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Road Trip: Perth-Exmouth-Perth - It's a Bloody Long Way!

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Jun 23rd, 2010, 09:22 PM
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Road Trip: Perth-Exmouth-Perth - It's a Bloody Long Way!

This trip was utterly exhausting…4,059 kilometers in 15 days. It was meticulously researched, yet far from perfect. Was it interesting? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I think not.

The travelers:

Bill and Mel, middle age American expats currently residing in Perth, Australia.

The itinerary:

Perth - Kalbarri – three nights
Kalbarri - Denham – three nights
Denham - Carnarvon – one night
Carnarvon - Exmouth – three nights
Exmouth - Coral Bay – three nights
Coral Bay - Carnarvon – one night
Carnarvon - Greenough – one night
Greenough - Cervantes – one night
Cervantes – Perth

The transportation:

A formerly pristine 2008 Toyota Corolla.

Day 1 - Perth – Kalbarri (approximately 577 km, eight hours)

We picked up the Brand Highway about an hour’s drive from our home in Perth. Highways in Western Australia are akin to side streets where I come from; one lane in each direction. This makes for painfully slow driving when you’re trailing caravans and road trains; passing is often downright scary. Sure, there’s the odd passing lane, but they’re few and far between. About 90 minutes outside of Perth we made a detour to the tiny town of Gin Gin for caffeine and sugar at a nice little cafe called CU @ Park.

The drive consisted of a bit of everything; rolling hills, pastures, livestock and railroad crossings…yes, trains cross the Brand Highway, which has a speed limit of 110 km per hour. We encountered more than our share of inconsiderate drivers; slow moving vehicles that immediately jumped into the scarce passing lanes, effectively clogging up the lane for the faster moving vehicles behind them; caravans trailed by a dozen cars unwilling to pull over to let traffic by, and a shocking number of tailgaters.

We stopped in Dongara, where we had a picnic overlooking the Irwin River Estuary, and then drove down to the water’s edge for a quick look see. A motorcycle convention seemed to be underway at the Dongara Bakery. I’d have thought they’d gather at the pub…

We continued on towards Geraldton, noting the abundance of B&Bs – many more than my research had suggested. We were both surprised at how green it was through here…visions of Coober Pedy had danced through our heads, yet here olive trees dotted the landscape. Road trains were plentiful and we passed many a sign advising that they can be as long as 36 meters (118 feet!).

The highway was closed near Geraldton due to an accident, which we later learned was a fatality. There was plenty of warning that the road was closed; refreshing, as that’s not usually the case in WA. Traffic was diverted onto a long network of country roads which meandered through the town of Walkaway. We arrived in Geraldton some six hours and 422 kilometers after leaving Perth. We still had a long way to go, so we quickly gassed up and located the North-West Coastal Highway.

We got a glimpse of the Indian Ocean as we left Geraldton and passed several vineyards, once again surprised, as we didn't realize they grew grapes up this way. We eventually turned onto the southern access road at Northampton and worked our way towards Kalbarri via the scenic route.

I’d read that the Principality of Hutt River was located somewhere between Northampton and Kalbarri, so we kept our eyes open for evidence of the place. For those unfamiliar, Hutt River claims to be an ‘independent sovereign state’ that seceded from Australia in 1970. Tourists are invited to visit the principality between 10-4 and have their passports stamped. It sounded quirky and fun, so we’d planned to stop there. The turnoff is marked with a small street sign that gives no indication as to the distance. We took the turn and drove several kilometers in the rain on the sandy unsealed road, but it was almost 4 pm, and we’d run out of steam, so we bailed. We asked about it later at the Kalbarri Visitor’s Center, and were told that the province is located 45 km from the turnoff.

http://www.principality-hutt-river.com/

The last 150 kilometers of our first drive day seemed to go on forever. We were tired and desperate to get out of the car. We arrived in Kalbarri eight hours after leaving Perth and checked into our lodging for the next three nights, the Kalbarri Seafront Villas. My review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

Kalbarri was hopping. It was a three day weekend, and unbeknownst to us there was a ‘Canoe and Cray Festival’ scheduled for the following day.

