Western Australia

Albany to Perth

Before I set off for my fateful encounter with Albany, I rode east from Esperance to Cape Le Grand National Park where I had great fun riding my Tiger up and down the beach right on the sand next to the calm ocean’s edge.  Unfortunately my extra cool photos taken there were on my lost camera… Damn!

Yes, if there’s one thing I’ll always remember Albany for, it’s that I lost my camera there with hundreds of great photos I’d taken over the previous 2 weeks.  Sorry to keep going on about this, but I’d like to use a red hot poker to burn the eyes out of whoever picked it up from the car park where it (most likely) fell off my pannier and didn’t hand it into the Police Station down the road.  Well, perhaps a red hot poker would be a step too far, but I certainly would not be very happy with them should I meet them.

The only good thing about losing my camera, if you can call it that, is that it forced me to open the box containing my GoPro Hero2 for the 1st time and learn how to use it – something I had not bothered to do up until then due to technophobia and procrastination.  When I actually read the instructions it was pretty simple to use and I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a pretty decent camera, as well as shooting great action videos when clipped onto the top of my helmet.  I love the ‘fisheye’ effect of the lens, and I’m still having fun playing around with it.  Here’s the first shot I ever took with it at the campsite I stayed in at Albany.

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Blue skies and camping go together very well!

I’d heard a lot of good things about Albany before I arrived, and although it was a nice town, I didn’t think it was particularly special in any way.  But perhaps my perceptions have been eternally marred by the camera loss!  However, the road to the southern peninsula led to a couple of great lookouts over the surrounding area.

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Great views of Albany from Mt Melville

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‘Natural Arch’ in Torndirrup National Park, Albany

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‘The Gap’ – Torndirrup National Park, Albany

Thankfully the road signs were very helpful in letting me know when I was passing from rural outback to populated suburbs, with warning signs changing from kangaroos, camels, emus and wombats to old biddies, push bikes and horse riders.

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Warning! Old Biddies and Push Bikes! I must be in Albany… I’d rather take my chances with the Kangaroos

Leaving Albany (and my camera) behind I was looking forward to exploring the rest of Australian SW, of which I’d heard had everything from great beaches, great vineyards, forests and caves full of buried treasure.

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Flinders Bay – one of the many little bays you can explore in the corner of SW Australia

I rode west through nice looking Denmark and through the beautiful, huge Eucalyptus ‘Karri’ forests of Walpole, Shannon and Gloucester National Parks to Pemberton.  Karri trees are one of the tallest trees in the world, growing up to 70m tall, and there are even some with foot-pegs hammered into them allowing people to climb up and use them as viewing platforms.  The famous ‘Gloucester Tree’ at Pemberton was used as a fire-lookout tree from 1937 and takes 153 spikes to climb before reaching a viewing platform.   No fires that day to spot, thank goodness.

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Riding through the Karri Forests of SW Australia

I checked into the Pemberton Youth Hostel which looked pretty downtrodden, but was cheap.  However, to my surprise, I was given the key to a 3 bedroom detached house located half a mile down the road.  I pulled the Mean Machine into the driveway and initially thought I was at the wrong place because it looked amazing!  Inside I found 2 fellow hostellers equally bemused with our luxurious living quarters.  It is certainly the nicest youth hostel accommodation I’ve ever stayed in, and must be a contender for the nicest in the world!  I had a private bedroom in an all but private house for only $44 AUD.  After starting a real log fire in the fireplace (with free firewood already chopped and piled up outside), I sat in the comfy sofa in the lounge and drank wine and cider with my other 2 housemates into the night.  If only all hostels could be like that!

The next morning I had difficulty dragging myself out of my new home and hitting the road again, but I did; otherwise this blog would tell quite a different story!  Sometimes it’s interesting to think what would happen if I just stayed somewhere and made a new life for myself at random places around the globe; how different (or similar) would all my ‘parallel universe’ Chris Bowen’s be in 30 years’ time?  But then I think no, I’d rather be the Chris Bowen speeding off on his Tiger around The World; which is lucky, because I am.

Next was the far SW corner of Australia, Augusta and Cape Leeuwin, considered in Australia to be the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.  I must say they looked pretty similar to me, but what do I know?  I do know that I kind of wish I hadn’t bothered because on the way back into Augusta from the Cape I was clocked by a Policeman doing 71 in a 50.  I’m all for enforcing speeding in accident hot-spots, but when policemen with radar guns hide behind the brow of a hill in an area with hardly any traffic in the middle of nowhere, I can’t help thinking it’s a shameless way of making money.  I didn’t even get the change of trying to sweet-talk my way out of it (as I did in New Zealand) as he was a bloke (obviously not gay) and just handed me a ticket on the spot.  Cheers mate!  I’ve ridden 25,000km around the world so far and the only speeding ticket I’ve got is in farty little Augusta, WA!  Well, I suppose it would have been boring had I not received any memento from friendly neighbourhood policemen during my travels.

The SW coast of Australia is littered with around 350 limestone caves and Caves Road takes you past most of them following the coast from Augusta to Dunsborough to the north.  It also takes you through Margaret River wine country and winding Karri tree forest roads.  Altogether a very peaceful and relaxing ride and one could probably spend months checking out everything there is to see & do.

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View from Caves Road

On a roll I made it to Busselton and stopped to look at the longest pier in the southern hemisphere at almost 2km.  I must admit it is very nice as far as piers go, and it even has an underwater observatory halfway down, and daily diving trips beneath it.  It has been one of the fastest growing regions in Australia in the last decade (Busselton, not the pier), and has been voted Western Australia’s top tourist town three times in 1995, 1996 and 2005.  It certainly was a lovely town and I was more than happy to give it my official seal of approval once my audit was complete, which was post fish’n’chips and a cider.

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Busselton Pier – the longest pier in the southern hemisphere

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Even on an overcast windy day Busselton Pier was a relaxing place to chill for a moment – except for the crowds!

After Busselton I was ready for a night out in Perth with my mate big Al Cordiner, who I used to work with, so I knocked the Tiger down a couple of gears and burned rubber all the way to Freemantle to iron my handbags and gladrags ready for the weekend.

