Australia: Roadkill & Stromatolites

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oct 14 (the blog automatically gets dated, you can tell we are a day ahead in Australia!)
Exmouth, Western Australia. It’s still a pretty isolated town. I felt that we had left the Outback but people here still calls this the Outback. We really like Exmouth. It feels like a small, laid-back beach town which might become really popular in a few years. It has a small centre with dive shops, a bakery, a grocery store. I have been to towns that boasted being famous for their wine, their cheese, having a giant lobster, or something like that. Exmouth holds the record for strongest mainland wind gust, measuring 267 kph! While we are here, it’s been trying to break that record. Very windy but that’s actually nice when it’s hot.
But Exmouth is also very different from what we expected. I had imagined the west coast to be a different landscape – hills, greener. I guess that’s because I’m a North American west coaster. Here the west coast, at least so far, is simply desert. Red rocks, shrub, even termite mounds right up to the ocean. There literally is only a row of sand dunes in between desert and reef.
Oh, that reef. I’ll let you in on a secret…
We’ve all heard of the Great Barrier Reef. The west coast, has a similar reef. A bit smaller but still some 300 KM long… and this one is RIGHT off the main land. You don’t need to take an expensive cruise. You don’t need to go way out at 50 knots an hour… You simply put on your mask and snorkel, wade out into the turqoise water and voila…. coral bommies all around, red fish, blue fish, yellow fish too.  It’s awesome.
Kees has graduated to wearing shorts, flipflops and a tan. We camped in town first where, to our amazement, a huge emu visited us. Then we found THE best spot in the entire Nigaloo Reef National Park – right off the beach with a view of the water and sand. The draw back is that national park campgrounds have no facilities. So we went unplugged and loved it. No TV! Yet we watched As The World Turns and The Blue Lagoon.
We had wine with fellow campers, listened to stories of kite surfing and sailing on the blue corral lagoon. Kangaroos lazed around us in the shade. Then we made dinner and watched the sun set.  We watched blues fade to orange, pink, gray-blue. And then we slept, for about 12 hours. But I kept peeking out and saw the moon make a trail across the starry sky, until it was as large and orange as the sun. It slowly sank into the ocean to make way for another day.
At first light, we sipped tea and skinny dipped in the Indian Ocean.
And the best part? It’s Monday morning!

October 14
We’ve been telling you all about how wonderful our Australian travels are: warm temperatures, swimming, tropical beaches… Then we realized that, where you live it may be a blustery Fall. You may be going to work and get really ticked off reading about how nice our trip is… So we figure it’s time to tell you about the down side of traveling. How it’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be.

😦 The distances we have to drive here to get anywhere are terrible… One day we did 930 KM.

:-(The temperatures can be murder. It’s been an average of 33 degree, sometimes up to 41 degrees C.

😦 The flies are awful… they want to settle permanently up your nose.

😦 You always have to walk to a shower building, dragging all of your clothes, towel, toiletries, the key… Then you have to balance on one foot in a wet showerstall, trying to get dressed.

😦 The flies are terrible.

😦 There’s no Heineken to be found in the Outback. !

😦 It’s hard to find good coffee here, especially in the supermarket. Almost only instant.

😦 We track sand into our van all the time. Have to sweep piles of it out. All the time.

: -( You should see the flies here.

😦 We keep hearing about killer jellyfish, crocs, spiders, snakes.. That sort of stuff starts to take a toll on the mind…

😦 Every night we have to take down the table, try to fit all the cushions into a bed and wrestle a sheet around it all.

😦 Every morning we have to take down the whole bed before we can sit at our breakfast table.

😦 We have a sunburn. And sand in unmentionable places.

😦 There’s just two of us. If you want a new conversation it gets limited sometimes.

😦 When we run out of a book to read, all we can do is hope to find a book exchange in the next campground. New paperbacks are $20.- here.

😦 Our stove has 3 burners but you can only fit two small pans on it at once.

😦 Did I mention the flies?

😦 Our fridge is about a quarter of a normal one. And it’s full of beer. “Baby beer,” Kees says, referring to the alcohol content of 2.5%.

😦 Almost no internet, and if we can get it it’s expensive.

😦 You should see the flies. They like beer.

😦 Our bathroom is about half the size of a small broom closet. Try pulling up your pants in that!

😦 We see more roadkill than houses.

There. I hope this makes you feel better.
Now I have to run. To the gorgeous white sand beach with the blue water and palmtrees. Sorry.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Coral Bay and Stromatolites!
Oct 15
This is perhaps one of the most pictoresque beaches of white sand, with aqua water and perfect swimming/snorkeling anywhere in the world. I love it.
But the campgrounds aren’t great. We found a spot in the “beach front” rows of the campground closest to the beach. It really was just a walk past other campers and across the road. But it felt like we were camping in a parking lot, with cars coming and going, a petrol station right next to us. Busy, busy. $48 per night just to camp here. So we’re not staying as long as we would have liked to.

But the snorkeling is out of this world. Right off the beach you immediately float over amazing corral in all shapes and sizes with fishes darting everywhere, in all colors. Large rainbow colored fishes, trailed by little blue, yellow, black & white fishes. Even the occasional turtle. Fabulous.
This morning we walked along the beach to an area of the reef where reef sharks have their nursery. The shallow waters were teaming with reef sharks in all sizes as well as a small ray.
Coral Bay and Exmouth are two places we’d go back to, no problem.

But we did leave and drove 430 KM down the same, boring desert road. It’s called the North West Coastal Highway. It’s not truly boring – there’s something imposing in its emptiness – but there really is nothing to see. Kees loves driving the long distances and I’m getting the tedious sleeves knit on the sweater I’m making.
The same red earth (Uluru’s color really is not that special when you consider that the whole continent is red soil. It’s just that Uluru is so hard, a monolith that has not eroded).
The same dusty green shrubs.
The same dead animals along the road. Not so many wallabees as there were along the Barkly Highway, but kangaroos, birds, cattle, even sheep. The cows are huge Brahmin cows and, apparently, get hit by road trains. They lie on the side of the road with their stiff legs in the air, bloated and dried like gigantic leather purses.

We even see the same people. Similar to the Camino de Santiago, a long distance hiking trail in Spain where you often run into the same hikers each day, here you also meet fellow travelers going in the same direction. We recognize people we saw two, three even five days back in another town. Obviously making the same stops along the same route.

We pass one town of a decent size and do our groceries for the next few days. Fill up with diesel whenever we find a larger town with lower prices. Then we find the turn-off to Denham, Shark Bay and – my long awaited stop – Monkey Mia.

I just finished reading Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country, in which he elaborates about Hamelin Pool and stromatolites. From his book, I knew about these rocks containing the earth’ first microbes. If they had not existed, billions of years ago, and decided to release oxygen into the atmosphere, we might have never ‘happened’. So I was curious to see to whom, or what, I owed this life on earth. Turns out stromatolites do not look exciting. The closest I can think of is lava. Black, grayish rocks sitting knee deep in saline water. No mysterious glow. No fluorescent frills. Not even gory green algae. Just rocks in clear water. But still. Cool to know that this is only one of two places on earth where stromatolites still ‘live’.  They do not look exactly lively and I think that Kees was a bit puzzled by my wish to see them.