We had dinner at the Hotel Kalbarri bistro, which was a short stroll from our accommodation. Bill had oysters on the half shell and shrimp in garlic sauce ($16.50 each). I went for the pumpkin and ginger soup ($8). The serving was so big I had no chance of finishing it. Good and filling, two thumbs up.

Next up: Exploring Kalbarri National Park
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Jun 23rd, 2010, 11:48 PM
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Day 2 - Kalbarri

We had a sleepless night, thanks to our neighbors. This was our first experience with travelling in Australia over a long weekend, and it wasn’t a positive one. Kalbarri seemed to be in the throes of a drink fest.

The Visitor’s Center was closed, having been relocated to the foreshore for the festival, so we picked the brains of a helpful shop keeper. He advised us that the road into the national park is unsealed and often closed after wet weather (it had rained the previous night). We set off, and were soon making our way along the rough, washboard-like road, which felt much longer than 27 kilometers.

There were quite a few visitors, but not many ventured past Nature’s Window, a lookout point with views over the gorge and the Murchison River. We were there to walk the Loop Gorge Trail, an eight kilometer, Class 4 track that begins just beyond the lookout (10 km/6.2 miles return from the car park). It was every bit as challenging as advertised and took us about 3.5 hours to complete. It was an enjoyable trek for the most part with some pretty views, but the flies were fierce…not what we’d expected in June.

Hikers are advised to carry three liters of water per person per day as temperatures in the gorge can reach 50°c during the summer, 10°c hotter than along the rim. There’s no way in the world I’d attempt this trail in warm weather - hiking in the low 20’s is plenty warm for me.

Next we worked our way towards the Z Bend River Trail, thinking we’d walk it as well. One look at the track’s description – ‘demanding, loose rocks, steep descents and ladder climbs’ – and we thought better of it.

We returned to the Hotel Kalbarri bistro for dinner and found it considerably more sedate than the previous night. We enjoyed the live music while noshing on beef with bean and oyster sauce ($18.50) and Margherita pizza ($16). I should know better by now, but I’m still amazed at the high quality of food found in Australian taverns and bistros.

Day 3 – Kalbarri

Our neighbors had moved on so we actually got some sleep. It was a pretty day, so we set out to explore the coastal cliffs along the southern boundary of the national park. We visited all of the overlooks; Red Bluff, Pot Alley (my favorite), Eagle Gorge; and walked from Natural Bridge to Island Rock and return. The blazing sun and lack of trees discouraged us from attempting any of the longer hikes.

We then drove east of the Kalbarri township to Meanarra Hill for a great view of the Murchison River, and then it was back to town to watch the pelicans and picnic on the foreshore. We spent the afternoon reading on our balcony, later enjoying a walk along the beach as we watched the sun go down.

As you can probably tell, we were underwhelmed with Kalbarri. The township was busy and noisy, and honestly, neither of us understood the draw. Sure, there’s an attractive foreshore and nice ocean views, but these things aren’t unique to WA. The national park was nice enough, but it just wasn’t our cuppa.

Next up: Mel falls in love with Denham
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Jun 24th, 2010, 05:30 AM
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"Was it interesting? Absolutely. Would I do it again? I think not."

I completely understand. I've had a few of those trips myself. I'm thoroughly enjoying your report and am looking forward to the next installment.
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Jun 24th, 2010, 06:04 PM
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Thanks for another entertaining & useful TR, Melnq8. Thanks for the note on the good quality of our bistro & pub food, too.

Just don't understand why anyone would go to a fast food chain when there's so many more attractive options.
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Jun 24th, 2010, 06:59 PM
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Thanks guys.

Bokhara -

This trip was full of surprises, one of which was the food.
Who goes to remote NW WA and expects good eats? We'd stroll into a forlorn looking cafe or bistro in the middle of nowhere and think 'do we really want to eat here'? For all my moaning about the long drives and red dirt, I absolutely cannot fault the food.
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Jun 25th, 2010, 01:44 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Melnq8 - I'll be following along every bump of your 4,000km adventure! Always enjoy reading your trip reports and accommodation reviews, such a wealth of detail!

