Shark attacks are part of the reality of enjoying the lure of the ocean. In Australia, as in the U.S., this is more common on the West Coast. A fair number of approaches have been tried to keep swimmers safe. On my first trip to Australia, I swam in a shark cage near Port Hedland, which did the trick but was fairly confining. Efforts to achieve safety have continued. After additional decades of effort, a new option was developed and tested in Western Australia (WA). The good news is, the Eco Shark Barrier works well and the company that invented it is now the world’s leading purveyor of systems that keep both swimmers and marine life safe. Check out the interlocking shark wall in this video.
Tag Archives: Western Australia
One might think that after three trips to Australia, one of them six months long, I might be running out of things to see. Far from it. There is a fourth trip to report—and still things on my list that have not been checked off. However, before I launch into trip 4, I thought I’d just share a few interesting things I’ve run across online, mostly videos (since I was simply taking photos, which don’t necessarily convey all the drama and adventure).
There are so many wonderful things to see. I just saw a documentary on Australian parrots, so I thought I should focus on birds. Then I read an article about evidence that life on earth may have first emerged in Australia’s Pilbara region, but long research papers don’t lend themselves to blog posts.
So I settled on a video of a couple tackling the Gibb River Road, the road that made up a substantial part of the first part of Trip 3. It is not by any means everything I saw, but then the couple had to cut their trip short due to problems with their vehicle. If nothing else, the video underscores why it’s a good idea to not tackle this unless you really know what you’re doing. But it also underscores how remarkable the remote northwest of Australia is.
I was up at 6:30, finished packing, had a cup of tea and a shower, and headed out the door.
The jet I boarded had a surprising amount of legroom. Sorry I can’t fly Sydney to LA with this much space! Taking off, we swiftly crossed back across the land we had taken two weeks to traverse.
A lovely snack was served on the Broome to Kununurra leg of the journey (finger sandwiches with crusts trimmed off and chocolate chip, macadamia nut shortbread–could they possibly have made anything richer!), and lunch was served between Kununurra and Darwin (chicken breast and large, chilled shrimp–yum). No need to buy lunch at the airport.
The Darwin Airport is larger than Broome’s facility, but still small enough that passengers walk from their planes to the terminal. The plane was air conditioned, and after two weeks without A/C, it felt strange, and I felt more comfortable during the walk from my little Broome plane to the terminal. It is another spectacular, hot day. However, the airport was also air conditioned. I’ll adjust. The terminal was crowded, but was bright and comfortable.
The flight from Darwin to Adelaide was on a bigger jet, and it was really packed. I was a little surprised, but maybe it’s because it also goes on to Melbourne and Sydney, after dropping me off in Adelaide.
I’m sorry to be leaving this part of the country. I always feel like I’m on my way home once I leave the outback, even though I have two more weeks in Australia. However, I’m grateful for those additional two weeks, because I’m not ready to leave Australia yet.
I fell asleep almost while the plane was taking off and became conscious again forty minutes later, when beverage service came through. Below me, there was a whole lot of nowhere. The amazingly rugged landscape stretched to the horizon, with mountains, rivers, fault lines visible, but only rare signs of anything approaching civilization.
At least from up here, it’s evident that I’m somewhere specific. At most airports (unless they are little ones, like the one in Broome), it’s generally hard to tell where you are. No matter how much “personality” an airport has, in all but the smallest airports, it’s hard to feel like you’re anywhere but an airport, and all airports are in the same place—at the center of arriving and leaving. And at every airport, I’m doing the same thing, arriving, leaving, or waiting, usually with a view that consists solely of runways and airplanes.
The broad expanse of wild ruggedness below me has now turned from the brown and green of the Top End into the red of the Centre. A three-quarter moon hangs in the blue sky just to my left and forward. The fairly consistent clouds of the afternoon up north have given way to rare wisps. My view changed dramatically as we continued south, from red land to solid cloud cover. Still, from the air, even endless clouds are astonishingly beautiful. It’s one of the things I love about flying.
Then finally, partial clearing and the ocean shore, as we approached Adelaide. The pilot reported a temperature of 11˚C (roughly 52˚ F). It was 38˚C (or just over 100˚F) when I left Darwin. I’m glad I have a jacket.
The sun was just setting as we landed, which made even the airport splendid. Richard (Nikki’s husband) was waiting for me at the airport. He’d been in town for work that day, so it was quite convenient for him to pick me up. Saved me having to take a bus north.