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Perth to Nambung National Park (Cervantes)

A few things in life are certain, like death and Delhi belly in India, and that I’m going to be drinking a lot of booze when I visit old mates who now live in Perth.

Al moved to Perth with his wife Sarah from the UK about a year ago and loves it, and what’s not to love about it?  The weather is fabulous, people friendly and surrounding landscape spectacular.  The only problem for me is that it’s pretty expensive.  As a price comparison to the UK, the minimum wage in Australia is around $17 AUD (over £10), much more than the measly £6 or so in the UK.  Western Australia also has plenty of mining work which pays very well, which all leads to an expensive place to live if you’re not earning local wages (like myself).

As my Tiger was past her 20,000km service point (about 2,000km over…) I thought I’d best book her in for a service & new rear tyre (the front still had plenty of life left), but because of my poor planning they couldn’t fit me in for 3 days.  This meant I had a longer stay in Perth than expected, but also meant I could take a bit of time to look around, relax and get myself a new camera.

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Freemantle Harbour – a beautiful place to relax on a sunny day

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Freemantle Harbour

After a night of excess involving BBQ, beer, wine and hot-tubs, my philosophy is there’s no point trying to be healthy the next day, and so bacon and egg rolls are usually consumed in great quantities the next morning.  During my Perth 3 day holiday bacon & egg rolls were consumed in great quantities every day.  Fortunately I had some weight to gain after living off camp food for the past few days and certainly made up for lost time, although my arteries may not have agreed with my choice of food.

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Al and I at the ‘Little Creatures’ Brewery

I loved the clean, open feel of Freemantle and spent very enjoyable hours down by the harbour at the ‘Little Creatures’ brewery, ‘Sail and Anchor’ pub and walking Al’s dog on nearby beaches.

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Bon Scott and I enjoying a moment

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Downtown Freemantle

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Al and his dog

The last night we pub-crawled downtown Freemantle and met some interesting local characters, and in the morning my liver was ready for me to collect my bike and continue on my journey for a rest, after a bacon & egg roll of course.

Heading north, getting out of Perth was a nightmare – traffic works everywhere!  Luckily I was on a bike and employed some nifty manoeuvring to filter in between the slow moving traffic.  However, I was loaded up and as my panniers stick out a bit further than my handlebars (annoyingly) I have to allow room for error so as not to scrape a pannier down the side of a car.

I was feeling rather ropey to say the least after my marathon drinking session the night before and didn’t feel like riding too far.  Truth be told, I didn’t feel like riding anywhere, and felt like crawling up in bed and dying.  However, time was pressing on and the ferry from Darwin to Timor was not going to wait for me.

A few days earlier I had eventually found a shipper (SDV) to ship the bike to Dili for the very reasonable price of 262 AUD, but it had to be in Darwin in 18 days, and I had to find a crate for her to ship in.  This left me not much time to ride up the West Coast to Coral Bay, meet Dee (another mate teaching diving there) and hopefully do some diving, explore Karijini National Park, ride the Gibb River Road and finish with Kakadu National Park.  I’d better stop yapping and get my skates on!

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Coast north of Perth – Nice, but got better the further north I rode

The coast immediately north of Perth is nice, but not THAT nice, and the beaches I stopped off at were small and sea-weedy.  Anxious for the great wide open again I rolled on the power to put some distance between us & Perth.  In fact I wasn’t impressed by the scenery until I reached the giant sand dunes of Nambung National Park and came across The Pinnacles.

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The giant sand dunes of Nambung National Park

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The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park

By the time I reached the Pinnacles it was approaching sunset and the shadows cast by these strange eroded limestone pillars painted an eerie picture.  A circular sandy track takes you around them which is good fun on a bike and gave me an opportunity to test out the new back tyre I’d had fitted in Perth (another Heinakou K60 which I had been pleased with on and off-road).  In fact, it was such great fun I went round twice, increasing speed until a couple of close ‘pinnacle calls’ made me slow down and stop for a few more twilight photos.

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A circular sandy track takes you around The Pinnacles & is good fun on a bike

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The Pinnacles became more dramatic and eerie as the sun set

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Playing around with my new camera – I like it!

As it was now dark I thought it best to find somewhere to sleep ASAP to avoid any close encounters with Kangaroos.  I’ve heard of several motorcyclists being hit by them and didn’t fancy the experience.  Hiding from the sun in the shade during the day, Kangaroos come out in their thousands at night and judging by the hundreds of dead ones lying on the side of the road they obviously aren’t clever enough to cross without getting splattered by the huge road-trains with their ‘Roo-Bars’.  A bike would be another matter though, and I would probably be the one splattered over the road.  Roos are fast (up to 70kmph) and not small (up to 6.7 foot tall) and I don’t have a good track record with bikes and animals ever since I was taken-out by a suicidal dog in Sri Lanka and slid down the road on my scooter (in my shorts and flip-flops, which wasn’t clever, and hurt a lot!).

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Getting dark it was time to find my bed for the night before the killer Roos came out!

As the weather was cold and cloudy, and in my delicate condition, I felt no guilt wimping out of camping and decided I needed a proper bed for the night.  Shortly afterwards I came across a Backpackers in Cervantes, named after an American Whaler of the same name was wrecked off the coast in 1844, and promptly checked in.

Looking forward to a quiet, alcohol-free evening, it soon became apparent that I would not get one.  Sitting down in the lounge, minding my own business and about to update my hopelessly behind blog, I was set upon by a Canadian couple and a French lady who made me join in a card game with them (Presidents and A**holes).  And it wasn’t long, surprise surprise, before a bottle of vodka appeared, and shortly disappeared into glasses during a game of ‘Battle of the Sexes’, which the girls won because we had to let them, of course.  Oh well – maybe tomorrow I can have a ‘quiet night in’.

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Cervantes to Kalbarri National Park

Rising as early as I could muster, which wasn’t very early at all, I set off on the 5 hour ride north to Kalbarri National Park which Alex and Sarah had told me was beautiful.  And indeed it was.  In fact, Kalbarri town is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I have ever been.