And agree, sometimes the best eats are found in out-of-the-way, rather unassuming small establishments that become popular by word-of-mouth.
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Jun 26th, 2010, 12:00 AM
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Day 4 – Kalbarri – Denham (approximately 380 km, ~six hours with stops)

Before checking out of our accommodation, we walked down to the river mouth to watch the daily (8:45 am) pelican feeding, a long standing Kalbarri tradition carried out by local volunteers. It was interesting and informative.

We left town via Ajana Kalbarri Road, which took us back through the national park. Our first detour was to Hawk’s Head, a nice overlook with gorgeous views of the Murchison River. The light was perfect, the wedge tail eagles were soaring overhead; I briefly thought perhaps I’d misjudged Kalbarri.

Our next stop was at the Ross Graham lookout, where we walked down to the river…just us and a million flies.

Back on the road, we rejoined the North-West Coastal Highway, the ocean nowhere to be found. Discarded bottles lined both sides of the road for kilometers on end, making me wonder if people just drive by and toss their bottles out the window.

There was nothing to look at but the endless road, red dirt, squat pale green trees and all manner of bottles. The landscape vaguely reminded me of New Mexico; the road was reminiscent of South Dakota, where you crest one asphalt hill just to see another...

We made a pit stop at the Billabong Roadhouse thinking a diversion was in order. It was certainly that. We were chatted up by the eccentric proprieter who zeroed in on our accents and then tried to bait us into talking politics. He had a solution for all of America’s problems, including his inventive suggestion that we protect our border by shooting anyone who illegally crosses it. Yeah, that’ll work. I felt like I’d stepped into a bizarre alternative universe. I couldn’t get back on that endless asphalt road fast enough.

We continued our journey, doing our best to keep the wild goats from joining the sheep and kangaroo carcasses that littered the roadsides. We eventually reached the Overlander Roadhouse, where we gassed up and had a picnic…in the car…because the flies were making us crazy. I’m glad I didn’t pursue my naïve idea of staying in roadhouses…this place looked bleak. As we made the turn towards Shark Bay, I found myself wondering why they even bothered putting a road up here. Bill Bryson got it right; Australia is indeed a sunburned country.

We made the 5 km detour to Hamelin Pool, Bill asking why we were going there, me scrambling for my notes, trying to figure out exactly what a stromatolite is. We saw a huge lumbering Perentie, but my legs had gone numb and I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough to get a photo. We were relentlessly pursued by flies as we tried to locate the elusive oldest living organisms on the planet. The Hamelin Pool boardwalk and viewing platform is nicely done, the stromatolites mildly interesting, but the signage could use some work.

I was doubtful as we took the turn to Shell Beach, some 50 kilometers southeast of Denham. I thought, hmmm, a beach with shells…how novel. Holy Moly! It was fantastic! Shell Beach is exactly that, a beach made entirely of cockle shells. It extends seemingly forever and is up to 10 meters deep. There was a time when the shells were used to construct buildings in the area. It was fascinating…millions upon millions of tiny white shells set against brilliant turquoise water…and to think I was about to give up on the NW coast…shame on me.

We passed a sign announcing the 26th Parallel and welcoming us to the North West. A short time later we rolled into the seaside village of Denham. I immediately fell in love….

We got settled into our home for the next three nights, Tradewinds Seafront Apartments, and set out to explore the town. My accommodation review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

On the advice of our proprietress we made a dinner booking at The Old Pearler, which claims to be the only restaurant in the world made mostly of shells…cockles of course. It was here that we spent our belated 28th anniversary and had one of the best meals of the trip. The food was excellent, the ambiance ideal, the service spot on. Bill chose the Oysters Kilpatrick ($16), and the grilled snapper, served with a seeded creamy mustard sauce ($29.50). I opted for the Breast of Chicken Waldorf, served with brandy and walnut sauce on a bed of green apple ($28). Add a bottle of champers (free corkage!) and we were good to go. We practically licked our plates clean; we booked a table for the next night before we’d even left the building.

Next up: Dolphins, sharks and sea snakes
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Jun 26th, 2010, 03:36 PM
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I always enjoy your trip reports, and look forward to reading more.
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Jun 26th, 2010, 05:54 PM
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Thank you FurryTiles and Toucan2!
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Jun 26th, 2010, 11:47 PM
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Day 5 – Monkey Mia & Denham

We were up at 6:00 am and on our way to Monkey Mia by 7:00 to watch the dolphin feeding. We were treated to a brilliant but dangerous sunrise; the blinding sun made kangaroo impact prevention even more of a challenge. There’s a charge of $8 per adult for a day pass to Monkey Mia; we purchased the $12 per adult four week pass, just in case the dolphins didn’t show up and we chose to return.