The drive to Nuriootpa took just about an hour and 20 minutes. Nikki had dinner waiting when we arrived. Richard’s brother, Sandy, was visiting from Sydney, and the four of us dined and chatted and drank wine and chatted some more until 10:30. Then it was off to bed, to get a good night’s sleep before heading off on the next adventure.
After lunch, we did a little more browsing among the shops along Carnarvon Street. I bought a lovely little, locally collected seashell: a Cypraea cylindrica, which is indigenous to this stretch of coastline. Then we caught the 3:30 bus to Cable Beach.
Cable Beach is a long (22 kilometers), beautiful stretch of white sand bordered by red cliffs, graced with purple-flowered vines and palm trees, and dotted with eroded black rocks. The beach gets its name from the trans-oceanic telegraph cable that was strung from Australia to Java in 1889, allowing Australia to then communicate with the world more quickly than sending a message by ship.
We walked and observed and photographed. When Belinda and Athena perched on rocks to rest, I continued on my own. I picked up bits of coral and tiny shells, photographed a hermit crab and the sand balls surrounding the burrows of sand crabs. (The sand balls are created by the crabs, who roll up and rubbish after eating and eject it from their burrows.)
As sunset approached, a couple of strings of camels were led down onto the beach. Riding a camel along the beach at sunset is one of the “things to do” in Broome, and sunset-lit camels appear on a high percentage of the souvenirs in town. I photographed the camels and then rejoined Athena and Belinda, who had been joined by Mim, Hazel, Shirl, Graham, Leslie, and Don from our recently completed tour. We exchanged notes on what we’d seen and what we would be doing in Broome, then said good-bye again.
Athena, Belinda, and I climbed a nearby hill to await the disappearance of the sun. By 5:30, the huge, golden orb was well on its way towards the water. There were not a lot of clouds, so the sunset was not quite as stunning as in some photos we’ve seen, but it certainly seemed far larger than usual, perhaps attributable to our proximity to the equator.
Once the sun had set, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. I did a quick load of laundry, hung the wet clothes all over my room to dry, changed clothes, and rejoined Athena and Belinda for a quick taxi ride back to Chinatown. We stopped at a fish and chips shop with a surprisingly impressive menu (salmon, snapper, shark, squid), but we just bought chips (fries). Then the three of us headed for Sun Pictures, “The Oldest Picture Garden in the World.” (Are there others?) By picture, they mean movies. They would have been showing silent films back when this place was built in 1913. The façade would lead a passerby to believe Sun Pictures was a relatively normal theater. But behind that façade, the roof only extends for a few feet, to cover the ticket office and a bit of wooden lattice work, and then ends. The “theater” is a broad, green yard framed by palm trees, completely open to the sky. Rows of deck chairs are lined up in front of the large outdoor screen. It’s quite wonderful. The movie was actually incidental to the experience. The heat of the day faded into what seemed cool in comparison. The air was fragrant from all the flowers. Stars were splashed brilliantly across the sky overhead. Absolutely delightful. The place was packed, with locals far outnumbering tourists. Great fun. Highly recommended.
We caught a taxi back to the hotel and said a final farewell. I stayed up another hour, ironing my clothes and organizing my luggage. But by 11:30, I was too tired to do any more, so I went to bed. (It was not just the fifteen days of camping that have worn me out; I’m still hurting a fair bit. Definitely think I broke a rib or two back in Kununurra.)
Anyway, it was a fine last day to this part of the adventure. And tomorrow, onward.
Up at sunrise. A moment’s excitement upon discovering a tarantula in the loo. There was a grasshopper, as well, but that was less daunting.
Headed alone to the beach for as long a walk as I could manage. I had until 9 a.m. at my leisure, but the tour was scheduled to end at 10, and we still had to drive to town. But that gave me a couple of hours to enjoy my surroundings. I was joined by wading birds, an egret, and sea eagles. Mud hoppers skipped across the mud. (Also known as mud skippers, these are fish that can actually breathe air.) Snails emerged from their shells and explored for food. Red rocks, black rocks, gray mud, blue water. Beautiful morning.
I lingered on the beach till the last possible moment, then headed back to camp, to climb into the 4WD one last time.
Most of the gang was dropped off at the posh Mangrove Resort, but Athena, Belinda, and I continued on to the more modest, less expensive, but still very nice Tropicana. The yard was filled with flowers, particularly the wildly fragrant frangipani, so the place smelled heavenly.