The whole ride that day was just amazing, and I wish everyday could be like that.  When the sun is shining and you have an empty, open road for miles ahead passing jaw-dropping scenery each side of you, how can it get any better?

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Cervantes Beach

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Cervantes Dunes

My first stop was Lake Thetis just outside Cervantes, one of only a few places in the world with living marine Stromatolites.  Stromatolites (layered rock structures built up by microorganisms such as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae) are one of the most ancient forms of life on Earth dating back over 3.5 billion years.  They played a very significant part in the creation of all other life on Earth too by increasing the amount of oxygen in primeval earth’s atmosphere through photosynthesis.

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The Stromatolites of Lake Thetis

Further north other particularly pleasant stops included Jurien Bay, the ‘Leaning Trees’ of Geenough (blown over to seemingly impossible angles by prominent winds) and popular camping spot Coronation Beach.  The route also afforded plenty of opportunity to ride the bike through the dunes and sandy tracks littering the coast.

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Jurien Bay Jetty

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The route also afforded plenty of opportunity to ride the bike through the dunes and sandy tracks littering the coast

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My bike’s a bit heavy loaded up for soft sand and I almost got stuck a couple of times!

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Good fun on the sandy tracks

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The famous ‘Leaning Tree’ of Geenough grown bent over by prominent high winds across the coastal plain

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Prestine sand dunes of Geraldton

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Approaching Coronation Beach

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Coronation Beach

The day marked a definite change in the weather from a cloudy, relatively cold winter south of Perth to beautifully warm, sunny days the further north I rode.  I certainly know which I prefer!  However, temperatures at night still plummeted to 3 degrees C as the land cooled rapidly without cloud cover, making for pretty cold nights and me wrapped up in my biker clothes in addition to my (not very suitable) sleeping bag.

Just before entering Kalbarri there are several beautiful coastal lookouts to view along the Bigurda Trail, including Island Rock, Natural Bridge and Eagle Gorge.

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Island Rock, Bigurda Trail, Kalbarri National Park

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Natural Bridge, Bigurda Trail, Kalbarri National Park

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Eagle Gorge, Bigurda Trail, Kalbarri National Park

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Sunset approaching off Kalbarri National Park

Nestled at the mouth of the Murchison River on the mid-west coast, Kalbarri is a tourist & fishing town with beautiful views out over the estuary.  As soon as I arrived I loved the place, and wasted no time booking into a lovely campsite on the seafront.

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Arriving in Kalbarri – A beautiful town on the Murchison Estuary

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Kalbarri Seafront

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Kalbarri Seafront

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Kalbarri Jetty

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Using my new ‘Gorilla’ Tripod

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Kalbarri Beach approaching sunset

Pitching my tent quickly I thought it was about time I started my new fitness routine after my unhealthy wipe-out in Perth and unplanned soiree last night, and donned shorts for a run along the beach; running on sand is always a good way to build up a sweat.  As it was approaching sunset I took my camera along as I suspected it was going to be a good one.  And good one it was!

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Jogging with the Seagulls

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I’m pleased I took my new camera jogging!

There’s nothing like a cooling swim after exercise, and swimming in the estuary was especially relaxing and peaceful in the twilight.

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There’s nothing like a cooling swim after exercise, and swimming in the estuary was especially relaxing and peaceful in the twilight

Returning to the campsite feeling wonderfully refreshed I made my way to the camp kitchen to heat up the curry I’d bought earlier at a petrol station, looking forward to a good feed and an early night.  In the kitchen I met Zack and Robin, 2 travelling Australians, who promptly offered me a cold can of ‘Emu Export’ to wash my curry down with.  This is not unusual for Australians, who I have found to be among the friendliest and most hospitable people I’ve ever met, and it makes travelling there very easy and very enjoyable.  However, needing an early I thanked them sincerely for their kind gesture as my brain was saying ‘NO NO NO! – not more beer!’, but somehow I heard the words “Great!  Yes please!” drift out of my mouth like the call of charge before the doomed Charge of the Light Brigade.  And that was it – a full crate and several hours afterwards I drifted back to my tent (in a round-a-bout manner) and crashed.

Needless to say my planned early start in the morning was firmly demoted to second place as I rolled out of bed at 10, packed up and started a gradual crawl to the café for breakfast by midday.  Whilst packing up I bumped into last night’s sleeping partner, Mr Bull Ant, who was resting on my pillow.  These ants are well known for their aggressive behaviour and powerful stings, the venom of which can induce anaphylactic shock in allergic victims.  If he did sting me 10 cans of Emu Export must be an excellent aesthesia.

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Kalbarri Seafront Campsite

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Nice Mr Bull Ant in my tent

At the café for breakfast I somehow found myself ordering a Thai beef salad, but it turned out to be OK, and once again rode north to try and get the 400km to Monkey Mia and her dolphins before I again faced the wrath of the Kamikaze Kangaroos.

On the way north through Kalbarri National Park I stopped at 2 wonderful lookouts, Ross Graham and Hawks Head.  Unfortunately the 2 most famous lookouts called ‘Natures Window’ and ‘Z-Bend’ were closed due to road closures, but I can’t see how they could have been anymore awesome.

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The Murchison River from the bottom of Ross Graham Lookout – awesome!

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The Murchison River

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Ross Graham Lookout

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No one else around – heaven!

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Hawks Head, Kalbarri NP

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Hawks Head Lookout

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Kalbarri National Park to Monkey Mia

Monkey Mia, Shark Bay and adjacent Francois Peron National Park are a 2 hour detour off Highway 1, but well worth it.  The ride was smooth, relaxing and it was the kind of weather I love – clear skies, hot and sunny; who doesn’t?

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Clear skies, hot and sunny – I love mid west Australia!

I stopped for fuel and lunch at the Overlander Roadhouse, one of many Roadhouses lining the roads of the Australian outback making sure travellers don’t run out of fuel, food, beer or all three.  I have found Roadhouses vary as much as Agavaceae (which vary a lot believe me); some are expensive, others very expensive; some allow camping, others do not; some have great food, others have the same old awful limp, cold corn-beef sandwich that’s been sitting there for 3 years.