The festivities didn’t begin until around 8:00 and by then there was quite a crowd. Monkey Mia seems to have its fair share of detractors, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the dolphin feeding exhibition was well done. It’s strictly regulated by DEC and it’s evident that the protection of the dolphins is their primary concern. It’s impossible to predict how many might turn up, if any. There were five dolphins the day we visited and we were told there'd been 14 the previous day.

After coffee and scones at the Boughshed, we explored Monkey Mia for a few hours. We walked the grounds and took the two kilometer Wulyibidi Yaninyina Trail (a.k.a. the Monkey Mia Walk Trail), an easy path that led through the bush with its stark red dirt and pale trees set against a sparkling azure ocean. The path looped back alongside a sea grass strewn beach. And an added bonus, no flies!

Back to the Boughshed for an alfresco lunch; raw tuna, jalapeno and rocket salad with lime and wasabi dressing for Bill ($12.50), eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, onion, sundried tomato, basil pesto and mozzarella on Foccaicia for me ($14.50). Good food and better value than we’d expected.

Not much else of interest for us here, so we backtracked on the Monkey Mia Road, making a six kilometer detour into Francois Peron National Park. With one exception, all roads into the park are suitable for high clearance 4x4 vehicles only. So, we bumped our way to Peron Homestead, via the only two-wheel drive friendly road in the park. Here we took the short self-guided tour through the grounds of the historic sheep shearing station, swatting flies the entire time. There’s also an artesian hot tub tucked back here, but the last thing I want to do on a warm sunny day is soak in hot water.

I’d hoped to explore the 1.5 km walk trail along the cliff between Cape Peron and Skipjack Point, but alas, a 4x4 is needed to access the trail.

Our next stop was Little Lagoon…a gorgeous circular pool of turquoise water completely enclosed by land. Very cool.

We drove back through Denham and on to Eagle Bluff, supposedly one of the best places in Shark Bay to view marine life. It’s accessible via a rather rough, unsealed four kilometer road. There’s a really nice boardwalk overlooking the sea – wonderful views - but the marine life must have been hiding…we didn’t see a single fish. Plenty of flies though.

Our last stop of the day was Ocean Park, where we paid $16 each for what we thought was a 45 minute tour. Wow…we spent a fascinating two hours looking at and learning about all sorts of marine life, including sea snakes, sharks and other not-so-friendly creatures. This venture is obviously a labor of love for its proprietors; their enthusiasm is contagious. I have a lot of admiration for people who so obviously love what they do. We thoroughly enjoyed Ocean Park.

We’d had a very full day; I was loving every inch of Shark Bay (except for those damn flies).

That evening it was back to the Old Pearler for an encore dinner. We both ordered the same exact thing as the night before. We weren’t disappointed.

Day 6 – Denham

It was another beautiful day in Shark Bay – cool and sunny. We poked through town, walked along the foreshore, located and photographed the church made of cockle shells, the usual tourist stuff.

We’d booked a 2 pm South Peron Scenic Adventure with Quad Bike Tours ($80 each for a two hour tour), conveniently located across the street from our accommodation. We met up with our guide Trevor, were given some instructions on how to operate the quads, and then we were off to explore some of those 4x4 only roads within Francois Peron National Park…just the three of us…sweet.

We rode through the dusty bush, my contact lenses none-too-happy until I donned some goggles. We explored various beaches, sand dunes and overlooks, stopping occasionally to soak up the beautiful views and to listen to Trevor’s commentary on the area. It was an ideal way to spend an afternoon. Trevor was a great guide and an all-around nice guy.

We were really tempted to return to the Old Pearler…again…but we were feeling guilty about all that rich sauce, so we settled for sharing a chicken parma at the Waterfront Hotel Bistro ($26.50). We should have gone back to the Old Pearler. Oh well.