We allowed ourselves half an hour for settling in and showering, and then the three of us met up and set off to see the sights. Our first stop was at the nearby Broome Historical Museum. It was a wonderful little museum, filled with relics, photos, and documents from Broome’s earliest settlement to the glory days of pearling through the devastation of World War II (Broome was bombed by the Japanese), and up to the present. There were artifacts from all the many peoples who have inhabited (and do still) the region: Aborigines, Europeans, Japanese, Malay, Indonesians. Delightful place, and astonishing history.
We visited an art gallery and an upscale jewelry store (this stretch of coastline is famous for its huge, exceptionally white pearls, and they’re worth seeing even if they are too costly to consider), then continued toward Chinatown. The gum trees along the road were in bloom and were wonderfully fragrant. Ibises wandered on the court house lawn, and kites (the birds) soared overhead. We all commented that this was a good place to ease ourselves back into civilization, as there was enough of the exotic to make us feel that this was still an adventure.
Chinatown was a real shock. When I first visited, it was a quiet, sleepy area, even though it’s the center of town. The broad streets then were covered in red dust but otherwise featureless. There were no sidewalks. The cars parked somewhat randomly down the center of the street tended to be rusting, practical, and sporting protective bars to minimize damage when encountering kangaroos or water buffalo. The stores were very basic tin-roofed structures that were generally Chinese owned. Now, though still open and amiable, the area is very upscale, with nothing more than a couple of Chinese restaurants to give validity to the name “Chinatown.” Carnarvon Street now has sidewalks and a parkway covered with grass and dotted with palm trees. The street is lined with posh boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, health food stores, nail salons, tour operators, and delis serving quiche and mocha lattés. Wow! What a disappointment. I had so looked forward to the funky, rustic, multi-lingual Broome that I had been telling Belinda and Athena about before we arrived.
That said, at least it was a convenient disappointment. We browsed through a few shops, where both Belinda and Athena found gifts to buy for folks back home. Then we popped into the comfortable (air conditioned!!) and apparently popular Bloom’s Gourmet Deli, where I had iced coffee and the mixed salad plate (Greek, pasta, and potato). Athena asked if any of us had any sense of being in a remote corner of the Australian Outback. No. Well, at least not until we went to the restroom, which is a corrugated iron shack at the far side of the hot, dusty backyard.
(For more on the changes in Broome, check out my earlier post on Broome Old And New. There, you can see contrasting photos of what I saw during my different visits.)
Derby is a wonderfully spread-out town, on the shore of King Sound. The streets are wide, the buildings low, and the dirt is red. There are lots of plants (including boabs, of course). It’s a strange, carelessly laid out little town that comes close to being quite attractive.
With a population just under five thousand, Derby is one of the three largest cities in the Kimberley (the others being Kununnura, which we visited earlier in the trip, and Broome, which is our destination this evening). Aside from boabs, the things for which Derby is most famous is its tides. The difference between low tide and high tide is 36 or more feet—the most extreme tides in Australia, and second only to the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
We did a little grocery shopping while in town. It was fun to see what a fabulously eclectic, cosmopolitan selection there was in the warehouse-like grocery store, from health foods to Asian foods to European delicacies. Remarkable. The town may be remote, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to eat well.
We enjoyed lunch by the shore, near the jetty. The jetty, which stretches out across the mudflats at low tide, is a popular spot for watching the water rush toward shore as the tide comes in. After eating, we wandered a bit, partly to explore and partly to stretch our legs before getting back into the 4WD. A huge, black cockatoo watched us from atop a street lamp. I photographed the sign that advises against swimming. Unlike those at Windjana Gorge, the crocodiles here are the massive, dangerous saltwater crocodile. Stay out of the water—and even on shore, keep your eyes open.
Then we strolled out along the jetty, to see how far the mud flats extended, and to see boats stranded by the absent water. I also liked the current patterns left in the mud by the tide.
Then we were off again. We stopped to see the famous “prison boab”—a boab so massive that, in the old days, prisoners could be held in its hollow trunk until other arrangements could be made. Then we continued on to Broome.
The tires hummed as we traversed the two hundred kilometers of blacktop to the outskirts of Broome, where we turned onto a red dirt road for the 15 kilometers drive to the Broome Bird Observatory. We’re not here at a high-migration time, but this is considered one of the best places on earth for bird watching.
When the brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean suddenly burst onto our view, it was stunning. The contrast of the deep-red dirt, white sand, and turquoise water was wonderful. As we drove, we saw a white-breasted sea eagle perched in a tree, surveying the water, looking for dinner. Glorious creature.
After putting up our tents, we walked down to the beach, stopping to admire a stick insect near the path. Wonderful to see how well its camouflage works. If it hadn’t moved, we would never have seen it. On the beach, red rocks and red sand bordered gray mudflats and blue sea. The red of the cliffs was brilliant, and it was set ablaze by the lowering sun.
