|The dolphins of Monkey Mia|
October 16, 17, 18.
We continued down the road, another 100 KM to the tiny village of Denham. A motel, a marina, a supermarket, a gas station and then a lovely caravan park. Got a spot overlooking the ocean from a bluff. But we soon discovered they still had an ocean front site because the wind howls through here at 50 knots an hour… Can’t step outside without being blown out of your pants. I don’t need a hair dryer – just step outside and it’s blown dry in a minute. The showers here are salt water… so how can I rinse off after an ocean swim?
The first recorded arrival of white men on Australian soil, was right here. A Dutch man. A Dutch trading ship, under the command of Captain Dirk Hartog arrived here on October 25, 1616 – more than 150 years before Captain Cook. Hartog left a pewter plate, nailed to a post. The original plate is now back in the Rijksmuseum, but there’s a replica of it here.
Today we drove the short 25 KM to Monkey Mia. I had talked to many people who had visited this resort where wild dolphins come to interact with people. Everyone had said that it used to be really fun, but that now it is very touristy and regulated. But still. When wild dolphins come to the shore, I wanted to experience that. I did not have high expectations. I also suspected it to be commercialized.
BUT it was fun! It’s done in a lovely manner. You do have to pay $8.50 a person entrance fee, but that is often the case at wildlife or nature reserves. The rangers gave a informative talk and the bottlenose dolphins arrived around 8 AM. No one makes them show up, they truly do live free in the ocean. Of course they have been conditioned, know that there is a treat waiting by the shore. But I do believe the regulations are in the dolphins best interest. If they did not strictly enforce rules, people would feed them bread, or worse. They would touch them and affect them with sunscreen or bacteria.
Now, we all had a long, good look at the six wild dolphins that came to shore. They almost beached themselves and showed off. One mother brought a small calf. It was lovely. A few people were allowed to feed a fish to them and then it was over. The dolphins come back as they please but are only fed in the morning, and only up to five females, bringing males and other friends along.
Camping Down-Under: Observations on Australian RVs by Kees
Thirteen years ago when we visited Australia for the frst time, we rented a small camper van, a Toyota Hiace. It had well over 400,000 kms on it and every time we made a left turn the microwave fell on the floor. No airconditioning and since you are sitting on top of the engine in that van, it roasted your behind pretty good. So this time we decided to spent a few more dollars and get a larger, newer camper wth airconditioning and a large bed over the full width of the unit. We initially rented from the Cheapa company (the name should have warned us) but when we checked their reviews on Trip Advisor we found nothing but negative comments from previous users. So we changed to Britz and have been very very happy with their unit and their service, all first class. We used a broker to help us select the company (see Website: www.ausandnztravel.com) and were very happy with their services. You do see numerous rental companies that have units on the road. Not only Britz, but also Maui, Apollo and Kea are well known brands that are first class. There are several other rental companies that cater to different clientele and budgets. Make sure you check Trip Advisor before you rent anything!!
The rental units are mostly similar RVs to the ones you find in North America. Many class C motorhomes, small class B vans and many which would be classed as a large class B or a small class A. That is the one we now have, a Mercedes Sprinter fully camperized.
In North America there are more and more companies which use the Mercedes Sprinter (5 cyl. diesel) to build their motorhomes because it gets very good mileage for such a large unit. We are averaging 20 miles to the gallon, or about 8 liters per 100 kms. They drive well, however when you meet one of these famous road trains on the road (trucks that are 55 meters long and have 74 – 84 wheels) you better hang on to that steering wheel because you get hit with their draft pretty good.
The rental companies also provide many 4×4 camper units and that is a very good idea in Australia. Our (2 wheel) unit was only allowed on paved (sealed) road and as a result we had to forego visiting some National Parks or interesting sites because those would require us to travel down a dirt road (unsealed). A couple of times we needed to travel 10 -12 km on unsealed roads just to get to a campground and these Sprinters are not build for rough roads, that became obvious rather quickly. Next time we visit Australia we will get a 4×4 camper. A little more expensive to drive probably, but at least you can get everywhere you want to go.
The gas (petrol) here in Australia is a little more expensive, the cheapest diesel was $1.64 a liter but in the outback we paid as much as $2.20 a liter. You do have to be careful not to run out of gas because gas stations might be 250 km apart, however signs do warn you about those infrequent services and you would be pretty stupid if you did run out. Many people, especially those travelling the dirt roads in the Outback, carry extra jerrycans with fuel.
There are several other type of RVs on the road here in Australia and in campgrounds (caravan parks). First of all you see more types of trailers (called ‘caravans’ here) than I ever did see in North America. Many of them look rather low-slung when they go down the road, however as soon as they are parked a 1 or 1.5 foot pop up comes up that allows standing room in the trailer but allowed for less drag while going down the road.
Then there are the ‘camper caravans’, which we call tent trailers.
Another type we don’t see much of in North America is the ‘camper trailers’, these look like small utility trailers when being pulled behind a vehicle, but when folded out they become almost regular tents. And there are a few 5th wheels and even fewer large Class A motorhomes. The big Marathon, Prevost, Country Coach, Bounder etc. that you see in North American parks are rare here in Australia. You do see ‘slide on campers’ as they are called here, those are our pickup campers. And then something I have rarely seen in North America, the ‘roof top camper’. These are, usually small, tents that are carried on top of the car and which fold out, on top of the car, to a regular tent for which you need a ladder to get into it. It keeps you away from the snakes and spiders, but it seems a little awkward.
Since most of Australia is well endowed with a lot of sunshine many people use solar panels to charge their aux. batteries. Since the Caravan Parks can be rather expensive (we have paid between $32 and $52 for a site) many people stay in places where there are no facilities (dry camp). Especially the snowbirds (called ‘grey nomads’ or ‘silver seniors’ here) often dry camp for several days and then come into a Caravan Park for a night to replenish the drinking water, dump the grey and/or black water and get a decent shower. The facilities in these Caravan Parks are generally first class with laundromats, kitchen facilities and anything you can think of.
There is a major debate going on in the country between proponents of dry camping and the Caravan Park owners, who of course loose income if a grey nomad camps a few miles away in the bush while he has empty stalls. Several local municipal Councils have gotten into the act and decided to pass an ordinance to not allow dry camping within their boundaries. Or they are camper friendly and provide cheap (or sometimes free) camping spots for tourists.
All together we are very much enjoying the camping experience in Australia and I am already plans for our next trip down under!