Next up: Kangaroo carnage
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Jun 28th, 2010, 01:32 AM
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Day 7 – Denham - Carnarvon (approximately 334 km, ~3 ¼ hours)

We bid adieu to our friendly hosts, Kevin advising us that the best Chinese food in all of Australia could be found at an establishment in Carnarvon (we searched, but apparently it had closed six years ago…!)

Before leaving the area, we detoured to Nanga Bay Resort, just for grins. The word ‘resort’ seems to be tossed around loosely in these parts; this was just a rough and tumble assortment of dongas, motel units and camp sites.

Leaving the peninsula we once again found ourselves on the North-West Coastal Highway. As we edged our way north we saw our first emu of the trip, just standing on the side of the road as we blew past. There were plenty of free roaming sheep and goats, but otherwise just a whole lot of nothing, not even a blue sky.

We had a brief scare when we saw a road train coming directly toward us – in our lane – as he passed a caravan. I almost had a heart attack on the spot. Crisis averted, our eyes returned to the desolate landscape and the roadside carnage. No more discarded bottles, but plenty of squashed animals. The road kill began to include cats and even a few cows. Trevor had told us that feral cats were a big problem up this way.

There was quite a bit of greenery on the immediate sides of the highway due to the latest rain, attracting critters right up to the roadside to graze.

We’d occasionally get a glimpse of an eagle or a hawk, talons dug deep into some poor dead animal. Not only did we have to dodge kangaroos, emus, sheep, goats, cows, and road trains, but eagles and hawks too. No wonder we were so tired after a day of driving.

Wooramel Roadhouse is the only petrol/pit stop between the Overlander Roadhouse and Carnarvon (there is a rest stop, but it was closed).

We rolled into Carnarvon (pronounced ka-gnaw-vin) tired, cranky and in need of food. We walked the small town twice, finally settling on a potentially unpromising café near the Woolworths, a little place called The Coffee Cup. Surprise, surprise – we loved their souvlakis and flat whites! Our next stop was the car wash – the only one between Geraldton and Carnarvon apparently. We rid our car of its thick coat of red dirt, but unfortunately we added a wee scrape on the back bumper when trying to make room for a car exiting the car wash. I never will understand why everything is so narrow and squishy in a country that has so much empty space.

We’d booked a chalet at the Wintersun Caravan & Tourist Park for the night – yet another surprise - my review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

I took one look at that sprawling caravan park and was convinced we were in for a noisy night. The camp sites were practically on top of each other and just about every space was occupied.

We watched mud covered 4x4s pull in and get settled for the night and then took a stroll through the grounds. I was amazed at all the gear people bring with them on the road - TVs, satellite dishes, towering radio antennas, tables, chairs…we even saw a washing machine! Camping certainly has changed since I was a kid. These folks don’t sit around the campfire toasting marshmallows; they sit around the microwave with their laptops.

We dislike one night stays, but on a trip with so much driving something had to give. Carnarvon was a convenient place to stop between Denham and Exmouth on the drive north and between Coral Bay and Greenough on the drive south. Carnarvon is the gateway to a few inland attractions, including Mt Augustus, ‘the biggest rock in the world’, just a mere 460 km east of town (!) I found myself wishing we had at least a full day in the area, as I’d have enjoyed a plantation tour.

Dinner that evening was at the Old Post Office Café. We shared an order of garlic bread with red capsicum, cashew, garlic and olive oil dip ($8) and split a Diavolo pizza (pepperoni, fresh tomatoes and chili - $24.50). Good stuff.

Next up: Blowholes and termite mounds
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Jul 1st, 2010, 01:01 AM
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Day 8 –

Carnarvon to Exmouth (approximately 367 km, six hours with detours)

Despite the large number of people right outside our door, the loudest noise we heard all night was the ticking of the clock in our chalet. I was impressed with this whole caravan park thing, although I’m sure it didn’t hurt that the patrons were mostly grey nomads.

We were up early, and on our way to the Visitor’s Center, where they hold a Grower’s Market each Saturday morning. It wasn’t very big, but there were some interesting products on offer. We bought some locally produced hot chili relish and mango leather, and made a point of revisiting the market on our return through Carnarvon a week later to stock up on the relish – good stuff.