The tide was on its way out and, though we had hoped for a bit of a splash, it was leaving too fast to catch it across the sticky mud and puddled sand. So we just hiked along the beach and enjoyed the scenery: the sun on the red cliffs, the turquoise of the water, the weirdly worn black, tan, and red rocks so reminiscent, but on a smaller scale, of the rocks of Windjana Gorge—the ancient seabed lifted up.
There were thousands upon thousands of seashells. I managed to limit my collecting to two token specimens: a couple of angel wings (and those who know me will know how hard it would be for me to limit myself when collecting seashells). Then, before sunset, we headed through the graceful, fragrant, short trees along the shore, back to our campsite, where our first hot shower in a long time was greatly enjoyed.
It was another amiable evening. We exchanged addresses and began talking about saying good-bye. Because of the trees so close about us, we had a much-reduced view of the stars, but the sound of the ocean waves and the breeze whispering in the branches was fine compensation.
It was a somewhat later evening than usual. Though we were all tired, we were reluctant to end this last night with all of us together.
Last night I slept beneath the stars and a quarter moon so bright that I hardly needed a flashlight. The breeze was as gentle and warm as a caress. It was wonderful.
I awoke to the sounds of hundreds of corellas (small, white cockatoos), and to a clear, cool, and steadily brightening sky. I slept relatively well last night—better than in the tent—and felt refreshed, though not eager to rise.
We had a leisurely breakfast, and then, at 7:30 a.m., a chance to hike back to the gorge again, to see it by morning light. I set off on my own, with hat, water bottle, and camera. Windjana is a gentle, sandy gorge, so I could wear sandals instead of hiking boots.
The gorge was even lovelier in the morning light. The water was still and glassy. Dozens upon dozens of corellas were standing at the water’s edge and in the shallows, getting their morning drinks. Other corellas flew over in flocks of varying size, and still others sat in the trees, making an unbelievable amount of noise.
There was one non-corella among the feathered features. A cormorant that must have been doing some early morning fishing sat on a branch, drying its wings.
On the far shore, opposite where I stood, the beach was covered with freshwater crocodiles. A few others floated in the water nearby. Last night, when Belinda and I had gone swimming, we had seen just a couple of freshies a fair bit up the gorge, but now that I saw how many there were, I’m not sure I’d so happily jump in the water with them all. Just a bit daunting to see so many.
Butterflies and dragonflies fluttered and perched everywhere. Some dragonflies were bright red, others were vivid blue. The butterflies were white with black or brown with white and purple. Actually, we’ve seen numerous butterflies everywhere up here. They have been a great delight to me. The brown butterflies I was seeing today were now familiar companions, having appeared many places—there were dozens at Tunnel Creek in particular. But I have also seen black and electric blue, yellow, orange with black, and white beauties as we’ve crossed the region. Wonderful.
I photographed a lot of things I shot yesterday, but the light is different now. Plus this is a place of such astonishing and strange beauty, I wanted to take as much of it with me as possible, even if just on film. Perhaps it is because it is the last day of the tour that I am being so prolific with my photos—sort of a way of holding on to the place.
By 9:15, I was back in camp. We packed up all our gear, and by 10am, we were on the road. Sigh.
Another blazing hot, crystal-clear morning. As we sped along the road to Derby, the boabs became more numerous. Most of these delightfully strange trees stand alone, but occasionally they occur in little “groves” of four or five trees—probably youngsters sprung up from seeds dropped by the parent tree. Over time, the central or largest boab has pushed the others over simply by getting so huge in girth that it “wins.” Or sometimes, if the boabs are similar in size, it looks like they’re dancing in a ring, and leaning way back.
A lot of short, uninteresting-looking scrub and flat land now surrounded us, as we approached Derby. This is not the most scenic part of the trip. Recent burn-off made some bits look really desolate. Litter and telephone poles were our first indications that we were approaching civilization.
As an aside, before continuing on with reporting on this adventure, I think it’s worth noting that this remarkable barrier reef, heaved up from the ocean floor to become the Napier Range, is not the only stunningly ancient bit of rock in this corner of Australia. It’s all mind-bogglingly old here. In fact, the Hamersley Range, a bit south and west of here, and which I visited on my first trip Down Under, is believed to be the first part of the Earth’s crust to have cooled after the planet was formed.