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Overlander Roadhouse – Mid Agavaceae Standard (not one of the best, not one of the worst)

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Lunch stop

A pleasant stop on the way up was Hamelin Pool where I once again bumped into my old prehistoric buddies, the Stromatolites.   Like the ones at Thetis Lake, they were just lying in shallow water enjoying the sun and didn’t seem to be a hurry to get anywhere.  Maybe we should all learn a lesson from them?

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Some more of my old prehistoric buddies, the Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool

By now my late rise and subsequent dallying meant time was catching up with me and I wasn’t going to make it to Monkey Mia before dark.  Instead I switched target to Denham and rolled up just as the sun was setting and the vampire Kangaroos were raising from their daytime coffins.

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Sunset at Denham

I found the local backpackers pretty quickly and soon found myself in a 4 berth room with 1 other guy.  Well, at least until another 2 people turned up…  I rolled into bed early as I had to be up early doors to get to Monkey Mia by 8 for the first dolphin feeding.  The dolphins that hang about in Shark Bay (off Monkey Mia) are wild but are obviously used to free hand-outs every day, and so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some close up.  You’re no longer allowed to swim with them during the feeding, but can do so afterwards, if they stick around (very rarely).

Today was only the 2nd day since my trip began that I’ve managed to get up before the sun (the 1st being to catch the Wellington to Picton ferry in NZ).  Although I hardly ever make it out of bed at this time, I do LOVE it once I’m up; it’s such a great feeling seeing the sun rise, and you have a full 5.5 hours ahead of you to get all your work done before lunch!  As I get older and time goes quicker and quicker I’m determined not to waste one third of my day lying in bed.  Unfortunately, I am rubbish at getting up.

All the way to Monkey Mia I rode with the sun directly in my eyes, meaning I saw almost nothing.  Apart from not being able to see where I was riding, this wasn’t very clever because the Kangas are still pretty lively first thing in the morning – unlike myself.  But I made it there alive and far too early, but it was a nice beach and a good place to relax.

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Monkey Mia beach – just before dolphin feeding

As it turned out it was best to stay in Denham anyway, because Monkey Mia only has one ‘holiday resort’ which is pretty expensive (for me, at least), and it’s only 30 mins away.

On the button at 08:00 (feeding time) 2 dolphins turned up and placed an order of a full English fry-up, with tea and extra toast.  Oh sorry – that was me.  They both ordered buckets of really smelly fish.  Someone had given me a tip to wear a really bright T-Shirt so staff there pick you out to feed the dolphins (appears they only have primary colours in their vocabulary), so I did.  And lo and behold I was picked and promptly waded out to knee depth where a hungry dolphin grabbed my fish in return for a big cheesy grin.

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Here they come! Must be 08:00 – feeding time!

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The dolphins come really shallow, as you can see!

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Beautiful!

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After a long rabbit we’re finally allowed to feed them

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Thanks Chris!

Being close to a dolphin is something magical.  You can just sense they are highly intelligent, but also seem to be having so much fun all the time.  One of the most incredible things I have ever done is snorkel with a dolphin in Florida; as I duck-dived she followed me closely and copied my ever twist and turn.  I’ve also been being lucky enough to see them several times while diving at Aliwal Shoals, SA and The Galapagos.  Although you cannot swim with the dolphins during the Monkey Mia experience, it is still amazing to feed them and see these beautiful mammals close up.

Apart from the dolphins, and a great ‘all you can eat’ breakfast buffet for 15 AUD (cheap by Aussie standards) there is not much else to do at Monkey Mia itself, so I fired up the old beast and made my way into Francois Peron National Park to the north, renowned for its beautiful, remote coast and great kayaking & fishing.

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Francois Peron National Park – beautiful (if you like a lot of sand)

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Shot from my GoPro Hero 2 riding into Francois Peron National Park

Francois Peron National Park is pretty much one huge sand dune.  I decided to test myself and see how the old girl would handle the sandy tracks; some of them very deep.  This was the first time I had taken my bike into deep sand, and it was tougher than I thought – much tougher in fact.  At 215 kg (473 lbs), she is certainly not light to pick up after dropping, which I did once riding in deep sand, and twice deliberately to pull her out of deep holes after the back wheel decided to bury itself.  Luckily, no-one was around to see any of these 3, so they didn’t count.

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Lesson 1 – My bike is bloomin’ heavy to pick up 3 times in a row

On the way back to Denham I stopped by ‘Little Lagoon’, a picturesque lagoon where you can drive most of the way around along the beach.  It’s always great fun riding on the sand close to the ocean, but make sure you look at the tide times because once I got bogged down in deep sand and almost got swamped by an incoming tide!

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Lesson 2 – Don’t try and ride in deep, soft sand next to the sea

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Another GoPro shot riding to Little Lagoon

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There’s nothing like riding your bike along the beach next to the ocean…

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Little Lagoon

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Action shot

After digging and pulling my bike out of sand all day I was pretty hot & tired and decided to treat myself to a cool, relaxing swim in the fast flowing river that joins the lagoon to the sea.  I had been told it was good place to snorkel, but although beautifully cool & refreshing, there wasn’t much to see (and no crocs).

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Pre-swim; hot and tired I need to cool down!

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That’s better!

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Little Lagoon – snorkel time

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Little Lagoon

When I got back to my room my bike was covered in sand and salt water, and so I spent an hour giving her a bit of love & attention, and a clean fresh water wash.

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At the end of a great day we both needed a wash!

All in all this part of my journey was particularly memorable, and I had great fun riding along the beach and through the sand dunes.  I did, however, learn a couple of valuable lessons, such as ‘my bike is bloomin’ heavy to pick up 3 times in a row’ and ‘don’t try and ride my bike in deep, soft sand next to the sea’.

 

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Coral Bay and Exmouth

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.

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Coral Beach. You can snorkel Ningaloo Reef just off the beach!

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.

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Huge termite mounds!

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!

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Shell Beach – 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.

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Tropic of Capricorn – 23.5 degrees south – 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).

Exmouth

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.