We drove out to historic One Mile Jetty, one of the longest in the southern hemisphere. We paid $4 each at an honesty box, and then walked the length of the jetty, taking in the mangroves, watching a spotted eagle ray glide through the water, and eyeballing a huge number of jellyfish from the safety of the boardwalk, which incidentally, only has a railing on one side. It was a beautiful morning; walking the jetty was a good way to start the day.

We left Carnarvon via our old friend, the North-West Coastal Highway. We crossed the dusty, waterless Gascoyne River, which apparently runs for some 764 kilometers, and passed several agricultural farms and produce doors. Before long we were once again surrounded by flat, barren, nothingness.

We made the 49 kilometer detour (one way) to Quobba and the blowholes, first stopping at Point Quobba, a fish habitat protection area – WOW - looking down into the water was like looking into an aquarium – this was my kind of snorkeling – I didn’t even have to get wet!

I was amazed by the sheer number of butterflies – they were everywhere. We explored for a bit, taking in the unique rock formations, marveling at the crystallized salt in the nooks and crannies of the rocks, watching fishermen perched high on cliffs, and patiently awaiting a big wave so we could see the blowholes in action. This was a great stop and worth every extra kilometer that it added to an already long drive day (thanks Stormbird!).

Before leaving the area we drove up to the Quobba Lighthouse to take in the views. The road was a bit of a challenge for our little Corolla, but we made it relatively unscathed.

Back on the highway we continued north, temporarily distracted from the boring drive by a wild goat up in a tree trying to get at something. Unsurprisingly, there was more red dirt, more faded green shrubs and that brilliant blue Western Australia sky, making the landscape vaguely pretty, albeit it in a sad, desolate sort of way.

We saw our first wallaby grazing alongside the road just past noon; we perked up, watchful for more, not expecting them to be out quite so early. We saw fewer and fewer cars. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, marked by a graffiti covered sign and not much else.

Eventually termite mounds began to dot the landscape, finally something to look at! We stopped for the obligatory snap, me wondering how many times that particular mound had been photographed due to its convenient roadside location. Some jokers had punched smiley faces into some of the termite mounds, a few looked like leering jack-o’-lanterns.

We were finally on the tip of the North West Cape. It had taken us ~23 long hours of butt time to reach this point, some 1,270 kilometers north of Perth. It felt good to get out of the car and check into our accommodation for the next three nights, Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort (there’s that word again). My review can be found here:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Rev...Australia.html

Note:

When planning this trip, I was torn between whether to book a whale shark tour from Exmouth or Coral Bay. Whale sharks migrate north and we were there late in the season, so Exmouth won.

I’d exhaustively researched all of the whale shark tour operators, finally booking with Three Island Marine Charters. I selected them because, 1) They’re a family operated business whose guides have natural science degrees, 2) I found not a single bad review and, 3) unlike other Exmouth operators, they have a reasonable booking and cancellation policy. As an additional perk (which I was unaware of when I booked our accommodation), Three Island Marine Charters gives a 20% discount to guests of the Ningaloo Caravan and Holiday Resort and one hour of free internet access to tour participants.

http://www.whalesharkdive.com/our-tours.html

We got settled, paid the balance on Bill’s whale shark tour, and then poked around town, wondering why on earth anyone would choose to live here. Our first impression of Exmouth was that it’s rather bizarre…and ugly. There wasn’t a tree in sight and no immediate evidence of the ocean; just vast, flat, emptiness.

There’s an Italian restaurant conveniently attached to the caravan park, so we thought we’d have dinner there (Pinocchio's). NOT. They were busy and short-handed; we waited 30 minutes without being offered so much as a glass of water, so we gave up and left, opting for snacks in our room instead. Exmouth wasn’t looking very good at this point…

Next up: Snorkeling (and barfing) with the whale sharks
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Jul 1st, 2010, 03:53 PM
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Barfing?! Uh oh.
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Jul 2nd, 2010, 01:52 AM
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Day 9 – Exmouth

Bill was off early for his whale shark tour ($337.50 after 20% discount – ouch!). I can’t set foot on a boat without getting violently ill, so I wasn’t remotely interested in the tour, especially at that price.