Here’s one of the posts I did a few years ago about my time in the Hamersley Range, after a visit to Hamersley Gorge, one of many breaks in the range, but one that is famous for showing clearly the effects of the tremendous pressure that formed and shaped some of these ancient rocks.
Then, just a few years ago, on a sheep ranch at Jack Hills, not too far from the Hamersley Range, scientists found what they believe to be the oldest chunk of rock on the planet—a zircon crystal that they estimate was formed at the planet’s dawning.
Here’s an article with more details on this ancient zircon—and a photo.
So I was traveling through a region where phenomenal antiquity is the norm. One more reason to love this remarkable place.
We headed back the 30 kilometers to where we had set up camp. We had no need to change clothes, as the hot weather had already dried everything after our wade through the tunnel, but we did drop off flashlights before walking the short distance to Windjana Gorge. Tall, mostly black, deeply striated walls, in places touched with red, rose before us, but a short cave in those walls gave us access to the main gorge. Wow.
The rock formations were wonderful, black, red, pink, and cream. Weird, knife-pleated stone covered parts of the wall and rose to peaks in some places. It was easy to imagine the formations being at the bottom of their original ocean.
The gorge was remarkably beautiful, with clear water down the center, surrounded by pale sand, with paperbark trees and lovely green ivy adding a touch of color.
Athena and I hiked for about an hour up the gorge, stopping to photograph freshies and a white egret, vines, trees, the rocks, and glassy water. When we met up with Belinda, we turned back toward the entrance of the gorge. Belinda and I stopped to swim, but Athena was worried about the freshies, so she sat on the beach.
The most astonishing thing was the cockatoos. There were hundreds upon hundreds of little white cockatoos (corellas). It must be the mating season, because we saw them exchanging “gifts,” rubbing heads, and flapping wings in little dances. They covered the beach, filled the trees, and stood on the cliffs. It was astonishing.
When we got back to camp, I headed for the shower–an outdoor affair, with walls but no roof and only cold water—but it was bliss getting cleaned up. (We got wet in the underground tunnel, but not clean.) Then it was have a cup of tea and circle the chairs around the cooking fire, for another friendly evening.
Butcher birds were very brave, and approached us to see if we might have food to offer. The willy wagtails were on hand, but they were skittish and never got close. Blue-winged kookaburras were nearby, noisy but out of sight. Wonderful.
Among the birds, only the crows are annoying. Two nights running, the crows have destroyed our garbage bags, tearing them apart to look for goodies. It’s not hard to imagine how the expression “Stone the crows” arose. I’m told the crows here will even kill newborn lambs. So not all the birds have endeared themselves.
After setting up camp and having lunch, we jumped back into the 4WD and headed the 30 kilometers back to the King Leopold Range, and to Tunnel Creek. Wow! Tunnel Creek is a river that flows under a mountain, and, with a bit of wading (from mid-calf to about chest deep) and scrambling over rocks, it is possible to traverse the half-mile distance of the tunnel, to the far side of the mountain range.
I had forgotten to bring my flashlight, so Athena and I stuck close together, which benefited both of us–she was nervous in the water, and I needed her light. We scrambled down a tumble of quartz and pink-and-white marble to the mouth of the tunnel. The roof was high, and, in places, decorated with stalactites. We waded into the chilly water, flashlights barely piercing the intense darkness, and we picked our way in and out of the water and along boulders and sand spits, stopping to admire caves and look for “freshies” (freshwater crocodiles—the crocodiles that don’t kill humans).
About half way up the tunnel, a light became visible and grew brighter till it was daylight, where a wall had caved in. There was an immense, braided, fig-tree root reaching from the cliffs above, through the break and into the water in the tunnel. Remarkable. We climbed over the rocks of the collapsed wall and continued up the tunnel, back into the darkness.
The end of the tunnel was a wonderful, bell-shaped opening that let out into a narrow gorge, where trees crowded around the clear stream emanating from the mountainside.
We splashed and chatted for a while, then headed back through the astonishing tunnel. We stopped at one point and all turned off our lights, to see how truly dark it was–and it was, totally.
Continuing on, we saw a yabby (a freshwater crustacean–like a crawdaddy, only much bigger) perched on one of the sand spits. The sound of falling water drew our flashlights to a far wall, where a small cascade sparkled as it descended. Eerie, lovely, and strange.
Definitely an odd little adventure, walking under a mountain, chest-deep in water and quite dependent on our flashlights working. But some fascinating things to see.
I had decided to not take my camera through the tunnel, which was absolutely the right decision. So after reemerging, I grabbed my camera bag out of the truck and went back to at least photograph the entrance of Tunnel Creek.