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NW side of the Cape

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The North Tip with a shipwreck awash top left

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All a man needs – a helmet and fins

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You get a better tan at the top of the sand dune – closer to the sun….

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Vlamingh Head Lighthouse

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Time to get back to base camp and dodge the Roos

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.

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Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt, with VLF Tower Zero at 387 m

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.

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Exmouth Navy Pier – A cold, wet and windy day – typical!

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Exmouth Navy Pier

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.

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Biker Dee

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.

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All that’s left of the Norwegian Bay Whaling Station, closed in 1957 – now a Kangaroo Graveyard where old Kangas come to die… (maybe)

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Once up to 1,000 whales were landed here every year…

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.

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Amazing steep sand dunes north of Coral Bay – no one around for miles and miles…

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Sometimes in WA you feel like the only people in the world – well, at least for a couple of miles

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Great fun in a 4WD

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Dee always was incredibly strong, and would often lift my car up when I needed to change a tyre

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.

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Oyster Bridge – just had time for a sunset snorkel

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…)

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Karijini National Park

I arrived in Karijini National Park at 17:00 after a long ride across from Coral Bay.  Once inside the park proper the road turns to corrugated dirt that threatened to vibrate me and the bike to pieces, particularly when loaded up (remember to check nuts, bolts & spokes!).

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Karijini National Park – nice roads if you like corrugations rattling you to pieces!

I booked into the first campsite I came across which also happened to be the most expensive I have ever stayed in at $35 for an unpowered pitch, and the only one in the west side of the park – Karijini Eco Retreat.

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Karijini Eco Retreat – just made it in time for sunset, and a beer of course

I had the tent up in record time just as the sun set and dusted off the camp stove to cook a delicious dinner of bacon, beans and spicy tomatoes.  Yes – the best things in life are free (or cost the same as bacon, beans and spicy tomatoes).   Soon after I was tucked up snugly in bed with a full stomach and looking forward to an early rise to explore Western Australia’s second largest National Park the next day.

My plan worked well for a change and I was up by 7am for an early start and got cracking with the first gorge at Oxer Lookout – a dramatic sheer V-shaped gorge carved out of the surrounding red sedimentary rocks by water & erosion.  The weather was pretty overcast and cool, but at least it was not raining.

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Oxer Lookout – a dramatic sheer V-shaped gorge carved out of the surrounding red sedimentary rocks by water & erosion

The striking red colour of the rock originates from iron and silica-rich sediment deposits laid down on an ancient sea-floor over 2,500 million years ago.  Further layers of sediment over these created enough pressure to force out all trapped water and slowly, over millions of years, these soft sediments turned into hard rock.  The horizontal new rock bedding planes later underwent further compression causing the rocks to buckle and formed many vertical cracks (erosion week points).  Later, when sea levels dropped during early Ice Ages, rivers cut down rapidly through week points to form the dramatic sheer-sided gorges we see today.  Geological history lesson complete 🙂

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We Love Karijini!

In summer, thunderstorms and cyclones are common around Karijini, bringing flash floods that have claimed the lives of many tourists, and even the people sent out to rescue them.  This is why you must pay careful attention to the weather before climbing down into any of the gorges. Temperature extremes are also present, aiding fast erosion, reaching over 40 degrees C in the summer and freezing in the winter.

At Oxer Lookout I bumped into a tour-rep I had first met at Denham, and again at Exmouth, and took her advice to hike down into nearby Hancock Gorge, although she did warn me I would ‘get wet’.

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Hancock Gorge – If you only do one, do this one

I’m glad I took her kind advice because the hike down into the gorge was stunning.  It was also great fun and involved wading through the river at the bottom further up into the narrowing gorge.  As the water grew deeper I had to strip off down to my shorts and carry my clothes & camera above my head to keep them dry, hoping I wouldn’t disappear into a deeper hole.

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As the water grew deeper I had to strip off down to my shorts and carry my clothes & camera above my head to keep them dry

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… and hope I didn’t disappear into a deeper hole

Near the end of the hike is something called the ‘Spider Walk’.  To cross one must use both hands and feet to ‘spider’ along the narrow gorge just above the racing water below, and so I left my clothes & camera on a rock at the entrance seeing there was no-one else around.  This is another reason why I love Western Australia – loads of space and hardly any people.  And this means the people you do meet are extra friendly (or mad) because they probably haven’t seen anyone for days.

I managed to balance my GoPro on a rock (with waterproof housing) and took some cool photos of the Spider Walk before jumping into Kermit’s Pool at the end of the trail.

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The Spider Walk, Hancock Gorge. I love my GoPro camera – you can take it anywhere!

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Next I had a look at the usually dry Joffre Falls which still had some water left over from the recent downpours that I had thankfully just missed.

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Joffre Falls – usually dry but recent downpours had filled her up

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Crystal clear waters below Joffre Falls

Knox Gorge was an easy climb down with spectacular views at the bottom of the initially relatively wide gorge floor that rapidly narrowed to a sliver.

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Fish-eye view of Knox Gorge

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Knox Gorge

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Knox Gorge – an easy hike along the bottom

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Knox Gorge – even better when the sun decided to come out!

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The initial relatively wide gorge floor rapidly narrowed to a sliver

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I have noticed hike timings on the useful guide plaques at trail heads are well over generous and are obviously meant for people over 100 hiking with zimmer frames, such as the tourists on the occasional tour bus which roll into the park.  I shouldn’t joke about this – I seem to be getting there faster than I anticipated…

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Guess which gorge? Answers on a postcard (I can’t remember! …)

Next stop was a quick look at Kalamina Gorge – this was indeed turning out to be a busy day!  Kalamina looked nice, but I didn’t go down due to time & wanting to see the next one.

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The bumpy but beautiful ride to Dales Gorge

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HUGE Alien Spaceship I found. Or Termite Mound.

Finally I rode onto Dales Gorge, which I’d heard was great, at the eastern end of the park along a long corrugated dirt track which had great lookouts over Fortescue Falls and the originally named ‘Circular Pool’.  I hiked down to both which didn’t take long and the views were well worth it.