I spent the day exploring; I popped into the Visitor’s Center for a walking map, poked around the tiny Sunday market, etc. Exmouth looked much more inviting after a good night’s rest. I wandered through a barren housing development, perplexed at why anyone would build their dream house there. I ended up at the Novotel, a big screaming oxymoron. It’s modern, it’s flash, it’s posh…yet it’s out here in the middle of bum****, cyclone-prone nowhere. I enjoyed an alfresco lunch at MantaRay’s Brasserie, from where I could actually see the ocean, which had eluded us since arriving in Exmouth. Lunch was so good that I booked us in for dinner.

I wandered the Novotel’s grounds, admiring their beach and the emu sculptures made from old car parts. I continued walking past the resort, ending up at the Exmouth Marina, chockablock with humongous boats. A light flickered and I suddenly understood all those big houses…Exmouth is fishing nirvana.

http://www.exmouthwa.com.au

It wasn’t until I noticed some plumeria that it dawned on me that I was indeed in tropical Western Australia, although the red dirt and thirsty shrubs would seem to indicate otherwise.

I spent the afternoon on the porch, listening to the noisy chatter of galahs and Little Corellas, watching road weary travelers settle in for the night. Bill eventually lumbered in, exhausted but happy. The search for whale sharks had been successful, and he’d spent at least 45 minutes swimming with two of them. He also saw several humpback whales and manta rays during his three snorkel sessions.

Our worries of overcrowding, having to ‘share’ whale sharks with multiple tour boats, limited time in the water, and general tourist chaos had been unfounded. Three Island Marine Charters proved to be an excellent operator. Apparently, they had a nice spread for lunch, but not everyone indulged, as there was a wee bit of seasickness amongst the passengers. I’m told the water was cold, the conditions rough, and 3-4 of the 12 passengers utilized the barf buckets. I’m so glad I stayed behind…

Note:

At the time of our visit, Three Island Marine Charters had seen whale sharks on every day of the 2010 season (85 days as of mid-June). There’s a limit of 20 participants per tour, and only ten people can be in the water at any one time during the whale shark snorkel.

We splashed out for dinner that evening at MantaRay’s; 'prime fillet of beef, mustard marinade, creamed potato, and sautéed spinach topped with grilled mushrooms and port wine jus’ for Bill ($41); ‘Mahogany Creek corn fed chicken breast, oven baked with a citrus glaze, roasted Kipfler potato, watercress and green bean salad’ for me ($39). For dessert we shared the ‘warmed chocolate mud cake with vanilla bean ice cream’ ($12). It was pricy, but good, although the tap water tasted seriously funky.

Next up: Exploring Cape Range National Park
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Jul 3rd, 2010, 01:19 AM
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Hi Mel,
I'm loving your report. We're Australians who are living in the UK but we're returning to Australia later this year and would love to do the trip you've just done, though maybe take 2 or 3 times as long if we could. You write really well, thanks for sharing. If we're ever in Perth, maybe we could look you up, we've been to the USA many times on holidays so could spend all evening talking travel

Kay
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Jul 3rd, 2010, 01:39 AM
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You're very kind Kay! More time is always better of course, especially when exploring a place as vast as WA. We thought we'd been generous with time, but it was a real challenge to reach Visitor's Centers before they closed at 3:45-4:30 pm or to get to our accommodation before reception closed, especially when making stops enroute to explore. (WA isn't known for its convenience...).

Would love to talk travel with you sometime.
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Jul 3rd, 2010, 01:46 AM
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Enjoying your trip report, Mel
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Jul 4th, 2010, 04:40 PM
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Hi Mel
Fantastic report, thanks for taking so much time to write about your trip. I've spent the weekend reading it all through with a map and a notebook - will certainly try to follow in many of your footsteps, the tips about the roads, eating places and opening times are so useful! I usually have a few questions when I'm planning a similar trip to one posted but you write in so much detail I can't think of anything to ask! Looking forward to Cape Range National Park.
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Jul 4th, 2010, 05:08 PM
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Thank you margo and tockoloshe. I'll try to buckle down and finish over the next few days.
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Jul 4th, 2010, 08:41 PM
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Day 10 – Exmouth

We were up and out early, bound for Cape Range National Park. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about WA, it’s that the sights most worth seeing are never easy to reach. So, we chugged up the east side of the cape, curled around the tip, and then worked our way down the west side.

