travelling I can say with confidence that neither my Kilimanjaro motorcycle jacket or Firstgear Escape trousers are waterproof. When I arrived in Coral Bay I looked like a drowned rat and it felt great to change into a dry top as I waited in the community’s only pub for Dee to finish work. My timing was perfect as it happened to be happy hour (for literally only an hour) and so I got 2 pitchers of beer in to save me cueing again. While I was sitting enjoying the sunset Dee tried to creep up on me, so I amused her and let her jump me. It was good to see her again after so long and we caught up over the 2 pitchers until it was dark and it was time to go and grab a hot shower, change out of my wet bottoms and eat the delicious roast lamb Dee’s boyfriend Stu had prepared.
Yet again I relished the joy the simple things in life can bring, such as a hot shower when you’re wet and cold, and the nutritious taste of a home-cooked hot meal. It was then the healthy benefits of the meal and shower were drowned out by copious amounts of beer and vodka and I soon fell soundly asleep on the spare mattress on the lounge floor.
Coral Bay 4WD Roadtrip
I’ve decided driving 4WD trucks through the sand dunes is almost as much riding a motorcycle off-road, and more fun when the sand is deep because my motorcycle is too heavy for deep sand and keeps getting stuck.
Dee had a day off so we set off in her 4WD Pajero up the coast to check out the remote Norwegian Bay Whaling Station, closed in 1957 and now in ruins.
On the way we passed loads of wildlife and gorgeous coastal scenery, including huge virgin sand-dunes in the middle of nowhere that seemed like no-one had ever set foot upon. It was great fun running up them, and good exercise too, and fantastic views from the top.
On the way back to Coral Bay we stopped off at Oyster Bridge for some snorkelling just before the sun went down and the Tiger Sharks came out to feed… There were loads of fishes hiding in the oyster beds for protection, and we even came across a white-tip reef shark sleeping under a ledge, which didn’t seem too amused at being rudely disturbed by us.
After a great day out we once again settled in for an evening’s entertainment of drinking and dancing with all Dee’s mates – just like the old days. Nice to know most of Dee’s mates are as crazy as her!
In the morning the previous evening’s entertainment didn’t seem such a clever idea, and I didn’t relish the idea of a 7 hour ride to Karijini National Park, my next planned destination. However, after a welcome fry-up courtesy of one of Dee’s mates, I was on the road by 09:30 – not bad considering the monstrous hangover I had. The ride actually turned out to be quick and comfortable, helped by good weather and fast, clear roads, and I was at Karijini by 17:00 (coming to a blog near you soon…)