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Fortescue Falls, Dales Gorge

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The originally named ‘Circular Pool’, Dales Gorge

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The hike to Circular Pool was nice

In summary, I loved Karijini National Park, although it was actually smaller than I expected, particularly as it’s WA’s 2nd largest National Park, and considering the size of WA.  I managed to hike down most of the gorges in one full day, although I was going at a fast pace and I imagine one could easily spend a pleasant week exploring in more detail.

That night I turned in early again under a starlit sky ready to leave for Broome in the morning.

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Karijini to Broome

Karijini to Pardoo Roadhouse

The best $100 I have ever spent is probably today on a crappy container cabin at Pardoo Roadhouse on the way to Broome.  It’s only as big as a shoebox but after riding for 6 hours in the rain and getting soaked, it’s worth it to dry myself out, dry all my clothes out and dry my tent out (I had to pack it away in the rain this morning at Karijini).  I can also sleep on a proper bed after several nights camping which my aching back is grateful for, and recharge all my dead camera batteries.

Once again, the simplicity but luxury of a hot shower and hot meal made my day, and I’m now lying on my clean bed with the heater on surrounded by wet clothes and tent sheets hanging in every conceivable space.  I even splashed out on red wine with my meatballs to oil the old joints and now my head is heavy against the pillow.

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The best $100 I’ve ever spent!

Yes, it seems the rain finally caught up with me and it was my time for a thorough drenching.  Riding in the heavy rain in Australia is not a pleasant experience, and I was soaked more from the deluge of water lifted from the road and thrown at me from each of the 32 wheels on the huge road-trains passing in the opposite direction than the rain itself, while also being blown from one side of the road to the other.

When it came to overtaking road-trains on my side, it was almost impossible to see through the wall of water thrown up behind them.  Lucky kindly drivers often indicated to let me know the road was clear before I risked life and limb to ride into & through the deluge.  However, sometimes they didn’t indicate, leaving me stuck a safe distance behind before a suitable window opened and gave me a glimpse of an open road ahead.

For some reason my GPS was playing up, and originally said I could make Broome from Karijini in one day.  However, after 6 hours solid riding that proved to be wrong, and strangely the GPS distances were often way off from the road signs.  I checked later on G Maps and found the distance to be almost 1000km, so no wonder it took forever to get anywhere!

So anyway, I decided to stop at this roadhouse and get an early night, which turned out to be about half way to Broome.  Outside another shoebox cabin I saw an old Harley parked, and ventured round to find the owner smoking a tab (how come all Harley owners smoke?)  He had set himself the challenge of riding the old girl around Oz but was pushed for time and so didn’t have much time for anything other than riding (seems a shame).  Unfortunately his bike had proved to be pretty troublesome and had broken down 3 times in the first few days and almost caught on fire after a fuel leak…  I love my Tiger! (touch wood!)

Pardoo Roadhouse to Broome

The next morning I was sure pleased to see the sun shining as I didn’t fancy another 6 hour ride in the rain sitting in wet pants.  My GPS was still out (maybe showing distances as the crow flies?) – I’ll add it to my list of jobs to sort out.

I wrung the power on and sped up to warp speed to the first sight of interest along the way ‘80 Mile Beach’ – 80 miles of sandy beach each way you look – and not much else.

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80 Mile Beach (I wonder why it’s called that?)

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80 Mile Beach is 80% shells, 80% of the time (in parts I’m sure)

A pit stop at the lovely Sandfire Roadhouse was pleasantly augmented with lunch with an ostentation of peacocks (as that’s what they’re called, bizarrely) before I set off on the final stretch to Broome, land of pearls and tourists.

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My lunch at Sandfire Roadhouse with an ostentation of peacocks, although they were nothing of the sort!

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“What’s for lunch then Mr Chris?” “Peacock…”

Eventually I made it to Broome and booked into the local YHA.  As my next leg was going to be the infamous Gibb River Road and involve lots of camping in the middle of nowhere, I went down to the local supermarket and stocked up on camp food to see me through.

The Gibb River Road is a 660km unsurfaced road right through the Kimberley region, meant to be both challenging riding and remote.  From what I’ve read on the internet it appears I’ll need a range of approx 450km to get to the first Road House at Mt Barnett after detouring for the gorges & sightseeing along the way.  This means I need to carry at least another 10 litres of fuel as my current range with 19 litres is approx 300km on road (usually less off-road).

I’d heard a lot about the famous Cable Beach in Broome so I swung by to take a look before sunset.  It was nice, but I’ve seen so many lovely beaches on my travels it didn’t stand out as anything particularly special to remember, except for being one of Australia’s most famous nudist beaches. Funny that the nudist area ends at Willie Creek.  From what I saw it should have been called Little Wille Creek – ha ha!  Amazingly the tidal range at Broome can reach 9m (30 feet), and box jellyfish and crocodiles can be your swimming partners at certain times of the year.

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Cable Beach (nudes to the right please)

I also had a ride out to Gantheaume Point where at very low tides you can see dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous period (approx 130 million years ago).  Unfortunately the tide was in and I didn’t to see them enough to wait 6 hours for the tide to go back out.

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Gantheaume Point – Get there at low tide and you might be lucky enough to see dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous period

Broome itself reminded me of Queenstown in New Zealand – lots of tourists, travellers and ‘trill seekers’ milling around numerous clubs and bars.  After weeks of solitude I didn’t like it that much, and couldn’t wait to get on the road again for some peace and quiet.  What a miserable sod I’m turning into! (Is that what happens when you get old?)

Back at the hostel I bumped into the unluckiest (or most jinxed) backpacking girl in the world whom I’d met first at Kalbarri.  Within a few months of arriving her first car was crashed into & written off, second car stolen and third car broken down & beyond economical repair.  I think she’s got the message and has started walking everywhere.  We had a few beers and then I turned in early again as I was excited to start the Gibb River Road tomorrow!