The drive took us by the naval communication towers, one of which is supposedly the third tallest structure in the southern hemisphere at 387 meters (1,270 feet). The town of Exmouth was created in 1963 to support the US Naval Communication Station, jointly established by the Australian and United States governments. Incidentally, the station is named after Harold E. Holt, the Australian Prime Minister who mysteriously drowned while in office. There have been a few scary incidents involving commercial aircraft flying over the naval station, which has been dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of Australia.

We worked our way down the west coast, making stops at the SS Mildura Wreck, which can be seen from shore, and Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, which offers some nice views overlooking the sea. We made the short detour to Jurabi Turtle Center, adjacent to a rookery for three threatened species of marine turtles. It wasn’t turtle season, but having spent some time on Barrow Island as a volunteer turtle tagger, I was interested in learning more about the turtles in the area.

We were feeling the humidity and the temperature was beginning to climb, giving us the warmest day we’d had thus far. We made another detour at the Tantabiddi boat ramp, which is where the whale shark tours leave from. We watched some folks struggling to load their boat while fighting the current. It looked to be a rough day at sea and I suspect Bill was thankful he’d gone out the previous day.

We continued on, entered the national park, and stopped at Mangrove Bay for a short walk amongst the mangroves and to a bird hide. Our next stop was the Milyering Visitor’s Center, some 52 km from Exmouth.

WOW. This place is amazing. Interpretative displays, a library, an assortment of videos that can be viewed on demand, and a wonderful DVD presentation on the whale sharks. It is by far the best Visitor’s Center we have ever visited anywhere. We spent quite of bit of time here, and could have spent a lot more, but there was more ground to cover within the park.

Our next stop was the infamous Turquoise Bay, a glorious patch of turquoise heaven set amidst an otherwise bleak landscape. There were more cars in the car park than we’d seen anywhere else on this trip. The beach itself is very narrow and completely exposed, but the water, wow. People lined the beach, snorkelers filled the water; it was very inviting. Next door we found Bay Loop, the water here was quite a bit rougher – no snorkelers, but there’s a nice covered area for picnicking.

Back in the car, we worked our way toward our destination, Yardie Creek. The termite mounds were back and the topography gradually became more interesting. We’d toyed with the idea of taking the Yardie Creek cruise, but we had concerns about getting there in time, knowing that we wanted to explore along the way.

Note: The Exmouth Visitor’s Center takes cruise bookings until 9:20 am on the day of departure, yet the Visitor’s Center doesn’t open until 9 am, so it’s impossible to get an early start unless you’ve booked the day before prior to 4:30 pm. It’s a 90 minute drive from Exmouth to Yardie Creek. Bookings can also be made at the Milyering Visitor’s Center within the park on the day of departure, subject to availability.

We finally arrived at Yardie Creek, (the end of the road), and had ourselves a picnic before setting out on the easy nature trail and the Class 4 Yardie Creek Gorge Trail. The views of the gorge from the trail are certainly impressive…rugged multi-colored walls of rock surround the deep blue-green creek, giving it a fiord-like appearance. It’s all the more interesting because there’s nothing else out here.

It was 32°c by the time we returned to the car, hot, tired and pursued by flies. Man, I get tired of the flies.

We worked our way back towards Exmouth, making an unwise detour to Mandu Mandu Gorge with its rough, rocky, narrow unsealed road. I was worried we’d tear up our car on this one, but we made it, barely. We walked a short section of the trail into the gorge, but this wasn’t our kind of hiking…it was treeless, hot and dusty. By now I was uncomfortable and cranky, and desperately wanted a hot shower, so we returned to Exmouth, spotting an emu and a crazed lone biker along the way.

Back at our accommodation, we turned on the air conditioner for the first time this trip. We re-visited Pinocchio’s, successfully ordering dinner this time - Gnocchi with tomato cream sauce for me (normally $21, $17 on Mondays), Exmouth Tiger Prawns with garlic chili sauce and pasta for Bill ($35), corkage a reasonable $2 per person. The food was good, the servings huge (enough for lunch the following day), the service brusque, but, we did get served.

Next up: The skies open
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