Monday, 15 June 2009

Going West

Some notes from our recent travels, to match the pictures posted below.

2 – 4 June, Perth

We had two nights in Perth before flying out early on Thursday morning to Exmouth, our jumping off point for the Ningaloo Reef. Both nights spent at Perth City YHA which was basic, clean but comfortable enough, apart from the unfortunate proximity of our room to the main train line!

Jetlagged and hungry after arrival we dined on a smorgasbord extravaganza at Miss Maud’s Swedish restaurant, the nearest place to the YHA, where we had all-we-could-eat of cold meats, salads, seafood, roast meats, breads, pickles and more, washed down by a beer. Then we promptly crashed out asleep by about 9pm. I slept for about 14 hours and felt much rested by the time I emerged (slept right through the trains!). Unfortunately Perth was cold, wet and a bit miserable so after some breakfast, we headed down to Fremantle, the old port city, hoping it would warm and brighten up. It did, briefly, so we walked around for a bit before it started to rain again. At this point we made our way to the Little Creatures Brewery and Pub, where giant metal vats lined the walls of a massive hall, brewing up a storm while we and others passed away the afternoon sampling their end products. Very good they were too. We emerged some time in the evening, caught the train back to the city and then had a bit of a sleepless night (thanks to oversleeping the previous night) before getting up in the wee small hours to catch the red-eye flight to Exmouth.

4 – 11 June, Ningaloo Reef / Cape Range National Park

Landed at Exmouth after a short flight (90 mins or so) which quickly took us out of Perth’s urban sprawl and over a vast red expanse of desert, wrinkled with humpy ranges of rounded cliffs and hills shaped like upturned Tupperware bowls.

Stepping off the plane was like stepping into a film scene – outback Australia just as you imagine it. Hot, dusty, dry and red.

Exmouth airport is pretty much a shed in the middle of nowhere, so we quickly picked up our hire car for the week, which was sturdy rather than new (10 years old and 145,000 kms on the clock!). Complete with fitted furry dashboard and steering wheel covers! Then it was a 150km drive from the airport to our home for a few days, Coral Bay.

Coral Bay only became a settlement in 1968 following the building of the Coral Bay Hotel – named after the, well, coral bay, that it sits on. It’s a one-street town in the middle of a reef-fringed desert, which takes a whole 5 minutes to walk through. The beach is gorgeous, with a quarter moon of white sand curving round the really calm, sheltered bay where you can simply walk out and go snorkelling whenever you feel like it. We spent a lot of time sitting there, particularly at sunset with a beer and a bag of crisps (oh yes, we know how to party!)

Our time in Coral Bay was mostly spent on the sea, with two full days of diving and snorkelling with manta rays – really fantastic experience – they have a 3 – 4 m wingspan and were within a couple of metres of us on the surface. Alien like but elegant. We also had a day on a whale shark spotting boat but sadly, despite a couple of very close calls, we didn’t actually see a whale shark, which was a disappointment but just one of those things. The ocean’s a big place and whale sharks can dive to depths of 150m which is just a wee bit out of our range!!! Whale sharks, for those not familiar with them, are the biggest fish known to exist, up to 12m and are 100% vegetarian despite the shark bit. They come to the Ningaloo Reef to feed as part of their annual migration and can be as close as 100m off shore. On the plus side, we did see humpback whales, dolphins, sea snakes, big seal-like things called dugongs, and huge loggerhead turtles – fab!

We also ate a LOT of seafood (I keep thinking that as a diver I shouldn’t really eat seafood but it’s just so tasty!!), drank some fine Western Australian wine and, all in all, had a very relaxing time.

After 5 nights of the above, we decided to make our way further north, back to Exmouth, where the delights of the Cape Range National Park awaited us. Exmouth, unfortunately, is a bit of dive so we were glad we only had a couple of nights there, but it was worth it to see the national park which was bleakly beautiful with the reef fringing right round its edges and the Cape Range hills rolling down to the beach. Dead kangaroos every hundred yards or so on the roadside which was a bit sad but other than that, a really awe-inspiring glimpse of the scale of the Aussie outback. Can’t really do it justice here, but the pics may help!

11 – 13 June, Perth again

After our week in the wilds, it was back to Perth for a couple of nights before returning to Sydney. Took a river boat down the Swan River, went up the Perth wheel, walked around a bit, nothing too exciting and to be honest, Perth’s got nothing on Sydney for cityscapes and city living - yes we have turned into proper Sydneysiders looking down on all other Aussie cities!

All in all, a great 10 days and felt like only a tiny taster of the often-neglected and generally forgotten about western half of this huge old place.

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