Categories: Western Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gibb River Road

Gibb River Road (GRR) – Broome to Windjana Gorge

 

Rising pretty early for me (I’m getting better) my 1st job was to acquire a container for extra fuel for the Gibb River Road (GRR), a 660km long unsurfaced former cattle route through The Kimberley Region of Western Australia.  Walking into the BP Garage across the road from the YHA in Broome they sold 10 & 20 litre jerry cans, so I decided to plum for the 20 litre so I wouldn’t have to worry about fuel at all and would be foot loose & fancy free to do all the off-road exploring I so desired.  The only problem would be fitting it on the old girl….

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My Tiger carrying her extra 20 litres of fuel for the Gibb River Road trip – fitted on quite nicely in the end

In the end the extra fuel perched pretty nicely on the back of the bike, leaving just enough room for me to squeeze into the saddle.  It was actually pretty comfortable as it provided a more rigid & substantial backrest.

With my extra fuel I was all set for the GRR adventure and wasted no time setting off.  Well, after a quick stop at Subway that is for breakfast and a take-out lunch.  Derby was 2.5 hrs from Broome and near the start of the GRR, so I stopped there to top-up my fuel, buy a map of the GRR (thought that may be a good idea!) and look at the infamous Boab Prison Tree used as a rest point for police and chained Aboriginal prisoners en-route to Derby for sentencing – poor buggers.

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The Boab Prison Tree – used as a rest point for police and chained Aboriginal prisoners en-route to Derby for sentencing – poor buggers

The start of the GRR is surfaced, which came as a pleasant surprise, but soon turns into corrugated red iron oxide rich dirt interspersed with creek crossings, kangaroos, cattle and occasional grey nomad throwing gravel in my face by not slowing down – thanks!

Actually, in a moment of good fortune after riding with my visor up for a while in the hot northern WA sun, I closed it for no particular reason, and a few seconds later a bird flew directly into the visor; a bird shaped scar across my face would have hurt us both quite a lot. That now brings my unfortunate wildlife count to 3: 1 wild fowl and 2 birds (another bird flew into my leg a few days earlier, for some crazy reason).

The first diversion of interest was called Windjana Gorge, a 3.5 km gorge carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River. Here an ancient coral reef over 300 million years old stands proud of the surrounding plains up to 2km deep.  Shortly after turning off into the excess road (which is 20km long) I came across a car that had recently turned over onto its roof.  Luckily the 2 passengers were not hurt and a bus load of people had stopped to help.  With nothing for me to help with, I rode on, somewhat slower than the 80kmph I had been doing.  After another couple of miles I came across another incident, this time it was a BMW R1200GS rider with a flat tyre.

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Geoff and his injured BMW (and homebrew bourbon)

Goeff was a pilot for Quantas who had decided to take 4 years off – nice job if you can get it!  – and was riding around Australia on his Beemer.  His brand new TKC 80 tyre (only just bought in Broome) had a long split in the sidewall which his tubeless repair plugs were too small to seal.  Luckily I had a spare inner tube for him, and he had some homebrew bourbon, so it all worked out well in the end.

Once Geoff was fixed we rode down to Windjana Gorge and set up camp against one of the most beautiful backdrops I have ever had the fortune to camp at.

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Windjana Gorge – camping against an ancient coral reef over 300 million years old

Then we heard the gorge calling and I needed a swim, so we set off on the short walk through a gap in the ancient reef and into Windjana Gorge herself.

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Walking into Windjana Gorge through a crack in the over 300 million year old Devonian Limestone

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Inside Windjana Gorge – a 3.5 km gorge carved out of the Napier Range by the Lennard River

I had heard there were lots of fresh water crocodiles in the gorge, or ‘Freshies’, but had also heard it was OK to swim with them, so long as there weren’t too many (it’s the much larger ‘Salties’ you need to worry about).  Having only seen a couple, I took the plunge, and hallelujah! was it nice!

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So nice to swim after a hard day’s ride!

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One of my swimming partners

After a couple of warm up drinks back at camp we were just contemplating starting the camp stove for some classic camp beans when 3 lovely people camped across from us, Gwen, Ian and Carmel, invited us both round for a sophisticated dinner of wine and sausages, which was just what the doctor had ordered.

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Pre-dinner drinks!

Gibb River Road (GRR) – Windjana to Mt Barnett Roadhouse

 

After rising early around 6am I walked down to Windjana Gorge again with Geoff to see the sunrise – how romantic! – but it turned out you couldn’t see it from the gorge (duff info from my tour guide contact), so I walked back to start the long process of packing up and squeezing everything back onto the bike.  Despite carrying too much stuff, I am pleased the way the extra 20 litres of fuel has perched nicely on the stern, and I don’t really notice the extra weight too much.

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Sunrise (almost) in Windjana Gorge

Geoff, professional camper that he is, was packed up well before me, and could have done so twice again before I was ready.  Then we said our farewells as he set off to rejoin the surfaced Great Northern Highway to the south after deciding not to risk his damaged front tyre on the GRR.  I of course, had other work to attend to – completing the GRR on the old girl.

After a nourishing breakfast of my soggy Subway sandwich (that was supposed to be yesterday’s lunch) I set off towards the next target, Bells Gorge, one that I’d heard was one of the best.

Close to the Windjana Gorge turn-off I came across an old friend of mine, Queen Victoria’s Head silhouetted against the morning sun.

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Queen Victoria’s Head silhouetted against the morning sun

The access road to Bells Gorge off the GRR was 39km long and passed through Silent Grove Camp Ground, which also looked a very nice spot to camp.  The access road had lots of sharp looking small rocks in the latter stages so I slowed down so as not to risk any disasters.  Previously the road had been relatively good and I often cruised at speeds between 80 – 100kmph.

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On the way to Bells Gorge

Then came the first of 3 dodgy looking creek crossings.  I must admit I hate creek crossings as I know if the worst happened and the bike slipped and fell it could suck water into the engine and ruin the engine.  This is why all bikes have an engine ‘kill switch’ on the handlebars so you can avoid such a disaster if you’re falling…

The trouble with creek crossings is that you can’t see what’s under the muddy water, and even if you can it worries you more as you see the uneven, rutted bottom you’re about to try and ride over!  Usually I wade through suspicious looking crossings first to check the depth, but this time I didn’t need to as soon a car came through and I saw it wasn’t as deep as it looked.

After making all 3 creek crossing without incident I eventually arrived at Bells Gorge; and what an amazingly beautiful sight it was!   Well, take a look for yourself:

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Bells Gorge – breathless beauty

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Bells Gorge Waterfall

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I could hear the water calling me in for a swim…

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So I did!

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Lovely!

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On croc watch… (it’s OK – non here!)

I think Bells Gorge is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, and I enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing 2 hours there, swimming, eating lunch and soaking up the peace & tranquillity.

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Bells Gorge – one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen

On the way back to the GRR I decided to film one of the creek crossings on my GoPro.  And yes, Sod’s Law had it that my bike stalled in half way across.  Luckily she started again straight away and I rode to safety with only soaking wet boots as casualties, as it was deep enough for water to flow in over their tops.  I’ve noticed lately that my bike does not idle properly and keeps cutting out as I slow down.  Maybe something has affected the idle control; I hope she makes it to Darwin!

My next stop was Galvins Gorge where I ran out of fuel and had to top-up with some of my extra 20 litres.  I’d actually gone just over 300km on a full tank, which was better than I expected.

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Galvins Gorge

Galvins Gorge was a short walk that led to a nice clearing with a waterfall and aboriginal artwork painted on the gorge walls.  Some people were admiring them, but I thought it looked as though a primary school kid had drawn them yesterday with a piece of chalk.  Take a look:

 

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Galvins Gorge Rock Art

Back at the car park a kindly couple in a caravan noticed I was in need of a nice cup of tea and perched me down for a brew and a chat – lovely!

I rolled into Mt Barnett Roadhouse, the only unleaded fuel stop on the GRR, at 16:30 after a fantastic day riding and gorge exploring.  After filling up (and buying some chips I couldn’t resist when I saw them next to the cash register in a hot cabinet – good sales technique!) I threw up the tent and set off to see Manning Gorge whose trail begun in the campground.

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Mt Barnett – the first fuel stop on the Gibb River Road after 450km (with gorge detours)

I saw a sign saying the trail was 5km return long and to allow at least 3.5hrs for the hike there & back.  It was already 17:00 (30 mins to sunset) but I thought, like at Karijini, the hiking times were over inflated and aimed towards the hordes of elderly visitors that descend upon the area every day, and I thought I would be able to make it before sunset.  Also, the trail was well marked and there was a full moon.  So, I set off jogging in my flip flops well prepared with my board shorts and camera.

The start of the trail is actually pretty cool because you have to pull yourself across a lake in a boat fixed to a rope spanning the lake.

After a while it became apparent the trail was rockier and longer than I thought, but I’d come this far so I pressed on the catch a glimpse of the gorge in twilight.

When I eventually arrived, the gorge looked magical in the rapidly fading light, with lots of soft sand for kids to play in, and beautifully clear water to swim in under a waterfall.  However, I thought if you only had to do one, Bells Gorge was the nicer of the two.

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Manning Gorge by twilight

After a quick stay I again set off flip-flop jogging on my way back, hoping I wouldn’t get lost and have to sleep amongst the venomous snakes and spiders I’d heard so much about; but at least it was warm!

With the sun dropped like a stone, as it does towards the equator, it was soon dark but the sky was clear and the full moon lit my way, to a point, but didn’t stop me frequently stubbing my flip-flopped toes on rock and boulders I didn’t see.  I certainly don’t recommend anyone attempting this at home, as on a couple of occasions I thought I’d gone the wrong way out into the wilderness and even experienced a teaspoon of mild (controlled) panic.

After what seemed like forever I made it back to the campsite alive and headed straight for the shower with my wet and dirty clothes for a good washing, including my motorcycle boots which were still soaked in Bell Creek muddy water.  My bike then assumed its night-time work as a clothes horse.

After my shower I fired up the old camp stove and set about cooking dinner, a delicious pot mess stew, and relaxed by the fire.

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We love camp cooking! (I also happen to be among the best camp chefs in the World…)

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Mt Barnett Campsite with my bike as a clothes horse

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Trail start for Manning Gorge (that I did last night) with the ‘pull yourself across boat’ on the far bank

Mt Barnett RH to Kununurra

 

Having seen apparently the best of the GRR gorges I decided to put some distance under my belt and spend most of the day riding to Kununurra.  However, first I had 3 more river crossings to attend to.

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On the Gibb River Road again

After my bike conked out in the middle of Bells Creek yesterday (and I escaped with only wet feet) I would be lying if I said the 3 river crossing today weren’t the cause of some nervousness.  My bike is so heavy loaded up it would be a huge pain to pick it up if it slipped over on some underwater rut or boulder.  Car drivers don’t normally understand that 2 wheels are a lot more unsteady than 4 when you can’t see what you’re riding over.

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Another creek crossing complete!

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The weather was gorgeous – sunny but not too hot

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And another creek crossing…

The last and longest of these crossings was the Pentecost River, and is the one feared most by all motorcyclists that attempt to cross it.  Luckily, with a handful of constant revs to counter my worsening idle problem, I made the crossing in one go, but fortunately the river was not too deep.

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The Pentecost River

With the bulk of the GRR now completed, I stopped for lunch overlooking a wonderful panoramic view of the eastern Kimberley.  I’ve decided fajitas are one of the best camping/travelling foods you can have, and cheese and baked bean fajitas make for a very tasty lunch.  Perhaps I should patent them?

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Everybody’s favourite lunch – Baked Bean and Cheese Fajitas

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After the Pentecost it was downhill all the way…

Battle damaged but still functioning, I rolled into Kununara late afternoon and treated myself to a proper bed in a single room in the town backpackers.  Sleeping in a proper bed after a few days camping is always like heaven to me!

However, before bed I had some research to do on my idle problem.  It had now become so bad the bike always cut out whenever I slowed down.

After a good old Google Search I discovered my problem was more than likely an Idle Stepper Motor clogged up with dirt and dust from all the dirt roads I’ve been riding.  WA is renowned for its ‘bull dust’, or very fine red dust that gets everywhere, and added to the Tiger’s well known propensity to clog, this was the likely cause.

I decided to have a look at it in the morning.

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